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Lost and Found in The Blue of Distance

The world is blue at its edges and in its depth. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water.

Thus begins the second chapter in A Field Guide to Getting Lost,“The Blue of Distance.” Is it the blue of creation? Of that always already first moment, repeating itself in the unknown (unknowable?) of time when we were yet to be?¬†And like that blue end of the spectrum that disperses, is that what happens to us – we disperse? And at some point are we nothing? Is the greatest fear of all changing into nothing? Is this the why of Facebook – social media?

We move through space and time, but in a constant sort of scatter, picking up pieces of matter and sound, dispersing others through language, art, manifestations and epiphanies we’d like to share in the silence of it all.

Yesterday, Sunday, February 2, 2014 was a strange day in that silence of it all. As I write the date I’m cognizant of how distant it is; or rather, I am aware of how unsure I was, yesterday, lodged somewhere in the noise that carries us along somehow, mysteriously, as if we’re both a part of it and not.

On the one end of the spectrum of light, the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. On the other, the Super Bowl – a confusing spectacle pushing back on any notions of depth and edges, distance and dispersing molecules of identity. One event is tragic, the other irony – and even dark comedy. Both events on that fateful Sunday perhaps marking our in-consequentiality.

In my house, film is a big deal – as are art and books. Philip Seymour Hoffman, often painful to watch – so vulnerable, so present, so real – is someone our family loved to watch. We can’t say, as some fans have, I love him or We love him because that is the confusion of our times: the character on the screen is an artifice, albeit a true, honest and very real portraiture of us. We confuse the us in the celluloid images we consider through the depth of the dispersed light – and film is all about light: how it’s manufactured, how it’s privileged here and not there, how it travels into us and through us in the quiet darkness of a theatre. (Many years ago, in another light, we use to comment on film by regarding how it was lit – this is long gone from the nomenclature on film.) Where we see the intrusion of the Super Bowl-like spectacle is in the viewer that enters the theatre late, forcing himself or herself down a crowded aisle, only to then proceed to loudly devour a bucket of popcorn in the most intimate of film moments. There’s no one else in the theatre and a film can only be enjoyed by disruptive ingestion. Our times.

That’s when I get lost. That’s when I don’t know where I am – in-between a deep, abiding intimacy and the deafening noise of our spectacle.

I had a few disturbing moments during the Super Bowl:

  • the moment when somehow military heroism was equated with football and “the battle on the field”;
  • the moment when the US Constitution was made into a document that passes to us almost because of football;
  • the many moments in which “the game,” America’s most popular game, is equated with life itself, with our reality, with how we should think and feel – football as some sort of Aaron Copland American opus – football, American’s new Appalachian Spring, the most tragic of all ironies;
  • the many moments in which the game calls you in and just as forcefully pushes you out into commercial renderings of consumerism as a moral absolute in-between bathroom breaks and beers.

And I was also taken by how quickly and powerfully the Super Bowl pushed Philip Seymour Hoffman into celluloid memories, the reality, for us viewers of film, the form in the dispersed light Hoffman will be. Lodged in time, which is what film can do.

“The blue of distance comes with time, with the discovery of melancholy, of loss, the texture of longing, of the complexity of the terrain we traverse, and with the years of travel.”

As I sat there amid this Super Bowl nonsense I felt terribly alone and in the “texture of longing” because I wasn’t sure that anyone else was feeling what I was feeling – seeing what I was seeing. What I am, indeed, seeing.

In the short years of my travel, the road narrower now, less to go, what I have traversed makes me see what I see -but I am alone in this. The blue that is the edges and is the depth of us is lost – as lost as I feel.

“Sometimes gaining and losing are more intimately related than we like to think,” says Solnit. “And some things cannot be moved or owned. Some light does not make it all the way through the atmosphere, but scatters.”

Maybe that’s it – the atmosphere has become darker, more closed off, pain winning out; the bad, perhaps, winning out over the good. Reminds me of Lou Reed – can’t have gain without loss:

When you pass through the fire

You pass through humble

You pass through a maze of self doubt

When you pass through humble

The lights can blind you

Some people never figure that out

Light can indeed blind – and the Super Bowl works on pushing extreme light to compel extreme emotion. For what? In my case, yesterday, I could only feel Philip Seymour Hoffman’s dissolve – and it compelled me to feel my own, my own move to melancholy, loss and longing. The longing for life itself. More of it, as I listen to Appalachian Spring – itself a longing.

But as Solnit says – and I accept, “Some things we have only as long as they remain lost, some things are not lost only so long as they are distant.” Longing for life, as ambiguous and unknowable as that is, we feel and maybe it’s both lost and found because it is distant.

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