#35: on clouds

[a brief explanation, which acts as throat clearing for me: my youngest sister has requested I write more. In turn, I told her to give me topics. She suggested the previous post. Then this conversation happened:
me: What’s the next topic?
her: Clouds.
me: what the hell kind of topic is that?
And, thus: scene]

You could, of course, attempt something dramatic and Romantic, in the ‘Keats and Byron and Wordsworth’ version of the word, with sweeping gestures to dreams.

You could, instead, look at it as a giant research project, looking into types of clouds and making links to your own life.

Or, you could never reference clouds at all. Make people believe you are, in some wildly subtle way, using the very idea of clouds to underwrite a personal story.

Really, and most obviously, what you want is to basically do all of the above, something lovely and researched that connects dots and lives and random cultural references, but to do so in a way that doesn’t feel forced or I Am Writing Something Epic Here. And you realize, right at that moment, that this is what you always want to do, and it is why you don’t write often.

Instead, you remember the time you sat on the steps of the school down the street from your grandparents’ house, the one you stood in front of waiting for the bus to your own school, and you realized how much you enjoyed removing small rocks from the soles of your shoes.

Because that makes sense.

According the the UCAR Center for Science Education website, there are 8 types of clouds, based on shape and altitude height: cirrocumulus, cirrus, cumulonimbus, altocumulus, altostatus, stratocumulus, cumulus, and stratus. The notion that we have 8 versions of the word ‘cloud’ probably means the bureaucracy has grown too large.

The most popular, or at least most recognizable, are cumulus clouds–they of the puffy white dollop against blue in which we see shapes and where Peter Pan sits.

Is it weird for there to be a ‘most popular’ cloud? It is weird for there to be a most popular cloud. Is it weird to enjoy removing small stones from the soles of your shoes? It is weird to enjoy removing small stones from the soles of your shoes.

For a significant part of my life, I have had a Westerner’s inappropriate obsession with ‘Zen,’ as though it is a thing and not a belief. I have read about it; I have pretended to understand it on a superficial level; I have, most of all, believed that understanding it would mean I’d be a happier person. I have looked at miniature ‘zen gardens’ online, told myself I should order one, and then, after much debate, finally admitted to myself I would never be able to actually handle maintaining one. Which, out of all of this, probably indicates that I could use true study of zen.

It’s easy, then, for the rocks-in-soles and cloud-staring to be adapted into this revelatory moment of Zen. Behold how I focus on this simple task and derive enjoyment of it! I am at one with myself! But here’s the real question, and it is, I think, the most important question of all: who the fuck is ‘myself’?

Here’s the rub: you will never answer that question. The idea of ‘self’ evolves daily; you are not, in any fashion, the same as 10 years ago, 3 months ago, or yesterday. The idea of being ‘one with yourself’ would mean waking up every day with a complete understanding of yourself, having the same thing happen at lunch, at dinner, and then before bed. Forever.

Maybe that’s a possibility. Maybe you need to believe it’s possible. Maybe you need to admit it’s possible to have an understanding of yourself without ever fully understanding yourself. The ‘of’ matters.

Let’s say you start a list. This list will be without much thought, rhyme, or reason. You call this list, ‘An Unabridged and Unthought List of Things I Like.’ It goes something like this:

The smell of cooking onions
Free Energy’s albums
Cassette tapes
College football
Hot dogs
Peanut butter milkshakes
The desert
Vineyard Vines clothes

What would this list look like five years ago, without adding things?
The smell of cooking onions
Cassette tapes
College football
Hot dogs
Peanut butter milkshakes
The desert (in abstraction)

What would this list look like 15 years ago, without adding things?
College football
Hot dogs
Peanut butter milkshakes
The desert (in abstraction)

Imagine you could write a complete list for yourself today. And then write a complete list from 5 years ago, from 15 years ago. And imagine how you would fail to recognize yourself if you were confronted with your younger self. Most of all, imagine your younger self would be capable of knowing how s/he would change to become you. Would it still be possible to be you?

So, what matters to me? What understanding do I have of myself? Based on that short list, it would appear my ideal situation would be tailgating at an Arizona State home football game.

But, is that who the fuck I am? Obviously not. It’s a short list, made shorter; its inherent flawed design means it’s merely a snapshot of myself; it’s not even possible to produce an ‘Unabridged and Unthought List of Things I like’ because the list would never end.

Therefore, I make decisions; I elect to frame myself according to some internal picture, and champion certain things I like at specific times. This is why the self is so goddamn frustrating: we are a millions of different selves with overlapping likes and dislikes; wants and wishes; attitudes and beliefs, etc., etc., etc. Your projection of self is entirely based on an internal compass of what’s necessary to project. You can’t be one with a million selves. You can only accept that your self adjusts.

When I was little, I used to think I could sit on clouds. They did so on cartoons; angels supposedly lived there. I relished fog because I thought if it got thick enough, I could sit on top of it. I couldn’t comprehend that planes could fly through one; I thought they had to avoid all clouds. When you start driving, you realize how much fog can disrupt your life. It’s a weird factor of adulthood, like discovering that snow days aren’t fun or that your basement getting water in it after a thunderstorm isn’t ‘an indoor pool.’

I started taking pictures of clouds once cell phones started having decent cameras. I would (and will), dangerously, attempt to snap photos from my car as I’m driving. I know this is stupid. I berate myself as I do this. But I am always a happier person later when I get to see the pictures I took. I have said to my wife, ‘This is a good cloud day.’ I used to think, like a young child would, that only I truly appreciated clouds in this way. Then I stumbled across ‘clouds’ on Pintrest. Turns out my snowflakeness is an incredibly popular internet / photo hobby.

I sometimes think about taking my camera and driving around for a while on a good cloud day, snapping photos as I go. But to do so would mean taking time away from other things and chores and dogs. I may bask in clouds, but life does not.

It’s hard, in a way, to be alive. I don’t mean that in some depressive way. I just mean, being alive means having a self, whatever or whoever that self may be. And having a self means having to make decisions, both simple and complex. Being alive means dealing with life. That sounds like one of those desperate attempts at being profound; what I really mean is, the only way to know you are dealing with something is to know that you are alive. It’s actually a way of simplifying all of your decisions: the decision process, as obvious as it is, demands you to be alive.

Understanding yourself, then, is actually meaningless. Understanding that you’re alive, however, is essential. Clouds, as far as I can tell, just float.

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