The happening world

In a borrowed Mini I tear down Alameda and onto Washington. Los Angeles is hot and bright in the morning, and I squint. Without ever having lived here, the streets feel familiar, and the potholes are an entertaining obstacle course. The air is drier than San Francisco, but not as dry as Juarez. Nor as hot. The trucks that ruined these roads bounce around me, and I revel in the tiny size and excellent horsepower of this two door vehicle. Twice the tires squeal unintentionally as the light turns green.

“Where have you been?” a former colleague asks me later that evening, and I grin.

“Around.”

It is true. This is the busy season, the time of each year when everything accelerates towards the calendar’s end. In the last thirty days I have seen Shanghai, Hangzhou, New York, San Francisco, Juarez, and Los Angeles. Saturday I will see Chicago. In between, near home, I have danced in the park and drank wine beneath an aquarium. I have run on the fields of Stanford and watched the sun rise over Hong Kong. Behind these sights, behind the thrill of motion and the exhaustion of sickness, has lurked a single phrase, coined by a man I will never meet.

“Script cue: the happening world”
-John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar

It is Saturday, and the boat does not rock. Lake Shasta is far stiller than the lake of my childhood, Cayuga in upstate New York. Made by man behind the Shasta Dam in nineteen forty eight the lake winds through valleys, not having had time to wear them down and make them part of a single whole. The shore line is tumultuous, coves abound, and small points challenge those who have never boated very close to shore. On this house boat that is all but one of us. We crash twice, in the minor fashion of shallow board vehicles that move but slowly.

The first morning I sit on the bow and begin anew this book, first read in Japan in two thousand two, a gift from my then roommate. It has been out of print for the intervening almost-decade. At the above line on page two I look up and marvel at the distance we have come: from Chicago the weekend before, from San Francisco the day before, and from the dock in darkness the night now ending.

The sun peeks over the hills and scatters the last pieces of shadow. The water’s clarity is striking. Out a ways from the shore, where the depths of lake bottom should be difficult to judge, long dead trees poke their trunks upwards. These hulks, chewed through by woodpeckers and, without branches, resistant of wind, reach out to the sky. This was not always lake, they say, and in the mid-day we will swim to them, climb, perch, and jump.

Likewise from the houseboat’s third story roof we will fling ourselves, seeking moments in the air to anticipate the water’s chill. Like these leaps the weekend is an escape, a vacation.

An escape from what, I wonder, sipping coffee made on the boat’s stove and a French press remembered by someone more prepared than myself.

With my feet on the rail and Brunner’s book, newly re-published, on my lap, the answer is surprisingly clear.

An escape from the happening world.

An escape because our travel is not of distance any longer, the world a well-known sphere, but of pace. The borrowed Mini, a go kart-like mobile of power and short wheelbase, was a friend’s, and is now gone, will never be driven again.  It has been replaced by some far more elegant machine in the two weeks it has taken me to write this.

The week I spent in Juarez, prior to landing in Los Angeles to race its red frame up and down Fruitland Ave, its then-owner spent in Belize, mostly underwater.

Later in the afternoon I will swim out to the center of our current section of Lake Shasta, mostly underwater.

In between visits to each other’s neighborhoods my friend and I discuss possible futures, both short term and further afield, while in transit between San Francisco and Petaluma, between Santa Monica and Los Angeles. These journeys are carried out in vehicles both Brunner and I saw as temporary. Like the red Mini. These trips occur with such speed and rapidity that we do not consider them travels, having invented a separate and more boring word for daily excursions done in the name of employment.

The members of the Shanghai book club prepare to read Brunner’s book, at my urging. Strangely almost the entire group is now re-constituted in San Francisco. Somehow the founding circle has re-located without shared plan or even much communication to this city on the opposite side of the Pacific.

One of our six was in Chile for three weeks, the book assigned in his absence. Upon returning he discovers an empty house, save for the cat and some plants. His roommate, also a China hand, has left the country and will be in the Philippines for six weeks. At a brunch after his return friends compare stories of Dallas, visited recently, as well as New York, and share stories of the art movement re-districting Detroit. One guest has been on the road for a year. Much talk is of jobs and houses, of gardens and school districts. The motion does not indicate a lifestyle as much as the extremes of the world, the pace of our lives.

On this lazy Sunday we pilot the boat beneath the bridge of I-5, amazed at the train tracks that run beneath it. I lie on the roof, curious as to the empty rail cars and their destination, certainly far away and busier than this lazy waterway.

Their destination is the same as my own, once returned, later that afternoon, to my car and that same highway, to the Bay Area and the city.

Cue the happening world.

Minds fill

We have but scant years on this planet, I am told. I hear and agree. We have but scant years to learn what we can of the world, in any fashion possible.

In every fashion possible.

We are always learning, absorbing, until one day we find ourselves dead, our minds no longer able to take in new, be it fact or fiction. Indeed, with every minute every single thing that enters our brains, our walking record of life on the planet, enters instead of some other thing that could have entered, that may still, that may never.

Every scar put on our body is in stead of some other, in place of alternate damage.

We are temporary, I have written.

We are physical, a collection of memories, and more than that a collection of accidents, coincidences far beyond our ability to plan. Each moment is another we will never get back, but that does not mean it was wasted, for something went in, even the casual absorption of vacancy.

We become the person we will be gradually. After university the adult we will become can be seen more and more frequently when the working day is done. Sitting on the couch, jogging in the park, playing sports, at a bar, on a bike or with friends, what starts as a single moment expands, as planned sections of time become self-determined.

Sitting in the office discussing project goals, sitting in the park watching the symphony play, or climbing in the rafters of a darkened theater, these are all steps on a path from who we were to who we are.

Minds fill says the headline, and they do, which should be no surprise. The trick is that they are never quiet, are never waiting to accept, waiting to be told to learn. Instead they are learning constantly, are adapting as we eat breakfast, as we sleep.

Our minds fill in between our choices, around our schooling and professional training, behind the math classes and the Spanish lessons, before we study Chinese, and after we study how to teach. They fill as we walk to school, as we ride the bus, smelling diesel fuel and horrible vinyl seating.

The man says, “the distance between who you are and who you might be is closing.”

He’s right.