Watching life through the window

Carmen Grillo

Sometimes I lose myself in a fog.

Between the lurking, murky past and the rapid present, it feels like I can’t leave things behind. Because even though life moves quickly these days, it’s difficult to shake off what has been. Everything is always around, in my face, but not real. The instant is the atemporal.  In a world of simulacra and screens, sometimes my challenge is to grasp time, reality, and the self, to hold them in my hands, so that I can orient a scattered life.

I need to put together the pieces and make them mine again. They merge and meld, warp and weave until I have no idea if they belong to me at all. Every time I open the door to my old bedroom, it’s like walking through the entrance to a museum; I know the artefacts are human, somehow a part of my history, but their dank dust and corrosion make them apart and alien. Distant from me, I need little mental plaques and descriptions just to decipher their origins and recognize them as my own. Even then I can only understand them from an onlooker’s perspective. There is a gap between me and my Self.

While riding the bus back from my convocation, I was occupied by this very space: the void between past and present. This weekend I crossed it, if only in a dream. I became a time-traveller. If you’ve ever gone the five some hours between Ottawa and Toronto, you might know what I mean. There’s something timeless about the cliffs and hills, the white-hot birch, bobbing out of the pines like buoys in a green sea. In the midst of that ancient scenery, that seemingly immortal nature, the road cuts the land without mercy.

In a frontier clash, it smashes through granite and shoves aside water as it hustles cargo through in a sleepless rush. And I, a passenger, lounge in my techno-bubble. I type on my computer as it absorbs me. Half oblivious to the struggle and half a part of the world flowing through me, I can experience the beginning and the end of the fleeting wilderness, infinite in my head only moments ago. Racing now, I blow past a gas station and it quickly vanishes. It is ephemeral as the ghosts of plant pollen glimmering in the air before they dissolve on the unyielding windshield.

None of the world is real. I can only live in my moment, occupy my bubble, and try to process the fugacious images outside. What is the difference between a window and a screen? We look out a window knowing reality is beyond the glass. We believe out there lay the tangible, the rough, the visceral.

The screen seems too to hold something concrete. Windows: the architects of the operating system put more thought into the name than we had at first believed. Like the phantasmagoria of the computer, my past and my present, my real life and its ancestors blend together until I can’t recognize the difference. I watch events unfold slowly just before they whip out of sight, as I float in a vague ooze of time. I can never go back, I can never reach out and touch life, just like I can’t reach out and touch the leaves on those forlorn trees.