Brains are pretty amazing.
Last Saturday, I spent the morning and afternoon updating my play, Paris is Dead. I made a lot of changes in the grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. I also found a new, illuminating, and crucial event in the final moments of the third act.
For some, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure are not terribly important — too technical to be significant. For me, together they are the foundation of the play — any of my plays really.
Whatever the narrative might do, whatever it might try to say, the heart and drum of a play is always the rhythm of its punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure. One word more or less; a period instead of comma; a clause here rather than there. It makes all the difference.
The overlooked event I discovered — largely because of the fine tooth editing — works like a cymbal crash. It completes and clarifies everything that comes before and it illuminates an overlooked dimension of the problem with which the play struggles. By finding it, I learned something new and important and liberating.
While it is likely there will be more tinkering and refinement, the play felt finished and it caused me to feel the kind of feeling my favorite authors cause in me. Mixed, of course, with the personal satisfaction of looking on my work and knowing it to be good.
And then a mosaic moment happened.
Those of you who have done drugs will certainly know the feeling of revelation that lives in the sudden catalyst of unexpected connections through place, time, and memory. Some of you may know this feeling because of meditation, ritual, or athleticism.
My best guess is that the satisfaction of finishing the play released a legal flood of serotonin into my brain while my higher-order cognitive processes were still running on full steam. And fragments of memory came together in a moment of reordered self-understanding.
Because of the internal coalescences and unexpected memories, I was drawn to an old journal — the original journal — and I found her name. The name of the girl I had forgotten and now remembered.
A girl I had fallen in love with. In Paris. Someone I never told. Seventeen years ago.
As I stared at the never-called phone number and the address — to which I seem to remember sending one unanswered letter — I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that a previously near-impossible connection to South Africa could now be made instantaneously. Had now been then, I could have Skyped the number and had her voice and ear in seconds.
Hello Lorna. Long time no see. Yeah, sorry, I didn’t tell you. I should have. But I kind of fell in love with you. In Paris. In those first few days together. In Amsterdam. Across Switzerland and into Salzburg and into Vienna. Yep. All along the way. That whole time. And long after we parted ways. Long after I didn’t get up to say goodbye and instead pretended to be asleep.
I’m sorry. I hope you’re doing well.
Experientially, after mosaic moments like this and other similarly self-induced noetic revelations, I feel mildly euphoric and soft around the edges. The world is similarly soft, light, and beautiful. In these moments of right brain dominance, focus, concentration, and meaning are wordless, expansive, and resplendent.
Life is good and I smile easily.
So I went for a walk in the wonderful weather and I headed to a nearby high spot in a park.
Here, in fact:
Up in the rotunda (that brown pentagon on the map), I basked in the cool air and warm sun, watching westward into the sharp blue horizon.
I laughed, when I caught myself pressing into one of the rotunda’s pillars. I had slipped into an imagined place of perfect bliss: the warm sun, the sound of rolling surf, fresh air, and the smell of holding her warm, certain, and unending peace. Our peace.
I don’t know who she is and, honestly, it isn’t important. In these moments of pure peace, there isn’t any me to know either.
A moment or two later, I realized I was coming down from the high water mark of the serotonin flood, when I found myself identifying and then analyzing a question of living — perhaps the fundamental question of living. For me anyways. And perhaps some of my cohort.
Camus claims, and I think he is right, the fundamental question of life is whether or not to live, once one recognizes and understands the absurdity of existence.
In my life, I have recognized and understood this absurdity on more than one occasion, profoundly and viscerally. I always choose to live.
It occurred to me, now leaning rather than pressing, that there is another fundamental question that one must face, once one chooses to live: to rape or not to rape.
The feminist in me cringed when I first described this question as the fundamental question of living. Why?
On first impression, it seems to place women in too passive of a role. Even the most active feminine corollary I could come up with — to stop rape or not to stop rape — seemed to leave women wholly overdetermined by men.
As I headed down the hill towards Cobourg street, I decided I had to address this unease or discard the question.
And this is how the story went:
So and first: But I’m a man! It’s natural I would try to frame the fundamental question of living from a uniquely male perspective.
