What town was it, that we went to, that one time up in the mountains? I can’t remember what is was called, and can’t say for sure, now, that I’m remembering it correctly. It’s wavering in my mind, at least half a fiction at this point. But, didn’t the way in takes us over a road that bisected a lake, or was flanked by two separate lakes – something like that? Or was that a different town? I remember the parking lot we parked in, with the chain link fence on the one end that made a clinking, rattling sound like a flagpole in the wind. We had a fight in that parking lot and, in rage, you ran from me in your long boots. I laughed about the way you ran later, when we had made up, which was a mean thing to do.
This is when I was living in Boulder. Boulder is a nice town, although I didn’t know that at the time. Insofar as we can see the past – our past – when it isn’t a total ruins, or a blank entirely; when we can see the past, we can see the truth of a situation clearly, whereas our life in the present moment is fundamentally a mystery, and we can act only on hypotheses on what the truth of it may, actually, be.
Obviously, part (maybe all) of the certainty we can evaluate the past with comes from the fact that it is irretrievably done; and “truth,” “certainty” I both mean in a local, completely assailable sense; because the past is at least partly fiction; because not only do our recollections warp and mutate under time’s long fingers, but also we instinctively fill in the flaws and lacunae with our own mindspun figments – fiction we may hope is true, maybe believe is true, may actually be true, but that we only ever arrive at by guesswork and imagination. One of the beautiful things about a book is that it is not the creation of a single mind, even though it has a single author. Because of the time it takes to make, the author has written their book with a thousand different mindsets, moods, under shifting internal directives and philosophies; and so really any book is the creation of a hundred or a thousand different minds, which partly accounts for their power and beauty.
A similar principle is at work between us and our memories. We apply these “fixes” to their broken spots at different times, when we are fundamentally different people (even if always built around the same core); so that the ruins of the truth mouldering in our skulls are bedizened with days’, months’, years’ worth of mindsets, threading through a hundred different presents. And what would be multiform beauty in a book is less convincing here, replaced by a heartrending confusion and uncertainty. Because if any of this is true, then the difficulty of speaking truthfully about the past becomes a trial. Can anything filtered through a single consciousness be wholly and completely “True?”
But yeah, Boulder is a nice town. My first impression of Colorado, when I got there, was of its presiding brownness; lots of land flatter than I expected and acres of tough, sinewy flatland shrubbery and dirt. But Boulder became beautiful to me over time: the brownness became bracing because it was so often sunstruck; and in the residential roads there were hidden pockets of greenery, reminiscent of southern Ohio, where the trees are thick and the sun spread like butter on their thick leaves.
It was green around Naropa. I was at Naropa during the summer, for the Summer Writing Workshop. Naropa is nestled in greenery, and I spent a lot of time sitting with my mostly-unscrutinzed classmates on the small campus’s small quadrangle. There were a lot of fires that summer. One day we stepped out after a class and watched the Ironing Board Fire: a curtain of smoke rolling down the Flatirons, thick, cloudlike, with a billowing top the color of old ivory and a dark bottom, like the dramatically lowering sea storms in Baroque paintings.
Samuel R. Delany was there that summer, and I lucked into the last spot for his class. He hung out one day with Brian Evenson after classes, and seemed alright with me standing nearby, as immobile in my admirations at 22 as I was in middle school.
The last day of classes there was a little book fair in between the school buildings, where the visiting authors sat with copies of their latest books and signed autographs. I didn’t buy a copy of Chip’s Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, although I wish I did; instead I brought my ratty mass market paperback of Dhalgren up to him and, when he signed it with a formulaic encomium, shyly asked for his email address, which he graciously gave.
(Recently I found a copy of Spiders at a book store, and wanted to buy it, but because it was rare it was priced as high as a new book, if not higher, and so I passed on it. But if I see it again I’ll buy it.)
Some months later, after I had decided not to continue at Naropa, I wrote him a long email explaining why I chose not to go on. He sent me back a short response that is lost now but went something like:
“Your email has given me much to think about. I am busy right now, but when I have more time I will respond at length.
And I haven’t heard from him since.