by Jeff Oaks
I have always wanted to write an essay about me, but what do I know? I know the inside of I, which is to say me, but that’s not terribly impressive knowledge these days, is it? There are many other people, some of whom can quote from Blake or argue with Auden or are rewriting Ibsen. There are writers who go to libraries and research the history of slavery, the development of the ivory trade, the ionosphere. I hate libraries myself, unless they’re small. Otherwise, I get lost easily and need to be rescued. I always feel I am about to be absorbed in bigger libraries, where you need a computer to tell you which floor to ride an elevator to, where you need to wear a hazmat suit in order to look at the diaries of some I who was once famous for the discovery of Iodine or whose iambics were inventive. I much prefer the internet, although it’s less trustworthy. Maybe I even like that it’s less trustworthy, because that feels closer to real knowledge to me, because I have to be awake while I read it, while I cut and paste things into a new document on my iPad. At one point I thought I would never forgive whoever burned down the Great Library at Alexandra, even if it did open up a lot of jobs suddenly for scribes and philosophers to reconsider what had been thought earlier, but now somedays I understand. If you’re too clever you can miss the point entirely, goes the old saying.
I generally prefer to be outside, walking through light and warmth and the woods if possible and the ocean if extremely lucky. I like my dog to be near, listening to what I say to him but also pursuing some interesting ideas of his own. I like to see his happiness, which is an intense and quiet happiness, which ripples back to me while I watch him watching something moving at the edge of the woods or flying low overhead.
I like to think that I know all I need to know. Aesthetically, I generally prefer art that requires nothing but a human being, a piece of paper, a pen, and an attentive relationship between the outer world and the inner worlds. Or painting that is simply colors or shapes, slashes of paint, primitive, ordinary, emotional. Or music that a human voice and a few instruments can make. That’s not all the art I like, but I think that’s the beginning of what I like. I might be writing myself into a corner though.
After all, the I is a complicated thing. It’s usually in fact a we trying to hide behind a single pillar. Some writers I know, some scientists, some philosophers don’t think the I has much meaning at all, or worse that it’s a delusion of capitalism that wants to pit everyone into competition. I don’t know. I can’t say that’s not true. I can’t say I don’t hear voices or find myself starting a sentence in one place and ending it with a advertisement jingle. When I change my mind about something, have I shifted my meaning? Who drives the car? Or enjoys the apples at nine pm, with a dusting of cinnamon sugar?
I’m not against certain delusions, as long as they help one endure and harm no one. Where would I be without them? If the I is one of them, an idea like the bow of a ship is an idea, like shoe laces is an idea, I can live with it. I guess.