Day 56 – Walt Whitman, Again

There was this one time in 2005 when I walked the periphery of a city that I didn’t know. I was an English teacher in a foreign land. I had no formal training. I was an imposter with good intentions.

Santiago, Chile.

I lived isolated then, even with close human contact. I was removed, at a distance, through a language barrier that felt insurmountable. Cultural norms that didn’t quite compute. I felt like an outsider, cut off from others.

I walked the outskirts of a city that rambled on and rode bus lines that stretched across the metropolis like a neural pathway.

My coping mechanisms then were Walt Whitman (his poetry collection was chief among a suitcase full of paperback novels that I brought into the country, one of my two carry-ons), and music. A portable CD player, to be exact.

Art as a balm. Books and CDs as a grounding force in strange soil.

Art is just the thing that fills in the gaps of human longing and isolation. And now I seek the edges of a smaller, more familiar city. Wandering, instinctively, to feel less alone in an inherently isolating situation.

Let’s pay the time machine game. If I could travel fifteen years into the past, what would I tell my younger self about the year 2020?

How to describe an imposter president? How to describe a global pandemic? It’s too hard to believe. It’s science fiction. Hey kid — here’s a tip: buy stock in home repair superstores—they’ll weather the crisis just fine.

One of the songs on my 2005 playlist (I play it this evening, in the present) is Wilco’s “Ashes of American Flags.” A real sad one about 9/11. And this evening (when I stream the song on Spotify through my television) it has an extra layer of sadness. How did the biggest, wealthiest country in the world fuck this one up? How did the federal government allow so much suffering? 9/11 seems trivial now. More Americans have died in a few months this epidemic than in the entire Vietnam War.

It’s so hard for me to understand the scope of this, even in the midst of it. There is no sense of proportion, or the benefits of retrospection. It’s like being at the bottom of an ocean and trying to understand everything that’s washing overhead.

Or something.

Another song. Another dash of red wine.

Walt Whitman, again.

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