I would like to think the world is safe and ordered place; that bridges don’t collapse, Egyptians don’t riot and scorpions don’t crawl into shoes. I would like to think that people are kind, that nobody would steal a cooling pie off a window sill or loot antiquities from ancient Greece.
This past week all of my utopian dreams were utterly crushed by KNOWLEDGE and EXPERIENCE. More than crestfallen, I would say for the first time in my life I was completely DISILLUSIONED.
Finally I understood what the Buddhists mean by suffering and loss and samsara. People are awful, judgmental, cowardly irrational monsters! Some of them are murderers even! Bears are not cuddly and petable! Hurricanes do not just swirl around innocently over the sea! You can’t just reach into a hollow tree and pull out a handful of honeycomb!
I don’t think we can see the repercussions of our actions nor see how the drift of the tide is carrying us down shore.
So I wanted to share with you the nine disturbing things that I witnessed in the past seven days that I’m afraid have changed me ineluctably. Forever.
1. Yesterday on the UNM campus, I saw a student walking towards me in normal street clothes and a huge floral prairie bonnet ripped straight out of Little House on the Prairie. On closer inspection and after eavesdropping on her and her companion, I realized she was Chinese. First I worried about cultural appropriation, but soon realized that wasn’t an issue. Than I worried that prairie bonnets were en vogue in China and soon there would be millions of young Chinese wandering about Shanghai in the ugliest hat in millinery history. Most of all I realized that our global culture of exchange is engendering horrible consequences that we never could have foreseen. What is happening to traditional Chinese culture? What is happening to us?
2) On Saturday this bear and I went to the county fair. I thought we were friends. I bought him a blue balloon with sparkly white stars on it. Turns out at the end of the night he admitted he wanted to kill and eat me. He also accused me of cheating at Whac-a-Mole by using both hands. I didn’t really think of it as cheating. Okay, well, why did you eat 90% of our cheese fries, when we were supposed to be sharing? I retorted. Then I asked for my balloon back and he went BERSERK. This is how I learned there’s just too many differences between people and bears to forge any sustainable kind of relationship.
Okay, that’s not true. Dave just took a picture of me and this stuffed bear outside of a shop in Telluride. But the point is my story could be read as an allegory about people and their hidden vicious natures when their stabilizing paradigms are under attack (symbolized by the balloon). Or as a more literal cautionary tale about interspecies “friendships.”
3. Like I said, Dave and I went to Telluride last weekend. I posed under a sign that read “Your Civil Liberties Are Safe in Telluride” because I thought…of course they are, of course our civil liberties are safe in Telluride! It was like posing in front of something just as indisputable and obvious…like the place where the four corners of four states meet. But then I wondered…what if this sign was meant ironically? Sort of tongue in cheek? What if there’s something about my civil liberties that I don’t know about…like they’re NOT safe? What even were my civil liberties? I wasn’t sure. Maybe I should go read the Bill of Rights to find out. Or maybe the constitution. I found that thought depressing because legal documents are so boring. So I tried to name my civil liberties while counting on my fingers. There was that one about freedom of the press. Also bearing arms. And not being a slave. Could it be that I was censored, disarmed and enslaved without knowing it? Also freedom of religion. What was happening there? And wasn’t there one about a fair trial? Would I be tried unfairly for a future crime that I would someday commit or not commit? It struck me as Kafka-esque. Then I understood something else. Kafka was not just writing fanciful fables! He was writing social commentaries!!! That’s what my English professors were trying to tell me all along!
4). On the way back from Telluride we listened to No Country for Old Men, the unabridged novel by Cormac McCarthy on CD. Basically it’s a story about civilizational decline, postmodernism, the Vietnam War and a psychopath who abides by his own rigid (a)moral code. His (a)moral code goes something like this…if I said I was going to kill you, then I have to kill you, even if it’s inconvenient for me or no longer expedient or a moot sort of situation. So in that sense he has integrity. But it was integrity about KILLING PEOPLE.
Dave says the novel became a movie that was filmed in Albuquerque and starred Javiar Bardem as the killer Anton Chigurh. What if Javiar Bardem tries to come kill me? I asked him. Dave said, Javiar Bardem was just playing Anton Chigurh, he isn’t actually Anton Chigurh and I don’t think he’s in Albuquerque anymore. I was confused until Dave explained that movies aren’t real and actors are just pretending to be characters…”acting” like other people without “being” other people. So that was also disillusioning.
5). Back in the 1870’s Saratoga Springs, New York was the spot to see and be seen. It’s where all of the rich people went to watch horses races, smoke Havana cigars, dress like the Empress Eugenie in flat “pork pie hats” and poplin jackets, and consort with other rich and fashionable people. But then out of the blue, suddenly NEWPORT became the destination for affluent leisure. As a result, certain young girls like the fictional Virginia St. George had very few dancing partners in Saratoga! How is this fair?!!!
6). I learned last weekend that there is a dessert, an oblong doughnut thingy called a bear claw. Never mind that (as I had just learned) bear claws are commonly used to maim and kill people.
7) I researched Ayurveda this week for an article in Edible Santa Fe. I didn’t know there was so much crazy crap going on in my digestive tract. There’s this inner fire called agni that digests your food. And this black sludge called ama that amasses when your food is digested improperly. There’s this really old language called Sanskrit that I’ll never be able to read. And there are people wandering around out there who call themselves “gheegans.” They’re vegans who eat no animal products EXCEPT for ghee, a clarified butter from the Indian subcontinent. They say all of the dairy is cooked out of it. I don’t know how I feel about this…Yes I do. Depressed. It makes me feel kind of depressed. Is it so easy to take dairy out of dairy products? What then is left?
8) I’ve been reading this story I’ve been writing called Demon Summer. It’s a horror story set in 1816 in Switzerland and it turns out to be very scary. The scariest thing is that I can pull these scenarios out of my own head, from some very dark, unplumbed depth I didn’t really know was there.
9) Yesterday, my daughter asked me for a glass of water to “dip my tortweea in.” That’s what she calls tortillas–tortweeas. I watched her sit there at the kitchen table, dunking a whole wheat tortilla into her water glass and eating it. Then she tore it up and let it sink to the bottom of the glass where she proceeded to drink her “tortweea water.”
So I think you can see why for the first time ever this week I understood the phrase “to bury one’s head in the sand.” This week I finally pulled my head out, brushed the sand from my eyes and saw a wasteland of trampled dreams, ugly hats and grotesque behaviors. I saw that this world is but a “veil of tears,” And when people say the glass is half full, they mean it’s half full of TEARS.
Have any of you ever had a week like this? Share your pain and disillusionment here.