“We think we have free will,” Vassal says. “We can’t not think we have it. But we don’t have it.”
In his experience, confirmed by much science, free will is yet another illusion our organism creates for us. Not that he considers it unimportant. He sees that having what we call free will is fundamental to our sense of self, bound up with the distinctions we make between ourselves and other things, and with what we call choice.
“The self perceives things as if they are external to us and unlike us,” he says. “We think that we act upon them from some degree of separation. Exercising that illusion is how our spark burns. Without that, we couldn’t be what we are; we couldn’t be born, couldn’t function, and couldn’t survive.”
But we do not have free will, he says, any more than we have individual consciousness, any more than there are self and other. To him, I have reported, we are everything. In every conscious moment, we produce and engage whatever exists for us. When we awaken from unconscious sleep into our waking or sleeping dreams, things come alive for us. Our sense of difference awakens with us, and makes things seem apart from us. We feel able to act upon them, and to exert some control over them, to use them for our purposes. But that is illusion. What we think is our freedom of thought and action remains only that: We think it. Our thinking enacts the illusion; manifests it to us and sustains it within us.
* * *
We have seen how to Vassal the light of our consciousness is boundless and all-encompassing. It shines in all directions, from, within, and upon everything. It shines in an absence of all distinction, even as it creates for us everything that we distinguish. It originates both within our organisms and within all else. In his experience, we, including all that we distinguish, are the origin of that light and also its every object and reflection. It comprises the one and only thing we know, the dream that we consider real.
He also observes that our awareness, thoughts, and actions, though we may seem to intend them, are largely beyond our agency. Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” To Vassal, there is negligible difference between willful and not. Determinism and free will appear to us to differ, but to him they are one and the same.
Not that he thinks we do not have what we call free will. He just observes that it is not free in the way we think it is. Our agency as individuals seems to us to differ from external agency, which we suppose originates outside us and acts upon us and through us rather than as us and from us—of our own free will, as it were. But in his experience we embody and exercise only a single influence, regardless of what we think.
I have described how, to him, differentiation among things is something our organisms do. Our minds produce it for us as they interpret our perceptions. Difference seems obvious to us, evident to us and definable, something we can measure and agree about with each other. We observe it in everything we notice, every this and that, every self and other. We consider it as real and true as anything.
But to him, as I have emphasized, difference is so because our minds conceive it to be so. If our minds did not distinguish as they do, the apparent objects of our consciousness, including ourselves, would not be. There would be nothing anywhere, and nothing able to take note of anything, and no “where” in which to take note. There would be no words, illusions, thoughts, or perceptions—no mind. There would be no “be”; nothing material or immaterial, mortal or eternal, human or divine. We would not exist in any way we could recognize, and neither would anything else.
Recently, Jimmy said this to me about that perspective of Vassal’s: “I love how it acknowledges everything, embraces everything, and in the process makes an inexpressibly simple idea of everything. From the start, it has disposed of itself, leaving no trace. It is nothing to begin with, and it goes nowhere from there. He makes nothing of it. Here we are and here we aren’t; we exist and we don’t. Amazing.
“It’s quite a concept, and quite a piece of whimsy. When people find out about it, I wonder if they’ll think it has anything to do with how he has given everyone his invention. I think that it does. He has been so resolute and unperturbed about doing that, so at peace, and so happy. It’s wonderful.”
Each of us believes that constancy exists. We infer that from our experience and the testimony of others. Without that belief, we would possess no sense of difference: of self and otherness, or of time and space. We would experience no connection from moment to moment, thought to thought, place to place, object to object, anything to anything. It enables us to posit origin and end, and cause and effect. It allows us to communicate: to draw narrative arcs from one point to another, and to express a sense of history—of time past, time passing, and future. It allows us to feel expectation, which holds promise. It enables us to imagine that our universe and we are knowable, definable, perhaps purposeful.
Our experience of constancy is intuitive, reptilian, a product of the phylogenetic wonder that is the human brain stem. Among examples of that experience—perhaps in sum a single example—Vassal cites the faith some of us have in divinity; our wonder at existence; and our sense of the unity of our minds and bodies, including our fusion, however unconscious, of all that is outside us with all that is within.
As we have seen, however, he also observes that we are nothing to begin with and we stay that way. We know nothing for sure, and only nothing. To him, all things are illusion, quirks of our nature. Only by those means do they exist. Only by those means are they mutable and mortal, subject to death, decay, and other transition and dissolution, as well as to birth, growth, and development. In his view, everything that we know of, including each object, idea, and sensation, is a part of the dream that is our awareness. Everything is a passing fancy—a transient representation forwarded to us by our neural networks, product of our senses and rationality.
