Excerpt from My Book of Essays Inspired by New Orleans and New York: "Turning Over a New Leafs [sic]"

Read the rest of the book here.
Setting a crate of laundry on top of the washing machine, I told my landlord, who happened to be standing at the doorway, "I'm turning over a new leafs - I mean, leaf -hah hah, I can't spell." He was doing his Sunday laundry chores as well, convivial as ever, and we were chatting about getting stuff done, the usual small talk between landlord and tenant. My landlord is a 40 something single man who runs his own non-profit; he has light brown hair, average build, and a pleasant smile. We barely see each other; mostly our meetings are necessitated by my late rent checks.
A late call in the evening: hey, did you pay yet? I used to catch him on Sunday on the back patio sipping a gin and tonic, reading the New York Times or a recently acquired bio of a president or some other capitalistic icon.
He gave me inspiration this morning, however, reminding me of Lent - a time, I guess, to start anew. Lent is in Spring. A time of rebirth. I don't mind a little rebirth, every now and again. I'm pretty keen on time's passage: a steady repetition of boring, dull events. As my Benedictine buddy once said, "One damn thing after another." With Spring, cruel rebirthing, a painful endeavor, a new March and birthing April, the world recreates itself in a Heraclitean eternal recurrence of the same - or is that Nietzsche? I'm not sure.

I'm happy, though, I purchased a new copy of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, a great tome on friendship and the art of living. I've been thinking of things, lately. I've been watching the ten-hour film the Decalogue (1989), which is roughly based on the Hebrew ten commandments, detailing the disparate lives of lonely denizens of a Warsaw apartment complex. The film is directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. I've only managed to get through one hour segment thus far. The first installment is heartbreakingly sorrowful. It tells the kind story of a brilliant computer scientist and his brilliant son. It is a tragic story of love and loss and the painful awareness of reliance on scientific certainty.

The father concludes his son is safe to ice skate on the town's frozen lake, but tragically the ice breaks and the father is left to cope with his tragic mistake, anguishing in front of an icon of the Madonna at the section's end. I could not help but identify with the father. The loss he feels is all too cruel. Speaking about the film with two friends at Dot's Diner, they remarked they couldn't stand to watch a sad film. "Give me joy, one said." I can understand the resistance to sorrow. We rather have joy permeate our lives. The beauty of the Decalogue, it seems to me, is the director's ability to weave a story that is cuttingly sad but at the same time so neatly written on the human heart. The tragedy of Medea (well-done film treatment by Von Trier is incredible) is on one side of the spectrum: a woman exacts revenge on her cheating husband Jason by murdering his paramour, and his two sons (her children). On the other side is mirth: perhaps represented by Midsummer Night's Dream: a joyful tale of comedic confusion and complete resolution.

Each is on the opposite side of a comedy/tragedy stream. I should have told my buddies over coffee that it wasn't the tragedy of the boy's death at the end or the beauty of the father/son relationship at the beginning, but rather life in the in-between, in the interstices, an abstract idea, yes, but well-plotted out in this film as a life among people, not an abstracted ethical tract. For example, there is a powerful scene in the film that interlaces both sides of the spectrum: the boy encounters a dead dog in the snow, and asks his father, later, about death. "Why do people die?" he asks his reluctant father, at breakfast. The father gives a biological response, "the heart stops pumping." But the boy wants more answers; he is shaken by the death of the dog and begins to question, so what? So what he is able to answer the time it would hypothetically take Miss Piggy to outrun Kermit the frog if Kermit started to sprint away at sixty-two kilometers and she begins to chase him three minutes later at 82 kilometers! The scene is poignant and we ally with the boy's emotions; a joyful moment, oddly, because it cements for the viewer the bond between father and son. The father is patient, allowing his son to articulate his emotions, his thoughts, without judgment; and the child is allowed his own existential frustration, struggling within himself issues of the existence of a soul, which the father denies, and the certainty of death. 

Watching the scene, I was struck by the beauty of the scene, which only makes the boy's random death at the end of the film, even more surreal. I am reminded of life at the interstices, of the random moments, memories, we collect in order to make sense of a life. I go back to retrieve my clothes from the washer, noticing my landlord, this time, doing his gardening, and I am reminded again of the ebb and flow of time, of the give and take; the meeting points where art meets life, and I am reminded this is what I want to do: record in art similar interstices that Kieslowski managed to capture in his film. I am eager to watch the remaining nine sequences, but I think I will view them un-rushed. I have a feeling the emotions may be too much. But, I realize none of us has the answers, whether we hold fast on to faith or whether we decide to believe in nothing; none of us escapes the complicated interweaving of fate's arrow.

1 comment:

  1. I believe that we are essentially defined by how we live in liminality. Yes, defining moments if joy and pain help others see who we are and how we enjoy bliss or stay slumped in sorrow. It's the in between though that is sometimes more difficult because we have time to premeditate before we respond. Sudden or defining moments ask for reaction. We lie in the washer and dryer of life waiting for life to pick us up and something with us--there we find our true selves.


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