When I was in grade school, at the end of every school year the graduating class produced a slim paperback yearbook for the whole school. I went to a Catholic school, and it ran from kindergarten to eighth grade, so the student body ranged from five year olds to fourteen year olds. In the yearbook the graduating eighth graders got to make their last will and testaments, in which they would leave something behind to whomever they chose. People employed it with varying degrees of sincerity. Mark McCarthy said something like, “I leave all of St. Anne’s School a giant brownie.” His entry was censored from the publication. A classmate of mine, Lizbeth Morrell, with whom I had been in the same class for eight years, wrote, “…and to Khaela I leave the ability to think something without having to say it out loud.” The inheritance that she left me was significant. Up until the point that I read those words I had never actually considered that there was any difference between thinking and talking. If I experienced something, I said it. I ended up with a fairly strong confidence that there was nothing that I couldn’t put into words, because to me experience was words. There was an instant connection between how I felt it and how I expressed it, no gap of perception between them at all.
I don’t know how long it really took for me to assume possession of what Lizbeth gave me. I certainly didn’t manifest an ability for introspection overnight. Somehow, in the twenty something years since graduating eighth grade, I slowly carved out some spaces for storing ideas: instead of letting them roll immediately down the shoot and out of my mouth, I established a production facility in the privacy of my mind where my reflections could exist a while before I shared them with others. Despite the new system for refinement, however, I still hung on to a very strong belief that when I did make words that they existed as precise replicas of my experience. If I told you how I felt, I wasn’t giving you a picture of the feeling, I was giving you a tangible piece of the feeling itself: I sent it out of myself, it went into your ear and then it lived inside of you.
Can one actually make an accurate replica of an experience? I feel a lot less certain lately that this is possible. For one thing, I currently find myself frequently unable to express my ideas. I don’t believe that I have lost the ability to be articulate. I think that what has happened is that I used to have a smaller range of ideas that I wanted to express. I became a pro in those themes. I’ve been walking out towards the edges of what I know lately, and it turns out my system for building words about these outer limits isn’t quite up to speed. It’s stimulating, working with ideas that are a little too big to manage, and it’s awkward, not being able to reproduce my inner awareness into a form that I can share with anyone. But even beyond my lacking in articulation, from where I stand right now, the world looks too colossal and human experience seems too infinite and acute to be able to be transmitted in an external form. I like that vastness, it’s a little thrilling to consider the shadings of meaning and perception stretching out like fractal arms infinitely in every direction.
It would be helpful, I know, if I would consider studying up a bit on on the rich history of writing that very thoughtful and articulate people have already done on these topics that I am chewing on. I do consider it, I really do– the idea of finding a good book about the study of signs as representations of things sits there right on the edge of my consciousness, just outside the circle of things that I feel up for doing. I remember the word “semiotics” being used in relation to these ideas; it’s a word that I know but haven’t felt comfortable throwing around myself. I guess I might be able to muster the force to google that word. Okay I did it. But does this word “semiotics” successfully describe what I was trying to convey?
I guess that my current stance is that when you make something to represent an experience, it is not an actual crystallization of the experience into a tangible physical or communicable form. It’s a stab at conveying what you felt or knew, and the stabs can be more and less accurate. I think most representations are pretty inaccurate. But I do also believe in magic. In the Catholic faith, there is an idea called transubstantiation, which is that a priest can do a blessing on bread and wine and actually turn the materials into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, so that when the communion ceremony is performed, the members of the church are actually drinking and eating Jesus’ blood and body. I don’t believe in this particular magic. Since I don’t really believe in Jesus as a deity floating up in the sky, his blood showing up at Sunday church is too much of a leap for me.
The magics that I can go for are little ones. I mean, there is the primary, all consuming magic, which is the strangeness of existence at all, and this one I am willing to believe in because what other choice do I have. But beyond that I hold my faith for smaller things, like moments where it seems actually possible that someone might be having the exact same feeling as you are at the exact same time. For all my childhood confidence in the powers of my communication, I was still somehow a pretty lonely dude (which is maybe why I had to talk so much all the time, trying to make a connection to something or someone). I have a collection of certain moments in my recollection where someone said something to me that made me feel absolutely certain that we were sharing an identical experience, and this felt pretty shocking. I could take the position that I felt this way only because I needed to believe in shared experience*, because I was lonely, and maybe that is true. But it appeared to me at the time, and I still consider it, to be magic, as though someone broke through the rippling subjective layers of my perception, and came and sat with me inside the isolation of one of my dreams. Maybe breaking through loneliness is a form of magic.
*Do I have any external evidence of these shared experiences? What is weird is that I do, and it was the documentation of those moments that made me certain that the other person and I had actually felt the same thing. I dated a boy who wrote songs, and there were two occasions in which I experienced very powerful and intricate sensory experiences in his presence, about which neither of us spoke. Following each of these occasions, he wrote a song which used words to describe in very clear detail the way that the moment had felt to me, and, apparently, to him. In the first case, we were laying in bed looking at each other, and I had the sensation that we had both been shot through time together somehow. It was like we were rushing rapidly through air; it was surreal. The word echoing in my mind surrounding the experience was “THROUGH.” He wrote a song in the weeks following about a similar sounding situation that used the word “through” predominantly in the lyrics, and the way that he structured the music sounded similar to being catapulted through space. In the second case, he was hugging me in the kitchen of my friend’s house, and we were kind of reconciling after an argument, and when we hugged that time I really felt like he was somehow more aware of my presence than he had been in the past. I felt like I was less trying to be the thing that he wanted me to be, and more that I could just relax and be myself, and that he was aware of some of the subtleties of my presence. He wrote a song soon afterwards that detailed specifically that he was standing hugging someone in the kitchen, and that he had previously thought that he had felt that person’s shape, but had been wrong, and that now, with limp arms he could feel much more of the person. One of the strangest things about these phenomena is that in the end, they didn’t signify that the boy and I should be together. They were just random, temporary exceptions to the rules.