I had planned on doing several things with Quitter this year – get #7 and #8 written, sell 100 books and get #1 through #6 formatted for iTunes. Not much of that has happened. For one thing, it is hard to get myself into the “Quitter voice”, what with aqll its unstructured sentences and heavy reliance on very distant memories. I have plenty of memories stockpiled and noted, but applying them to the voice is more difficult than you might think especially when you consider that we are only talking about a twelve page 1/4 page zine.
Without any further explanation, an excerpt from Quitter #7:
It is hard for me to describe the smell or sounds of rain. It is one of those scents that leads my brain in all sorts of leaps and skips and stops – cold mornings on the cusp of April, a light rain working to break up soil for new seeds; the quick shuffle of a city street, legs and car horns and black umbrellas singing as a mass under a stinging summer downpour; a tin roof under the pounce of a quick midnight thunderstorm, pinging and ringing and whistling, directionless, soothing. Hitting an asphalt shingle, rain has the swish and dribble of water circling a drain. On a metal garbage can lid, thick droplets are like a tire iron tapping a light post, singing up and down my ear canals, membranes vibrating like a plucked guitar string.
To me, the rain scent has it all: fallen leaves and dog hair, crushed acorns and root beer soda, unadorned armpits and fresh cut mint. There are only certain other smells with this sort of ambiguity to them – the air in a deflating bicycle tire, the blood of newly pulled tooth – and those smells contain their own piece of genetic code within us, the ability to unzip a thought at the cellular level and make our reactions seem innate. If it were not for the ability of these smells to grab us and throw us into memories, we might not stand apart from the others as conscious beings. Stuck with nothing but this exact present and the slowly unfurling future, no past at all to lean on or learn from, we would be burdened with these ten fingers and ten toes, wondering why they are able to do the things that they do.
To the ear, rain is just as complex. A rolling thunderstorm sometimes hurries me back to when I was five or six years old, barely tall enough for most everything, fingers tightening on a window sash, knuckles whitening trying to pull my eyes up to the glass. Fast outlines of trees vibrated against my retinas promptly followed by low rumbles shaking the panes, always mildly enough to leave them intact – both eyes and glass – but ambitious enough to produce a reaction among all the bones of the window. Thunder and lighting were always something I would wake up for and watch until completion, the drifting storm dissolving the time between dreams into a short series of intermissions and transmissions.
Among the other senses, I unfortunately do not frequently get involved in the memories of sight. I indulge them fully when I can, but vision can too easily betray a person. Heat waves floating from a sun baked highway are really nothing tangible, as real as wind but nothing to hold onto or brace against. But those tingling apparitions bring me back to summers working in fields of cabbage, the heat rising from between the open rows, reflecting the misery of the heat of an August mid-day. The fields are open as far as you can see, fence rows barely tucking in the edges of peripheral vision. The stretches of green, watery calories – bound for harvest, for trucks, for bags, for shelves, for plates, for bellies – sit in perfect rows, silent and still except for an occasional drop of hot summer rain running down into the outer wrapper leaves.
Tonight’s rain is one of those hot rains, the type that does nothing to lower the humidity or remove the stickiness from arms and foreheads. “A warm front”, the radio whispers as the wind picks up, a warm front moving into an already miserably warm climate. I currently live in a place where the first showers of a mid-summer front evaporate lazily from dark back roads, rising only occasionally as a vehicle parts the sick misty clouds. The next shower brings more of the same, saturating the air to the point of choking. If you have spent time in the South you know about this air. It is the kind of air that curls the covers of paperback books and makes envelopes stick together.
In this weather there is no choice but to sit six inches from a box fan, crank it to the fastest and highest settings, sit still and wait it out. There is no relief, no counter to this air thick with the grease and the swamp and the drench of another day in the Piedmont. Sweat – condensing on eyebrows, lip tops and knee pits – is not optional; it is a prerequisite for this course in human temperament. How you handle this details how you handle other personal tortures like hemorrhoids, ingrown nails and expired license plates. Our bodies are constant chain reactions of glop, responding to stimuli and adjusting internal temperature to fit the demands of any current surroundings. Cold? Get a blanket. Hot? Take off your pants.
The senses you own are your broken and rusty weapons in the war on distorted memories; how powerful or sharp or loaded with ammunition can they be if the past becomes so hazy that you forget how you wielded them or don’t even care? Everything you see or taste or smell is a trick on your future memory. It will never come back in its full context, its undiluted reason. Was I really there? Did I really say that? It sounds familiar, but…
We are at the mercy of our imperfect biological and chemical functions. We do not know, truly, where we stand in the past. It is somehow vacant and arbitrary and misaligned. It is a distortion no matter how much you think it is the truth. It is only the truth now, really, in this present when all the correct gases fill the lungs, all the correct fluids irrigate the eyes. This is it; the truth as it is in the now, the next, the now, the markings on the rain gauge.
We are not like dogs, relying on all of our senses for identification. We humans need clocks and compasses, measuring tapes and thermometers, bi-focal glasses and star charts. Our instincts and innate habits are no longer there for us to lean on in a pinch. They have been bred out of us by too much time in moving vehicles, too much time spent in inebriated states, too much time contemplating broken hearts.
The heart, it breaks. We feel it, but we know, scientifically, every emotion is simply an expression of the chemical mills of the brain and the guts. But we also know that any out of the ordinary input into those brains and guts can and will be processed into some staggering physical troubles. You get sick, you don’t eat, you don’t sleep, you dwell on the possibilities and wish you could rewind every moment in order to find out what it was that made the error get as far as your current reality. You stumble in from the rain, crumpling clothing here and there between the walls, soaked from the eyelids to the toenails, defeated from it.
Your heart, it breaks.