The Fortress Contains the Universe

There’ll never be a door. You are inside

and the fortress contains the universe.

-Jorge Luis Borges

I’m in New York City, on the seventh floor of Sean’s apartment building in Spanish Harlem, where he lives with his two bunnies, Ophelia and Petey. There is hay and rabbit pellets all over the place. But somehow it isn’t gross. It smells fresh, like a farm. Two walls of the front room are windows, so you have a pretty amazing view of the city below. It’s a homey, farmy, urban effect. Sean works in fashion, too, so all his furnishing are kind of sleek. And covered in fur. The bunnies mostly eat kale, but they’re crazy for fig newtons.

It’s essay time. This is the first one I’ve written on the road.  I’ve been sitting on this essay for five days, it’s Friday. I’ve wanted to write it, but I have also wanted to give myself the time I needed to digest. Today feels right.

I’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety over small things lately.  Coming to the States, crossing Trump’s boarder for the first time has had my stomach in knots for the last four days.  I’ve also been freaking out about small things, work, my house, emails, the little silver clothes moths that have suddenly reappeared in my house.

There is an important story I want to tell you, of what has been happening since I wrote the last essay, the one where I told my friend I loved him.  But I think I need to start with this morning.  This morning I woke up from a dream, had a quick shower, and zipped up my bag which is my bent but not broken old maroon suitcase that has traveled the world with me but hasn’t moved in nearly three months, its longest break in a couple of years.  I buckled its blue and yellow waist cincture round it, packed my phone and charger into my black canvas back pack, slung Erin’s leather shoulder bag across me, and called a cab.  Which never came.  Called another. Started to worry that I was going to miss this plane. I miss at least one flight a year. I didn’t want the stress today. I have been so edgy.  It’s been in my breath mostly, this tight constricted kind of panting and once, about five weeks ago or so, a terrifying stopping, the lungs just not doing, for the first time, what they have always done. It was just a few seconds, I guess, but it was terrifying. It’s been in sick headaches, nightmares and grainy insomnia, finger biting, teeth grinding, and a deep bone-cold that creeps over me even when it’s warmish outside.  I didn’t want the stress of rushing, of trying to push the car forward through traffic with my mind, of the shoulder tension and backaches that come from trying to control the world. And I didn’t want to feel any stress when I talked to the border guards.

I snapped at the cabbie.

I have my reasons.  The way he was talking to me. Condescending and presumptuous.  But it was out of character for me. I’ve been working with the new energy in my life since I told my friend the truth.  A dawning realization that there is such a thing as a buried truth, and that if it’s down there too long it becomes zombie-like and rotten. And it is linked to my moods and emotions.  The roiling of truths deep under the surface, truths full of shame, full of fear, but also the ones that are just unsaid material, left there to decompose, full of worms and beetles come to the surface in tears, frustration, and all this physical anguish.

I snap at the cabbie, but he must have a nice heart, or else he gets snapped at a lot, or else he is profoundly professional and doesn’t take things personally. In any case, he drives like a fabled Montreal maniac and gets me there on time.  I tip him heavily and thank him with humility.  He said bienvenue, but I still wish I hadn’t done it.  Though, what would it look like just to tell my truth all the time, with exactly the energy it comes with? Instead of implicitly apologizing for myself all the time.  Instead of shifting and contorting myself so that others feel well. Accommodating. That’s what my friend Laura called it last night.

I get into the Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport and it is empty. Almost entirely empty.  I get my boarding pass, drop off my bag and walk to security alone. There are a few employees here and there. It is ten in the morning.  It feels very strange.  It reminds me of what happened in Egypt, but I won’t tell you that here. That’s a story on its own I think. Maybe for next time. In front of me is a tall white man wearing an army green jacket with a patch on the back that reads “All is Fair.”

I get to security and there are just a few people there. One of the security guards is singing to herself, but loudly.  She notices the sweatshirt I’m wearing which says, Bitumen, Don’t Kill My Vibe. Eugene Kung made them to raise money for Standing Rock. She peers at it and says, Bitumen? What is that? My heart immediately starts pounding. I explain, when there’s an oil spill it’s the unrefined oil that spills into the ocean, and she said Oh, and continued singing.  It took a few minutes for my heart to slow down. I’m paranoid, I think. That’s all this is. I see the man in the All is Fair jacket ahead of me.  I pass him while we are at the computers having our eyes scanned.

Then I get to customs. I wait in line for three people. The empty airport is a little eerie. The customs officer is a handsome, dark skinned man, with a wide warm smile. When I lie that I’m going to NYC for a birthday party he asks if he can come. I say yes and he says, if I was evil I would do it. I would just come with you. I said come on, let’s go, and he said, I would. I would love to.  I hope you have a magical time.

After the exchange I get some coffee and find the gate. There is All is Fair, apparently heading to La Guardia too. I read a little of Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway.

