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Lose my mind and dance forever
Turn my world around

Richard Thompson, "Night Comes In," Richard & Linda Thompson, Pour Down Like Silver, 1975


Annie worked the whole thing out that night. Well, she learned it. Spotted it, perhaps. Came to see. Noticed. The point is, she didn't spend any time thinking about it, she simply realized in the morning that all the thinking she had vaguely meant to do had been done, without any particular memory of having done it. It was rather like waking up from one of those dreams in which you run around for hours beset by a constant clanging of brass to find the phone ringing. Only in this case, it must also have been one of those dreams you don't remember when you get out of bed. That was as good an explanation as Annie's logical mind could dredge up, anyway. Ask the cerebrum to explain something mysterious and it'll excitedly postulate a meaningless hypothesis by dubious analogy any time you choose.

Try another: It was as though she were looking at herself in an ancient fogged up mirror with the silver backing rotted off, and gradually, without any deliberate action on her part, the fog was being rubbed away and the silver paint touched up, all from the inside, by friendly pixies too small to see but too large to ignore, a throng of perfectionist elves swarming invisibly around the glass and working so steadily and gradually that it was hard to notice any difference until she looked away and looked back and suddenly there she was, herself, in such plain sight that it was obvious what she should do.

Not that there was a lot of light, you understand. To venture a short quotation from Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, (1759–67), this is what the scene looked like by four in the morning:

(For the complete quote, see pp. 61–62 of the 1967 Penguin edition, reprinted 1985.)

There was a lot of night left and a great deal to tell, most of it not in words but what else do we have to represent on paper the activities of the small hours? Annie and Whitey lay together for indefinite hours, heads about touching, arms softly cuddling, legs caressing with clumsy grace through the trousers that kept them warm. They talked in words, in thoughts, in the swell and the ebb of bodies at rest in peace, and they told themselves how they came to be and they listened to their selves and each other.

Which of them spoke, and when, is hard to disentangle, and pointless. Whitey was never one of the world's great narrators anyway, and Annie had a maddening tendency to circle around and jump elliptically, as reminiscences came to mind. All this is of course very realistic but not exactly easy to read. We proceed to précis.

Whitey's wanderings had taken him over most of the Orient, for several years. He roamed the sub-continent as long as the money held out, shuffling passports to avoid the mundane traps of the Indian Civil Service (a six months stay made tax forms due, for example), went everywhere twice and remembered most of it. Once he finally made the big hop over Burma, whose government was notably inhospitable to students, hippies, westerners, ne'er-do-wells, long-hairs, druggies and foreigners in general, he began earning in a variety of guises. He tried out as a character actor in Bangkok – the strong and silent type, dubbed anyway of course – but suitable parts were few and far between. He smuggled gold between Hong Kong and New Delhi, intermittently and rather profitably, until fifth thoughts and the unfortunate example of a colleague who was compelled to accept the hospitality of Mrs Gandhi's government prompted him to retire from that line of business. For a few months he tried being a ship's mate in the South Pacific, which was extremely romantic but he evinced a regrettable tendency to become seasick when the ocean belied its name. He then became a nightclub DJ in Kuala Lumpur – moremusicmoremusicmoremusicmoremusic, ah, the good old Big L, Radio London, he'd learned its lessons well – and developed a minor cult as enigma for almost a year until someone's baksheesh got mislaid and he had to hustle up to Phuket for some R'n'R (well, with a name like that it's foreordained, isn't it). On the then-still-unspoiled beach, he lay himself down to rest and decided it was time to head for the land of his ancestors. His other ancestors.

He had scored a Canadian passport in a tricky but useful little deal in KL, so that seemed to be the place to head and so he did. He was worried about the accent, even though the broad Geordie had been sandpapered down by a decade of exile, since it clearly conflicted not only with the Native American features but, more crucially, with the Toronto birthplace his papers claimed. He developed a cover story about wartime evacuation and reverse migration thereafter and ... and no one paid the slightest attention. He strode through immigration smuggling something whose price was far above rubies. Not a virtuous woman, pace the end of the Book of Proverbs, but his unruly and questing self.

After Canada, getting into the States was no sweat. He drove across the border in the middle of the morning and was gone like a cool breeze. Peltier was busted already, and the Feds had their large symbolic boots and large actual revolvers on the necks (both actual and symbolic) of the American Indian Movement, but Whitey gravitated without difficulty to the welcome clutches of the remaining rebels. The A.I.M. survivors (1) accepted half-breeds as full compadres without question; (2) considered bisexuality absolutely normal behavior, neither required nor forbidden; (3) allied themselves perforce with outlaws, especially those with any instincts to anti-establishmentarianism, in the modern or secular sense of the word; (4) had contacts with the Native American Church, whose peyote rituals with their psacramental psychedelics, all-night chanting and guided meditations made more sense to Whitey than any religion he had run into yet. He joined right in.

For a while there he had thought Guru was wrong. He thought he had found it. Home. He didn't want to admit, even to himself, how much he wanted it ... and so for a while he wouldn't admit that the life wasn't – quite – right. Something was off. He wasn't from the res, but he came to understand why so many who were got bombed on the edge of the white man's territory, where they couldn't go back and they couldn't go forward and their wheels just spun out of control and they tried to cauterize the pain with whiskey and grass and pills and powders. This was not new to Whitey, not the feeling, not the determined attempt at a chemical solution, and he finally recognized the pattern.

