26 August 2006

(one of the reasons we read, i think, is in the hope of finding our inmost thoughts expressed in writing, presented to an accepting public, validated & affirmed, confirming that we are neither mad nor alone. this morning, i finished james baldwin's another country; in the v. brief closing chapter, dated by the author, i discover that on 10 december 1961 in istanbul, james baldwin had an idea identical in content to one i had forty-five years later, seated against the exterior of a shopping mall in elizabeth, nj, as my companion smoked a cigarette.

we were near newark airport, and so there were many planes in the sky. i would ask her where she thought each was headed. we shared, among any things, a romantic view of planes in flight & truckdrivers on the highway in the early a.m. we never really discussed why; but as two kids from jersey, it made a certain sense. after all, when we were born, it was to the strains of that keening harmonica that opens "thunder road." it's always been far easier, then, to look outward, toward the highway, toward the horizon, than to dare look inside (which is the difference between born to run and darkness on the edge of town).

one character in another country says, "maybe i'm crying because i wanted to believe that, somewhere, for some people, life and love are easier--easier than they are for me, than they are." this is what i used to think when i saw a plane in the sky or heard the whistle of a train. but then i went other places & met other people, and i soon realized this wasn't the case. every country has unhappiness, and like tolstoy's families, they're all unhappy in their own way.

no, maybe the only true moment of happiness is liminal space, when one is neither here nor there. it's like that lambchop song, where the woman's favorite hour of the day is the one before her husband gets home--the waiting, the anticipation ... & perhaps also the knowledge that, in that hour, she can't harm him nor he her. on an airplane, making his first visit to the united states, the frenchman yves encounters many friendly people : his seatmate who invites him to stop by if he's ever in montana; a flirtatious housewife; a businessman who shares stories of fishing in lake michigan. yet, when the plane lands, they all return to their former selves, defined by their occupation & class. the answer, it would seem, is to be forever like zeno's arrow, suspended in midair, never going anywhere.

but that's not life. one must dare or fail. true, one may dare and fail, but better to have taken the risk. "perhaps," a character says,
if you can accept the pain that almost kills you, you can use it, you can become better. ... otherwise you just get stopped with whatever it was that ruined you and you make it happen over and over again and your life has--ceased, really--because you can't move or change or love any more.
one must strive for forward motion, otherwise the loved one never arrives home, otherwise you never get anywhere. in another country, those characters who cling to what's known are those who doomed; those who take risks have a chance at a life--and a chance is the best we can hope for.

hope? "the word seemed to bang from wall to wall. 'hope? no, i don't think there's any hope." it's an opinion i can understand, one i've held even recently, as i recognize that just about every hardship that's befallen me has come from hoping for something better for myself & others. morrissey sings, "my only mistake is i'm hoping"; baldwin himself, whom morrissey saw in barcelona in 1987 but lacked the nerve to approach--baldwin wrote, ten years after another country, "the hope of the world lies in what one demands, not of others, but of oneself." hope begins w/ the individual & then radiates outward. (you'd think someone as solipsistic as morrissey would understand that!)

yet through much of another country, there is no cause for hope. i encountered just about everyone i ever knew in the book, and many of those people were me. i've heard these conversations; i've played both parts; i recognized my own anger & anguish, i recognized the hurt & the helplessness of someone i loved. (i should revise what i said earlier : there are some of one's thoughts reflected in fiction that bring the reader no comfort.) it's disheartening when you realize that there is no other country where people live & love easier, b/c love itself is another country. it's a country w/ barriers to entry that rival the great wall & satisfy u.s. conservatives; it's a country whose officials expel you w/ cheerful readiness & often for no reason; it's a country where most of us are aliens, regardless of our age, sex, race, or orientation.

hope arrives, at the v. end of the novel, from across the sea, a tremendous hop, skip & leap of faith. like our fictional counterparts in baldwin's novel, we continue to try to overcome the obstacles to citizenship (whether they be age, sex, &c.). we want to gain entrance to that coarse, howling country, even though we're unsure of why or what exactly it is we hope to gain. someday, we think, we'll make a home there. or at least we hope we will.)

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