We’re standing on the train tracks out back of Logan’s warehouse, he’s opened it up to the night and everybody’s dancing, spilling out into the grass. Costumes, party cups, pretty lights.
“What’s your name again?” this guy says.
We’d been introduced earlier, and I didn’t actually feel like talking anymore, it was so beautiful and clear and starry- so I said one of those things you say to try to end a conversation. “Names don’t matter,” I said.
He turns at me, interested. “Oh, so we’re there, huh?”
I’m a bitch with a bone. “No, you don’t understand what I mean. They don’t matter; names are a social construct. To organize people. But names aren't any more real than societies themselves. Civilization, legislation, the idea of time. None of these things are real, consequential. I mean, we can call a mountain a mountain. That doesn’t mean it actually is a mountain. Right? You don’t need a name if you know who someone is.”
“Whoa,” the guy says to Logan. “She’s on the good drugs.”
In a long white wig and white rubber cat suit, and unable to resist a storyline.
“The beautiful thing about rationalization,” I said, pleased with myself now, sweeping my cup of champagne around, “you can rationalize absolutely anything!”
“I don’t know man,” Logan said to the guy, “she’s a writer.”
“Wish me luck, man,” the guy said.
“Fft, I’m married, it isn’t like that.”
“But we do need to organize people,” the guy said, ”or we can’t have a society. And society’s been pretty good, overall.- I mean-”
“Has it? I think America’s falling into decadence. I think we’re a failed experiment. Culture as an idea is lovely, but the majority of people, I think they’d be happier in migratory hunting societies.”
“Well, I just want to help animals, anyway,” he said.
“But it’s funny, right? How we feel empathy for animals because we think, oh, they’re innocent, they’re subject to the predations of man-”
“But for so much of humanity, it’s exactly the same thing. People are innocent all over, too. They suffer to the predations of those at the top. Everybody needs help, don’t they?”
“I guess, man,” he said- not realizing, I realize only now, the reason why we do need names.
Also why, maybe, sometimes you just answer the fucking question.
We miss the turn to the taco place, talking about dreams.
Earlier, after the meeting, I’d asked the guys if their dreams were ever… weird.
“I mean, like, narrative dreams, but ones that have nothing to do with you or your life. Sometimes I have these dreams that are like bizarre movies about other people, I can’t figure them out.”
Lane nodded. “Sometimes I’m outside my body, watching. But I’m always me.”
I fiddled with my shoe. “Last night I dreamt I was a man. With these two kids, and we were standing in this dark waterway, and somebody shot one of them. And then, while I was trying to save him, the shooter stole the other kid.”
“You know, in Freud and all those guys, everything in your dreams is a symbol. Even if they don’t obviously have to do with your life.”
Down on my knees in that dark water, weeping.
My love and my art.
Chase two birds and both will fly. Is this true?
“Isnt it amazing,” Lane says in the car, “how those early psychiatrists first came to analyze dreams, to understand all the symbols? I guess there's certain things that are true across all cultures. But discovering that- being the one to put it all together- wow.”
Andrew pulls up next to us at the stoplight. He's on the motorcycle, all in white, wearing sunglasses against the wind and his long hair flying wild. My husband looks as happy as a bird with a french fry.
“This place is nine minutes away, my ass!” he says.
I reach out to pat Andrew’s head through the window. “Ssh, ssh. All right then, fuck the tacos.”
So we go back to Lane & V’s, and the boys make us chicken-fried rice. It’s been weeks since we’ve all been together. It feels wonderful.
V settles back into the sofa with a sigh. “My family!” she says, smiling around at us. My best friend, radiant in pink pajamas- wadding up and throwing little balls of paper for the cat to chase. Andrew falling asleep on the sofa between us, Lane tipping back in his chair, telling stories. Family. Yes.
My parents had been in town for a few days that week.
Showing them around Charleston, all the thousand little things I’d known for years they would love if they could only see them.
And having them with us, seeing them love it all-
I can’t catch the right words for this.
There was a moment in one of the gardens, my mom smiling up at the trees, that I hope I’ll remember all my life.
