Out the Train Window

Horizon Perfekt Camera, xpro Lomo Chrome 100 film

There were times this summer when I would have given anything to just ride and ride these tracks up and down the west coast for days, alone. Staring out the window, breathing into the motion and the miles while my soul caught up with its own changing terrain.

I didn't get my days, I got hours. I didn't get my alone, I got two children and interruptions at 30-second intervals. But I did get my train, and my window--for a few magical moments. And I am still staring out at the big big sky, whether I'm back on an East Coast beach or on a ferry or just standing by the kitchen window. Still breathing into the motion and the stillness while my soul catches up.

So many gifts have kept me company these last weeks, including some books I found on the stoop. I read The Hours by Michael Cunningham, and this passage made me feel certain that we knew some of the same people:

He will not ask the name of the movie star; he actually does not care. Richard, alone among Clarissa's acquaintance, has no essential interest in famous people. Richard genuinely does not recognize such distinctions. It is, Clarissa thinks, some combination of monumental ego and a kind of savantism. Richard cannot imagine a life more interesting or worthwhile than those being lived by his acquaintances and himself, and for that reason one often feels exalted, expanded, in his presence. He is not one of those egotists who miniaturize others. He is the opposite kind of egotist, driven by grandiosity rather than greed, and if he insists on a version of you that is funnier, stranger, more eccentric and profound than you suspect yourself to be--capable of doing more good and more harm in the world than you've ever imagined--it is all but impossible not to believe, at least in his presence and for a while after you've left him, that he alone sees through to your essence, weighs your true qualitites (not all of which are necessarily flattering--a certain clumsy, childish rudeness is part of his style), and appreciates you more fully than anyone else ever has. It is only after knowing him for some time that you begin to realize you are, to him, an essentially fictional character, one he has invested with nearly limitless capacities for tragedy and comedy not because that is your true nature but becase he, Richard, needs to live in a world peopled by extreme and commanding figures. Some have ended their relations with him rather than continue as figures in the epic poem he is always composing inside his head, the story of his life and passions; but others (Clarissa among them) enjoy the sense of hyperbole he brings to their lives, have come even to depend on it, the way they depend on coffee to wake them up in the mornings and a drink or two to send them off at night.

Sharing your journey with such a character can give you the feeling of flying with Icarus--super-human and close to the gods. It can be exhilarating and inspiring, until you realize your companion has forgotten who he is, a mortal, and is married to some alternate reality in which he supercedes all boundaries and rules.

It's not easy to trade in your wings and return to the dirt, to feel yourself face-down in the kind of divot a body makes in the earth after a great fall. The ground itself is not the problem, for the ground is a great comfort--a reminder that gravity and sanity reign. It's the fear of never again feeling the wind in your hair, the worry that all your magic was an elaborate ruse.

There's a time to lay there, face-down in the dirt. And there's a time for getting up, for dusting yourself off and assuming your true height in the world. No more or no less than all you truly are, feet planted and head high. And maybe (just maybe) a little wind in your hair.