To him, our world and we are basically purpose-empty, not purpose-full. We quirk in a void. That is all we do, all we can do, and all we need to do. We can have no greater purpose than that, he says, and it suffices for us. We live until we die, The End. In the course of our journey, things—i.e., we—seem to change, but they/we don’t really. Not only do we know nothing for sure, we are nothing for sure. In his experience, we are fundamentally neither substance nor idea, nor any hint of either. We begin nowhere, travel nowhere, and end up nowhere. We are here and gone, both at once. The quirk and the dead, that is us.
Which is fine, he believes. Everything is fine. He would agree with Marcel Duchamp: “There is no solution because there is no problem.” To believe otherwise is to imagine a problem that is no problem. That is good news, Vassal would say. It means continuing happiness for us all, smooth sailing from here to eternity, even though we know that in some regards of course there is a problem; many problems, in fact, some painful, many difficult, all in some need of solution. From his perspective, our lives are infinitely easier than we may think, in spite of all adversity.
* * *
We like to believe that phenomena we encounter can be explained. Just by perceiving them, we begin to explain them. From there, we suppose, we can explore them further, understand them, and perhaps exercise choice concerning them or control over them. We like to think we can use them for our purposes, and make progress with them.
In Vassal’s view, however, our understanding of all things, including ourselves, is illusory, a byproduct of our wants, impulses, instincts, biases, and other largely unconscious behaviors. We try to harness those behaviors using our reason and our will, but we mostly fail. They are creatures of another sea; to us, they lack dimension and presence. We cannot comprehend or manage them, or only by coincidence, by imagining command that we do not possess. We cannot master them. Nothing—only nothing—can, and does.
He said to me recently, “You could claim that doing what I am doing with my invention has come of my free will and choice. Or you could say that it has been determined elsewhere, by some outside entity or force—divine, satanic, or whatever. Or that it has been determined by some combination of the two, or as a result of some cycle, oscillation, or interaction between them. Most appealing to me, however, is the notion that my invention and everything I have done with it are random occurrences, and illusory ones like everything else. They have come of no agency, with no motive or cause underlying them, and no explanation possible. If that’s not true then, as far as I can see, it might as well be.”
* * *
We think that we are superior to other creatures and things. We suppose that we are higher in our universe’s pecking order, more esteemed by the gods, and capable of greater achievement. On all counts, Vassal demurs.
With her usual cloistered percipience, Emily Dickinson wrote,
Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
In Vassal’s view, when we ascribe success to someone, whether in politics, business, battle, romance, or any other context, our acclaim for that person displays such need. We speak of success as admirable and honorable. We conceive it, seek it, and act upon it in terms of respect and envy, particularly for the wealth, fame, popularity, influence, and other coin of merit with which we reward the successful. To Vassal, those are marks that we make upon water, unstable currency based upon transitory and illusory difference. To him, success is another of our unachievable ideals and endless quests. He appreciates that as such it serves some of us, gives us yet another way to act upon nothing as if upon something, which helps motivate and guide us. But otherwise he is indifferent to it. He does not care to succeed in any context or by any standard. He finds it no more appropriate to praise and reward people who succeed than to praise and reward people who do not.
As about anything else, however, he does not mind if other people do not share his perspective. He rarely feels inclined to criticize. It has been years since I have heard him do so, and then only gently, as a parody of self. (“Other does . . .”) His venom is mild and ironic. As readers may realize by now, there is nothing he wishes to argue about or prove, no behavior he would mandate or encourage, no influence he wishes to exert. So playful is he—so vacant his intent, so absent his want, and so loving and joyful his ambition.
He has illusions, of course, like any of us. As he says, he would not exist if he did not. He has no problem with that. He thinks no less of illusions for their being illusory. They are as real to him as to anyone. In his view, they are all we have. To him, again, only nothing is not illusory, and, as Valéry remarked, it shows through. Though mindful of that nothingness, Vassal engages with illusions as we all do, as we must.
Several days ago, Jimmy and a few dozen of his clan visited us again, to work with us on the release. During a break, he speculated to Vassal about hostile responses that might come of it.
“Some people will think your bug threatens everything they know and believe. They’ll think it will put life as they know it to death, send everyone spinning down like birds shot from the sky. They’ll blame you. Some nut cases will probably want to blow you up, or shoot a bullet into your brain like someone did to Victory, or string you up from one of the trees in your yard.”
