Musing from your Post Master General
When I was first convinced to start writing this blog, I made a couple of promises to myself. The first promise I made was that I would either put everything into it, or nothing at all. Something in between was unacceptable. I knew if I didn’t make blogging part of my weekly routine, I would soon abandon it all together. It hasn’t been easy to write almost every day. Sometimes I just feel like being lazy. But its this laziness I have to fight because if I prefer to do nothing over doing the thing I claim to love, than I truly love nothing. And I couldn’t live with myself knowing I loved nothing.
The second thing I promised myself was that I would write about whatever I felt like. As long as it was my blog, I did not want to be pigeon holed into writing about just one topic. I also did not want to start writing for an audience, living and dying by hit counts and flavor of the day topics. When I wrote my introductory post, I talked about this process being cathartic and by nature, selfish. I hate the fact that I am being selfish but a couple of months into all this, I feel like a much more liberated person, and even a better writer.
To be honest with you, I had planned to write about a couple of different topics this week but I haven’t been able to put finger to keyboard. In fact, I haven’t written anything of substance here since Friday. A big part of the reason for this is related to an image. It’s an image that has been stuck in my mind and I just can’t seem to get it out. This post will test the validity of my blogging promises and it may be more about me than anything that will interest my readers. Hopefully it will connect with you and we can find some common ground. If not, I apologize in advance.
I guess I should start by explaining the image first. The image I can’t seem to get out of my head is that of an older man, lying lifeless on the sidewalk, with a pool of the reddest, most dense kind of blood imaginable fanning out from his motionless face down head. It was something I witness just Sunday night, and something that broke me down to my very essence. I was walking to my apartment a little after sunset from a hill I parked my car on after spending my Sunday off in New Jersey. As I was walking, I noticed a bulldog and his master gathered with three or four other people at a street corner about a block away from my apartment. I had noticed the bulldog because my girlfriend and I had been discussing getting a dog (she really wants one, I’m a little more reluctant for a number of reasons) and I had told her earlier that day that a bulldog was the perfect size for our place.
As I passed the bulldog, I couldn’t help notice the somber tone of the group of people that were gathered around. They collected altogether, but nobody was talking. It seemed quite eerie to me. I looked back down at the bulldog and out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a red substance drifting. It reminded me of a Hawaiian volcano (Mauna Loa I think) I had learned about in middle school. Instead of violent bursts of ash, this volcano would ooze a semi-solid hot form of lava, almost at a slow and beautiful, yet just as deadly pace.
I followed the red liquid up the unforgiving concrete past a discarded cane and to a man’s head. It was then I realized “Oh my God, that’s blood. Something is wrong here.” Within seconds of my epiphany, an ambulance arrived on the scene. I didn’t stay. I couldn’t bear being there.
As I walked closer to my apartment, a rush of musings overtook me. I was surprised that I was so shaken by what I saw. The image kept appearing in my brain. The color of the blood kept obscuring my vision, creating almost a translucent crimson filter flashing for brief seconds on and off. By the time I had arrived at the elevator, I could hardly stand. Tears started rushing down my face. I did not know this man. Nor will I probably ever find out what happened to him. Seeing the man brought me back to what I know of death. It took me to the place that I hating being. Those sensations in your upper stomach when you first find out someone you loved has died. That taste that comes into your mouth. The feeling at the bottom of your stomach, right at your core, like you just don’t know what to do. And the tingling in your fist, like your ready to punch the next person that looks at you the wrong way. If you have never experienced a shocking and tragic loss, than perhaps you think I’m crazy. And if you have, than I’m sorry that you know what I’m talking about. I don’t know which boat I’d rather be in sometimes.
Before I knew it, I felt fine again. I was back at my apartment and I was ready to go about my business. All in all, the experience got me thinking. The image kept coming back to me. I haven’t had another episode, but as I mentioned before, the chilling image keeps flashing through my mind.
When I woke up the next morning and left my apartment, I had my headphones in. The walk from my home to car every morning is like a trance for me. I hardly remember doing it because I do it almost every day. Monday was no different at first. As soon as the cool morning air (not cool enough this fall in New York, in my opinion) hit my cheeks, and the sound of Broken Bells permeated through my one good ear, I was whisked into my zombie state of being. That is, till I walked by the spot.
The scene of the incident the previous night was the same as it had always been on a weekday morning. People walking toward the 1 train, parents walking their children towards a nearby school. The occasional loiterers, street urchins, and people watchers sitting and standing by their designated corners. All going about their daily business, stepping over and ignoring the blood stained sidewalk under them.
