May 20, 2010

to disappear into the right words and to be their meanings...


UNFROZEN: I'm making a publication loosely based on the theme of thaw, featuring creative reflections—art/story/list/essay/whatever—on seasonal/climatic changes or how Chicagoans loosely feel when Chicago feels like this (as opposed to, uh, this). Trying to round up stuff by this week (or early next), so email me if you're at all interested: Danke schoen!

PRESSING ISSUES: Recently started writing for Is Greater Than again. This time I'm sifting through literary news and highlighting various presses, periodicals, and experimental projects. This month's installment spotlights stuff like Letters with Character, The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature, The Office of Blame Accountability, and 48 Hour Magazine.

but don't take my word for it...

BOOK CLUB: Recently finished The Braindead Megaphone, an essay collection by George Saunders, for Virtual Book Club. I first got into George when I read his essay about the William J. Clinton Foundation—"Bill Clinton, Public Citizen"—in The Best American Nonrequired Reading (originally published in GQ). Really great! I didn't love everything in Megaphone, but I did love a lot—namely: the titular (ew!) essay, "The New Mecca" (about Dubai), and "Buddha Boy" (about Buddha Boy—a kid from Nepal who was meditating for something like seven months without food or water). From the latter—some effusiveness that balances out the travelogue-style observations and wry humor:

You know that feeling at the end of the day, when the anxiety of that-which-I-must-do falls away and, for maybe the first time that day, you see, with some clarity, the people you love and the ways you have, during that day, slightly ignored them, turned away from them to get back to what you were doing, blurted out some mildly hurtful thing, projected, instead of the deep love you really feel, a surge of defensiveness or self-protection or suspicion? That moment when you think, Oh God, what have I done with this day? And what am I doing with my life? And how must I change to avoid catastrophic end-of-life regrets?

I feel like that now: tired of the Me I've always been, tired of making the same mistakes, repetitively stumbling after the same small ego strokes, being caught in the same loops of anxiety and defensiveness. At the end of my life, I know I won't be wishing I'd held more back, been less effusive, more often stood on ceremony, forgiven less, spent more days oblivious to the secret wishes and fear of the people around me. So what is stopping me from stepping outside my habitual crap?

My mind, my limited mind.

And then he ponders whether Buddha Boy is somehow subverting this cycle via endless meditation. Or not subverting exactly, but rather "fighting" in a new way "the thousands-of-years-old usage patterns of the brain." That's the mystical angle, anyway—the more overtly reverent one. (George also considers, if fleetingly, that given the way Buddha Boy's sort of propped up against a tree in the Nepalese jungle, he could very well be in a coma. Or dead.)

I'm glad the essay slips away when Buddha Boy does. We're left with a sense of unknowing that suggests the greater sense of Never Quite Knowing how to control the mind's crap. The spiritual part of me hopes that when he finally got up from the lotus position, Buddha Boy did in fact steal through the woods—silent, almost weightless, and aware of "the world, the beautiful world." The physical/practical side of me hopes that after months of battling the brain in the most extreme way possible, he just got up to get a sandwich.

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