“Do you think anyone could do those things these days?” said another Bighead. “Look at the guards around here, and their weapons, security cameras, and motion sensors; and the fence, the roadblocks, the no-fly zone. Could anyone penetrate all that?”
“There’s always a way, as there was last time,” said Jimmy. “As I say, there are always people who get scared or feel threatened. Some think disaster lurks on the other side of every door. Those can be powerful motives. I’m sure some of those people will try to come here in person to make trouble. This time around, when everyone everywhere will have Vassal’s invention, there may be many more people like that than last time. We’d better hope the government can keep them away.”
“The government people aren’t stupid,” someone said. “They’ll send in as much manpower, firepower, and security technology as they need. It would embarrass them, humiliate them, if any armed crazies busted in here and did some harm. especially after their failure to protect Victory. They would get investigated by the FBI, grilled by Congress, skewered in the press, and fired from their jobs. Careers would end in disgrace, and maybe prosecution.”
“The threat to you will be real, Vassal,” Jimmy said. “So many people out there have guns and explosives, and will use them if they get mad enough. Groups of them as well as lone rangers will try to figure out how to come here and make trouble for you. Even if the government protection works, which it probably will, and nothing violent happens, you can be sure that plenty of people will aim angry words at you. Not as bad as bullets and bombs, but still . . .”
That set off the rest of the group.
“Words, ouch! There’s nothing worse!”
“There’ll be zillions of them coming at you!”
“Hard-hitting ones—zingers, insults, curses!”
Jimmy scowled, fierce as a temple guardian, then jumped up, raised an arm, and pointed it at Vassal.
“Hear me, Vassal Squeezeshot!” he cried. “May avenging armies descend upon you and reward you with death and eternal damnation!”
The others laughed and clapped their hands.
“Pubescent males will be the nastiest,” said one of them, “teenaged ones, but adult-aged ones, too, the kind of angry boys of all ages who flame online and sometimes in live demonstrations. They’ll grit their teeth in jerk-off ecstasies, snap and bark at you while they stroke their erect penises. It’s what they do. They can’t help it; they’re possessed by their testosterone. Again and again, day after day, literally or figurativeely, they fondle themselves and, soon as they get it up, tug spurts of seed from their hard-working prostates. Young or old, they’re old hands at it.”
“They squirt the stuff into their girlfriends and boyfriends, if available, but any soft, warm orifice will do, including their dreams and fantasies.”
“Get ready to unzip, boys! Here comes another chance for you to fuck your fists!”
“Love ‘em good, lads! As always, it’ll feel great.”
“Yeah, for a few moments.”
Several teenage and young adult Bigheads giggled. A few wiggled their arms over their heads, in praise to hilarity.
“Oh, the things those guys—and like-minded women, too— will say about you, Vassal!”
“They’ll say you’re insane.”
“They’ll call you an asshole of the foulest order.”
“. . . or odor.”
“They’ll say you’re so out of touch with reality that you never know whether what’s coming out of your ass is a dribble of shit or a wet fart.”
A couple of young Bigheads yelped with glee.
“Yuck!” said one of the adults. “You guys . . . !”
“Surely no one would say such a thing!”
“Don’t bet on it.”
“But Vassal, you believe everyone is everything. If those bad boys do say anything that crappy to you, you can say to them, ‘You’re right, fellas. But that’s just your way of putting it. That’s just part of the story. Another part is that every asshole is yours, and so is what comes out of it.’”
“It’s a shame the word ‘shit’ can mean something so negative,” said someone. “People talk about feeling shitty, eating shit, getting shit-faced, being full of shit, and so on. It has a worse connotation than it deserves, sort of like ‘fuck’ in ‘what the fuck?’, ‘fucked up’, ‘fuck you’, and so on. It’s not right. Shit is so healthy and necessary. There should be more appreciation of that.”
“You’re right. Let’s try to change that. Let’s start a movement.”
“A ‘shit’ movement. There’s an interesting P.R. campaign waiting to happen.”
“But we’re going to be busy with our work for Vassal. Maybe we should put that idea aside for a while.”
“Jimmy, if we go public with an effort to upgrade people’s respect for the word ‘shit’, would that hurt your credibility?”
“In the super-tolerant U.S. of A., where freedom of thought and speech is sacred? Never!” said Jimmy. “I’m kidding, of course. It might hurt, but not for long, and probably not at all. In the climate that’s coming, there’ll be all kinds of expression flying around, plenty of it worse than that.”
