¡sí sí sí!
[21 may 2010]
I have received your last letter and was excited to hear about the latest interesting developments in your travels throughout __________. Your details about the actions and behaviors of H_________, both recent and past, have helped to fill in a number of important gaps for me, and yet as always, even more seem to appear and open in their place. Your questions about the pursuit of an authentic life raise a number of questions of my own. For example, what does it mean that I imagine the impact of bullets and artillery on my body at random moments throughout the day and night? I get into my car, and the image of an assailant sneaking up from behind and smashing in the driver’s side window with a heavy object fills my mind. This violence is followed by more violence—a blunt instrument to my skull, a bullet to the head. When this doesn’t happen, I tense my body in anticipation of the sparked explosion sure to come as I turn the ignition with my key.
The uncanny resemblances between your experience of city life and my own halfway around the globe in an entirely different society, culture, milieu, and world, point to something that I have been meaning to discuss with you about our common origins and exile. Many of those who come from the metropolitan center have a kind of blind spot that arises from a self-certain and self-important sense of cosmopolitan centrality. Whether they identify as colonizer or colonized, this is part of a pattern of residual learned behavior handed down through imperialist perspectives and functions. Oftentimes, they sit on the terrace of the city center of the world and they think that they see it all. Those of us from the suburbs, though, know that it is the opposite—nothing makes a better, more visible target than a big centralized eye in the sky full of warm gassy air that is blind to the periphery below.
I can still remember the first time I heard somebody refer to “The City” and realized that they weren’t talking about the “city” we were in—our city, San José—but San Francisco, the “real” city to the north, for which we functioned as just another peripheral commuter suburb sprawl. At that moment, my eyes narrowed as I pulled a shard of sharpened silicon from my pocket and sliced the t and the y out, then carved the rest into their forehead before running away laughing, “¡Sí, sí, sí!” As they were blinded by the dripping zeroes and ones, I disappeared into the flat-affect suburb night and claimed its emoless mask as my own.
But that is neither here nor there. Today, you will no doubt be happy to hear that the freeways appeared even more deceptively calm than usual. I slipped into a soft steady stream of emotionless gesture and let myself be carried along familiar routes that required no thought. In these moments, I give myself over to an aesthetic of repeated motion as a temporary form of survival. A form of temporary survival that is really a form of paralyzing decay. We grasp onto ritual and compulsive repetition in times of trauma and general disruption, reminding ourselves to dissolve the rituals once the crisis has passed, but of course, this rarely happens, our rituals become our habits, our behaviors, our addictions—and all of these are what we become. In any case, I was not hassled on my trip throughout the city. For the most part, I walk and drive where I please within the standard boundaries of private-public space, this is one of the privileges that they have bestowed on me as part of my role of complicity. I ride the buses and trains when I can, it’s a way of entering and reading steady streams of current information that is always changing. You transfer buses, you tap into pervasive transmissions of data, the sneakers on the feet of a high school student, a conversation about Sacramento and Mark Twain, a tatted veterano from the SGV and his all-you-can-eat Chinese eatery—“all you can eat, but once they bring you the fortune cookie, you know it’s time to leave!”—“let’s look alive!” another veterano says as he shuffles with his cane and skinny frame into a slow-moving line to get off the bus—winks and flashes some gold grill when he catches me grinning—a white woman in a wheelchair singing out loud to her iPod, a sloshing Big Gulp in her hand. Her man sitting next to her, they kiss, a big, sloppy kiss.
Love like this. Sloppy, debilitating, big gulp bliss.
So many, it’s microscopic, it’s tenuous, framed by fractions of seconds. It is necessary to place my finger on this pulse to stay sharp and remind myself, but my god, watching them kiss, and the young mother with her three kids tumbling around her, all of them laughing—
Except her one son, frowning in earnest concentration at some map he has found somewhere. He’s explaining to her in great detail where the bus has just passed, where it will go next, as he points to the map he has not yet learned to read, the map upside down. It all makes perfect sense to him, though.
