Sunday, May 19, 2013


A few years ago I became acquainted with an extraordinary man whose life has been a roller coaster, a ferris wheel, a daredevil carnival ride.  He has also been a faithful husband, a boy-saver, a dependable father and grandfather of girls, a guardian of family secrets, a sailor before the wind.  We thought of writing a book that was a conversation and believed it would be interesting because we are so very different.  Writing it was fun and we pulled in a few others.  But I was the one in charge of marketing and I failed.  Partly they thought I wasn’t real -- that the other writer invented me -- and partly they thought he wasn’t real, that he was just pretending to be himself.  Pecos Bill and Calamity Jane.  Very American.  Paris gets it but Manhattan doesn’t.  Anyway, publishing was desperate to save itself by repeating itself.  They’ve never found a way forward.

For a long time we went on writing back and forth between Paris and Montana, an attunement on email, until part of him died, a miraculous boy who lived in that narrow space between angelic and demonic where only a few people could find him, searingly addictive as he was.  There were other boys, equally gifted, who invented something between a family and a tribe they called an art school.  To the outside world it sometimes was regarded as a leper colony because they all had HIV-AIDS and pasts full of torment and transgression -- but sometimes not.  Their lives divided between art exploits and folding the laundry.

The death of the boy called Tristan collapsed everything.  The book we had written was withdrawn.  It was all a dream, a fantasy, self-deception that other people despised and thought insulted them.  There were life-threatening surgeries, the money ended, we were waiting for death.  But in that classic mythic way in which The Singer is killed, dismembered, then reincarnated to rise again, a new colony on the coast of America formed.  Not so sophisticated, less protected, humbler and more dependent.  

Back in Montana things were different.  I was set outside the gates of the fort.  It’s okay -- I’m on good terms with Indians.  The archetype of success, a Tribeca gallery called “Tristan’s Moon”, was created but then destroyed by a storm of Biblical dimensions.

I search my heart to kick out of it a lot of prideful debris about being a writer, which I had thought would redeem everything.  The rubble left from the collapse of publishing was irrelevant, though I walked along the edges of it and noted what I saw.  I was waiting for a death that never came, revealing to myself what was at stake by writing, writing, writing.

About memories and the past, my friend is a card sharp -- shuffling, prestidigitating, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t, but the cards have meaning and the game has had consequences -- not literary but intrafamilial.  Sometimes solitary. I love the shadow show, the forming and dissolving patterns, both his and mine and the echoes.  Surprisingly congruent.  Sometimes the game is Tarot -- more often it’s Hearts.  No one messes around with chess, that snob game.  Nor the roulette wheel because life is enough of a gamble already.  The truth is that no one has a monopoly.  Truth (if there is such a thing -- maybe there are a lot of truths) can’t be hoarded.  But there were no lies.

Gradually I saw a way forward, reinvented and yet conserved, though stupidly in stacks of paper and a labyrinth of computer documents on disc -- half-written, mis-labeled.  All the while, the world changed.  A whole population of gatekeepers who believed they knew what was real and what to do has disappeared.  This new cohort of people cares nothing about anything that happened more than ten years ago -- that’s their “event horizon.”  So much to explain all over again.  But they don’t care about history anyway.

Life is an art project.  Here is what the Connectome looks like in a computer representation of all the connections in one brain in one second.

Here is what the basic design of the universe looks like in a computer representation of fractals, Fibonacci’s Golden Spiral, a mathematical truth.

And here is the Anthropocene.

Depression is a dissonance.  Dissonance is a kind of pain, a disorder that signals change -- both needed and suffered.  The whole world is depressed: World Depression II.   But who’s counting?  We’re all busy surviving.  The air is warming, the sea is acidifying, the islands are sinking, and soon the great ocean current gyres will change and then our population problem will be solved.   The cosmos is both pointillist and sedimentary, but always merciless.  Yet dissonance is a brain game.  Get with it.

My grandmother was born in Quincy, Michigan, in 1871.  Tim’s grandfather was born in Michigan in 1907.  They had the same birth date except for the year.  It might mean nothing.  Michigan at that point -- the Victorian/Edwardian years to use the BBC as a reference -- was the Old Frontier, while the New Frontier was just opening on the prairies.  They shared an attitude, that individuals matter because they carry the honor of the family, and that one must take responsibility.  Get ahead!  It has not been helpful.  My grandmother’s great adventure was Dakota homesteading.  Tim’s grandfather’s adventure was the automobile boom after WWII, and Tim joined him in San Francisco where he was part of a cultural revolution that swept the Euro-American world in the 1970’s in much the same way as the 1770’s.

Fibonacci’s Golden Spiral, the intercontinental gyre of the culture, the Connectome reaching out to trafficked and abused boys all over the planet -- that’s Tim, a grand paisley with dancing fringe, always boarding an airplane.  (Not me.  I’m the one with the bonnet: everytime I google myself I get “Little House on the Prairie.”)  A theologian friend in Montana wrote a book about the paradox that one can’t achieve one’s goals until one gives them up -- stop trying, let it happen.  You don’t have to fly -- it’s enough to hold your arms out.  Even that can be hard work. 

Publishing used to mean that someone “bought” the right to ink one’s sentences onto paper, bind them into an object and sell the objects.  It’s not quite broadcasting, which means sending words out into the air at a specified time.  Now writing is a hybrid, unbound, cross-media.  The path forward is a braided one, like the grazing paths made by animals.  It covers the globe, even along the invisible whale-roads under the sea.  Each of us goes step-by-step into the future.  This brief time of traveling together connected me to a layer of society often exploited for its dark energy but lately endangered by the neo-puritan drive towards profit by defining a narrow way based on oligarchy and military.  I reject that.  How do things work?  What are our songlines?  How have institutions made them into toll roads?

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