“People will say all kinds of things about me and my invention,” Vassal said. “They’ll be correct, too, at least for whoever says them. I’m sure we’ll sympathize. If some guys act the way you’ve described, I’m sure we’ll sympathize with them. We’ll understand that we’d do the same if we were they.”
“Besides, Vassal, once they get past their usual superficial rage, they’ll be glad to get hold of your invention. Imagine where they’ll send it when they get their sticky hands on it. As we’ve said, there’s gonna be free porn in many places. Most will be non-professional, the sex that everybody has all the time but other people don’t see. That could be a turn-on, breathtaking for those guys and others. It’ll be available to anyone. People will watch whatever excites them.”
“As you folks said, pornography, if that will still be the word for it, will be one of the biggest uses of my invention,” said Vassal. “Everyone a voyeur. It may stimulate people’s sex drives more than ever,
“A noble accomplishment, Vassal. You’ll feel proud.”
“That aspect alone should win you major awards: presidential and congressional citations, Kennedy Center honors.”
“Is there a Nobel Prize that would suit?”
“People will explore erotic fantasies of every kind, and dream up more,” said Jimmy. “They’ll look into bedrooms, dressing rooms, strip joints, peep shows, and hooker hotels and motels”
“And triple-X film sets and theaters.”
“They’ll visit wild parties, lovers’ lanes . . .”
“. . . back seats, front seats, the couch in the playroom, the dunes behind the beach, the hayloft, out in the pasture”
“. . . in the tent, on the trail”
“. . . at the office after hours, in the storeroom during lunch break”
“. . . havens everywhere for hand jobs, blow jobs, everything from foreplay to straight-ahead doing it. Wooo!”
“There’ll be an endless stream, and a hot one. It’ll come and keep coming, slip into us and dance like flame.”
“Ooh! Oh! Oh!! More, please!”
“Humpa humpa, bang bang BANG!”
“Oh, the pleasure! The love! The lo-o-o-ve!”
“It will be sweet, won’t it?” said Jimmy. “And it will all be love. Even what the nastiest boys do will be love as true as any. Let’s just hope they don’t do anything too violent. But some will. And even at that, love it will be. I sometimes think that love is all there is—the only thing we are, the only thing we experience, and the only point to anything. Ain’t it grand?”
He turned to Vassal.
“Even the worst of people will love you. They can’t do anything but love you. Though of course, as I needn’t remind you, that will hurt some people, too. It can injure, scar for life, kill . . . .”
He turned to the group.
“Let’s hope for the best.”
As I have reported, before I began working with Vassal most of my writing was academic: for student assignments, lectures, professional papers, journal articles, presentations at conferences, books I have authored or contributed to, and so on. As a reverend professor, however, I am something of a generalist. My interests are broad, and I try to keep my writing about them interesting to a range of readers.
But I am not a journalist or other popularizer. I try to do more than summarize topics or address them with human-interest anecdotes. I like to explore in depth. Often, I include not only personal and interpersonal aspects but also philosophical, theological, sociological, psychological, scientific, and political ones. Sometimes, as Vassal does when he is talking, I return repeatedly to certain topics, and circle around within them, adding my own understanding, developing nuance. From some readers’ standpoints, that can get pretty thick and tedious, and not feel warm and fuzzy. I sympathize.
Also, at times, though I try to maintain a balance, I lapse into the kind of language one reads in scholarly works and hears in university lecture halls and seminar rooms. That, too, can get pretty thick. Vassal, ever wry, calls that language and style my “reverendprofessorspeak.” He is not criticizing me when he says that. He hired me for the skills and attributes I possess. His characterization points to my limitations, however, as well as my abilities. It also acknowledges the nature and difficulty of the tasks he has enlisted me to perform.
I knew at the outset that creating this book would present me with challenges. It is no scholarly monograph. Rather, it is a hybrid of memoir and biography, as well as of the kinds of essay (philosophical, theological, etc.) that are more my métier. It studies a living person, an important one at that, and does so in his presence and, often, in his own words. In these pages, while examining his personality, behavior, and experiences, I have also examined his ideas and their contexts and background. That has compelled me to investigate some topics of immense and elastic dimension, impossible (for me, at least) to encompass. Among them: the natures of the universe, existence, humankind, consciousness, and divinity. In digging into such boundless permutations of nothingness (as he might call them), I have sometimes felt that I was navel-gazing or otherwise probing the unfathomable.
