Thursday, January 26, 2012

NYC: Do I contradict myself? Very well then...

Tuesday was the first day of school, and a memorably trying one. I was running late after a morning appointment, missed the train I meant to take to New Brunswick, then hopped onto one scheduled to get me to the train station exactly fifteen minutes before the first meeting of my nonfiction workshop. After a bit of fiddling with the doors, and back-and-forth talk by the conductors over their intercom system -- which for some reason is designed to let everyone hear whatever they have to say to each other -- we pulled out of the station. Slowly. And we didn't get any faster. Then a halt in the tunnel. Start up, speed up, halt before the drawbridge outside of Newark. Start up, speed up, halt: the pattern will be familiar to all riders of New Jersey Transit, where such meltdowns happen at least weekly, to the point where it doesn't seem accurate to call them "meltdowns." They're the order of the day.

I was fifteen minutes late to class, no time to copy syllabus or hand-out, so we just winged it and talked, and the students were (not suprisingly) eager and smart, and happy to be there, so it was all fine.

Later in the day I showed up for my poetry workshop and began to teach a class while the students looked at me with rather bewildered expressions, a collective skepticism I didn't understand until their professor walked in. Pure humiliation. Much later, I sat on an A train -- the express -- while it was parked in Penn Station, watching local train after local train whizz by.

So I arrived home around ten in a thoroughly vile mood, having been out since ten that morning, and Ned and I headed out for a walk around the block. We were strolling on Sixth, under a new, Martian-looking arrangement of scaffolding and brilliant flourescent lights, when Ned decided there was something of paramount interest close to the curb, and ambled over to look. He didn't hurry, and there was no one near us, as far as I knew. But when we got to the curb, a middle-aged woman in tightish black sweats and a stocking cap walked by, and somehow I could feel hostility radiating from her, even though she walked right past and I could only see her back.

I thought, I'm just making this up. Then she turned around and said, with an anger that probably had very little to do with me as an individual, "You acting stupid."

My day had been rough enough to prevent me from thinking before I spoke. With no hesitation I spat back "Fuck you! Be polite."

She muttered something and kept going. It was only when I got around the corner that I started to laugh, realizing that I'd uttered, without thinking, a quintessentially New York statement, the paired contradiction just exactly the everyday sentiment of Metropolis:  Fuck you, be polite.  Couldn't be more New York, especially if it strikes you as funny thirty seconds after you say it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

An Exemplary Sentence (2)

This one comes from Robert Hass, from "Consciousness," concerned with the complicated, branching, elusive nature of awareness. It may help to know that the sentence before this one is "My mind went seven places at once." Then there's a space-break, followed by this, which is both a study of awareness and a demonstration of one way thinking moves:

One place was a line of ridge somewhere in a dry Western landscape just after sundown, I saw a pair of coyotes appear suddenly on the ridge edge and come to a loping stop and sniff the air and look down toward a valley in the moonlight, tongues out in a way that looks to us like happiness, though it isn't necessarily; I suppose they were an idea of mammal consciousness come over the event horizon in some pure form, hunter-attention, life-in-the-body attention.