Power Structures

Nothing calms the mind–my mind–like drifting. Stepping out the door with no particular place to go and getting lost in the process is, as Walter Benjamin and Robert Walser have pointed out, the action of a man who is interested in discovery but not reward: to be content to drift, one must not have a particular goal in mind, except to remain open in the world of elements. Fall is the very best time to drift on the East Coast: there is weather, but so much of it that it interferes with breathing, and the attention one wants to pay to nothing at all. Generally drifting is best done alone, or, if not alone, then with walkers who understand that silence and exhaling are essential to this utterly calming, “nothing” activity: to speak is to think (or it should be) and to think is to be engaged by one’s interlocutor, which then tips over into what one does for a living: listening and watching others be themselves, or a self they pull out of their heart, and imagination. No, drifting is best done alone, not even with a beloved, because that’s a shared world, and the drifter prefers to share his absent self with a world that will not ask his name, or how he feels. The best city for drifting is San Francisco, because it’s a vertical and horizontal town: your thoughts can float upward, or roll down into the ocean. The best drift in SF is near Twin Peaks where the wind and fog are constant, and so thick, and so troubling, that you find yourself being blown about into a kind of tumbled drift. Once, walking near Twin Peaks, I saw a porn star I admire very much in his convertible; his tiny, fine hair was being smooshed by the wind as he looked at this strange black man in a knitted cap smiling at nothing as his sweatshirt, drenched with perspiration and happiness, went nowhere. Perhaps that was stranger than anything he’d ever seen on the set of a stroke flick, I don’t know; the world is in the eye of the beholder. In any case, the element I like to drift through most is fog. I love it’s impermanence, and its shield. I don’t know where I’m going in it, but I go. And a similar calm affects me when I run into the only thing that causes me to pause when I drift: power plants. They calm me. I can walk around them for hours, and can see–Temple Grandin-like–how they work in a flash. Power plants have a hum I like listening to as well; there’s non-verbal meaning in the steadiness. (The other hum I love is emitted from disco speakers when the bass is particularly thick. The bass lulls me to sleep.) Pausing to take in a plant’s structure, I’m fascinated by the eerie light that illuminates the structure, a light that’s kept low, maybe, so as not to hurt the pipes, valves, metal steps, grates, and warning signs (“Danger. High Voltage”) that do not protect because there are generally no people around to warn, which must account for why I am so attracted to the plant’s architecture, the hum, the stairs leading to shut doors: there is no evidence of anyone near any of it. Or, if there are people in the plant, they are in the rooms beyond, not in plain sight, sporting white coats and gloves, discovering things I do not want to know. Just recently, I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, walking and walking, when I came across a plant that’s attached to M.I.T. It was hidden in plain sight, behind a glass wall. But I could feel the hum before I saw it. And the hum that almost fall evening reminded me of a beat I’ve missed for a long while now: the disco bass that used to rock me to sleep as my friends danced on in this or that club, drifting through time and relationships and meaning like none of it was ever going to end up being a big deal at all.