I’ve been chewing on the words “twenty twenty one” a whole lot these last few weeks and they just don’t go down right. There’s an uncanny sense the earth’s been spinning a little too fast and the world’s been hoodwinked into counting store brand days.
I met an old friend recently- well I say friend because I can’t bring myself say the actual words because they might ring out like a foul incantation.
I find it difficult to imagine a family member with whom I might feel a kind of solidarity. In a rather embarrassing fact of life, I was a bit too young to actually register the kindness and support we found in each other. It must have been a rather bleak home to have six year old me as the only source of good conversation.
However incomprehensible I find our camaraderie with only a self centered void where they recount old tales, I find it strange how they became a persistent phantom in my life. The empty figure becoming an archetype I see in my friends and the ones who aren’t. I have been looking for the same person over and over again. The way I talk to people, the same pantomime playing out again and again. Yet after casting a shadow that’s followed me my entire life I’ve nothing left to say to the progenitor. We’re not the same people anymore and you can’t search for old ghosts when nothing is the same. Like me, my old companion has forgotten who they were and unlike me have no reasons to look back, with so much in the present.
Previously I only had fragments. Fragments of other scandalous fragments, angsty, adolescence oriented Japanese TV programming that hinted at transgression. I could never find these shows a second time which gave the memories an esoteric quality always maddeningly out of reach of my hands that only grasp the bleakest realisms that forced themselves on me. I have drifted, constantly, relentlessly in the dull tyranny of my circumstance.
I’ve always had the notion that relations are panopticons. I can’t bear the foolish mouth sucking guards uniformed in familiarity saying isn’t it nice? Are we all getting along? Aren’t you glad we’re here? I don’t know what to say; I’m fighting the urge to do what comes naturally, hoping I’ll float away. One day I’ll leave them all behind.
I was sitting by the stairs on the corner, giving my cat company as he sat mournfully watching the street through the balcony grill. His white coat was interrupted by scars and dirt spots from his valient struggle against the neighborhood tom cat, at least thrice his size.
On my balcony, by the stairs, I can see right out to my neighbors. Today two young girls, natural friends given how close they lived to each other, started folding up fliers the supermarket had left on letter boxes all over the street. They made themselves a fleet of paper airplanes and labouring up two flights of stairs, started a bombardment that lasted at least 3 minutes. They ran back down and ran back up in seconds, paper airplanes all dutifully recollected.
This time one child’s grandmother covered under a pile of bedsheets she was folding and wearing a saree that looked suspiciously like a bedsheet gave them tips. The other child’s father back from work with a backpack, t-shirt and shorts and shortness that made it look like the two were only a few years apart also threw down airplanes. He did considerable worse than both the children. The children were encouraging between looks they exchanged with every failed launch.
The children flew back down and collect all the planes and ran back up disappearing completely. This was probably marks the only time someone gave those flyers a second look.
When I was a child I felt so embarrassed by pictures of me that I’d carry out clandestine operations to angle photos and push aside picture frames. I never had friends over because pictures embarrassed me more than the stuffy places we lived in.
To slip by unacknowledged was a skill, it’s own reward. It felt only natural for me to be drafted by shadows and sneak away from any recognition. Why? Well I won’t go into the Freudian bits but being unformed, untouched by an passing childhood crisis was a kind of liberation. I could be anyone I wanted to be, be on both sides, the wronged and the victorious. I was a diplomat with no crisis to attend to.
Having nothing to trouble you makes you a bit of a day dreamer, why wouldn’t you be if you were uninvested in what happened around you? It also makes for a polite kind of self involvement, a enjoyable one but there’s only so much of it I could stomach. Cynicism, I think, makes for good reading in your adolescence, afterwards it has nowhere to go but to a capacity for destruction.
I read some Jung this year, I read him every year but I only made something of his suggestions this year. You’ve got to be willing to unleash a little naiveté, a willingness to hope that’s a little bit more around the corner to really enjoy him. It’s funny that he’s the one with the reputation of being unscientific because he’s the one’s who’s constantly trying to structure things. There’s a certainty that comes with pulling back the curtains, leaning into a day dream or just a regular dream. It’s also funny given how much they reveal when you consider how vapour like they are.
