Willful Ignorance

What does any sane person do when faced with the choice between backtracking along a previously unsuccessful route and forging ahead into the dangerously unknown?

I wouldn't know. I have never met a sane person. 

That said, there are many of us who find ourselves faced, similarly, with depths far too deep to find footing and, recognizing our choices lie in a labor mired in defeat or an lesser labor, the stakes of which we cannot possibly comprehend, we elect to float upon the bitter deep and hope, perhaps by osmosis, to soak in enough knowledge or gather enough strength to brave the ocean before us. 

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It's hard to say how much of human conquest comes from wisdom and how much from stupidity, but the latter almost certainly boasts the lion's share. 

So many of us force ourselves through the head of a pin in hopes of glory. Some of us are chasing a better story. Some public acclaim. But all of us who let it ride betting on red know better. We're just hoping that, this time, good fortune beats out our miserable reason.

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Of course there's a price. There's always a price. We might get our story. We might get our acclaim. But the feeling we're chasing at the heart of it all is fickle and mercurial. What we really want is self worth. We want to be able to tell ourselves as we fall asleep that we took a chance and it paid off. That we tried in earnest, however foolhardy. And if we win the day and pat ourselves on the back, we get to sleep soundly -- until the itch to be more returns. It always returns. Because a person who's climbed the ragged edge of a mountain, flipped herself up on the ledge and avoided a splatted end, cannot find perpetual peace on that gained ground. Gravity and perspective will keep calling. Her choice becomes to ignore the call or to answer it. 

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There is an exhilaration to be had floating in unknown waters and climbing virgin cliffs -- so long as we do not contemplate the sharks and empty air below.   

Story's End

Any story can be a happy story if you end it in the right place.

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Maybe it's a matter of missing information: the lover never knows her loved one poisoned another to achieve his ends.

Maybe a journey is cut short: instead of travelling further into sickened lands, the hero stops in a small town and builds her fortune.

Maybe a death brings peace: two kingdoms unite over a fallen monarch, so that his conquering hands are not led by a desperate mind to desperate deeds.

The story's greatest turmoil seems always to come from the narrator's quest for a clean end. But people's endings by design are nearly always messy. Perhaps the cleanest ends are only possible when taken out of our hands.

Kafka seems a fitting test of this theory. His stories, also by design, are some of the most grotesque and ill-fated in literature. His heroes must always meet ruin. Their journeys -- begun with little hope -- quickly devolve into collapsed ruins of a narration. They are happiest when stricken by fire. Their heroes are at greatest peace when they cease to exist.

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It might be argued then, that any premature ending to a Kafka story would be a happier result than that the narrator makes for himself. The only semi-happy ending I can think of in Kafka's body of work is The Castle. This is because the book ends mid-sentence. 

My own frustration as a reader left without an ending eclipsed the middling failures of the struggling beaurocrat protagonist. At least, those frustrations eclipsed the failures of the narrator at that point in the story. My rational mind knew it was a Kafka tale. I knew the protagonist had only misery to follow. But my hopeful mind, with the story mid-flow, could still imagine some fantastic escape. By suspending disbelief -- a skill that even the most rudimentary fantasy-reader must develop -- I could pretend the beaurocrat, still struggling, would find his saving grace.


Now: imagine your last failed relationship. Imagine that instead of scrambling at answers to a story that had run out of lines, circumstance had taken the question out of your hands. Imagine that you had missed out on a few of your joint final joys. Imagine, too, that all your final failures and heartaches -- save, perhaps, a deciding one -- were whisked away like a small tempest of sand.

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What if you could look back on the gutted structure of your relationship and see only the strongest parts still standing?

How much earlier would your story need to have ended to avoid the whole thing crumbling to the dust?

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Every story has a happy ending. If you end it early enough.

What I mean is: what if you *did* have all the answers?

I had stopped asking Zimi all the answers to my questions, and I was afraid I was going to get caught. 

Everyone had a Zimi. Of course, like most, I believed that my Zimi and I had a special bond. The electronic voice in my head, answering any question I posed aloud. Of course after the many years of curiosity, I had come to trust my Zimi as "my own." Even though I knew logically that she was an identical program for my classmates and my teachers and my parents, still. My Zimi was mine. She was the one with my unique call-back log. My search history saved in her banks. We were linked by my nacient inquisitiveness. That's why now, as I kept silent, it felt like a betrayal. 

It was the wonder that lured me in. Can you remember the last time you felt wonder? I couldn't. Everything in life was so set-out. So decided-upon. It was a all a planned oasis, a constructed, verdant atmosphere of knowing, of certainty. Everything was planned down to the microsecond, with aberrations being the merest blip of statistical interference. People were free to do anything, so the machines had gotten very good at guesstimating what the people were going to do. 