* * *
Another challenge I have faced is my concern that by drawing Vassal out about his invention, I have contributed unintentionally to his decision to release it. Also, though I tried to discourage that decision at first, I have since approved of it and helped him implement it. Clearly, I have acquired some responsibility for what is about to happen. I do not feel guilty about that, exactly, but as I have shown, I am aware of the probable consequences, many of which are not pleasant. My responsibility for them has weighed on me, and still does.
Some people will judge me, negatively or positively, just as they will judge Vassal for what he has done. If they wish to, they will find plenty of material for the purpose in these pages. But relatively few people will bother. Starting today, Vassal’s invention will be irretrievably present in their lives and countless others. They will be so busy using it and thinking about using it that his decision to release it, and our implementation of his decision, including my involvement, will be of little interest.
* * *
By giving his invention to everyone, Vassal is prompting a lot of What If. All of us will ask that question in many ways, of ourselves and each other. There will be predictable variations: What if I, you, we, or whoever does this or that with it? What if this or that happens as a result? We will ask out of curiosity, anxiety, and, often, a need to know. The question will continue to arise within us, perhaps for as long as we live.
As one might expect, Vassal sees unity in questioning and answering. To him, questions and answers arise as one, and teeter in tandem on the same edge. They are a duality comprised of a single essence: possibility. William James wrote that the mind is a theatre of simultaneous possibilities. In Vassal’s view, everything is possible. At every moment, in the theater that is our minds, we create and confront that reality, and live with it as we must.
What if . . . ? Time is an illusion, wrote Albert Einstein: “The separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.” We construct time, convincingly, to suit our needs. Within our eternal present, it enables us to posit what we think of as past, present, and future, as if they are not the same thing. Integrated as it is with space and matter, our illusion of time enables us to perceive what we think are substance and form, and to observe what we think is difference and change. It enables us to imagine life born of nonlife, existence sprung from nonexistence, language and mathematics that explain, and more, always more.
In Vassal’s view, by imagining time we make possibilities. In the mind’s theater, they exist with and as each other. There, each of us plays every role, including all possible roles. In his case, for example, so far, those roles include tall guy, nature lover, illustrious inventor, techno-wizard, rustic philosopher, upbeat narrator of nullity, jokester in a flannel shirt (Fool in Down East motley, I sometimes think), notorious public figure, ambivalent celebrity, mock misanthrope, and more. The list is endless, and grows at every moment, as does everyone’s. Each of us embodies and portrays, to both self and other, many imaginable characters on many stages, where we perform many plots and subplots.
To him, we are not just the players in that theater. We are the audience, too, and everything around, including the seats, aisles, lobby, concession counters, box office, restrooms, dressing rooms, green room, and the stage itself with its scrims and curtains, sets and props, wings and flies, lights and sound equipment, stage manager’s station, etc. To him, as always, each of us is every other; we are different and apart, as we know ourselves to be, while we are also, simultaneously, identical to every other, all possibility ours and everyone’s.
* * *
How may our spiraling ideation, the expansive consciousness intrinsic to us, evolve? Fifty thousand years ago, the human genome, anatomy, and cognitive capabilities were already what they are now. Scientists think it quite likely that those attributes have changed little since long before that, since our species arose 200,000 or more years ago. They speculate that the same may be true of our practical abilities to adapt and innovate, to socialize with each other, and to communicate with each other symbolically.
Possibility, too, has been with us from the start. Vassal observes that for our kind it is an essential part of how our minds work and what they create for us. It is a defining capability of our organisms, and is itself an act of definition. For us it is both certainty and change, engine of our awareness and evolution.
His view is broader than that, too, more visionary and philosophical: monistic, quantum animistic, pantheistic, panpsychistic, panexperiential, and in some ways anthropic.
(Note: Instances of reverendprofessorspeak in that sentence, dear reader. They are ignorable if you do not know their meanings; their sense abides in many of these pages, expressed in other ways. But those concepts are rich, and relevant to Vassal. More such concepts, too, apply to him, including pyrrhonism, fallibilism, and ataraxia. A wealth of them. For readers who want to research any, certainly including students of mine for whom this book is a text, decent sources include the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Unabridged, for definitions; and, for more comprehensive discussion, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. All three are available online or off-.)
