something crucial is revealed to the audience
D.L. is utterly silent throughout this exchange, watching the odometer begin slowly to lose its magic. There is a reason for her silence that is in a way parallel to the historical U.S. conflict in Vietnam. For her, Vietnam does not exist except as complicatedly cancelled letters and hissingly connected phone calls, a completely flat-eyed father whom she first met on a tarmac at nine. Who had a hook. Who dropped at automobile backfires (Datsuns never backfire--too little power), who gazed dully and accepting at the mosquito feeding at his one big bicep. Who's long gone, now. Who left a note.
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For there were, by this time, degrees and gradations of public sweating, from a light varnish all the way up to a shattering, uncontrollable, and totally visible and creepy sweat. The worst thing was that one degree could lead to the next if he worried about it too much, if he was too afraid that a single sweat would get worse and tried too hard to control or avoid it. The fear of it could bring it on. He did not truly begin to suffer until he understood this fact, an understanding he came to slowly at first and then all of an awful sudden.
Do pictures tell? I have a color Polaroid of Vance at seven and Veronica at twenty-nine traversing a rickety dry-gray dock in Nova Scotia to board a fishing boat. The water is a deep iron smeared with plates of foam; the sky is a thin iron smeared with same; the mass of white gulls around Vance's outstretched bread-filled hand is a cloud of plunging white V's. Vance Vigorous, as he holds out his white little child's hand, is surrounded and obscured by a cloud of living, breathing shrieking, shitting, plunging incarnations of the letter V; and I have it captured forever on quality film, giving me the right and power to cry whenever and wherever I please. What might that say about pictures.
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[...] He had called the station from inside the first tower to describe what was happening. The host quickly thanked him for calling in and then said, in a bit of a panic, Why are you on the phone with me? Why aren't you on your way down?
You don't understand, the man said. The whole center of the building is gone. I can't go down. That's why I'm calling.
I don't know how to describe the feeling I had in the silence that followed, except that it was approximately the length it would take you to read this sentence aloud.
‘Is it possible to make a work of art that is not embodied in an object?’
A ponderous silence.
‘Well?’ said Delia.
‘Is it the artist’s job to answer questions, or to ask them?’
In a classroom in Manhattan on a rainy day, my perception of art was changed forever. Vito Acconci’s pedagogy was a mixture of persistent enquiry, faith in the invisible and nudges toward the unknown. It struck me for the first time that art might exist beyond the realms of painting and sculpture. This was a mind-boggling revelation, like opening a door in your own house and discovering an entirely new room. My jaw went lax, my breathing deepened. The spirit of conceptualism had entered me, and I became a convert then and there.
One day, around the beginning of my junior year of college, it occurred to me that I wasn’t going to make it. I had already developed carpal tunnel and tendonitis from years of improper violin technique taught to me by my rural music teachers. I was out of money to go to festivals, and I had no way of making lasting, important connections in a field where who you know matters more than anything else. I had no serious job prospects, nor any hope for job prospects. At work one night, the falseness of the “work hard and you will succeed” ethic washed over me: the truth was the music world was a two-tiered system, and I was in the second chair. Hungover, in the comfort of a dark recording booth, I began to cry. Few things are as life altering as realizing your preferred life is unalterably a fucked impossibility.
It was a cold winter day. When I arrived, he had company. A friend just about to leave, who was sitting on a couch in Sandro’s loft, flipping through an art catalogue. He wore a peacoat and scarf, and his hair was darker, from winter light, or because it needed to be washed, but he looked otherwise just the same. Just the same.
Rain began to fall, wet darts hitting the windows of the loft. The rain fell harder and harder until the sound rose to an incredible crescendo, like glass beads pouring down over the front of Sandro’s building. The sky beyond the windows was dense and gray but with the curious buttery quality of daytime darkness, as if there were a yellowish light lurking behind the rain clouds. Time had slowed to an operatic present, a pure present.
“My very best friend,” Sandro said as he introduced us.
This friend of his stood.
In that strange light, the showering-glass-beads rain, I felt that I was seeing this person before me in two ways at once. Again — finally. And also for the very first time. His smile was simple and open. If there was the faintest edge of knowingness in it, it was purely of this type: my friend digs you. That was all.
