When everything falls apart, we all become the sum of the things we’ve learned. And how we deal with a crisis depends heavily on what we’ve learned about ourselves and the world around us.
This year, an iron gate clanged shut. I found myself on the wrong side of it. Like the protagonist of Kafka’s The Trial, I felt as though I had made some mistake I couldn’t identify. One that was going to follow me forever after.
The temple is empty. That’s the point.
“I open this awful machine. To nothing.” — Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, ‘Heart’s Arms’
Waking bleary-eyed and cotton-mouthed. Empty bottles clinking with every stumbling step. Pulling open the blinds to swear at the sun and beat a clumsy retreat, one hand raised in a claw over eyes filled with sand. How many pointless decisions or non-decisions, how many bleating fears, how many missed chances and stony regrets does it take to make a life out of simple protoplasm?
It all trails out behind us, the contrail of a gleaming silver jet leaving fading scars across a shrugging sky. …
When it comes to love, we all want the real thing. Not the fake affection of those that want something from us. Not the obligatory fondness we’re supposed to feel for authority figures. Not something patchwork and part-time, something people do only when it’s convenient. That’s not love. Not real love.
But we live in an increasingly fake world. We spend our time in online echo chambers arguing over lies. We retreat into virtual realities. We strip the food we eat of sugar and fat and gluten, creating a pale imitation of what we really want out of unpronounceable ingredients.
We all want a love that’s real. …
It’s what makes the world go around. The pulsing beat at the heart of our society, programmed into us by ancient scarcity and the memory of hunger we no longer feel any other way. Life, viewed from a certain perspective, is a constant striving against others for finite resources. Every mouthful of food you eat is another one I can never have, unless I eat you. If your kids get that place at the good school, mine may not. If your team wins, mine can’t.
There’s a lot to be said for competition. It can bring out the best in us. The winnowing scythe of natural selection is amoral and as impartial as the stars, but we all know how predators improve the health of the herd. Even if that’s not much consolation to the slow and sickly who get devoured. …
It’s become something of a running joke in Canada that every four years, there’s a spike in Americans looking to immigrate. I’ve never heard it the other way. I’ve never heard Canadians threatening to move south in response to a Liberal election win. Then again, barring the occasional crack-smoking mayor, Canadian politics is largely a bloodless affair compared to the hysterical farce playing out in the US.
Few things are more irritating than a smug neighbor.
I’ve lived in Canada for 15 years. My accent notwithstanding, I’m as Canadian as beaver tails, as Canadian as snow in October. More Canadian, I sometimes argue to my friends, than those born here. They simply found themselves here. …
As I lifted the headset off and my eyes bloomed to the change of light, I felt dizzy. My friend’s living room was a blank block of beige, the off-white walls and light wood floor hazy and colorless after the world I’d been in.
It was my first experience of virtual reality. And it was staggering.
A noise trees make in winter. Shriveled leaves rattle to the northern wind. Branches turn brittle once the sap stops flowing. North of here, it gets so cold that trees explode. I moved to the warmest part of Canada for a reason.
I looked up. Fallen trees kill around 100 people in the US every year. In Canada, we have far fewer people. But we have a lot more trees.
But the tree wasn’t falling. No branch had snapped. All the way up the laddered branches of the cottonwood, the tallest tree on this side of the river, bright smears of excrement painted the mossy bark. The tree was festooned with eviscerated fish, long strings of vertebra dangling like necklaces pinned by some kind soul to a noticeboard at the head of a trail. …
It’s infatuation. Our eyes, magical as they may be, can only take in so much. I can’t see the swarming pattern of electrical signals that buzzes around inside your skull, rippling like cuttlefish skin as they alternately flare and cool. I can’t see the dings and dents in your shopworn heart, the pattern of damage that dictates the way we grow.
I can hazard guesses about height and weight and cup size, but those numbers are just statistics. What looks good isn’t always good. Sometimes, it’s even better.
They don’t like it. Or, even worse, they do. And then every word becomes an exercise in flattery, another weapon in the passive-aggressive arsenal, the game of one-up that can destroy the spontaneity that makes a relationship live. I don’t write to flatter or please, and so I don’t share my writing with anyone I know. …
In fact, I’m not a fan of holidays in general. I wouldn’t celebrate my birthday if my wife didn’t insist. I find Christmas downright horrifying.
And when I grew up in the UK, Halloween wasn’t really a thing. It was a holiday for young kids to dress up and go trick-or-treating. That was all. Something you outgrew by your early teens.
In the neighborhood I lived in, the houses were all the same age, and so were the families inside them. At Halloween, the streets were busy with ghosts and witches and vampires, all at laughably miniature scale with barely an adult in sight. …
Even a place you hate. The tumbled trees in the remaining patches of balding forests and the light dust of snow on the ground. Even from the plane, there’s nothing but plains. Once, this landscape was a shallow sea, and now, dumb derricks drill into the dirt like bedbugs driving through skin, seeking the dark blood that makes the world live.
They do. And the money trickles down, passing through the sticky fingers of bartenders and strippers and drug dealers and car salesmen, fueling a labor shortage that made working a register at a coffee shop here more lucrative than being an engineer in the poorer half of the world. …