"What is the use of a book," thought Alice, "Without pictures or conversations?"
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865
Annie was nervous as she left the house to head for the demonstration or blockade or occupation or whatever it was going to be. What was it going to be? That was the source of her concern, she suspected, and in itself that seemed feeble-minded. After all, they kept saying that you didn't have to get arrested if you didn't choose to, and they seemed to know what they were talking about, didn't they?
"Well," she said out loud as she turned onto Graham Hill, "Whatever happens, it'll make a good story."
Ah, the old motto. She remembered now. It had done her well for years, as she scrambled through awkward situations, from overcrowded third-world transport to ludicrously inappropriate job interviews. Serious assault, rape, even broken-hearted grief, these might be beyond the pale but anything less would turn into humor eventually. Embarrassment and discomfort were always worth laughing at in the end. Shame over trivialities is just too foolish to last.
She knew very well where she was going, Sims Road, Highway 17, 1 South, 41st Exit, up past Capitola Road, near DMV and Triple-A, but in a fit of mindless doubt she reached over to grab the flyers from the passenger seat in search of instruction, which she didn't need and they didn't really give her anyway.
The near-side wheels hit the verge and bounced. Suddenly she was skewed and skidding and most of the way into the wrong lane, then suddenly straightened out how did she do that? then there was a pickup storming towards her and she wrenched the wheel as she came out of the skid but overcompensated again and she was edging the grass a second time, but only just, and then after an instant eternity the road was clear and she was in the right place and had no idea how or why. Her heart was pounding fit to bust, up from her regular ±60 to what seemed like a furious 180 and more to the point thumping her ribs like some kind of punk rocker's big bass drum. Her knees were literally shaking and she grabbed the wheel so tight it seemed as though either car or fingers would have to give.
She lifted her right foot, slowed to the point where she heard a beep and suddenly looked into the rear-view mirror and discovered that some asshole was tailgating.
Well fuck him, she thought, he can get by soon enough.
The long straightaway with the Henry Cowell park on the right was coming up, she knew, so she just flipped the indicators on so show she was intending to pull over and kept on going. This seemed to aggravate the jerk even more and sure enough, as they came out of the turn and over the rise he floored the accelerator and horn both and vanished into the distance wailing. She headed for the side of the road anyway and coasted to a halt on the grassy verge.
Whoops. Well, that was pretty dumb, Annie girl. But it's OK, right? Right. Well, then. All right. Make a good story. Sure. Be a lousy one if I didn't make it.
After a minute or so, the tingling in her knees more or less went away and her heart stopped rattling her cage (though she still heard it, she was sure) and she began to feel she could stand or even maybe drive. The little digital clock on the dash said it was 11:17 so if she didn't get a move on she'd probably be late. That wouldn't really matter but she wanted to make a good impression it's always desirable to make a good impression on people that you want to make a good impression on she wasn't quite sure why but there it was and here was she and all dressed up and ready to go to the ball.
Costume had been a question. Actually, it still was, since she had, after careful consideration, left a number of options open. There had been a certain amount of discussion at the preparatory meeting, centering on words like 'neat' and 'clean' which didn't do Annie much good because she always was. She had the impression that a pretty little frock would be considered appropriate by some of the male organizers but she wasn't going to dress for men for this thing for heaven's sake. It might get cold and besides she didn't really have one. She considered her long wool skirt but it was kind of old-fashioned and she didn't have good shoes for it, since she figured she might be on her feet a lot and they had better be functional. Clean jeans, dark green turtleneck, black sneakers, little colorful cotton scarf tied loose at the neck; optional windbreaker, woolen shawl, warm sweater you can't be too careful and she threw the woolly hat and rain poncho into the back seat at the last minute just in case. She was aiming for a tasteful fade into the woodwork and pretty sure she had hit it. A bit straight for a hippy pad (ah, she remembered) and a bit bent for a five-star hotel, she figured she wouldn't get thrown out of either of them. And she would stay well-groomed, warm and relaxed.
