I’m sitting on the edge of the Pacific. 40 miles from LA, the distant sound of people laughing is like a museum installation. If it weren’t for the waves crashing with the wet sand soaking my shirt I could be in the hallway of the Tate. The space between me, the joke of a couple and waves beating onto the sand break the horizon in front of me.
Waves push forward; the huge slow rise and instant crash resemble the hubris of calm. Deep blue rises into aqua, crashing white, pulling me closer to the depth of an endless sea pressing against a flat of sand.
Driving down sunset I played music, loud. I could see the rear view mirror vibrate. At first I wasn’t sure it wasn’t the world flickering into another reality until I heard the music resonate the corners of the mirror, each with a dizzying loss of focus.
Darting round curves twists and turns I reached Ocean. The kitsch of LA and Sunset Blvd made little space for thought; building sized posters for movies, comedy clubs, strip malls, endless bars, buildings filled with plastic surgeons; all covered in now trendy graffiti jostling faux juxtaposition with half the wit of Banksy. Finally a stretch that passes Bell Air and UCLA hit the Palisades, Art walks are advertised in a quaintness that symbolizes post-gentrified riches; then suddenly the sea.
You can be hypnotized by the drive. Curving through blinds with one pedal down; skirting between cars at a pace in step with the change in scene, the day flashed before me. I would drive, sit and see the edged discomforts that have been dormant. This pilgrimage to a place in which I’d left myself behind. I’d embrace, I’d walk away knowing I was a step closer. I drove with a hope I knew would remain unfulfilled at its destination.
I came to think. Sitting in the sand all I feel is the open question… In the expanse of ocean I hoped to look head on at a part of me. In the water I wanted to see something I could hold onto and say… “This is me, I am alive with this world before me.”
We aren’t given directions. We’re not told this is who you are. We grow with nothing to hold onto except our name, our religion if we have one and our nation. We’re given a lot of advice. But, it’s an old cliché, youth is wasted on the young. The advice means little to those of us who are quick to impress. We look around us expecting; maybe we’ll see sign posts; an idea, how to navigate the terrain of an otherwise ambiguous existence in style.
All this exists on the outside. Somewhere along the road we find ourselves in a position in which we need to make the connection. And so I sit here, sun beating softer than the sea, a breeze blowing the mumbled sound of families over half my face, heat beating the other.
Driving up the Pacific Coast through Malibu the ocean, rocks, terra-cotta hills and the road ahead strike with heat. Driveways lead to homes peppered along PCH. For a moment Walden comes to life. A contrast with the city, the day-to-day is laid out. Ambition, desire, they disappear. Then you see Banana Republic next to a McDonald’s in an innocent seaside town. And it all makes sense. I came here for detachment; the id of the road, the ego of the beyond, their collision. But nowhere is an escape from one relation… facing what’s right in front of you, life.
On the beach two girls are standing arms swinging, they carefully step into the water and jump back. A family sits on a blanket, the father stands with his arms placed on hips as he stares forward to nothing. Umbrellas prop and friends smoke cigarettes and listen to electronica. A shrill “we made it” shrieks the silence as a group arrives. A girl with a perfectly flat stomach holds her boyfriends hand. The sand clumps like moist brown sugar under the heel of my shoe. Life on Saturday is happening.
In the sun the road is free. There’s no end. Just you asking how long you can drive. Signposts remind you of a speed limit. Freedom is tempered. And shouldn’t it be? But, I still put my foot down because I want to feel the road, because I want to feel who I am.
I told my Dad I’m facing myself. He’d written in an email that I was brave. On the phone earlier in the day we talked about it. “Is it emotional or intellectual” he asked. “Emotional” I responded. “I want to do it now, at this juncture, I want to know who I am, before I go any further with life”.
He wanted to know what I meant and I referred to people like Bertrand Russell or Tony Benn. “They don’t ask themselves who they are” I told him, “they have their conviction and go with it, to the point of tearing their party membership cards in front of an assembly”. He wanted to know if there was nothing in the the reading I’ve done that gives some answer. But I knew there isn’t. All those words are abstractions, two steps removed from a relation we have with ourselves, moment to moment. They’re someone else’s story.
Emotions are hard to look at. It’s easy to escape into abstraction. Emotions are vague and pressing. Abstractions are sharp and clear. They describe where emotions just point. A week ago I couldn’t face the questions I wanted to and wrote:
‘Sitting in the garden we exchanged uncertainties, contours to conversation. Moving with empathy words negotiated meaning like we negotiated feeling. Sitting in the shade the sun made a balloon under the tree, a world looked out onto another one, illuminated by light we played table tennis with implication.
Subliminal disquiet extended nowhere. Nothing but concrete materiality existed. The world, with shades of green poured light through the backs of leaves. Shadows of grey sat idly on white concrete cutting branches that extended a space otherwise invisible.
The bubble had more material than the ground. Beneath our feet grass gave the feeling of moisture; the moisture of a body juxtaposed by the heat of the sun. Blocked by the shade the grass was safe. Beneath us it flattened into a reflection of distorted human form.
Facing the same direction, we asked questions about life, I realized how little I wanted to watch TV. TV is the apotheosis of nothing. There are questions in front of me, as much in front of me as the rest of the garden. Uncomfortable, disquiet assumed elegance, a whisper.
They were always there those questions. They knew they wouldn’t leave. They wait for their moment and they speak in a tone not unlike the lessons of practice…
It was an afternoon that had so much to precede it. No wonder subjects lay embedded in feelings struggling to find words as they formed understanding no sooner than sounds formed themselves into phrases. No wonder understanding sat with such uncertainty. It was still to early, if only for the calm of dusk; there were still too many hours in the day.
Thinking about the kinetic frenzy of life the calm protruded, an anomaly. Unlike most moments it sat alone, on a horizon of otherwise total distraction.
Faced immediately with intensity I subsumed, sublimated, escaped. I was no longer facing the questions. I leaped into another abstraction and left the meditation alone.‘
I’ve come to the conclusion I’ve not known myself for 20 years. I don’t even know what that means… To know yourself, but I came to that conclusion nonetheless. Last week I told someone exactly that and they asked me who, if I don’t know who I am I would want to be. I just told them that I didn’t want to have to think about it, that whoever I am I want to be at peace with that person.
Moments of fun have more reality than these questions. When you’re having fun you don’t ask yourself who you are. In joy life is more than immediate, it’s encompassing. There is honesty in joy, a candor that betrays nothing. There is nothing to be betrayed in happiness, no enemy, no combatant, no anxiety, no flight just fancy. I love driving to music. I love an honest conversation. I love the feeling that the veil has been removed, ambiguity exposed into vapor, demons disappear into light. Those things I know.
I learned a few lessons this week. Between the rock and roll of introspection and uncertainty I sat at dinner with my family. At dinner the banter and wit of the party took the place of any uncertainty. The comfort of people, honest, no agenda to speak of other than the pleasure of the group.
Earlier in the week I’d had an argument. After work I was too tired to win. I opened up and folded. Put my cards down and talked. That’s when the argument turned into understanding. No combat, just people.
And so on the drive home I turned my music up. If I’d learned anything it was that I could face myself, even if I didn’t find anything. What was I expecting? I’d had another conversation this week. A conversation about control. It had occurred to me that you’re never more out of control than when you seek it. But, when you’re ready to let go, let life be what it is, take it as it comes somehow, some strange paradox, something beyond this mind seems to be there.