Through the No's
"No waters, no mountains, no
bush no grass and
because no grass
no shades but you - shadow
No flatness because no nonflatness
no loss, no gain, so... (Gary Snyder, "Mountains and Rivers")
In times of pain I reach for poetry. There is something in the rhythm, in the beat of seductive language, that soothes my soul, reassures me that there is pattern to chaos and reason behind mayhem. There can also be a comfort to nothingness, for in void there is no malice and in zeros no numerical confrontation.
When my Connecticut (where I was born) zipcode started with a zero, did that mean I came from nowhere? When my social security number likewise began with a zero, did that mean I was a nobody? When I start creating with a blank monitor/canvas and pursue what nobody, not even I, can see or predict, is that a journey to nowhere?
Eleven years ago, I wrote (with a bow to Yeats):
"To the universe there may be no you
No hot fudge sundaes
And no galaxies.
. . . . . . .
And if these are human invented distinctions
If these are memes
Then we are no more than figments of an elusive imagination
Slouching to Byzantium
Waiting to be born."
Zeros used maliciously can cause havoc. In 2002, in a piece called "The Tango of Discontent", I referred to chasing after a dollar sign with infinite zeros as a "dance of wax and feathers, reaching for the golden sun of the unattainable". What an Enron employee attained was the command, "Wrap up your life and get out". This is the ukase we will soon issue to the zero-sum President that led his sheep into a debt of uncountable zeros that will take us uncountable years to reverse. In the stock market Panic of 1915, Henry Howard Harper wrote, "When war was first declared...the stock market was thrown into such a violent state of panic that it became necessary to close the stock exchange for several months".
But non-zero-sum is also a possibility. In a 2000 interview with Wired magazine, Bill Clinton commented, "as our interdependence increases,...on the whole we do better when other people do better as well - so we have to find ways that we can all win". I don't have to celebrate Kwanzaa, but we both gain when I celebrate your right to celebrate. Perhaps it's close to a game theory called "trembling hand perfect equilibrium", described as "an equilibrium that takes the possibility of off-the-equilibrium play into account by assuming that the players, through a 'slip of the hand' or tremble, may choose unintended strategies, albeit with negligible probability". Hopefully our voting choices will result in trembling hand perfect equilibrium; perhaps our nation will as well. We know that nature will long outlive us; perhaps we need to think about extending the lives of ourselves and our children rather than who'll push the button at 3 am.
Perhaps my wandering through the maze/haze of creative questioning will result in artistic nirvana. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote recently in a New Yorker piece called "Late Bloomers, "experimental artists...consider the production of a painting as a process or searching, in which they aim to discover the image in the course of making it".
And nothing can evolve into one, as I wrote in 1997:
"You are not you
And I am not me.
You are a nothing
And I am a one.
And together we are creating
A phantasmagorical place
Where the sun never sets
And nothing ages
And nothings rusts
And you don't have to mow your lawn
And nothing is farther than the doors of the imagination."
And even Gary Snyder concludes by saying "Nothing in the way!"
Maybe I misunderstand his intentions. Maybe when he says "the ground is the sky/the sky is the ground, no place between" he really means that all striving is hopeless, that we are caught in a flatland of two-dimensional constriction where the idea of change, of introducing a third dimension of interaction, is a logical impossibility. Are you an isosceles triangle? Are we living in fog? If this sounds like gibberish, we all should reread Edwin Abbott Abott's 1884 "Romance of Many Dimensions".
Then we might just decide that we can co-exist after all. "And the doors of imagination are where I always existed anyway, and so did you".
When are you lighting those kinara candles? Because they celebrate unity, and cooperative economics, and those don't require a religion to understand. That's where a No Show becomes a Yes Festival. That's where Flatland becomes Planet Possible. That's where "east of piffle and west of hokum", as Jill Lepore describes some recent politicobabble, becomes "itadakimasu", thank you very much.
c. Corinne Whitaker 2008