A Letter to Angelina

Angelina,

 

It will take some time for me to become accustomed to this form of correspondence. I’ve seldom sent a letter; occasionally to provide a document to a requesting government bureaucracy but nearly never for pleasure. The only letters that come to mind are those of authors, whose fictional dialogues enhanced a story and a single letter from my grandmother, to which I never responded. I still have to practice my writing. I stumble when trying to produce “genuine feeling”, in your words. I’m far more comfortable with an email, text, or a conversation over drinks, than a letter but I care far more about you, and your request, than my comfort - especially now. While writing, I catch myself thinking like a man who lived in a time when letters were the prime mode of communication. I think of the books we read and the way the authors spoke. I cannot help but write in their voice; it seems that’s just how letters are written.

You told me, when you left me, that I should write to you; that I should convey what was ailing me, what was haunting me and tormenting me about your departure. I know you also encouraged me to tell you of the positive things in my life and that those were the things you most hoped to hear. I’m having trouble mustering anything but grievances. There’s a field of grief that presses against my eyes whenever I look for something hopeful. I’m sorry I’ve fallen into this depressive trap. I will try to act more pleasantly; not because I have any energy or desire to, but because I want you to hear the lovely things, instead of my toxic sadness. I love you far too much to poison your peace with my discontent.  

I’ve hoped that this letter, and those to come, would allow us to maintain a relationship, as unconventional as it is - though I understand that you had to go. I’d thought, “if I write to her, as she said I should, then we may yet maintain the closeness that I am desperate for.” In a sense, our relationship could still exist. I know that without physical contact or speaking face-to-face, where our subtle unconscious emotions could be read and our minute messages conveyed, we couldn’t build our relationship. Perhaps I’m a cynic, but I cannot believe that we could thrive as things are - we are doomed to fate’s gavel.

So I thought, as hopefully as I’m capable, that we could freeze ourselves where we are. We will swim against the tide and, contentedly, stay in the same place. “I could write everyday,” I thought! I could build off the memory of our lives together, express my deepest motives, which I never said before, and, given the magnitude of my honesty, combat the regression I aptly fear. Like a swimmer in the raging current, I could burst forth, parting the torrent around me, and spring forward into my hopes!

Despite this optimism, which may be on your behalf, I realized that the swimmer cannot fight forever. Absolute zero cannot be achieved. The molecules around us do not cease movement and, even if that courageous athlete could persevere indefinitely, he would still die. His muscles would wither and if he still continued, he would die. His joints would creak with age and his hair would gray. He could swim until his dying breath, maintaining his position in the river, and he would still pass away in the torrent - ultimately relinquishing his place. Even if he could live forever, the river would change around him! The currents would claw at the turns and pull at their shores, altering the shape of the river. While the swimmer fought desperately and infinitely to maintain his position, his environment would shift around him. He would be moved by the world moving around him. Over a thousand years the river, once straight, would bend. He would be forced to face a different direction in order to fight the current, and be pushed to the side to remain in the shifting waters. There is no possibility for the swimmer to stay in the same place, either he moves or the world does, but stagnation is impossible.

I’m sure you remember me saying to you, as a beaten-to-death motto of mine, “stagnation is death”, but I was wrong. Stagnation is impossible. In so far as stagnation is death, then stagnation is a dead, nonexistent thing. The moment stagnation is achieved it simultaneously ceases to exist. Instead, there is only entropy - returning to chaos. The second thing I realized is what we think is maintenance is not stagnation, but creation that occurs at the same pace as entropy. This is not the same as preserving the thing, as new things are being made to give the appearance of the thing being the same - like the boards on Theseus’s ship. You may object and ask, “is maintenance (a form of creation) not what we mean by stagnation?” I mean this in a technical sense. Stagnation is frozen, like a prehistoric calf perfectly preserved in ice. What I’m saying is that there is no preservation in reality. The frozen calf still decays. It still dies when frozen. It is no longer the thing it once was, despite appearing preserved. Therefore, to maintain is only to prolong death or to swim helplessly while the context that informed the thing, the infinite connections of the reality, shift around it. It is either death of the object or death of the context - both are entropy, which rob us of our frozen utopian dream.

