Only if for a night

Last night I fell asleep still half-tipsy on a familiar couch and dreamt I was thirsty.

Nothing slaked it. I downed cup after cup of water. I found myself gulping liquid from a boot that never emptied and never satisfied me.

We came eventually to an open green park with a glass house at its center, no more than a shed. In it was a bed, and as I hurried to the other end of the grass for a bottle of Gatorade I realized that in the bed was my grandmother.

I approached her with caution, realizing even in hazy dream logic what I know to be true when awake, that she’s been dead some three years now. Expecting a hollow-eyed cadaver, an overpowering stench, nothing more than bones.

But I opened the door and Oma turned to me, weary but lucid, and handed me a card, the Queen of Cups.

“Tell me what this means. For you. Tell me what you see.”

I woke up and chugged a glass of water. I told my friends a bit about my dream, about the thirst, but not the meeting.

Later I left and walked around the neighborhood to kill time before my train back into the city, watching the snow melt to creeks under my feet, ice rupturing like membranes over the oceans underneath.

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“Happiness hit her like a train on a track”

It’s Labor Day, and everyone’s been rushing to get that last perceived fix of summer. Of course, they’re disregarding that the equinox isn’t for several weeks, much of August has felt like autumn anyway, and with the Midwest’s sense of meteorological humor we’ll end up with a heat wave in October.

I love summer as much as the next person, mostly because it isn’t winter. I’ve spent a long time trying to articulate what bothers me about the season, though, and it’s this: summer seems calculated to remind you exactly how ephemeral everything is. Some combination of your friends’ vacation pictures, advertising dollars, and the ghost of polar vortices past cries out to you with a resounding “Fuck you for not seizing the day hard enough. You are sitting in the darkness of your apartment doing crosswords, and you should feel bad about that.”

And you know what? Fuck that.

I had a great summer this year, flooded apartment and financial stress and intermittent crushing depression aside. I hit all the basics. (Barbecues? Check. Fireworks? Check? Frequent swims? Check. Firefly viewing? Check. Sunburn? Unfortunately, check.) I spent days tearing up Chicago with a motley group of lovable misfits from all over the globe who I am now privileged to call friends, showing them the city I love so much. I stayed with nigh-heroic friends for a week and wrote and ate mightily. I wandered my neighborhood playing Ingress and finding little waypoints I would never have thought to pass by. I played Dystopia Rising until my legs gave out and Changeling until my sanity did, and enjoyed every moment with those friends and those stories. I made my first trip to Gen Con. I spent my days setting the foundation for what I’d like my life to be, and my nights in thoughtful drunken conversation trying to process it all. There were road trips, and dancing, and blue hair, and you were there, and you were there, and you too.

A couple of weeks ago, I stood in Lake Michigan up to my ankles and watched the water gradate from silty tan to sea-green to aqua to that band of darker blue right where it touches the horizon. Then I went and bought peaches and ate one over my sink as the juice coated my arm.

It was enough.

I’m not very good with “enough,” but I think I’m learning.

Soon it will be fall, and that’s more my speed. In the meantime, I’m going to do less mourning the passage of time, and more watching. Just watching.

The art of the dérive

Chicago finally deigned to grace its residents with some decent weather last weekend. (Not actual spring weather, just straight to 80+ degrees. Because fuck you, is why.) Supposedly this will be happening again this weekend, though given the drop in temperature the rest of this week I call shenanigans.

With the return of climes that don’t bring on crushing seasonal depression, I’ve been able to take up one of my favorite pastimes again: aimless wandering and exploration. It’s like a real hobby except I don’t have to think that much, which is good for shaking ideas and inspiration loose and generally making myself less neurotic.

I was pleased to learn a few years ago that there’s a word for this that makes me seem like a glamorous French philosopher rather than a bored burnout on a long walk. The Letterists and Situationists called it a dérive. As defined by Guy Debord, it is “a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.” The intention, as far as I can tell, is to have an experience that’s not consciously planned around certain activities and obligations, but is instead a series of reactions to the environment around you as you encounter new areas and situations.

On Sunday, I went north on the street I live on. I had no real reason for doing this except that I hadn’t been more than a block north of my apartment on this particular street. I let myself be led around certain nearby blocks by whichever blooming tree or interesting building caught my attention until I found myself at a park I had no idea existed, lying on the grass under a tree covered in white blossoms, letting the wind cover me in petals and staring up through the tunnels the branches created. (It confuses your brain into thinking the tree’s way taller than it actually is. Try it!)

After that I went to find kulfi, which probably deviates from the true purpose of a dérive but is also delicious, so who cares?

A translation of the original Debord article can be found here. It’s interesting stuff if you like the concept of seeing your surroundings in a totally new way. If nothing else, it’s a way to get on your feet and out from in front of whichever glowing rectangle you’ve been staring at. (I admit that my laptop’s been intermittently throwing tantrums for weeks now, so its hold on me has lessened somewhat. Yay for more roaming!)