Cool. That, she knew, was nineties for groovy, another term she had once had to try not to use; she never did use heavy to mean, generically, good just as she felt no temptation to lapse into gagging valley-speak. Still, maybe she could be cool. It was OK. But you can't make the scene if you don't get to it, she thought ruefully but knowingly in masscult cliché, so get in gear, girl.
The, er, brush with death (it sounds like a cyanide comb), which her mind could not really articulate without imagining her own newspaper headlines, left her with the salve she had been searching for. Intimations of mortality were transmogrified at some basic level into an extraordinary intimacy with her own morality. Quite uncharacteristically, she drove at the exact speed limit (35 to 25 to 55 to 25 again at the end), in the slow lane where available, miraculously untroubled by idiots climbing into her tail-pipe, and remained hyper-aware of every place she went past. Her mind was open and full and focused, all at the same time. She was sensitive to the beauty of the scrub-oaks on the right, gentling their breath in the still autumn sunlight, and simultaneously remembering that it was a redwoods park, named for the august monarchs that lived over in the next valley, down by Highway 9; no complaint, no concern, it was just a fact she noticed for a millisecond and filed and indexed and put away but could always retrieve. She recognized and accepted the process and simply went with it, letting her rational mind organize without obsessing, letting her reflexive body guide the machinery and react as necessary, detaching and distinguishing her self in a clarity she rarely attained. She knew she was doing the right thing, whatever it was. She was ready.
She remembered, not in its details but in its intent and broad outlines, a trick she had been taught by her friend Neerava back in the days of spiritual guidance and meditation workshops, a walking meditation designed for the crowded streets of Poona but one that worked in any western town if you could simply reach the level of unselfconsciousness to try it. You hold your hands some six inches in front of your nose, and move the fingers rhythmically, sensuously and continuously in imitation of some kind of Hindu hand-dance, concentrating entirely on the activity. Then you begin to chant, a repeating mantra, anything from Om Mane Padme Hum to Hail Mary Full of Grace would do, although there was a specific prescribed, concentrating entirely on the sound, without at any moment ceasing the finger action. Then you walk down the crowded street, maintaining entirely the bubble of self-contained devotion defined by the pair of all-encompassing activities to which you have committed your body and brain, and it need hardly be added without bumping into walls or pedestrians or any of the other miscellaneous impediments to locomotion. The result, she remembered, was a wonderful walking meditation that somehow freed the self from the mind and body both and promoted an inner transcendence that she had rarely attained.
That's exactly how she felt.
There was plenty of skull room left. Why had it been so long since she had tried that, she wondered, and knew the answer was the kind of self-consciousness that contradicts a real consciousness of self, and filed that away without self-accusation or real complaint. No wonder it had been so long since anyone had fallen in love with her; perhaps that was about to change she knew suddenly she could will such a thing into being and wondered if she would, without decision or argument. Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time? An Irish voice came drifting past the æther and another part of her brain tabbed it as Van Morrison and located the quote from last year's album that Brendan had been raving about and she didn't think she had even listened to but she must have. Some golfer from Pasatiempo cut in and she applauded herself for the smoothness with which she eased back to maintain a distance and then synchronized with the flow of slow-lane traffic once more. Sliding around from 17 to 1 South, merging into one lane around the on-ramp curve and then into one with the fast lane and over to the right because she wanted to potter along and it would only cost a minute or maybe two, it was a complicated manuvre executed with consummate skill. At moments like this, everything fit.
"They don't know me," she laughed aloud, "So it doesn't matter."
It was another of her old mottoes, another worthy weapon against ungodly trepidation, another heroic paradox. There is no shame in doing what you really want if no one you care about knows you are doing it; an excuse for evil, certainly, but just as surely an excuse for good. To be able to act without considering the preconceptions of others is to trap into a source of power and strength.
Of course, it only works if you know yourself.
Annie, I'd like you to meet Annie.
How are you doing?
Haven't we met somewhere before?