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Communist Ice Cream & “How is She Beautiful?”

October 22, 2009

I was in the store yesterday picking up some things for dinner when a pile of bright-red ice cream bars caught my eye. Ice cream has a tendency to do this to me, so I promptly went over to check out what new goodies were in the freezer. What I found was at one time confusing and delicious. CCCP Ice Cream! CCCP, as you know, is the Cyrillic letters for former USSR.

It tasted just like sugar and milk...

It tasted just like sugar and milk...

I don’t know how I feel about using a communist name or symbol for capitalist enterprise. It just seems cruel– case in point: look what happened to poor Che

Moral reservations aside, I had to buy one. Not too revolutionary… but what is?

Along those lines, I’ve been working on a book for a little less than a year now. Rough transition, I know, but maybe you’ll see what I mean when you read the excerpt below.

It’s coming along alright, but honestly I’ve taken about 4 months off from writing. That is, until tonight. I started editing from the beginning and I thought I’d share a recent revision on one of the earlier conversations in the book.

The book is titled “Conversations”. It’s a working title, but that is basically what the book is about from a structural perspective. This particular conversation takes place in chapter one between two euphoric young men who lack words to express themselves effectively. You can read the rest of chapter one here.

I appreciate your comments. Enjoy!

________________________________________

from Conversations:

How is She Beautiful?

Caleb suddenly spoke from the kitchen:


“The tea’s about ready now Deema. White or black?”


“I’ll take only a bit of milk, Caleb.” Demetri said with noticeably more conviction the second time around.


“Ah, alright. You’re in luck! This cream is astounding. And fresh! I watched an old Amish woman ladle it out of a giant steel vat when I was up in Lancaster last week. Honestly, Deema, I had almost forgotten that milk came from cows!”


“Hah, Caleb, way to get connected! I applaud you for upholding the Agrarian Standard. Have you been reading that book I gave you? The Wendell Berry one… Ah, never mind, We’ll talk about that later. But honestly, the milk sounds wonderful. And thanks again for this tea.”


But as Caleb sat down with the two tea cups, he did not pass one to Demetri. Instead Caleb sat with the steaming black and white mugs before him.


“I need to let them steep for the exact amount of time, Deema. Three minutes and fifteen seconds. You understand? Typically it’s three-to-five minutes, but I know this tea, and any time over three minutes and fifteen seconds embitters the drink. Trust me on this one, Deema. I’ll prepare it for you and you can tell me if I’m crazy, alright?”


“Caleb, I don’t think you sound crazy at all—” Demetri began to explain, but was suddenly cut off by Caleb.


“Or maybe I am going a bit mad… You tell me… Sometimes I feel like a perfectionist resisting perfection.” Caleb was always this way, finding just the right words to sum up his whole heart, mind, and strength in one confusing phrase. This nugget of poetry would usually take him nearly the whole conversation to explain. He went on.

“Take this morning, for example: after doing the dishes my ice-cube tray was slightly layered beneath the freshly cleaned baking pan –only in the smallest degree!—but I could not just let the dishes remain that way. So I moved the pan to separate them, but the ice-cube tray was then shifted into a diagonal position.


Well, of course then I had to put my drink down, for this took real effort and full concentration. With both hands I straightened the pan and the tray into parallel and adjacent neighbors, and you would think I could then leave these poor confused things alone! But I can’t. If something –anything—approaches near perfection, I must do my part to complete the picture. But Deema, I walked away this morning from those perfectly clean dishes weakened and unhappy because they were too perfect. You understand? They were grid-like and unmistakably arranged by some human or machine. I had a strong desire to go back into the kitchen and ‘mess them up a little,’ just to make it seem like a natural arrangement. I am a perfectionist resisting perfection, everything has its place but me! There is a natural order but I feel entirely lost, and I only confuse the things I touch, disrupt their beauty… Now what do you think Deema? I value your opinion. Am I as mad as I think?”


Demetri sat for a few seconds, considering deeply what his friend had just shared with him. He had been in such euphoria this morning, but now he felt as though he could not find the right words to express his burning passion at all. He wanted to share a deep word, this spirit, with his friend but there was something blocking them from truly communing. He then began to think about the precise word to label this disruptive feeling that crept up inside him over the course of the last few minutes.


