My Own Private Antarctica
“You wait. Everyone has an Antarctic.”- Thomas Pynchon, V.
The depths of winter used to remind me of the last lines of James Joyce’s “The Dead.” In it, the narrator states, “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” That refrain resonated across snowbanks, rang in the hollow spaces between icicles, and murmured in the wake of the metallic rattle of salt trucks. But after almost a year of quarantine, I feel disconnected from the poetic longings of the Modernists. Instead, I have contemplated the aching of the Romantics. Out my window, it is easy to picture the expanse of Antarctica forcing a singularity of being. Its gales cut the dreaming strands of connection. Sheets of snow stacks onto sheets of snow in the night.
“Be so good that they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin
Victor Hugo published five volumes of poetry before The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He so badly missed his deadline that he gave his assistant all his clothes, wore only a smock, locked himself away, and wrote until the work was done. He tore himself apart in isolation, loving an image, and lived as his as Quasimodo.
I write every day and make progress. I am not driven by desire or desperation but miss both. I move ahead hitting keys to avoid the sense of erasure. There is hope still. I haven’t woken up.
“Dreams are what you wake up from.”- Raymond Carver
Thomas Pynchon wrote in his debut novel V. that everyone has an Antarctic, a barren expanse that must be suffered if one is to reach themself at last. Progress is reduction. Explorers like Shackleton and Amundsen made peace with what they abandoned. Survival, like holy enlightenment, results from stripping away.
“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”― Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake
In 1770 the seventeen-year-old poet Thomas Chatterton committed suicide alone in an attic apartment. After his death, he became an emblem of the Romantic Hero: sensitive, misunderstood, and doomed. It is an easy archetype to love: youth, beauty, and sacrifice. The trouble is that no one long grieves the vanished. Martyrdom does not engender reverence. The hero of the Romantics was doomed and heartbroken, but in a world where most are, their sacrifice falls mute. So we trudge on against the ice and winds, learn to empty our hearts and minds to transverse the glaciers that split under our feet. Writers return to words. Musicians to movements. The horizon darkens and narrows, but we steel ourselves to relate undying love as best we misunderstand each other.
The Dry Valley in Antarctica hasn’t seen snow or rain in two-million years. It is often colder there than the surface of Mars. NASA used it to test its Viking spacecraft. Later these landed on Mars and found proof that waters once covered its face. Buried miles beneath the Antarctic ice are over 300 lakes. They are rescued from freezing from the heat of the Earth’s core. Half the world is covered by waters over a mile deep that have never know the sun. In the depths of our souls, we hold bodies that reach for the sun, that wait to be revealed.
The future is as impossible as tomorrow. After a year of crystalized solitude are we hopeless romantic strays, or explorers breaking our bodies to reach a world we hardly recall? When I write late at night I try to find the fire of ambition. In the night sky, ancient heroes burn in constellations. On winter nights, I search for the North Star. My breath is fog. There are no questions. The ice will melt in the rain soon. I am restless, but I move ahead.
My book review of Elle Nash’s new collection Nudes from Short Flight/Long Drive books will be published by Entropy on February 22nd. You can read it next Monday at Entropymag.org.
An anthology that includes my flash fiction has an upcoming review in The Guardian in the UK. I will share the link when it is up.
Ted Chiang’s Exhalation. His novella “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” included is worth reading the book alone.
Listen to this:
Marianne Faithfull “Plaisir d’amour”
Billy Strings “Enough to Leave”