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Thursday, August 11, 2005
By Paul Ford
Thirty-one and focusing.
Seeing Pink Floyd reunite was great. I know it happened a while ago but it pops up in my mind from time to time and pleases me. I used to be dead into Pink Floyd; they were my adolescent mirror, but I don't really care about them any more. All of those albums are burnt out for me and most of them make me uncomfortable to hear, except for the older proggy stuff. But when they reunited for Live 8, it wasn't that aging rock dinosaurs could stand up and sing out of tune that caught my eye--even Pink Floyd's drummer Nick Mason admits that the tribute bands do a better job than the band itself--but rather the idea that old, powerful, crabby men could put aside their differences for a few minutes for something bigger than themselves. In the country of classic rock, where I once lived, that was a moment of grace; the music was almost tangential.
I just turned 31 a few moments ago. In the morning I have to fly to Chicago for my girlfriend's sister's wedding. But right now I'm in the middle of things and I'm looking forward to all of it: to seeing my girlfriend when I get off the plane, either in pigtails, pony-tail, or hair put up, either in bright colors or her black shirt held together in front with safety pins, either in red cowboy boots or black-strap shoes. I'll see her from across the luggage carousel and run over, admittedly like a dog when its owner comes to the door. But I am a simple guy and I like dogs.
When I'm not required for the wedding (I'm an usher, and Usher got the voice make ya booty go clap) I'll be up in the hotel room writing in a little notebook. Ecstasy. Weddings used to terrify me but I am now of an age when the proposition of meeting dozens of strangers related to the bride and groom is no longer worrisome. I'm a handshake and a hello, the pleasant-enough boyfriend of the bride's sister. I don't have to work to make an impression, to prove myself, because what do I have to prove? When I was younger I was hell-bent on being something different, but at 31, I'm another fellow.
What I want out of my 31st year are a few moments like the Pink Floyd reunion, where things that were blurred resolve. I heard a man on the radio talking about helping a woman in a wheelchair ski down a slope, the skis on her wheels, and he started crying telling the story because he could still feel the moment through her, the sense of motion and the lightness of the snow, the way the ground was pulling her along. If you look through the eight years of archives here--not that I recommend it--you can find me struggling and miserable, still caught in the Floydian gloom, desparate for love when I didn't have it, confused by it when I did. For many years my only job was to become happy. Many of the things I wanted to fix I didn't, sure, and my faults are arms-length when listed, obviously, but I no longer feel the urge to list them.
So what is my job now? I don't know, really. I guess it is to go out and start looking for those moments when sensation rises up like a mountain rises in God's slow eye, when human-ness blossoms out of animal-ness, and then document them.
That is, lives in time are parallel lines that can never touch; our brains are anchored to a beating heart and it is physically impossible to truly know anyone besides yourself. As every young writer likes to remind us, we die alone. But that is not entirely true. Consciousness permits us to bend the lines, empathize, forgive, forget. We can take parallel lines and tangle them up, and that lets us die loved. Crossed, tangled lines are the goal. Emotions are a way to bend time, and they can linger long after death in the lively arts.
The other day an ex-girlfriend called me up after a couple of years of radio silence. She said, I wanted to apologize for how I treated you. I was so angry. I smashed a plate after we broke up. I never broke a dish before or since. And I said, well, you did treat me badly. And you were hard on plates. But I don't feel any anger. People don't mean to do that shit, but they do. I've done it too.
I felt a little righteous, because while it does stroke the smug part of the brain to hear that you were wonderful and she was wrong. But I didn't feel that way for long, because righteousness is not much in comparison to the feeling of resolution that came because I knew that I had given another person some peace. I've been forgiven for things as well, some pretty dreadful, violent things, and it's hard to be forgiven but there is nothing like it; once, after being forgiven, I walked out into the sunlight and the world was stripped of predators, and I no longer was waiting for retribution from mystical forces I do not believe in. So hell, I said, take all the forgiveness you need. We hung up and I thought for a while, and told my girlfriend about that phone call because telling everything is a way to keep the lines crossed, tangled, and braided. She understood, and the focusing ring on the inner camera turned a little more, the picture resolved, a little sharper. Which is what I want for year 31: more resolution.