The Stranger Day Letter
If today were Stranger Day, I would thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for being strangers. I would even dare to say that you all are “my” strangers, who I am proud to know and love–if the very notion of stranger, the reality of your strangeness to me, didn’t undermine beforehand the possibility of my knowing you, and of your belonging to me. Unless to be my stranger was to be my friend…
So, today–let’s call it Happy Stranger Day!–I thank you, stranger, for being (a) stranger, for being stranger than I or you could have thought strange. I thank you for being my friend.
And you, of course, better than anyone, know how strange this is, how strange I am to you. You have no idea what I am saying or what I am doing! And I have no clue about you. Could it get any better than this?
Well, it isn’t entirely true. You know a few things about me, probably more than I know. And if you know at least one thing, it’s that I spend a lot of time writing. Strange. Couldn’t you say the same thing? What we do on these computers all day is nothing if not strange and “spooky”: reading and writing, communicating and connecting televersally, telekinetically, telepoetically, quasi-mechanically, in digicoded aching feeling, at the border of the virtual and the real–with heart, which is ever more possible–with pictures, text, music, event, updates, groups, you name it! Which is also strange, given how far away we are. Stranger still, because how close! (Like right there, but right away away: but wasn’t it always…?)
But I have some confessions to make: I wanted to create Stranger Day because of a few strangers in my life who “really are” strangers. Who I had in mind were those of you who I have never met, as we still insist on saying, “in person.” I was thinking of Jacob, Aishwarya, Alex, just those freshest in my memory (there’s so many others, and others yet to come, perhaps they’re already waiting to speak up). But as I thought about them today–a lucky one if there ever was one–, “stranger” quickly became stranger, by coming closer. “Stranger” started to encompass, first, all of you who I’ve met so infrequently, and in such relatively “non-intimate” spaces that I would be hard pressed to say we’d “shared real space together” in the normal sense (which again is only the most classical sense of togetherness, and that more than ever needs to be challenged and displaced, today); those with whom my entire relationship–and however slight it is, it is precious–grew up in a virtual, i.e., written, space (a category I would call, for the sake of saving time and to acknowledge a real virtual ally and friend, Jordan). But once I made this step, it was as if everyone slipped away.
Because what about a colleague from Iowa, who I’ve only met in person a handful of times, years ago now it seems, but who regularly saves me from despair and self-loathing through “like-support” and chat (call him Tyler, but I barely know his name)? And then what about all of you who I’ve loved so deeply, who I’ve spent countless hours with and with whom I’ve tried to share everything? You who are with me in my dreams, but haven’t written me in a while or, lets be honest, don’t have time to read everything or write back? All of a sudden it was a landscape of ghosts, of irrecoverable memories. A bookshelf, a wall of letters for the future. A sum of strangers, goners, absentees and abandoners, all of you up to the end unreachable, and thus mourned interminably, from the beginning.
I sat there, alone, heart beating, fingers near spasm, with all of you with me, and yet without all of you forever. Strange, too, as there was so much to read.
What does it mean, today, to meet in person? Aren’t we “in fact” doing it right here? What does it mean, today, to stay in touch? To be in each other’s lives, to be a part of our thinking processes and our hopes? Nothing is more uncertain than the old concepts of proximity and distance, “in the flesh” and “at a distance,” the priority given to nearness and “being in the same physical space.” Of course, it will remain fashionable–and perhaps for good reason, but for what good reason, exactly?–to insist on the importance of meeting “in person,” body-to-body, “in real life,” and so on. But for today, on Stranger Day, humor me a bit and imagine it otherwise. Humor me and think upon the proximity of the absent and the absence of those most nearest. Think of the dead inside you, whose eyes never waver as yours do.
This landscape of ghosts is not as strange as you might think–even if “in reality” it is much stranger.
Because me and my strangers have a different story: ours is a story of writing and reading. Which is to say, of loss and precious traces. Of unknowable periodicity. Ours is a story of “will probably never meet.” Ours is a story of “could not ever meet.” Ours is a story without a shred of contact continuing–save these. To use a tough phrase I’d like to salvage for a different usage, “we are dead to each other.” Strange! As if in this world of reading and writing, it had to be that way, was always that way, will always be that way. As if it were that way for all.
Well, I’ve run over this story before with you, in public(?) and in private(?), repeating myself so many times over that you decided long ago I was obsessed with transience or death or disappearing or what have you. True, and it’s proof that you read me. But isn’t it also proof that I read you? Isn’t it also proof that we were implicated in each other’s speech from the first? That even “in person,” touching body to body, speaking voice to voice, this was a community of vanishers? Of those who belonged to each other without belonging, without lasting together? Without sharing anything, perhaps, but the illegibility of some traces we could never once and for all assign to anyone? The expressions of exposed faces, heads turning? Without sighting anything other but the other’s strangeness, one’s own?
Which is how Stranger Day became everyone’s. I ask again: what does it mean to keep in touch? You’ll think me unique if I say: you have to write me, I have to write you, we have to write each other. But isn’t just me. It’s father and son, sister and daughter. Writing slips into a call, the call slips into a meeting, the meeting slips into an embrace, the embrace slips into life “together,” and that life slips into, was from the get-go… love: dying (with) each other.
Strange, because that’s writing! That’s writing right now too, and I’m suggesting, today, that that’s all we ever do. Writing is a reach outward that never comes true, that never gets back to you. Or if ever it does, you’re not you, but stranger. Writing reaches out to strangers as absolutely strange as you. You, absolutely strange to yourself. Writing: a mourning brawl among ghost-friends. “Life”…
Or perhaps death. And perhaps enemies. You know by now how important it is to keep our distances. Perhaps you’re getting that feeling even now (he’s sickening, he’s killing us, he’s lost tone balance). But my strangers and I knew this from the get-go, without knowing it, and only reading. This respect let us approach each other from the distance of writing (the distance of life and time, no?), which is no doubt the most respectful distance possible, the one from which we all away from each other constantly stood. If, on Stranger Day, I ask you to write me back, or to write a stranger, to spill your guts, I don’t imply that it’s time to do it today. What can I say? It takes a lot of strangeness, and a lot of strangers, to write this way. Which is to say, it takes time, and trust. Stranger Day is a day to honor the time needed and taken, but it isn’t nearly long enough to take it. Perhaps it’s not even long enough to trust. Perhaps it will take years for you to say anything.
But don’t worry, I don’t blame you, I forgive everything, and as you forgave me, for I too am still waiting for something to–be it meaningless babble, signs of the unconditional, manifestations of a promise to write further, to pass on stranger, to survive in each other. And in saying this, I wait for you. Wait, at the end, to wait for you.
So. Stranger/friend, met/never-met, touched/never-touched, touched-deeper-than-touching-without-touching: here we are, or rather there you are, over there away from me, like a stranger, respectfully spooky. It’s better that way, because it’s the only one. We write to where we can’t go, from where we’ve never been, to who we can’t know. That’s the danger of it, the risk. And that’s the love.
With thanks for all of it and for you,
On this holiday of my own light fabrication,
P.S. Go stranger.
Image: John Lurie, “You have the right to the pursuit of happiness. Good luck with that.” Accessed 1.26.15 at: http://johnlurieart.com/