July 8, 2015
I have my word processor open but I’m thinking of the ants this morning. They are not the ticklish, harmless, black ants climbing all over the tabletop I wrote about earlier (from coke can to mouthwash) but a line of red ants on the concrete walkway that were crossing my path this morning. It was clean concrete which made the goal-oriented line of industrious moving red dots more well defined next to my memory of the haphazard black ants from last night.
Clean concrete makes me think of the dry, fresh concrete on the bathroom floor next to the window. It’s lighted up by the bright, dazzling sunlight of these hot, summer afternoons on this tropical island. The concrete is warm, fresh and clean and I know that if I were to put a drop of water on it, it would spread outward slowly absorbed by the hot, dry surface just like in those long summer afternoons in the Calcutta suburbs where the sun was just as strong. My mind flies back three decades to an oldish house in small-town India, to a courtyard with cracked, white, grainy concrete with green weeds growing out of the cracks and a vision of me hopping across the length of it to the kitchen at the far end because the sun had made the concrete too hot.
The blinding dazzle in that memory sticks in my mind. It makes me move to something more mellow and rather silverish, more than half-way across the world, to a bright winter morning in San Francisco as a whole dazzling white arch of concrete lay in front of me, spread out along the sparkling blue bay along the Embarcadero against billowing white clouds on a spotless blue sky. Memories of desperate and happy times, of kindness and of friends make me wander to the point of almost no return and I am about to give up on this typing.
But I am prodded back to the present by a common ping. One of those emails with “gentle reminders,” so common here, that says there is going to be a talk on carbonate, concrete and trash in the afternoon. What a coincidence!
There are a lot of talks here in this technological school I’m now a part of and this one is going to be on sustainability. Last evening, I was sitting in a packed auditorium at such a talk by a world famous architect (talking about his critique of the digital revolution and the way smart cities are being conceptualized and the panopticon) but when I think back on that talk now I see something else. He is tall and thin, clad all in black, showing us various aerial images of cities on a huge screen and what I remember now is that those cities look like cubes of concrete placed side by side in a grid no matter what I thought they were like then.
Cubes make me think of ice, for it’s very hot here, and how it feels to chew an ice cube from a cool drink. (Only they’re not cubes any more in drinks but cold, translucent, hollow cylinders with holes in the middle that you can put your tongue through.) The ceiling fan keeps swishing, slicing through air and there’s yellow fish in the pond right outside my window where a four hundred year old Chinese structure stands. Except that there’s no ceiling fan here but it’s the AC making the noise and there’s no pond outside but an artificial rooftop garden where a random rooster keeps crowing because this is the office and that was home last night and one noise has blended into another conflating one place with another as I type making time collapse into itself like two videos coalescing into one another on the same screen with echoes of everything else that this screen has ever shown in the background.
I still try to write as my mind wanders from thing to thing, from place to place, from time to time as I cannot concentrate on anything except this shifting topography of the mind, of concrete images, of material things and physical sensations in random order connected by impulsive and tenuous links that come from I know not where.
Just like it isn’t easy to give up on an old bad habit, it isn’t easy to slip back into an old one. For the past few days, I’ve been trying to get back to blogging, which, as any blogger worth their salt knows, is more about the process than about the final product, about the ability to keep at it, the ability to give up your fears of exposing thoughts as they come, the ability to record life as it happens, the ability to go around framing experience and the final ability to distance yourself from what you see yourself as doing.
But in the final analysis, writing is, perhaps, about taming the mind which I’m trying to do even as I write these lines so please bear with me as you hear me talking to myself.