Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Michael Ventura is a novelist, screenwriter, and essayist whose “Letters at 3 AM” column appeared in The Austin Chronicle from 1993 to 2014. He’s written three novels and four books of nonfiction and directed a documentary about filmmaker John Cassavetes.
Hillman: I would rather define self as the interiorization of community. And if you make that little move, then you’re going to feel very different about things. If the self were defined as the interiorization of community, then the boundaries between me and another would be much less sure.
All of which is to say: James Hillman loved and embodied paradox — not only the play of opposites but also the effluvia that attach to the play of opposites. For James nothing was quite as it seems, except in those highly improbable moments when things are exactly as they seem. (He would have insisted on that exception.)
Isn’t there a word for something like “the joy of disappearing”? Some people say that’s what a water drop feels when it disappears into the ocean or evaporates on the sidewalk in the sun. I’ve always been interested in joy, but the joy of disappearing . . . [His voice trails off.] There’s a joy in winning the race, and there’s a great joy in losing the race.
The Sun doesn’t usually report on current events, but September’s terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. marked a turning point for all of us. We put out a call to our writers, inviting them to reflect on the tragedy and its aftermath. The response was overwhelming. As word got around, we received submissions not only from regular contributors but from writers who are new to The Sun’s pages.
The Littleton massacre won’t go away, and not because politicians and commentators are still yapping about it, but because no one can forget it, and because Littleton has taught some deeply disturbed young people (all affluent, all white, all male) how to make an impact on an America that wants nothing from them but their capacity to consume.
Carlos Castaneda has died. There aren’t many to bear witness to or for him, because he didn’t allow many witnesses. One met him by invitation, usually, and even that was more fluke than not. Those invited were of all sorts. I happened to be one, for reasons that weren’t clear to me and probably aren’t important. Perhaps I was called to be a witness?
At forty, you may have half your life in front of you; at fifty-two, it’s not likely. In your thirties you may worry about losing your looks; in your fifties you worry about losing your capacities.
Without context, a piece of information is just a dot. It floats in your brain with a lot of other dots and doesn’t mean a damn thing. Knowledge is information in context — connecting the dots; making your own map.
So I’m surprised at the thrill I feel as I pull into the Graceland complex. Even in this chilly rain, with just a smattering of tourists; even in this atmosphere of shameless commercial necrophilia; even so, there really is that odd elation Paul Simon captured: “I’ve reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland. . . . There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland.”
What I’m saying is that we in the late twentieth century live not in a city or country, not on a planet, but in a collective dream. Our everyday world is one of dreamlike instantaneous changes, unpredictable metamorphoses, random violence, archetypal sex, and a threatening sense of multiple meaning.
On its surface death meets life, the past meets the present. What was, doesn’t accuse; what is, doesn’t apologize. But this is the one place in America where they face each other, like it or not, beyond cant, revision, and lies.