I ate juicy blackberries at work today as part of my breakfast. They were plump, large-as-my-thumbs, and sweet but ultimately unsatisfying. I remembered what blackberries from the brambles in our backyard tasted like in my childhood. They were crisper, tangier, they were smaller and less genetically enhanced, like the woman in front of me in yoga class, bursting at the seams with enhancements. I credit the first family for teaching me on what botox inside human cheeks looks like.
How unsatisfying, I think, to be racing against the clock—I do it, too. I moisturize and exfoliate, and panic that my hair will be all grey before I’m thirty and no one will ever fall in love with me again, and the wrinkle between my eyebrows is less a crease of skin from reading in low light and more a mark of cain, warning off potential suitors that I am unenhanced.
So I read Patti Smith, who is a strange alter ego. Her life seems so tucked away in the folds of long peasant dresses from the ’70’s that my mother donated to our “dress-up box,” which I supposed in proper English is called a “costume trunk.” But the dress-up box is the dress up box, and you’ll never know what you’ll find in there. One time a sibling (I swear it was my older sister) stuck my brother’s rubber rattlesnake in there.
I avoided it for weeks.
Blackberries are a fruit that requires patience. In order to pull them off the vine, they have to be fully ready. First, they look like raspberries and you think they’re ripe, but they’re not. Try to pull them off and you’ll only reap frustration. Blackberries, when they’re ripe, fall off like little fuzzy stars into your fingers, staining them instantly purple.
On election night, when I was in a strange house in a familiar town, Patti Smith was in a bar in Hell’s Kitchen. Strange, that Patti Smith still exists in the New York that is no longer her New York—she exists in my New York, where I wasn’t then. I wasn’t there then, but it was living without me, and Patti was living there—older, and still just as wise. Greyer and still the dreamer. But we both felt the same paralysis, the same grey fog that settled in on the earth in South Bend, Indiana and Manhattan.
Reading Patti Smith is sometimes suffocating (dreams are often suffocating) and often freeing (dreams often achieve the impossible). The fears that live deep in our amygdala seem impossible to speak about in waking words. How do we explain nightmares during daylight?
Being able to express and experience, to examine something together, no matter how darkly it is stained with fear, is the catharsis which tragedy catalyzes. A message that can be delivered and received is insurance against insanity. A glimmer of light appears in the night terror, suggesting that perhaps our articulation is the beginning of salvation.