Counterfeit Commonality

1. Wonder and Awe

2. Doubt

3. Forsakenness; retreat to self.

Karl Jaspers talked at me about this.

Friday, November 5, 2010


There are always experiences coming to claim your social composure and irreverently bend your will. These will inspire and teach you.

It's really just whether you're willing to lose yourself momentarily to something overwhelming. I get that in museums sometimes, almost never at galleries, more often than I can describe or to which I'd like to admit in a nondescript moment of seemingly banal living.

Elise is encouraging me toward the world of kink. It makes sense. I like my pleasure caught up with pain.

I was hurled into a test of endurance and a loss of composure recently. The ride on my bicycle to work takes me about eight miles south of my apartment. I had agreed yesterday to meet a friend at a coffee shop six or seven miles further south after work. So, after a night of insomnia and then a nine hour workday I headed south into heretofore unexplored terrain on my bicycle. South of the loop in Chicago is Pilsen, and then it gives way to the meatpacking district, open spaces, bad roads, some strange malevolence like cinder in the air at times. Then, you eventually cut east and get into Hyde Park. More upscale and student-based. Then the darkness overhead I had seen blowing in culminated in what was just the beginning of nasty weather. It began to hail and rain on me.

And honestly, I don't mind. Riding in the rain isn't really that bad. At this point I wasn't far from my destination anyway. The right amount of dampness had gotten into my clothes and set into place a chill that wouldn't subside for the rest of the night.

Meeting strangers is a mixed bag, I admit, but always worth it. I talked with a young lady for a little over an hour when she left abruptly to go and have dinner. It left me feeling somewhat stymied as to what kind of impression I must have made. But I put less and less of my time and energy into such speculations.

So, I suited up and pushed eastward toward the lakefront in order to take the trail north. The temperature had plummeted and the rain continued. Again, no complaints. I was looking forward to seeing the lake at night this far south. When I reached the shore and began to head north along the trail the wind revealed it's undiluted force on my person. It descended relentlessly like new gravity, like a nightmare torpor. Every inch was earned.

The choppy water to my right was beautiful. The moonlight caught the froth of each spastic crest and sent it glowing across the deep cerulean and violet-green plane of endless eastward water. The wind crushed me. It sent a fine spit of freezing water over me from the surface of the lake. My jaw fell into a rhythm of set determination and slack concentration. I knew I wanted every second of this. The opposition, the unending and unfeeling force. Alone and flailing just above hopelessness is a good place to go.

I was in the habit of taking long walks in blizzards when I was young, and I did it a number of times in my twenties. It's a liberation borne of realizing your limits. It teaches you about yourself with what I can only describe as perfect will. This is as opposed to the polluted (albeit very fascinating) will of other people who set out deliberately to teach you. It had been far, far too long since I'd set myself up to be torn apart by perfect will.

Something sizable was trotting along the trail ahead of me on four legs. We were squeezed together into a narrow strip of grass and trees between the city looming up on the left and the massive lake spitting and heaving on the right, a wild dog of some sort with black and green gleaming voids of eyes staring at me as we approached one another. As the distance closed the scenario's threat suddenly grabbed me and I had a moment of panic. This thing was eyeing me with pitiless holes, the pounding wind screaming in my ears had weakened my body, I really was at a point of helplessness and a dozen miles from home. And this thing was ready to set upon me with a will of raw focus not softened or made diffident by human consciousness. The tension peaked as we veered slightly away from one another and passed with defensive glares of mutual panic. It was a pact formed in the humiliation of the forces at work around us.

Such is the unsullied perfection of animal attack. Your pompous will and supposed superiority distilled from elevated levels of consciousness mean nothing in the face of the will of animals.

Onward the trail took me along the water's curving shore, up small inclines and through dejected clusters of naked shivering trees. Ghoulish isn't the right word. It was just a throbbing, lugubrious landscape of complete indifference. That small whimper that comes with physical fight for breath began quietly. I couldn't help but think of McCarthy's The Road. The seeming pointlessness of continuing. Small hopes can mean everything, and I knew that I had a warm shelter up north.

But being there, only there and completely of that moment meant everything to me. There was no desire to go west into downtown where the buildings would divert the wind and I could be among other people. None.

As I made a few mile's headway the waves began to pound upward teen or fifteen feet in the air beside me where concrete inlets gave the water a flimsy wall against which to rail. The winding trail provided small moments of reprieve from the wind. As I peaked a small hill the violent air would slam into me renewed and rob me of breath for few seconds. Once when this happened it threw my head back and slightly to the right. Out over the bay a thousand gleaming white buoyes tethered to one another in a beach inlet were bodies in my wild eyes carried up and down in the heaving bay. My horror was real. It was absolutely beautiful and horrifying.

And this brought me to remember with new vividness the impetus of all my creative drive: I have little to no use for beauty devoid of conflict. One of my favorite authors on art talks at length about visual pleasure and how there is no shame or limitation in it's pursuit. But I like my pleasure caught up with pain.

The little whimper had by now bloomed into an earnest stifled yelp, just another lost noise in the cacophonous world around me. Ohio Beach is a cement tomb on the bay, but the spray frothed over it's edge, water protruded upward in pulsing monoliths like tongues of seizing titans and fell upon the concrete land. And still the wind railed in my contorted face, against my wasted frame bent ludicrously over the handlebars in aching locomotion. And on we go. Or not.

The path narrowed and arced around the lakeside wall of the science museum. Constructed entirely of an embankment of glass and metal, it afforded me a view into calm caves and still water in a large display enclosure. My slack and stupid face stared into that surreal and synthetic quiet. My throat involuntarily bellowed out useless jumbles of vowels and consonants from a shapeless mouth as the city skyline exploded around the bend full of beads of light and shadowy congruence. Before I could process that shift of presence twelve feet of dark lake water slithered almost soundlessly straight up into the air against the wall to my right and fell back into the blackness. It fell with perfect grace. As though it were teaching me.

Four miles from home I finally cut to the west through a tunnel beneath Lake Short Drive. It failed to cast out the wind. Emerging into the downtown area in my state was akin to staggering out of bar into the daylight. The context underlined my relinquishment of affected grace. Wanderers there looked oblivious.

Still, the wind found me at points. I couldn't help but think of the furies. Every opposition encountered is generated from my own doing, not quite karmic, not quite Catholic guilt. Eventually I arrived home closer to the verge of collapse than I've been in some time.

I had forgotten that Elise and Jason were entertaining a guest. So, it was not without some awkwardness that I staggered half crazed into the warm, calm room quietly aglow with conversation. I felt like I had returned from a vision quest. I offered my frozen, wet and numb hand to our visitor and then went to my room to try and struggle out of clinging clothes. Elise kicked into Jewish Mother mode. She listened patiently to my nearly incomprehensible and feeble outbursts about the preceding hour while she warmed her buckwheat pillow in the microwave. This she draped around my neck. I deposited my ruined form into my handy shut-in pants and a dry sweater. I nestled hunched and dumb under a blanket in the living room. The conversation went on with my added presence like a nearly comatose hysteric. If that's possible.

I don't know that my 20's went without enough recklessness. I certainly don't feel regret, but my remembrance is tempered with a new understanding that my growth is largely stagnant without opposition, without forces all too eager to tell me how my love can always be expanded and somehow simultaneously focused.


  1. Keep writing, keep writing. This is amazing.

  2. yeah, I agree. I was just googling Luc Tuymans and stumbled on your blog. I really like it!

  3. Thanks for the feedback. Sometimes it's nice to know that these things aren't just being jettisoned into meaningless cyberspace. In cyberspace no one cares if you scream.