Fragment - Speaking in Condundrums
We sat there and I know for a fact that I stopped paying attention because he said something about “the chicken or the egg,” and I had no idea why or how we could have possibly come to this point in the conversation, and after who knows how much silence I interrupted him.
“I hate those faux philosophical conundrums.”
He just stared at me so obviously it was my turn to do a little speaking, so I just continued on, “The chicken or the egg. Who the hell has been debating this? The chicken or the egg.” Scoff, scoff, arrogant scoff, “The egg came first, the egg came first.”
“Then where’d the egg come from? Something that wasn’t a chicken. Maybe it wasn’t a chicken because humans weren’t around yet to taxonomize the whole goddamn world, or maybe whatever laid that egg had a mutation embedded in it’s DNA that allowed for the proliferation of the chicken species.”
I grabbed fistfuls of sand and squeezed hard on them.
“And why do is the glass half empty or half full? Why do we classify people as seeing the glass half empty of half full? How about this outlook on life: If you have a glass that half empty than the other half is full. And Zebras, let’s talk about Zebras. Black with white stripes or white with black stripes? No! It’s just striped! Black stripes and white stripes, parallel, as they are.
If you’re going to present a philosophical conundrum using some sort of folksy bullshit example, at least make it applicable. Like is the moon really a benevolent being because she sits in the cold, lonely night sky, lighting our way in the dark? Or is she really just some sort of benign parasite who would light nothing if it weren’t for the light she bummed off the sun. Or someone’s life outlook, their “type.” Why can’t we determine that off the decisions they make? Like, take now for instance. The choppy currents. The blustery winds. The fog on the horizon the clouds that look like they were spawned from the devil’s pipe. The miles and miles of gray. But there’s the promise still, the promise of whatever’s out there. And you take all this, you look at it, and you say, okay, do I set sail?”
So I told her yes, the city is filled with many odd people. There are many people without families and many people in poverty. Much more so than in the suburbs, or the outer burbs, or the countryside. Yes, this is true. Well, of course, there are simply more people in cities, so it follows that this would be so. But of course I am really saying that we know there are many more odd people in cities because there are many moor people without families and people in poverty.
She says to me, So you mean to tell me, people who are without families or in poverty are odd??
No, of course not! My dear, it is just that odd people tend to end up all too often without families and in poverty.
Because of their oddness?
Because of their oddness.
Is this a tragedy?
Who are you asking?
Well I’ve always thought of myself as an odd person. I’ve always thought, You know, I do things quite differently, think quite estrangedly from most girls. I came to know myself as odd. It was everywhere and everything I touched and I even began introducing myself that way. Hello there, I should warn you I’m quite odd. Yes, yes, really pretty odd. But are you telling me because I have a family and because I do not live in poverty–
-No, I said many, remember? This is not the conclusion.
But I feel false.
You mean odd.
Am I odd?
By the standards of odd people you are.
And by the standards of not odd people?
And even odder for thinking such a demographic even exists! From where I come we call that, naïveté. Can you say that word?
So I have no reason to be apprehensive?
Were you listening? I just revealed to you that every man, woman, and child who you have ever and will ever encounter strangulates of any number of wildly absurd, malicious, aloof, scientifically alarming, and preternatural ideas, deduces the world in such a way that his or her own brutish leanings could very well destroy you in any instant! Apprehension? My dear. Here is your sword.
"I meet a person and I’m thinking three minutes; I give you three minutes to show me the spark."
