Ubiquity (for Charlie)

by Jeff Oaks

Ubiquity is a synonym for God, isn’t it, the quality of being present everywhere? It’s not the only one, fortunately, but maybe it’s the one that is easiest to grasp now. People clearly disagree about the other qualities, especially whether Compassion is one of God’s qualities, or whether God might be vengeful, angry, or even dispassionate. There being no clear sense of that among any of the religions I studied, I gave up. A thing that is everywhere is in danger of being nowhere, as in the old joke where one fish asks another fish “how’s the water?” The other fish replies, “what the hell is water?” The point: it’s easy to forget what surrounds you.

I chose to write about the word ubiquity because I didn’t know what to do with it. It’s not a word I use very often, which makes it interesting: a word that means being present everywhere but which hardly ever itself appears anywhere either in a conversation or writing. Like a word I wrote about earlier–syzygy–ubiquity is so full of vowels that at first I stumble to say it. It’s like a cake with too much frosting; I expect it will be a mistake to try it.

Is ubiquity a dream of humanity? We seem unable to stop ourselves expanding, taking over what used to be the places where wild animals conducted their lives, turning “wilderness” into “civilized space”. What species beside humans might be said to be ubiquitous now? Insects like ants and beetles? Arachnids like spiders? Flies? Now that our presence has changed the climate, has global effects, have we reached ubiquity? Are we the water in which everything must now swim?

Once, not long ago Howard Stern proclaimed himself the King of Media, a Ubiquity. He has since fallen back to merely radio. Now, when I think of an example of ubiquity, I think of James Franco, who seems to be everywhere at once, as actor, writer, director, perpetual college student, who is becoming finally merely a “personality”, which is what our culture calls a person who was became famous by playing himself over and over again, who has outgrown the confines of a particular profession and “just is”. It matters little that his poems are awful or that his appearances are mostly silly. No one needs to read them anymore than anyone read Leonard Nimoy’s poems or Suzanne Sommers’. Franco will be replaced by another in his time, who will confuse his ability in one arena with an ability to be good at everything.

Once, it is imagined sometimes, poetry was ubiquitous, was the lingua franca of civilized folk. Before the written word, it (if you include songs in the definition) might have been an important source of information and imagination. Now, since most people can’t name a single living poet, it’s imagined that poetry has dried up as a tributary to the general imaginative reservoir contemporary humanity drinks from. But poetry, like all art, is always there, even if it exists only in marginal and liminal spaces where ordinary language or representations of life fail to work. Poetry’s life is intimately tied to the environments that give rise to it, and if poetry seems dead to some people, I think it’s usually because those people aren’t paying attention to the places where cruelty, helplessness, wonder, and confusion are so ubiquitous that humans must make art in order to illuminate the flood or fire they’re standing, so they can say how it is when the next fish comes with questions. In that way, poetry and the arts are that other precious Ubiquity, hope.