“But as I watched him smile back at me and zip his coat, I saw everything in the world build up and then everything in the world fall down again.”
- Marina Keegan, “Cold Pastoral”
At the time, the city was a kind of Disneyland. As with any amusement park, the first visit is perhaps the most memorable—the most effective in eliciting a vast array of emotions: excitement, awe, terror, and suspension. After subsequent visits or with prolonged visits, you start to develop a certain tolerance, so to speak. You begin to see the mechanisms at work behind this fantasyland—the reality behind the visual tropes seen in postcards and films. In short, it was a kind of artificialized reality—an original copy.
Now and here become the nowhere of a constant ‘then’.
Of course, we denied with vacant modesty the elite status which was conferred upon us by our prestigious education. Modesty, after all, is in itself a privilege. We knew or, rather, we believed in our potential greatness. It seemed almost as tangible as the degree we received that day—that piece of crisp paper which, like a visa, allowed entry into the realm of success, prestige, power, wealth…whatever.
Unfortunately, most of us found ourselves stuck in immigration—a kind of purgatory between our established pasts and our promising futures—the present which, despite its other meaning as ‘gift’, seemed to relentlessly expand the distance between heritage and inheritance. One cannot live on great expectations alone.
Ryuji Nakamura, “Cornfield” (constructed entirely of glue and paper)
Nothing remains tenable
which is bad
It is quite often during times of crisis - during those moments when we are humbled and humiliated by a sudden, desperate, and debilitating struggle for self-preservation - that we realize how ineffective and weak our defenses are against invasion, instability, and pillage (from both within and without). We find solace, security, and superiority in the authoritarian air provided by our vast terra cotta armies and our high walls made of carved limestone and gilt with precious metals until, in one destructive moment of catastrophe, they shatter like thin panes of glass, crumbling to dust and bringing down all that we have held to be dear and true.
But there’s no one to blame but ourselves because, ultimately, we are both the victims and the authors of our vanity, of our pretensions… of our confident reliance on the superficial appearance of things.
However, amidst the rubble of a glittering world built upon diseased marshes - in the choking regret and disillusionment of loss, there is something to gain and something to be happy about - destruction precedes revival.
There is no such thing as absolute gains, it’s all relative.