Painters found their balls in a vice with the invention of the camera. Painting, long the best way to re-present reality, found itself precariously obsolete. Invention saved the day. Painters like Cézanne started to depict things that cameras couldn’t depict. Like time. The Cubists went ahead and painted one image from several perspectives. The result is something wholly unrecognizable, in the strict sense of representing ‘what is there’. In that spirit, my fellow writer friend Adam and I, completely satiated after noodles and tea, decided to write about the same moment from our two separate perspectives. This was an exercise I’m sharing here.
I sat quietly alongside my Friend at the small square wooden table sipping my tie guan yin tea. The moment was peaceful, all anxiety put aside. A man sitting directly behind me commented: ‘The here and now- listen, see, be!’ He was right. And I sat to think on it.
I didn’t want to turn around to see him though I felt as if he were speaking directly to me. There were two radios playing classical music, one over the other and it made for a mostly dissonant experience except sometimes when the notes coalesced in pure harmony, and there were the phrases I listened for when the ‘now’ seemed the way that it should. In all of the chaos are hidden glimmers of unity- a unity solidifying everything into one total Being.
I closed my eyes and shut out the dullness of the day to listen, not harder and more concentrated, but relaxed… layers upon layers of thought came at once and the sifting for sense of it all began to naturally occur. There! That swelling of the strings breaking down into a soft calm, smoothing the tension that had just taken place between instruments.
My breathing slowed and my eyes opened, the day turning a little lighter. The tiny plants along the window ledge appearing perkier than before. “This is a dull day”, the man behind me said, “I only see the world and its possibilities and its becoming ways”. I still could not bring myself to look back but indeed the leaves on the plants were a brighter shade of green, the colors on every article jumping with a happier hue, the people passing the store front smiling larger. Is this man some type of philosopher, I thought, Who is he speaking with, anyway?
My mind was so focused in the moment that everything else became remote to me. Though it was there, and passing, I was here and resting, stopping my thoughts. Everybody and everything else seemed so busy. “Too much to do and no time to realize what one is doing”, he said.
I turned around to finally look at the man who had been philosophizing in the back of my head. But I saw no one. There was nothing behind me. It had only been my Friend and I, the music, the tea, and the storefront. That was all it was! —A.T.
* * *
Time- punishment or reward? If the former then I am bored. Right now, it is a reward. I want to be here: right where I am. 89.7 FM, Chicago’s classical music. ’Dream About Tea’, a tea shop in Evanston, IL. Adam, my friend, is sitting at my table. He is writing, too, except with his right hand, his perception, and his cup of tea. But for neither of us is the time punishment, right now, I can tell.
French horns. Cars outside. The back of a hand moving across paper. Slight creaking in the wooden seat. The humming of a refrigerator. Steam rising from the cup filled with leaves. The sound of thoughts entering and leaving my brain. If I was under water with the leaves I would hear the sound of my own heart— ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump. Slurp. The hot water on the pads of my fingers. The sound a mug makes set on the ground like a tomb closing around a pharaoh for good.
I know time can be punishment. It can be hell. In varying degrees, a man waiting on a train platform looking ruefully every 2-3 seconds to see if the train is finally arriving. Finally. Or a lover left feeling their beloved isn’t there anymore. Or worse yet, victims of torment at the hands of hearts shut off to the pain of others, the screams for mercy. These voices shout behind brick walls muffled by their density, but they crop up from time to time in the newspapers in black and white paper and ink, silent.
For these instances where time is hell, time is something to be gone through, gotten through. On the contrary, when time is its own reward, when passing it is both a joy and a pleasure, then time ceases to exist altogether. It seems once time begins to exist, it sucks.
A more cavalier song plays on the radio, forces running this way and that, sonnets twisting around the limbs of violas, like snakes wrapped around the trumpet. But then it all falls away, and in the silence is a melancholy emperor on his St. Helena, deprived of his pieces he once moved so briskly. Adam is still writing. He seems to have gained momentum, although he stops at intervals, thinking about where to go next. I call it hesitation. I write constantly as if I there’s no alternative, never deliberating over which direction I’m headed. How can I know? Or rather, why would I want to?
Music has a way of making sense only after-the-fact. A few notes in a row aren’t in harmony, lingering… until another note completes them, creates a collection, forming a cohesive hole. Not so with life- we keep adding notes attempting absolution finding only ourselves waking up and dreaming even more. If only we were on our death beds to set the record straight. But that’s a task for biographers, not the livers of life. —G. P.
Afterwards, Adam and I were struck how, even though we did our writing in complete silence, our observations struck common themes. Serenity, harmony, impermanence. Adam pointed out if we sat at a different table, this would have looked much, much different.