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The Size of Things

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There are things we remember and things we forget. I remember wishing I could see in three hundred and sixty degrees. There weren’t eyes on enough sides of my head to tell what was actually happening, and even if there were, I still don’t think I would’ve understood what was actually happening. I was on top of a mountain, ten thousand feet above the elevation of the home I left behind. When it started, a freezing mineral air came from the west, and with it, a blackness—a blackness that overtook the horizon faster than I could gasp. It moved across the green and silver valley below at two thousand miles per hour, which I didn’t really consider until I read about it a few hours later. How fast does the moon’s shadow travel during an eclipse, I asked the internet, drunk on the mescal that seemed to provide the only sensation buoyant enough to keep the previous hours afloat in my body. When the internet told me the answer, it gave retroactive meaning to something I’d experienced without words; it’s almost impossible to think in words when tears are pouring from eyes. I didn’t know why I was crying. But the tears came, and they came at something around two thousand miles per hour, because by the time the darkness had engulfed me, by the time I swiveled on my feet to cover the three hundred and sixty degree horizon, teeming on all sides with a technicolor sunset, by the time I gathered the wherewithal to actually look up at the main attraction, my face was wet with the saline that accumulates behind all eyes in some dark pool that no anatomy textbook can point to, waiting for the opportunity to be drawn out by the reminder of how small we really are, and how big we can become when we remember our smallness. 

There are things we remember and things we forget. Memory is built on reminders. Maybe the things we remember best are the things that give the strongest reminders. For thousands of years a total solar eclipse was known to be the most ominous phenomenon on earth. It was something to hide from—when an entire civilization is built upon the regularity of the appearance of the light, how else are you supposed to respond to the sudden disappearance of the light, other than to hide? So that’s what people did. For many thousands of years. Hide. But not us. We know more. Maybe. We know the moon’s orbital plane periodically lines up with the that of the earth, we know the sun is four hundred times bigger than the moon, but also four hundred times farther away, which is why the two appear to be the same size from earth. We know it’s perfectly normal for those spheres to align in such a way, that it’s not the end of times, nor the end of light. It’s just a few minutes—the only minutes the sun’s searing corona can be seen with the naked eye, the only minutes a person can get a truly visceral experience of the fact that we are, indeed, in space. And we know exactly where and when those minutes will transpire for the next six hundred million years, until the moon's slow drift has taken it far enough away from Earth that it can no longer totally block the sun from view. But what don’t we know? What have we forgotten that the people who were scared of eclipses didn’t forget? Maybe the manner in which we careen through life today erases the memory of many of the truest things. So we have to go seek them out. To get context. Of our size, of our place, of our time.

There are things we remember and things we forget. I traveled across the country just so I could spend two minutes and nineteen seconds in a shadow. I was hoping it would provide a reminder of something more vast than emails and news cycles and hopes and fears. I needed to remember that magic is real. Not because I read about it in a book, nor heard about it in the stories of friends who’d seen every eclipse since 2005. And now I have my own story. I could tell you about how I couldn’t stop shaking, heaving; I could tell you about how, before seeing it, I wished it would last longer than two minutes and nineteen seconds but how, when the sky was vandalized with an alien halo and the mountain top was vibrating with gasps and shivers and jumping and hollering, I couldn’t have handled it for a second longer; I could tell you about how I had walked away from everyone I knew so I didn’t have to use language or make eye contact or be anything other than what I was. But what I’d rather tell you is this: the connective tissue of the throat is connected the pericardium—the tissue that wraps around the heart. So you can physically massage the heart just by stretching the throat. This happens every time you look up. Every time you tilt your head back and make your eyes as wide as the sky, the skin around the heart becomes a little less calcified. I felt it happen on top of a mountain. As I looked up, my heart spread out inside its liquid barrier. I could feel it beating like a basketball in a gymnasium, its sound echoing off the walls of me. And then, minutes later, when the sun reappeared and the shadows turned slowly from metallic back to silken, I knew it was time to go find my friends again. But I wasn’t sure what I’d say. I walked back up the hill to where I’d left them, slower than I would have if I was walking anywhere else. And then I stood there. Chris laid his head on my shoulder. I put my arm around him. I didn’t say anything. Then a little boy next to us turned to his dad and said, I’m really glad you brought me here, Dad. They were beautiful words. They reminded me that the tongue stretches up from the center of the chest, that it’s far more connected to the heart than it is to the brain. I looked down into a river valley to the east, filling with a now-normal day, and I hoped I would remember what it felt like to be dwarfed by something so immense. But even though I hope to carry the sensations of those few minutes with me forever, what I really hope doesn’t get erased from my memory is the knowledge that I have a heart. It’s really small, but it’s really big.

