Without memory, each night is the first night, each morning is the first morning, each kiss and touch are the first. A world without memory is a world of the present. The past exists only in books, in documents.
“Are you out of your mind?!” we sometimes demand. The answer is yes, we are all out of our minds, which we left long ago when our brain needed more room to do its dance. Or rather out of our brain. A born remodeler, it made as many additions as building codes allowed, then designed two kinds of storage bins. Information could be put into things like books that felt good in the hand, and also onto invisible things like airwaves and Internets. “O brave new world,” the sea-child Miranda muses in perfect pentameter in The Tempest, “That has such people in’t.” Common sense tells us that if life exists elsewhere in the universe, it will be far more technologically advanced than we. But our evolution has been deliriously quirky, resulting in beings with bizarre traits and personalities, including, for example, the idea of a personality. I wonder how many other planetarians feel the need to share and document their personal existence in such elaborate ways.
Bill Styron and John Marquand Jr. were also in the bar and there was a certain undeniable decadence in the way we sat there, drinks in hand, watching the kids in the street getting wiped out. Tear-gas fumes began to permeate even the locked doors, and at the height of the slaughter five or six kids were pushed through a plate-glass window on one side of the bar. The cops rushed in after them. “Get the hell outta here!” a cop was yelling, which they were trying to do as fast as possible. But something was wrong with one of them, a thin blond boy about seventeen. “I can’t walk,” he said. “You’ll walk outta here, you little son of a bitch!” said the cop and clubbed him across the side of the head with his stick. Two of the others seized him by the shirt and started dragging him across the floor of the bar and through the lobby. Next to me a middle-aged man, wearing a straw hat with a Hubert Humphrey band, watched the incident with distaste. “Those damn kids,” he muttered, “I haven’t seen a clean one yet.” Then he looked back out into the street where, at that moment, a flying squad of blue helmets and gas masks, clubs swinging, charged straight into a crowd obviously of bystanders. “Hell,” he grunted, “I’d just as soon live in one of those damn police states as put up with that kind of thing.”
I have time for one more question,” Obama said to the donors. I had one eye on Kanye and one eye on my BlackBerry. The event was wrapping up and I was a little annoyed that I had sat in this painfully uncomfortable chair for an hour. I had hurt my back playing basketball, and sitting for long periods of time was incredibly painful. I was willing to endure the back pain for the great story of a Kanye rant, but time was running out. Then it happened. Kanye’s hand shot up. Obama’s face was frozen in a look of alarm and amusement as he girded himself for whatever came next. “Last question goes to Kanye,” Obama said. Kanye took a breath and started talking. Yeezy did not disappoint. “You and I are a lot alike,” Kanye said to Obama. “We are both from Chicago; when we first came on the scene, we got so much love. Now we got so many haters.” And it went on like that for nearly a half hour. Some highlights: “Everyone has opponents. Coke has Pepsi. Adidas has Nike. I have Drake3 and you have the Republicans. The only way to get things done is to get the best people together. Me and Jay on the mic. Mario Batali on the pasta and we need Elon Musk. I was drinking a fresh-pressed juice in Japan one day, when I realized that everything in Japan is designed perfectly. Japan is the Apple of countries. I was riding a bike in Shanghai when I had this thought.” I was mesmerized. Obama kept a seriously inquisitive look on his face the whole time. Like all of Kanye’s music, it seemed crazy at first, but before long I was nodding along as if it made complete sense. Eventually, Kanye had to take a breath and Obama jumped in. “Kanye, thank you for your thoughts. You make some really good points, especially about the value of meeting with smart people like Elon Musk. Thank you, everyone, for your support of the DNC. My staff is signaling from the back of the room that I’m late for my next event.
I think we’re biologically impacted by language. It can be deeply, deeply nourishing. And I don’t mean that as a metaphor. It can feel like something cellular gets fed. When language is treated beautifully and interestingly, it can feel good for the body: It’s nourishing, it’s rejuvenating. This is not the way we typically think about literature, which we tend to talk about as taking place inside the head—even if it’s the emotional part of the head.
We are afraid to face love head-on. We think of it as a sort of traffic accident of the heart. It is an emotion that scares us more than cruelty, more than violence, more than hatred. We allow ourselves to be foiled by the vagueness of the word. After all, love requires the utmost vulnerability. We equip someone with freshly sharpened knives; strip naked; then invite him to stand close. What could be scarier?
This is the limit of my limits: here it is. You don’t ever know for sure where it is and then you bump against it and bam, you’re there.
When I set a glass prism on a windowsill and allow the sun to flood through it, a spectrum of colors dances on the floor. What we call “white” is a rainbow of colored rays packed into a small space. The prism sets them free. Love is the white light of emotion. It includes many feelings which, out of laziness and confusion, we crowd into one simple word. Art is the prism that sets them free, then follows the gyrations of one or a few. When art separates this thick tangle of feelings, love bares its bones. But it cannot be measured or mapped. Everyone admits that love is wonderful and necessary, yet no one can agree on what it is. I once heard a sportscaster say of a basketball player, “He does all the intangibles. Just watch him do his dance.” As lofty as the idea of love can be, no image is too profane to help explain it. Years ago, I fell in love with someone who was both a sport and a pastime. At the end, he made fade-away jump shots in my life. But, for a while, love did all the intangibles. It lets us do our finest dance.
In Scotland, we kind of celebrate misery, you accept defeat as an everyday part of life. Some bands are about escape and good times; we sing about the difficult times. And people exorcise their own demons by listening to ours.
I can remember being a child and being blank. Without opinion. Walking around like that. Complete like that. All fear and desire with not much in between. I think of it now as an experimental setup. Like a cloud chamber—where you’ve got this otherwise empty vessel filled with a sort of mist through which events, the passage of subatomic particles, leave evanescent trails. And it kind of felt like a mist, I think. Experience loomed. You tended not to see it coming. All of a sudden there it was.