He Feels Like He Should Carry A Knife

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            Tanner wakes and the first thought is that he feels he should carry a knife and to stab the stray dogs that wander at night and might attack him when he runs.

            He also remembers a dream he had when he entered the highway in his long-dead father’s Eldorado and he was having trouble engaging the lights. A policeman stopped him.

            He can’t remember what he said to him except probably the truth. He felt like he had won the Nobel Prize for literature, or that he was well known by then. He has this capacity for writing, where almost anything can inspire him. But, the policeman had no idea who he was and he simply issued a ticket after learning that Tanner had not been drinking.

            Tanner spends all day, everyday; writing works that go on the Internet as fragments of the books that he then compiles and publishes.

            He keeps on writing, no matter that nothing comes of them. He still longs to hear from the curator of an exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum, where he covered the entire museum with a running poem. “Why hasn’t she written?” he questions. “I want her to be my wife.” Tanner wonders at such greatness and depth, such loveliness, “But she says nothing, probably laughs, and confers with the other curator, who received a letter too, with a response as well about a photographer she curated.”

 

            Here is what Tanner wrote:

 

         “Issues in Roger Ballen’s images parallel our own demise as a society. 



         “We forget about the weakest link.



         “We try to complement our elitist culture but in so doing, we focus only on a few. Like a biosphere, if we neglect a species, we upset the balance. 



         “Diversity is imperative. We are all souls as Oprah says, and what she means is that if we ignore something that appears on its surface to be different, then we are disrespecting it. We are this whole spiritual force beneath the surface of our skin; that’s the point in our errors.

         

”Constance Lewallen, Senior Curator for Berkeley Art Museum Exhibitions said that Ballen’s photographs prove ‘[South African] Apartheid was designed to provide economic security to white Afrikaners.’ What it turned out to do was hurt the society as a whole and the people it was designed to protect. 



         “In a more poetic vein, I allow myself to let a thought run wild: 



         “Maybe we don’t see ourselves in the composition exposing class and ugliness — the pugs and the single eye in the head. 



         “Maybe we don’t see the ratty armrest or the dirty sheet we sit on. 



         “Maybe we don’t see ourselves in the bulging eyes and our companions. 



         “Maybe we don’t see the inherent fear nor feel the surprise in our eyes and body. 



         “Maybe the depression is normal. The masks we hold though lighter colored are less revealing. In the end, above the fray, we become what we thought we only saw. 



         “We sleep on a runway of words. There are symbols on the walls that separate the rooms. 



         “We hold the fake child grimed by our hands. Our husband carries the cross like an aerial. 



         “In a shadow among the jungle’s leaves, chords drape behind and in front. The Elephant’s ear has a good memory. 



         “Our blemishes are shared. There is no skin color. Our class bears the same wounds. 



         “We hide in a corner: Boney and veiny. 



         “We make fun of those with Down’s syndrome and a lamp at the end of a chord. 



         “We are a family portrait that is several generations away from the original. 



         “We are a child with a toy set, an infant on a chest of drawers. 



         “We are the cart without a basket.

 

            So, you can see that Tanner is a bit off. He writes out of context. He cannot see that Lewallen might not find his letter comforting. It seems to be the response of a person without any boundaries, a grim reaction to the art. This of course is strange in and of itself. The intention of the exhibit was not to attract the types of people depicted in the photos, but to communicate some message to the rest of us, a kind of maudlin recognition of the compositions of outcasts and of the mentally retarded and how we keep a distance from them to comfort ourselves.

           

            Tanner thinks that art is so inspiring that it touches him. He recognizes the communication right off the bat. He knows where the muse has been. He recognizes the eloquence of the muse’s idea; where the truth is as clear as day. “These greedy ones,” he says, “have no sense of time and place or how far from god they have strayed. They will take nothing with them and their lives as such are filled with regret and that is all.”

            Tanner says he closes his eyes upon waking as the words come as “A flow of ice cream, a Willy Wonka moat of chocolate passes before me, a fancier’s diorama of sweet joy. I can see the truth and beauty of life through my eyes that will not run away. I remain where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing, which is to throw things away.”

            “My life is changing fast,” Tanner continues, “and I have to get a move on, because I am supposed to move to my final place, where all the rental income is enough to cover my place too, such that I can live for free and when it is paid off, I have extra income too.”

            Tanner says that, “This is the time I must secure this event. I have no other chance as the prices start to rise. But, I remain dilly-dallying trying to decide what to throw away. The next thing is the photo lighting equipment and to sell my mother’s silver tea set and silver settings, which is in boxes in my bedroom. Her photos, I will use to write a book about my life as the descendent of a mayor of Philadelphia, but who like all great families, ends up bi-polar and damaged.”

            “Remaining pure and innocent takes great pains and discipline. I must maintain a vision that is about an angry response to my own frailties as a man.”

            “I cannot help myself however to move into this light such that I may forever be on key, where I am a writer and an illustrator of the future, which is wild.”