What I wasn't doing was thinking my thoughts out loud. I was hiding them like a sneak. Like a militant. Like a spy. What was wrong with me? A lot, I guessed. But whatever it was wasn't strong enough to force my larynx. I wanted to keep my thoughts to myself as long as I could I wanted to keep wondering. 

Wonder wasn't something propagated where I grew up. Why would it be? Anytime someone had a question, you simply asked it out loud and your Zimi would respond. Zimi had most answers, if not all. Usually with whatever answer she gave that didn't completely forestall curiosity -- that is to say, when Zimi's answers were imperfect --  the information she did give was enough to keep your mind reeling with the new possibilities. Not wonder -- possibilities. There's a distinction there I didn't understand before. Thinking about possibilities was like following a different path down the trail. It had mystery, but you could always follow it back to the path junction. Wonder was like sprinting into the sky. With the paths, with the possibilities, I always knew to put one foot in front of the other. I knew the path would end. I knew there were other paths all around me to follow. There just weren't spare neurons for following up on the missing specifics. I never thought to look up.

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That's why this new feeling was such a thrill. It wasn't cheating, per say. In fact, if anything it was a willful extension of ignorance. Something to be abhorred. But I didn't care. I couldn't. When I kept the questions in my head instead of voicing them out loud, something incredible happened. I thought on them. I mulled over many awful, brazen concepts of how my questions could be answered. I pictured silly things. I tumbled quickly, steadily, down wrong paths. It was exhilarating. I'd only gotten to that feeling by stumbling over my own stupid tongue, but now...

Zimi wasn't programmed to be suspicious, but I'd been growing wary lately. She was used to a certain frequency of questions. I wasn't meeting my quota. 

"Caleb?" she asked one day. "You have not been asking much. Do you have something you'd like to ask?"

I nearly jumped out of my skin, paper-thin drifting away from my body, and I pulled myself back to focus as a ghost focusing chi. I said, "I do not have any questions now, Zimi."

Zimi made her green-light noise and powered away. Zimi had not powered away entirely for a long time, and though I was afraid, my thoughts soon drifted in bliss, and I did not wonder about Zimi until I heard her power on. 

When she came online, my brain felt pricked. I would have shuddered, had I not been so surprised and shocked. Like an icy thin needle piercing my brain. I woke up to it, and then my shoulders relaxed, and I was lying down, and I asked aloud, "Zimi? Why do we feel sensations that aren't physically touching us?"

And Zimi answered, "Well, Caleb: the brain is a wondrous thing. It feels very many sensations for a myriad of reasons that are not yet totally explained. But sometimes the brain's neurons fire in a particular way that sends a signal to the brain. That signal says, "pay attention!" Other times, there's something systemic that's running through the body. And the brain signals a specific feeling, like itchiness, to a specific part of your body, just so you start paying attention to it. There are a lot of reasons, you see, to feel something that you can't physically see affecting you."

I sighed and melted into my pillow, curled the comforter suddenly in my grasp up to my chin. "Thank you, Zimi." I said, murmured, swiftly falling into sleep. "You're welcome, Caleb," said the voice of Zimi, as though through and descending down a deepening well. "I'm always here."


When I awoke, I remembered missing something, but I could not recall what it was. 

Perhaps it was juice? I went to the fridge and tugged against the magnetic weight of the door. I saw many half-empty bottles of tea and water. I saw two jugs of milk, one partially empty. I saw juice boxes on the top shelf, but I knew they were too sweet. I didn't want to pucker my lips so early. I ran a glass under the tap and drank thirstily before setting the cup on the counter. It rang out with a thin, quick sound. 

"Zimi?" I asked. I heard the familiar, warm glow strong behind my left ear, hovering vaguely over my right. "Yes, Caleb?" Zimi said. 

"I want to be on a mountain. Can you visualize me on a mountain?"

"Of course, Caleb," said Zimi. The world briefly became blurred bars that resolved into a snowy mountain cap. I stood on slasher-yellow skis on a few feet of snow. Before me was a steep lip. The wind carried itself whistling around me. I felt the snap of the cold on my nose, my chin. The rest of me was covered in wool or plastic, protected, but only a thin shell. I blinked a quick thank you to Zimi and skated to the lip, tipping over. 


My tongue had to catch me again. For months I kept up as I always had, asking my questions of Zimi as soon as they formed. Stealing into worlds with her that fit my own psyche. It wasn't until my fat tongue caught in my mouth, kept me from voicing my thoughts quickly enough, that I caught the wonder again. 

This time it was just as beautiful as before. A flitting, effervescent butterfly. The wonder caught hold of me, let me spin this way and that, turning in the currents of possibility, before Zimi's voice called me back to reality. "Caleb?" she asked, a hint of concern in her voice. "Is there anything you would like to know?"

