by William Michaelian
Let us be patient and peaceful and see if we can get to the bottom of what is happening. We should go at it slowly and study it from all angles. I am speaking of the specific moment in time when a thing is said to have begun. When does an event germinate? Might it not be said that the simple action of tying my shoes is the inevitable result of the universe itself being set in motion? And what set that in motion? We might be hasty and say God, but while this gives us the short-term satisfaction of sinking back into our own mediocrity, it doesn�t really answer the question. If an omnipotent being did set the wheels of life in motion, it is only logical to ask what set Him or Her or It into motion. And so you see why we have to be patient and go at the matter slowly. If we are in too much of a hurry to find an answer, we are likely to make assumptions that lead us astray. We need to see things clearly. We need to question everything. Pretending to be broad-minded is not enough. Donating money to religion and public broadcasting is not enough. Religion and public broadcasting have grown into institutions, and institutions are concerned first and foremost with their own furtherance. The people they supposedly serve are part of a rude financial equation. If you don�t believe it, then withhold your money and see what happens.
There is an incredible amount of power to be gained by making a real decision. This is the first thing to realize. It is also the last thing to realize. A real decision generates its own energy. Thinking, on the other hand, does not. Thinking is an exhausting, repetitive, dead-end activity. Great things do not come about as a result of thought. Great things are born of the moment. They come to life between thoughts, not because of them. The sooner we understand this, the better. Because, when we do, we will realize that great things are within everyone�s reach, and are a natural part of living. We will also realize that great things are not what we have so long assumed they are. And there we will leave the matter.
My coffee has grown cold. It is time to refill my cup. It is time to leave my room and go into the kitchen, where my father and grandfather sit reading the morning paper. I love these men. They are my own flesh and blood. They do not understand me and I do not understand them. Still, we get along. In fact, we have gotten along for centuries. This is the truth of the matter. We have pulled our plows together through ancient soil, cultivating dreams and bones. We have spoken many languages, and have sung many songs. That is why being here together this day is such a miracle.
What is happening to the world? My father said. Why all the killing? Has everyone gone mad?
Look at my hands, my grandfather said. I don�t remember growing old. I can still smell my mother�s bread baking. I can see the face of the moon looking down upon our fields in the old country. I can feel the silence. Like the stars, my life is a bundle of straw carried through the night on an aging donkey�s back, and now the bundle has broken and the straw is scattered every which way.
This story I am writing has all the elements of a failure. That is what makes it so important and so good. People are forever failing. And when they succeed, they either fail to notice that other people are failing, or they take special pleasure in it. This is one reason reading obituaries is such a popular activity. Dying is the ultimate failure. Or is it the ultimate victory?
My grandfather said to me, Don�t drink so much coffee. It makes you jittery. Why don�t you sit down, have some breakfast. I�ll make you some eggs. The refrigerator is full of eggs. The chickens have been working overtime. Outside, everywhere you walk, there are eggs. How many do you want?
I don�t want eggs. I want coffee. But thank you anyway. Maybe later on, if you�re still in the mood, you can make me some eggs for lunch. Or I could make you some. Dad? What about you? Would you like some eggs for lunch?
No. For lunch I would like to see an end to all the killing. Although I wouldn�t mind a tomato sandwich.
Good. I�ll make you a tomato sandwich, then.
Thinking is entirely misunderstood. Thinking is talking to yourself while keeping your voice in your pocket. Every day, it�s the same old thing. I need this, I need that. I�m going here, I�m going there. If I do this, then this will happen, unless that happens instead, in which case that changes everything. What am I going to do? Why did she say that? What was she thinking? I believe in Jesus. I believe I am going to be late. I believe I am dying. I believe I am invincible. I am eating too much, I need to lose weight. Maybe I won�t vote in the next election. I am thirsty tired deaf dumb worried wonderful underpaid overworked in desperate need of an overhaul pretty damn funny looking when you get down to it falling behind the competition under the gun cranky out of deodorant musically inclined a lot smarter than most people I know and that ain�t the half of it there is much more much much more all of it valuable all of it unique all of it symphonic and worldly and wonderful and I am so in love with myself that I can hardly stand it will you please pass the salt.
I�m glad you finally decided to eat something, my grandfather said.
I was only speaking figuratively, I said.
Why don�t they stop the killing? my father said.
