The Bird Life of Cold Springs

There are certain paradoxical elements to reality that creep into the mind in progressively more visceral ways. The absurdity of street signs, tiny proclamations of nonsense: “No Alcohol Beverage Allowed,” “Yield,” and “BUMP.” Those from a small army of them. From just today.


And the perverse ways we allow our minds to work. Concentrated on death and patterns of behavior, in a constant struggle with ourselves. And as much as some might like to say we don’t think enough—we don’t think about what’s happening to ourselves, our countries, the perspective of humans in the world—it usually seems to be more true that we think ourselves to distraction.


For example, the recent illness of my girlfriend’s cat. Sunny was diagnosed with an inoperable liver problem, and had not eaten in a week. She was brought to the city, to an expensive clinic, and operated on. Sunny is fourteen years old, comfortable, and well cared for. As I look at the list of categories this verbal record has amassed, my eye happens on “the scientific impulse,” and “the violence of the camera.” Together, they reflect something important about what’s happening to Sunny: “The scientific impulse/ the violence of the camera.”


Harder to say is exactly how. The scientific impulse operating on a cat is just as intrigued by the possibilities of affecting future reality as with doing good work on the meaningful job at hand. Which is creating a good end to this story—acting in a such a way that you feel right about what happened.


This is where the violence of the camera comes in. How does one develop a sense of rightness, or learn to recognize it when it comes? The same as with everything else. By observing behavior around us. Other people serve as models of all sorts: complicated, persuasive, repulsive, redemptive, subtle. We receive these images. It’s the ultimate function of our bodies; to observe carefully, record, sort, record again, generalize sets of principles, and then blast through them in concentric circles of daily living.


The camera creates a moment about which we know nothing, about which we can hear nothing. In which we are not present. Often from before we existed. Things which are just as haphazard and unknowable as the present moment. But the object of the photograph and the physically constrainable stream of television create a source of images so lucid that we are tricked into forgoing observation of many other things. The most obvious loss is the present moment. Sunny, fourteen years old, on the operating table. An expensive clinic in the city. Concentric circles of daily living. 


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