Friday, November 18, 2022

Permanent Shmermanent

Everyone asks me the same question about my impending move to Portugal: "Is it permanent?"

The question irritates me, which shows it's a harbinger. It's a key, a lens, a Rosetta Stone, uncoding a pervasive human tic I've chosen to eschew. I once wrote:
Big-picture scenarios are like cartoons, and we don't live in cartoonish big-picture images, we live in trivial moments. This is not a movie. We're raindrops slowly working down windows, not heroic protagonists.
That's the best I ever expressed it. More often, I just mockingly point out that "we're not starring in movies". But that isn't the best metaphor, because it sounds like I'm urging humility. Keep your nose down. Don't be expansive. Be small.

But that's not it. Expansive grandiosity is as good a way to play this game as any other....just as long as you recognize that it's a game. We're all acting. That's what this is. So if you can briefly turn away from the big silver screen in your mind where your Life Journey has appeared to triumphantly play out, you may enjoy a moment of lucidity. In that reframing, ask yourself what you've ever done that was "permanent".

Are you even capable of doing anything "permanently"? Does anyone really live in a big sweep narrative where such words apply?

Like all musicians, I've been a detached observer of strangers' weddings. I can report they all palpably mean it when they swear to remain together forever. But many won't. And they SWORE! In front of everyone important to them! At a party costing thousands - or tens or hundreds of thousands - of dollars! That's as high-stakes an oath as one could imagine! What more elaborate proof could you possibly contrive that you really mean it this time?

Lofty pronouncements often prove worthless, because we don't live in the loft - in the grand narrative arc. No, we live in the muck; in the moment, swayed by pheromones and endorphins and unconscious anxieties and gastric volatilities. While our mouths utter noble intentions and initiatives, the status of our digestive, eliminative, and sexual release cycles are far more causative factors.

Humans love to flatter ourselves, but, in reality, we ricochet wildly, like pinballs, from whatever just happened - including stuff that only happened in our heads. Really, it all happens in our heads, because whatever seemed to have just happened was perceived through a heavy fog of pheromones, endorphins and unconscious anxieties.

We realize all this, at some level, but we suppress the recognition, persisting, despite towering evidence, in the loopy and unsupportable notion that our lofty pronouncements and dramatic trajectories are meaningful.

Why don't we fully frame ourselves as we are - raindrops slowly working down windows rather than heroic protagonists? It's because we're addicted to telling ourselves stories about who we are and what's happening to us (spoiler: it all happens around us, not "to" us). This is the starring-in-movies issue I'm speaking to. It's a matter of framing, not of behavior.

I've opted out of that one, and it was as effortless as any framing choice. So my move abroad is not accompanied by a soundtrack of tremulous violins. I don't visualize myself as "on a journey". And I have no clue what the term "permanent" even refers to. It seems as preposterous a conceit as "happily ever after". That's not how things work. That's not who we are. I am not a protagonist. I'm awareness.

I don't even know what a permanent decision would look like. I've never made one (I've pretended to make them, but it was 100% dramatic bullshit). I've never seen a human being do anything permanently - though death inevitably freezes the film.

Hell, I might be back in a month! Stuff happens, conditions change, opportunities arise, epiphanies dawn. That rich and unpredictable unfolding is what life is, no? If so, I won't waste energy being embarrassed or disappointed. Per the Slog's tagline, I play the cards I'm dealt, striving to be a diligent earthworm (who shits out - hopefully! - ever-so-slightly more nutritious earth as he goes), proceeding with the uncomplicated industriousness of an ant. All of this, on a good day, with the blitheness of a reed.

Low glory. No journey. Permanent shmermanent.


Diane Curry said...

Dayum I needed to read this today. I have exhausted myself trying to delicately choose the words that suit the inquirer, in an attempt to answer why I'm moving to Portugal. I'm tired of the "buts" the "whys" the "When" the "what ifs." When I get quiet and reflective I realize I don't need any of these answers. I'm going because I can. Yup, thats's privilege and I've earned it. I want to be uncomfortable again, I want to grow in ways I haven't imagined yet.I want the stimulation of enjoying the conversations in my head, I'm tired of always being right. I want to get unmoored. I want to chase something surprising, be a foreigner in all the ways, push long-forgotten buttons, maybe shed a tear of frustration at my lack of control, have no outlet except the bottom of a wine glass for my disbelief that any system could be so whacked/different/inefficient/ill-conceived, while feasting on my powerlessness. Permanence comes but once in life and I won't have the breath to enjoy it. For now I'm willing to ride the waves and see where I beach myself.

Jim Leff said...

Beautifully said, but even that is way, way too much for me.

All those poetic things could just as easily be experienced during a drive to the mall or while waiting on line at the post office or doing literally anything anywhere. I don't need to transport my body or possessions for that. The notion of my going to Portugal to "unmoor" For me, that doesn't happen in some big narrative sweep. I don't frame big narrative sweeps.

I've gone to Portugal for a while. I didn't like it in America, and, as you eloquently said, I "CAN" move. I move under an overhang when it drizzles. I move indoors when I'm cold. I move toward potatoes just viscerally. Moving isn't grand or poetic. Moving's just moving.

My processes of unmooring and chasing and surprising and tear shedding and feasting may slightly change tenor and hue and flavor here, but it was shifting plenty even back home. You take all that with you! It's internal! The external difference of Portugal is strictly *backdrop*. And I switched backdrops because (again, I'm stealing from you!) I *could*. And I might switch them again tomorrow. Who knows? Probably not, though, because 1. it's nice here, and 2. I'm not THAT impetuous!

I moved because I could. Life continues. Swapped in a cool new backdrop. Cool. That's about it.

I used to play music with the actor who played RoboCop and Buckaroo Banzai. The latter had a favorite quote: "Wherever You Go, There You Are". I take that to heart, but I don't say it with bitter mopy-ness. It's not dull or tedious that the external is mere backdrop and the internal comes along with you. It means you have the latitude to capriciously shift backdrops (in large or small ways) as you undergo whatever internal tunings interest you. Just because you can!

There's nothing grandiose about this for me. Or dramatic. Or narrative. Nothing at all. Nary a speck. But that's just me. I'm not claiming this is the only way to approach it, but I figure it's an unusual enough framing to be interesting for some people to hear about....

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