Of Mongolian Throat Singing

In the innermost part of the stars above our heads, a nuclear fission reaction continually churns out various elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. Gravity takes hold of these elements, and just like after the Big Bang, condenses them to create planets, and, ultimately, life. We humans are made of stardust. There are secrets of the universe that astronomers know, from the smallness of our world, how far things are in space-time, and to realize that when we look up into vast darkness or perfect blue sky, we’re seeing the past.

 

I walked past a pickup truck, and the smell of gasoline danced up my nostrils along with a memory of my brother. With his then sky blue eyes and white blonde hair, he asked for a ring of keys, blue jeans, walkie talkie, and a tall hat to be like his uncle. The petroleum mixed with a whiff of flat, sun-dried Pepsi cola, and tire raised dirt. James Taylor entered my ears.

 

You witness a most unusual phenomenon of a boy and a girl, both not yet toddlers, sitting head to head facing each other for hours on end. Their parents thought the two were connecting brain waves or some such nonsense, but they knew that their children were best friends from the start. The boy often engaged the girl in odd little adventures: equipped with a toy Jeep, they drove into the stars and through every time period they knew in their little heads, and with a dilapidated washing machine rusted to disuse in the backyard, they imagined a space ship and moonwalked into the extra-terrestrial. In the car, Lady Madonna danced through their ears while they made the sun-shade a super computer, typing long numerical codes on the polyester to signal ultimate destruction for far off worlds.

 

            It takes 8 minutes for sunlight to reach the Earth—if the sun exploded, which it will at some point, we wouldn’t know about it for 8 whole minutes.

 

The two children, siblings, seventeen months apart. They were inseparable. Nicholas and Annalisa, both intentionally eight letter names, became two names that would forever go together. Shortened, Nicholas became Nick, four letters; Annalisa, Anna. The children slept in the same room together, ate together, played together. Daylight never went on long enough.

 

Nicholas had always been there for his sister. He was the first born son; she, an accident. Although the Palmer family had not known that Nicholas would have a sibling, they were happy to have Annalisa in their family. The two children acted like twins once Annalisa was born. She, being six months early and weighing only two and a half pounds, almost died after being born. Her father frequently compared her to a Chipotle burrito considering she fit in his hand. Additional complications arose besides her weight. The baby girl was diagnosed with pneumonia a few days after her birth, and at the hospital, the doctors had direr news: a small hole punctured her heart. Fortunately, her body somehow healed itself, and she lived. Nicholas was also a miracle; his mother stands by the fact that she does not make babies well. He weighed around seven pounds, and part of his brain was compromised. After being in labor for three days, my mother gave birth. He breathed his first breath soundlessly. Nicholas John Palmer lived.

 

While sound waves cannot exist in space, light waves can be translated into sound waves. We can hear what the universe sounds like artificially, but we all live under its silent chorus.

 

It was Mongolian throat singing all the way to Arizona. The hardly melodic grunts supposedly treasured by the Tuvan inhabitants of the nomadic nation and Norwegian oregano gravy were two of the five things talked about in the car. In 120-degree heat going 90 miles an hour, hearing “music” resembling someone regurgitating their food while constipated is the last thing you want entering your ears. The passenger immediately behind the driver lost any of his sanity once the throat singing began—he loved this “song.” With a great heave of air, he mimicked the Tuvan master rather horribly while the rest of the passengers shoved fingers into their ears. When our auditory slapping reached its denouement, the backseat vocalist allowed there to be silence. This was my brother, Nicholas, at 21.

 

Throat singing aims to amplify the sounds of nature, adding to the symphony of life. As a folk tradition of nomads, the singing intermixes with the howling winds of the steppes, chimes of streaming water, and the staccato interludes of various wildlife. Take that out of context, reproduce it on a CD, and what comes out of plastic speakers in a midnight blue Nissan Altima is rather ridiculous.

 

Then again, he never harmonized with the chorus of the universe, silent though it is. Sure, his blue eyes matched the sky while mine blended into the midnight darkness, but he was something different. He unsurprisingly sang from his throat, embracing its two tone nature. A kind of duality permeates his being, and we, however connected, will always be opposites.