She has been blowing my mind with this book. I have always been interested in quantum physics, and holograms, and the nature of light.  My first/only full (but awful) novel was about a group of holograms that are enslaved by corporations and eventually come to life. Though the novel was disastrous, the research I did stuck with me, and informed many of the experiments I did later, both with Time, and the more social and performative experiments. Barad is not using quantum physics analogically. She has created a methodology which she calls Agential Realism to look at the interactions, the diffraction of phenomena, rather than assuming they are objective entities with discrete qualities that belong to them before observation. She is looking at how we can consider the apparatus of investigation as the boundary-distinguishing entity in a contiguous world. It’s very exciting, and I feel quite sure it will be the methodology I use to begin and hopefully finish my investigation into Time. It connects quite seamlessly (pun unintended) with my masters work.

Timing is one of the aspects of Time that I am very interested in. In group process, for sure, but also informally, as I influence and interact with and am influenced by the world. Timing; perfect timing, bad timing, the right place and time, sudden insight, chance encounters, synchronicity, the groove, the split second, improvisation, all of that.

After I told my friend how I feel and he told me he didn’t, not that way, though he did, in the sacred just-friends way, I meditated and prayed. I put aside for two days what I was doing in order to let my consciousness slip into what had happened. It was such a relief to tell the truth. It is not something that comes easily to me. First, to identify the need or desire that I am having, and then to speak it. The relief was incredible, but also the grief. I’d been holding various shades of this fantasy-fake love for a year, and it had become a kind of comforting weight. So for these two days I asked and asked. I sorted in my mind, trying to parse the feelings. I want so much to release the fantasy, I don’t want to lose my friend. I am afraid, so deeply afraid that I will lose him. But I also know that the only way to reduce obsession is to let go, to release the need to be connected. Not the connection, but the need.  So the two days passed.

On the third day I went with Erin to see our friend Evmarie’s show.  It was a very Quebecois show, I’m learning (I’m still so new to Quebec); emotive, showy, funny, sequined, maybe a little heavy handed and yet moving and very human. We left and I walked Erin to her pottery studio. She said, why don’t you come up and see the studio. No, I’m going to walk home.  But I didn’t.  I walked away from the direction of our place.  I turned a corner on Fairmont and walked up Parc a little.  It was a warmish early Spring day, and I was happy to be strolling in the slight rain.

Even though I am mostly traveling, I have managed to meet quite a few people in the neighbourhood since I moved into Mile End. I like to meet neighbours. It gives me a nostalgic kind of pleasure.  When I was a child we knew all our neighbours, and my mother would organize yearly block parties. Nothing makes me feel safer than knowing who lives around me.

I saw one of these neighbours and raised my hand to wave.  He looked at me and smiled.  I was still walking.  As I got closer I realized I didn’t know him.  He approached me.  Do I know you, I asked, even though I knew I didn’t. I don’t know, he said, do you live around here? I do, I said, do you? No, he said. What are you doing now? I don’t know, I said.  Maybe getting a bite to eat.  We paused. I was looking into his eyes.  They were open and brown and kind and I don’t know, I somehow just said, do you want to join me?  Are you inviting me, he asked. He had a Spanish accent.  I used to do things like this a lot when I first moved to Vancouver, when I was recklessly confident.  I still have no problem with strangers and talking to people, but I don’t go this far usually. He said, I’d love to. I have to park my car. There is a tapas place up ahead, I said, I’ll be there if you want to meet me.

I get onto the little plane, and walked to my seat. And who am I sitting beside but All is Fair. I’m looking at his face for the first time, I have only seen him from behind up until now. Even though I can’t see the back of the jacket I know it is him. I mention the jacket and say, All is Fair. It’s been making me think. I’ve been behind you all morning, since I got to the airport. It’s funny that it is just a part of the phrase. It makes me think of what isn’t there. What is unseen. Love? War? He tell me it’s a fashion company.  He is watching airline TV.  The company sent me a bunch of their clothes, he says, so I can promote them. You’re doing a good job, I say, writing their name down in my phone. Are you an athlete, I ask.  I’m a magician, he says.  He sticks out a big hand, covered in tattoos.  The tattoos are beautiful, unusual.  They say things like Carpe Noctem on the knuckles and Smile along the inside of the middle finger, and other things I can’t make out that seem to be in Latin, and there are symbols like an hourglass, and the suits of cards, and a big butterfly on the back of his right hand.  I’m Chris, he says.  I put my hand in his.  I’m Nadia.

I sit down in the tapas spot and order a Negroni. I feel he probably won’t come to meet me. He’s probably realized it’s weird.  He maybe can’t find the tapas place. I’m sitting in the back, far from the window. As the Negroni sets in front of me, he walks in, and sits down.  He has a beautiful face, I think.  It is unlined, and wide in the cheekbones, and he has long hair and a leather jacket.  He has a large tattoo on his neck.  He seems to be in his mid-forties. We begin to talk.  Starting with where are you from, we moved quickly to what to you do and then suddenly we were in what do you take seriously, and do you believe in reincarnation, and Jah brings his children together, and then into personal stories, life stories. We spend about two and a half hours together. I enjoy his company immensely.  I felt that my heart was open in a way it hadn’t been in a year. I felt open to this stranger, his energy, the soft, astonished way he was looking at me.  The fact that he clearly found me beautiful.

