The Austin Chronicle

Page Two: You Go Where You Have to Go

Welcome to the new year ... same as the old year?

By Louis Black, January 1, 2010, Columns

"I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow,

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.

I learn by going where I have to go,

"We think by feeling. What is there to know?

I hear my being dance from ear to ear.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow."

– "The Waking," Theodore Roethke

"I hear my being dance from ear to ear." I live in a world with strange boundaries. Some have to do with work – my work and the work required for business – others with family, friends, interests, and small realities. But as often as I can, I enter into sleep, living in the world of dream songs and imagined journeys, all of which make absolute sense when you are in the midst of them, only to fade like disappearing ink when you wake.

Don't believe what you might have heard; life never gets simpler. It always gets more complicated. It never gets familiar but always insists on slapping you upside your head with the strange. Sure, this doesn't have to happen. Life can be homogenized and pasteurized until it is void of surprise and discomfort. But why? Bleeding the uncertainty, unexpected, disorienting, and mysterious out of life can offer one some grounded sense of security, but then doesn't the fun bleed out as well?

"I learn by going where I have to go." Nothing else makes nearly as much sense. You go where you have to go. And you know where that is. I'm not amazed, exactly, but maybe disappointed at the pervasiveness of the surface-skimming, anti-technology view commonly espoused by too many new Luddites. Or is it the Luddites reborn? "Luddite" refers to an Englishman who destroyed a knitting frame, fearing the mechanized future was designed to make him obsolete.

"New Luddites" does sound like an oxymoron. I bring this up because the positives of technology seem to far outweigh the negatives. Most of the strongest Luddite sentiment always seems to have to do more with a nostalgia for a phony past than real hatred of new technology. The addiction to this past that was supposedly so much better than today comes out of no reality but rather opium dreams and personalized hallucinations. In many ways, this is the worst epidemic of our time, a disconnect from reality that has many arguing that civilization and the world as we know it are plunging straight into hell.

Everything is getting worse, according to this point of view. It's not that we are no longer in Kansas (because we very much are) but that we're no longer in Oz. Talking about the perfect past is like arguing that if cows could fly, it would be easier to move them around. But cows can't and never could fly. The past was just as much occupied by humans as the world today is, so thinking things were better – politics were cleaner, communication was more honest, decency and civility prevailed, and people were more educated, engaged, and understanding – is like arguing for those wings on our bovine friends.

What is amazing is the amount of time and energy some people put into constructing their own roadblocks – which, no matter how flawed in the construction, they find insurmountable. Pointing this out or suggesting easy ways around just incurs wrath.

Now, I don't block myself in obsessively or professionally, but on those occasions when I do, I'm far more interested in mourning my fate and lamenting my predicament than in entertaining ideas of ways to bypass the blockade I've just built to hinder myself. These blockades are always more of one's own making than real, but they may well serve a purpose. Sometimes, staying still is not only what is desired but also what is needed.

We all tell ourselves stories. Most of us live in the stories we tell. Most other people exist in the stories we think they are living.

There are many who insist on darkness, who desire that the road forward be treacherous, discouraging any movement forward. The favorite emotional weather report each morning is for doom and gloom all day long. In this state, the necessary belief is that the very existential hopelessness of life is from the outside imposed on the individual. Gamblers know the run; they've practiced the two-step, and they don't buy it but are willing to sell any vision that gives them an edge. Con men and poets drink and laugh, musicians make music, and dancers dance – all around this mythic darkness, not overwhelmed but perhaps entertained.

"In a dark time, the eye begins to see"

– "In a Dark Time," Theodore Roethke

In the darkest of times, eyes adjust. In the worst of times, resilience is the antidote for despair, simply moving forward the solution for drowning. Surrender is easy – especially if it is not just unnecessary, but when there is nothing to surrender and no one to surrender to.

In my dream fevers, I dance like Fred Astaire. In life, I make Babar seem graceful and legitimize the ballet-dancing hippos in Fantasia as being not surreal but all too mimetic.

"Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.

My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,

Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?

A fallen man, I climb out of my fear."

– "In a Dark Time," Theodore Roethke

You play the black, and the red comes up. You feel lucky, so you bet it all and lose everything. Never put more on the table than you can readily afford to lose. Caution in the midst of daring, and even during the most insane adventures, provides security no matter how crazed the storm. I don't gamble, since I not only expect to lose but know I will – then it's not really gambling, is it? I expect the universe to be against me, though really in my life it's been more disinterested than anything else.

The idea is that we all "learn by going where [we] have to go." Not only should we not stop ourselves, but in addition, we should learn not to try to stop others as well. Building walls is easy, hating others easier, and hating the unknown (the future) the easiest.

I'm glad I went north when I did some number of decades back. Moving to Vermont was a way to breathe after I had been buried for so long that not breathing had become breathing. Late at night, I would take long walks down deserted country roads where cars were more infrequent than falling stars. Walking in the deep dark, I would lose track – of time, of where I was, and of where I was going.

The dark everywhere, lost inside my head, I'd sometimes think that the time might be autumn, with the leaves changing colors so that mountains would look as though they'd been styled by a crazed kaleidoscope. It could have been autumn, but it was dark, and I couldn't remember. It was night; I couldn't see and didn't want to.

Often I'd just walk, not even thinking about leaves or color or autumn, not thinking about her back in the city or love or even about any kind of romance. I'd just walk down the road, alone, not going anywhere but still leaving despair far behind. I remembered how those nights smelled and tasted, though I don't remember where I was.

Sometimes knowing where you are is the most important thing in the world, but other times it doesn't matter at all.

The night, snow, roads, cold, hot, moon, and you and I. And "Which I is I?"

"I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow." Sleep is sacred, and it is salvation. I've slept through so much of my life – through relationships, friendships, work, and even play. Having slept and slept, I often found myself so exhausted from all that sleeping that I had to sleep some more.

I snore. And I do so very, very loudly. I was visiting my friends John and Maggie in Hoboken. I slept in the basement, they slept on the third floor, and at breakfast John commented that my snoring was so loud it was like I had been in the next room all night long.

Staying on a small island owned by the parents of a friend, I slept in a little shack out back away, maybe 25 yards, from the main house. In the morning, everyone complained about the noise.

Having nothing to say, I still make too much noise. Without content, I am still annoying.

I'm not sure I do much, but things get done in my wake. Trailing me, there is a creative churning, violent small explosions of ideas and inventions. I wouldn't think I was involved in stirring these things up in my wake were it not for the turmoil and activity behind me. But maybe it's just a reaction to loud snoring?

Welcome to the new year. Same as the old year? Different? It's best to just keep on keeping on, without thinking too much about the present or speculating on the future.

Best to just take it as the march of time, the progress of days. The one thing I promise is that at some point soon in this column, I'll finish the series I'm writing on Otto Binder.

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.