In the past month, I’ve attended (3) book slash poetry readings, and each of them held my interest (for different reasons).
The first reading took place in a performance arts center; the poet dressed and delivered with a distinctly dramatic aesthetic, and despite the exaggerative flair, her work really was moving.
After sharing a few selections, she opened the floor to questions. I didn’t think I’d have a question, but suddenly, my hand was in the air.
“Yes?” she asked, nodding at me, a dimly lit figure in the wide audience.
“Do you ever dream of poems and then wake up unable to remember them?” I asked. As a musician, this has happened to me before (with songs), and it is always depressing (and frustrating!).
A few people chuckled at the question. She took a long while to discourse on the idea, thoroughly drawing out her reply… but I think that her ultimate answer was no, not really.
At poetry reading number two, an old white man shared pieces from his collection — a series of poems dating back to when he was a kid, earning money for college at a local bakery.
I enjoyed listening to him, and when he finished reading and asked if anyone had any questions, I did. Just one.
“Do you still dream of the bakery?” I asked. For him, the bakery had been a terrible (but interesting) place. I assumed that he had dreamt of working there while working there (don’t we all?) and felt sure that, a solid forty-to-fifty years later, his mind was still so seared by the memory of it that the fucked-up bakery somehow wove itself into his subconscious.
“Sometimes,” he answered quietly.
I wonder if he wakes up feeling exhausted from those dreams, I thought.
At the one and only book reading I attended, a woman read an excerpt from her novel — a terrifying scene describing a narrator who had just found themselves trapped in a zoo where a gunman was on the loose.
“What would you do here, at this juncture?” she asked the audience. “How would you react?”
No one said anything.
“Pretend you’re dead,” I offered, shrugging. “Fall down and pretend you’ve been shot.”
She shook her head. “No one’s ever suggested that!” she laughed.
Really? I thought. I could remember thinking, even as a child, that if a crazy person ever approached me, I would act crazier; that if a robber ever demanded my money, I’d comply with their request and act like I even admired their courage and audacity; and that if somebody ever came at me with the intent to kill, I’d simply act like I was already dead.
And all of this in an effort to stay alive. Isn’t that interesting?
We do lots of things we don’t like in order to stay alive; we work long hours, pay boring bills, change out the tires on our cars and try to adhere to some kind of diet (whether that means going vegan or gluten-free, eating only pickles for an entire week, or smoking one packet of cigarettes a day instead of five).
But why do we do it? What makes life so WORTH it?
Why do I put forth such an effort to sustain this odd existence? I asked myself in the car late this afternoon, driving straight from work to a volunteer event. I mean really — I work so that I can afford a house and food and clothes and buy coffees and burritos sometimes and the BEST times are when I travel and go on adventures but all of this is really just experience… in a word, it’s experience.
I want to experience delicious tastes, and great views, and warm kisses on my lips and a strong hand holding mine… I want to feel the sun on my skin and the wind all around me and I want to hold my big, fat German Shepherd in my arms, just like a baby, and never have to say goodbye to her…
And then what? Because the Shepherd’s going to die, and I’m going to die, too. So is it – life – really just all of this on a loop “forever” — forever, until I die?
Pretend, for just a few seconds, that the universe isn’t infinite — that it’s massive, enormous, but has an edge to it. What’s there, at the edge?
Now, consider this: Our lives feel infinite, don’t they? We all seem to believe that we’re just somehow not going to die, despite the clear evidence surrounding us… but there is an edge to our lives. A bolded line that we meet and… step over? An end that we arrive at and then… cross over? Maybe. I don’t know. Try to imagine it: You take your last breath (you will someday) and then…? What the fuck happens next?
Some people believe in a heaven of sorts, and my theory is that they like to think that “this” (eating, drinking, and being merry with pets and friends and family) will go on forever. I believe that it’s a comforting thought for them to have — a trusted coping mechanism. And I guess that a never-ending this sounds nice to some people, but to me, the mere idea of it is depressing… because this ISN’T enough! This on repeat, on an infinite loop, still wouldn’t be enough!
I feel like we should be hoping for and dreaming of and striving for something massive, excellent, incredible, phenomenal, BRILLIANT, magical… but I don’t know what the hell it is. Do you? Do you have any guesses at all? I’d really love to know.
Playing dead and dreaming of life,