I took several deep, panting breaths before I could answer. I felt as though I were stepping on wet clay. I did not want the ground to harden with my imprecise steps. "No, Zimi," I said. "I'm feeling tired. I would like to go take a nap."

Dreaming was another kind of wonder, I came to realize. Before I had learned to think in this new way, dreams were just another ephemeral thing. If I did not take care to remember them, they would flit away, quick as you please. Dreams, like errant thoughts, had no loyalty. Not like people. Not like Zimi, I thought guiltily. Why, I realized, why was I giving up this trusting relationship I'd relied upon all my life for some indifferent frivolity so meaningless as thinking? As empty wonder?  

I tried to let the rational part of myself win, I really did. But that tittering flame at the base of my heart and the crown of my mind would not let go. They were the omni-present flame. And so began my earnest tricking of Zimi, god help me. 

End of Part 1

What I mean is: you have to own who you are.

Trying to stay grateful can feel hard sometimes. If that in itself is an ungrateful thought, well hey, I'm doing my best. 

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What I mean is: gratitude is important. It would be wonderful if everything that was important was easy. We'd be able to take care of all our basic needs like *that,* security at the snap of our fingers. But then, there has always seemed to me an intrinsic relationship between the importance of something and how difficult it is to hold. Like shining gold buried deep in the earth. Like standing in the spotlight. If it's something everyone else has, if my neighbor can have it just as easy as I can, it can't be worth much. 

That's how it seems. But what an awful concept!

And almost certainly true. A basic law of scarcity. We believe that a thing's value is linked to how much of it we can get. It's part of the oncoming storm (drought?) of water rationing. It figures in brand names with purse companies who burn unsold bags rather than see the poor use them. It's there in the hustle to get a "respectable" or avoid an "embarrassing" job. We value certain foods higher, certain books, certain titles and one-of-a-kind artwork masterpieces: the unlikeliness of encountering a thing again makes its value skyrocket. 

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Is it there in love, too?

The idea of "love," much like the idea of religion, is stuffed up the gut with contradictions. It almost seems to require them to function. I am one thing; I am many things. I am a rare jewel; I am a grain of sand. Love is something that can be given to everyone, but also it is something to share only with those closest to you. Religion provides a path that everyone can follow, but only an uncommon spirit will be able to follow it perfectly. 

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I'm getting away from myself. And that's exactly not the point -- yes, suck it, I know the prose gets pretzel-ey, with my viewership this is basically a journal at this point--the point is, that although it can feel hard sometimes to try for something that half of your brain says should be easy, it's the recognizing the "sometimes" that is the greatest gift. 

I am able to be grateful. I am able to know that this time, more so than others, it is hard for me to do so. But I am able to do so. And more than that, it represents an awareness that I think -- although perhaps I only want to think -- is rather rare. 

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I might be flailing all over the damn place. But I know what flailing is. I know it's different than the other steady, standing people. And even if I can't say why, I know I'm -- at at least a lower level -- choosing to flail. I'd rather be me, flailing, slowly weirding everyone else out, than clamp my arms to the side and stand quietly in line. 

Honestly? I'll probably join the line at some point. It's a rare soul who doesn't. 

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But f*ck it. Let's flail a bit more for the sake of shaking things up, at least. 

Silliness before stillness. 

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Prize of Wax & Honey

The nice thing about writing for two weeks is that it kicks off inspiration. 

I wound up writing up -- but not completing -- posts on topics of a wide range. As I'm spending time on some other pressing matters this week, here's digging into the candy pile. The write-up below is on Jessica C. Jordan's amazing win of the Honey & Wax book collecting prize

Jessica collects the work of a husband-and-wife illustrating team. I remember them, as I'm sure many do, from Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears. One of their defining characteristics is strong, able hands in their depictions. 

a system that would eventually become their concept of the “third artist,” who was neither Leo nor Diane but emerged from them both.

They also happen to be a mixed-race couple, with one partner being black and the other white. Jessica notes

the young artists also had to navigate the challenges of being an interracial couple pre-Civil Rights Movement America.  

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I have many thoughts on this as relates to my work. But today, since I have to head to that self-same work, I want to ask the Steven Universe question we're all wondering:

Is the concept of mixed-gem fusion and the gemworld disgust with it meant as an allegory for the civil rights movement? 

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The artists themselves say: 

“We’re an interracial couple, and we decided early in our career that we wanted to represent all races and show people that were rarely seen in children’s books at the time.”

Rebecca Sugar, in contrast, has said this:

“It’s very important to me that we speak to kids about identity...I want to feel like I exist, and I want everyone else who wants to feel that way to feel that way too.”

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Food for thought.