There's a small wooded area with bronze sculptures of lambs, lions, bee hives and camels, where the path that leads between them is the back of a snake. Little short cuts exist between the turns of the snake letting one wander into Unknown Territories. As a metaphor I kind of liked this, because I think to leave the path of the snake (evil or the thing that is against one's nature) in favor of something possibly scary and unknown, but more to who we believe ourselves to be, I like. "Jump off this path of prescribed destination and check out these lambs!" is what I heard whispered around in that eden. Although my thoughts got dashed a bit when I saw inscribed on a camels back "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God", which while standing among the furnishings of a quarter billion dollar structure seemed a bit disingenuous.
I think as a kid I didn’t realize that nothing was ever cut to a perfect length: all construction and fabrication is an act of layering new materials onto old in hope of hiding the previous imperfections.
And this phrase “measurement is an act of fabrication” doesn’t just state the obvious: that to fabricate an object means to measure certain things in the world. Instead what I was getting at is that to state a dimension as 57 and 3/16th inches is to lie a little bit about what you are saying you see.
This idea came to mind again today when I was reading Bluets by Maggie Nelson. It’s no Argonauts for me, but maybe that’s a bit unfair to say as a different book by the same author should be… different. I’m ashamed to say that I once joined one of those CD clubs back in the day and was disappointed when I couldn’t buy the same sounding CD over and over. I didn’t know any bands, I only knew 2 or 3, and didn’t get why people looked for new music. I think part of me melts easily into defaults and I think the majority of mechanisms I have created in my life are in the pursuit of killing this natural, albeit bad, instinct.
Anyways Bluets is a small book, one of those ones where you really have to break the spine over and over if you want it to stay open on a table, and in one paragraph she writes about the cyanometer, a device invented by Horace Benedict de Saussure in 1789. The device was meant to measure the blues of the sky, but was simply a grid of 53 different blues with holes next to them so you could see which grid square matched the sky best. If the sky fell between grid 3 and 4 you were shit out of luck, just like measuring a wall that had a refinement somewhere between 3/16th and 4/16th inches.
And she writes of this that “measurement does not make beauty”. I like how she says this, because it makes me think of knowing the entire atomic structure of something until it becomes a small stone statue in a walled off garden; to tease out and try to say that a thing is like something else, is to sloppily cover it in green paint and call it a tree.
But I guess sloppily painting is what we achieve with language a lot of the time, as language is a tool of measurement.
This also makes me think of relationships and the desire to measure what a relationship is. I’ve been guilty a few times in the past of needing things out of relationships and measuring them to an exhaustion. I think at the time they were just simply relationships that didn’t work, but I hoped through investigation and measurement that I could find what was broken, not realizing that I was holding rubble in my hands and wondering why the stairs weren’t were the floorpan showed them.
I'm lucky these days to be in a relationship that has no space for stone statues, nor walled gardens. We don't even include a ha-ha to keep out some wandering sheep and in return we get a space with a sky made of unknown blue.
Of course I can’t stop measuring all things: making art is a certain act of measurement. But maybe the truly great measurements are those that approach but never touch some limit. The wake of objects left behind as they move from hand to hand, create a certain wobbling boundary; a boundary that to claim to measure in any definitive way is to be imprecise.
Somewhere deep in the woods is a pond circled by float planes. A couple sits on fallen logs that act as high-end furniture, placed atop an outdoor patio made of large ceramic tiles; these are the tiles that children think of when their grandparents have just moved to Florida.
Grass stands tall and semi-erect; morning delight only partially responding to the breeze.
Every now and then the man or woman gets up to try and move the log a bit this way or that; intermittent sneaker squeaks like a lonely fire alarm low on batteries.
Orange lips listen patiently, nibbling on fake tanner finger nails, as the other talks over the drone of prop engines. Pontoon clouds hung below fuselages rich with passengers of ideas.
GPS taped to the steering wheels.
And out of the windows that are pinholes in a sky, the pond is a runway.
New York has always felt, and still does feel, like an exotic place to me. It’s a center piece to something although I’m not sure it’s the center that anyone talks it up to be, which is the the thing that I want to ramble on for a bit about.
It has always bothered me when people say “I’m a New Yorker”, or “THIS is New York” when seeing something high contrast happening around them in the city. Many people have written on the idea of what New York is to them (For some reason I think of the Flamethrowers when I think of writers writing about New York, which I can’t actually recall the narrative structure or tone that is used to capture the city, although I’m quite sure it is there), which is something I can’t really get into since I never spent enough time there to consider myself anything other than a visitor.
But the insistence of being FROM a place is something I can relate to, as I’ve had time in a few places that I consider to be in my blood at this point. Even so, I’d never distinguish my personality by announcing my relationship to some physical place. I’ve found myself embedded deeply in many places, but emotionally I have never thought of a place as defining that sensation of being embedded; perhaps part of what that place was at a certain time.
I think what’s bothersome to me is that saying something like “I’m a New Yorker” seems to place on oneself the stereotypes of the place they are from as they suppose it is seen by outside people. The quality they seem to actually be addressing, however, is nuanced and a particular quality of that place as seen by them; in how it supports and amplifies something that they hold dear to themselves. And to diminish this important quality by draping it in a name of a place, is to diminish one’s self. It’s like pants that make someones ass look great: I agree that some pants make an ass look better, but without the ass the pants are useless.
I remember writing a paper in college about Fela Kuti, and the TA wrote the comment back “Okay paper. Very western viewpoint of the individual”, which maybe someone would write on the top of this post. Perhaps the annoyance I have at this whole New Yorker thing (or any other time I hear people refer to a city/place as part of their core identity) is the fact that I struggle with an overriding sense of being an individual first, which I agree in the world today is not only socially irresponsible, but also a bit scientifically incorrect (I’m still on my Hyperobjects kick. Hi Bradford!)
For now, I’ll wander these streets of LA, where I have not heard even once: “I’m an Angeleno”. Although I do admit to uttering the phrase in an exhale “Dowtown LA…”, the place I now call home; a place I watch a bit tentatively out of the corner of my eye at, as if it’s someone dressed as a clown hiding in a parking structure (an actual description of someone once seen in downtown).
Maybe what I’m getting at is the duel role of content and container that is a place of belonging. And I guess the things that we are most passionate about, and strive to conjure the most in our daily lives, are usually in this role of content and container. What is a disservice to ourselves is when we delegate these passions to be only one of these things.