“Faithlessness!” Demetri suddenly exclaimed, though intending the word for a fresh and markedly more silent perspective upon his own introspection. Caleb, however, thought Demetri’s exclamation referred to his perceived “condition”.


“Ah yes, Deema. Perhaps you’re right. My love has become faithless,” he then paused to reflect, though only briefly before picking up his thought again, “’Faithless’ is the exact word to label myself! Why haven’t I thought of that before? It all begins with faithlessness. My desire for perfection, while never quite leading towards satisfaction, rooted in lostness… I will never be content!”

Caleb did not stop to consider the ramifications, the implications of what he had just stated, but instead continued on enraptured in himself. His arms conducted, with great sweeping motions, the atonal orchestra that were his words.


“But wait!” He interrupted himself, “I just had a thought. Hear me out Deema, and then let me know if it makes any sense to you at all.” Caleb began to speak out deeply contemplative, yet wildly chaotic rivers of thought. He then paused, not to consider the impact of his words, but only to embrace the euphoria that had washed over him.

Caleb continued, “I wonder, am I really a part of anywhere? Patriotism is such a strange idea. But I wonder, what part of me is America, and how much of America is in me?” Demetri nodded, affirming that his last statement was indeed intelligible. To keep Caleb grounded, Demetri learned to encourage focused thoughts and ignore or challenge his unfair generalizations.


Caleb spoke, leaning forward now, his hand’s palm up, with his forearms resting on his knees.


“Here, and I mean in America, we’re safe. We take our… our homes and our families as things that will never change. We don’t think anything can… can hurt us, or harm us, can… can destroy anything we’ve built. We don’t believe that anything can deeply touch us. That anything can really … change… our lives. We are the most disbelieving nation in the world!


I am thinking now of our President, and many politicians like him who run on platforms of “Change!” I think I understand now Deema… that political change is ancillary to a truer change. Do I… do I believe that things can truly change? That revolutions can happen here? That the Lord can return, and will? Am I a believer, brother, or am I faithless? And what difference does it all make? And what’s more, why should faith make any difference at all?”


Demetri was trying to follow Caleb’s stream of thought, yet he was struggling to see the connection between his friend’s odd perfectionism and his philosophical digression into the nature of faith. It was all a bit silly to Demetri and was beginning to distract him from the search for words, words to bless his friend.


“Caleb, slow down my friend. Can you explain to me now what you mean when you say that your ‘love has become faithless’? Start there. Could you perhaps help me see the connection between faith, or the lack of it, and your anxiety? You aren’t saying the two are polar opposites are you? And how do you generalize your sentiments to our whole nation? I think you might be speaking a bit too boldly.”


Caleb did not make eye-contact now. He was in deep thought, and yet backpaddling through the rushing ocean current that was his consciousness. He wanted to explain this very thought-river to Demetri for his own sake and, he thought, for his sanity’s sake as well.


“Alright Deema. I think I can explain myself more clearly with a story. I want to tell you about a dream I had not too many days ago.”


Demetri smiled as he spoke, “Caleb, are you sure that you won’t just confuse the whole matter more with your dreamy abstracts?”


Demetri felt a welling compassion for Caleb, and wanted his friend to make true progress and not share in the fate of so many young people who philosophize vainly to no end. He wanted Caleb to find comfort, but what Caleb wanted was for the world to shift, for a revolutionary overhaul of all things greedy and mechanistic.


“Just listen, Deema, because the best explanation of what I love would come through a picture of beauty as I see it. I promise that this dream is not an abstract one. And don’t stay confused either! Stop me, Deema, if you want me to explain something more fully.”


Caleb then began to recount his dream, staring at the lamp in the corner of his living room.


“I was at the bus stop waiting for the 114, looking westward down the street. I saw, and could not force myself to unsee, a drunk woman wobbling her way down the road towards me. She was a mess, Deema. A real mess. Now if this would have happened in real life, who knows what I would have done? But in my dream she overwhelmed me. It’s what she meant to me, you understand? No, of course you don’t. Let me say it another way—she kind of displaced the air, like when a train whizzes by you on a platform, you know? And you feel like it’s about an inch away from hitting you. This woman was beautiful in a way that nearly pummeled me. I wish I could remember what she said to me… ” Caleb paused to think. He was quiet for longer than he intended, but was blissfully unaware as he searched for ‘just the right words’ to relate what he was trying to say.


