Notes from Berkeley I.

I arrive at PDX International. Again. Not late, but certainly conscious of the time. I check in my Big Blue Monster. I walk through security with my Wine-Dark-Sea-Deep Briefcase. I pick up a strawberry milkshake.

Perhaps it is the truly startling number of occasions on which I have lately boarded yet another plane. Perhaps it is the season. Perhaps I am simply growing more brittle around my edges. Whatever the reason, I am finding it harder and harder to sit quietly through another flight. The inexorably lengthening shadows of statistical probabilities clutch more and more tightly on my fraying nerves.

As in, "It is far more likely, this time around, that something unthinkable will happen."

It is not in my nature to be anxious, I tell myself. There are far more variables in play than I could possibly account for, in every single one of my waking days. Precautions are essentially pointless in a large enough bell curve.

But lately I think of the fragility of mechanics. I think of what an ethereal thing our concepts of air currents and "lift" are. How can we begin to reckon with forces so powerful as gravity, factors so feckless as velocity, when we can hardly manage choosing entrees from a menu? I think of how the number of moving parts, in any situation, bears a direct relationship with the number of points, in time and space, in which something can go quite wrong. And somehow, I am not particularly reassured by the composure of our airport worthies.

In this context, terrorism as such strikes me as almost banal.

And I am quite taken aback by this sentiment, as though I were desecrating something, as though this specific blend of violence could somehow possess a sacral character.

In this frame of mind, I find a seat, next to a pair of mildly obnoxious evangelical college students. I obsess about turbulence. I nap fitfully.

I dream about an island on the Pacific's coast, which doesn't to my knowledge exist. The island is roughly square in shape, and so small you can see across it, and on this island there is an inlet harboring a dark anchorage. A narrow strait separates the island from the mainland. In this dream, I live in a bleak sea-swept hut on a precarious mole stretching across the entrance to this harbor, which faces the open sea. The place is horrifying in its desolation. The island is drowning me.

I try to leave this island, either by sailing or swimming, it is unclear to me now which. But I end up only circling it, in spite of tremendous effort. The strait is terrifying; its shores are dizzying cliff-faces thick with crashing spray. And the ruined hut on the mole somehow terrifies me even more. I can see through the gaps in its collapsing driftwood walls; the roof is blown through. Scrub grows inside.

When I remember this dream now, sometimes I remember others with me. Sometimes I do not. Sometimes I remember sunlight in this dream. Sometimes I remember an empty sky, with neither clouds nor blue, nothing at all.

I wake up to my Wine-Dark-Sea-Deep Briefcase, and my reassuring books and papers and letters. I spend some time reviewing my Voter's Pamphlet, to the mild annoyance of my born-again seatmates. I brood in my airline seat, like a Norse mariner in his longship, thinking about omens.

That moment when the plane touches down, twinned with the moment when the plane first shuffles off the mundane coils of the world's surface, quite affects something serious in me.

Berkeley-Oakland-San Francisco is lovely. I'm in the thick of things, again. More soon, as ever.



No comments: