Victoria finally got the guts, the ambition, the fire in its belly eating up the oxygen from the wind in its sails to scorch its fair citizens with 84 degrees, no breeze, brazen. It didn’t last long, but I did. A few days then gone, I lived, sunblocked sheen, muscling the city your secrets! your energy! slipping in and out of my skin.
First stop is the beach. I don’t visit often ’cause it’s so damn far, and it’s less beach than rocky rim. You wouldn’t want to swim or even wear bare feet. But it still has its allure, mystique, crashing waves at me.
Riptide rippling. Ceaseless like the change of seasons, sea sons and daughters spleen deep in the freezing. Ripe for profit, too—you can burn the water to CD and sell it to neurotics, landlocked nostalgics, hippies and yogis in all manners of human mandalas, overlaid with tablas and tabula rasas.
I’m a prairie girl grown tuned. I hear the rush and know what to do. Just shut up, that’s what. Listen and forget I’m listening, recall I am the wave in the making, then forget that too. Forget all this time how forgetful I’ve been—willfully, forcefully. Demanding my own reckoning then running away from it.
Doesn’t seem right. But it is just.
I buy Dostoevsky’s The Idiot for a quarter from the Spiritualist Open Door Sanctuary’s sidewalk book and plant sale. I’d taken this sect for nondenominational new age Christian goulash; turns out they’re honest to Gaia spiritual mediums, healers and clairvoyants and dead-talkers, oh my. My patronage shall help fund refreshments at their philosophical coffee klatch, or some other such heretical nation-destroying deviltry.
Oh wait, I’m in Oh Canada—BC, no less—where tolerance is actual acceptance or honest minding one’s own business, live and let live smile-and-nod politeness. I forget for dramatic effect, but I don’t really forget at all. It’s probably not the same everywhere, though. Canada’s a big country, identifying chiefly with its identity crisis, centuries long and cheerfully irresolvable.
My desire to read The Idiot is a nod to both my teenage self stumbling through various Russian tomes and to my once failure to track down a mother-language version of the novel for a library patron. Since the latter disgrace, The Idiot has been my pet-test title when exploring new OPACs.
What does this mean? Upon entering a strange city or university campus, I will go to its library, secretly praise or abuse its floor plan and website usability, look up The Idiot in the online catalogue then see how long it takes to find it on the shelf. Should you ever see me, wild-eyed weaving through the stacks muttering, “Where is The Idiot?” know I’m not seeking a dull, stray companion, but less madness in navigation and a personal grail.
How marvelous it’d be to see all The Idiots in the world. Though the novel suits me fine, I’m not especially fond—it’s far from a favorite—but this no longer matters. I’ve made it my own. When I burn my stomach making supper (don’t ask how), the angry purple beads of little belly blisters spell Idiot in Braille.
The to the nth owned, hand-me-down copy is replete with handwritten notes, propping up Dostoevsky’s fun but rambling tale, prepping me for readymade conclusions and filling me in on the Russian milieu. I cannot read the novel—this particular copy of the book—without reading into what others have read into it, the literary, historical analysis written in the margins.
I even read into the writing itself: the minuscule print font of our eighth grade education grandpas,
…and the denser, foreboding script the of a dilettante scholar.
Mostly, “D.’s epilepsy.” Mostly, “Results of Russian society.” Mostly N.B.’s and look-at-me’s, predicting foreshadowing and calling out emotions. “Foreshadowing.” “Frustration.” “Foreshadowing frustration.” Classic, dry, uncreative author-centered interpretation.
It’s annoying but intensely intriguing, too. Who are these people? When did they read this? The edition was printed in 1965. Over forty years later, we got ratings, favorites, diggs and pingbacks, comments in cute word bubbles and detailed responses banged out in the feedbacks and sprawling in new posts entirely, everything packaged tidily all together or otherwise utterly traceable.
Pre-digerati, on the other hand… how to free the ephemeral in the margins of print? The talkbacks, the astonishments, even the remarks on obviousness and underscores nonsensical? obscure and obscured in libraries by the millions, university, public and private. Or is this a silly question. What would be the point, and what, the danger. Can value be assigned to “Shows the author’s interest in crime”? Would someone find a way to aggregate anonymity, target market advertise across space and time?
I walk in the sun three hours one day, a couple more on another day, and other short jogs jaunts circuitous routes get the gears grinding, cells synthesizing in my broken down vitamin D factory I’ve decided centralizes in the region of my third I.
Lemme be honest, I’ve been writing this entry for a couple of weeks and words keep getting away from me, keep getting in my way. How can I know what I’m saying? becomes the prime question. It doesn’t try to police me, pen me up (ha!) in the free-speech zone, but it’s there. Wontletmealone.
