The Impossible Present

I am re-reading Ulysses.  I first read it 10 years ago, when I was 19, because I needed a project that summer back in Kansas, and I wanted to read something hard.

I took it step by step, alternating with The Bloomsday Book to explicate what I read, but I understood more than I would have thought I did.  And I told myself, read this in ten years.  See what you see then.

So I am, and I am reading it slow.  A chapter, a return to TBB, then a retread of the same chapter.  Seeing the clues.  Knowing the words that I looked up before (ferial, cynosure, welshcombed), sounding out the echoes.

It may be pretentious, both the work itself and the reading of it.  But I remember (and relive) the awareness that it woke in me of my own running stream of consciousness, the intertextuality of my own brain, the cross-referencing, time-traveling thread of thought that would move from the song stuck in my head to how dry my lips are to how dry my mouth was, that first time you took my hand, to all of the other times you’ve taken my hand, to all of the songs that were in my head in those moments, to the completely grey sky afterwards when all was said and done…

And realizing what Joyce did, which was to show us that this deeply, solipsistically intricate process we all engage in is beautiful.

(Good god, imagine if Joyce had access to hyperlinks)

My thoughts still race and skip and quantum leap, but I watch them now.  I try to be aware that when I walk down a sidewalk on a sunny day, I am walking down all sidewalks on all sunny days that I have lived before.  When I approach the Ballard Goodwill once, I’m also approaching it the same time as I did one October when moving into Wallingford, crafting a mental balance sheet of promise and loss; when moving out of Wallingford (they wouldn’t take back the tiny couch I bought from them) in early May, now taking the plunge into cohabitation.  I am in those moments just as I am in this one, coming to buy the supplies for a survival kit for one.

I try to ground myself.  We remember sight and sound but we don’t remember touch unless it is happening in that moment, so I run my fingers along the rough stone wall I walk beside.  We can’t remember smell until we smell it again, so I breathe in and smell green and mulch and exhaust.

I have to remember that even when I am attempting to focus,  I am still strung out across space and time.  I have to remember when speaking with others that ‘being present’ is perhaps impossible to demand of them, as much as it is impossible to ask of myself.

Which makes those flashes of synchronicity, when for an instant we are in the same moment and no other, all the more remarkable.


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