            “Still, I saw a child in the last couple of days, who made a mockery of an executive of Monsanto, his company has genetically modified food. There are no controls. The company is the only one running the testing and benefits from self-approval.”

            “That guy is so full of himself. He couldn’t see that he kept repeating himself and never accepted that what she was saying was correct and that she will win.”

            I stop Tanner and tell him I have to go. “It was nice seeing you again. I hope we can talk soon.”

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6 comments

    • No, Tanner is a fictional character. He is an experiment in my ability to write fiction. It has always been the most difficult for me. I find it very hard to make things up. I am glad you think I created someone who seems real! That is so exciting. Thank you!

      I read the story to a friend of mine tonight and he really liked it. Another friend read it and said that it reminded him of so many things that are going on in the world. He was concentrating on the section where I talk about the little girl and the Monsanto man.

      I think what I find most successful in the piece is that I (or the narrator/writer) take the tact that most people take when they treat people, who are a bit TMI, and as I say in the end, they just say things like: “I stop Tanner and tell him I have to go. ‘It was nice seeing you again. I hope we can talk soon’” and its dismissive of him, where he just says some of the most beautiful things. I am trying to move the world back to where beauty and truth is honored, not spun. I am also working on a review of History of Madness by Michel Foucault, where he shines a light on alienation of the “mad” as being something wrong. I’ve also been thinking a lot about cliques, which I feel are incredibly dangerous to society. They manifest agism, racism, sexism, etc., on the job and in relationships. Isolating people creates mental problems that are wrong in the sense that people have to learn to be accepting of others who are not quite like them rather than exclusionary. The work is to accept not reject, which is easy. We are so alike it is not funny, but external features or active differences give others, who seem to have the goods and want to protect themselves by wielding power over others.

      • “truth is honoured, not spun” – like that.

        Well, yes Tanner did seem real to me – so there you have it from someone who came in from nowhere 🙂

        I’ve always hated cliques, yes. I love all you’ve written here – thanks for such a comprehensive reply, Mario. You are a wonderful person, by the sounds.

  1. That was eloquently written. A beautiful expression based on empathetic clarity. I, of course am a unique human being with my own experiences, but I could relate to Tanner in some ways. Diagnosed Bipolar I (one) back in 2001, and surviving the isolating thoughts, stigma, and lack of understanding by those around me lacking compassion or openness, has been part of a heavy life challenge. It’s locked me into a feeling of being somehow damaged or different in a nonredeemable way. I’ve grown stronger on the journey. I’m med compliant (which, for me, makes all the difference) since a suicide attempt in a 2007 depressive episode… not letting it take me out! Pausing to understand a human being, unlike yourself, but… like yourself, is a gift not only to them and to you, but also to a blind world. Thanks for following my blog and for introducing me to yours!

    • I am very excited by your response. You say it was eloquent, based on empathic clarity. You could relate to Tanner in the sense that you are bipolar and survive isolating thoughts, stigma, lack of understanding of those around you. They lack compassion/openness. You feel damaged or different without redemption, yet you grow stronger for the experience. You comply with medical advice accepting the diagnosis of attempting suicide. You have stopped to understand Tanner, who is both like you and not, and this is a gift to both of you, and an example to the world.

      I see I have created a character through a story that evokes ideas I have found in the History of Madness by Foucault without realizing it. I am not sure I understand Foucault yet, although I have read the book and am in the process of typing all my notes and should be finished soon, but what I have garnered so far is that as a society, we alienate those who are not like us and at some point they cross a line that causes their isolation. I am interested in this process. If you notice with the paragraph beginning with “So you see that Tanner is a bit off,” the narrator makes a qualification of Tanner after Tanner has said, in my opinion, something broken but in the context of what he witnessed, insightful, and perhaps much more interesting than the narrator’s seeming condescension. The great majority of people are without imagination and it suffers those who are different greatly. The majority rules with a heavy hand to a point that those deviating from the norm and who might be brilliant are forced to live alone and eventually go crazy because we need each other, we need acceptance and our selves are valid. Imagine, for example, the visceral truth of a pedophile, who garners immediate and on-going condemnation in a society that rightly condemns his actions. He condemns him/herself. Does the Tarantula condemn itself?

      Anyway, what I tried to do was present the condescending social metaphor that is actually not more intelligent than who it is putting down or qualifying or relegating to corners with such words as: “I stop Tanner and tell him I have to go…”

      So often, our society argues the man, which is a fallacy of attacking what the person is wearing, how they speak, etc., but they ignore what the person is actually saying, which is valid if not that the person is valid because in such a society All men (implying women also) are created equal. And we need to operate as a society that empathizes with all of its members, and perhaps as you stated there are required compliances given certain indications of self-destruction, although I may or may not disagree with your remedy, since who you are is acceptable and I would question social pressures rather than internal causes, but I don’t know, I am not qualified.

      I am excited that my story caused you to feel spoken to and that it made you talk about your relationship to a character I created. Like I said, I just wanted to create a character, who was above condescension, but who it seemed was out of bounds or different. Thank you so much for taking the time!


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