"But there was nothing about the little, low-rambling, more or less identical homes of Northumberland Estates to interest or to haunt, no chance of loot that would be any more than the ordinary, waking-world kind the cops hauled you in for taking; no
small immunities, no possibilities for hidden life or otherworldly presence; no trees, secret routes, shortcuts, culverts, thickets that could be made hollow in the middle – everything in the place was right out in the open, everything could be seen at a glance; and behind it, under it, around the corners of its houses and down the safe, gentle curves of its streets, you came back, you kept coming back, to nothing; nothing but the cheerless earth."
Thomas Pynchon, "The Secret Integration"
This is Ian Mathers' Tumblr. I live in Canada. I've written about music and other things for Stylus, PopMatters, Resident Advisor, the Village Voice, and a few other places. Hi.
Hey, thanks! There are a bunch of reasons that art is my icon. In no particular order:
When I was a little kid, my bottom front teeth started getting crowded. (The cause was my wisdom teeth; they didn’t cause pain or real problems for years, but now the bottom two are out. The top two are still up there; I can feel them under the gums but they haven’t moved in ages.) The next time I was in the dentist’s office for a checkup braces were discussed. They weren’t strictly necessary; they’d be mostly cosmetic.
We talked about it at home. Braces were expensive, and we weren’t sure if my mom’s health care at work would cover them. Neither side of the family had a ton of money back then, but my mom and dad told me that if the plan didn’t cover braces they would find a way to pay for them if I wanted them, if I felt like I was going to get teased without them or anything. In my memory, my mom looked worried; both, I think, about the prospect of me going without braces and the prospect of finding the money (about a thousand, I think) to get me them. I knew we didn’t have much money, didn’t want my parents to worry, was slightly scared by the prospect of braces, and didn’t really care about my teeth (at the time, they’d never given me even a second of discomfort). I’m not sure which of those was the biggest motivation, but I remember feeling the second one the most; I told them that if mom’s plan covered it we might as well get braces but if not that they shouldn’t worry about it at all.
Mom’s plan did not cover them, and one of my front bottom teeth rests in front of the other three. It’s grown a little broader where it goes past the rest of my teeth, and it’s a bit shorter too. The one to its right is a centimeter or two taller than the rest; my two top front teeth form a shallow V instead of a line. I rarely care, except when I try to floss the bottom ones every night or the dentist tells me that they’re harder to keep clean.
My molars rest on each other normally, but my top front teeth rest in front of my bottom front teeth. Directly behind those two front top teeth, on the part of my palate that comes down and then plateaus behind my teeth, there’s a little ridge of skin. 95% of the time, I don’t think about or notice that tiny little bit of me.
When I burn the roof of my mouth on some hot food, that little ridge becomes swollen for a few days. During that time, every time I close my mouth the slightly taller bottom tooth in my set of crooked teeth hits that part of my mouth, and it hurts. So for a couple of days, I either feel pain (and feel like I’m slowing the healing process) every time I close my mouth, or I leave my teeth slightly apart, sometimes with my tongue between that tooth and the roof of my mouth. The latter is one of those things I probably do all the time without thinking about it, but when you try and do it for a couple of days straight it’s weirdly stressful and sometimes makes my jaw sore.
This happened last week, and at some point I had some sort of minor interaction with someone and I was a bit short with them. It wasn’t a big deal, at least I hope not, but there was really no reason for acting curt. I’m not sure why, but a couple of days later, I suddenly thought of the interaction and realized - it was my mouth! I was sore and annoyed in a kind of subliminal way, as always a little angry at myself that I’d burned my mouth and that my own tooth was the source of my discomfort.
Yes, part of the point is that it’s good for us to realize the myriad small things that sometimes lie behind how we interact with others… but what struck me more than anything else was that on some level I was (subconsciously) acting like I expected this other person to know about my situation and all the personal history stuff that underlay it and get why I’d be in a bit of a pissy mood, basically, that this random other person I didn’t know would somehow know everything I’ve just told you here and therefore the fact that I was being a bit of a jerk (I hope just a bit!) would somehow be explained or redeemed by all this.
And once I think that… I can’t help but think of all the times when I’ve dealt with someone I don’t know, or even a friend, and they’ve seemed annoyed/angry/upset/sad/what have you, right from the beginning. Because my instinctive response, even though I know it’s often incorrect, is to think, what have I done? Why are they acting like that to me? (And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about cases where I’ve actually done something, that’s a whole different conversation, and I’m certainly not talking about letting myself off of the hook for things.) But really… maybe their mouth just hurts. Or someone whose mouth hurts has just yelled at them. Or they’ve just endured another microaggression. Or the chemicals in their brain are making them depressed. If I’m letting myself off, even if just subconsciously in my head, because there are ‘good reasons’ or extenuating circumstances for the way I act, shouldn’t the very first thing I do be to give the same charity to the people around me? And on the other, more self-serving side, when someone is a jerk to me and I think about things this way, doesn’t it take away some of the anger I feel in return? Even realizing that I’m acting curt because my mouth hurts instantly helps me act more like my normal self.
My wife sometimes wonders why I am so ready, even eager, to cut people some slack (sometimes, I will admit, past the point of reasonableness; the flipside of this coin is calling people out on their shit, and that is absolutely something that needs to happen); this, basically, is why. It’s also why I’m planning to get a Spinoza-related tattoo at some point.