— Amy Hempel
Bombs Go Off
Maybe, I don’t know, maybe it was my drunkenness that sobered me. Maybe it was seeing the world when I was sober that made me so drunk. Maybe if you could just picture my black as deep space pupils with little white fuses hanging off of them, so they look like those cartoon bombs, and picture them bursting into those angled red-orange-yellow explosions. She says, “If the world blows up tomorrow, I won’t mind.” and before I say anything, she continues, “Did we not have a great time? Did we not? I don’t know but I just don’t care about the complaining. About this and that and everyone else and what they do wrong and the end of the world. You know, can’t we just let people do what they want? Can’t we just not care and just let them be? So what? Why do we care so much? Why do we have to criticize everybody and bitch and moan about everything? It’s not that I don’t care about him when I say I don’t care. It’s that I don’t care about what he’s complaining about. Just let people be,” and her words are traveling across the very edge of her larynx, scraping at the loose wisdom, her voice hoarse and content. And again the bombs go off.
One encounters, on occasion, a book which does not only resonate with him or flatter his sense, but completely changes his outlook on three things: himself, his priorities, and everything. In fact, the same can result can be said to come with the encounter of a certain person.
"I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen."
— John Steinbeck
Why Can’t This Boy Pull Away From A Conversation?
He’d noticed this compulsion before but he’d never though to analyze it. To suck an answer from the center of this inapposite bone. Odd, considering he overanalyzed everything around himself, often to the degree of social handicap. Odd, because it had struck him as such, and still he had only passively reminisced on this uncharacteristically benevolent behavior that he posessed.
What he wondered about was hy he could never seem to remove himself from a conversation. Why, when people gathered around the kitchen table or on a street corner or anywhere at all really, he never suffered from boredom and felt compulsed to walk away, never wanted the stories, the jokes, the complaints, the condolences, the wit to end.
And then it burst through the levees of his mind, flooding him with thoughts that flowed like rivers through landscapes of memory good and bad. He realized.
Realized why when he was younger and they would visit all those foreign houses and apartments of people whom he did not know and seemed to not care to know he would spend the entire visit nimbly rummaging through and observing everything. It was easy as a child, especially one as quiet and furtive as this little boy. He would roam the kitchens and the living rooms as if they were a country unexplored. Digging through cabinets at the first chance he received, carefully opening and shutting drawers to tables tucked between couches and fireplaces.
Old photographs, phonebooks (back when they still had them), envelopes, knick knacks, letters, newspaper clippings, chapbooks, vital records. He anthologized it all in his mind. A sort of anthropologist of domestic American adults.
Then the stairs of course. He loved the upstairs! First and foremost because he could be alone, away from wary eyes plump with the impulse for inquisition.
Bedrooms, bathrooms, attics, linen closets. Anything he could find, he studied. Paintings and where they were placed, choice of curtain, signs on doors, maybe a cat or a dog asleep on the carpet. This is how he introduced himself to people.
Realized why he bent over desks to lean in on intimate words passed between others. Why he eavesdropped on everybody within earshot.
Why he loved the way that girl Hillary had reprimanded his having referred to her as Hill one day in class and the way the ticketmaster on the train greeted familiar faces in his thick Irish accent.
How the guy at the bookstore or the girls at the bagel shop all know him. How he revisits old friends just to know how their past year went.
“Don’t you just looooooveeee just sitting around?” the girl said to him as they lay on the hot pavement in second grade.
The girl that showed up drunk in Latin class.
Waiting for the guy to print the receipt at 10 PM after his car had been towed.
The girl who whispered to herself “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” throughout the entire swim class.
Why he never understood not caring. Because it was all a lie when he said he didn’t care. Because every “How are you?”, every softspoken hey, every moment spent internalizing the people around him had been caring. He cared about their days and their months and their years and their whole lives and the lives of the people before them who were all food for worms now.
Why the first “grown up” literature he took to were memoirs. How he could step outside, ready to begin what he planned as a busy day of chore-like accomplishment, and have his intentions squashed simply because he could not pull himself from sitting with his neighbor on the stoop for the next two and half hours. It’s like a magnetic force.