When I saw the stain on the sidewalk from the night before, I was brought right back to the moment. I couldn’t believe that so many people were doing their things at a spot that had caused me so much internal strife. But could I really blame them? They had no idea what had happened only hours before. They didn’t know that a persons life, their story, their interactions had all come to an end before their feet. If I had not been there that night, I would not have known either. I would have been just like every other New Yorker. My blinders would have been up, and with conviction as my chariot, I would have dragged my own agenda around, oblivious to the timelines of my neighbors.
By the time I was ready to write a post that day. Nothing came to mind. What I had planned to write about seemed tired and bored. I kept thinking “How can I write about this when I have something more essential to the human condition on my mind?” So I just didn’t write. I just thought.
I kept returning to an interesting concept. It was the idea that somehow our society has been desensitized when it comes to violence and the value of human life. This is a concept that was discussed at length after the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Has excessive violence in Films and in Video Games made some of us more accepting of the bloody reality of death?
Sometime last week, a friend and I were playing (well, he plays. I watch and comment, I’m weird like that)a game called “The Sabotoeur”. In the game, as a member of the Allied Resistance in occupied France, you have to shoot Nazi’s among other objectives. I remember commenting about how cool it looked when an unsuspecting Nazi would received a fatal shot to the head from a sniper rifle. There is also a driving element in the game (something my friend isn’t too good at.) While he was driving, he would routinely run over Parisian civilians in lieu of slowing down and arriving at the designated destination a little later. I would complain to him “Why do you have to kill so many civilians?”
He replied, almost nonchalantly, “Well they shouldn’t have been in my way.”
It’s amazing how the both of us couldn’t care less about the video game deaths. As fans of actions movies, it would seem like screen deaths didn’t phase us much either. Could one of us actually have the mindset to pick up an assault rifle and kill real people the same way we would virtual people in video games? I sure hope not. And I really don’t think so. For the vast majority of us, I think we can separate fantasy and fiction from reality.
Art and violence have gone hand in hand for centuries. Don’t believe me? Go read Homer and tell me otherwise. Yes its true that art today (I count video games as art, anyone who doesn’t is not from this century) is decidedly more violent than in decades past and I’m not sure why. But that doesn’t mean just because we see a lot of it being portrayed in modern media, that its easier for us to do it in real life. I think the feelings I felt towards the man I saw bleeding on the sidewalk are a testament to this. Perhaps a car hit him and knocked him to the side of the road. I didn’t think “well, he must have been in the driver’s way” like my friend thought while making the same mistake during his video game play.
Still, it doesn’t remove the fact that in a post 9/11 world, we have become a rather jaded people. This is a society where sarcasm rules supreme. Yes, people today are more politically correct than ever, almost sometimes to an annoying level but when it comes to art and humor for example, the push back is worse than ever. I hear more and more rape jokes every day. It’s like because it is so awful, that’s what makes it so funny. I’m sure a lot of victims of rape would not agree that it was funny. or maybe they would. I can’t speak for rape victims because thankfully, I have never been affected by rape. But maybe that’s just it.
There is something about the human condition in some people that allows us to laugh at the most brutal things imaginable. As I mentioned earlier, I have been touched by death in my life. Can’t I full on joke about the death of a loved one? I wouldn’t dream about it. But can I joke about the subject? Absolutely. And there is something macabre about that. It’s scary too. Because I’ve had to deal with death, I no longer fear death. I don’t worry about my own death. It’s going to come. I’ve yet to meet a human being who has escaped it. Don’t get me wrong. I am not fearless. I won’t just in front of traffic. I still fear being in pain. I still fear falling from a great height and the impact it would cause. But I don’t fear dying. It’s a sad sobering fact that every second we live is a second closer to death. We can’t get around it. And since I’ve seen the evidence of that first hand, I don’t fear it coming. So why not laugh about it sometimes?
Ironically, I remember the disposition of the coroner in charge of examining the bodies of the children who were slain at Sandy Hook. During a press conference, while there was a somber tone around him, he was somewhat chuckling and giving witty remarks to the reporters asking questions. Yes, he did say it was the worst disaster he had ever seen, but he also talked about how jaded he had become from performing his job, and that sometimes, its impossible to cry anymore, leaving you no choice but to laugh. I’m sure he didn’t mean to be laughing at the tragedy. They weren’t pleasurable laughs. He had just chosen to take a lighter approach to his work to keep his sanity, or else perhaps he would not have been able to do his job at all.