No Pocket Of Air Is Useless to Harmony

I used to put music on the stereo and then go sit down at the piano next to a big window that was shaded by a pine tree outside. But I wouldn’t play the piano while the music filled the room. Instead, I opened the top lid of the instrument to expose the steel strings of its guts, strings stretched taut inside a dark, private air. Then I leaned my head over so my ear hovered just above the opening. I closed my eyes. The wooden ribcage inside the piano rang in quiet resonance with the music outside of it. It sounded as if the piano was being played by the speakers; individual strings sang out, vibrating with the movements of the melody. It was faint. And faraway. It was beautiful. Now when I get lost in the obviousness of the visible I try to remember what the inside of an unplayed piano sounds like. Sometimes I try to imagine my body as a steel string, ringing in quiet resonance with everything around it. Sometimes it works. I feel air surrounding me. I am made of sound.

Ancient

i lived my life alone before you
and with those that i’d never succeeded to love
and i grew so accustomed to that kind of solitude
i fought you, i did not know how to give it up

before you, had i ever known love
or had i only known misuse of the power another had over me
the power another had over me

i crossed the country and i carried no key
couldn’t i look up at the stars from anywhere?
and sometimes i did, i felt ancient
but still i saw peace, and it never came to me

they often spoke as though i had been set free
but i traveled only service of my dreams
i stood before them all, i was a sleepwalker

couldn’t hold my misery down, not even for you
it bore me on all the places i’ve ever gone
and i grew so accustomed to that kind of solitude
but i long for you now even when you just leave the room

of all the roads and the cities that i passed through
and of all the eyes i have searched inside
the one sense of permanence that i came to feel
was mine only beneath your gaze

 

A (Brutal and Beautiful) Love Story

"A coyote ate a three-year-old not far from here.”

“Yeah?”

“My uncle told me.”

“Huh.”

“He said, ‘Don’t leave those babies outside again,’ as if I already had.”

“Had you?”

“Come on.” An answer less precise than no.

“Why’s he monitoring coyote activity up here?”

“Because.”

“Because?”

“It’s irresistible.”

“Really?”

A wild dog with a tender baby in its jaws disappearing into the redwoods forever. My uncle’s so good at imagining things, he makes them real. “Yeah. It’s just what he does, a habit.” Or a compulsion.

“I don’t get it.”

But I do. Every real thing started life as an idea. I’ve imagined objects and moments into existence.

Continue...

I had to read this three times and it became more brilliant each time

From In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust:

Next to this central belief which, while I was reading, would be constantly reaching out from my inner self to the outer world, towards the discover of truth, came the emotions aroused in me by the action in which I was taking part, for these afternoons were crammed with more dramatic events than occur, often, in a whole lifetime. These were the events taking place in the book I was reading. It is true that the people concerned in them were not what Françoise would have called "real people." But none of the feelings which the joys or misfortunes of a real person arouse in us can be awakened except through a mental picture of those joys or misfortunes; and the ingenuity of the first novelist lay in his understanding that, as the image was the one essential element in the complicated structure of our emotions, so that simplification of it which consisted in the suppression, pure and simple, of real people would be a decided improvement. A real person, profoundly as we may sympathize with him, is in a great measure perceptible only through our senses, that is to say, remains opaque, presents a dead weight which our sensibilities have not the strength to life. If some misfortune comes to him, it is only in one small section of the complete idea we have of him that we are capable of feeling any emotion; indeed it is only in one small section of feeling any emotion either. The novelist's happy discovery was to think of substituting for those opaque sections, impenetrable to the human soul, their equivalent in immaterial sections, things, that is, which one's soul can assimilate. After which it matters not that the actions, the feelings of this new order of creatures appear to us in the guise of truth, since we have made them our own, since it is in ourselves that they are happening, that they are holding in thrall, as we feverishly turn over the pages of the book, our quickened breath and staring eyes. And once the novelist has brought us to this state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every emotion is multiplied ten-fold, into which his book comes to disturb us as might a dream, but a dream more lucid and more abiding than those of which come to us in sleep, why then, for the space of an hour he sets free within us all the joys and sorrows in the world, a few of which only we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting to know, and the most intense of which would never be revealed to us because the slow course of their development prevents us from perceiving them. It is the same in life; the heart changes, and it is our worst sorrow; but we know it only through reading, through our imagination: in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change.

Boundless

From The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

Pain serves a purpose. Without it you are in danger… The disease (leprosy) strangles nerves, kills off feeling, and what you cannot feel you cannot take care of: not the disease but the patient does the damage. You begin nicking, burning, bruising, abrading, and otherwise wearing out your fingers, toes, feet, hands, and then losing them… The nerveless part of the body remains alive, but pain and sensation define the self; what you cannot feel is not you; what you cannot feel you do not reality take care of; your extremities become lost to you. Pain protects. You flinch, you blink, tears flow. With leprosy, you might stop blinking, so your eyes go dry, or you rub them too hard and scar the cornea, or fail to notice some injury at all. Thus blindness is a common consequence of the disease… If the boundaries of the self are defined by what we feel, then those who cannot feel even for themselves shrink within their own boundaries, while those who feel for others are enlarged, and those who feel compassion for all beings must be boundless. They are not separate, not alone, not lonely, not vulnerable in the same way as those of us stranded in the islands of ourselves, but they are vulnerable in other ways. Still, that sense of the dangers of feeling for others is so compelling that many withdraw, and develop elaborate stories to justify withdrawal, and they forget that they have shrunk.