 

Is that it? Where’s the funny universe that your brother seems to inhabit? Where does this all connect to your details about how the world works, the stars, the sun exploding, etcetera?

Well, my brother does have the ability to create controlled explosions throughout the lives of his friends and family. The whole throat singing business began in September of 2013 when he received his mission call to Mongolia. I’d insert a Genghis Khan joke here, but I don’t do jokes. He arrived in Ulaanbaatar in December, and stayed there until October of 2015. Now, he’s back there again—he fell in love while speaking in tongues—and he will return with his fiancé on July 17, 2016. Mind you, her family herds sheep and other livestock in the Gobi Desert, a lucrative business for nomads. Now, we have a wedding to plan and prepare for…Mongolia broke the proverbial straw on the camel’s back.

Yes, before the Mongolia incident, you must know that he was fluent in Japanese. He has this insane ability to memorize languages, especially those of the Altaic variety. For instance, now he’s learning Arabic and Turkish for the hell of it, but he took four years of Japanese in high school, won several speech contests, took the AP Japanese test, got the highest score (5), and then passed the national Japanese Language Proficiency Test. He did this all without a bat of an eye. He doesn’t jive with the whims of the universe. And as he came into this world soundlessly, maybe he mastered the chorus. Perhaps, to contradict myself, his song is the song of the universe, and everything works out for him because he accepts it. He capitalizes on what life has given him—he doesn’t have to hope for the best; he always gets the best. To him, everything must work out, everything will be fine, he just has to shock the world and destroy some things, but he remains seemingly invincible.

And, that’s ok. From his 5 A.M. runs and cycling ventures he loves to invite me on to his adamant piano playing by ear (he can’t read music), he’s my best friend who just happens to be my brother. I don’t see my life without him begging me to play chess at 8 P.M. or flinging impersonations of Gollum into my room at 10 P.M. I don’t see it being as funny without him asking me to shoot aliens or binge watch Doctor Who with him at 12 A.M. or asking me about reality, if we really exist, what’s the difference between faith, belief, and fact at 6 A.M.

I write this because he has chosen another path than I. He’s stayed with our childhood religion and will progress in it by being married on July 30, 2016 in the Saint George temple. His fiancé speaks no English, and she has a long way to go before becoming a U.S. citizen. He has chosen marriage earlier than I ever would have expected, and I just hope he’s happy. All his randomness and our childish excursions together will evaporate into memory as soon as he kisses the bride. We can’t continue these antics. I’m losing a friend, but he’s gaining a lifelong partner who I hope to befriend. I want him to know I’ll miss him, but he’s secretly telling me to grow up, find my own love, and get on with adulthood. Nothing will ever be the same, and yet the sky will continue its crescendo into perfect morning blue and its diminuendo into blackness until the two-toned song stops.


Works Cited

Bennett, Jeffrey O. The Cosmic Perspective. Boston: Pearson, 2014. Print.

Are You Looking After Yourself

I sat in the musky car, rolled down the windows, and let the night seep into my empty stomach. The memory of those elders melted away from the heat sneaking in beneath my hat. Neon lights flickered past the raging drivers as I let the car coast. The stereo played long and loud while I let my left arm hang out the window. To the cadence of undulating rushes of heavy air, I sporadically opened and closed my fist. Youth. The elastic silky skin of my face and taut stomach muscles. I studied my forehead in the rear view mirror. Wind hit me in the face, drying my lips. Windows went up. Time poised to a near stop in this instance. Shards of broken lights scattered on the mosaic of neon through the passenger windows, and as I sped down the freeway, pops of headlights flew into my vision.

 

Wrinkles twinkled about the edges of her eyes while she stoically sat, knitting in her airplane seat. Each hand worked away on a scarf; needle upon needle joining the tiny threads to create a fabulous new garment. Every few seconds some straggly fuzz flicked out of the needle, sealing her image in my memory. With a blurt, the comical noise of her thigh rubbing blue leather, I blinked, only to find a projection of an elderly man’s braced legs in my mind. His suspenders ground into his white polo, and he trudged along to find tomatoes in the fluorescently lit supermarket. Then it shifted to a hunched back professor shuffling to the bathroom: her bright eyes contrasted with her time corrupted cheeks and forehead. Still her flat hair, a light brown, cut into a neat bob, brushed perfectly against her jawline. And the airplane seat creaks. I wait a bit, blinking again into hazy internal glimpses. I see the knitter’s flushed face smiling down at the progress she made.