Because what it is is this: I don�t know what it is. And I don�t believe myself when I think I know what it is, because every time I have, I�ve been wrong. At least I think I�ve been wrong. Everything else I think has already been thought, and I�m getting pretty damn tired of it. Up and down. This way, that way. What am I, a yo-yo?
People are in the habit, I said. You know how hard it is to kick a habit.
By that, I suppose you mean my smoking.
No, that�s not what I mean at all. I�m referring to what it is I think you know about habits. But apparently I missed the mark.
Why must you always speak in riddles?
Because he doesn�t eat enough, my grandfather said, that�s why. The space between his ears is like a great plain swept clean by the winter wind.
Thank you, I said. You paint a pretty picture.
And we eat our rhymes like apples, with no thought for the tree. If we don�t water and prune the tree, pretty soon we�ll be without apples. The same is true for peaches, pears, and pomegranates. But let us not weary ourselves by discussing fruit, even if that fruit is symbolic of what is wrong with the world. When they want them, people expect apples to be there. They think apples grow on trees. Imagine, being satisfied with such a puny explanation. No wonder there is so much trouble in the world.
You should get married, my grandfather said. That would straighten you out. Get married, have kids, and get a job. Tell me, have you ever considered working?
I work every day, I said. I�m working right now.
My father finished the article he was reading and turned the page. Why don�t they stop the killing? he said.
My grandfather laughed. Just what is it you do? he said.
You write? Nonsense. Since when is writing work?
Since it was invented, I said. Maybe before.
I used to walk twenty miles a day behind a plow, my grandfather said. It was such hard work, every spring, I lost thirty pounds.
You must have eaten a lot in the winter, I said.
What I am worried about is that someday I will start making sense. I don�t want to make sense. I have seen what happens to people when they make sense. Sensible people frighten me. They do all sorts of strange and treacherous things. They fly off into space and plant flags on the moon. They choose sides and call themselves republicans and democrats. They invent disposable razors and buy things they don�t need because they are on sale.
What I am worried about is that someday I will make so much sense that people with television smiles will knock on my door and congratulate me for being sensible just like them. I am afraid they will call me a winner and want to elect me to public office. This is why I spend so much of my time eating grapes and standing on my head. It�s also why I eat my shirts and play poker with goats. No, I will never retire. If I retire, I might start making sense. I might start liking sidewalks more than I like a forest path. I swear, under penalty of perjury, that I have trouble with this concept. Call my receptionist between nine and five, she will tell you the same thing. If you call after five, you can leave a message after the tone.
What we are concerned with here is how anything gets to be anything at all in the first place. And whether there are many things, countless things, or only one. Isn�t everything part of something else, and if it is, doesn�t that mean there is really only one thing? If one thing is made up of many things, which wins, the one or the many? The same can be said of questions. Which is it, many or one? And if there is one, what is it? The answer, of course, is, Why?
The trouble is, no one knows how to work these days. Look at me. I�ve been dead for years, and yet I work harder than the next ten people put together.
I agree with you, I said. But remember, you don�t have health insurance. What happens if you fall off a ladder and end up paralyzed from the waist down?
There�s too much money in it, my father said. That�s why. Every time there�s a war, the arms dealers and weapons manufacturers make a huge profit.
Imagine profiting from something like that, I said. Furthermore, if you kill someone in a war, it isn�t murder, it�s an act of courage instead.
People who don�t work are missing out, my grandfather said. We used to work in the fields from dawn until dusk, singing and laughing and telling stories.
You�re right, I said. No one does that anymore. Now they sit in cubicles and send e-mail.
At some point, we have to tell them all to go to hell, my father said.
Right on, Pop. Right on.
Moving right along, I would have to say the purpose of literature is to ask questions that cannot be answered without the use of a very large spoon. If you don�t have a very large spoon handy, I�m afraid the questions will have to go unanswered. After all, the first rule of good literature is that you have to be prepared. The second rule, which is every bit as important, is the unimportance of the first rule. And so on. In other words, standing alone on a mountaintop isn�t worth much if you haven�t paid your water bill. If you haven�t paid your water bill, you have no water, and if you have no water, there�s always beer, except when it comes to bathing, but even that isn�t all it�s cracked up to be. That�s why I say eat, drink, and be merry, and leave literature to writers who know what they�re talking about.
Or maybe we should kill them all first, my father said, and then tell them to go to hell.
William Michaelian�s newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelian�s other books and links to this site�s other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.