Saturday, November 15, 2008

Being Me!

Did I write about this? In principle, that's a simple thing to discover. I could do a computer aided search (what computers are good for), though I might miss the number of times I've written about it personally to someone, or prior to its electronic inscription. Does it even matter? Am I afraid of boring you (terrified, apparently)?

It seems odd that I might have missed it in the prior diatribe that I compulsively resurrect as the crucial narrative of my life, but I just can't remember, and haven't the time to read and find out. I do know that it happened, and did even recently receive, anonymously through the mail via my parents who didn't know what to do with it, an actual video of the events surrounding the occurrence. So I have documentary evidence, though that itself, PoPo, must change the occurrence I remember.

The event I have in mind was a drowning, and its striking aftermath, the iconic flash of my entire life, precisely as lived. Different from a dream. Different from fantasy. Precisely not a narrative, because the entire thing was present all at once in crystal clarity. And then gone, as if with my death, but more precisely with my surfacing.

I'd started down a challenging rapids up North, along the French River in Ontario. My older brother was in the bow, and I, the heavier of the pair and oddly the better helmsman, was at the stern. The canoe was pathetically inadequate, a low freeboard shell of oilcanning flimsy fiberglass. These canoes made no sense for rental, and less for voyaging, but they were what was available. They must have been meant for casual resort vacationers to paddle around in, and not for the sort of Canadian canoe-culture we'd all grown to be such a part of. Odd.

The steep and deep rapids ended in a whirlpool, not so evident on the surface. Our canoe had frustratingly filled along the plunge; a better canoe would not have. We piloted well enough. I remember sensing the canoe sink below as I was treading water at the bottom of the run; I exercised the absurd caution to give it a slight tug, meant to induce its drift back toward the surface since I wasn't even sure these playthings had any proper positive buoyancy. I wasn't sure it would ever surface once completely submerged. It was a momentary lapse in logical thinking, but in body sense it worked at the time.

In the event, my slight tug was exercised in the reverse direction; when I lifted my head for air there was no surface to be found. Only a slight tug was necessary to propel my own negative buoyancy (I have famously dense bones) downward. I hadn't caught a breath. I hadn't intended to swim underwater, a skill I actually did excel at, especially with regard to duration.

I know I have rehearsed this story a thousand times, and a few of those even in writing. For sure, that should make this time incrementally more instructive, right? Though inevitably less true. At the conclusion of this episode, my brother was making a panicked face, and his lifesaving training preventing him from approach to my choking self. I'd been down for what must have seemed an interminable interval. He pushed a paddle toward me.

During the interval, I'd lost track of up or down - I had no sense of which way to kick, and my feet were encumbered in the kicking by sneakers, worn against the rocks in case of capsize. I'd exhausted my brain's ability to inhibit any sucking in. I gave up. And in that interval between my drowning and the evident after-the-fact sucking in of a better mixture of air than the bubbly one I'd assumed, my entire life to that moment was before me, in all detail, and with duration infinitely expanded. I know I had no sense that I was at any surface. I was gone.

And so I now wonder at two connected things; connected by my confusion about them. The sense that I am confused in each case by the very same thing.

I am confused that anyone can harbor an illusion that the self could be suspended, on ice as it were, or even in hibernation during long space voyages. The brain is properly dialogic and dialectic and requires for mind's persistence that its inner activity is constant and, most importantly, continuous. This much is entirely clear to me. Stop the action, and the thing itself is gone. The ideation of the self, which is the emergent as-if phenomenon of a narrative which becomes the self. There can be no interval between past and future, in precisely the sense that Zeno's paradox must be solved and re-solved by the reductive overlapping of any final is-ness of the interval. My then and future self, of necessity, overlap, and a break is conceptually impossible.

So, there is, clearly, a slowing down beyond recovery of the quickness of self's substrate. A final bounding surface. And so here is my more important confusion: I cannot conceive my own shortfall in courage. Why do I persist in a life hardly lived? Why do I labor as a galley slave without apparent bonds. Why do I fear gesture toward "creativity," when all that could be lost or gained is my already and ever present conviction that I am a fool?

I often wonder if the experience of death has formed my chains or the very prospect of liberation. Am I more tentative? Why not, like the iconic cancer survivor or heart-attack awakener, an enriched and enriching sense of life properly lived?

I feel bound by love. I feel bounded. My protest, familiarly, has been to smoke and drink and more recently and soberly to disregard, dogmatically, any attention paid to earnest impositions of caution in the form of calorie counting and statin ingestion. These I find more deadly to my soul than the oh-so-unfortunate demise I evidently court. I mourn in anticipation for those left behind, but my protest most properly is against my very own self for not daring to live. I refuse to perpetuate this drudgery.

At best, my writing hints, like Michelangelo's slaves, at a form that would be emergent. But mine is the naive version, where, perhaps at best, proportions and angles have not been entirely ruined, since intuition has held back from too many hits of the chisel; so unlike those apocalyptic masterworks, whose perfection is their very precise incompletion. There is no doubt there that a genius is at work. And here a fool.

But even the very rocks for Michelangelo had already suggested the form within, and so the very first hit of chisel by me could only ruin the outcome; pulverize the substrate. I drink therefore I am. It is my only precise choice. The intervals melt together.

The thing that would terrorize me the most, for certain, would be the very prospect of immortality (I hardly fear its actuality, which is plainly absurd). Then faced with death always and only being a choice. Then faced with all sensational boundaries being always and only self described. Then faced with the Groundhog Day recurrent attempt to craft my heart; that thing at the center of me me me no matter how many times I did come back to it the very possibility to come back over and over and over again could only ensure its pulverization complete. (Isn't this the way we all do live?)

The other day I was quite certain that unaccustomed heartburn was my end. I hesitated to call out, so prospectively embarrassed was I at the vision of ambulance and lights at the Diocesan offices. I literally could not imagine living down the event (already inscribed in the annals of the HR office is my recent remove from sanity, when I requested police escort away from my death-like midnight den, in anticipation of expectant arrivals for which I was unprepared - did I tell that story yet? It can be made very very funny.).

I think it was the shot of adrenalin at the shade in prospect which made the heartburn so seeming terminal. I rehearsed my death and was glad I did not announce it. The embarrassment of being wrong remains far too great an inhibition, and so in life's narration, this remains heart-burn only, with adrenalin chaser, and far from the dilation of that beating interval beyond its proper limit. There were no flashbacks, nor would there be on the gurney. Nor ever, perhaps, again, except for these compulsive tellings.

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