One nice thing about my current temp job: After the first day of mind-numbingly reading the job's guidebook and website dozens of times once any filing/phone-answering was done, I was given permission on the second day to bring my own reading material! THANK YOU!!
I've had over 20 New Yorkers stacking up since the Spring, some completely unread, some with just bits and pieces read... So now, for the past couple of days, I've gotten to systematically whittle down the stack. This week's (well, 8/27, since we get 'em late in Texas) was particularly filled with interesting stuff that made my brain feel awake and hopeful despite my deadening environment.
Reading backwards, as I always do:
First, learning about author Stefan Zweig (Austrian, 1881-1942; Jewish exile from Hitler, suicide in Brazil; apparently very literarily famous in the 20s and 30s), whom I'd never heard of before. A new bio to read--"Three Lives"--as well as his own memoir, "The World of Yesterday." A restless misfit, like me. From the article: "...his fixation on extreme psychological states coexists with something more distanced. Zweig relishes both the tumult of feeling and the way that even the most inchoate emotions, seen from the outside, tend to form a pattern." That's EXACTLY the kind of thing that interests me! Knowing that others were out there thinking the same things makes me feel like I'm not surreally alone today! (And by this point, trust me, my aloneness has gotten so extreme that it's indeed very surreal!)
Next was Alice Munro's story "Amundsen." A young woman, kind of flat in affect but psychologically aware, goes to teach at an outlying school and finds odd charm there, and an oddly flat but in-its-own-way-charming and then-moving kind of love. By the end: "Feeling the same as when I'd left Amundsen. The train dragging me, disbelieving. Nothing changes, apparently, about love." Nothing changes! You're jerked or coaxed out of your lethargy by someone not that persuasive, but...kinda persuasive--odd enough so that it seems a bit natural and "meant to be." And then... Nothing was meant to be! A writer managed to capture exactly the odd, completely random state of life itself.
Then the poem "Haste" by C.K. Williams:
Not so fast people were always telling me...
but the admonition that stuck was the whisper that girl that woman that smudged now
dear girl-woman legs so tightly wound round me sighed young as she was to my ear...
No one says Not so fast now not Catherine when I hold her not our dog as I putter behind her
yet everything past present future rushes so quickly through me I've frayed like a flag
Unbuckle your spurs life don't you know up ahead where the road ends there's an abyss?...
Then the Popeye cartoon, titled "$875,000 Later," with Popeye on the couch in a psychiatrist's office: "...so I yam what I yam, and that's all that I yam. But what if I yam NOT what I yam? What if I yam what I yam NOT? How do we know what we yam? If we yam..."
Then the article by Dr. Oliver Sacks detailing his many semi-controlled drug experiences that he pursued as an adult after his youthful "only reading about." Artane (completely imagining a mundane visit from friends for breakfast); then his cocktail of amphetamine/LSD/cannabis in search of the elusive color "indigo" (and he SAW it---and then only a glimpse or two later, and then not at all ever again, to Sacks's sadness); then the injection of morphine, after which he watched--FOR 12 HOURS--the 1415 Henry V Agincourt battle TAKING PLACE ON THE SLEEVE OF HIS DRESSING GOWN!; then the amphetamine-fuelled 10-hour reading binge of a 19th-century doctor's study of migraines that led to a breakthrough in Sacks's own work because he felt such an affinity for the 19th-century doctor (though Sacks never took amphetamines again afterwards). Made me feel like trying out all of these! I want to experience indigo and the 15th century and a deep mind-meld with a writer! Unfortunately, drugs make me more paranoid than I already am by nature (the last time I did anything illegal was in 2002; before then, there'd been another 10-year-gap); plus I don't have a safe, isolated place to take them and be able to THINK weird things in peace; plus stuff's all laced with poisons nowadays; plus I don't know anyone to buy anything from!
Then the article on German violinist Christian Tetzlaff. I don't know classical music. I inherited 25 or so classical CDs from my German aunt who died a few years ago. Still haven't listened to any of them. And I recently bought a 6-CD set of Rubinstein performing Chopin, just because I wanted to hear the exact Rubinstein version of Chopin's Ballade #1 in G Minor, Op. 23 CT. that Anne Sexton said was so orgasmic! Still haven't listened to that Ballade, or any of the rest of the set. But the article on Tetzlaff:
Performing music, he says, "is the job that has the most to do with the belief in the existence of the soul. I deal in Berg's soul, in Brahms's soul--that's my job....I find that music is humans' most advanced achievement, more so than painting and writing, because it's more mysterious, more magical, and it acts in such a direct way. Trying to turn lead into gold is nothing compared to taking something mechanical like an instrument--a string and a bow--and using it to evoke a human soul, preserved through the centuries."
Tetzlaff on the composers that he interprets with his violin: "Many of us can maybe imagine sounds, or have some musical ideas. But to have them consistently building whole works, and to have the means of transforming something that's in your ear into handcrafted written notes that give you back what you heard and what you felt -- I find it just utterly miraculous."
Tetzlaff on playing Bach: "Bach's music confronts the player and the audience in a very personal situation, in a very alone way. And I try at that moment to put away pretensions--in levels of violin playing, pretensions of being a strong man, of being invulnerable--and instead say, 'This is where we all have common ground.' Most of the time, we try to tell ourselves 'I'm confident' or 'I'm doing well.' But then, in a moment alone at home, you feel how close you are to some kind of abyss."
I got goosebumps. Truth. Mystery. Why we live. I'm not alone at a desk for 8 hours a day waiting for random calls, having to kow-tow to someone who's simply silly. There's some Truth beyond that I have to remember and seek.
And finally, in The Talk of the Town: the discovery of the "Higgs boson, which helps explain...how subatomic particles, and thus all the elementary matter in the universe, acquire mass... The Higgs suggests that there could be more dimensions of space-time than we previously thought....'We're here--there's something on the other side of Higgs that we're interacting with, that could be even bigger than the Higgs'..."
When they finally figure it--dark matter and energy--out, it's going to be revealed as "souls" of every once-living thing since the beginning of the Universe. Remember the scientific principle: Energy cannot be created or destroyed. All that once-living energy had to go somewhere. Maybe, just maybe, it's in the 75% of the universe's "dark matter/energy" that scientists can now identify but not account for.
When they discover what's "on the other side of Higgs," talking to the dead will become mundane, and we living will be much more sane as a result.
Stranger things have happened.
I'm amazed and grateful that in the middle of my horrible dark feelings that such a huge amount of hopefulness and indication of other worlds would be available to me, all revealed in one issue of one magazine in one day while trapped at a desk phone-answering and filing. THANK YOU, UNIVERSE, for everything above.