Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dubious Gifts

I recently came across a quote from E. B. White (from something he called "Here is New York"). It instantly entranced me. Here it is:

"On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy .... The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky."

Willing to be lucky. How subtly packed a phrase that is!

But what I first love about this passage is that E.B. White refers to loneliness as a gift. Which he says privacy also is. This sharpens my understanding, through my own life here, that I had to shed just about every defense and terror which proceeded from an American suburban set of premises; premises that are as much a part of American education as learning to like (or accept as normal) peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. At the heart of these premises is the idea of family: that it is only IN a family you can find the deepest communion and meaning. I know this is powerfully true for some, but boy did it turn out not to be true for me. It was by living through my loneliness (largely because I couldn't create that family, largely because I didn't know that I didn't want to), and bearing the terrible pain of it as a kind of beauty, a rite of passage maybe, that I've come to a sort of clearing. What that clearing offers is, in fact, 'privacy' -- of which New York, oddly for all its supposedly crammed millions of souls (though I've never felt New York to be crammed), is perhaps the best & most gratifying source. I cannot tell you the pleasure I feel right now "alone" in this amazing home knowing that the infinity of the city - which correlates for me with the infinity of the human Unconscious -- is not only 'around' or outside me, but IS me, and is the source of why I feel this pleasure and gratification in privacy, in my solitude. I don't know how to make that not sound contradictory, but it isn't. (You can't talk about this stuff without resorting to double-negatives.)

But loneliness? What would that mean? I can't even get to the existential Sartrean kind anymore. Oh, I suppose I could if I tried - and god knows my poems seem to go there often enough - but to stay with that sort of theatrical oppressiveness would very quickly make me fall out of my chair laughing.

The only images I can think of to illustrate any of this at the moment are some of the kaleidograms I'd forgotten I'd put into my files and just bumped into a little while ago. What those kaleidograms do to & with consciousness is close to the most wonderful model for me of what consciousness can breed. What is the alchemy that sifts the unknowable - the infinity of the 'Id' - of the Unconscious - of New York - into memorable specific magic that can be captured in word and image and sound? I don't know, but I sometimes think my Instagram Layout App knows. Here are a few of its findings. None of which are remotely lonely. They're too engaged to imagine separateness.

Engaged, as I just now realized looking at them again, entirely with Manhattan plant life.That's pretty funny, really.

"Let me show you pics of my city my city my city!" 

"Excuse me sir, but aren't these, um, leaves? I've seen leaves."

"Not like these you haven't, honey."


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