Then and second: there may be an error in my decision to associate one style of living so closely with agency. Resisting and diverting can be as powerful as seizing and taking.
More charitably and third: I’m very fortunate to be a person for whom the fact of rape is a question. For most people, rape is unquestionable and unquestioned: it is, only is, and always will be.
Finally and last: the rape of a woman’s sexuality is only one explicit expression of a more universal phenomenon: our too easy habit of seizing and taking away by force. And this phenomenon itself is an expression of the seemingly universal desire to dominate.
From this perspective, we are all — men and women alike — potential rapists and raped. We may sometimes employ different means to seize and take away by force — to dominate — but the desire seems to be there for all of us to confront and, hopefully, to question.
So I say again: the fundamental question, once one chooses to live, is the question of whether or not to rape.
As I ran through these calisthenics of the mind, the sun and sky and air were still there and soft and light and beautiful. Plato must have made it far enough north to experience these cool clear sunny days. Because, from the perspective of this sun and this cool air, his cave metaphor resonates more easily.
And in a fitting turn of chance, as I walked along the school’s chain link fence on Beausoleil Drive, I saw a young woman striking and bullying a young man much larger than herself. In all likelihood she had been similarly bullied and had learned that it worked, works, and will continue to work.
It was the very lesson of my cymbal crash, played out before me in real time.
Back in my cave and by the firelight of my laptop, I decided to work on my lines for the evening’s performance. Instead, for no clear reason, I grabbed my guitar and strummed a couple of chords.
And I felt the echo of something. A strum pattern. A rhythm. And after a few seconds of trying to find it, I found it. A song I had completely and totally forgotten and it spilled out of me. Word perfect.
Here it is:
Does anyone else hear the accordion churning out the melody? Maybe a flute improvising around the theme as well?
Waiting for Heaven
Everyone looks like a dove.
Everyone’s tight as a glove.
Peace at the end of a bottle.
Peace at the end of my mind.
I am a man with desire.
I am a man without control.
I forgot I am a lier.
Never did once fill this hole.
Waiting for heaven
When am I going to stop waiting for
Waiting for heaven
When am I going to stop waiting for
It’s in activity I will find my peace.
The gift of change is the only release.
From the weight of the narrative line.
From the weight of the end of time.
I’m going to set aside the incredible mind-blowing question of how or where this song lived in the serotonin-spitting sack of neurons that is my brain. I will nevertheless claim — somewhat flippantly — this instance of sudden recall supports the notion that unaddressed memories can live-on unnoticed and affect us in our day-to-day lives.
But why did I remember this song now? I had no idea.
A friend had recently mentioned she enjoyed my voice when I sing in the lower register and I certainly do that in this song. But that didn’t seem reason enough for the recall.
I decided to write this post, detailing the shape and pattern of the body and thoughts that proceeded the song’s sudden return, because it seemed like a fun anecdote to share. I realize only now that I wrote this post to help figure out why I remembered this song and to make sense of a seemingly inarticulate moment of self-understanding.
And after writing and reflecting, I now know / remember / make this:
At some point, while traveling with Lorna, I had this thought: she has been raped before, she didn’t tell anyone then, and here we are alone and anonymous and traveling across Europe together. I could do it and I could get away with it.
It was also on that trip, after we had gone our separate ways, I first encountered and understood the absurdity of the universe, profoundly and viscerally.
And in the very same journal where Lorna’s name, address, and phone number are recorded, there are pages that record my encounter with the absurd.
So why this song now? I don’t know really. There certainly are themes in the lyric that correspond to the themes of Paris is Dead. I remember also I wrote this song around the time and in the very same backyard I first read L’Étranger. I remember also it was the first song I wrote, after a long song-writing drought, that felt like it was truly my own. I remember also I was reluctant to share it because it seemed too simple and my voice too low.
Perhaps I remembered this song because it is exactly the song I needed to remember to write this post. And I needed to write this post to make sense of my mosaic moment. And sometimes the best way to remember a name is not to think of it. And sometimes self-understanding catches you the same way. With your attention focussed elsewhere.
Like I said, brains are pretty amazing.