"Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don't know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It's that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don't know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless."
— Paul Bowles
I went on a bike ride today. It wasn't particularly long or eventful in any way. Cold and sunny. The wind whipped and cars honked as I lazily pedaled down the avenue... just taking in the sights. My beard ached, whiskers stabbing my lips. Hands like blocks of wood. Thighs burning more than I'd anticipated. Occasionally turning my head to see which well-oiled German auto might bring about my mundane demise.
It was the first time in a long time I actually sat upright, inhaling and exhaling in great gulps... blinking... thinking... remembering my life. It was nice. Mostly because it caused me to recall the Paul Bowles quote above. Years ago, Kevin Willis gave me a book of Bowles' travel essays Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue, with the demand that I read it in its entirety. Thanks to Kevin's prescience, without exaggeration it is a body of work which has done perhaps as much to shape my general character as any event, person, place or thing I've ever enjoyed or suffered. No lie.
Maybe it was the subject matter of the essays. Maybe it was the narrative tone and style of writing. Maybe it was the time and place in my life. Maybe it was that someone I trusted and respected had put the book in my hands. Maybe in Paul Bowles' darkly observant and deeply fated view of life I found a certain kind of kinship. Maybe I saw shades of my own resigned disposition and matter-of-fact sense of humor, (which in those days was all too often mistaken for no sense of humor at all, ha!). I really don't know.
All I know is this— it is important to cultivate new memories of things that profoundly move us. Even if only to give our subconscious mind a bit of fodder to ponder on otherwise seemingly inconsequential bike rides. Conjuring the past to make the present somehow more doable.
Moreover, it is important to be genuine about it. To say it aloud. To be ecstatic. To even occasionally be unhinged about it, whatever "it" might be. To be a fool for the things that strike a chord in us. I'm not talking about art scenes or music fads or subcultural exercises and social graces. I'm talking about those rare things we come upon that might move, shake and shape us to the core. Talk Talk's The Spirit of Eden. East Berlin circa 1999-2001. The Shure SM7 microphone. The Angeles National Forest. Ziad Doueiri's West Beirut. Mia the murder dog and Pizza Party the deaf puppy.
Tonight I came across this vimeo video by the artist Diego Agullo. I don't know anything about Agullo. Zilch. Nor do I necessarily need to know anything more. From the desert scenery to the symbology to the humor to the musical score... I completely appreciate this video piece and am moved by it.
Some day in the future, maybe 20 years from now, as I'm walking a flight of stairs, drying the dishes or maybe dying of a snake bite... whatever, my thoughts will turn to Agullo's film. And when that day comes I will remember today's ride on Leigh LeDare's wobbly old commuter bike. A biting wind in my eyes and a burn in my thighs. Hands like blocks of wood. Cars honking. Teenage girls with long black hair and denim-clad sausage legs... texting at the Walgreen's bus stop. Security guard at the House of Spirits hoisting his utility belt and instinctively touching his moustache. Bearded man with the kind face and dorky dad glasses standing on the corner of Sunset x Echo Park Ave wearing a yellow rain slicker holding a sign blasting the words "MORE MONEY FOR SCHOOLS, NOT WAR". I wave, he gives me the thumbs up. Pedaling past Echo Park lake, watching the bright light bounce off the water, scanning the grass for Maria the lovesick goose. Later, visiting with Isac and his weird fat dog. Driving around with Justin Regan staring at skate spots. Stumbling upon Diego Agullo's video. Writing this post... thinking of Paul Bowles... spending an entire Friday night writing on the importance of feeling moved and cultivating new memories. Thanks Diego.
Thanks again, Kevin. Enjoy Nigeria.