Earlier today, the moon was a lopsided and luminous sphere. As the last sunset of 2017 gathered the light and runaway streaks of pink dashed across the darkening sky, the moon beamed. While it became brighter, shadows settled over a graveyard, football-playing boys ended their game, streetlights came on along with televisions and kitchen appliances that were tasked with making dinner; and the basic everyday rituals that hold days and families together unfolded as they do. Even in that swarm of electric light, the moon stood out. It felt unforgettable at that moment, too beautiful to ever fade around the edges.
I don’t take out either camera or phone to photograph this. At that moment, I’m glad. Now, I feel uncertain. I have measured out my life in Instagram posts and to not have any record of it feels like an oversight. Because it was beautiful and I live in ugly times. It will become harder and harder to remember that clean, polished-silver light.
A few hours later, these same skies burst into brilliant sparkles when the fireworks exploded at midnight, and the moon was forgotten. Fireworks are confusing things. They sound violent, set off by a boom that’s reminiscent of bombs, but they look magical. That starry, glittering, fiery confetti lasts only for a fraction of a magnificent moment, yet you don’t remember the grimy, grey puffs of cloud that hover in their wake or the sharp, burning smell that hangs around afterwards. What we hold on to with memory is the most fleeting part of a firework: the light.
Netflix has a documentary on Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang who makes spectacular fireworks displays. There's so much of Chinese history and culture wrapped in his life story and practice that the documentary is fascinating for people like me who didn't know much about him. For instance, did you know gunpowder came out of Chinese efforts to make an elixir for immortality? From one perspective, what they created was the opposite because gunpowder's lifespan, once lit, is seconds long. On the other hand, the beauty of those moments last for lifetimes. Sky Ladder is a flattery-fest, of course, but it's also a truly interesting story of an artist trying to hold on to himself while straddling different worlds. Also, the images! (You can gaze at his fireworks guilt-free because he uses a composition that is less polluting than regular fireworks.) These are all screenshots from Sky Ladder. Click on the image to see the next one.
A police car goes past, its siren on. It sounds vaguely like a catcall in slow-mo. Street dogs bark. Music from distant parties make the air quiver dully. NASA's Instagram feed tells me January 1 will see a supermoon and I'm so relieved that I hadn't fashioned the moon's shine out of sentimentality.
I’m writing all this down because it struck me that I haven’t the foggiest memory of December 31, 2016. Right now, the old year hasn’t quite let go and the new one is yet to properly seize the day. The boozily-sung “Auld Lang Syne”-s are done, the parties aren’t, and there’s yet another year behind us, full of things we want to forget and things we’ll struggle to remember despite all the lists that helpfully catalogue things deemed worthwhile. I've spent new year's eve surrounded by love, books and light. It has not given me the wisdom to not write a blog post at odd hours of the night.
Tonight I’m filled with fragments — of things, people and confidences lost; of moons and fireworks I haven’t photographed, and these scattered shards of Cees Nooteboom’s poetry.
Dreams are true because they happen,
untrue because no one sees them
except for the lonely dreamer,
in his eyes that are only his own.
(From Silesius Dreams)
That it had to come to this:
me, on a bed in the tropics,
dreaming of an object I once gave you,
which still exists, perhaps, somewhere in the world.
To have shared all that
With time as a hairdo,
As a god of a short-lived universe.
That, dear friend, was life
And it is what it was.
(From This Way)