The Fragrance of Toasted Walnuts

And other incredibly important ephemera

Ephemera. What a great word. What does it mean? Upon a brief search, I learn it’s from the Greek ephemeros, meaning "lasting only one day, short-lived.” I think of it as even shorter than one day. It’s all of those things that flit across one’s consciousness, or experience, or field of view. Those intangibles, those vague, abstruse, or subtle feelings that are so faint, so light, only a palimpsest of our experience. Something that, if you blink, you will miss, like the little morning bird that just flitted past my window. Like the breeze now pushing the fronds of the podocarpas tree outside my window. Like the feeling of my feet now, thawing blocks of ice, the warmth on my left calf from the little heater blowing under my desk, the morning sun glancing off the sides of three white camelia blooms and limning the red-stemmed California native shrub whose name I forget, which emits pink flowers each spring in the shape of tiny chandeliers.

I love ephemera because it reminds me of what’s beautiful in life.

I love a beautiful pear. The pear I sliced into my yogurt this morning was not beautiful. It displeased me. I would not have chosen it in the store. It was Bosc. That is fine. I like Bosc pears. That’s why I ordered it. But, I didn’t select it. I would not have selected the pear with the oddly shaped neck that twisted inward on itself somehow, that did not hold its head high.

And it’s all fleeting of course, really. Just different scales of fleeting. In geologic time, of course, our lives are a blip. In universal time, or cosmic time, our entire species is a blip, if even that. Perhaps our planet is too. If it even exists. Is our life real now, when we’re “awake,” or is real life our dreams? In the words of Freddy Mercury, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”

I’m reading Species of Spaces by Georges Perec. It’s a peculiar, exciting little work, fun, fanciful, quotidian. It’s a plea to writers, an invitation, and a set of exercises. In it, Perec exhorts the writer, any writer, to go out, immerse oneself in the world, and document what he sees. At one point, he says, “Nothing strikes you. You don’t know how to see.”

In Bohemian Rhapsody, Mercury continues, “Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality. Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see…” On the word “see,” his voice rises meteorically (in the way only Mercury’s can). It’s seeing that is salvation. But not just the pupil passively recording a scene like a camera lens. Really seeing. Dropping into the moment, being present, and seeing. Seeing in this way is also self-reflective. Notice what you notice. Because it’s important.

Look up to the skies and see… what’s in the skies usually? What is there to see there? Color, for one. Is the sky blue, grey, pink, green, lavender? All of these? Is it serene, tumultuous, empty, or peopled (animaled?) by critters—birds, insects, the flying creatures of our world. Or technology. Planes, drones, telephone wires.

Telephone Wire, the song from Alison Bechdel’s incredible musical Fun Home gives me chills every time. “Telephone wire, run and run,” the song begins. “Tell me you see me, say something, talk to me." Someone named Asdfghjkl Qzwxecrvtbynum said in the comments to the linked YouTube video, “…she (meaning Bechdel) changes the topic so quick and easy, and pulls away from it so fast and casual like she didn’t even say anything - that HIT H O M E.”

(I just noticed the person who put the lyrics on the video uploaded to YouTube referred to the “seedy club” mentioned by the father as the “CD club.” My God. That is so great. Isn’t that what it’s all about? The humor, the pathos, the tenderness, of this life. Be amused. Be moved.)

But, look again at what Qzwxecrvtbynum said: “…so fast and casual like she didn’t even say anything.” He (or she) wonders how and why Bechdel’s words, “so fast and casual like she didn’t even say anything” are so affecting. Why do they “HIT H O M E,” as the person says.

And they do hit home. The piece that “doesn’t say anything” is mired in, bathed in, illuminated by… details. Those details somehow telescope out to convey incredible emotion.

This is the life worth living.

What else is there, when it comes down to it? It’s everything there is, encapsulated. It’s just as William Blake said, “To see the world in a grain of sand” — that’s just it. It’s there, if you look. The whole world, all emotion, and everything that matters.

Blake continues,

“…And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.
A dove-house filled with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell through all its regions.”

Isn’t that just the way? The tiny illuminates the grand. The gesture, the grimace, the fleeting, the ephemeral—they tell us so much.

Mercury exhorts us, to escape reality (or a landslide), look to the sky. The sky is usually relatively empty. We look to the sky for reassurance, for respite, for communion. With our Selves/our God.

The sky gives us a palette, a place to confront and confirm ourselves. To process our experience, to feel ourselves.

To exult.