Everytime he rolled his eyes he was deceiving himself. As if it were his niche to be “above that” or to sarcastically shrug off what anyone else had to say. Because really, he could never bring himself to hang his head above anyone else. Beyond a fleeting second of spoke-too-soon, he never believe that he was better than anyone else and never wanted to be better than anyone else. He was never fully disenchanted with humanity, never truly hated anyone. He was secretively but humbly in awe of everyone. No one that the light of his eyes cast upon escaped his fascination. No one elses words tired him or could be trivialized or forgotten. His did not possess the means inflate his own ego with the failures or faults of other people.
And he just couldn’t pull himself away again and again and again, his life’s truest addiction, his full throttle, high energy thrill, the most enlightening form of meditation and mediation of all thoughts, feelings, and dreams human which he encontered everyday.
He did not merely confess this new consciousness to himself but danced in its assauging, hair-raising charm the likes of which he had felt before in those earlier days overflowing with curiosity and appreciation, when he would discover some object of particular curiosity under the bed of some former stranger.
This time; however, he was looking under his own bed, and he came upon the enchanting, previously unseen philosophy: he loves people!
Do Hunter-Gatherers Speak in Terms of Beautiful?
Let’s see, have you ever been just a little bit curious about beautiful or “you’re beautiful,” and specifically, how it might have meant something different to people in a different place in a different time.
Do you know what you look like? That’s how I started, knowing that I know what I look like and then considering the possibility of not knowing that information. Nearly impossible in todays day and age because of photography and video but what about even before most people could afford a mirror or to have their portraits done, but also in the years after language had developed to the point where you could verbalize to someone that you thought them beautiful. Unless you saw your reflection in a pool, then you never knew what your face looked like, or how your whole self appeared from someone elses vantage point.
Before beautiful was an industry and the word became so cheap you could purchase it in a convenience store, did it matter more to people? Back when life was a little bit harder, perhaps, and the people too. When being beautiful could not make you a good hunter, a good mother, a good weaver, a good farmer, a good chief, a good blacksmith. When all it meant was you would make a good husband or wife, and even then there were greater priorities such as wealth. Before feminism and self-empowerment. Before anyone needed or felt the need to call anyone beautiful, what did it mean to a person when someone did tell them they were beautiful?
Or does it matter more today? When you are exposed to one million times as many body and faces as the average person two thousand years ago, when beauty can be manufactured and sold and customized. When beauty is expected because if it’s not the norm, than at least you can buy it someplace. Does it mean more now to be called beautiful? And I do not mean in the context of the above, but when someone genuinely means what they say? Perhaps you will be hesitant in believing someone means it when they have already referred to their car, a photograph they just took, your earrings, a roast beef sandwhich, a photo of Kristen Stewart in a magazine, and a test score as beautiful but if you get to the point where you are convinced of their genuiness, does it mean that much more when you’re compared every moment with the all-pervading ‘beauty’?
Maybe it’s not that it mean more to either or the other, just something different of equal charm and weight. It’s interesting though to think about it. Yourself, a desert nomad who will encounter only one hundred different people in your lifetime. And you will never know your own face. “You’re beautiful.” Versus today, where you see yourself everywhere and your encounter several billion faces in the course of your lifetime, many many of which are prescribed as a beauty standard. “You’re beautiful.”
Where to begin? I guess I should say first that I have a “thing” for villains. Maybe it’s sympathy, or perhaps curiosity, or attraction or something else but what I absolutely know is that “it” is there and has been since I was a child. Ask Ma, she’ll tell you, I loved the villains, they were always my favorite, they were always the story or the character that kept me watching and thinking and wanting to know more.
As the story goes on, as the villain becomes increasingly villified as we progress, this curiosity, sympathy, this “thing” gains strength. After the hating is done, I am always left wondering. Because it always seemed more complex than a Disney movie made it out to be. You watched a movie as a kid and it was supossed to be clear cut wasn’t it? The stepmother is the evil villain and the princess is pure and good. I didn’t bite.
The first problem with trying to sedate me with character lables was that I read, even then as a kid, and in the days before I read short stories or lit, I was reading history and fairytales. And even today I read them. And even thought the folklore was typically cautionary, and the so-called villain typically vanquished in the end, the who is good versus who is bad did not divide so evenly.
