September 29, 2010

an earthquake

It was a little past dawn. I had been sleeping poorly and was disturbed by thoughts I would rather not share with my sensitive readers. I had been fighting to drift back into sleep, but gave up the attack and decided that I should be using this unexpected morning to accomplish unexpected things. As I lay on the floor, wrapped comfortably in my blanket, to decide which of my unexpected goals I would set about accomplishing first, the floor started to shift one way then the other, and my whole body rocked with it. The sensation was mild, but it carried a deep and quiet power. It lasted a few seconds, no longer.

Though I had suspected the importance of these few seconds, I was too wrapped in blankets and unexpected thoughts to confirm my suspicions. It was only many hours (and many unexpected accomplishments) later that I typed "earthquakes" into google and discovered that I had indeed survived the first earthquake of my life.

I am happy that fate decided I ought to be conscious for this moment. I had been psychologically preparing myself for this moment for many years, you see, and it would have been most unfortunate if I had decided to sleep through it. It is certainly possible that I might have slept on through the event and afterward live out my life unaware of my first earthquake, but fate would not allow it. I do not know by what system fate operates, but I would imagine that in exchange for this important moment I have sacrificed consciousness of many other important moments in my life. It is a startling and curious endeavor to invent all those historic personal events that I have slept or shall be sleeping through.

But I will save what life I have slept through for another post.

Now, as I have burdened myself with the task of publishing everything I write, I ought to continue on with earthquakes. It would be a pleasure to tell you everything worth knowing about earthquakes; I do not, however, know anything about them, and that is perhaps everything worth knowing.

As a general rule, the less a man knows about a subject, the more unreasonable he becomes when discussing it. I hold myself to be an exception to this rule, and have to say that I only become unreasonable about a subject once I have learned it through, front to back and back to front. But when the topic is something as mysterious to me as love, music, or earthquakes, I am the most reasonable fellow alive. It is not so much a challenge to be reasonable about earthquakes, however, as to be reasonable through them. And this is why I spent time preparing myself for my first earthquake.

I was determined not to panic. As you have read above, I remained as calm as possible, calmer indeed than you should expect from people even when the earth is quite still. Yes, you say to me, but you hardly had anything to panic about. True. But had buildings crumbled, had firestorms raged, had people exploded in the streets, I would have kept the same composure, I assure you. (I shall wander into a digression at this point, since the reader can do nothing about it--

Although I am quite relieved that my first earthquake was not the disaster scenario to truly try my composure, I have to admit my disappointment with the literary possibilities of the experience I did have. Had there indeed been firestorms and corpses, this post would be filled with terror and excitement and pathos. Imagine it! My dry style would excellently capture the violent and thrilling details. It would be a chronicle for history, an awe-inspiring account of the 2nd Great Kanto Earthquake. It would win admiration, adulation, awards. It would be treasured. The world would rush to read it. The number of visitors to my blog would double from 2 to 4. Glory I should have!

But my first earthquake was a modest one, and it deserves this modest post.

And this is probably as it should be. There is unreasonable disaster literature enough, and I am not the one to contribute to it.

While on the subject of literature, I will take this opportunity to excerpt a passage from Roughing It about that author’s first earthquake. His first earthquake makes for more interesting literature than mine, and I am happy to assume that you readers would rather read Mark Twain than me:
The “curiosities” of the earthquake were simply endless. Gentlemen and ladies who were sick, or were taking siesta, or had dissipated till a late hour and were making up lost sleep, thronged into the public streets in all sorts of queer apparel, and some without any at all. One woman who had been washing a naked child, ran down the street holding it by the ankles as if it were a dressed turkey. Prominent citizens who were supposed to keep the Sabbath strictly, rushed out of saloons in their shirt-sleeves, with billiard-cues in their hands. Dozens of men with necks swathed in napkins rushed from barber shops, lathered to the eyes or with one cheek clean-shaved and the other still bearing a hairy stubble. Horses broke from their stable, and a frightened dog rushed up a short attic ladder and out onto a roof, and when his scare over had not the nerve to go down again the same way he had gone up. A prominent editor flew down-stairs, in the principal hotel, with nothing on but one brief undergarment-–met a chambermaid, and exclaimed:
“Oh, what
shall I do! Where shall I go!”
She responded with naive serenity:
“If you have no choice, you might try a clothing store!”

A certain foreign consul’s lady was the acknowledged leader of fashion, and every time she appeared in anything new or extraordinary, the ladies in the vicinity made a raid on their husbands’ purses and arrayed themselves similarly. One man, who had suffered considerably and growled accordingly, was standing at the window when the shocks came, and the next instant the consul’s wife, just out of the bath, fled by with no other apology for clothing than--a bath towel! The sufferer rose superior to the terrors of the earthquake, and said to his wife:
that is something like! Get out your towel, my dear!”

The plastering that fell from ceilings in San Francisco that day would have covered several acres of ground. For some days afterward, groups of eying and pointing men stood about many a building, looking at long zigzag cracks that extended from the eaves to the ground. Four feet of the tops of three chimneys on one house were broken square off and turned around in such a way as to completely stop the draught. A crack a hundred feet long gaped open six inches wide in the middle of one street and then shut together again with such force as to ridge up the meeting earth like a slender grave. A lady, sitting in her rocking and quaking parlor, saw the wall part at the ceiling, open and shut twice, like a mouth, and then drop the end of a brick on the floor like a tooth. She was a woman easily disgusted with foolishness, and she arose and went out of there. One lady who was coming down-stairs was astonished to see a bronze Hercules lean forward on its pedestal as if to strike her with its club. They both reached the bottom of the flight at the same time--the woman insensible from the fright. Her child, born some little time afterward, was club-footed. However--on second thought--if the reader sees any coincidence in this, he must do it at his own risk.

The first shock brought down two or three huge organ-pipes in one of the churches. The minister, with uplifted hands, was just closing the services. He glanced up, hesitated, and said:
“However, we will omit the benediction!”--and the next instant there was a vacancy in the atmosphere where he had stood.

After the first shock, an Oakland minister said:
“Keep your seats! There is no better place to die than this”--
and added after the third:
“But outside is good enough!” He then skipped out the back door.
My own first earthquake does not have one hundredth of the literary possibilities. So much for that digression.)

I have nothing more to write concerning my first earthquake, but I would be pleased to answer whatever questions you may have about my experience. I may not be an expert on earthquakes, but I am more of an expert now than I was a week ago. I have even written a blog post on the subject (and you have just read it)--an expert indeed.

September 22, 2010

a writing note for fall

September is slipping by and I still seem to be ignoring my blog. Woe for this poor, obscure corner of cyberspace! Can I so cruelly ignore it for any longer?

The desire to write grips me, so write I shall. But note a symptom which afflicts me: I long to write when I have nothing to say, then having set about writing nothing, I discover I no longer desire to write.

I have tried to compensate for this in the past by finding something to write about, or else by writing my nothing through to the end whether I desire to or not. This state of my creativity does not please me, so I shall set about fixing it by writing about everything, or else not writing at all. If I cannot write about everything, I shall at least publish everything I write. If I do not write, I shall publish that as well.

I do not know what this unfortunate decision means for my poor, obscure corner of cyberspace, but I will find out soon.