sadness of the animate

laika in a relaxed state

It’s as if there were a cumulus of sadness adrift through the floor plan, a cloud of melancholy filling the rooms and hallways, swirling around the appliances and inhabiting the corners and interior architectural niches like a….cloud. It’s not terribly literary. Maybe it’s just pity.

“for the human condition?”

I just got done telling you it’s not literary! It’s not a malaise, or whatever! It’s not that French guy on Sartre’s ‘Nausea’ dust jacket with his hand on his gut. All I can tell you is that the bad feeling, when it shows up, emanates from my daughter’s guinea pigs. It moves out through the house from there.

“your – “

yeah. Maybe it’s just pity. I said that. Anymore I’m beginning to think it’s simple pity, but the pity or sadness radiates out from their little cage on the floor at the back of the house. Their utter helplessness has real power; radiant power. It colors the whole house some days. Like the old animation of an atomic blast radius, which starts from ground zero with the illustrator’s naïve and almost playful little cartoon spark, because despite the horrid magic of what follows the viewer needs to understand the catalyst is just a bomb going off. The spark is followed by a red swelling ball, and it quickly swells outward from ground zero in a perfect circle, filling all the irregularities of the doomed city; the alleyways and schoolrooms and churches. I think this ‘swelling bubble’ atomic blast radius illustration was informed more by the technical limits of that day’s commercial art than by atomic science or the observed practice blasts they’d conducted in the field, but it makes the point with an unintended accuracy. And the guinea pig sadness is like that, or feels like that.

So sometimes (every time, actually) when I feed the guinea pigs I watch them eat and I feel a nearly debilitating sadness. It seems related to the sadness I felt one weekend afternoon as a teenager, watching a man lean over the glass at JC Penney, carefully poring over the wrist watches. The guinea pigs’ names are Chloe and Buffy, they’re two little girls. Their food is fancily packaged hay. The hay neatly fills an elaborately printed plastic bag, but is clearly just dead grass swept up from some field somewhere and jammed into these bags, bits of thoughtless meadow, minutely parceled out to those whose interrupted Darwinian lot was to roam the meadow. Now we bring the meadow to them. I raise the hinged top of the cage and the hay is stiff and comes out of the bag in longitudinal clumps that have to be smashed down into the dumb little bowls, two bowls, one for each guinea pig. Per the human conceit the meadow has to be eaten from bowls, so the straw and bits of dried flower get jammed down into the bowls and all the while the guinea pigs are making their whistling sound of joy or excitement and raising themselves up with their forepaws on the horizontal bars of their cage. Then they run in to the eating section of the cage, over a little ramp, as lithe as you please. They eat with their grateful but, honestly, expressionless little feminine faces, looking askance at me like I might take the food. Me, the giver. I’ve stood there for 15 minutes, 20 minutes. They’re completely unconscious, unenlightened, pure id. They don’t know they’re captured. What will they do after they gratefully eat? They’ll crap and then eat again. They don’t know they’re alive. What are they for? Why are there living things that don’t know they’re living things?

“We’re at the top of the food chain.”

shut up. every little scrap of meaning isn’t defined or explained in terms of what eats who.

“Life is an end, not a means.”

wrong.

“Well. You mean being alive is a state that is only available so that the living can see themselves.”

yeah. it sounds buddhist or whatever, but it’s not.

“What’s so great about knowing? What’s THAT for? You want to ascribe a purpose to everything. Try that one.”

i’m working that out.

“The animals are fine. Their cognitive darkness is a salve. They don’t know enough to be sad.”

The guinea pigs are a pillow pressed over my face. Eat sleep eat eat sleep. Like the JC Penney guy. He wanted just the right watch.

“He probably got it, too!”

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