Four Miles

One of the most difficult parts of being a kid is the meaninglessness of your existence: you have a stake in almost nothing, as nearly all decisions are made for you, and you are shielded from lots of negative consequences. At least, if you've got competent parents that's the case.

The majority of my childhood memories fail to carry any meaning beyond tones, images, and impressions, since I had an older sister to misbehave for me and another older sister to steady the rocking boat. The most that I was asked to do was exist, and I think I do a pretty good job of that. The early memories are a yellow and orange plastic car with real black rubber tires; Hot Wheels cars, which were then sports cars with crazy paint jobs; a gravel road and trails of dust that followed all the passing cars; snow drifts five feet high, a very real and menacing thing when you are but six years old; warm sunshine, rickety wooden houses, empty culverts, and a large oak tree on the corner of the alfalfa field.

These images lack metaphor, narrative, and live like dreams in my mind, warped by time like old cassette tapes, warbling and dusty tones. And just like old dubbed tapes you never really cared for, these lay forgotten in a bottom drawer, aging, and waiting to be rediscovered. But the rediscovery lacks emotion; it is an experience of fact: this happened - this tape exists.

The factual nature of these memories gives them a fake innocence, since I'm not connected to them in any meaningful way. I cannot derive anger from them, because they are not painful. Similarly, they are not happy, so I do not derive pleasure from recall. It's enough to make me want to cry, even though I know it's a manufactured sadness. It's the same idea that depresses me so when Lili gets happiness from some object she's been given: she is not invested in it, has no connection to it except for desire, which will fade with age. Some day, she will be melancholy in the way that I am, and that's sad for real, serious reasons.

But my thrust here is that once hormones were introduced into my life, I invested. All of my relationships with people held a serious (and what is now embarassing) weight and urgency. Things became important. I had priorities. Narratives were born. Metaphor entered my life - I connected to art for the first time in my life. The memories of these times are the most vivid and thrilling thoughts I have. Junior high, senior high were both unbearable, but at the same time glorious in ways that can never be duplicated. I had chosen in earnest to pursue things that I now find false and fleeting, but the investment gave color to my life. And so it went.

Then I went to college, where I applied myself in a way I doubt I will ever match. It's true that many drugs were consumed in those times and that clouds the memory somewhat, but at the same time I had passion and fire to keep it vivid. With this passion and fire I induced the all-important creative reaction, synthesizing and manipulating the world into things that were my own for the first time in my life (and the last time - at least for now).

Now I'm older, and since college have experienced things which have caused me to de-invest. My quality of life has decreased, and more and more things become a running joke, an endless string of non sequiturs so cruelly meaningless that my only reaction is to laugh. I'm at such an ironic distance from most elements of my life that they (or I, perhaps) threaten to disappear over the horizon.

When I was small, living in Minnesota, it was a large, open place, where the earth seemed to extend forever in a plush green blanket of alfalfa crops or a wall of corn or a coarse sea of wheat. It was the sort of place where the mythical concerns of Columbus' peers ("sailing off the edge of the earth") seemed plausible, even real. It is where the earth becomes flat, where the horizon represents the worst kind of oblivion: that where factual non-existence begins, an emotionless, literal state of nothing.

I'm writing this because I want you to know that I don't laugh because it's funny, even though I'll often say it is (you can apply the label "ironic" and get away with it most times). I laugh because it's terrifying. When you're four miles away from everything you love, and have forgotten how to get back home.

What is perhaps the most pleasing thing in life, to me, is chopping wood. It is real work, something useful, something which directs your mind, coordinates your body, and makes you feel as though you have accomplished something.