Take Little Snow White (or Snow White, or recently, Snow White and the Huntsman). In the Grimm Brothers’ telling, the stepmother is truly an evil witch hellbent with envy. There really is no upside to her. The huntsman, who plays a much smaller role than in the film currently playing, does allow her to live after he finds her, but hold up! Okay, maybe you can forgive him for having hunted her down in the first place, since he repented when he came face to face with Snow White, but he allowed this seven-year-old girl (that’s how old she is in the original story) to wander off into the woods on her own!
And what about Snow White? An innocent victim surely but nonetheless still such a dumb…nice word, ahh, naive…’nother nice word, ahh, sweetiepie, that she continuously answers the door for whichever vendor the evil stepmother has disguised herself as that particular day, even though it happens three times and the dwarves warned her about it. She had enough wits at 7 years old to runaway and find a place to stay but as an adolescent she can’t even be cautionary about answering the door and taking things from strangers when she was just the victim of an attempted assasination the day before?
And the prince who abruptly comes along to save her? Total necrophiliac, and that’s all I have to say about him.
Oh, and P. the fuck S. There is no kiss to lift the spell and awaken the princess in Little Snow White, or many other stories for that matter, including The Frog Prince. In Little Snow White, the spell is lifted when the clumsy prince hits a rut in the road and the bite of apple is dislodged from Snow White’s throat. In the Frog Prince, another story in which character role plays out murky at best, the princess does not kiss the frog to lift his spell and transform him into a prince. She hurls him with all her might against her bedroom sidewall. And then poof! Prince.
These are only two stories out of many. Rumpelsiltskin, same deal. One Thousand and One Nights, Hans Chrisitan Anderson. There’s a pattern. And I guess I always just thought there was more to the villain then what they showed us. I refused to believe that they were evil “just because,” or simply for the hell of it. And maybe that’s what it was, I never felt their story was being told honestly.
And I was thinking about this the other day at work, because she comes in here all the time but then the moment she leaves, its irk, irk, irk, irk, irk. It’s she’s so…ahhhh! Do you follow? She’s the boss, even the boss of our two bosses, who also both, when she’s not there or the moment she walks away, well, it never ends. It’s constant, it’s what she wore that day or how she said something or what she yelled at you for this time and I get it. I didn’t like her for a while there either, especially when she had just started. But no I have the “thing” I mentioned earlier, about, how after the smoke clear and I start to get a second look, well, I’ve had enough. I obviously doesn’t matter to anyone that she’s in the middle of a divorce. Because, as they perceive, she doesn’t have a soul. Anyone with a pulse could make a better partner. And she sometimes smiles and usually doesn’t and she’s a hardass but I presume she doesn’t know and I couldn’t help but think…this is who they made cautionary tales over. But the villain isn’t just a villain “because,” they must be villified. And sometimes they deserve it, and sometimes they deserve it only to an exten, and at some point…well, did the tables turn?
And I have this sense to walk up to her and want to say to this short woman in her early thirties, brown hair, brown eyes, “Listen, do you realize everybody hates you?” and not because I want to rub it in or gossip or because I want her to change her ways, but I just think she deserves it, “Do you realize all of these people, they just don’t like you?” and maybe “Well, I just want to say, I don’t hate you,” and maybe you just should know how the story is being written for you. They’ve already scratched Rest In Pieces onto your muddy gravesone, and I just thought, hey, maybe this isn’t how it should go.
Biology is beautiful, and the science of it simply fascinating. When people ask; however, can be so interesting about it, I find that simplifying the explanation down to the single most lovely concept in all of the biolgical sciences, and perhaps in all science, to be sufficient: emergent properties.
