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The desert road after dark…

July 13, 2011

As I drive on the freeways and main roads of the desert I keep thinking of arteries. At night one can drive for ages on the long, dark roads and see nothing. Street lights are scarce, as are other cars past 10 or 11 PM. While one is driving, several times a car cannot be seen ahead or behind. There is nothing to look at because it’s so dark. When I barrel through the 10 west, I welcome the blinking red lights set on top of the windmills that prolifically adorn the landscape during the day. After full dark I can barely see them. The red flashing lights remind me of the lights on the cranes, at the ship yards in San Diego I would follow and track down, like a moth drawn to the flame.

When I’m driving I keep imagining I’m a part of the circulatory system of the human body. In the desert, the streets are so long and desolate I keep thinking I’m a lonely blood cell, cruising along one of the main arteries connecting the heart to the lungs. I think of the clusters of houses and shops, of civilization, as the bursts of veins and capillaries that feed the lungs, heart, torso and legs. When I think of New York City I think of a finger tip, where all the nerves are waiting to alert pain at any small cut or slice; where the blood supply ends and is focused, and close to the nerve endings. My ignorance of the circulatory system or entire human anatomy in scientific terms, combined with incessant thoughts of this analogy, brought me to the point of looking at images on google of the circulatory system. Upon a cursory examination, I think it’s not too far off, although, I don’t know precisely where this is coming from, if it’s that exact, or how the nervous system plays into this.

What I do know is my sense of time has slowed down, and my “nerves” are relaxing. The avenues in Manhattan and Brooklyn felt endless just prior to my exit, but they are short compared to the never-ending system of wide roads and highways in Southern California. However, the vastness of the West feels comforting.

What’s significant about the desert is that the diminished number of cars driving after dark (in the summer anyways), plus the lack of light, unite to create a super unrealistic notion of time passing. It’s the exact opposite to the speedy sensation of New York City. So what is a realistic notion of time anyways? Other than the seeming finality of death (depending on ones beliefs), time doesn’t make sense to me anymore. Yet survival does, more than ever.

Scenes from “Lost Highway” come to mind, where row after row of yellow lines fall upon one another. It’s hard to tell if I’m going the right way and my sense of direction, in real time, is even more vague than usual. I finally got that the mountains face the northwest, kind of. It’s really quite simple around here, I’ve learned my way around a little bit; I’ve found myself relying on my I-phone less and less for the GPS app. But driving the desert roads; it’s endless, almost mindless. But being mindless is impossible at this point in life. The point when one has realized there is no point but moving on, mindfully, driving carefully through the dimly lit streets, hoping that an incorrect turn doesn’t render one lost for too much time.

From an existential viewpoint, my life has always been a nightmare, a conundrum, a conflicting set of values and reality. The process of realizing ones capabilities, in my case, supercede my ability to achieve it. The concentrated desire to think through the metaphorical examples of my own experience, that spontaneously come to mind, is a recent developement. This brings me back to Dostoevsky’s peasant, who is “greedily hoarding impressions, hardly knowing why.” Perhaps he is still standing there, on the side of the road, staring into space. Maybe I’ll join him finally.

But of course I know why, at least partially. Is it not natural to think of the man-made landscape in a natural way, even if one does not understand that connection in intellectual or scientific terms? The visceral connection is made, implanted in the brain and the body, and knows something beyond intellectual knowledge. It is painful to try to explicate, but worth trying; a little bit. As I get a little older, the physical drama unleashes full knowledge of past emotional trauma. The pathways become fully revealed and the “wrong turns” begin to make sense, again, just a little bit. Only a little. Drop by drop the truth bleeds out, then the wound heals, leaving another scar. What is shed on the ground just simply dries and fades away, decomposes into everything else on this earth, on those pathways, sidewalks, streets and roads that illustrate time as the great equalizer. It is symbolic to me of all of that is unknown. My dad says, jokingly, if I stay out of Los Angeles, I will be okay. But I don’t know if I can, or if I’ll get bored. Maybe not, who knows…..


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