Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Second death of Chinua Achebe

From the crumbling infrastructure of the news industry comes a transmission to make you doubt. Casts shadows on friendships and things you held dear. How were you wrong all these years? How did you not know?
I could buy groceries today but a plane went down. I saw a tiny plane alone in the sky when I went out in the backyard. Was this the day that the cherry blossoms were drifting down like floral snow? Or was I getting ahead of myself. I read about the plane and imagined that last minute for each person on board. The vastness of the sky letting them go, returning them to earth in the cruelest way possible.Was that plane I saw a ghost? A signal from beyond. But why would I be worthy of this symbol? I was unconnected to this plane except for the pain I felt at this remote witnessing. It should pain me no more than the collapse of Yemen. But,Yemen gave no ghost. Or no ghost I recognized. Maybe all the tragedies of the world give out ghosts for us to see. It is up to us to properly witness. To recognize the ghosts offered us. But the onslaught of distant news in many ways already is a ghost. Like those stars whose light peppers the dome of the night, we are seeing light from something already dead.
Like the second death of Chinau Achebe. An outpouring on the internet for a man most probably hadn’t even read. Not that I have really read him, read many authors influenced by him. Read one of his essays once and didn’t really care for his conclusions. Things fall apart the title of his most famous work is a great title, a good thought as we think of our society as an eternal monolith, an unending reality with no conclusions, no cracks in it. Of course we see some cracks in it. California has less than a year of water left. The entire dream of California could end in abandoned cities. We can’t really picture an end that isn’t disaster or understand any other way of living, for we for are in a total system, one that respects no other reality, or this reality even. Death rumours start in the ecosystem of this echo chamber, sharing without reading, without researching. A minute visit to wikipedia would confirm when the author died. I was suspicious when I saw it appear in my feed. Saddened at his death but with a nagging feeling that I had experienced this before, felt this moment, felt this sadness. Obviously there is too much information to process on any level, we feel this urge to react. We need to be seen as the carrier of this dead famous person’s legacy. it’s the selling of our personal brand, to be seen as someone who works to preserve these brief moments of intelligence in the world. Not the worst thing to be a private unpaid entrepreneur for. Advertising has leaked in and consumed everything.
How many times can you die before you fade away? When does your archived information work through the system and stop appearing. A friend of mine who died almost a year ago still has a profile up. People keep tagging themselves in her photos and she reappears. Or her name appears when I’m tagging someone else in a post. We know her, we know she is gone, we know the date. She isn’t a celebrity that vast amount of people respect but barely know, her death won’t be widely reported again. She isn’t one of the idols or icons unknown and removed from context, ripe for appropriation. I had watched a comedy special where the comedian showed Ghandi being used to sell Apple and Che Guevara to sell Mercedes.  Icons removed from any reality and the hope being we get that aura of their power without thinking too deeply. Just click, forward, put a thought down and move on, never looking back. Never turning to a pillar of salt.
All month I’ve taken photos of clouds. Masses of water vapour crafted into magnificent and odd shapes bunched up and pulled taffy like across the sky, caught in the shimmering light. That is why I caught that plane crossing in front of an immense darkened cloud, a cloud too dense with water to be permeated by light. I took the shot and felt it represented the fragility of humanity’s technology and vanity in front of the awesome face of nature.Later that morning, the news of Germanwings tragedy started appearing.150 lives wiped out by the collision between technology, vanity, and nature. As usual my mind jumps to connection, relying on pattern recognition, that age old human trait that pulled us through the dark ages on our way to birthing this vast networked society. I see the plane I photographed, I hear of the plane hitting the mountain. I connect the two. I see a ghost, a warning of the event. Like the legendary black dog that foretells a death in the family.
Then, a week later it appears again in the feed. A sad day in music someone proclaims, Captain Beefheart is dead. I know instantly that Beefheart has been dead for almost five years. He fits into a category like Achebe, of an artist who is respected and admired for his work and vast influence on other musicians but seldom listened to. People want to be seen as an admirer of his work without listening to him or even doing the minimal research to find out if he is alive or not. I stumbled upon his masterpiece “Trout Mask Replica”  back in high school, that mystic period where our personalities and idea of the world are being formed through the flawed receptors for stimuli that we are gifted with, battered by the winds of hormones, pressure of peers, and our ignorance as we stumble in that dark searching for purpose and meaning. I hated this record as many did at first (or remained hating), couldn’t find its bizarre rhythms and harsh sound as even music. Slowly and obsessively I learned its language, deciding long ago that it’s a marvelous piece of twentieth century art.
Many find that century’s legacy in danger in this age, The age of distraction. The age of ghosts. The age of multiple deaths and appearances.
In an hour I saw them appear. Multiple new sources reporting that Joni Mitchell was unresponsive in a coma. I forward a link to it myself. Checking her official website showed that this was false. The stories gradually disappeared. By the next morning the last of the crossposts had stopped, been corrected or deleted. These events are like weather clogging our dreams. The ghost continue, the dead walking with the living who are living hazy recollection of what life should be.
The weather had been warm and brightly sunny, a late spring early summer feel. Barbeque was in the air, and lawnmowers running. Sickly clouds of insects hovering over the grass. The weather brought a calm, but also a greedy expectation of movement, to be out and mixing with the world. The weather had a dark undercurrent, were was the rain? The snowpack was already dangerously low in Oregon and with looming water disaster in California these thoughts kept popping up. A week after the plane was the morning of the cherry petals. A wet dashing rain, wind blown with lost little drops. The petals falling down scattered in their ends on the patio. The air was cooler, like actual spring. a possibility of a clean rebirth.


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