Saturday, August 28, 2010

Her Skin is Wired

"I let just a little bit of fall in through my window this morning," she said. On one of the final days of August, the day parted just long enough to give her a glimpse of what lies ahead. She likes it when the air is sharp and swirling: bits of memory in shards, cutting and falling in turns, working their way in again. Her skin is wired. On the other side of the bay window in her coastal California home, she watches as one small renegade leaf pretends it is dying in upstate New York. Detached and yellowing, it twists and contorts as it makes it first and only descent. Who will sweep it away?

Her skin is wired.

One touch and her skin is wired. Her breath is deep but it is not hers. She remembers. But maybe, just maybe, she remembers what has yet to be. This is what happiness looks like: the beauty of the unknown.

(Photo Credit:

Friday, August 20, 2010


We define ourselves through the lens of tragedy. We see our faces reflected in the wake of disaster. Destruction tells us that we live, and it tells us how to live. Or how we should have lived. And it feels sickening to me--sickening that everything we do, say, and are must be refracted off of a traumatic moment.

This is what I realized today.

I was sitting in an orientation at a university where I'll be picking up a course this fall, and one particular speaker referred nonchalantly to the fact that we are in a post-Virginia Tech era. I had never heard this term before, but I didn't need it to be explained to me. We are post everything, aren't we? In my own work and discourse I comment on our post-Holocaust moment, the postmodern era, post-9/11 ethics, the post-secular. We engage in a discourse about ourselves that is premised on the phenomenon of looking back.

We are all, it turns out, too much like the biblical Lot's wife. We are all looking back on our burning city, indifferent to the consequences. Indifferent to the possibility that we may become like salt and stone. Immovable.

We are concerned with after, when perhaps, as Rosa suggests in Cynthia Ozick's The Shawl, there is only during. We look back and imagine we see the climax of our existence. And it is terrible and destructive. We build our lives around it, making meaning out of the meaningless.

Yes, I know--we can only know what came before. We have no access to what lies ahead. But sometimes I fear that we need trauma--or destruction, tragedy, devastation, loss--to form our identities. We don't define ourselves in relation to the positive or celebratory moments in our collective our individual experiences. We don't, for instance, say that we are in a post-emancipation-from-slavery era. And an individual is much more likely to say that he is a recovering alcoholic or a Holocaust survivor even if he is also a successful businessman and father of five happy children.

Happiness cannot cut us to the core, it turns out. We cannot be post-happiness. And who would we be if we were?