Thursday, April 02, 2009

Dear, part two

Back to the car for a minute...

One of the things BSG left me with was this idea of species memory. SPOILER ALERT if you're thinking of watching the show, but the ending basically tells us that we have neckties and democracy and a legal system because, 150,000 years ago the human race as WE know it was born from a human/cylon hybrid baby.

(Look: it's a good show.)

And I'm not so much talking about "specie memory" as a scientific true fact -- I'm more interested in its neatosity factor, its narrative potential, and the way it makes my brain tingle. Lord knows I think enough about spaceships and dinosaurs as I walk around the world, but I haven't really thought about -- you know -- cavemen very much. As individuals with day to to day dramas and epic troubles. And surely there were wars, there were loves, there dramas among people who were literally the first humans (or human-like) on Earth. They had art, and the ability to perceive the real world through art. And that's enough for me to believe that they qualify souls worthy of consideration from those of us left today. We've had language for something like 40,000 years, but we've had history for, what, 5,000 years? There have been tools for about two and a half million years, and those are just the ones that we've found.

And when I think about human history (or human pre-history) in that vastness of time, my first impulse is to feel sad for all the names we don't know anymore, the sagas -- real or imagined or metaphorical -- that are lost. But that's a selfish way to think of it, yeah? They are still things that happened, whether I know about them or not. There's plenty of history that happened, and was written down, that I don't know simply because I haven't read the right books. And I don't get sad about that. So...

I dunno, a lot of this feels like college-age navel gazing. But I can imagine you nodding and smiling as I talk this out, happy to read what's going on in my head, happy to watch me work it out and articulate it. And that's not embarrassing at all.

My second impulse is to be so very pleased that it happened at all, to remember that there's so much happening right now that's being experience by those there to experience it. Something Dr. Baltar says near the middle of season four jumps out at me: "I love living. I really do. I really, really love living." I like it too.

While I was driving I also saw something that caused another piece of my novel to click into place, which is a much appreciated gift, and really the whole reason I wanted to be alone in a car for ten hours in the first place. It was grafitti on an overpass, the kind you have to hang upside down from the top to write (or at least, that's how I imagine it has to be written), and it was simple, with no embellishing flourishes and no punctuation, and it said I LOVE YOU AMY and I thought, well damn right you do.

Ethan is a junior whose girlfriend Amy has dumped him. She's reconnected with a middle school love she mostly talks to on the phone and sits in food courts with, and Ethan's been trying to sort out how to win her back. It's a relationship between supporting characters, and it's something I've known was going to happen all along, but I was never quite sure how much of it was going to go on the page. There are plenty of things I'm secretly proud of myself for with regard to the book, and one of them is the rather involved and evolving lives the supporting characters have that Berto never even finds out about, since he's so stuck in his own head. But Ethan and Amy's relationship troubles are something I wanted him to encounter, but I didn't really have a sense for how they would wrap up, or what role Berto might have in their conclusion. But seeing that simple spraypainted line, I thought of my ol' pal Adrian, who went on a spraypainting spree after his high school girlfriend broke up with him. He sprayed "KLF" over a Pepsi sign on 131 going toward Day Heights, and I remember -- we were just out of high school at the time, so I was 18 or 19 -- driving back to Clifton from visiting my folks and feeling so Tall whenever I saw those three letters over that rusty old Pepsi sign. Someone I knew had changed the landscape of familiar ground, even in a very small way, and I liked that.

So, "I Love You Amy." I immediately thought of our man Berto being driven in a car (he's a lad of fifteen), or maybe out riding his bike (he hasn't yet, but I imagine he's the sort who would like to range far on two wheels), and discovering a message written to someone he knows (Amy is his cousin, remember?), by someone else he knows, and I imagine it opening up entire rooms in his brain he'd never even known were there. I imagine Berto buying his own can of spray paint and spraying I Love You Amy on the linoleum floors of his high school, not directly to help Ethan, but because he has the power to do it. He can alter his world very easily and change the way people walk on the floor beneath their feet.

They probably won't think to write it down, and somehow that floor will be torn up or the school will fall down around it, and maybe by then no one will remember or no one will care that a boy once loved a girl named Amy and wanted her to know it, but then -- it wasn't written for posterity, was it? That's not really what we think about when we write. We have a message we want to impart to another person in the world, so we write them a letter or a statement or a blog.

I don't know what Amy will make of it yet, but that's okay. I also imagine the feeling Ethan's gut having written it down in the first place (I know that feeling well, and can feel a little bit of it now). Sometimes it's about killing the bull, but sometimes it's just about drawing the bull on the wall.

No comments: