Joseph Cormorant sips his tea. It is loose-leaf decaf — 1/2 black (ceylon) green (no further info). He’ll get to breakfast — oatmeal with coconut oil, walnuts, bananas, cranberries and blueberries — soon enough. Maybe he’ll put a dollop of pasture-raised Bulgarian-style (they keep the whey, which JC believes to be healthy) on the top. Hard to say. Hard to know at this point.
For lunch it is likely that Joe — which is just as good a name as any; and whatever name they pick in time it sticks to you and bleeds through and possesses and becomes you — will have pasture-raised beef stew meat cooked with tomatoes, onions, and carrots, and served over Japanese sweet potatoes; with a large glass of alcohol-free red wine next to his remaining (now iced) decaf tea.
Joseph Cormorant sips his decaf tea, looks out at the cold clear January morning, skeletal branches waving and wobbling in the soft blue sky. Downtown Brooklyn in the background is a square-toothed bottom-jaw, but in a broken uneven jumble. And towards the right edge of his field of vision the Freedom Tower stands in silver spire contemplation, final finger pointing heavenward. That’s all he sees of Manhattan.
Why don’t you have a cigarette, Joe? Ah! But there’s no such thing as a benign cigarette, and there never will be. I still remember you in your parent’s well-lit kitchen, gasping gently for air, brows bent in confused concern. For a good thirty minutes. Then — once in a while you know what to do and do it — you threw out the ecigs.
Joseph Cormorant is forty years old, not tall, not heavy, not wild, not certain. He drinks decaf tea all day and spends too much money on alcohol-free wine, although he has a plan to reduce that expenditure (more vegan days — it’s only with animal products that red wine is indispensable).
The phone rings. It is a cellular telephone. You can take pictures or shoot movies with it. You can search the internet and peruse Heraclitus quotes while in the line, stretched out because most everyone is mostly adhering to the six-foot apart regulation, and so winding all the way to the back of the big square stone-walled 1900s bank turned hip, energetic, healthy-ish, affordable, high-ceilinged grocery store. The phone does video calls and so on a freezing cold day in the midst of a linger-long pandemic, you can sit together in your respective living rooms with a pretty shy young woman smiling from white-upholstery. And the apps! Oh, the apps it is capable of! How do you think you met this beauty? Not by walking up to her in the supermarket and striking up a conversation! (Who does that?)
This is not the life he wants for himself. But he’s glad things aren’t worse in the larger world and in his little private one.
It goes without saying, but I don’t suppose there’s any harm in saying, that you can record and organize voice memos on Joseph’s wonderful telephone.
“Memo 9:30AM Saturday January 30, 2021, 20 degrees Fahrenheit, which is (pause for the calculation), negative six and two-thirds Celcius. Clear skies. Sky is actually a devastatingly beautiful pale blue. Quote that came to mind and that I’ve sought out and here present, from Chapter 22 of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The chapter is titled “Merry Christmas”:
It was curious and not unpleasing, how Peleg and Bildad were affected at this juncture, especially Captain Bildad. For loath to depart, yet; very loath to leave, for good, a ship bound on so long and perilous a voyage—beyond both stormy Capes; a ship in which some thousands of his hard earned dollars were invested; a ship, in which an old shipmate sailed as captain; a man almost as old as he, once more starting to encounter all the terrors of the pitiless jaw; loath to say good-bye to a thing so every way brimful of every interest to him,—poor old Bildad lingered long; paced the deck with anxious strides; ran down into the cabin to speak another farewell word there; again came on deck, and looked to windward; looked towards the wide and endless waters, only bounded by the far-off unseen Eastern Continents; looked towards the land; looked aloft; looked right and left; looked everywhere and nowhere; and at last, mechanically coiling a rope upon its pin, convulsively grasped stout Peleg by the hand, and holding up a lantern, for a moment stood gazing heroically in his face, as much as to say, “Nevertheless, friend Peleg, I can stand it; yes, I can.”
But can I stand it?
The older I get, the more I accept those teachings — found in the most diverse times and places — that this world is most fundamentally an illusion where souls explore, find, and in some sense create themselves. Nor do I shy away from the perhaps more radical and certainly more terrifying position that in the final analysis individual souls are themselves an illusion. As to whether or not the soul itself is an illusion — here my gut, my instincts, my spidey-sense: here all those aspects of my mind/heart that sink below myself blink in silent acquiescence before the mystery.
The older I get, The more convinced I am that this life is all God’s will, that there is no free will, but only God’s will, and that God’s will is more like the logic of laughter — sometimes giggly delighted, sometimes raucous fun, sometimes sweetly distracted, sometimes melancholy and grieved — than of what we’d call “will”. And yet, I will not claim that there’s no such thing as free will. No, I will hold to the center and reconcile Julian of Norwich with the Buddha: All actions are God’s, and yet there’s a sense in which we are free: God alone is a free cause, but insofar as our minds and hearts tune into and follow the Godlight shining in and through, we flow along with and are in some sense one with the one freedom, with God’s infinitely-reverberating giggle of a decree.
The older I get, the more superfluous I feel myself to be. I’m just another diamond embedded within and dissolving completely into the infinite expanse of this silly, kindly, superabundant creative giggle slash chuckle slash laughter slash guffaw.
What does someone with such a self-conception do? How does he proceed? It doesn’t, to my sensibilities, follow that it doesn’t matter what I do. God perhaps forgives all things, but the soul is like another body — it ages faster or slower, it gets more or less banged up, it has more or less use of itself. And I have had enough spreading and wallowing in misery.
So how do I proceed? When I’m just a story told by some crooked nook within the divine explosion. How to proceed when God is everything and I’m only God insofar as I’m pure joy, pure love, pure delight, pure gentleness? What’s next when the world teeters on the brink of various intertwined destructions — nuclear, environmental, political — and I know only that none of this is very real.
Is that a paradox? If none of this is real, then aren’t all my thoughts also not very real? And so isn’t my insight that none of this is real not very real, and so then doesn’t that dissolve that insight? I live within a dissolved insight of my own insignificance. Is it then pure conniving thievery that I bask in the eternal Light of God’s kind joy? Where do I get off holding to that part of my illusionary beliefs. But I have no choice. When standing in this dissolved insight of my nonessential nature, the divine frolic explodes irrepressibly through, swamping all my thoughts and feelings.
End of memo.”
On January 30, 2021, midmorning, Joseph C. decides he’d facetime his parents. He hasn’t talked to them in a week or so and he wants to take his mind off of not existing for a little while. Not that existing was in any way desirable — why would you want to burden all this pleasant stroll-about sunshine and chatabout with something so unlikely, hopeless, boring and pressure-filled as being particularly (as opposed to just glancingly) real? But you can’t spend all day blissed out in metaphysical conjectures. Well, maybe you could and maybe you’d have to if you were out there on the cold street in lumpy rags, with bags over your socks and tattered thoughts peeling from your mind. But here in a nice, spacious, well-radiatored and -lit apartment with a good view of Downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Freedom Tower, it’s nice to roll around and stretch out into the illusion.
It isn’t true that Joseph C. works in a grand old hotel floating in the clouds high above New York City. But he’s more comfortable talking about his work-life in those terms. The truth bores and disappoints him. But he likes his coworkers, and so transposing them into a giant glittering Old World hotel that can be accessed only by flying cars (carried on miraculously effective flapping canvas butterfly and moth wings) removes the painful but retains the pleasant aspects of his workaday.
Author: Edward Cormorant
Editors: Willard & Whistletown
Copyright: AM Watson