I have felt hours go by without knowing what happened to them. Hours that turned into days which became months and looking back, there have even been years which I cannot recall with any significance apart from perhaps a single event or two.
I recognize the illness that plagues my mind after reading the Moviegoer by Walker Percy. I had recognized it before too when I came across Proust and I’m sure I recognized it prior to that but I cannot remember now. This makes this illness particularly tricky to deal with because the mind aids the sickness.
This illness is the everydayness of life. The mundane moments that go unremembered as my mind and my thoughts dwell in a hopeful future where I will find myself amidst the ruins of Ancient Rome or traveling the bullet train in Japan along with some friends or seeing the great art pieces of Michelangelo with my own eyes for these moments can cure the everydayness and leave lasting memories of being alive which I can fondly recall later on. Or so I imagine them to be.
But as Proust said, the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights but in looking with new eyes. Similarly, Walker Percy puts forth the idea of The Search. It is not new worlds you should seek but rather see the beauty in the everyday that can and should leave a mark on your life.
To search is to be in wonderment of life, all of life.
The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.
To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.
Walker Percy further explains the idea with regard to movies.
The movies are onto the search but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place — but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settles down with a vengeance. In two weeks time he is sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead.
Walker Percy warns one not to fall into a pattern of known motion. The daily, weekly and monthly routine that makes you feel like just a piece of metal on a conveyor belt, being moved from one spot to another. Instead, he urges you to be observant, to see the changing world around you through which you have been unconsciously drifting. So, to observe is to search.
People have a different way of sticking themselves into the world. It is a small thing to him but not to me. It is nothing to him to close his eyes in New Orleans and wake up in San Francisco and think the same thoughts on Telegraph Hill that he thought on Carondelet street. Me, it is my fortune and misfortune to know how the spirit-presence of a strange place can enrich a man or rob a man but never leave him alone, how, if a man travels lightly to a hundred strange cities and cares nothing for the risk he takes, he may find himself no one and nowhere.
Without the active struggle to see your own surroundings as something worth seeing and exploring, you might find yourself blind and unaware regardless if you are standing in front of an old library or the Colosseum. If you don’t know how to see properly, moments will simply drift in and out of you and leave behind just the faintest recollections of themselves. Life will be just a dull light instead of the blinding brilliance that it can be.
For he is no more aware of the mystery that surrounds him than a fish is aware of the water it swims in.
The search is there for one to enrich their own life. It’s a selfish ambition, to make your own life one of awe and beauty.
No, I do it for my own selfish reasons. If I did not talk to the theatre owner or the ticket seller, I should be lost, cut loose metaphysically speaking. I should be seeing one copy of a film which might be shown anywhere and at any time. There is a danger of slipping clean out of space and time. It is possible to become a ghost and not know whether one is in downtown Lowes in Denver or suburb Bijou in Jacksonville. So it was with me.
This is an active effort to find unique experiences in everyday life. To go out of your way to talk to the theatre owner or the ticket seller as Percy said. Or to give conscious thought to the movie seat or the aroma of the theater. The little things like that matter otherwise life is a blur. Think about all the time you spend in traffic just going from one place to the next. If you can find some kind of beauty or uniqueness in those mundane moments, then you can enrich your life.
Yet it was here in the Tivoli that I first discovered place and time, tasted it like okra. It was during a rerelease of Red River a couple of years ago that I became aware of the first faint strings of curiosity about the particular seat I sat in, the lady in the ticket booth…as Montgomery Clift was whipping John Wayne in a fistfight, an absurd scene, I made a mark on my seat arm with my thumbnail. Where, I wondered will this particular piece of wood be twenty years from now, 543 years from now? Once as I was traveling through the midwest ten years ago I had a layover of three hours in Cincinnati. There was time to go see Joseph Cotten in Holiday at neighborhood theatre called the Altamont — but not before I had struck up an acquaintance with the ticket seller, a lady named Mrs. Clara James, and learned that she had seven grandchildren all living in Cincinnati. We still exchange Christmas cards. Mrs. James is the only person I know in the entire state of Ohio.
To walk through life blind and deaf seems like an awful waste of potential. Knowing that I have been blind and deaf at different points in my life is a painful reminder of wasted opportunity. However, in between that time, in between that space where I can remember to search, where I can actively observe and find the beauty in the mundane and know that everything in nature has its own value if I were to remove my own prejudices and biases at least for those moments I can fight the everydayness that drowns so many and keep the search alive and with it my curiosity and imagination. Thanks to Percy’s novel I am reminded again of the life around me and thanks to him I will be reminded of the fact that sometime in the future I may be momentarily defeated by the everydayness but it will never be a permanent defeat for the search is always there, waiting for you, ready to enlighten your world.
But for now, I make the same vow as Percy:
Nevertheless, I vow: I’m a son of a bitch if I’ll be defeated by the everydayness.