the language of pocketknives and outer spaces

6 March 2013 § Leave a comment

Love, sex, poetry and art, religion, political influence and education; people seek to leave their mark on the world, something that says in our special, dynamic way, I was here!

When was the last time you visited the underside of a bridge, a park bench, or a dingy bathroom stall? In silver, green, blue, and pink Sharpie marker, kids tag monikers and philosophies in secret, at night, subsequent to flushing their urine, a primitive territory marker. One sided lovers carve their initials next to their beloved’s, name a favorite band, paint a marijuana leaf, practice cursive.

Some of us sense differently; where I may smell pungent perfume on a woman in a cocktail dress, she most clearly hears the baritone voice of her lover the jazz singer on stage, who, blind, navigates his world by touch. When I’m taking a shit in Portland, New York, or Dillingham, and I see the permanent marker tag of Bosco,  a young man from the Indiana ‘burbs unaccustomed to the foreign likes of individuality, self-expression, and creativity. It depicts a penis with six pubic hairs and a speech balloon containing four incoherent and misspelled words, comments to the toilet paper dispenser.

I heard once that bathroom graffiti was the purest form of art: it is anonymous, public and without expectation of payment. You get what you pay for.

Here, we can elevate our progress to bumper stickers. The other day, a Ford Escape cut me off on I-5 before realizing that we had the same destination: three miles ahead, exit, turn left, go six blocks, down the hill and into the railroad yard. I parked next to him when we arrived. The railman didn’t acknowledge me as we walked into the building, but insisted with his bumper sticker that he was raising his kids “Right,” three small GOP elephants behind a large one. Later that day, I ended up giving he and his crew a ride north. The conversation quickly turned to guns, and how it should be legal to shoot birds, deer, and liberals.

I digress. My frustration flares when I experience inabilities to communicate. I hear in coffeeshop voices a fear to reveal what begs to be said; I see lies plastered on signs glued to the face of America and no one asking why. In place of communication, we stamp impatiently for a chance to speak, then talk at each other, hoping not so much that the other will listen and possibly adopt our views, but that we will feel heard and acknowledged.

For example, the governmental deadlock over the past five years has been far less a result of incompetent people doing stupid things, but a large group of well-educated and self-centered people who seem unwilling to listen, acknowledge, and accept their counterparts and co-workers. The Republicans think the Democrats don’t hear their outcries, so they throw tantrums and block bills; Democrats complain that the GOP doesn’t want anything to do with progress, has only their interests in mind and otherwise are concrete and stoic. All of these are assumptions, and how much communication actually happens in the House of Representatives?

This is one way how relationships fall apart: I want only you and me in this, and if it doesn’t work like that, then I don’t want to do it.

Sometimes, objective and wise perspectives – for example, from those not involved in government matters or a particular relationship – reveal blind spots and issues that may benefit all parties to deal with.

Crimeney! I’ve started rambling. Graffiti, sex, and politics. I’m reading one of the most concise and helpful books on writing I’ve come across, called The Weekend Novelist. It lays out plot lines, character sketches, outlining. It encourages, as all writing lessons should, unabashed, let-the-fuck-go free writing. Use strong verbs, it says. Anyone can use weak verbs. Use images. It says, the first word picture in a novel determines the architecture of the book. No pressure.

All things we’ve heard before. But it helps to hear them again. And again. And read. Lots. Like Timothy Egan’s Lasso The Wind. Someone let that cynic loose on the great American West at the end of the twentieth century, and you get a coherent, emotionally charged mix between Chuck Palahniuk, Hunter Thompson, and Joan Didion.

No list of smart awesome people would be complete without Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist Extraordinaire. He was on Coast to Coast AM tonight. I would learn quantum physics if it meant I could have a conversation with that man. Two notable things he said:

1) Everything we know about the universe right now is accurate. It comes from observable data. There’s no group of scientists getting together, he said, wishing the universe is one way or another. Common Sense doesn’t apply to concepts humans cannot make sense of, so all you can have is a hypothesis, and the data. If the data matches your hypothesis, great. You’re on to the next problem. If not, you’ve just learned something new.

One such observable fact: science can observe the past of the universe. Know what they see? That it was smaller, and hotter. And, if you go back far enough, all the energy of the universe (remember, energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only changed, so there is no less and no more energy in the universe now than at its birth) fit into the space the size of one atom. One Atom! Do you know how small one atom is?

Really fucking small; we’re made up of quintillions of them. Which brings us to the astounding fact that the atoms from which we are made are traceable to the stars and galaxies which have made up the universe since it was the size of one atom. Which means – ta dah! – we are made of stars. Wrap your common sense around that, and tie a bow; you’re a star.

The second thing he said that struck me regarded robots on Mars. Neil was grieving the passing of the Astronaut Age (“The day the last man on the moon dies will be a very sad day”), and mentioned that were humans still at the forefront of exploration, they would garner much more attention than the machines sent in their place, and kids would grow up dreaming of being explorers again (as a traveller myself, I grieve this also, as the best I can hope for is finding a country whose government is so strict with visas that it would only seem like no one had ever been there before).

The fact is that we cannot let our questioning limit us. If we seek rocks on Mars, we will find and learn about hard objects. But what if we find something squishy? Are we prepared to deal with squishy? We cannot limit our potential simply because we are not asking the right questions! It is the realm of the unknown unknown. If we don’t know what questions to ask, how can we find answers?

One solution could be to send a robot with the capabilities of inspecting squishy things. Maybe we could let go of our expectations, and send a human. Maybe an astronaut. Maybe a graffiti artist. Maybe not – they may only be concerned with tagging the surface of the Red Planet to let us know they were there.

Thank you for your attention; please return to your normally scheduled lives. I have a novel to write.


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