I’ve been journalling my dreams regularly, they’re pretty strange but honest in the most absurd way. Meeting and being terrified by a goat faced God is a strange path to self discovery but I’ll take whatever works. The one thing that amazes me about dream journalling is how it let’s you recall dreams more regularly as you go along.
There’s a certain kind of honesty and strength that comes with writing down what’s bubbling in your mind, or even committing to creating something. So next year I’m going to go back to something I’ve always been avoiding, writing long bits of fiction. I’ve always had the lurking recognition that doing so really stretches how well you write and reveals your hand. I’m also going to get back to drawing regularly, I’ve been meaning to practice my basics instead of trying to skip ahead to the fancy parts I can show off. I’ve done an okay job of it so far but I’ve still got a long way to go on getting the perspective right.
Beards aren’t that well liked where I live especially among older folks, which means I receive a long list of “polite” hints about shaving. Highlights include:
“You look like a depressed artist that hangs around parks”
“You look like someone who’s just been released from a long stay at a hospital”
“You’re more beard than face”
“You look good, you don’t need to grow a beard”
“I would say you look nice if I could actually see your face”
“What are you trying to hide under there?”
“I’m sure the barbershops are safe even with covid”
“Forget covid it’s worth the risk”
“The thing about these style fads is you’ve got to change them often. Very often”
Yesterday, the same day I came back from my trip home, I dreamt I was back in the manor I grew up in.
It is an old bunglow with old walls thick enough to beat a canon. I am in my parents room, old white paint lathered on crumbling and thick walls, dusty windows covered with stickers I put up twenty years ago. Water damage and cracks sneak along the corners but are never enough to bring anything down. The walls have been flaking and crumbling for years but the walls are deep enough to take a hundred more years of decay.
My parents aren’t in the room, because it’s a makeshift classroom. The are tables from my college and my English department too. I see a water-can in the corner filled with white pebbles and glittering deco. I reach it, examine it while I turn it over. A woman is talking about lost papers.
A professor, one who looks like a hippie met a gorilla with a personality that made him a few feet taller, is near by. Sitting on a bench close to the window with the thick iron bars. My grandmother is next to him reading the veins on his hands and praising the wisdom of the ancients.
I put the water-can back but I can’t get it back to the way it was. After I’ve examined it, it’s shaky and to my surprise twice as small. My grandmother is done devining disease and fortune from veins. She hands me a green paper box to place over the water can. The paper is a beautiful aged emerald green, with golden threads running under its thin and discolored spots.
It’s edges have sleeves, and when I examine it I find four smaller wood coloured papers tucked delicately on one side. It cannot be placed back, it doesn’t make sense that it was ever there in the first place. The 4 papers have fifteenth century Japanese art on it, painted with golden ink ingrained in the paper.
It’s not the kind of art you’d expect, fifteen century Japanese art was very close to Chinese styles, the more familiar variety comes after the Edo period. It shows the Buddha and his deciples being promised Buddhahood and Indian mythology probably the Ramayana. That was where the dream ended or where my memory fails me.
This year went January, February, March and right to November. Who could have seen it coming? At least the first few months were fun.
I’ve started taking walks around the city hoping I’ll have more than Duolingo’s counter to mark the passage of time. There’s not much I’m looking for or in the market for. My instincts have been kicking me down the lightly crowded roads looking aimlessly at the non events outdoors. Even the desolation of the lock-down is gone, so there’s truly nothing around.
Just the usual with a new found contempt for the pandemic. Its a bit mad, to look at everything and say nothing is going on. Yet that’s just what’s happening. The usual but with more privacy, the same but less openly. It’s the year for contempt – at the tired sights at home, the rules and new normal routine. At least the absolute silence, the eerie city and the inconvenience was something to look at.
I hate new cars because they make me nauseous and physically sick. I feel that little spot right above my stomach and my back behind it tense up the longer the trip is. The terribly thing about new cars are their seats.
