Monday, May 12, 2008

my own burning questions

From: anonymous

Reading what Kelley is up to and musing on Ask Nicola are the only reasons I enter a computer these days. That won't always be so, but it is a mighty fine pleasure now. I enjoy reading how your brain meets puzzles. Your ease with language and ideas and experiences inspires me to stay interactive with others through my days and ways; it's wonderful to provoke and then listen to each other as friends, lovers, students, teachers, community. I do wonder, Nicola, what is YOUR burning question? What would you ask the Buddha under the Bo tree, the saint on your doorstep disguised as wise old crone, or the wizard permitting your entrance into the darkest possible cave.

Right this minute, I don't have an urgent personal inquiry. I have lots of lesser ones, most of which boil down to variations of: What does the future hold?

I wonder about this country. It's my belief that as a culture, the US doesn't accept that for every improvement there's a price. If you want universal health care, you have to pay more taxes; if you want a better environment, you have to pay more for petrol; if you want a better government, you have to pay more attention. You have to pay. To most people in Europe, the price is worth it. I listen to various presidential candidates promising the moon--no more troops in Iraq, no more NAFTA, lower taxes--and I wonder why they believe the American voter is stupid. But then I remember how this country has voted in the last few elections, and instead I wonder why the American voter behaves so stupidly. The individual voters I've met are not morons; I'm baffled.

The only thing I can come up with that explains this paradox is that the US is a young culture. It's not childlike, but adolescent. Adolescents don't believe in magical thinking (they're too cynical for the Tooth Fairy or Father Christmas), they don't believe in much at all; their brains aren't coherent enough. Their brains are growing and disorganised. They live in a world of impulse and sensation, fueled by hormones. Their frontal cortexes have not yet sorted themselves into manageable and sustainable pathways. They're growing fast, but they're a mess. In my opinion, the dominant American culture is like the adolescent brain, and the hormone driving it into frenzies is the media. I've written about the media before--well, one of my readers did it so succinctly that I didn't have to--so I won't hammer on that here.

I wonder about my health. I think my MS is currently behaving well, but I'm not sure. One can never be sure. Every time I get a weird prickle in my left hand I think, Oh god, is this the start of another meltdown? (In early 2005 I went numb from the armpits down and stayed that way for seven weeks. I don't think I've ever been so frightened in my life. It could have been permanent. There's no way to know. Today could be the last day I feel Kelley's hand on my leg, the last day I feel grass under my feet. Is this likely? There's no way to know. No way to know.)

I wonder about my writing. I love to write, it's who I am, not just what I do. But art is a black box. My life goes in one end, fiction comes out the other. What if the black box breaks? I don't really think it can break; as long as I'm me, it will work, because the box is me. But what if it did? What if I change? Or, rather, as I'm changing all the time (change and growth = the Evil Twins), what if I change so drastically the stuff coming out of the black box isn't what I want to do anymore? Oh, wait, that just happened :) After ten years of Aud, my writing mind rebelled and said: I want to play! So now I'm playing, and having enormous good times. But what happens if no one will buy this book? (What happens if it wins the Booker Prize?)

I don't wonder about Kelley. She changes a lot--she's always picking some new project that consumes her utterly, and then emerging, wiser and denser and different, at the end--but she's always Kelley. At the end of next month we'll have been lovers for twenty years. I rely utterly on our bond.

I wonder about our cat. He's old--he'll be seventeen this year. Things aren't working as well as they once were--his kidneys, his knees and spine. He has no upper teeth. He can still catch and kill things, but he can't eat them. What happens if the Big One hits while we're out of town? How will he survive? (How will we survive? Would the idea make a good screenplay?)

I wonder where we'll be living in five years. Here, on the edge of our ravine? In a mansion on a river? In Europe? A cardboard box under the overpass while post-apocalyptic war rages?

Are these real worries? Yes. No. Sort of. They're What If games I play to keep me on my toes. I've watched too many people drown in creeping complacency. Change is. If you're not awake, it gets you. Also, frankly, I love to wake up in the morning and see the lilac blooming on the tree by the fence and the one over the gate. I love to think, oh, how beautiful, and oh, it will be gone in a month. They are the sides of a single equation. I love to watch my world change in a rhythm I can understand. I love to be grateful for it, every single day.

So that, I suppose, is my burning question: how can life stay this good, and how can I make sure I'm happy every day without taking it all for granted?

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