Saying goodbye to them outside our house, I started bawling.
33 year old woman bawling like a kid, barefoot in the street. I’d felt it coming on, how hard it was going to be. To not know when we’d all see each other again- and may not ever here, ever again, in this place where they’d been so happy.
How lucky to have such love in one’s life, that saying goodbye should be so hard.
And how fucking painful.
I remember the first time I came across Buddhist thinking. My horror at the idea that one should renounce all intensity of feeling, as everything is but a dream. So that you don’t cloud your mind with the pain -or the wonder, either- since it is all for naught.
Truth is Not a Toy. That was a great headline in the NYT this weekend.
Those Buddhist truths-
I know I let myself feel everything too much. That this is a choice.
But I don’t want to change. I like cherrypicking from wisdom texts, and living my life by them- for a while- but at bottom, let’s be honest, I don’t ever have any intention of withdrawing from the edge, of trying to protect myself from the pain of feeling everything, of experiencing everything. Even though I know it’s all meaningless, really...
Making one’s own meaning. I wonder. Does that make a toy of the truth?
No one honks when you take yourself a dog’s age fishing at the stoplight. We all got nothing but time.
Trading recipes with the clerk and other people in line at the grocery.
Saying heya and how are you to everyone you pass on the sidewalk, meaning it. Both of you slowing down to smile & wave as you go by.
Bumping into friends, everywhere, all the time.
The unblinking acceptance of eccentrics and quirks; the embracing thereof.
Old trees. Puppies.
The constant, delicious frisson of high and low culture, lushness & decay, wealth & poverty. We live in the richest, most fragile of soils. Charleston is a hothouse flower indeed.
My gorgeous, lustful, hothouse flower Holy City. Give us our sins again.
The thrum of locusts,
That abrupt silence when you pass under a bridge in a storm,
Wind on your tent.
Coming out of a movie theater into daylight,
The shiver of a light breeze on bare skin,
Losing all sense of time in a book on the porch,
Driving home with the windows down after spending all day laughing with your best friend.
Finding old lists, folded up in strange places. Realizing you accomplished them all, although maybe not in the way you’d expected at the time.
A new word.
A gorgeous tribute.
A fresh start.
I was full of shit.
...Yet he was half of me: It was, I realized, for that reason that he felt he could speak to me the way he did. I was his child: he forgot that I was as real as he. It could be said that one half of our country has told the other it is full of shit…”
- From “The Age of Rudeness” by Rachel Cusk.
Republican/conservative America, you are half of me. I don’t understand you.
How can our family go forwards if it does not truly believe in freedom & justice for all? A divided house cannot stand. Why do you believe what others do with their own private lives somehow stresses yours? It is disrespectful, it cuts blood off at the source. Let us make our people strong & accepting, brave & free instead. If we stand together, we can accomplish so much.
“Truth can be told in an instant, forgiveness can be offered spontaneously, but reconciliation is the work of lifetimes and generations.”
― Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith
But we are so primitive, really. Truly, we are the heirs of chimpanzees, ripping the faces of neighboring tribes when they come straying too close.
The tide is rising. I think there will be another civil war.
New gods and pitchforks. What an era.
After I finish ABAW, think next the project will be nonfiction- survival & community building/care of after the apocalypse. Pai, Thailand was incredible.
“I pull the curtain behind me and feel a sense of relief… I have stood in such boxlike spaces before, alone with myself, and these moments seem connected to one another in a way I can’t quite specify. It as though life is a board game, and here is the starting point to which I keep finding myself unexpectedly returned. I take off my clothes.
This suddenly seems like an extraordinary thing to do in an unfamiliar room in a street in central London….”
- From “The Age of Rudeness” by Rachel Cusk.
"Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless." - Paul Bowles
Pauline West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance
ratings: 27 (avg rating 4.04)
ratings: 24 (avg rating 3.46)
Candlemoth Volume 2: How To Spend It
ratings: 10 (avg rating 4.40)
Candlemoth Book 3: A Twist of Fate
ratings: 6 (avg rating 4.17)
Stalker: A Gothic Thriller
ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.25)