Boots and Rallies
“If Jesus came back and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.” — “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986)
A week before I graduated the Delaware Advanced Institute for Unreality Studies, I was sent for by Evelyn R. Flyte, Ph.D., assistant dean of the Academy, adjunct professor of thanatopoesis, DAIUS ’76 and an every-once-in-a-while conversational companion of mine.
I found her as usual, seated four feet from the door beside a bottle-glass window upon her pale yellow, self-designed Automon (an electric ottoman that heaved organically, as if breathing). She had one hand rested gently on her smooth, hairless head, the other lay just as gently on the spine of her Waterpole Award-winning poetry collection “She Sells Herself By The Seashore” — a favorite of mine, actually. (The epigraph is some line about christopurgatives from the only Max von Sydow film I’ve seen that isn’t directed by Bergman.)
“This is the last one, no?” Flyte asked, before I could say, “Greetings.”
“The last what, please?” I asked.
“The last week of you and DAIUS. Listen, Horowitz,” she started, with a grin. “It’s not my aesthetic to smile and squeeze bits of tired wisdom in the palms of departing students, but I’m itching to break character at the moment.”
“Yeah. So here....” She spun her book across the tabletop in front of me, “... you are, my love. Best of luck with your NEA Dartmouth thing. Bye!”
And then she spun around on the Automon herself, away from the bottle-glass window. I walked out, unfolding the navy felt cover with silver trim. In faint, brown, tight script she’d written on Page One: “Jocelyn Dierdre Horowitz — Nothing is ever as good or bad as you think it will be. —ERF.”
In four years I reckon I’ve written maybe 50 papers and taken about as many tests and quizzes combined. Almost all of it binged and purged, as quick in entering as exiting. The low rate of retention is the famous hallmark of the liberal arts education: all this junk — gerunds, quasars, ratiocination, phenomenology, Italian I, crystal matrices, Kant, dynamos, whatever — is suppose to teach me “how to think,” like my brain’s a pipe carved to Winchester-perfection by a steady spray of facts. OK.
But there was something I did learn for sure. It was the same thing for which I gave Dr. Flyte the benefit of the doubt by believing it outright — i.e. the thing about nothing ever being as good or bad as you thing.
I am a planning animal. I spent all of every interim getting all the facts of the future together so that I would know just what to feel psyched about and what should make me worry. And then school starts up, and term after term after term, I’m wrong. A course I thought would be amazing turned out to be the worst classroom experience I’d had in my life. Another course that I took for the distributive credit, and which I thought would be a joke, made me regret not at least minoring in film. Every term when I thought I was doomed to be loveless and lonely, I found new, impossible persons in whom to engross myself. People I counted on changed heart and vanished, too.
I have basically given up on thinking about the future since, as I’ve come to learn about myself, I rarely have notions and emotions that outlive the wind. The question “What are you doing after graduation?” usually means, “What are you doing immediately after you graduate?” But you might also take it to mean, “What are you going to do with the rest of your life, now that you’ve beaten your way through a nanny system of soft, bureaucratic hazing, and for the first time in your four years of being an adult, you will actually be treated like one, like it or not?”
I don’t want to kid myself that I have an answer to that question, like anything inspires me enough to feel as if I’ve got all this incomplete masterwork to labor through, any cause to which to dedicate my life. I’m not excited about the future. OK.
I’m also not afraid, and I’m also not inert. All the green-tinted, Dartmouth memories, laid like lenses over one another, will slowly lose their resolution as I graduate from one terrace of life to another, as every term becomes a faded epilogue to the forgotten one preceding. Your dreams, as they grow vaguer and more engorged, drift through time while you hang onto to their zeppelin underbellies. I think it is better to keep low to the ground, keep your eye clear as the bleb of an icicle, and keep pouncing on the short-term, crack open each day and see what it’s good for. Every time I hear about some Old Testament quantity of people perishing in a forest fire or an earthquake, I wonder how many of them took their vitamins every morning, turned down red meat and tobacco, looked both ways when crossing the street — only to get snuffed out among the living regardless, double-crossed by their own chimerical destiny.
We are small containers, not big ones. We do not make ourselves full over centuries of tender management, but only in the moment. We should not dream, we should not hope, we should not plan for greatness. Only make one moment after another as precious as possible. Every suffering minute is a jewel. Fulfillment is half a question of whether your life matters in the eyes of others and half a question of whether it matters to you. Ask both those questions constantly. Swallow life with your eyes wide open, spit it out and swallow again. But don’t take my word for it. I’m J. Dierdre Horowitz, and I’m just a regular guy. This is the last one.