I want to tell him that it does indeed make sense. I try to telepathically transmit this to him and express it with my face from across the bus. He suddenly looks at me and smiles, and I’m pretty sure that he can see. I convey to him dreamlike memories of my own young mother taking the three of us to the public library, she must have been something like 19 years old, maybe 20. Walking home, a stack of books to read together on the couch, one of the few maps we got. Escape routes.
I want that map again, I tell him, or one just like it, with the coordinates of my life upside down, illegible, unwritten. A vague sketch, metaphors and hints, the perfect sense of nonsense.
Already I can see that he’s filling in place names and coordinates with imaginary bliss. Already the map spills out over the edges of the page, gushing, leaking out into the world, a neverending fountain against the neverending hate.
I think about the hermetic anti-maps of the “secret obscurity elite,” that hyper-urban pseudo-community that I once told you about, in which I transit like some dopey suburban phantom on awkward, twisted feet.
I remember a circle of children in a foreign place egging me on to touch the scorpion. Somewhere in the urban desert, near the border, one Nogales or the other. My father’s city, I was four years old, squatting in chanclas, my finger poised inches from the animal in the dust. The other children laughing and waiting to see what would happen.
Outside, a car alarm drowns out the local mocking bird all night. A police helicopter circles for more than an hour. I think about the black widow spider that I killed outside my front door a few weeks ago. It took me several weeks to decide if I should—was it protection, or a threat? Both, I imagined. This is always how it works. There was something comforting about a black widow right outside my door, but it was an angst-filled kind of comfort. Coming home at night, seeing it there in the middle of its ragged web in the dark near the lock, waiting, a welcome sight tinged with anxiety and dread. Ultimately it was a matter of probability and chance.
I walk into my bathroom and I imagine someone behind the shower curtain, waiting, with a knife.
I picture a thousand violent disruptions and threats as I move throughout my everyday life. There’s a specific term for this post-traumatic psychological condition, of which I’m sure you are no doubt well aware—the compulsive imagining of violent, grotesque scenarios and self-harm—but really, I imagine that these thoughts are nothing more than the common threads that bind our mass suicide pact. An endless series of irruptions bubbling up from our mental tar pit anti-decay. The violence, the blood, the death are real and always present. The resonance pulses in every cell—two, seven, twenty generations. A collective response. Intergenerational delay. The imagination permeated and saturated with the minutest details. The inability to ever escape.
In The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm says that, “No objective observer of our Western life can doubt that love—brotherly love, motherly love, erotic love—is a relatively rare phenomenon, and that its place is taken by a number of forms of pseudo-love which are in reality so many forms of the disintegration of love.” Of the origins of this kind of pseudo-love, Fromm points out that, “if we speak about love in contemporary Western culture, we mean to ask whether the social structure of Western civilization and the spirit resulting from it are conducive to the development of love,” and that, “to raise the question is to answer it in the negative.” This point reminded me particularly of some of the questions raised by S_________ in his last message to me, but I could find no way to formulate an adequate, direct response outside of metaphor, symbol, poetry. Today I spoke with no one in the real world. I took one brief phone call, I wondered if the caller could hear the isolation in my voice. I never left my apartment. Yesterday I spoke with no one, and never left my apartment. Tomorrow I will walk several miles in the sun in no particular direction, with no destination or goal in mind, and again, I will talk to no one—about this new question of self-imposed celibacy, or about anything else. Is this political? our friend G________ wants to know. Is the inability to love a personal problem, or a political problem? Is anti-desire the antidote or the venom anti-antidote? I don’t know, I tell her, But soon, I will make you some more of my lentils and bring them over in a big container, so that you have more to share with your daughter when she stops by to visit. Soon I will try to give my friend encouragement and be sensitive to what he and his new family need in the moment, even as I watch him slip away. Later, I will arrange to meet with a younger friend. I will pay close attention to what he tells me about his life and unique experience. I will try to understand what he needs, and what he is offering. Not an economic exchange, but the creation of knowledge, a cooperative learning, a mutual expansion and transformation. Beforehand and afterward, I think over everything as if it were a kind of problem, a set of fuzzy equations and anti-functions, a collaborative cat’s cradle string-theory of tangles and loose ends. This is a whole other kind of work. It leaves me both energized and exhausted. I walk quickly through the city. On the way to another meeting with another friend, I stop for a roll of garlic and rosemary ficelle bread to chew as I continue on the rest of the way, $1.75, I haven’t eaten all day. Just water and green tea, my body needs less and less these days, I save my money for special occasions, for others, for loving treats. Forms of nourishment. Purposeful delirium setting in.
