Cormac McCarthy’s border trilogy is an amazing reading experience. The trilogy starts with All The Pretty Horses, moves into The Crossing, and finishes with Cities of the Plain. Something about McCarthy’s writing triggers a mixture of awe and intrigue for me. I like the cut of his pen and how he forms his sentences. From the tension of a long preposition leading to action that started earlier in the sentence to his pairings of descriptions that offer something surreal amidst very articulate scenarios. The violence stands out above it all in a way that seems to actualize the experiences of his characters.
In some sort of slump of my own making I set out to read this trilogy and grapple with intentions—see if they would clarify or clear out something. Make sense of a trajectory concocted in the past and solidify intentions. They did not; very little change has taken place between the onset of the characters journeys and my emergence from the world of the past save reflection. When I read Blood Meridian I felt the same tossing of the language as I journeyed with characters across remarkably familiar landscapes; the absence of the absence of things the only difference between what was and what is.
It was the view of the democracy of things that caught me on that first journey along the Blood Meridian and connected some of the reflections to Whitman’s own Democratic Vistas and within the final book, a story told by one old traveler under an overpass to another included the reflection, “[i]n dreams we stand in this great democracy of the possible and there we are right pilgrims indeed.” And within that arises the question of the pilgrimage and the choice or intention associated. The balance between a journey chosen and a destination chosen. Often when it comes to travel we balance between two worlds of enjoying the present, the journey and struggling to comprehend what it means to reach the destination wound up tightly in a deadline of locale or date.
Relative to the journey of the tale, the final blank pages that speak of what has transpired, we progress daily on our own experiences bound with choices, decisions, and static time. Often the thing called living mimics the journeys we dream and dread and anticipate; the actions within us stilled as we wait for time to force out the intentions we carry to fruition. I fight with that desire to passively wait for time to pass versus actively fighting to complete the required behaviors that will lead, eventually, to fulfillment. Akin to the establishment of a camp at night, the perimeter and the tent, behaviors within the journey are requisite to the continuation, but exist somewhere between active choice and passive requirement.
I wanted to end the book inspired to act and instead closed it with the inspiration to read and continue to experience what I have not, would not want to, and cannot. A latent desire to do something hovered in the periphery of the subdued pages. In me. A latent desire to do something exists within me. What would it be to allow it to take shape? What is the sacrifice associated with intention and what is the price, in time, of ambushing intention to find something outside of it. Is that time measured in time spent pursuing, in the past, or is it measured in the space between commitments where a journey decided with a destination suddenly shifts and there with the changing of distance comes a compounded reality of proximity? Everywhere you are is somewhere. And the distance between two points is infinite when measured and calculated. Is it better to be somewhere or to get where you’re going?
Too often life seems to imitate books in the way that the book was written and finalized without choice from the character. I frequently find myself reacting out a course of action, response, and communication that is not reflective of any latitude, but rather ordained in some way by a larger picture. It is unfortunate that the programmed responses of the past are easier to ride then the active and conscious decision to create and enable a different trajectory—something divergent from the narrative waiting—unfortunate that in the world of time habit subsumes and supersedes all.
A mixture of the seasons passing and the cold’s presence against the backdrops of an expanding horizon with endless numbered sunsets to the end and the final blank sheet awakens that sensation so well known to me and many others, summed up by Herman Melville in the opening of Moby Dick:
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me. There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs--commerce surrounds it with her surf.
I do not seek the ocean, the endless depth; I do not know it. I remember the smell of wet cement and the feeling of the well-packed road alongside farmland where trucks have leveled it as good as mallets. There are towns out there that reek of a different century with children as old as 50, sifting dirt in their hands, measuring something with hereditary knowledge. As much as anything calls for intention, the blacktop is the somewhere that calls. A bridge between what we've made and what is. The body asks for something it recognizes that bears more than happenstance; it asks for more than the perpetual waiting of things, more than the urge to poke and see if the world pokes back. I want a burning star to color me in the blurring of hours on the right side of the white line; to know the first pedal is no different than the last and its always where you begin.