Is the historical prevalence of English left-to-right script the reason so much of our present understanding of physics is deterministic and static and simply states in the face of uncertainty that we simply don’t know all of the variables yet to predict an event? I’m thinking of Arrival again and the Sapor-Whorf hypothesis but also nudged once again towards making good on my pledge to restart my Arabic language studies. The internal prompting has become much more insistent since, today, enough longreads centered on other countries and cultures that I fell into that familiar endearment of Places That Aren’t Here. Flavored as always by the proposition that immersing myself entirely into this stuff is progress, self-betterment, as though I myself were operating along a progress bar, forgetting, of course, that such is the prison of left-to-right thinking.
The aforementioned Here extends beyond the geographical sense. Fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and rage (mostly rage), as well as annoyance have been mainstays in the cerebral apartment complex, occasionally rendering abrasive personal relationships, barking at those loved ones knocking at the door or chancing a walk across the threshold to occupy my thinking. And a major culprit is the obvious political tumult of this my home country. I’m fortunate, more so than many, that I have my podcast as an outlet, but much energy goes into it, and it was pointed out to me by K that my partner and I have been relatively relentless in our output. We’ve yet to miss a week since we started. We’ve even recently put out our first mid-week episode. The times demand it, I guess. Time spent working on that is less time spent fucking about on Facebook, also less time writing in spaces like this. In this space, specifically, if I’m getting to the heart of the matter.
Last night, unable to sleep, I went back through old entries, guided by my massively hyper-linked year-end chronicle postings. The boon of having generated such mountainous amounts of material over the decade+ I’ve spent on this platform turns to grievance when I return to where I am now, which is that stretch of psychic landscape I occupy when I fear my best writing days are behind me.
The primal fear is less that I’m a bad writer or, rather, a “perfectly decent” one, but instead that all the good stuff has already come out of me. The innovation, the wordsmithing, the ease, the complication, the puzzle piece mastery. I go back either here or at Boy Boxes Bear and I read certain sentences and become absolutely dumbstruck that they came out of me.
This is the paradox. My writing is more widely celebrated now than it has been at any time in the past. Yet I feel so clumsy and inept. Sentences trip over their shoe-laces in my head and land face-flat on the keyboard. I misspeak. I lose trains of thought, and that ability I used to have, knowing a sentences rhythm and how it fit in the whole schema of a paragraph, a page, a book, before I wrote it, I can’t seem to get back. I’ve thrown my arm out, maybe? I can’t tell whether time spent away from this space is a root cause or a symptom.
Some of the conversations I have here, I have elsewhere, in flesh-and-blood speech with people whose intonations and hangups and proclivities differ from mine. There’s something to respond to, someone to respond to, something and someone to process, to accord within my sphere of being. And the closer that person is to my heart, the more space their entire existence-speech takes up in my mind. When K speaks, I listen to her fingers in her hair, and the occasional uptick in her voice, and I listen to the way her eyes dart from one corner of the ceiling-wall intersection to another in between paragraphs. I listen to what her hands do during outrage, and I listen to her shifting on the couch. I listen to the reddening of her skin when she becomes particularly animated. I listen to the sighs and note their placement, their lightness and their weight. I listen to worry and for it. Noting the color of each thread in the braid.
Much conversation in the beginning centered on past endeavors, encounters, attempts at this sort of thing. Often, we would find each other mirrored in our stories. She would say something, and I would say “same.” And then we would trade. Before, I only understood the mirror as operating on one plane, but beneath that level of conversation was another that bespoke fear of the future and that what had happened would happen again, that what we were not telling each other our pasts so much as our future, un-translated.
In reading an essay in The New York Review of Books on quantum mechanics earlier today, I chanced across an excerpt from an old Einstein letter wherein he writes: “Quantum mechanics is very impressive. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory produces a good deal but hardly brings us closer to the secret of the Old One. I am at all events convinced that He does not play dice.”
The two of us sometimes play like we’ve read the Book of Ages that details every event that has happened, is happening, and will happen in our lives and can predict how this will go, even as we fight to make it happen or not, and one strand of thinking has it that imperfect knowledge is the only impediment to precognition. That we simply don’t know enough about each other to know how this will go, whether departure is the terminus or whether or not there even is a terminus.
