We Mostly Disappear Briefly: A video-poetic essay on travel and composing narrative

 

In Mussoorie, we live in a treehouse in the clouds, which hold us in an opaque, rolling light. At 7,500 feet above sea level, we have never been so intimate with clouds. They fall in through the windows, drift and dissipate across the floor. They cling to our clothes, making everything slightly damp and cool. The mornings and evenings are the best time to watch the clouds lift up from the city in the valley below. Their movement, like a single exhale, over the steep Himalayan hills is a visual articulation of Nirvana. The next valley inhales and the clouds unfold the town and fold the town, reveal the sun and shroud the sun in a dense, wandering void. The landscape is seen and re-seen according to the clouds; there is no true vision of this epic land from which the greatest Hindu lore derives. From the city, we see the clouds’ tenuous and sylphlike reach slowly, suddenly rush steady to overwhelm the windows with nimble, tumbling air, a permanently transient and weightless density. This is our daily vision. From somewhere below a man chants over the valley multiple times a day.

Gertrude Stein writes that the grammatical condition in English that allows one to use two adverbs of different tempos/times in a sentence, such as, “Suddenly, I ate an apply slowly,” implies that the present moment, though singular, is a continuous movement simultaneously expansive/expanding of the past and future. This is why the unsteadiness of poetry is an ideal linguistic form, true to ways of seeing, tasting, existing. Consider memory and how much of it is innately and imperatively held in a singular present moment. Consider how much of that memory is also innately and imperatively for posterity. As such the present moment is composed of nostalgia, sincerity and posterity—its authenticity (sincerity) depends upon the posterity of nostalgia. Or, perhaps, sincerity is composed of nostalgia and posterity. I believe, I think, that this is how time shifts space, (i.e. how one does time impresses upon space).

I have recently questioned what it is to be a traveler today. What does it mean to travel to a place that, though it may be new to you, is not new, is in fact steeped in a history bigger than any singular person or group of people or combined histories of groups of people? What does it mean to move from the Rocky Mountains to the Himalaya Mountains to watch the clouds, to hear new birds, to discover a new way of being with time, to research queerness, to write a novel? What am I, or any traveler, searching for? What is my business here or anywhere? There are a number of trite answers: to find myself, to understand different cultures, to gain empathy, to do research, to see the world, to help out, to shake things up, to get away, etc. But, to quote Andrew Joron, all of these feel inadequate. What is the urgency of traveling and what emerges from it?

I don’t think I can answer this question; I am mostly satisfied to pose it. But I do want to think through it, for myself and anyone interested in tracking through these ideas. As a traveler, I am often asking time to unfold space for me. This is to ask also, for disappearing. As a photographer, my wife, captures moments in a space-hold (a dance term for when you hold a body part, such as your head, in space, while the rest of your body pivots around that held position/part). There is something innate to narrative that requires one to capture a moment’s sincerity in a space-hold, to allow a moment to be weighted with gravity, as if it is the spatial nucleus of an infinite and expanding temporal moment. This is a delusion, of course, and it’s where the most literal part of poet-me struggles with narrative writing. Poetry makes sense to me because it cannot make sense; rather, sense is a byproduct of poetry, it rises and appears with the creation of the poem, and remains always in-time with the poem. This poem makes sense appear/disappear the way the clouds reveal and shroud the city. Everything, from sound to meaning to definitions, to image to tense, has transience in poetry. I believe narrative can do this too, and some of my favorite novels accomplish this, and all of my favorite novelists are masters of this gesture—and that is the gesture of impermanence.

One can never know or even imagine the completeness of any moment, but the urgency to capture even the smallest fraction of a moment, for posterity, requires love, a kind of nostalgia for the subject, knowing that the subject is transient and that its transience shifts it constantly. Any moment’s sincerity is its transience. A traveler, therefore, seems to me a wandering weightless density that sees and re-sees, lets appear and re-appear from the void, a narrative that is unbound to a singular gravity, but is sincere in its exhale, hauling nostalgia, and in its inhale, for posterity. This kind of narrative sincerely holds space for the future to hold presence and sway in present and nostalgic memory. I remember what it will be like if, in the future, my wife says she’s stopped loving me; I already know, in my muscle memory, that pain. And the future has many possible memories. As such, posterity is what remains unwritten, uncaptured, unseen. That posterity holds the other half (along with nostalgia) of any moment’s energy, is, for me, the urgency to travel.

The clouds are at our feet, they’ve fallen through the windows, making the void outside equal the void in here. In Mussoorie, we disappear in the clouds.  I see my wife, an accent of the clouds’ trembling, across the room. I want to suddenly know her slowly.

The urgency for traveling is perhaps to indulge sincerity as remaining always in-time with the transient self. And what emerges from traveling is a nostalgia for narratives never caught, a love for posterity, a gesture of releasing authenticity to the void.

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