Some poems and an essay I’ve written:
THE GIRL AS WEATHER
She is bending trees to the angle of her back.
She is the crest of a tidal wave
breathing everything a mile out from the shore,
growing a mile high.
Fish flopping over in silt.
She floats, a salted cloud, head first into stone.
She sees me, a bird who does not understand compassion
or the idea of falling down.
It is nothingness she falls through.
I am the nothingness she falls through.
The point of impact. The end
always darker than the beginning.
I AM ANOTHER YOU
A man sitting at a table. His wife is getting some food for him. She is serving him.
“You,” she says and puts food down in front of him.
“Me,” he says and starts eating.
“So,” she says. Not like a question. “So,” she says again after a short pause.
He eats something. “I’m thinking,” he says and then pauses. “About buying.”
“Is it big?” she asks.
He doesn’t answer. He eats some more.
Then he says, “I’m thinking about buying.”
“In black?” she asks.
“In black,” he says, sounding a little like he’s mocking her.
“In black,” she says a little harder.
They don’t say anything for a while. They aren’t looking at each other.
“That boy I saw,” he pauses. He never looks up at her. “That boy.”
“You,” she says and pauses. “You.” She gets up and moves something.
He finally looks at her. She doesn’t look at him.
“There was a time when I would,” he says.
Nothing happens for a while. For too long. They just sit there not looking at each other. One of those bird clocks sound the hour. A woman in lingerie comes out of the refrigerator and sits at the head of the table between the two of them. They don’t notice her.
The man eats. His wife sits there. They don’t look at the new woman. Not even when she puts her legs up and straightens her fishnet stockings. Being ignored frustrates the new woman. She looks at them, moves around. They ignore her still. So she takes a plate from the table and smashes it on the floor. Still, she gets no reaction.
“Don’t you want to know who I am?” she asks the other woman.
After a pause, the wife, not looking at or speaking to either of them, says: “There was a time when I would.”
She gets up, finds a whisk broom and dustpan and cleans the broken plate around the other woman’s legs and feet. She treats her like she’s not alive, like she’s part of the chair.
“I am afraid of that,” the man says.
“Who?” the wife asks.
He gets up then and leaves without answering.
“Come here,” the woman who broke the plate says to the other.
She walks over to her and looks at her for the first time.
“What does it mean when he says ‘I am afraid of that?’” the second woman asks.
“He means that is who he is.”
for Vivien Lux
Our daughter is balanced on the edge of the kitchen table
like a cat walking along the farm fence.
She’s the tick tick of this pocket watch
I found in Dad’s top drawer
next to a pale Ford Galaxy from the edge of the sky.
One hand chasing the other. Her one hand
I am the broken kitchen table, shaking
when the family cuts meat.
She is the glue together to fix the table,
made of minutes and warmed sugar.
A section from Ripe, a manuscript started in 2002.
On Multiliving and Here Here
By Jim Walker
The mapmakers were so good they created a paper map of the world that matched it exactly in one-to-one scale. They duplicated the world, covering it up. So it goes in “On Exactitude in Science,” a little story written in 1946 by the Argentinean author, philosopher and magical realist Jorge Luis Borges. And so it goes with life today. Our worlds exist on top of each other — one where we interact physically, actually, and ones where we do so digitally.
Something similar happens in Charlie Kaufman’s 2008 film “Synecdoche, New York.” Here, a death-fearing theater director creates a play much like Borges’s map in an impossibly enormous warehouse. His endless show — with sets and actors and even actors playing the actors — is created to scale with his real life. By doing this, he’s trying to make multiple versions of his life as a way to create more life. He isn’t content with multitasking. He’s multiliving.
That’s what goes on with various interactive, massively multiplayer games in which virtual worlds replicate our real one (sometimes complete with jobs, stores, and relationships). And, when you think about it, multiliving is one of the main functions of all the user-generated-content sites or applications on the Web like Facebook.
You only live twice
Seeing things with our eyes isn’t enough. It really happens once we take a picture and post it. Thinking things with our brains isn’t enough. We tell our friends on Facebook what’s on our mind right now. Living life isn’t enough. We “share” and everybody (potentially) knows what we just did.
Alternative realities aren’t new to the modern world. As soon as we had the time and inclination to stop simply surviving and tell stories, read books, view photographs, talk on the telephone, watch movies or play Pong, we were stepping away from the real and into a place at least one step removed where we can be little gods.
But, until very recently (in the grand scheme of things), most of us had no part in shaping these realities. We were passively part of a pre-programmed and predictable one-way flow of entertainment. We couldn’t socialize with the regulars at Cheers. We simply tried to forget about our real lives for half an hour and watch these people in their pretend lives — complete with laugh tracks and commercial breaks for telling us how to spend our money.
It’s time that you love
I sympathize with Caden Cotard, the main character in “Synecdoche, New York.” I like to multilive. And I’m fully aware that I do it — in part — as an attempt to try to fend off my own mortality, to hang onto time in whatever virtual or actual ways I can. I’m not old, but I’m getting there. We all are.
So, between everything else I do, I often multilive by documenting life — creating another version of it that goes out to whoever happens to see it and like it. Much of what I document is what I call “boring” things. Gas stations, hallways to the bathroom in restaurants, rows of cubicles where people have to work, the back walls of a hospital. This, to me, is what really fills most of our lives. In my eyes, the boring things are beautiful because they are overlooked. And they make up so much of our world.
With the Here Here Project, I’m putting that documentation — usually of the boring things — back into real life, leaving it hanging there without a digital net. People find it and see the duplication. But they have to make the connection. Some things, like this, still happen in a world of multiliving. That’s good!
I remember answering machines
Multiliving sort of snuck up on me. Fifteen years ago I didn’t have a cell phone or Internet access at home. Fifteen years ago, I mostly lived in the real world. I was far less popular when being a friend meant that you had to actually be around me and I had to be around you.
With no cell phone, people who wanted to let me know something would call and leave me a message on my answering machine. It had a cassette tape in it and it would pile message after message on top of each other — erasing and recording, erasing and recording. When you had a message, the red light would blink. Maybe, I thought as I was walking in the door of my apartment, the red light would be blinking. Maybe somebody called me in the last eight hours and had something to say.
A dose of actual reality
Sometimes I like to leave the digital world behind. I really tried this for the first time about five years ago, leaving my laptop and phone at home before setting out with my wife and kids to stay a few days in Golconda — a fading, little city along the Ohio River in Southern Illinois. This was a getaway trip. And what I got away from most was multiliving.
When we first arrived and decided to take a little time to do nothing, I felt like I’d just stepped off a treadmill after running all day. My body was still. But my multiliving brain was still moving and moving.
I wanted to tell everyone about the really cool historic cottage we were staying in right on the river. I wanted to upload pictures of the giant barges floating past into the sunset. But I couldn’t. So only we knew what was happening in our lives at that moment. Only we sat there, sipping hot tea and talking to each other. Later, only we played cards with the kids and listened to the birds and went hiking in the hills and explored the other little towns.
Sure, we got lost in the country without having the option of using my phone’s GPS and had to drive around until we found a town. Sure we saw and experienced lots of things that would have been nice to preserve with pictures. But, we lived a little actually. We lived one life at a time, if only for a while. And it was good.
In the end of Borges’s “On Exactitude in Science,” people get bored with the enormous and cumbersome map and leave it to be destroyed by the elements. Soon, only fragments remain here and there flapping in the desert breeze. Will the same thing happen to Instagram someday? Will we leave Facebook behind like a pile of virtual junk as the real world proves victorious?
Only time will tell.