"If every life is a river, then it's little wonder that we do not even notice the changes that occur until we are far out in the darkest sea. One day you look around and nothing is familiar, not even your own face.
My name once meant daughter, grandaughter, friend, ... Now those words mean only what their letters spell out; Star in the night sky. Truth in the darkness.
I have crossed over to a place where I never thought I'd be. I am someone I would have never imagined. A secret. A dream. I am this, body and soul. Burn me. Drown me. Tell me lies. I will still be who I am."
― Alice Hoffman
Last week I read Douglas Coupland's review of the novel, Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru. The review which ran in the New York Times is as provocative as Kunzru's book. Coupland is a writer of fiction and non-fiction who draws upon his experience in design and the visual arts as well as his personal spiritual journey in his own books.
He began his review:
One thing that struck me about the 9/11 footage shown during last year’s anniversary was that in 2001, the people on New York City’s sidewalks had no smartphones with which to record the events of the day. History may well look back on 9/11 as the world’s last underdocumented mega-event. But aside from the absence of phone cameras, the people and streets of September 2001 looked pretty much identical to those of September 2011: the clothes, the hair, the cars. I mention this because it has been only in the past decade that we appear to have entered an aura-free universe in which all eras coexist at once — a state of possibly permanent atemporality given to us courtesy of the Internet. No particular era now dominates. We live in a post-era era without forms of its own powerful enough to brand the times.
I recall that the coverage of 9/11 was exhaustive. But I had not thought about the lack of smart phones. What followed this initial observation, though, really caught my attention:
This new reality seems to have manifested in the literary world in what must undeniably be called a new literary genre. For lack of a better word, let’s call it Translit. Translit novels cross history without being historical; they span geography without changing psychic place. Translit collapses time and space as it seeks to generate narrative traction in the reader’s mind. It inserts the contemporary reader into other locations and times, while leaving no doubt that its viewpoint is relentlessly modern and speaks entirely of our extreme present. Imagine traveling back to Victorian England — only with vaccinations, a wad of cash and a clean set of ruling-class garb. With Translit we get our very delicious cake, and we get to eat it, too, as we visit multiple pasts safe in the knowledge we’ll get off the ride intact, in our bold new perpetual every-era/no-era.
...the Translit reader knows [Coupland's premise] there is a spirituality lacking in the modern world that can only be squeezed out of other, more authentic eras. And why not? It’s all history and it’s all at our fingertips. Hello, YouTube. Thank you, Wikipedia. Oh, that Google!
I thought of my well-worn paperback book of meditations, Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Kabat-Zinn. This author’s credentials are also impressive: according to the Wiki, he is ‘the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, as well as professor of medicine emeritus”. Never in a millions years would I have expected the king of neuroses, Woody Allen, to capture so well the Zen concept heralded by Kabat-Zinn. In Allen's intelligent, witty film, Midnight in Paris, he employs time-travel with style and substance to bring both the protaganist and the viewer firmly into the present.
No era has ever owned spirituality. Those times I wouldn't choose to visit - horrific, brutal - have stirred souls as no period of complacency could. My own take: live in the present...find context in the personal past as well as history...go beyond escape into a reality that exceeds both fact and fiction. Like Ms. Hoffman, wherever I go, I will still be who I am. Like it or not.