Martijn Wallage

The impossibility of satisfying some simple desire

I often dream that I'm unable to do something simple and everyday: move my arm (it is locked), say something (no words come out), keep glasses of water upright (I cannot not knock them over). Especially the dream with the glasses recurs frequently. If I move towards the glasses, which are standing on the table, they start tumbling even before my fingers touch them; if I move away from them my foot gets caught in the table cloth. Everything conspires to make the satisfaction of a simple desire impossible. I don't think there is ever anything inside the glasses except water. Nonetheless it is extremely frustrating, and the whole scene is permeated with the atmosphere of nightmare.

Outside of dreams I feel this way about love. How do two people ever fall in love? It has been known to happen, even in my own life, and yet it can seem impossible. Most interactions with people are so civilised: we only show one other our surface. I simply cannot imagine a transition from this to the height of intimacy. For people to fall in love, to rise to love, to rise out of the clean light of reasonableness up to something warm and dark, seems as incredible as it would be for a toaster to suddenly take off and fly like an aeroplane; not natural as is it is supposed to be, a bird flying like a bird.

Birds don't have it easy either. All the hundreds of times I've seen a male pigeon chase a lady pigeon in the park, only for the lady to alight and leave the poor guy all fluffed-up for nothing. They must be successful sometimes. Would the park be considered a vulgar place to hit on one's fellow pigeon? After all, they are romantic animals. Even the urbanised rock dove, jaded by time, numbed by the noise and pollution of the overcrowded city, after it has found a nesting place in a nook on the university's roof (look, look, look what I found?), grooms its partner's feathers so carefully, so lovingly.

Speaking of pigeons, I'm not afraid of flying. At worst it makes me contemplate my mortality more than I otherwise would. Death really does seem around the corner, but it is absurd rather than frightening. Nothing could be more precarious than hanging in the air like this, I think to myself. Look at those trembling wings, like reed stems in an autumn storm. What if the flight management system malfunctions, or a bird flies into the engine, or the pilot goes insane? We are up against astronomical odds. So many ways of it going wrong, and only one thin tightrope-walk to safety. I think these things, but the prospect of immanent death stays unreal, another impossible transition.

Just as it sometimes looks as if planes are flying, so it sometimes looks as if people are in love. A little later they crash to the ground, their wings all crumbled, smoke rising from the cockpit. In the aftermath the weight of things makes itself felt in a different way. How did I ever manage to do groceries by myself? The air is slow and thick, walking is like wading through water. It takes a tremendous effort to pick up a pepper and put it inside a basket, but this is still nothing compared to the terror of having to chit-chat to the cashier.

When you think about it, a lot of things which at first seem very simple turn out to be very difficult, and if you think about it long enough they will seem impossible. The solution, I suppose, is not to think about it, but that is another thing that can be impossible sometimes.

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