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I wrote an unpublished novel in which one of the central events is a group of people jumping in a freezing lake in February. That’s my philosophy.
I love that weird jolt I get when I don’t get it. Calls me to attention. Slows me down. When things don’t make sense, they force me to make sense. So wait. People jump in a lake and what’s his philosophy? Exactly. It doesn’t matter what’s on your mind when you trip and fall. Money? Unrequited love? Fundamental ontology? Nope. Just stick out your hands stick out your hands stick out your hands. Brace yourself and protect your face.
As a young man, I was overjoyed when my studies collided with the likes of Dada and Surrealism. These art movements spoke my language; I felt as if they validated the operations of my mind. I’ll never forget where I was when I read Pierre Reverdy on the poetic image: “The image is a pure creation of the mind. It cannot be born from a comparison but from a juxtaposition of two more or less distant realities. The more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be—the greater its emotional power and poetic reality…” Just 24-years-old, I was sitting on a mushroom in a black dream forest and I wept and wept and wept.
I live in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m in love with a woman in Chicago, Illinois. Two more or less distant realities. She has two kids. I have two kids. The plot thickens. Say it with me: juxtapositions.
Shall we insert here right near the middle that I make no claims for prudence or being a good parent? I have no idea if I can be what the people call a “positive influence” on my kids. Right now, my 15-year-old son, grounded from all technology for failing Computer Science, is reading the 1981 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Confederacy of Dunces and my 9-year-daughter is flapping her arms and screaming that she’s a bird. They’re interesting little creatures. They are, by most standards, very good people but I’m uncertain as to what that has to do with me. My best guess is that they will go through an early adult phase of resenting me for being cool and distant and, as people do, will eventually learn to love me for my flaws through the lenses of their own. Or perhaps they will go to prison because, you see, I don’t understand how these things work because I shunned all the parenting books. However, for now, my daughter is a damn good bird.
Because I’m an English teacher and Gwen, my girlfriend, is a high school librarian, we both have the summers off. Do you see where this is going? Are you sure? Gwen is made of sugar, shattered glass, and David Mitchell novels. And my philosophy is jump in cold lakes. Stick out your hands. Protect your face.
So, yeah, we’re mulling over the potential image—the strength and emotional power—created by the juxtaposition of our more or less distant realities. In other words, living together, mixing our kids into a foursome of pseudo-siblings, and exploring that poetic reality for a summer. How would that be, we wonder, for the kids? Undoubtedly terrible. Inescapably so. And yet still, before August expires, perhaps beautiful, as “beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.”
“It doesn’t terrify you?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “But in the best possible way. Do your daughters like birds?”
When I was a very young boy, my mom married a man who had two adolescent sons. They were not nice boys. My dad remarried and I eventually had two half-sisters. They confused me, but I intuitively knew that I loved them. Later, I developed a taste for bourbon and dangerous philosophy. These sentences aren’t linked by causation; they are pure creations of the mind, knocking together to make some sparks.
Gwen grew up in the jungles of Borneo. The water was not cold. There were alligators in the river and cobras on the path. When I imagine her mind, I see a giant chess board and all the pieces’ potential moves in a flash of neurotransmission. We’re an evocative juxtaposition. Distant and true. A car crash. The bliss of collision. What we decide to do next summer will not be found in a book written by experts but rather discovered in a blind leap informed by intuitive vision. Build a fire and look up. Look for shooting stars.
Our two young girls have yellow hair and are separated in age by less than a year. The most curious thing to me? When their eyes meet. Who will they see? And then juxtaposed, distant and true, who? Who will they be?
Art: René Magritte, The Lovers, 1928