Arts and Culture

Americanface, Episodes 57-60

Story So Far: I'm lost in the jungle, and the mountains, and the snow, all at the same time.

By Andrew Struthers 8 Mar 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew Struthers is a filmmaker and writer in Victoria.

57: GROUND

Getting lost in that valley was like getting stuck halfway through Borges' tale, "The Garden of Forking Paths," although after a few hours I was pronouncing it differently.

In that story (which you can read here), a Chinese man in the midst of a spy caper stumbles upon the legendary lost labyrinth created by his great grandfather, Ts'ui Pen. Turns out the labyrinth was not so much lost as hiding in plain site, manifested not by walls but within the manuscript of a novel.

This novel had long ago been published and ignored, because it was a mess of conflicting story lines. But the narrator cottons that this is because Ts'ui Pen wanted to present every possible outcome of the hero's journey simultaneously. No wonder it didn't read well. In some of them he's dead; later he's alive again. It made no sense.

In a narrative, every decision the hero makes is like choosing a fork in the path of time. The question is whether the road not taken exists regardless, like the sound of a tree falling in a forest. If it does, then is there any point in choosing?

Ts'ui Pen spends most of his novel grappling with this "abysmal problem of time." It was Buddha's great insight to step outside of time and avoid the entire problem.

58: JOY

But Buddha's breakthrough, like Schrodinger's, came at a cost. When cause and effect are reduced to illusion, life and death must be deemed indistinguishable. Buddha in this sense died at the moment of enlightenment. He was described by witnesses to be like the sky after the sun had set.

All of which makes it difficult to have kids. That requires full-on engagement in this illusion, this maya we call life. But before Buddha headed into the forest he had a baby called Rahula. He was a cake-and-eat-it kind of guy.

Jesus, on the other hand, died a virgin. Or so they say. He is referred to in the texts as "Rabbi," a word that has two functions. Literally it means teacher, but it also infers fatherhood, because the Jews, who in 33 AD had already been civilized (i.e., living together) for longer than we have to date, knew a thing or two, one of them being that until you have a kid, you don't know jack.

The question is why we in the West found it so important that this aspect of his life be dropped from the official narrative.

59: DISSOLUTION

The big festival that almost made me miss my flight was called Tihar. It goes on for days. First they worship crows, then dogs, then cows. The whole country shuts down. Nepal may have the third-lowest capita per income on the planet, but they know how to party. Tihar was the second great festival that fall alone. The manager at the Lhasa Hotel told me Nepal had 12 Christmases a year. Most people shudder when they hear that. One Christmas is already too many.

Personally, I'm a big fan of Christmas. I think people have a bad time because they are not sure how to handle chaos, how to incorporate it into their world picture, how to honour it as a guest. So they stick to what they know, which is shopping, and that's when the pain begins.

My simple rule for Christmas is to stop accepting presents. That's actually a lot harder than stopping giving them, especially when it comes to the woman in your life. Try it, and you'll see that, just as I mention back in Episode 34, "women have much power."

60: LIMITATION

Gwen, being a vibrantly healthy young woman, had only a single bout of morning sickness, which I suspect she did just so she wouldn't feel left out. The baby was a month late, and everything progressed normally until the water broke, an hour after which the doctors said the baby was in breach position and the only option was C-section. I'm no expert, I'm just saying they made that decision awfully fast.

When the child rose blood red from Gwen's belly, her head was broad as a sunset because it hadn't been pinched by the birth canal. She had a shock of red hair and looked like a miniature version of me. The nurses laughed and said, well at least we know who the father is.

Gwen, too, was certain about that, but not about the hospital system. Before she passed out she made me promise not to let the baby out of my grip in case the hospital swapped babies on us by mistake. Such things do happen, and once is already too many.

But it was more easily said than done. Although there had been endless talk during the lead-up about the sacred role of the father in childbirth, as soon as the Caesarian SWAT team kicked in, all of that was revealed to be window dressing. They had let me into the operation room, albeit reluctantly, but the real trouble came later.

The baby was fine, but they wheeled her to the intensive care unit inside an incubator, because those were the rules. The incubator had hand holes, so I stuck my hands in and held the little creature as we rolled.

When we got to the special care unit, the nurses said I couldn't come in because it was full of new moms feeding their babies, and my presence might make them uncomfortable. I could see their point, but I had promises to keep.

Gwen woke up six hours later. I turned over the baby and went outside for a break. When I returned, they hauled me in to the head nurse's office. She said, "We have a job to do looking after your wife and baby and we'd like you to get out of the way so we can do that job." I could see her point, but the thing is, I didn't know her from Adam. For all I knew, she might worship Satan in her spare time, which is fine, I guess. But not with my baby. The only person around here I knew was Gwen, and I had made her a promise.

The nurse frowned at me in silence for almost a minute hoping I would break, then confessed there was nothing she could legally do to separate me from my baby. But the hospital wouldn't provide a bed. I told her I had an air mattress. She said "Very well, but we won't provide bedding." I said I could get bedding. She said, "Fine. But we will not provide food."

I guess she thought I was causing all this trouble so I could get some of that great hospital nosh. So much for the sacred role of fatherhood.  [Tyee]

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