The imperative and responsibility to not waste your time or kill my own and keep in check the lies I tell, not to amend them, just know when they’re happening. Time shifting for induced awareness. Speculative imagining, selective juxtapositioning. Incomplete confessions that time will change, with better truths to balance the debt. Deceit offset. Better Living through Heresy. Building Better Psalms.
I move across town, a new municipality, actually, on July 1, Canada Day, not meaning much to me, busing midmorning to pick up a pickup to haul my things and stuff. I’m already seeing scads of red and white attire like a Target commercial set the size of a city. Country. Face paint and feather boas, whole families in funny hats, temporary tattoos in awkward places and clumsy, sad attempts to make the Maple Leaf sexy.
In downtown a woman boards the bus and remarks to the driver, “Bet yer glad you got this shift,” and he accedes noncommittally. The bus is near empty. I’d seen the warning but don’t know the history.
I turn off my clix to get the dirt. “Gets pretty crazy at night, huh?” I say, and she looks at me, unimpressed by my ignorance but pleased to know things, and tell me, stuff.
Public drunkenness is the rule against the rules on Canada Day; last year in Victoria, revelers puked buckets on city busses, assaulted drivers and terrorized other passengers. “One-hundred-fifty police,” she tells me. “This year they got 150 police at the harbor for the fireworks.”
Another woman joins the conversation, eye-witness accounting the wrecks it for everybody. Vandalism. Hooliganism. Family-fun ruination. Piss and barf everywhere, the idiots. All for the love of alcohol and postmodern patriotism if they can blow up the sky, why can’t we tear up the street? meet ourselves where we are. What we’re really like, or could be like, a possibility in all possible identities.
The recounting of scandal eventually withers away. I turn to look out the window, press play, and first to come shuffling is A Silver Mt. Zion’s “Teddy Roosevelt’s Guns.” The chances? One in 634 that I Am One with randomized self-selected personal meaning. But no, really, strange, fitting: almost enough to make me make believe the universe surveils 150 police strapping on stiff lips and sends me synchronicity god is watching over my mp3s.
What do I want from me. The question-answer to the prime questioning. I string up a bare bulb in my new bedroom, for light? sure, and to remind me the best ideas are naked and shades are for settling. This is just another space to spread myself thin. Just another room to take off my clothes in.
Belly burned and body tanned, I got a mountain to sit on the side of, now, see the whole city, see surrounding islands, even see the mountain peaks of Washington State in the broadest strokes but without mistake that’s home or some sense of it, my legs overhanging, dangling toward the abyss while fast-asleep feet still stand in line, white-knuckles still in a fist. Weak after week after week.
I feel closest to this country when I see the seams rip.
No glory in contradictions, no, no pleasure in the feast of worms at the soft underbelly of this beast, just the mirror I can look past my shoulder with. Recognize my roots, the United States of Arrogance, recognize my duty to uprooting disbelief. I saw the blood on the sidewalk. I saw the cavalry taser the lifelost. The foots washed up on our shores are mine own.
Not surprisingly, likewise in keeping, I feel my most American when I want more—both for my country of residence and my nation of nationality. Less consumption, more ideals in action, clashing if they have to but with full transparency, agendas in the open for exposure and dissecting.
Fewer opinion polls telling us what we think, more discussion amongst ourselves about what we see and want to change, what we’d choose if we could and dared believe in something, and forget faith-based initiatives. We need human-powered heroism, unshackled ingenuity, integrity without caveats, humility without airs.
Yes, We Can! do better.
Than move to the middle.
Following the back-breaking, arm-straining sweaty move, I didn’t watch the fireworking its way into the sky, into the Canadian imagination of nationhood and pride, I was too tired. And the Fourth of July, naturally, means nothing here. Dreaming of the scent of spent flash powder glory. Econo ketchup and cheap beer. Layer stripped, enjoying the weather. My family off being a family together.
At some point in The Idiot, the print font drops off. I don’t notice it till the scrawly script ceases, as well, at a telltale dog-ear decades old. My fellow gentle readers never finished. Bored, I guess. Distracted, or dead.
What could have foreshadowed that. What’s this a metaphor for. Facing the inevitable? face meets the floor, my useless limbs failing me. I continue reading, but it’s not the same. I continue writing knowing it will change, your whispers in my margins will blow me away. Or shame me. Like I oughta be. I can’t control meaning, can’t control anything.
How can I know what I’m trying to say?
Forget that, too. Who needs the weight.