I don’t want to know your name, I’d said to him that night, when he was one of the people with the gun, Nadine and Thurman’s friend.
But now I did know his name: Ronnie Fontaine.
“[...] He’s calling to those rabbits like they know their names and are going to be happy to see him. I’m thinking, isn’t he amazed by how quickly I got here? Isn’t he going to at least mention it? I was redlining his Jaguar. I pissed in a Dr Pepper bottle. When it was full I pissed in a potato chips bag. I broke the law. Gave up a night’s sleep. Forwent the tube socks at the truck stop.”
“Incredible self-control,” Sandro said.
“All in the name of doing Saul a favor. I mean, you try to help a person. He opens the car door and leans in the back and makes this sound. A wailing. High-pitched.”
“Oh, no,” Sandro said, and put his hands over his face, feigning a brace for disaster.
“Yeah, that’s right. Those goddamn rabbits were dead.”
“You forgot to check on them.”
“My job was transport. And I didn’t hear any complaints from back there. But I had the windows down and there was a lot of truck traffic — especially on the 10. I don’t know what happened. They just… died.”
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The itching is insane. Every spot above his waist is unreachable fire. When he drops back down to earth again, his mother is there, curled up in the chair next to his bed. A change in his breathing wakes her from her sleep. His father is there, too, somehow. Neelay worries; what will his employers say when they discover he’s not at work?
His mother says, “You came down out of a tree.”
He can’t connect the dots. “Fell?”
“Yes,” she argues. “That’s what you did.”
“Why are my legs in tubes? Is that to keep me from breaking things?”
Her finger wags in the air, then touches her lips. “Everything will be fine.”
His mother doesn’t say such things.
The nurses ease him by degrees off the pain drip. Anguish sets in as the drugs dry up. People come to see him. His father’s boss. His mother’s card-playing friends. They smile like they’re doing calisthenics. Their comfort scares the crap out of him.
“You’ve been through a lot,” the doctor says. But Neelay has been through nothing. His body, perhaps. His avatar. But he? Nothing important in the code has changed.
The doctor is kind, with a tremor when his hand drops to his side, and eyes that fix on a blank spot high up on the walls. Neelay asks, “Can you take the vise-things off my legs?”
The doctor nods, but not in agreement. “You have some mending to do.”
“It’s bugging me, not to be able to move them.”
“You concentrate on healing. Then we’ll talk about what happens next.”
“Can you at least take off the boots? I can’t even wriggle my toes.”
Then he understands. He’s not yet twelve. He has lived for years in a place of his own devising. The thought of countless good things passing out of his life doesn’t quite occur to him. He still has that other place, the heaven in embryo.
But his mother and father: they fall apart. Awful hours set in, days of disbelief and desperate bargaining that he won’t remember. There will be years of supernatural solutions, alternative practices, and miracle cures. For a long time, his parents’ love will make his sentence worse, until they finally put their faith in moksha and accept that their son is a cripple.
But by her second year, the catch becomes clear. In a seminar on forest management, the professor declares that snags and windthrow should be cleaned up from the forest floor and pulped, to improve forest health. That doesn’t seem right. A healthy forest must need dead trees. They’ve been around since the beginning. Birds turn them to use, and small mammals, and more forms of insects lodge and dine on them than science has ever counted. She wants to raise her hand and say, like Ovid, how all life is turning into other things. But she doesn’t have the data. All she has is the intuition of a girl who grew up playing in the forest litter.
Soon, she sees. Something is wrong with the entire field, not just at Purdue, but nationwide. The men in charge of American forestry dream of turning out straight clean uniform grains at maximum speed. They speak of thrifty young forests and decadent old ones, of mean annual increment and economic maturity. She’s sure these men who run the field will have to fall, next year or the year after. And up from the downed trunks of their beliefs will spring rich new undergrowth. That’s where she’ll thrive.
She preaches this covert revolution to her undergrads. “You’ll look back in twenty years, amazed at what every smart person in forestry took to be self-evident truth. It’s the refrain of all good science: ‘How could we not have seen?’”