Saturday, October 27, 2007

Is that all there is to a fire?

Days have been long of late, bleeding into nights, all of the above mostly spent hunched over the computer, working on an endless stream of schoolwork...Last night was no exception, and I finally fell into an exhausted slumber around 3am.

Twas not fated to last, that sleep. A pounding on the door downstairs woke me. 4:30am is no time for visitors, and a chill ran through me as I shook Chip awake. "What is that?!" He stood in the darkness, "I'll go check." I lay there, momentarily terrified, and before he made it down the stairs he shouted, "You need to come down here!"

I threw on my robe, and as I descended the stairs the window over the landing emitted an eerie, flickering orange light. Fire. Shit. The pounding on the door was frenzied, a woman's voice yelled, "You need to get out of there!"

I complied.

For a moment, like a terrible dream, I stood transfixed, afraid to round the corner into the alley-convinced that my garage was being consumed, and the house next.

Staring down the alley, heat radiated from the flames that licked the garage of the vacant house next door to death, I stood paralyzed, in disbelief. Another blaze cast a hellish, dancing light further down the alley. My heart beat in a way that made me feel sick, and slowly the firemen made their way towards the blaze.

The overhead powerlines caught the flame, and it slithered along them crackling with an eager, sinister sort of glee. The houses all went dark, leaving the fire alone to light the night like some evil, cackling star landed.

We got the animals, and the flames moved across the alley to another garage. My palpitations continued, and I stood amongst neighbors, faces all lit up with dread and a ghostly orange light.

I watched the firemen hose it all down, peeling off layers of the ruined structure like skin from an onion, hosing each in turn. I wondered at these brave fellows who speak the language of fire, who know how to put it to sleep. We all speak secret languages, I suppose.

Eventually, we climbed the stairs through our dark house, shaken but unscathed, we fell back into an uneasy sort of sleep.

*** *** *** *** ***

I'd been feeling melancholy for weeks now, purposeless and lonely. In a place where life is so much work, and all my life's anchors distant and lost at sea, perhaps I sometimes find it too easy to feel forgotten, as though my own trajectory has finally set me on a course destined not to cross paths with loved ones ever again.

This is, of course, silly self indulgence.

Last weekend, distracted from yard work, I wandered to that derelict garage, ran my hands over the artifacts there, the abandoned memories and keepsakes of someone else. Today, all that is remains is a blackened heap of detritus.

Somewhere in the midst of this, I remember that all of this we hold dear is terribly temporary. We are precious, you and I and all the things that pass between and amongst and around us. I smiled a little more easily today.

Would it be wrong for me to secretly thank the fire (if not the arsonist) for jarring me back into being, and reminding me to breathe a little deeper, laugh a little more, take all this a little less seriously?

Thank you Fire. For sparing our little piece of this place, and giving us the opportunity to appreciate it all for just a little bit longer.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

My Internet Generation

Insert deep sigh here

Lately, I am unconvinced by the convictions of my generation. It's like somewhere along the way, we all collectively decided to "drink the kool aid," consequences be damned.

The New York Times hosted a little college essay contest and the winning entry entitled "The Posteverything Generation" managed to both sour my stomach and remind me of the futility of the "me" generation.

Perhaps we've been ruined by instantaneity, in the sense that we've become a people who believe that anything worth doing is worth doing right now, regardless of how half-baked and poorly executed the result. The idea that and Facebook groups are somehow a replacement for actual protest and revolutionary tactics is beyond me. What is the conferred advantage of rapidly accessible information at the flick of a switch?

Myanmar, for one, does not seem to be benefiting. No offense, but screw your Facebook group asking me to join in solidarity for the monks being slaughtered in the streets of military junta-run Burma. Did that click-click-clicking do them any good? Did I save a life? Did I actively move the government of Myanmar closer to resolution? I'm afraid not. But did I feel smugly better about myself. You betcha. That seems to be the sole intent of these web-based protests. A pacifier, something to placate that unsettling feeling of wrongness that soaks your conscience if you are so masochistic as to read the international section.

Do I have an alternative? I'm not sure I do. I'm questioning a lot of things right now.

The more educated I become, the farther estranged I feel. From old friends, from family, from the earth itself. I see an entire contingent of bright beautiful people having a lot of fun, and I wonder if I am missing something. Am I working too hard? Do I really think that all this effort will bear fruit on some grand scale? Or do I narrow my scope? Does the deferment of gratification ever end, or do I keep on working this hard forever?

I guess my point is that there is a nice balance in there somewhere. Whether you join Big Brothers/Big Sisters and spend some quality time with an underprivileged kid, teach an ESL class one night a week, start a community garden, go to a developing country and meet a family you want to help out by putting one of their kids through school, volunteer a weekend to clean up a park or river, go to a city council meeting, make a conscious effort to not shop at Walmart, stop eating factory farmed meat, smile at someone on the street, mow your elderly neighbor's lawn...the list is infinite. Joining a Facebook group or signing an online petition seems like the easy way out.

No, I don't think that I can stop what is happening in Myanmar, or Sudan, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, or (enter totally screwed place here).
In some sense, the fact that we've been made aware of all these things seems to have had an anesthetizing, rather than empowering effect.

I do think that we can use our own individual skills and creative genius to make big changes. I think it will take time. But most of all, it will take effort, not button pushing.

I am not afraid to admit that there is much more I don't know than there is I will ever know. I am not afraid to celebrate my smallness. I am not afraid to tell you exactly what I see. I am not afraid to try to make a difference, no matter how small, with my tiny, precious little life.