Remain in Light — Recognizing That We’re the Context of Here

On seeing Sleater-Kinney, the Library of Babel and the Milky Way this month

A billboard I drive past every day on Silver Spring, in Milwaukee

The fourth in a series of essays, following who, what and when. Those were apparently behind a paywall, which I took down. So feel free to catch up if you’d like, though it’s not necessary — I’ll be grateful if you spend some time with this one.

Long ago I got claustrophobic in the infinity room at the art museum. It had rules — one at a time, special footwear, no food or drink, no touching. There was a time limit for being in the infinity room. You had to take the infinity room in quick. It wasn’t the eternity room, after all.

And you couldn’t touch the walls of the infinity room. I mean, you could but they didn’t want you to, what with the fingerprints that would ruin the illusion or narrative of infinity.

I disliked the experience, saw right through it, wasn’t comfortable with how little effort they put into it. A few seconds and you get it. Then the effect is gone.

And we’re left with ourselves, waiting politely in an effigy of infinity. Maybe that was the point.

Some of us never learn the balance of us. Inner and outer, comfort and adventure — the decentralization of self versus remaining present. The focus, the acknowledgement of place. And our place in the place.

Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place… Nothing outside you can give you any place… In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got. — Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood

Context gives meaning. As does thought. Until we overintellectualize where we are relative to everything. Maybe the danger is in not thinking about it, giving in to sensation, going with the flow. The Ptolemaic, geocentric view of self. We’re in control of our own world.

Then we forget where we were. We know the address, the coordinates. In the shimmer in the film I love somehow even more after the third viewing, they get bearings putting a wristwatch and the sun together to make a compass, to find the ocean.

Where we’ve been — we don’t agree on the floor-plan or the color of the front door. We could geolocate it, drive by on occasion. It won’t ever be the same place we occupied together. We’re all unreliable narrators of our lives.

Memory warps. Gravity bends space, speeds up time. It does both to light. We document light with light. We remember what we can still see just fine.

We can slow time down, now. Just by accepting here is important. Remain in the context. Remain in light. How did I get here.

Time slows down. By not killing it until we can just be elsewhere. That goes for Saturday afternoons and weekdays and seasons.

Gravity, the stuff that keeps us basically always here, speeds up time, relativity-ly speaking.

Someone suggested a few weeks back in front of me and others that quantum entanglement is what gravity is, the stuff that holds the nearby together. Proximity is the strongest attractor in relationships, the strongest entangler on the quantum level.

The pull of home is strong. We have pride in our place, non-optional original and carefully selected present. The allure of belonging is what just about every one of us wants.

Where we are is ours. I don’t own a home but I live at a place I call my home. It going away is my greatest fear. So for a year I wouldn’t let myself feel at home here, living detached, decentralized, internal.

Then there are those of us — and they are us — whom others won’t let be here or home at all. They take away place, whether that place is for Saturday afternoons or weekdays or seasons.

Their entire life is spent being told to not be where they are.

Those of us who want to be somewhere else and forget about the place we have, the place that’s ours to be in — no greater luxury than to let it be home on our terms.

Eviction, gentrification, incarceration, evacuation, deportation — don’t take options to come-and-go for granted. Make yourself at home if you can. I figured this out too recently.

Place is a privilege. Place is a curse. A country’s borders and even a zip code’s can lift or condemn us. We’ve all got Earth in common, so far. What happens on Earth stays on Earth.

But Earth is not a closed system. Entropy grows, chaos even. Complexity is complicated. We arrive in a context. Some of us have no choice about whether to recontextualize.

We make a system of points, coordinates. “Those labels are something about us, not something about the world,” according to James Weatherall.

We forget to arrive in the layover of today. Run full-tilt to catch the connection. Hurry up and wait, not always politely.

After 20 years, I saw a bucket-list band this past week, an enduring favorite-band I’d missed every other time, once tour-managed by an old friend who passed away not long ago.

