You Cannot Be Anything If You Want To Be Everything
In her dream she was at a garish fairground carnival under a cloudless dayglo blue sky. She was separated from her parents. She panicked. She was lost in this strange loud place. Carnies barking from the fringes — fleeting glimpses of them as the crowd momentarily parted — snarling mouths with spittle teeth in flashes between elbows and tilting towers of cotton candy.
A dry tongue mouth in the midday sun and sweat. She reaches for the water bottle she didn’t know she had, and there it is full of a thick pink liquid. Then fear seeps in from her vignetting field of vision — someone is trying to poison her, and she can’t find her parents anywhere in this whirlpool vision aflame — only booming music and the sharp screams of overexcited children.
It becomes clear to her she’ll never see her parents again. The thirst is overwhelming but she can’t drink the pink liquid. She knows viscerally that it is poison. She needs a drink. Her head is like the puck in the High Striker game — a shrill, insistent, “Step right up,” keeps looping in her ears — and someone continually pounds the mallet on her head as if he has something to prove to his cheap girlfriend. Every strike, a deeper guttural concussion exploding deep in her brain stem. Alarms go off.
The first waking words she hears from the radio are: “You cannot be anything if you want to be everything.”
And this is the instant her restive head settles and the headache which has been her sole companion for the last three days melts away. She says to the cat purring at her side, “I know what I need to do now, Antigone. I am going out with mother’s old typewriter, ribbons, and plenty of paper and compose lines for a living. In this way I’ll make a new life doing what I love. You see, Antigone?” The cat stops purring and shifts away from her mindless, fidgety, petting. “Yes, that’s it,” she says.
Later that afternoon, after quitting her brokerage job and leaving the managing partner mouth agape — incredulous and alarmed that his best broker is walking away from a six figure salary, and having talked him out of a Marchman Act call — she sets up her new workspace.
She sets up at the center of the Bowery station platform. She places the Underwood Noiseless Portable atop two overturned milk crates — draped by an elaborate antimacassar made by her great-grandmother that retained the oiled indention of her great-grandfather’s death head — to this she adds a low slung lawn chair.
The J and Z trains stop here and for years it has been her favorite subway stop because it hold the promise of seeing a good show on the way in. And on the way out it is tinged with a sense of great satisfaction of having seen a show that exceeded what she expected. She’d seen some of her all time favorite shows at the Bowery Ballroom: Lou Reed. Luna’s farewell show (before they came back a decade later). Yo La Tengo numerous times. The Sun Ra Arkestra. Sonny Rollins. The Butthole Surfers. Mission of Burma (on their comeback). Le Tigre (no, wait, that was at Irving Plaza…) no, not Le Tigre, but Kathleen Hanna’s other incarnation The Julie Ruin (yeah, that’s right). They Might Be Giants. So many great shows here. This must be the place.
She sets up a sign that reads: “Will Compose Poems And Stories For You.” She throws out a used beret she picked up at Goodwill. It entrances her for a moment. Then she quickly makes a note on her phone to get a deeper, more voluminous, hat as tossed coins might roll away onto the tracks.
She rolls her first sheet into the Underwood in that transient confusion of the late afternoon commute. She has arrived.
“To think that the masses of refugees fleeing food shortages and clean water caused by global ecological disaster would find compassion anywhere their desperation drove them was absurd … on the contrary, we would soon see man’s inhumanity to man on a scale like nothing that had ever been seen before.”
— Sigrid Nunez / What Are You Going Through