Something is still slightly wrong with my intestines. My left lung. My liver. My esophagus. Faint traces lingering. As I mentioned in our last conversation, I have pinpointed the sites of memory, but that is as far as it gets, even as I continue to grow stronger, leaner, more healthy and fit.
Remember that in the mid-2000’s, I spent several years extremely ill, severely debilitated and unable to function. I don’t know if I ever told you or not, but I survived mainly with the help of my partner at the time, and my family did what they could over the distance between our cities. No one ever determined for certain what was wrong with me. It is still there in my body, I feel it sometimes just under the surface. Some days it feels so much easier to just give myself over to the general sink. Some days I forget not to blink.
At times I miss your presence and friendship dearly, but sometimes I think that it is good to have half a world between us, you on your long walks in the East with Western ideas in your ears, me in the West with Buddha, Brahman, Tao, the various books of the dead. It has been a much longer, deeper season than I ever imagined, there are so many layers to these nine underworld paths, I keep walking through the city, miles at a time, no end in sight. It’s a matter of survival. Like in the cartoons, I have taken a permanent step out off a ledge, and now I must not stop putting one foot after the other, as if the ground were still there, and I must never look down—we all know what happens the moment coyote checks his feet and sees nothing but desert air underneath.
When I go outside alone into the city, I travel relatively unharmed, I experience a certain level of comfort, mobility, and stability. Several elements in place beforehand have provided me some of the means by which I can do this: There’s money in my bank, there’s money in my pocket, there’s gasoline in the tank of my car, there’s an official nine-digit number that was attached to my name by the state at the time of my birth in 1972, there’s clothing on my body, my body is marked male and white, there are multitudes of remembered maps in my neural structures, there is strong muscle tissue around my stomach, there is a straight, firm line from the base of my skull to the bottom of my spine, one leg moves forward and then the other one moves forward, there is an ego that I deploy as I move outward into the world, it takes shape, fills in, solidifies a denser shell around me with each step, my pupils dilate and retract in the sun. These images of violence flash, it’s a physical thing, I feel them before I see them, and my body reacts. It tenses, pulses. Sweating. I walk. I think, Today is a perfect day to be in love. There is nobody that I am in love with, but I feel in love anyway, in love, in one. The city is a nightmare. The city is divine. A connection with spirit—at the same time: A perpetual nightmare material decay. Each twist, each step is another letting go, a shedding. This violence. This hope. All these words, these images, these embodied memories, one site after another. The idea of tender physical contact liquefies like a dream that disintegrates into waking. The clenched double fist of our political crush dissolves to dust. All we are left with is us.
I leave you, as always, Warmly and Fondly, Yours—and this time around, with a (post)script to deploy on your side of the globe.
With Love & Rage,
SCRIPT #3 FOR A REHEARSABLE GAME:
Today I will touch at least one other human in camaraderie.
Today I will laugh out loud at least once in an exchange.
Today I will smile and wink at least once for no reason.
Today I will flirt and express desire with someone.
Today I will convey what I feel with my face.
Today I will greet a stranger on the street.
Today I will try to open and bleed.
Today I will breathe.
Today I will see.
image + text copyright ©2010 by Ruben R. Mendoza. All rights reserved.
contact: p.o. box 861843 • los angeles, ca 90086
k u a l y q u e @ s i c k l y s e a s o n . c o m