On the other hand, as I type this, I remember the words of another coroner. I can’t remember his name, but he was the coroner involved with identifying the victims of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in Milwaukee. The gruesome and grizzly details of those murders and the body mutilation that followed is enough to send shivers down even the most jaded person’s spine. So when this coroner talked about never seeing a horror movie again after what he witnessed, it makes sense. Hollywood gore can seem foolish when you’ve seen much worse in real life. I know veterans who don’t watch war movies for this very reason. They have seen everything than can be seen on the battlefield. They have felt every emotion that could be felt in those circumstances. Films about it just don’t cut it for them. And it’s something they don’t want to experience again anyway. I also know veterans who love war movies so I guess every person processes their experiences differently.
The reason I couldn’t write for days was not so much that I saw a man dying. It was more about the emotions that came from the image of the incident. I wasn’t distraught or hurt or even unhappy. I just had a feeling of general malaise. I couldn’t figure it out until it hit me like a ton of bricks. On Monday, I was starring at my computer screen, begging the words to filter from my brain and into my fingertips when I realized something. How could anything I write ever compare to true human emotion? How could I take what I felt and have the world truly feel the same exact things? If I couldn’t do that, than I wouldn’t be doing my feelings justice, right?
The problem wasn’t limited to me. How could any writer or artist every express what it really means to be in love? Or the feeling a child gets when he finds out his parents are getting divorced? Or the moment when parents see their newborn child for the first time? I don’t know what that’s like. I don’t have any children. Sure I can read about it or watch a movie about it but I really wont know what it feels like until it’s there, happening to me. What’s the point of doing something if you know your goal will never be reached? It’s like the carrot dangling in front of a horse, and I really didn’t feel like being the horse.
The thought of being in love with a futile pursuit tore at me. However, Tuesday around noon I received some good news. A post I had written was accepted and posted on the critically acclaimed Thought Catalog website. As a reader of Thought Catalog, I had made it one of my goals, even before I started blogging, to have one of my submissions make it there. I have tried on and off in vain for about a year to get something I wrote up there. I thought I just wasn’t their style. But I must have been wrong. I received an email and I could not have been happier. I had not been that happy in a while. I even forgot what it felt like. It just felt so amazing to set a goal and than achieve that goal. It’s something I have rarely done in my life. Was it my best article? Probably not. It was the article about Jumanji vs The Zombie Apocalypse for all my loyal fans familiar with my work. But I didn’t care. I was in. It was nice to be recognized, even if it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.
Even though happiness had returned to my life, I still couldn’t bring myself to write, at least not write the things that I wanted to. I thought that maybe I should focus on writing comedy or more nonsensical things like my Jumanji post. I thought, “if I capture what I want to capture, than why not find a happy compromise?” I tried doing that but it just wasn’t me. I had too much on my mind, both positive and negative so just focus myself in one direction, especially if it was for my personal blog. I stated once that I wanted this place to be the magazine of my brain, a window to my soul. My brain doesn’t work that one. I can’t just write about one topic. So there I was, in a quagmire of sorts. I was sure I would get out, I just didn’t know what would do it for me.
This morning while I was driving to work, I noticed an older man standing under the Henry Hudson Expressway just south of The George Washington Bridge in New York. This was the same place he always was, every day that I had passed this spot since I had moved to Manhattan and he was doing what he did day after day after day, he was painting. I could never figure out what he was painting, probably the rock face ahead of him but I couldn’t be sure. Seeing him though,made everything click back together again. Suddenly it all made sense. Sure, an artist can’t be perfect, but he can sure as hell try. Nothing I ever write will capture exactly what I felt when I saw that man on the ground and that’s okay. I guess it’s the artist job to come close enough, and if he or she can connect with someone else on a small personal level, than what is there to complain about? It’s like the old Vince Lombardi quote about perfection, how it’s not attainable, but by chasing it we can catch excellence, and that’s the job of the artist. That’s why the old man can paint at the same spot every day. That’s the point of it all, and that’s why I’ll continue to do what I love to do. It might not be easy all the time, but than again, what is? And if it wasn’t, would it taste as sweet when you finally got close enough to what you wanted?
Thanks for stepping into my brain for a little bit. Without the few of you who got this far, I don’t know how I would go about my days. Thanks again.
photo courtesy of theguardian.com