Another walk today, a short one. It was that particularly off-putting kind of day where the sky is leaden, gray, louring, cold-looking, but it’s humid out and warm. If you’re at the right level of sensitivity, this meteorological contradiction grates at the base of your mind the entire time you’re out in it.
(It’s easy to talk about the weather, because it has no character or philosophy and offers no opposition. You can ascribe any qualities to it that you want, without any possibility of refutation. But I think also that the weather is the most obvious thing when you look in any particular direction around here. Like, these suburbs of suburbs that I’ve lived in for so long are so characterless, so utterly mundane and unworthy, that the bland eternal changeability of the sky is a more compelling character than the vinyl-sided houses, the music coming down from loudspeakers in stripmall parking lots, the stinking dogwood trees…)
My friends and I talk through text, I meet up with some of them remotely for games, I play Go online with the Cleveland club members. But these are poor substitutes in two ways: there’s the obvious difference between actual and digital contact; but also all these simulacra fail to appease my hunger for normalcy. Again, the defining sensation of the pandemic is this ravagesome longing to go back to the way things were; it comes to me more acutely and wearing more colors than the fear or the boredom. So when I talk with friends over Zoom or play a rival online, there’s this twofold awareness of inadequacy, and it makes me bitter and angry.
And like any major shift in the paradigm, COVID 19 is exerting strange influence on everyone’s personalities. Its tampering with our tides. I’m seeing sides of people I haven’t seen before, maybe that didn’t exist before, both for better and for worse. And the logic between one mood and the next is less obvious: people seem to get angry easier, to fight more frequently. Maybe this will pass. Maybe we’re still at the mercy of the newness and shock, and still don’t know how well we’re holding up, and don’t really know how anybody else is holding up either, and that introduces multiple additional unknowns into any social interaction, so that whether we’ll end up closer with someone or further away again from them at the end of an exchange is more uncertain than it was before.
Out walking today I agreed to see my dad, since I’d be in his neighborhood. We stood in the driveway six feet apart and talked for a bit. It was the first time we’d seen each other in person since the beginning of March. His hair was longer than I’d ever seen it – or at least it felt that way, but it could’ve been the novelty of seeing him again that made my mind overpronounce minor differences from my last mental snapshot of him.
He was talking about moving. He said he wanted to move to South Carolina. It was something he’d been thinking about for years, talking about for years, but never seriously, and now it seemed like it was serious. Even in better times, much of what we ‘know’ about a person is static assumption, so that when they do something unexpected sometimes it feels, just for a second, like a personal insult, or as bitter as a farewell, as we readjust perceptions we haven’t fundamentally altered in years.
We walked for a bit together (still six feet apart). Closer to the bottom of the street, before it curved away, I turned at an intersection and walked away home. He was wearing gym shorts that were blue and shimmered like fish scales in the feeble light. I dressed for the way the weather looked, not the way it was, and was feeling hot and choked under my hoodie.
On the way home and all afternoon I felt stupid. Stupid for a bitter exchange I had with a friend the night before; stupid for being even momentarily vexed at my dad for doing something my rusticating definitions of his character didn’t account for. Parents we particularly don’t reappraise as often as we should, maybe.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Gass’s sentiment that writing, for him, was an act of revenge. Is there any creative act that doesn’t originate in fury? There’s joy in the creative act, but that joy is generated internally, it doesn’t inspire the act itself. Lots of people make stuff in joy, but does that does that kind of creation make anything real? Does art come from any other place than a savage discontent?
There’s also something purgative in art as revenge. It burns impurities away that would otherwise build up in us. There have been so many times where, in a situation with someone I like or love, I’ve gotten angry, or been bitter, snarky, said something that embarrassed me afterward; I’ve taken hard stances against good people because I was mad at myself for not being strong enough to take them against the forces that really needed to be resisted. And I didn’t know I was doing this at the time, because the anger flowed out so easily. When ignored, anger obeys a gravity, moving down from more difficult to less difficult expressions, the same way water is always moving towards the center of the earth.