Lava
Lava flowing into the sea on the Big Island, Hawaii, 1999

My friend Andrew’s weekly Sunday epistles have had a thread running through them over the last few weeks that speaks directly to my current state of mind. Maybe it is just a stage in the growing older business.

I have come to think of this train of thought as having an “Amanda” moment. The beleaguered mother in Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie delivers a line I’ve said to myself many times: “I’m just bewildered…by life.”

So neither Andrew nor I get how this all plays out. When I look back on all the work it is to be a living human being who has arduously assembled so many experiences and (hopefully) garnered some wisdom along the way, bewildered is a pretty good description.

In her performance piece Bright Red, Laurie Anderson sings/recites these lines:

When my father dies we put him in the ground
When my father died it was like a whole library
Had burned down. World without end remember me.

What I am calling reality—my opinions, views, perceptions and moods—is in a constant state of flow. It feels soft, malleable, lava-like. Notions that once lived in me with a passionate rigidity have been rubbed off from a lot of wear and tear, like graffiti on a subway wall. For example, there was a time (and I say this in the utmost sincerity) when I believed, as did many of my first generation feminists sisters, that men and women were basically the same. Remembering that I once thought that was true now causes me to shake my head in disbelief and to experience a profound embarrassment at my bull-headed and misguided naivete. Me and a whole generation of women and men.

So this passage from Andrew’s most recent dissemination speaks to many of my ponderings as well.

Neural representations of billions of such memories, sensations, ideations are crammed inside the skull, like magpie pickings woven into a nest, held together by some hard spine of selfness. I spent 40 years in this unceasingly dense micro-climate of closed ego. Then its end began and the years of wandering in a desert of forgetting. Parts of self splinter off. Personality disintegrates. Great blocks of identity de-construct, country and culture, church, the verities shift or shrink. Even the deep anatomical structures and great Kantian categories seem less formidably real, more like film clips streaming wireless into empty space.

In the movie “Being John Malkovich”, tourists buy tickets to spend an afternoon in John Malkovich’s head after which they are unceremoniously dumped at the side of the Jersey turnpike when time expires. Indeed, we are each of us caged behind a stranger’s eyes, looking out at an Iraqi sky or Afghan market or American skyscraper. Our schemes and fictions are repeatedly interrupted as buried bits of biological or emotional inheritance explode periodically with the force of roadside IEDs, as nervous shards of the past leap from their place like plate glass of a hotel facade collapsing under attack. And always I am wondering if the wondrous glue that sticks the whole shebang together is benevolent, unutterably hostile, or merely mechanical.

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