The silence seemed to completely belong to Caleb’s room, to his space. This was the living room’s true identity, silence and the faint ticking hands of a clock, a sound that occasionally made Demetri aware of his beating heart. Suddenly, Caleb spoke up again and reminded Demetri of the immediate matter at hand.


“Ah yes! Now I remember her words. Deema, I want you to listen carefully to what she said to me. This mess of a woman, this symbol, she stumbled over to me and looked at me with spinning eyes. Then she opened her mouth and spoke like a sword that cut me to pieces, saying ‘There aren’t only two ways in life. Sometimes there are more ways to go.’”


Caleb paused, proud of himself, “Now do you understand?”

Demetri held back his laughter. His sweet, naive friend was honestly pouring out his heart, yet he lacked all ability to communicate such passion effectively. Demetri knew all too well what this felt like, though he was one step ahead of his friend, for Demetri had already begun to recognize his distressing wordlessness. Caleb, on the other hand, was oblivious and content, as if a snake’s best meal was his very own tail.


“Caleb! Could you stop for one second?” Demetri chose his words carefully here, so as not to steal any power from Caleb’s spirit.


“Can you tell me more about what you think her words meant? I mean I can guess, and it sounds like a pretty simple concept, you know? Why did this woman effect you so much?”


Caleb continued, still looking away from Demetri unintentionally, as if on an expedition into his mind.


“Ah, Deema! So you were listening after all! I have puzzled over her words all week. She seemed to me to be a prophetess. Not a particularly kind spirit, but nor –would I say—is she entirely cold. She seemed to me to be tied completely to one physical place. Indifferent towards me, myself only a temporary visitor. She looked beautiful and ancient—”


“How so? Pardon my interruption, but Caleb, how is she beautiful?”


“Again, Deema, your questions are perfect—for her beauty, too, is something I’ve deeply contemplated. She appeared near the pub around the corner. Her head was badly injured, and she dressed in a rough and itchy-looking woman’s wool sweater. Her hair was disheveled, and twigs and dirt clung near the roots. She was carrying two open bazaar bags full of God knows what. Her face, once a cherry pink, was now covered in dirt—”


Demetri interrupted again, “Caleb, she doesn’t sound beautiful at all!”


“Wait, Deema, and I will explain my reasoning to you. As I said, she seemed to me to be a part of the land, tied to that specific place. And it is precisely in this way that she was beautiful in the same way this animated world is when it runs its purposed course. She was a part of the natural order, following a deeper course…”


“I am sorry Caleb, but I don’t understand—”


“You wouldn’t disagree that there are things more ancient, Demetri, than you or I. And don’t forget all the many great and mysterious worlds expanding all around us–” Caleb stopped himself midstream, then picked up again on a more vital tributary of thought, “This ‘dream’ as you call it, was a glimpse into something permanent, something unshakable, and I felt privileged to speak with her.”


“Caleb! I love you. I wish only that I could understand you. Please don’t abbreviate any longer. Whisper if you have to, as a man treading on holy ground. Whisper, Caleb, and let the truth be Spirit, coming and going from some unknown place!”


“Well Demetri, what is it you would like to know?” Caleb spoke using Demetri’s formal name unintentionally, but it caught Demetri off guard.


Demetri held back his chuckling again at his friend’s obliviously cryptic ideas and somewhat flawed attempt at communicating his thoughts. Again, he chose his words carefully so as not to upset him.


“The purpose of the woman, for starters. You say she is ‘tied to the land’ did I say that correctly? Yet  blood and twigs covered her. She  stumbled down the road—no doubt headed to the pub for another drink. God, man! How do you infer all that you have from this ‘vision’?”


Demetri immediately regretted the harshness of his words, yet his guilt did not change his face. He was noticeably frustrated by his lack of understanding and Caleb’s lack of articulate descriptions. Caleb did not react too harshly, however, as he was lost in his own thought, now only making occasional eye-contact with Demetri. Caleb started up immediately, nearly cutting Demetri off.


“Ah, but I did not ‘infer,’ as you say Deema. I used my intuition. Isn’t that the only way that a human can understand beauty? I can not rationally infer anything beautiful about this woman, and yet she is an angel. Listen again to the words she spoke, after I asked her about the bus route.


