Nothing is single. Everything is an aggregate. I’m a composite of molecules. The pronoun ‘I,’ which is ‘me,’ am a gathering of atoms whose collective agency creates a sensation of personhood.
How does that happen? I don’t know. It’s like trying to figure out what makes water wet. Where does its wetness come from?
Approximately 99% of the human body is an aggregate of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous. 0.85% consists of potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. All eleven are necessary for life.
Why is that? Does this mean that if I collect all these elements and put them into a blender and mix them all up really good out pops a baby?
A baby milkshake? A baby Slurpee?
What is it that turns inorganic elements into organic elements? Elements with eyes and ears and legs and arms. Elements with hair. Elements with eyebrows and fingernails and desires and preferences and dislikes and hatreds and loves and passions and wonder.
A sense of awe. Where does awe come from? Is that the missing .05%? And where does awe go when someone uses the adjective awesome in a completely inane and stupid way? Is a true sense of awe disappearing?
I believe so.
What happened to awe? To discover what happened to awe means we have to figure out what consciousness is. What is the overriding sense of being alive that permeates all eleven elements? What is it that gives a sense of importance to being a unique individual? Is there such a thing as a unique individual?
I don’t understand any of this. And I’ve been around a long time. Seventy-one years. In seventy-one years I still haven’t figured out why I’m here, who I am is, who is this ‘I,’ who is me, what am I doing here, why am I writing this, and where will it lead?
R and I walk to Safeway. We’ve been cooped up in our apartment all day and it’s hot, 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The air quality index has been around 185 all day, unhealthy. This is wildfire smoke from eastern Washington, chiefly the Methow Valley and north Cascades. Our apartment is stuffy. We’ve been keeping the windows closed. I fill a sandwich baggie with peanuts for the crows. The walk feels good.
I don’t see many crows. Nevertheless, I toss a few peanuts in the places where I usually find them. Hopefully, they’ll discover and eat them before the rats get to them.
It’s very cool inside Safeway. It’s always quite chilly in there. I’m in the habit of bringing a cardigan when we shop there. Outside, I buy an issue of Real Change from a heavyset black man wearing a chullo. He asks how I’m doing and I say fine, except for the smoke. I noticed that as I said that, he was lighting a cigarette. I’m sure he understood that my reference was to the wildfire smoke and not his cigarette. But then I began to wonder about all the people I saw, manly construction workers, smoking cigarettes. Taking in smoke on a smoky day. It seemed so cavalier. But I can understand it. I once smoked. It’s a powerful addiction, though one I never understood. Cigarettes never made me feel particularly good. They made me feel foggy and listless. But if I didn’t smoke, the craving became almost preternaturally intense. If you were to ask me what, precisely, I craved, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you.
Also, a young woman running vigorously up and down a steep flight of steps connecting Galer to Fourth Avenue North. It both puzzled and inspired me. It was exceedingly unwise to be running that vigorously on day when the particulate matter from wildfire smoke was so thick. But she seemed to be doing great, really enjoying herself. The physicality and energy of her being radiated a singular joy. It was Blakean.
August 23rd, on my 71st birthday, the air became better. The air quality index map showed Seattle in the green with a reading of particulate matter at 58. I could go for a run on my birthday.
Later, we went to Chinook’s. I had a birthday coupon. I took my constellation of organs and organelles and sat them down in a booth with a view of fishing boats. Signals of light passed through the lenses of my eye to the retina where photoreceptors called rods and cones converted the information to electrical impulses that my brain interpreted as boats and water. As people strolling by. As two eagles spiraled over Salmon Bay. I could barely see them. But there they were. Slowly turning. Turning and turning in the widening gyre, as Yeats would say.
Home again, we watch Henry V, the fourth play in The Hollow Crown series, with Tom Hiddleston as Henry V. Swords, powerful speeches, blood splattered everywhere. A great play.
11:00 p.m. I finish reading Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind and relax watching some YouTube videos, W.C. Fields exchange digs and insults with a sullen, overweight waitress in a hard-boiled diner. The Rolling Stones, “That’s How Strong My Love Is.” “Cry to Me.” “Monkey,” written by the indie rock group Low and sung by Robert Plant and Patty Griffin.
I listen again to a nine-minute interview with Georges Bataille on YouTube that fascinates me. The chief subject of the interview is his book Literature and Evil. I’d never made this association before, but intuitively I anticipate what he is about to say, which is that writing, in order to stay interesting, in order not to bore readers, must forefront anguish, must advance things that turn out badly in life, that go sour, that turn to shit. It must break taboos, make transgressions. I’m not sure I agree entirely with this, I believe there is room for ecstasies and raptures, for revelations, for illuminations in the visionary sense of the term explored in Rimbaud’s Illuminations. But I get what he’s talking about. I’m not sure how to put this dynamic in the context of current reality, which is that of a world on the verge of catastrophic extinction.
The problem that’s been nagging me is the usual one: meaning. How to find meaning, how to maintain meaning, how to deepen meaning, how to destroy meaning, how to create meaning. Why this obsession with meaning? The question answers itself. The more elusive meaning becomes, the more obsessed I become in its search. This is how fugues are born.