They weren't home either.

Maybe no one was.

But Guru promised.

From the middle of the Reagan depression of the early eighties to the Reagan boom of the late eighties, between which where Whitey was living there was no noticeable distinction, he had muddled along in a most uncharacteristic manner. There was a hint in the tale of a wife or equivalent, and a suggestion of offspring (perhaps inherited), and a definite flavor of ennui. Mid-Western towns took over from the desert and yielded in turn eventually to wanderlust and the call of the Golden State. A chance ride in Arizona reconnected him with Indian activists fighting the arbitrary land divisions of Big Mountain, with all its complex alliances and shifting conflicts. Whitey's anarchist tendencies, which he had lately learned to call by their proper name, put him with the Good Folk against the hierarchies tied in with the Feds and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (a name as euphemistic as Department of Defense, though older; it might better be called the Bureau of Anglo Affairs, as the other is surely the War Department), none of which was calculated to make him popular with officialdom but still. And then Annie had called.

Listening to this, and as a good girl Annie was well trained as a listener, she felt rather prosaic with her steady jobs (taxes withheld and vacation accrued) and her planned trips (with return airfare if not an actual ticket) and her steady sequence of replacement relationships (sometimes, thrillingly, overlapping). She prodded with questions, she stroked and smoothed and rippled the story out of him, and much of the while she felt grotesquely inadequate, until she recognized as much herself and then drew one further conclusion.

They were the same.

Not physically, of course, and not obviously in certain regards. She had been based almost always in California. PT school had taken her away for a while she preferred to forget, and later an infatuation had too, for one year she was happy to remember, and another that, well, no longer existed. She had traveled most of the warm world and, for one who hated the cold, a surprising number of the chilly parts, which so often sneak up on you en route to somewhere interesting – the freezing equator at altitude near Quito, for example, or Erzerum too late in the autumn, or Moscow for the cheap flights that meant you had to change planes. Usually she thought she had a rather interesting existence but as she listened it seemed tame, safe but uninspiring.

And yet.

She had never really wanted anything closer to the flame. And he, it seemed obvious, was scarcely boasting about the hard road he'd come, all alone all the way, on his own ... boy, he'd sure come a long way from ... home ... ah, Kristofferson's song could hardly be avoided, with its mingle of envy and pity, romantic squalor and hard-lost innocence. Whitey was no closer to that mythical 'edge' than she herself, he just lived on a different plateau; and she had been no less lost than he, simply floundering in a different whirlpool. For his would never be hers, and hers would never be his. It's an absurdly simple truism, the kind of fact that never makes sense because it's meaningless or obvious, according to temporary taste. No matter, never mind. Wasn't that some kind of philosophical pun? Brendan would know. Cedar! That's right, it was one of his. Those two had a lot in common (well, whoda thunk) and yet she knew which one was hers; Manhattan? No chance. Ah well, she thought in the clear light of five in the morning, what is mind is yours and what is yours, dear Bren, is mind. I can live with that.

As she woke from the not-sleep she hadn't been having, this much was clear: She didn't want to be anything other than she was. It was a great relief. She didn't want to be young again. She didn't want to be single again. She didn't want what she could not have and this she knew was balance.

There was a curve to her life, and she did not want or need to repeat the excitement of invention, the charge that had come twenty years before, when possibilities were new and open. She wanted to build on that now, to gather up her spirit again for another long haul on into a graceful and reasonably ethical middle age. Yes, she could call it hypocrisy, as in her nastier moments she might. Yes, she was compromising some, not inventing an existence from scratch but accommodating a little to the practical circumstances. So what?

Brendan, she knew, was all right. No, he wasn't everything she had ever dreamed a man could be, but how much of that, she wondered, was really her. She had hidden from him, hadn't she. She had blamed him for the lack of commitment and excitement and invention that stemmed from her own little death. She didn't need to die. She could be alive, and that did not need to exclude him – it might, some day, but not now, not today, not here. She had been caught in a self-encouraging spiral of distance and that she could in fact adjust.

That was what she was going to do:



Now and forever, or at least as long as she remembered.

It's not what you do, it's the way that you are when you do it.

And would she? And did she? And did he? There's a hole in this story, dear Liza, a hole, and reality keeps trickling on through the bottom of it. Dear Annie's not a saint and she'd probably be an awful bore if she suddenly turned into one. She wasn't hit with a thunderbolt that came from outside and transformed her in a blaze of light. She came to see, for a while, and with that sight and even its memory she could tread the path she needed to walk. She fell from grace again, for she was human, but of this you may be sure, the knowledge of that power can only be forgotten, it never can be lost.

So did she?

Well that's another tale, and yours, dear reader, is as good as mine. (Searching for) Solid Ground is the story of the search for a sense of possibilities, and the story too of how people think they look for what they need and actually cling to what destroys them. The rest of Annie's life is up to her. And you.

Whitey's is clearer, perhaps, because he made a break. His seems like a story with an ending, where hers seems like one that just rambles on. His tale went something like:

and the conventional story is of course the twiddly bit in the middle, but you could look on hers as:

and suddenly her potential for repetition becomes clear, does it not? For Whitey's sake, one would certainly hope that his pattern did not convolute into endless repetitions of blind alleys and random lunges into the future or even the past. For Annie's, that the more gentle curve did not become an endless loop.

It doesn't have to.

They learned that.