That old friend got 2/3 of the members to sign a set-list for me in Chicago more than a decade ago, telling the third member that I didn’t like her, that nobody likes her. Because he thought it would be funny to take the piss outta her. I love her, everyone loves her. But that’s just how my old friend was and the whole thing is better for him having done that.

I got tickets the minute they went on sale, and went this week with one of my best friends, was conscious and present of being there with my friend, in the same room as this band I might never see play live again, knowing I was in the same room as other friends I saw in the way in, friends who were also friends with my old friend. The drummer left the band before the tour. I have her autograph on a set-list from that Chicago show they played in the ’00s.

I noticed at this Milwaukee show — there were almost no phone screens lit up in the rows in front of us. Everyone seemed to be fully present. And I felt fully there and loved that I was so aware as to appreciate this.

We leave evidence everywhere of having been there. Cookie crumbs and tissue samples. Tags and markers. Bits and refuse. Shadows even. Impressions. Virtual and physical. The system of points we experience.

For so long I wouldn’t let myself be here. Anytime, anywhere, I thought about where else. The better possibility, the greener grass — the not this. The supposed to be. The obligated to go.

The possibilities are always, endless. The reality is all there can be, now.

After a year of this here being my home, my walls were still bare. Unpacked boxes in the basement. This is temporary. Everything is temporary. I wouldn’t put down roots. Settling in makes it harder to move.

This would all go away. I wouldn’t have a say. This will all go away. Why hold on so tight.

Now I’ve let myself get comfortable. Maybe not attached. Just relaxed enough to let my guard down, far enough to belong. Holding onto it lightly.

My walls have what I love, what’s stood the test of time of being me, now here. Now here is home.

No point in life should be a layover, waiting for what’s next. Having one foot out the door when we’re already in a good place is no way to live. Neither is staying where we are when we’re miserable and have the means to get out.

After 18 months on the job, they gave me a tour of where I work. I saw the Library of Babel on that tour. It was there the whole time. The only context they gave me before we turned the corner was, we had to buy airspace.

I had no idea what that meant until I saw it, going up 14 stories. Even from the outside I never saw it, still can’t see it even though it’s certainly there.

I stood staring, not believing what was in front of me. I couldn’t comprehend the scope, an infinity room in practice, with practical effects. It was there the whole time. I was there the whole time.

What’s in front of us, what’s inside of us. What’s outside of us that what’s inside of us takes in, what we sense, what we feel. The nothing that is.

After a decade of meaning to, I went to the planetarium at my old university a few weeks ago. The grad student taking us on a tour of the galaxy projected an artist’s rendering of the Milky Way from above.

He shined his laser pointer at one of the arms of our spiral galaxy. We think we’re out here on one of these arms somewhere.

We’re where we are, reading this where we are. Put the brakes on where else. We won’t always be so fortunate as to have here or really anywhere. Life is a layover, a wormhole. Life is between eternities.

Our minds and bodies might be in different contexts simultaneously. Noticing is a conscious act. Consciousness is in every electron of every speck of dust that gravitates together and eventually becomes.

All of this is from billions. Of years and electrons and stars. The electrons of ourselves have always been here, scattered, unentangled, unoccupied by us.

Gravity and other factors kicked in. The electrons enmassed, collected. They made room for us. We inhabit them, then others, a completely different set, somehow always us. We find our home in them, become ourselves.

We can’t belong where we won’t let ourselves be. Recognize the here that is. Get comfortable while there’s comfort to have. Focus, experience, reside, allow, invite, welcome, share.

Explore, journey — find you appreciate your home more. Don’t run away. Live through where you are.

We’re the context. Acknowledge what our senses tell us. Remain present. We each construct our world to make sense of it. Where you at.

My friend Nick Sanborn wrote a song about the Higgs boson longing to be found, and our friend Davey sang it for a show we did about particle physics in 2012 — it was in my head while writing this, so here you go

Adventures in reading and writing. Making sense of what’s new in science, sci-fi, philosophy, culture, and creativity. And basketball.