I just finished the novel Happy are the Happy by French writer Yasmina Reza (no relation), which is told in a series of vignettes/short stories about people who are intertwined–by relationship but less in the interiors of their minds (isn’t that always the thing) and together paint a picture of what middle-aged love looks like (lots of affairs–is everyone having that many extramarital affairs or is it just the French?).
One of the most extraordinary things about possessing a human brain is the ability to watch oneself think and put those thoughts into context. Apperception. We can have a feeling or a thought and pass judgment on the thought immediately, simultaneously, often based on past experiences. If I had no ability to do that, I would be forever burning my hands by touching fire because whenever I see fire, my first impulse is, “oooh, pretty, I want to touch that…” It’s so beautiful and mesmerizing and compelling. I’m glad I can stop my passing thoughts from becoming action. There is this self that stirs when I come upon really beautiful things in nature or works of art that make me feel totally small. I think my innermost self is completely aware of how small I am, how lovely and transient the world is.
We have an opportunity to pay attention to our layers of thinking and use them to enhance one another. We can override the initial racist or sexist reactions we might have, which are rooted in the narratives that have been thrust upon us for generations. With exposure to media and regular spoon-feedings of fear over the course of a life, we might find ourselves making snap judgments or unfair assumptions. The first step is admitting it, you guys. I know it’s uncomfortable. Listen to Mahzarin Banaji talk about how universal it is here. Press “Play Episode.” We have to train our thinking about thinking to catch us if we are to refuse the racism or stereotyping we are all prone to. The unwillingness to admit the existence of racism is literally killing people. You can’t fix a problem you won’t admit you have. But you do. Sorry. But it’s true. Even the black and brown among us do (though with less power…). It’s the truth but it’s not a static truth. You can do better tomorrow.But you know what I’m always telling you: The only mistake you can’t be forgiven for is the one you don’t learn from. Thinking about it, paying attention to it, and asking other people to pay attention to it and police their own imaginations would make a great difference. I can be completely trusted to keep my bare hands out of the campfire now, it just took some teaching.
But I can’t leave you without mentioning the need for balance. You can drown in thinking. If I watched all of my thoughts obsessively I’d be caught in the purgatory of my own hesitation. Would never ever get a single fucking thing done, would take no risks, would never dare to act on the creative ideas that always seem preposterous and silly but fill my life up with imagination and new ideas and have led me to some of the most important experiences of my life. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about this in a few weeks, but for now I want to leave you with this poem by Borges. “Today I have felt its shadow gravitate…” is your line. What are the essential qualities of that deep pre-conscious you? Is that where your effort to change needs to be placed? I could sit here and just think about this all day. But I ain’t got time for that. There’s a loaded car and a shining sun and a cold ocean waiting for me on the other end of a 12 hour drive. There’s a tent to pitch and lobsters to boil alive.
I’ll still take poems via email, though my response time might be crappy. It would be a lot faster if you post the response here, because I get a notification in a different way than email–plus maybe you could help me out and respond to one another? I know that can feel scary, but I think pretty much only nice people come here. Well, except for one sort of mean guy; but even he has some very good qualities I remember fondly.
Jorge Luis Borges
All things are words belonging to that language
In which Someone or Something, night and day,
Writes down the infinite babble that is, per se,
The history of the world. And in that hodgepodge
Both Rome and Carthage, he and you and I,
My life that I don’t grasp, this painful load
Of being riddle, randomness, or code,
And all of Babel’s gibberish stream by.
Behind the name is that which has no name;
Today I have felt its shadow gravitate
In this blue needle, in its trembling sweep
Casting its influence toward the farthest strait,
With something of a clock glimpsed in a dream
And something of a bird that stirs in its sleep.
Translated by Robert Mezey
And some final things. Friday night (JULY 22nd) there is an open mic at Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton at 7 pm. Wytold is hosting, and you should go. I know some really cool people are going to be there. Including the star of the great short film below. It’s pretty intense–the first time I watched it he was sitting nearby and still I felt a lot of tension. Be kind to yourself. This film, along with some other greats are going to be shown at 7 pm on August 26th at the Workhouse. Mark your calendar.