And in the midst of the empyrean duel over the course of my emotional thinking came the resurfacing of an old essay in Lapham’s Quarterly that had struck me to the quick when I’d read it. I know it was early on after the Cessation because my thinking was very much caught up in God and His presence and my questing after the solace His embrace promised, and the essay spoke precisely to that combat between free will and my own personal determinism predicated on an inherent, immovable monstrousness. It had also buttressed my belief in the conceptualization of my life as a string of miracles, stars daisy-chained together to hint at some yet unrealized Purpose. An unfinished sentence. God does not play dice. Reverend Don Morgan, who I believe is now deceased, once spoke at our church, and said “we may not know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future.” That line has, after all these years, stayed with me.
It feels rather quantum mechanical. Quantum mechanics deals in probabilities, but the way that wave functions change over time is captured in an equation that does not involve probabilities. If the contradictoriness of God could be captured in scientific language, I wonder if that would perhaps be its translation. Given the wave function at any moment, Schrödinger’s equation will tell you its precise location at any point in the future. We could be anywhere, but plug our location into the God equation, and you will know precisely where we’ll be in three months, three years. Or even if we will be in three years.
I don’t pray nearly as much as I used to and, like my Arabic study, is something I intended to do a better job at reacquainting myself with, only to have failed miserably, but I wonder now if I’ll notice, not just communion with something higher than myself but also the dissolution of time. As a child, when Mom would pray, I would grow antsy at how much time had passed. It always seemed to occur before some event: either we were getting ready to eat or she was getting ready to drop us off to school after vacation or I was getting ready for a job interview. We were always getting ready for something, and this was simply part of the preparation. But as I’ve gotten older and become friendlier with the virtue of patience, I’ve cared less for how much time had passed. It felt similar to how losing myself in a book would feel. The sun would be out, then it would be gone. Or suddenly, it would be three in the morning or I’d have passed an entire night without sleep, even though I’d still feel as though I were rising from a dream. Of late, the praying that I have done has always been harried. When it’s not a quick few sentences murmured walking through subway stations, when it’s the on-your-knees-with-your-hands-folded kind, it’s always part of some rushed preparation. I always have somewhere to be or a requisite number of sleep-hours to catch. If it is part of the homework of self-betterment, I don’t imagine I’m doing justice by it. And, as a consequence, I doubt I’m learning as much as I could.
I wonder if prayer or, at least, Mom’s piousness has affected, in some way, her own perception of time. A piece of writing I’m currently working on (whether or not it’ll see the light of day is in question) wonders at the reaction of immigrant parents to the current political turmoil in America, these parents having experienced their own brand of cataclysm, whether in the form of dictatorship or civil war or whatever brand of autocratic kleptocracy was in place at the time. And I wonder whether or not their witnessing this upheaval figures into the circularity of time. Or, rather, history may not repeat itself, but it rhymes. Some of these immigrant parents speak in non-English languages, and perhaps a consequence isn’t simply that they have words for things we don’t and vice versa, but rather that what is happening now is simply the end of a sentence whose beginning they heard in childhood. The logogram. The sentence-circle. America is a country. Every country is a country.
I wonder if I’m saying the same thing, or implying the same sentence structure, when I write that if I’ve written a thing I’m proud of before, I can write it again. Maybe more accurately, I will write it again.
History rhyming is what it feels like to think of her, and I wonder if this constant grasping for different ways of being—through language study, through prayer, through reading about quantum mechanics—is simply the herculean effort to keep from fear. To move from not wanting to know how the sentence ends out of fear to not needing to know because of faith.
A dear friend and erstwhile spiritual guru a year after the Cessation caught me for a chat one sunny afternoon in New Haven, and I confessed how powerfully fear had steered me into healthier habits. And he expressed his hope that I might one day operate out of faith instead. Faith that I’ll write material to be proud of. Faith that I’ll survive the potential collapse of the Republic. Faith that this time, with this person, the sentence will end differently.
Current Music: Lacuna Coil - The House of Shame