“There aren’t only two ways in life. Sometimes there are more ways to go.”


She understood the place completely! Wise as the dirt and the streams—she told me that there is something deeper than the pavement and asphalt—something wilder. Are you beginning, yet, to see what I mean?”


Demetri was happy to finally have some pegs to hang his thoughts on. So Caleb had been reading the Wendell Berry book that he had purchased him last month.


“Yes, I think so, Caleb. I am going to take a stab at this– you’re saying that the roads, the sidewalks, all of these pathways—despite their usefulness (and it is precisely their usefulness, I believe, that you are coming to resent) the open road is not the right symbol anymore. It’s not enough, not a true enough picture of our wild, absurd freedom. You are looking for something deeper. In other words, you’re suggesting (or should I say, the woman is suggesting) that these roads, sidewalks, and other pathways create the illusion of progress as we travel down their predefined, mechanically decided paths. You are no Kerouac, my friend, but I believe you’re onto something. A new symbol for absolute Freedom and Spirit. Spirit, a rushing breath; not solid lines or the supposed ‘progress’ suggested by linearity! How many infinities we miss in the pursuit of such ‘progress’! Am I correct in my understanding, Caleb?”


“Yes, yes Demetri! Exactly!” Caleb was ecstatic now, deeply satisfied with himself and his ability to communicate. “And here I thought that explaining this truth to you was absolutely fruitless. But you understand! So Demetri, what is your opinion about this deeper ecology, this beauty sourced in my intuition? Do you think that this, by all appearance’s sake, ugly woman is beautiful? And are you beginning to understand why I say that my love, or perhaps more appropriately, my perfectionist aesthetic is faithless and full of fear? I wish I could be more like this woman, to be a part of this great dance of order and chaos… Do you get what I mean, Deema?”


Demetri hesitated for only an instant, but this small gesture was repulsive to Caleb, precisely because he saw, as if in a mirror, a disgusting flood of faithlessness rushing into the conversation. To Caleb, Demetri’s innocent reflection carried with it a measure of cowardliness and disloyalty—yet to Demetri, this pause was absolutely necessary—for he had yet to understand the full weight of Caleb’s question.


“Did you clean the woman off?” Demetri asked abruptly, leaning forward –engaged— intentionally closer to Caleb now.

Demetri’s intensity startled Caleb.


“Yes, I had a wet napkin, God knows from where. I cleaned her off. The crusty blood and dirt from her forehead and hands left a brown stain upon the wetnap. She winced as I passed over the congealing wounds…”


“Then she is beautiful, Caleb. You know I love you. It is precisely your unquestioning and perhaps even unconscious kindness that I treasure and admire about you. Who is this woman? Never mind, for the question is irrelevant. She is beautiful because she has received your kindness, your clumsy, imperfect love. Yes, she did communicate something deeper than the asphalt, Caleb. But not deeper than blood! Not deeper than the rushing breath of life you have within you, or your ability to make humans out of the dirt! The way you restored her, helped free her from the destructive pattern of her ‘natural order’ and restored her, made her new…”


Suddenly there was a knock on the door and the two men seemed to awaken from their trance-like conversation. Caleb hopped up silently and quickly, jogging to the door. Caleb could see through the peephole that Lilly had arrived. The two men simultaneously brushed themselves off. Demetri stood up as she entered.

Enjoy this excerpt? Read more here.

_______

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think.

-Nick


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Judy Hubbard permalink
    October 22, 2009 5:50 pm

    Nick,
    A very interesting read. I admire your careful word choice and character diction. You give each a separate voice through the phrases you use. You have given each character a separate cadence. I felt as if I were eavesdropping. Looking forward to reading more!

  2. October 29, 2009 4:52 pm

    Hi Mrs. Hubbard! Thanks for reading & for your feedback. I really appreciate your input, seeing as how you’re an English teacher and all. Glad you enjoyed it! If you want to read the three chapters I have completed let me know and I can e-mail them to you. Otherwise, look forward to a free manuscript when it’s all complete. My personal deadline for completion is Summer ’10. Hope I can do it!

    I can’t wait to come back to the States and have one of our interesting conversations with Dave and Joel! Hope all is well stateside.

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