To continue: As we have seen, Vassal finds equivalent life and consciousness in everything, and believes that they have been present in everything from the start. In his view, they characterized our prehuman ancestors, including our entire phylogeny—creatures ranging from precellular to mammalian, who lived long before us on land and in the sea and air. And he finds them as much in the land, sea, and air themselves, and in the near-sterile cosmos beyond them. He extends that continuum to the limits, if any, of all existence that we know of, or ever have or will know of. He extends it to before (as we time travelers say) our planet and solar system formed, and for billions of years before that, to the Big Bang and beyond, if there was or is any such beyond. He also extends it as far forward as forward can be, into what we call the future. Also, as one might expect, he extends it to the very nothing and never: to no time and space, no matter and energy, no being or idea; to the nothing that is all there is.
* * *
As we take hold of Vassal’s invention and use it, what realizations will it bring us, and what transformations? Might it contribute to our further evolution, as Vassal and I have speculated? And might that evolution, and all evolution, prove to be, as Vassal observes, a form of stasis, of nothing becoming nothing?
To expand my theater analogy: A curtain is about to rise on us all. When it does, we may find that our experience of the theater that we occupy has changed. Thanks to Vassal’s device, the fourth wall, that invisible barrier between audience and performers, will seem to be absent. Previous delineations between audience and performers will no longer apply; at first, at least, nothing will take their place. All of us will serve as both at once, and occupy the places of both. Nothing will separate the two—no imagined wall, velvet curtain, proscenium arch, or footlights. More than ever, the stage will be everywhere, and we will all be on it, picking up our cues, playing our parts.
* * *
That description, I almost blush to say, awakens my vanity. When people use Vassal’s device to come see him on the stage I am talking about, they will find me, too. They are unlikely to pay me much attention. I am a minor player, after all, certainly compared to him. Even so, I wish I had done something about my appearance.
Usually, I am not vain about that. Now, however, with many visitors sure to come, I would like to look more presentable. This morning, on the boat with Vassal, I appear, as always, too much the dull professor dressed in bohemian drab. I am wearing my navy blue pea coat and shapeless brown jersey draped over my scrawny shoulders and diminutive breasts. My faded, baggy jeans sag over my pipestem legs, piled up at my ankles, inches too long. Around my waist, the wide black belt that I always wear is so past its prime that its end droops from its square metal buckle like the tongue of a dog. And on my feet sit my beat-up brown leather lace-up shoes with their clunky heels. Those clothes might look stylish on other people, but on me they do not. At least, I am glad to say, the shoes I am wearing are not my beat-up grey running shoes, which I normally wear when I am here on our boat. Thus, in my fashion, I dressed up a little for the occasion.
I am also wearing one of my Third World scarves. Years ago, I bought a half dozen in a souk in Fez. I hoped they would help me look a little more exotic and attractive, but they have never added much flair. They are sheer but twisted, ratty, neither diaphanous nor magical. Their streaks of earthen color look like grime that needs cleaning. I wear one every day, but I am tired of them, as I am of all my clothes.
Sometime in the past few weeks, I should have driven upriver to the bargain emporium in town and bought a new outfit or two. I could have. I doubt our guards would have suspected that anything unusual was developing. Of course, once I got there I probably would have been unable to decide what to buy. The clothes I would have found would have been plenty good enough, but I probably would not have bought them. I would have been afraid they were unsuitable. I possess no fashion sense. When I try on new clothes at a store and stand in front of the mirror, I can never tell if I like them, and I have no feel for what other people might think.
I never wear makeup, but maybe I should have bought some of that, too: eyeliner, rouge, and maybe some blue gunk to smear around my eyes. I also wish I had done something about my spring-loaded hair. It will be a fright to look at. I should also have bought some decoration for the house: a piece or two of Zen-inspired pottery, or a vase of fresh flowers—anything to perk the place up.
It is unlike me to fuss about those things. Shockingly bourgeois of me. But they do make a difference, and I do have standards, even if I often do not know what they are. Being concerned about my appearance, however infrequently, is vain of me, of course, and bourgeois—all that. But I believe that a higher motive also pertains, as Yeats captured:
If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity’s displayed:
I’m looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.
— William Butler Yeats, “Before the World Was Made”
Regardless, now that the curtain is rising it is too late for any prettifying. Showtime is here. Everything around Vassal and me, attractive or not, is about to become our mise-en-scène. As our drama plays out, we will have to make do with that.
He, of course, is blissfully unconcerned—about all aspects, the whole show. He just wants to witness whatever happens and to participate however seems best. I, on the other hand, worry some, as I do about most things. But that is not as unpleasant as it could be. For some reason, I am worrying less than usual. I feel almost light-hearted; also light-headed, I must say, my bliss in part a dizziness of exhaustion.
SCROLL 16 ➡︎