IMYS #29 - Identifying Oblivion
I'm stuck on finding beauty. Stick with me.
I finished a book this weekend titled The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley. She writes what I would call weird science fiction in a similar vein to Jeff Vandermeer but with more connection to space opera and military sci-fi. I know that likely turned off quite a lot of you. But, trust me, she is an author to pay attention to. Here’s why.
In this book, a soldier is turned into light to be beamed to other parts of the world or other worlds. However, this light beam technology is new and sometimes things don’t work out. Limbs misplaced, brains scrambled, complete incorporeality. It’s body horror but that’s just where she’s getting started. In her previous novel, The Stars are Legion, the world-sized space ships were made of organic material, all oozing and pulsing flesh.
That’s cool. But, what I want to talk more about is that the soldier in The Light Brigade never knows when or where or if they will arrive at their destination during these “light drops.” They feel the process begin and then something will happen on the other end. It’s largely oblivion in between until <spoiler alert> it isn’t.
I’m intrigued by this idea of closing your eyes, nodding your head, and disappearing from the world until you reappear with no sense of what happened, if anything, in between. It reminds me of sleep.
Each night (or maybe a lockdown nap, if I’m honest), I close my eyes and lower my shoulders and I fall asleep. I awake the next morning. My eyes open. Then, as I consider the day ahead, my shoulders rise up toward my ears. I swing my legs off the side of the bed and huff myself to standing. I assume that the world keeps rotating and that things continue to occur but I can’t be sure.
In my life, I’ve reached for this oblivion in any number of ways. Focused dedication to learning (cramming for an exam). Performing on stage live. Alcohol. Meditation. Extreme endurance exercise. The 12 hours of sleep I got last night. Taking a long shower. All of these are attempts to touch the beauty not of the liminal edge of oblivion but of the release that lies deep within. I suppose a therapist might say this is a death wish.
I don’t see it that way. I think of it as a place where we can be truly free, if only for a moment. When we sleep, we are free to dream of anything great or small, good or evil. It’s a place of infinities and while we often think of oblivion being a state of nothingness, it really means that we are simply unaware. Oblivion then might be proof that the world does exist and continue to progress even as we stand outside of the awareness of that existence.
There is power in that perspective of watching, assessing, learning, and then applying what we’ve learned. I ran about 45 miles in 12 hours one time. It’s the longest race I’ve ever run. After about 30 miles, I wasn’t sure what time it was, what day it was, or even why I continued to run in a circle. It was simply motion for motion’s sake. At some point, I figured out how I should solve a problem at work. I decided on what was going to happen to the characters in the novel I’m writing. I wrote entire poems. I hummed unknown melodies. I saw the arc of a relationship that I’d struggled with for some time. I saw my complicity in its demise. In short, I was above the world, out of body if you will, seeing things from some height that absolved my from judgment.
Simpler than that, how many times have you had a great idea in the shower? How many times has a walk “cleared your head” and allowed you to move past whatever was in your way? A good night’s sleep is a salve for even the most stricken of hearts.
It seems to me that in this state of oblivion, we have access to a level of perception and connection that simply isn’t present when our awareness is fully in the room. Hurley’s character experiences this oblivion in a rather horrific way but eventually they discover the power I just described. This new-found power carries them to a resolution they could never have seen with eyes wide open.
I believe that the main thing keeping us from finding this oblivion is that most of us think we are too busy. We rush around doing the things we think are important and focusing on the immediate. All of that is the barrier that keeps us from accessing this infinite oblivion. Even when we attempt to meditate, take a nature bath, or chemically enhance, our fear of obliviousness always keeps us on the waking side of the abyss.
Are we brave enough to pierce that veil and pull ourselves out of time and place for a few moments, observe the rotation of the Earth, make a few decisions, and then reenter the world ready to act?
Down at the Local
This piece about the last pub in Stonesfield, England is a local story writ large. The White Horse Tavern is the last pub in Stonesfield. There used to be seven pubs there. It’s the core of a community of 1500 people that will simply disappear of the locals can’t raise the money to buy it. Despite having some historical designation, the pub could still be sold but its owner to be turned into homes or something else. As more and more people fill larger and larger cities, smaller communities like this are becoming more and more just the places where people live. Increasingly, they want to live in privacy and not interact with their neighbors at all. The flagging sense of community died long before taxes and more liberal alcohol sales made pubs a dying species.
A Man of His Time
The new biography of Graham Greene by Richard Greene (no relation) focuses on the supposed wildness of Greene. His love of alcohol, danger, and women (maybe not in that order) seems to make up the myth of the author. Richard Greene’s biography really wants to sell that story above all the other things that might Graham Greene worth considering. This Guardian review of the biography points out those flaws but also points us toward some of the things we should consider worthwhile about Greene.
The Other Me
A friend recently sent me the song, “The Real Me,” by Shooter Jennings. In it, Jennings describes how he becomes a completely different person when he drinks. He is certainly describing an experience that I had back when I was drinking. But, I think it’s a little too judgmental to call it, “The Real Me.” Instead, I like Jason Isbell’s description of this in “Live Oak” where it’s more about “the other me.” That is, one is isn’t real or fake but both are true at the same time.
It used to be that running was considered the easiest sport to get started. After all, you just put on some shoes (or not) and head out the door. That’s likely still true. But, as someone with running shoes for different kinds of trail or weather or length of run or simply color preference, on top of a vest to carry food and water, a special hat, a buff, winter gloves, a fancy watch, I can tell you that we’ve made running a capitalist sport. It makes sense then that Nike and the other shoemakers would be in an arms race around shoes. As a fan of distance running, I’m also pretty amazed to see how times have come down. Sure, the shoes help but it’s still a shitload of work to get there. As a kid, we used to talk about who had the faster shoes. It probably didn’t make sense back then but now it can.
A Love Story
I believe I have shared some of Lukas Nelson’s songs in this space before. I recently came across this cover he’s done of Dire Straits’s “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s a song I really love and this version not only does it justice but Nelson makes it his own along with a sturdy band. Covers are always hit or miss and I think this one hits the bullseye.
Susanna Clarke’s new novel Piranesi is on my reading list. I really enjoyed her Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and what I’ve heard about this new book has me intrigued. I was interested then to read this piece by Cameron Laux about how the novel is a sort of labyrinth and how the labyrinthine might play a part in our culture. I’m reminded of what I wrote above about finding oblivion and it seems to me that a labyrinth is one method to achieve that dissociated state. Many of the Episcopal churches I’ve been in featured labyrinths somewhere on their grounds. This is not something we are newly discovering but maybe just rediscovering.
I Feel It
Just taking a look at my listening history in any of the places I listen to music and you’ll find a healthy does of emo, new and old. Back in 2005, I was teaching high school. I often played music in between classes or doing planning periods. Kids are drawn to music like moths to a flame. They would come into the classroom and say things, “You like this?!” or “Have you heard their other album?” I don’t think they thought I was cool but it was a way for us to connect. So, maybe there’s some part of me that’s a millenial high school student still listening to emo. Anyway, Teenage Halloween is a hell of an emo band.
Thanks for joining me this week. It was snowing here earlier. Maybe next week, I’ll do a Christmas Music special edition?