Chris turns out to really be a magician.  We talk for an hour and a half, while we’re on the plane.  He is very generous with the knowledge he has developed about magic, the philosophy, the psychology, the narrative arc, the engineering and research, the community, the personalities.  There are a number of things from that conversation that really stuck to me.  One of them was that even though secrets are the main commodity in his work, he doesn’t believe in lying.  Don’t lie if you don’t have to, is apparently an edict, but he takes it further. You have to be true to the fiction you are in, he says.  We talk about meaning and he says about meaning making: just because you can, doesn’t mean there is. It’s like this with him.  I learn so much, I think so much. I think so much about truth, fantasy and illusion. I realize that there is more power in having told the truth to my friend than I realize.  The truth telling is a powerful elixir.  Chris is in the business of illusion and he is deeply into the truth telling. The truth telling of art.  Of helping people see the sense of wonder that they long for, even when (and he wants them to) they know they are being tricked.

And I think about my fantasies. And I think about my drawing. And I think about Shams. And I think about complexes, projections, and transference.  And I think about these essays. And the truth. I’m trying to think about the slick, slippery truth. He makes illusions to give people the sense of the unknown, of facing the world and having it shift, the foundations of what they know.  Shift.

As we leave the tapas spot he kisses me.  I don’t know why, or how, but it felt right. I am shocked at myself. After a year (really seven years, actually) of being so afraid of my own feelings, I am kissing a stranger on the street in Montreal. The next day he calls me.  We go out walking, and then have some dinner very late at Aux Vives.  Now I’m learning more about him.  Now we are exchanging more depth. We kiss again, on the corner of St. Laurent and Laurier, in the dark, in the moonlight. He walks me home. I invite him in. We make out on my couch.  He is beautiful.  He sees me.  He is open. He is opening me. I have been so closed for so long, hating myself for the feelings that I knew in my heart were not returned, and in my even deeper heart that I knew weren’t even real but were like barnacles on the sunken ship of my romantic nerves. Needing in my heart to have that rejection, needing that thing I am so hooked on.  That person to tell me that unless I work hard I will never be enough, and not matter how hard I work, it will never be enough. That old hungry predator. That old complex. That vampire.

This was not my friend, by the way.  I mean, this is the twisted projection, the way I was seeing it, though the complex. But here I am, at the end of seven years of hunting and stalking this complex, and in one moment, the truth telling, it broke open the world. This happened when I left my parent’s home, and I feel it happening again.

I told the man I met on the street that I would not sleep with him, I could not. I told him that I had recently told a friend I was in love and in wasn’t returned. I said, I don’t want to use you just to move my feelings. But then I went home to see the family over the Easter weekend.

The first night I told my mom everything. About the friend, about the man on the street. (I didn’t tell her about the kiss, but I guess she knows now.  Hi mom.) Then we had the Easter celebration with my nieces and nephews. And then I saw on IG that my friend had traveled to Ottawa and was in town and hadn’t told me. I phoned him. I wasn’t going to fall back into the pit of despair.  But in that move I also realized the fantasy was over. When I got back to Montreal I called the man on the street. I have been enjoying him so much.

This essay is rambly, I think.  I will find out when I reread it.  Again, I wish it was more of a story and less like a diary.  But I get what I get.  When I started I hoped you would get the feeling of how huge this has been for me.  That releasing the feeling I was holding for so long has brought me an incredible lightness of being.  That even though I am still feeling deep fear and terror that the friendship is over, or that I have damaged it beyond repair, and I wish I had said something sooner so maybe it wouldn’t be the stinky skinny half dead zombie thing it is now.  I am hoping with my whole heart that the friendship survives.  But also that the truth, in coming out, is getting fresh air, and letting fresh air into my heart, and into my world. The world feels magical in a way it hasn’t in a long time.  I feel that sense of flow. I think keeping that secret for so long had affected my flow, like it was a big boulder of shame sitting there in the river of my life.

But somehow I feel I haven’t gotten it fully across. I guess I should describe to you, maybe, what it felt like to get some falafel at the Green Panther, and to flirt, and then sit in Parc La Fontaine, and eat and talk.  And just to feel seen, to have someone touch my knee in that spiraling way, like they are excited about being close to me. I am feeling how different it is to feel this kind of physical mutuality.  How thin my fantasy feelings actually were, even though they felt so deep.  How different the fantasy is from the friendship, too.  How rich that old friendship feels. I wish I could tell you all this again, that I could go back to the top of this essay and write it in a different way.  Because it is so big to me, so magical, but here it seems maybe a bit mundane.  But I won’t.  I am going to be true to my experiment and leave it the way it is. Maybe next week I will tell you about Egypt to make it up to you.


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