Thursday, January 01, 2009


The coffee shop where Tinguely had decided to get a venti decaf americano with 4 packets of Splenda and a solid splash of half-and-half was in a boutique-crammed shopping center adjoining the city's most exclusive hospital, a compact high-rise complex of wings and new additions dedicated to specialties unique to a chunk of territory encompassing northeast Oklahoma, southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas, and northwest Arkansas. It was not a quiet place. Med-evac helicopters landed regularly on the roof. The persistent chunk-chop-chop-chunk of blades cut large, anxious swathes of air.


It was New Year's Eve, and Tinguely was trying to finish a report her dad was waiting on. Her small laptop was perched in front of her.

She was having a hard time concentrating. She asked herself questions she really would prefer not to. Did blood drip from the door of the helicopter? Who paid for the medivac flight when the insurance would not? Why did all BlackBerry text messages have the same tone, causing everyone to look to their BlackBerry at each "booiiingoing"?

Tinguely took out a lime-green leather-bound notebook from her peach-toned leather tote bag and made a few notes on the smooth cream paper. Writing in her lizard green notebook was an extended metaphor for the quest to think oneself capable of responding to wisdom.

The idea that wisdom might exist at all in the here and now gave her pause. Could it? She preferred the blissed-out state of non-wisdom, non-thought. The image of lights encircling and imparting energy and joy. That was easier. It just was.

But, she had to write. The dull ache in her heart was pushing her to do that.

** I'm here -- in the intersection of the fight for life and the fight for loyal customers. All predicated on the idea that individual life actually matters.

Does the individual matter? At times, Tinguely sincerely doubted it. Her own individuality was problematic. She knew her role in life was to serve. Was it to serve her her fellow man? Her aging parents? The people she might meet who needed a cheerleader? They needed lifting up, or they needed the kind of structured interaction that caused them to think, to analyze, to create things that lived in the world. It was about making something you could perceive into something you could touch, right?

Now, the paradox came in when she knew she had to serve, but the individual she had to serve was inevitably part of a group.

Either way, Tinguely envisioned herself as a shiny, colorful hot air balloon. She did not think of herself in the role of a med-evac helicopter, as one hovered overhead. Why not? In a word, because she couldn't.

In her life, she lifted up people who were already healthy. They saw the rainbow silks, the heaving balloony body, panting to lift off the surface of the earth, and they smelled the fresh air, felt the cool air stir the hairs on their arms, and they simply could not get on board fast enough.

The balloon really did not take them anywhere, and it did not actually give them a view of the earth they did not already know. They felt, however, heightened senses of themselves. They loved looking out from the basket, listening to the "whoosh" of hot air, and listening to yard dogs bark frantically as they passed over neighborhood homes.

Later, Tinguely's balloon riders bounded across the grass to the parking lot, eager to share their experience. Tinguely loved seeing the satisfaction on their faces, their renewed sense of self, the restored sense of beauty and order in the world.

Yup, that's what I can do, thought Tinguely. That's what my "job" is -- at least in a purely existential sense, she thought. Instead of feeling satisfaction, Tinguely felt tired. Who cared about lifting her up? Who would lift Tinguely up?

Inevitably, it was Tiinguely who watched the colorful silk collapse to the grass, and then slowly scooped up the soft parachute silk.

Who fired the flames that would heat the air inside her heart and set her soaring?

No one. Everyone.

The question was almost not worth answering. Tinguely did not actually own hot air balloons. This was purely metaphorical. But, the role certainly fit Tinguely's public self.

Her private self was a different story altogether. She was no cheerleader, or pilot of a glorious hot air balloon. If anything, she had a small cave hidden away in a snaky, thorny arroyo, where she lit candles at night and prayed alone as she watched the stars and the moon move across the sky. She was alone in her cave. In fact, Tinguely pushed away anyone who tried to share her tight quarters. She accused them of being invasive, controlling, pushy. Or, she rationed the pleasure of their company in order to not want it too much. She did not want to crave what she could not have.

The cave was metaphorical as well. In reality, Tinguely was working for her dad. She was trying to focus on the report, but the med-evac helicopters distracted her. The sound made her tremble.

And here it was again. A helicopter hovered overhead. The sound was almost deafening. Tears rose in Tinguely's eyes, and she turned to the corner so she could discreetly cross herself, even though she was not Catholic. Somewhere overhead, someone was fighting for something they couldn't have; and they were craving what could never be.

They wanted to be happy, healthy, autonomous, desired / desirable, and, well, alive -- forever. The energy of the world compelled them to long for and crave what they could not have. Why? Continuance and continuity were the frightening obligations consciousness pushed down into humans -- as a race -- as a clutch of dreamy-eyed tribe-makers.

