Fiona Farrell, “What It’s Like”

I said I would blog daily, and haha this is already a day late. I can’t say I wasted today: I finished a first read of al-Razi’s “The Philosophical Life,” went through a bunch more of Andrew Johnston’s poems, started some counseling homework, worked for a few hours. There was more than this, of course, but I’m never disappointed in a day where I sit and read philosophy, even if I don’t jot down notes. I believe it is worth it to try to think, though that ends in failure quite often.

I thought I should get away, at least momentarily, from this recent theme of anxiety. The poem below, “What It’s Like,” indulges excitement, the thrill of freedom and the freedom of thrill. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

What It’s Like (via Tui Talk)
Fiona Farrell

Well, it’s kind of like
you’re hanging over a
steep drop, fingers
cracking on some old
root or other and below
there’s sand or river,
boulders worn to solid
spheres, and you say to
yourself, ‘Now, I could
let go.’ And what do
you know?

You do.

And then, it’s kind of like
singing with your feet off
the pedals, bush lining a
damp black road downhill
to the corner and a creek
like a crowd hanging about
in dappled shade for you
to whistle by.

And then, it’s kind of like
lying on a hillside, sun
full on and a gum tree
rattling away like streamers,
and there’s a whole kind of
shining party going on,
and you’re at it.

Comment:

I probably fell in love with love because of how empowering it was. I fell hard, for it wasn’t merely a new set of experiences. It was a new set of possibilities, a whole new world. A whole new world, and all one had to do was give into the craziness, let oneself be bold and uninhibited, not caring for rules:

Well, it’s kind of like
you’re hanging over a
steep drop, fingers
cracking on some old
root or other and below
there’s sand or river,
boulders worn to solid
spheres, and you say to
yourself, ‘Now, I could
let go.’ And what do
you know?

You do.

What’s it like falling in love? “Like you’re hanging over a steep drop, fingers cracking on some old root or other.” You don’t see yourself as tethered, but you do see danger: “below there’s sand or river, boulders worn to solid spheres.” In danger, you have the lamest, most drug-induced of insights. “Boulders worn to solid spheres” speak to time; time has eaten many in love; falling may not be that bad. You actually think this garbage – maybe this is a revelation of sorts – and you decide to let go.

The lover in this first stanza does not show herself to be empowered. Rather, she’s daring herself, trading anxiety and hesitance for an ersatz courage. That courage is the largest of all gambles, a gamble that something entirely outside your knowledge, your world, will save you. I don’t think I was conscious of this when I fell hard for love itself. I do think other lovers are different, much more aware of what they want, however irrational. I suspect they are more attentive to the sacrifice in this image, the “I did it all for you” plunge.

This is not the whole story. The poem switches to another time, one following the plunge. We can identify different motivations in that stanza:

And then, it’s kind of like
singing with your feet off
the pedals, bush lining a
damp black road downhill
to the corner and a creek
like a crowd hanging about
in dappled shade for you
to whistle by.

The risk of the plunge before is there, but it is not because of decisiveness, rather sheer carelessness. There’s joy: “singing with your feet off the pedals.” You’re letting your momentum take you down, letting all the things you would ordinarily bemoan be present for you. That bush blocks your sight, a “damp black road downhill” means you could lose control. You don’t care, you think they enhance your experience. “A creek like a crowd” tells everything. It’s like everyone bears witness to your exuberance, either cheering you on or seething with jealousy. This is the fall you hope for, but quietly, your own perception of the situation has shifted. “I made a decision” has turned into “I don’t care.”

Is that really a sound basis for joy? It’s the weirdest situation, really. I think most of us can remember being in love and romanticizing every stupid thing we did for love. We made sure we felt we were on the highest cloud. Is that the same thing as the careless of “singing with your feet off the pedals?” In a way, yes – any carefulness we show masks a far greater negligence.

There’s one more part of the fall to consider, the impact:

And then, it’s kind of like
lying on a hillside, sun
full on and a gum tree
rattling away like streamers,
and there’s a whole kind of
shining party going on,
and you’re at it.

You might be dashed to pieces against those smooth boulders, but “it’s kind of like lying on a hillside,” with “a whole kind of shining party going on.” In this last image, you’re at rest, no longer in motion, simply listening and seeing and enjoying. The poem, as a whole, works on two levels. There’s the experience the lover wants and will get merely by being in love. She’ll make an uninhibited decision, dropping her anxiety; she’ll continue to see everything going her way, confirming what she decided once; finally, she’ll be at a “shining party,” where she doesn’t even move but everything gleams. Contrasting with this level of analysis is reality. A crazy decision was made, an enormous carelessness and effort were exercised, and a passive, glorious end is envisioned no matter what. Reality does not necessarily exclude being loved back and reaping rewards almost unimaginable. But it does seem like we twist reality to create the craziest of narratives, and what’s even crazier is that this sometimes works. For myself, I remember the experience of being at “a whole kind of shining party” to be so incredible that I wondered if it was possible to recreate that joy without being in love.

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