If not I, who will watch you while you sleep?
We have to climb to see the sunshine. At 40,000 feet, the clouds seem like a vast snow-blasted landscape–blue shadows of the distance like linking pools of half-frozen water. It is a landscape without trees, just the long arc of the atmosphere curving away in the distance. The sun is bright and hot–it seems as if it has been days since I’ve felt its heat and blare, the sting of so much light in my eyes.
Behind us the drawn blue curtains; the early night; the frozen sea; the icy hard ground; the clumps of ice beneath the post box; the bare trees fingering into a lowering grey sky; the fire crackling in the stove and throwing off sparks.
We are flying to Mexico and I have just finished reading Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk (2016). I am relieved to be leaving the world of winter and constant connectedness, and this story, built around fright and courage and medusa stings, speaks to me. The book is psychologically astute and hauntingly written; it is fitted together like a poem: every sign counts. Towards the end of the book the narrator speaks of the importance of freeing herself from the screen so that she may enter, and experience, the pain and exhilaration of life.
“My mind is like the edge of motorways where foxes eat the owls at night. In the starfields, with their faintly glowing paths running across the screen, I have been making footprints in the dust and glitter of the virtual universe. It never occurred to me that, like the medusa, technology stares back and that its gaze might have petrified me, made me fearful to come down, down to Earth, where all the hard stuff happens, down to the checkout tills and the barcodes and the too many words for profit and the not enough words for pain” (216).
I feel the pull, the allure of not-quite living in my own skin, the attractiveness of getting lost in the ether. Not to come down. Not to feel the consequences of my own choices, their finitude, my finitude, the way they remake my possible universes. But also not to enter a space of reality, emotional honesty. This too is the allure of so much of contemporary life. The man seated next to me plays Angry Birds and Pop the Pig for hours on his screen; he’s hellbent on not thinking. I recall the endless rows of kiosks and storefronts in the airport, as if traveling can only be framed by manic spending; this is also a way of warding off any moment when nothing might be happening, and your thoughts can sneak in. I put my book down, close up my table, square my shoulders and sit there, looking and thinking, daring my thoughts to arrive.