I know you begged for me to be an optimist, and your begging has, now more than ever, incorporated itself into my being. In my desire to be with you, I, in part, have become you. And you answer me with this: “What of the creation you mentioned? Creation is paramount!” Perhaps this is the connection you spoke of. Yes. There is also creation. If that swimmer could build an engine that fought the current, that forced the tides to submit, then he could progress. While the old river shifts, a new river takes its place. New trees are born. New animals drink by the riverside. Clouds tumble across the sky. Storms roll over the plains and rays cut through the grey overhead, shining spotlights over the rolling emerald hills. Life is born again, all around our aquatic Sisyphus. All the while our man could stand beautifully, triumphantly, atop his creation, subjugating the white water.

You may have asked, “is this not mankind? Those that create?” By your voice I have been inspired. I can see your emerald eyes, alight in the morning sun, enthusiastic for the potential of the day and you gayley ask, “What could possibly await us?” I miss your enthusiasm. It is your life, and the small moments that constituted it, that showed me the types of creation. I can remember our conversations about your art, what you prefered and how you conceptualized your pieces.

From that, I see two types of creation - born and revivified. I will begin with the first. What is born is not entirely new. A human is not new (there are many humans), though the individual may seem that way. Each person is a reiteration of humanity - a species designed to survive and reproduce. Each human born is the next step forward for humanity; new individually, but similar to the whole. So it is not that a human is new, but an individual that is new. What makes the individual new then? Two things: the culture context and the shifting genetic makeup. The cultural is obvious. No person, with that makeup, could have existed in this exact time under this exact condition before. That person’s nation, subculture, family, (i.e. macrosystem, exosystem and microsystem, that Bronfenbrenner described), inform that person. So this unique place in history shapes the individual - unique from the human reiteration. It is also his genetic makeup - the consequence of the Darwinian process. So Born creation is the next step in an iterative process.

The second, revivified creation, is the process of remaking what was once old but is still true, new again. Entropy applies even to our conceptions of reality, but some realities change slower than we survive so we have adapted to them (we identify these things as truth). Our conceptions fade away. They become, first, enlightening. Then, incorporated or broadly understood and enacted. Then, they become cliches - dead things that are accepted without their initial profundity - husk words used in place of substantial thought. Then they’re forgotten or so cliched that their initial meaning is no longer understood - a Simulacrum of their initial, living meaning. To Revivify, is to re-create the initial meaning, so that its applicability can be understood under the new context. This occurs, as you once told me, in music. A classic baseline may be used to illicit a new feeling that, in turn, evokes nostalgia for the previous era. It is a new song, but it deliberately pulls the past forward again, to remind us of the lessons from that era. This is an adaptive-creative process; a new way of thinking about an old thing. So what is created is the conception of the thing, but not the thing itself. It creates the thing again, to serve the modern context.

It is through this that I’ve come to understand the fundamental human choice: either dissolve away or create anew. When you wake up in the morning, you choose to get out of bed and be productive; you choose creation. When you go to work, you are creating. When you socialize you create memories and influence others - bringing a new assortment of behaviors into being. When you, in a fit of rage, throw your glass across the table, you have destroyed something - removed it and its function, from being. When you drink your night away, numbing yourself to reality, suffocating your conscience so you can ignore your responsibilities, you are idle - you let elements of your life and yourself, entropy. If your wife of 7 years passes away and you write to hold onto her, you recreate that connection again - renewed in your heart. Though she has died and you remain, and it doesn’t matter how much you write, the relationship has already fallen away, you can create in its stead. The new creation that distills the beauty of your old life together, revivifies your memory, your life, and your being.

I write to remember you. You promised me that I could find peace by writing out what I would have said to you before you died - before I watched you, and our world, deteriorate. I saw you fight against your disease and while you seemed to neither improve or degrade. I watched our life fall away. We couldn’t go to the bookstore together. We couldn’t talk about our favorite movies over evening coffee. The familiar notes of cicadas could not be heard in your hospital room. The small things that made our life, disappeared and everything began to entropy. Eventually, you did too. You couldn’t swim forever and when you passed away I returned to a home covered in dust. Our dinner table has lost its purpose; since there is no one to eat there with me, I sit on the couch and sometimes alone on the kitchen floor. The things that made our living room feel so comforting, warm, and alive, have passed on with you and I’m left with an empty husk that I swear is a home.

I promised you I would write genuinely and I can’t help but cry these words. I miss you and I create to remember the best parts of you. I philosophize to bring our conversations back to life; wishing all the while, that it was you that could come back. Maybe I’ll find something of value. I create to combat what I want: to let go and let the current sweep me away. Out of my love and respect for you, and to uphold my promise to you, I’ll continue to write these letters - I’ll continue swimming.

For you, I choose creation over entropy.

N.F.