The neurotic patriarchs in my family reign over old cars. My grandfather walks a thin line between thrift and theft as abandoned toys, tools, knick-knacks and construction material find their way into his car. My father has his car blessed by all the offerings and Prasada he gathers from his religious tourism that lay forgotten in every nock and cranny. Religious books, take away and fruit all wait to be discovered under old tabloids.
What redeems these old cars between their onerous knocks and threatening tics is their smell. From kerosene to stale food the smell is far better than the wretched stench that all new car seats have. There’s an artificial, sweaty odor about these new seats that drive me nuts.
The worst thing about new cars is the shape of their seats. I don’t know why all of them are designed to cradle potatoes but no human is meant to rest easy on them. They all seem to force you into a C shape. The stiff board like seats in cheaper, older cars just feel nicer. Humans have been sitting on chairs for at least a few thousand years, these improvements are really just messing with a proven concept.
Who needs that much back support and am I the only one smelling this?
It’s been cloudy for so many weeks that it didn’t even have to rain, the threat alone is keeping everyone inside.
There’s a nest, coloured with the dryest brown, swaying precariously on the streets’ largest tree. The tree has its roots in a temple compound and stretchs to envelope the streets biggest house. I don’t know how anything as delicate as a baby bird could sunggle comfortably on such thin branches but it’s too cold for much else.
There’s a strict hierarchy on the tree. The small, dainty birds that I can’t name or have ever seen up close stay in the thinnest, farthest branches. They are brown outlines against a cool blue and white sky. The crows, always accessable and assertive take up the middle ranging branches but don’t stay there. They’re always loudly deciding where to dive next. They’re black forms against the green of the tree.
The pigeons are at the bottom of it all, I’m not even sure they get to the tree. They brood on the windows and roofs that only brush past the tree. They’re always around pecking and pooping. They aren’t noisy and you’ll never hear them over the crows. Now and then they make a heavy landing on a tin roof and startle themselves.
The nest is a mystery, right above a roof so good for pigeons, sorrounded by green so just the place for crows and always in the breeze so natural place for the brown birds.
We, three cousins, running down the sandy dunes on a sunny evening. The coast line runs down to two rocky edges while beyond us the sea sparkles. While the sun sets in an orange tinge we are awash in the warm smelly breeze and a coating of dried sweat seems to break as we run back to the waves.
My grandfather would drive me there too, when it was just the two of us. We’d reach really early, or maybe it used to be a place where no one else went. I don’t remember much beyond a mossy, filthy lake we passed on the way. We’d fly kites, make drinks and leave only when the afternoon got vengeful. I destroyed sandcastles in fury, because I could never make them good enough.
My grandfather was always far away and I never looked back to see what he did. It was only us on the beach and I never cared how empty the beach was. I would not have liked it if it was any less empty, that’s just where I was at the time. The sea was so blue as it gently washed away the mess. So blue it hurt to look at it. It was telling me not to leave while the tide drew it away.
I imagine us now, with mustaches, on the same day. Tiny crabs running from our giant steps; it’s really absurd.The seashells are still on the coast breaking under my feet. I see the garbage, carrion and crowds scattered along old memories. It was always the same but we didn’t notice it all. I can’t tell where the sea or sky end, between generations of waves there a little blemishes- boats floating in an orange tinge.
A dragonfly lost his bearings in my kitchen today, he was there for brunch, he was here for dinner and I wonder if misdirection can keep him till breakfast.
Dinner was accompanied by a persistent but unaccountable smell of uncooked cookies. I looked far and near but found nothing but the fact that it grew ever more overpowering so I sat down to embrace the pleasant evening. Remarkably it was an evening, full and leisurely, not merely an amorphous breath hurrying to night and sleepiness. After a full weekend the pleasant aftermath of relaxation seemed to seep deep into my bones.
This essay’s title strikes me as one that demands more exoneration. Yet my dragonfly rests gently on the kitchen essentials and feels no need to stir. Monday’s don’t often herald such fine hours, do they? Inescapably, anxiety seems to have itself the modern condition; so isn’t it worth noticing the adequate and meaningful nothings that make their way home?