Allow me to provide a definition: “An emergent is a higher-level property, which cannot be deduced from or explained by the properties of the lower-level entities. An emergent property is one which arises from the interaction of lower-level entities, none of which show it. The volume of a gas, or its pressure or temperature, even the number of molecules in the gas, are not properties of any individual molecule, though they dependon the properties of those individuals.”
Our world hangs on this sort of interaction. What we come from, what give us and our surroundings function and ability, is a complex of relationships which manifest themselves in ways which were not possible with the individual pieces. And this does not occur at only one level of nature. From the smallest molecules, to complex organisms, to an urban metropolis, we encounter properties which could not have been even guessed at just from looking at the individual.
As people, as parts of the universe we inhabit, we appreciate those parts of the world especially which share the properties of our own lives. This is why I explain emergent properties to people, because it’s not just a form of interaction or relationship which produces complex gases, chemical substances, and ecosystems. It reflects human interactions. Both with the world and with each other. Human beings, when they work in tandem, are capable of amazing feats, both for better and worse. Think about everything in your day to day lives: handing over money to pay for something at the grocery store. Markets are an emergent property. What about when you check off black or white on an application? Race is an emergent property. What about words that carry meaning only be saying them to someone or something else, such as a command? Language can be an emergent property.
And then the most striking properties. What about the relationship, the interaction, that produces love? What about hatred? Desire? Obsession? Companionship? Trust? Honesty? With the individual parts, these do not exist, they are not possible, and perhaps they cannot even be deduced from looking at the singular thing. It love or obsession or anything else requires a beholder, it requires a beholdee. With even just a second person, these human charachterizations which define what is life to us, seem to arise from out of nowhere. They emerge on a higher-level interaction. They cannot exist without each individual but they cannot exist in the individual alone. And we cannot separate from these emergent properties without separating from the people we interact with, whom we get to know, who we see every day of out lives. For as long as our numbers are greater than one these human traits will carry on.
So you are part of something much larger. Behind every door lies the greater universe. Behind every hello and every smile and every slap across the face, touch to the lips, every stray thought in the night, every concern, we find that which we cannot find alone. We are the phoenix, forming out of the ashes, and bursting into awake.
Writing About Home
When critics ask me why I continue to write about Oildale, about Bakersfield, about the Central Valley, I tell them that the place is sufficient, even though my talent or craft may not be. In this site can be found all the great subjects, all the grand dramas, and they are not only themes of my stories and essays, but in a sense they are the settings too: place and people and passion inseperable as the terrain of the heart. And the heart is our primary locale. As a result, location and purpose often merge, so I employ rural California and its denizens to extol honor or truth or courage just as I use them to attack those narrow, negative attitudes that would bind our souls. Imagination starts somewhere and, since I observed and learned all those things here, I write about them here–an apprentice shaman questing for the sacred.
"You are the young wonder-tree plant, grown out of ruins."
— Baronga (African Folk Tale)
When I am a man, then I shall be a hunter
When I am a man, then I shall be a harpooner
When I am a man, then I shall be a canoe-builder
When I am a man, then I shall be a carpenter
When I am a man, then I shall be an artisan
Oh father! ya ha ha ha
Nuevo California by Bernardo Solano
- Man Standing Still: I want order in the universe!
- Felipe: What is order?
- M S S: When every animal knows its rightful place!
- Sin Fin: Your mundo confundo I understand con scarity clarity!
- M S S: Everything about you offends me!
- Felipe: I know of the need to control what should be. But maybe there are things we shouldn't have knowledge of. Maybe the wind never knows its destination.
- M S S: You demand change! I hate change. And I failed.
- Felipe: You are a messenger who has delivered his message. How is that failure?
- M S S: You stand before me. Didn't I kill your soul?
- Felipe: No, but...you stole my arrogance. "Of unblemished life and spotless record." How arrogant of me to want perfection. Forgive me for my arrogance.
- M S S: Your tolerance?! For what you allow?! For your destruction of order?! Just fucking die!
- Felipe: Take my hand. I forgive your trespasses.