For years I feared the opening of every elevator, half-convinced that from the opened doors would come a bullet, for me, shot by a man in a tan trenchcoat. I have no idea why I feared this, expected it to happen. I even knew how I would react to this bullet coming from the elevator door, what word I would say. That word was: Finally.
We feel that to reveal embarrassing or private things, we have given someone something, that, like a primitive person fearing that a photographer will steal his soul, we identify our secrets, our past and their blotches, with our identity, that revealing our habits or losses or deeds somehow makes one less of oneself.
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How many times in life can we make decisions that are important but will not hurt anyone? Are we obligated- maybe we are- to say yes to any choice when no one will be hurt? We use the word hurt when talking about things like this because when these things go wrong it can feel as if you were hit in the sternum by a huge animal that's run for miles just to strike you.
Not that there seems to be any appropriate place to bury someone, but these municipal cemeteries, or any cemetery at all for that matter, like the ones by the highway, or the ones in the middle of town, with all these bodies with their corresponding rocks - oh it's just too primitive and vulgar, isn't it? The hole, and the box, and the rock on the grass? And we glamorize this process, feel it fitting and dramatic, austerely beautiful, standing there by the hole as we lower the box. It's incredible. Barbaric and base.
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When my parents passed on, and we read their wills, we discovered something we didn't at all expect, especially from our devoutly Catholic mother: they had both left instructions that their bodies be donated to science. We were bewildered and we were pissed. They wanted their cadavers to be used by medical students, they wanted their flesh to be cut into and their cancerous organs examined. We were breathless. They wanted no elaborate funerals, no expense incurred for such stuff - they hated wasting money or time on ceremony, on appearances. When they died there was little left - the house, the cars. And their bodies, and they gave those away. To offer them to strangers was disgusting, wrong, embarrassing. And selfish to us, their children, who would have to live with the thought of their cold weight sinking on silver tables, surrounded by students chewing gum and making jokes about the location of freckles. But then again: Nothing can be preserved. It's all on the way out, from the second it appears, and whatever you have always has one eye on the exit, and so screw it. As hideous and uncouth as it is, we have to give it all away, our bodies, our secrets, our money, everything we know: All must be given away, given away every day, because to be human means: 1. To be good 2. To save nothing
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If things continue this way, there will be two societies - or at least I hope there will be two - the one you're helping create, and an alternative to it. You and your ilk will live, willingly, joyfully, under constant surveillance, watching each other always, commenting on each other, voting and liking and disliking each other, smiling and frowning, and otherwise doing nothing much else.
People say I talk slowly. I talk in a way sometimes called laconic. The phone rings, I answer, and people ask if they've woken me up. I lose my way in the middle of sentences, leaving people hanging for minutes. I have no control over it. I'll be talking, and will be interested in what I'm saying, but then someone-I'm convinced this what happens-someone-and I wish I knew who, because I would have words for this person-for a short time, borrows my head. Like a battery is borrowed from a calculator to power a remote control, someone, always, is borrowing my head.
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Here though, there are no oppressors. No one's forcing you to do this. You willingly tie yourself to these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic. You no longer pick up on basic human communication clues. You're at a table with three humans, all of whom are looking at you and trying to talk to you, and you're staring at a screen! Searching for strangers in... Dubai!
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The world, every day, is New. Only for those born in, say, 1870 or so, can there be a meaningful use of the term postmodernism, because for the rest of us we are born and we see and from what we see and digest we remake our world. And to understand it we do not need to label it, categorize it. These labels are slothful and dismissive, and so contradict what we already know about the world, and our daily lives. We know that in each day, we laugh, and we are serious. We do both, in the same day, every day. But in our art we expect clear distinction between the two... But we don't label our days Serious Days or Humorous Days. We know that each day contains endless nuances - if written would contain dozens of disparate passages, funny ones, sad ones, poignant ones, brutal ones, the terrifying and the cuddly. But we are often loathe to allow this in our art. And that is too bad...
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I was feeling everything much too much. Everything was pulling at my eyes. I spent hours floating in pools. I sat on terraces and stared for afternoons at mediocre views. I was feeling overjoyed for happy couples. I would see or hear about people, usually people I hardly knew or didn't even like, getting together, finding each other after so much groping, and I would feel bliss. I was blindsided by familiar things.
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I worry about exposing him to bands like Journey, the appreciation of which will surely bring him nothing but the opprobrium of his peers. Though he has often been resistant - children so seldom know what is good for them - I have taught him to appreciate all the groundbreaking musicmakers of our time - Big Country, Haircut 100, Loverboy - and he is lucky for it. His brain is my laboratory, my depository. Into it I can stuff the books I choose, the television shows, the movies, my opinion about elected officials, historical events, neighbors, passersby. He is my twenty-four-hour classroom, my captive audience, forced to ingest everything I deem worthwhile. He is a lucky, lucky boy! And no one can stop me.
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Maybe he hadn't thought the war through. It had seemed like simple fun when he had first pictured it, with a glorious beginning, a difficult but valor-filled middle, and a victorious end. He hadn't accounted for the fact that there might not be much of a resolution to the battle, and he hadn't imagined what it would feel like when the war just sort of ended, without anyone admitting defeat and congratulating him for his bravery.
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This morning there s first a predictable story about Darfur; an expert on African affairs notes that seven thousand African Union troops patrolling a region the size of France have been ineffectual in preventing continued janjaweed terror. Funding for the troops is about to run out, and it seems that no one, including the United States, is ready to put forth more money or come up with new ideas to stop the killing and displacement. This is not surprising to those of us who lived through twenty years of oppression by the hands of Khartoum and its militias.
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