Friday, October 05, 2012


Notes from Sri Lanka #22

The mind is such a new place, last night feels obsolete.  
– Emily Dickinson.

As long as I can remember I’ve had very slow eyes.  Now of course they’re even slower.  I can’t just glance at something and see it all at once.  If I want to see, I have to really look.  I think you understand.  It’s a wonder I’ve never had my nose broken.  It’s a miracle I have teeth.

This explains why I am so hilariously inept at crossing the street.  When I get to the corner, I have to stop.  Stop and get a sense of the situation.  Ask myself important questions. 

For example: Precisely which country is this?  On which side of the street do they drive?  Is the romantic notion of yielding to pedestrians alive and well in this nation?  What are traffic patterns like here?  How are the road conditions?  Are any policemen nearby to administer breathalyzer tests, or are drunken drivers joyfully and heedlessly zooming along the highways and byways?

Before I can cross the street, I need to stop and consider all of these things.  A fortnight is ideal. 

I stand thinking on the street corner as traffic hurtles past.  I am not really thinking.  I am only pretending to think.  What I am actually doing is waiting.  Waiting and hoping for a respectable matron, a slow-moving woman with a hat and heavy jewelry and at least three children.  A woman of substance, a woman for whom traffic grinds to a halt. 

I wish to join her stately procession across the street, to merge with such total seamlessness that no one will take note of one hairy cross-eyed queer hunchback limping along with her flock.  Or, if someone does notice, he or she will only say, “And who is that older hairy child amidst her pink and well-combed darlings?”

“Must be a child she had with her first husband, god rest his soul.”

“The husband who was also her brother?”

“Yes, indeed.”

This, in short, is how I feel when I first arrive in a city in Asia.  First, I think, “How will I survive?”  Then I worry, “Won’t it all be wasted on me?”  It seems a shame that there is so much, and I can see only so little.

For example, this morning in Kandy.  High in the hills overlooking the lake and the golden roof of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. 

That high-pitched noise I hear -- is not in fact a bird.  It’s a squirrel.  The black and white cat sits at the base of the tree doing her innocent cat routine.  The squirrel goes off like a car alarm.

Looking down from my balcony, I watch a woman with long gray hair and an orange dress as she sweeps her front steps.  She sweeps around old black pot-bellied dog and his operatic bark.

A chorus of crows and one blue corner of a public swimming pool.  White diving caps sailing when the coach blows the whistle.  A motorbike goes in one direction and a green parrot goes in the other.  Children gather in white uniforms.  Atop the Sharon Inn there is a resplendent garden.

Around the lake, the car horns have started up.  Soon the hammering will begin on the new guesthouses anxious to cancel out each other’s views.  Further up the hill, a bus goes by.  The breeze is still cool – just enough to rustle the leaves.

A list.  It would need more repetitions to be an honest one.  For example, every other sentence would have to include the words vanilla-colored concrete and brown doors and corrugated roofs.  Many more pages would be necessary for the trees and flowers I’ve left out, ashamed at not knowing their names.
So many girls in white dresses now – soon it will be time for school.  I forgot to mention the black plastic water tanks squatting on roof tops.  Here is a very shaky rendition, on trumpet, of Send in the Clowns.  This vantage point is useful for noting hair loss, of which there is remarkably little in the hills of Sri Lanka.

I have said nothing about the sky.

Perhaps this is why I write as I do, in notes and fragments, on cards and scraps.  No overview, little structure, no big picture.  Only one very small thing at a time.

I guess that once I looked for twenty minutes I could pretend to see it all at once.  But that is only be make-believe.

Other people see so much.  So much more and all at once.  They have an overall sense of things.  There is something continuous, which unwinds like a spool of thread.  More importantly, they possess a continuous sense of themselves.  At least that is the sense I get from the way people speak, as well as from their books.

I cannot manage continuous.  I do not appear to have experienced it.  For me there are only hints and parts, flashes and fragments.  Not only are there different experiences, there are different people showing up for them.

I wondered if this might be cause for concern. 

It turns out this is a thing which happens and, luckily for me, it is included in the spectrum of sanity.  Some people have a narrative sense of self, which appears to be continuous.  This is called diachronic.  Others, like me, have a sense of self which is episodic

I admit I feel a little jealous of the people who think of themselves at age 19 and feel, that was me.  That seems to me very convenient.  Unlike waking up each morning and barely opening my eyes before I ask, Hello, who is it now?  Who am I this time?

I must therefore end by apologizing, before I set foot off of the curb and disappear.  I apologize for the lack of an overall something, for that one same self who can be counted upon, reliably, to show up for all appointments.

The big picture has never happened to me.

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