- Can These Bones Live? Edward Dahlberg
Every day the pressure of the end of things. There is no time. Plato. Aristotle. Brave old worlds whose shores I have yet to even see from a distance. Daunty, Gouty and Shopkeeper. Ecclesiastes 12:12 - "And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh." The interior structure of discipline has been built over many years. And yet... and yet... the flesh is weak and wanders.
Perhaps I only notice it more now that I am on the watch for it, perhaps it is a harbinger of decline, either way fuels an increasing paranoia, but my mind seems increasingly detached. I notice this most in the mornings, coming out of the dream, before any agenda of the day kicks in, my thoughts are without focus, aimless. Often - and this has been going on for many years - I hear an inane jingle or virus-like pop song repeating over and over in my mind. It is as if my mind is an "idling mode" and on this wavelength, these songs play like waiting room or elevator music. I used to not mind it as much. But now I hear the mindless music as an alarm: wake up.
My discipline these days is to work on memorizing Shakespeare's sonnets as I drive over to my step-father's to care give. It takes about 15 minutes and during that time I can typically refresh five or six sonnets through quick recitation and begin to familiarize myself with three newer sonnets. A morning not too long ago, I did not immediately start in on memory work. And about a half a mile down the road, an old top 40 song just started going in my thoughts. I laughed because the effect was similar to that of a screen saver on a computer. I was not doing any work and my brain went into a screen saver mode. When I engaged my thoughts in memory work, the music immediately went away.
It is not always music. Not always something as tell-tale as that. The more I have reflected upon my own thoughts, watching for these "screen saver moments," these mindless "holding patterns," the more I realize that they compose the majority of what most people consider life. It is a passive, receptive state. A consciousness that is blissfully unaware, ready to be easily entertained. There is no intentionality or will to this state of consciousness. It is close to a state of waking sleep.
But this is not daydreaming. It is far less. It is a victimized consciousness where the catch phrases and jingles and ad tropes of the mediated world prey upon self image and desire in a calculated and manipulative manner. This is not the consciousness that gives birth to Archimedes in the tub or Alice in Wonderland or Kubla Khan or Kekulé's Ring. This is the realm of Circe, a land of bewitchment. This is the Field of Poppies. To remain here is to die.
And yet, I see so many of those whom I once had great respect and admiration surrendered in this place, lost in a dream of self and social fantasies. I remember great minds of such imagination and promise who now post banal affirmations and trite visual memes in the social media they are so obsessed with. Their reading habits are superficial. They are addicted to programs, shows and the latest blockbuster movie. Their taste in music is predicated upon an attention span of less than five minutes. They participate in the arts only to the extent that it enhances their social standing. It is disheartening and discouraging. I fear that fate of my former friends for myself. I watch for signs of it like a vulture watching for death in the slowly dying shape beneath it.
An old man and I were talking recently. He said he once could remember the joy of the sweetest hours of his life, a first kiss by the oak tree in the school yard, scoring a touchdown on a Friday night, the sunlight in the hour of his marriage, that he was fortunate to have had many days that were crowded with such hours. But that these faded into those self-same days, the hours now blurred and passing by so quickly, that it wasn't long before he could remember only days, a child born on Monday, a promotion on a Friday, a death on Sunday. Then these too blurred in the accumulation of time. Now, he told me, from one Sunday to the next is like the passing of a day itself. He will say to me, it seems like we just did this yesterday, but I know it was last week. And, he adds, when I try to remember those memories that have defined my life, they seem as a series of distant mountains, a few simple triangles on the horizon of the past that I know hold thousands and thousands of other memories but that I am too far away from now.
I imagine the old man sitting in his rocking chair on the porch, watching the world go by like a speeding train, the hours like seconds, days like minutes, weeks, months and years passing by as quickly as a summer evening so long ago when he first met the woman he married. These last years of his life passing before him in the opening and closing of his eyes. He, with bright mind and biting wit, champion of card games and avid collector of stamps, coins and hundreds of pads of hotel stationary and pens. All the years of world travel. Somewhere back there, the screen saver mind just became more interesting and easier to watch than anything else.
Open Don Quixote and read only the first few chapters. Here is a man who has lost his mind. But who has not surrendered. This is the beauty of the Quixote. And Sancho Panza riding along beside him, who cannot see what Quixote sees, but still perseveres, still remains and stands loyal to Quixote, here is the mirror in which I look within to see what is missing from my own life, here is where I peer deep into my own eyes searching for the Pulse.