She expressed her thoughts to her dad. It was a quick call on her BlackBerry. It was not as reassuring as she had hoped. "Don't worry, Tinguely. You're only 30. When you're 45 or 55 and still have these thoughts and these patterns, you should start worrying. Right now -- well -- nothing to worry about. You just haven't met Mr. Right."

"Thanks, Dad. Yes. You're probably right," she said.

"Yes. Just keep your eyes on the prize."

"And what's that?" asked Tinguely.

"It's a super-giant oil field," he said. "You'll be rich. I have found one. The new methods are working. Just get the leases, line up the drilling contract, and we'll get started," said her dad.

"But, the price of oil is still in freefall. The price has declined 70 percent in 7 months."

"Think long run," said her Dad.


Another helicopter. Tinguely had to hang up. The noise was too loud. She thought about leaving and going back to where she was staying. There was a time when traveling would have pulled her out of her mood. That time was long in the past, though.

She was not Muslim, but she appreciated Ramadan. Perhaps her problem was that she had not gone through the purifying self-control of Ramadan -- the prayer, the self-abnegation, the fasting, the refusal to feast on food, bad thoughts, bad intentions -- for 28 days.


Someone's BlackBerry was bleating. She glanced down at hers, even though she had turned hers off. She glanced at the floor. A wooden stir stick, a crumpled napkin, and a pricetag from the American Outfitter store next door clung to the space between the tile and the wall. X-Large. $34.50. A tiny ziplock bag containing a white pearl button. Clearly a shirt. A dress shirt. For a man? For a woman? A man was talking loudly into his cell phone. Tinguely thought about leaving before another helicopter flew overhead.

Boinnggoiing. Bleet!

Another BlackBerry from another table across the way. The messengers were all the same. The BlackBerry boinngoinngs were identical. The messages, though, would be different.

Repeating the thought, Tinguely scribbled into her notebook:

**The messenger is always the same. The message is always different. Even if the words are the same, the message is unique. Why? The context, the sender, the recipient, and the medium are all unique.”

Tinguely told her dad she often preferred the messenger (the BlackBerry, the emissary) to the actual communication.

"The messenger is service-oriented," she explained in her journal.

Would anyone ever read her words? She doubted it. She had lost track of how many journals she had left behind at exotic roast coffee bars and Whole Foods salad-by-the-pound shops.

Perhaps she'd go and drive by the river, listen to AM Talk Radio. The message was always the same, but in this case, the context and the receiver were always different. Sure, she was the same person, but the rant of the host would be mediated by the glorious glow of lights, the longing to share, and the bitter realization that she could not really share her thoughts with anyone. First, they may not be available. Second, they might twist her openness and desire to talk to play to their own agenda.

It was not that everyone had to have her best interests at heart, nor did they have to be in the service of her whims. However, in a world of equilibrium and balance, human invention and whole-heartedness, well, perhaps there might be a sweetness, a warmth of give and take. She could at least hope for that, right?

These thoughts stung. The feelings they elicited were needle-sharp, sad. Tinguely looked up at the hospital, toward the helipad. She envied the doctors and the nurses. Their activities were so engrossing, they probably did not have time to entertain painful thoughts. Further, the adrenaline surges would keep them in a zone...

**What is it like to have an all-absorbing job -- like, say, being a med-evac nurse or helicopter pilot? Their job was to lift people up. They lifted them to, they hoped, a very dramatic change -- snatching them from the bowels of certain death. It must be quite a rush to be lifted up by one's job as one lifts others up. When you leave the cocoon of your job (the helicopter, the emergency room, the emergency situation), how does the "real world" feel? Is it flat? Is it dreadfully open and empty? Does it leave you with a flatness, a lack of affect? Is it what occurs when all the adrenaline, endorphine, and other stimulating chemicals your body manufacturers have been used up?

It was New Year's Eve, and Tinguely renewed her attempts to motivate herself and finish the report her dad was waiting on.

It had been a sad, empty day. Now the day was almost over. Twilight crouched around the corner, helicopter blades made their chunky chopping sounds as they cut through the 20th-floor air to the helipad.

It was good to be alive, but conditions had been far from ideal for most people.

Tinguely realized, with a rather cottony thud, that everyone she knew would say "good riddance" to the year. The year had not been bad for her, just filled with rather unexpected and sometimes unwanted changes.

Booingoiing. Someone's BlackBerry went off. It was Tinguely's this time. She did not answer.

It had gotten to the point she did not like surprises. And, well, her BlackBerry was no helicopter. It was no soft, billowing hot air balloon. It would not lift her up. Or, well, more likely, it probably would not lift her up. Quite the contrary. It could crash her to earth. Catapult her into her cave. Better not to answer.