Sometimes it strikes me, when I forget to “loafe and invite my soul“, and remember that need with a pang, you could drive west from here into this Big Country (nice ’80s Scottish reference!), and never be heard from again – if that were what you wanted, if any subtle gradation on the colour chart of “being lost” were what you wanted. In that sense of lostness, New York seems as innocent and old as it did in On the Road’s cosmology of place within the US of the ’40s. New York was the old world, where you started from, and where you returned to, usually tired, and sometimes defeated.
It isn’t about population, or populating cyber space with more, but doing with less, with going where there is less, where the mystery is more apparent. Where the silence is more audible. I miss that. (Of course, the mystics say, “the silence is in New York, too,” and that’s true, though less superficially apparent. Though, isn’t the superficial what this post’s about?) It seems, nowadays, as if everything is all about more. More “connected”, which really means more “connectivity”, which really just means faster. If we are as “connected” as social media claims we are, are we really known? Are we not well-enough known in all the wrong ways as it is? (In this, I cherish the friends like Niallo and Justin who remain resolutely, curmudgeonly, off facebook.)
When do we ever leave our mobile phone at home and walk away, willing to allow ourselves be lost, in that sense that we might, for a few hours, forget who we owe our daily roles to? (At least I don’t have a smart phone, and amn’t sought or seeking, or lonely for imaginary content or contact too often in the day. Though, I am lonely enough without the facebook pornography of seeing how other people’s lives, ostensibly, apparently, are better. “Look: they’ve just uploaded via Fbook mobile a photo of how much fun they’re having.” Isn’t the Prime Directive of psychological health not to compare yourself to others? In that case, Fbook’s breeding many unhappy souls.)
This is, after all, the time of the corruption of meaning and depth. It’s been clear for several years, now, the way advertising uses “depth” (the Tao Te Ching, the Analects; ideas on “not selling out”; Zen masters meditating to sell shit; and the old masters saw money as shit, essentially) to sell the opposite. Advertising would use live feed of Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount to sell toilet cleaner, if it could: “consider the lilies of the field – and their amazing detergent quality!” I am very pleased that the most famous speech of the Second Gulf War (what a shock to too many of us to recall that there was a first Gulf War, and it was Bush padre’s), wasn’t captured on camera. And, it was a colonel of the Royal Irish Brigade who delivered it. (Ok, he was serving in the British army, and they shouldn’t have been there in the first place, but it was a good speech, hinting as it did at the honour potential in soldiering, in being a “warrior” (something almost dead in modern life), an honour that the subsequent occupation besmirched.).
It’s just struck me, coming back from dinner in a great pizza restaurant on Flatbush Ave., with friends from Ireland, the same way it used to strike me when I lived in Madrid, and looked beyond the Casa de Campo’s near-city wilderness park, dreaming at the sight of the blue mountains of the sierra: it’s the same big city trade-off as always. Somehow, living in the urbanised tri-state area is, at times, like living in a corner of a country’s conscious, superficial mind. How could one live in Tokyo, Beijing or London, and never know the moors, the distant, south-western mountains, the north islands?
Sometimes, coming home later at night in Brooklyn, it feels like the Cricklewood Broadway: you could get lost here if you stayed too long, and forgot where you came from. One day, I’ll live in my own wilderness again. Hopefully, where before I lived. A place of first permission, as poet Robert Duncan said. So far, that place is still West Kerry, and I have old friends to root it with me, like young strong oaks. Oh, I can root it myself, and I do, but a group of trees is, after all, about an interlacing of roots.
(Title quote: E.M. Forster, Howard’s End)