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Where I’m Calling From

So: Where in your body does your identity live?

You know what I’m asking. Where in you is your “I”?

It took me a second when, this morning, my friend Gabe asked me. I was in a sad, staticky mood; I pointed to my belly and closed-up-feeling throat.

Is it in our natures to feel our selves most (but least, in a way, ourselves) when accused, done wrong, pointed at?

If your zendo teaches that nature recycles you– your affectations or phosphorous– they are sort of teaching reincarnation. Two weeks ago in this blog, Sierra Nelson cataloged the body’s disjecta membra, eye and knee and vocal cords (I feel positively damn beady compared to a giant squid). On that topic: when Gabe meditates, he tells me he tries to move his “I” from its usual home– his lives behind his forehead– to his (shut) eyes, chest, hips, toes, ears, clavicle. For my part, in happier times I feel my “I” like a shirt of wet paint, spattering on the walls when I wave my arms.

And you? Where’s yours as you read this??

So: I’ll outlive John Keats (26 years, 3 months, 24 days) on October 2 of this year. In the meantime, I’m up to forty-five pushups a day, staring down the luff sail of my shirt off my chest, my triceps on the verge of what a cheerful book on back care calls temporary muscle failure. It’s too late for a “Before” photo.

So: On an airplane home this week I read Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being, and I felt myself crashing up against the fringes of her style. Her earlier Holy the Firm (here’s a passage on a burning moth, two of my favorite pages in any book) was a gorgeous long-form essay, knotted and cryptic and inconclusive. For the Time Being is a looser run up the same scales– death, hermit-happiness, innocents in agony, concretizations of time into sand and burial– but its fragmentation isn’t as bracing.

Singing paragraphs, historical kernels, and the odd fleck of cornpone (“I don’t know beans about God”): having shucked argument, the lyric essay tends to risk self-contradictory homily, big-headed displays of large-heartedness. This tone glitters up in Dillard, John Berger, even Albert Camus. (Dillard’s book is, of course, forehead-squeezingly beautiful too: on “the deep misery of idle pleasures”; on the “loop” of the physical world, running “in God like a hole in his side he never fingers”; on the scrupulous paleontological labors of French Jesuit priest and scientist Pierre Teilhard du Chardin.)

Or maybe I’m just resisting theories of how to live, even as a happy hermit. Lastly: A doctor-to-be told me melanin– the compound that colors the hair and skin– migrates up the body in utero. So white patches from birth on a widow’s peak are a failure of gravity. The loop runs through me but I’m still dripping white!