April 20, 2022

a momentary trance of emotional clarity

Sometimes when you're alone and everything is quiet, you feel a certain placeless intensity that drifts in like a fog. It's subtle at first, lingering somewhere between fidgety boredom and accidental meditation. Maybe you're sitting up in bed on a dark morning before the day begins, staring blankly at a spot on the wall, thinking about life. Or you've arrived somewhere a few minutes early to pick someone up, and you turn off the car and find yourself alone with your thoughts. You take a breath and look around at the still life of the parking lot: a few shrubs swaying in the wind, the arrhythmic tinking of the cooling engine, the keys still swinging in the ignition.

You begin to sense that something is happening--as when you notice a movie pushing into a close-up but can't figure out what it is you're supposed to be taking from it. Details that usually strike you as banal now seem utterly alien. The stitching on your shoes, the tendons moving inside your wrists. The saplings, reaching. How delicate and fleeting it all seems, everything struggling just to exist. You feel a kind of melancholic trance sweeping over you. A rush of clarity, as if you've shaken yourself out of a dream. You are here. You are alive. You are *in it*.

You look around at all the other people who happen to share this corner of the world, and imagine where they came from, marveling that all of their paths managed to cross at this particular point in time. You think back to the series of events that brought you here, your choices and your mistakes and your achievements, such as they are. All the twists and turns over the years. It wasn't what you thought it would be, and yet you can still look back on all the things you've lost, and the opportunities that came and went, and feel a pang of gratitude that it happened at all. And now here you are, feeling a kind of joyful grief for your life, in all its blessings and mysteries and chances and changes.

You look around with a new sense of gratitude, taking in the complexity of things: raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee. Everything falls quiet, and the words start to lose their meaning. It all seems to mix together, until you can't tell the difference between the ordinary and the epic. And you remember that you too are a guest on this Earth. Your life is not just a quest, or an opportunity, or a story to tell; it's also just an experience, to be lived for its own sake. It doesn't have to mean anything other than what it is. A single moment can still stand on its own, as a morsel of existence.

But after a minute or two, you'll feel your hand reaching for your phone or the car radio, eager to drown out your thoughts with distractions. Perhaps there's a part of you that's instinctively wary of lingering too long in any one moment. We can breathe this world in, and hold on to it as long as we can, but we can't just stop there. We have to keep moving, digging around for some deeper meaning, hoping to find an escape hatch between one experience and the next. So we never feel stuck inside one little moment, one little life.

[Latin ambedo, "I sink my teeth into." Pronounced "am-bee-doh."]
John Koenig, "The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows"
The whole book is kind of these intellectual Goth Sniglets (if folks remember Sniglets - "an often humorous word made up to describe something for which no dictionary word exists.") and the mood tends so downward that it's not always easy to get through.

This passage is a lot of what I was trying to capture in my comic Of The Moments. (Also the ending passage of American Beauty.