Monday, March 4, 2013

Melissa Gutierrez on How To Discover A Universe That Sticks Around Forever

  1. Brace yourself.
  2. And get comfy, ‘cause this thing is long.
  3. Not this thing. Or that thing (get your mind out of the gutter!). This thing. This old Philip K. Dick speech-turned-essay (“speesay,” if you will), “How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later.”
  4. Start reading. Take your time.
  5. Get to the part where he starts asking, “What is reality?” (paragraph five).
  6. Roll your eyes. Or sigh. Or get excited. Or whatever you do when that kind of thing shows up.
  7. But whatever you do, pause for a second. PKD’s about to take a carjack to your mind and fill it with all kinds of nutty stuff. So before that happens, consider that question for yourself. What is reality? How do you, reader, consider reality? How do you consider considering reality? Me, for example:
    1. One way I think about it is labeling. I’d like a giant label-maker, or at least a normal-sized one with lots and lots of label tape. And I want to label everything that’s real – “desk,” “hand,” “dog,” etc. Or I want to take a giant high-lighter to the world, and highlight everything that’s real, just so I can tell the important parts from this big and wordy story of a universe. Maybe custom rubber stamps like at the passport office, or Post-It notes. “Real.” “Real.” Real.” I want to see some copyright of reality, some “Made In Actual Life” sticker I can see on the undersides of things so I know where to place them in my head.
    2. But I wonder how that would really pan out. What if everybody stamped or Post-Itted what they thought was real? Is it majority wins? Is reality what is, at the end of the day, covered in the most stamps and stickers? What is bleeding through with yellow high-lit ink?
    3. It’s like that frisky tubby kid in “Family Circus,” running around and leaving a trail all over the place. I always wonder: what if everybody’s footprints made a mark on the earth? Has the whole earth been covered in our footsteps yet? Or the same about my body—is there any part on me my mother or a lover hasn’t touched? Has simply somehow missed?
    4. I forget weather, in this analogy. Things like waves and sand and dirt and wind—erosion, things that wear away. Things that in our body shed, cells that come to the surface and others that die and fall off. On the beach my footprints disappear in just a couple hours, and I can exfoliate away a Sharpie marker on my arm in just minutes. What am I ever? What is this place?
    5. And contrary to all that: it is not as if some ice-hill in the arctic does not exist if none of us has touched it. We are not so much Descartes. Our gaze is not so powerful, our touch neither burns nor scars so deeply—we hope, we on the eve of environmental catastrophe.
    6. So what then, Philip K. D.?
  8. Just wait a couple more paragraphs til he tells you: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
  9. Sigh. Whew. That was easy.
  10. But wait. It’s not that simple. You know if that was a good enough answer he would have just stopped there. But I told you this was long. Look at that scroll bar. You’re not even like a third of the way down.
  11. Go back to that other question for a second, in your head, the other one he asks in paragraph five: “What constitutes the authentic human being?”
  12.  Consider, briefly, some options:
    1. Carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen.
    2. Amino acids.
    3. A lot of other weird stuff. For examples, Google Image search “Real men.”
    4. In some cases, a deep love of the Boston Celtics.
    5. In others, a deep hatred for them.
    6. In mine: a simultaneous appreciation for the outdoors and the movies, for animals and fake fur, for the homeless and the Donald Trumps.
  13. And now keep reading, to consider PKD’s take on all this. Of course, he ends up doing it in the way all writers eventually must: by talking about writing. For PKD, like most of us with pens in our hands or keyboards underneath our wrists, writing is an act of asking what is real, for searching for what is real.
  14. Hit this line – “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words” – and think, yikes. Well, maybe you don’t. But I do. Why?
    1. As a people-lover and a writer, I strive really hard to not manipulate too much. And here is this smart successful guy telling me that the very thing I seek to make a life around is, in fact, a manipulation machine. Creators of fiction, Dick says, “do not know how much of their content is true. In other words, they are victims of their own product.”
    2. Oh GOD.
    3. I think  of Stranger Than Fiction, where Emma Thompson realizes her character (Will Ferrell) is actually an existing person she’s about to kill.
  15. So sit in all that for a second. And then read the rest of the essay, where Philip K Dick tells the weird, eerie, chills-inspiring, months-long saga of how he meets different versions of his novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said in the world around him: in real people as well as literary and biblical ones that seem to very well be his characters IRL. Read it for yourself—it’s freaky.
  16.  Find the line where he says, “If you were me, and had this happen to you, I'm sure you wouldn't be able to leave it alone.”
  17. Don’t leave it alone. Keep reading.
  18. Get to this part, my favorite part:

“The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds but in their quiet refusals. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not.

  1. Just let that soak in a while. Maybe copy it down in a page of a journal or a nearby scrap of paper. Get it into your head, your body, your heart.
  2. Remember what Franny Glass says in Salinger’s Franny & Zooey: “I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.” Be reminded that however real or fake we think we are or might be, all we can do to really be is to be willing to sometimes not be. Remember that these are suddenly very similar things.
  3. Wonder why that is:
    1. Because blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor in spirit?
    2. Because no one has made a Post-It and label-maker plaster mold of me, my body, or my world?
    3. Because where I walk leaves no footprints or black marks?
    4. Because we are just cells and sands and feathers, just lilies in the field?
  4. You can’t do much more than wonder. So keep reading… not much longer. Check out that scroll bar!
  5.  Get to where PKD talks about Disneyland again, like he opened with (frame idea/story—cute! savvy!). Ask yourself: why end an essay on the real with a place known only for it’s fakeness? What I think, per that question:
    1. What parts of Disneyland have not been touched? Have not been tracked everywhere? Have not been so carefully known? Have not been gone over hundreds and hundreds of thousands of times not just with feet and strollers but also with street cleaners and brooms and mops and brushes of all sorts, with rain and pressure-wash and varnish and new layers of concrete and tar?
    2. Have you ever seen Disneyland at Christmas? The Sleeping Beauty castle underneath fake snow, the halls all decked with plastic holly, Minnie decked out in her holiday best. However real or fake it is, there’s not a whole lot prettier, not too much more to give you genuine chills despite the warm and dirty Southern California winter air. 
    3. It snowed in Tucson last week. It was the first time in town in twenty years. It might be a mark of environmental crisis, of an oncoming global burn or ice age. It might be real snow, the real end-of-times forever. But it might not be.
    4. Real or fake, a storm is here, is coming. But there is always someone like a certain Walt to come along and make it pretty once again.
    5. And maybe when too much snow comes—“when time ends,” as PKD says”—maybe then a bird will, well…
  6. Just read the last line of the essay.
  7. So go outside or something now. Go sing your kind of song.


Melissa Gutierrez is an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona. She tweets and blogs, too. 

No comments:

Post a Comment