 

They said that this stretch of hours, days, years is the time of your life, the highlight of your whirlwind existence as animated matter. Locks of curl whip around my cheeks. 65. 70. 75. 80. 85. A syrupy stew of black heat hugs the side of the road, cloaking the automobiles, and I alone propel ahead of them. I can’t see those smiling grandmas or those hunched elders now, only the road lays ahead brightly lit by slithering streetlights. I see my face again, shamefully praying I don’t get old. My face holds the etching of my days. I wonder how it will fit them all.

 

How vain I am to begin my mental obsession with youth. And yet, why do I see such beauty in these passing elders. Society says they deserve pity not some marveling thoughts of a twenty-year-old. Go help that old lady out. Don’t stand there infantilizing her. Go give your grandpa a hug, young lady, he’ll only be here so long. He’s a human being; he can make decisions for himself, do things by himself—he still has agency. Come on, he’s old. Whatever.

 

What am I doing with myself? I wish to be old—to have my busy days past me, and yet I treasure my youth, my ability to simply do without inhibition. Why then, am I cooped up, slaving over project after project, trying to tell myself that I am happy being a workhorse. I am happy being a student. I am happy being stressed beyond belief. I can’t be masochistic.

 

Sample graduate school interview questions:

What are your hobbies?

I don’t know.

What do you do in your spare time?

I don’t have any.

What are you doing with this beautiful time when you have arrived at your most attractive, most physically fit, most alive? I hope they’re lying. I hope that those smiling elders are happy now because their dispositions have changed. That’s possible. Perhaps they too faced their own type of plastic bag over your head suffocating stress. I don’t know. The one thing that bothers me is their blissful happiness. It’s like they’re children all over again, and here I am, on the first step into my twenties, and I only see blackness—stairs leading to nowhere. I’m afraid. I’ll fall. There’s no railing to clamp my hands onto. I can’t gingerly step down one stair at a time. I must go down, head first, because it’s just me. It’s my life whether I like it or not. This time as a “new adult” is mine. I must remember. I don’t want to concoct a lie; construe some educational thing I do or something I hate into a so-called hobby. I don’t have spare time, but that’s my own fault. Yes, there’s the rub. Time—the destroyer of everything, the common denominator of all life, and what does my family constantly berate me about—how I use or misuse it.

 

You should get that hair out of your eyes. You have such a beautiful face, young lady, said my 80? 90? year-old great Aunt Carla, immediately touching my hair and tugging it behind my ears. She just broke her right femur falling down a couple flights of stairs. She’s still alive—it’s hard to kill a Cox.

 

Those boys love a pretty face.

 

She pushes me constantly, same as my mom. That’s the one thing I can’t think about: Do you have a boyfriend? No. Come on, sweetie, don’t you like someone? Well actually yes, I do now, but I think it’s unrequited. Look at your friends and twenty-something family members all getting married. Mom and dad hate them and think they’re crazy and never going to be as successful as you. April got married last year—you’ve never been on a date. That hike with Steven counts since we hiked until sunset, that’s romantic. No, he was a friend. Timothy asked you to prom even though you were graduating early, that counts. Of course it doesn’t, you said no because of a calculus test. You’re pathetic. Try again.

When Aunt Carla touches your face, her hands nearly set your cheeks ablaze. You never could figure out why she resembled a walking furnace, especially with her ridiculously dyed red hair. Face it. You need something else to live for besides good grades and props from professors. You’re not in high school anymore. In fact, you’re a senior in college. Truly figure out why you want a college education besides money and the chance at a better paying job. You still have time. What about relationships, emotional intelligence, and overall happiness?

There, much better.

She whispered in my ear as it burned.

 

The road turns again. For a split second I close my eyes once more, getting ready for more wind to curl up around my eyelashes. I see that knitting grandma, that suspendered grandpa, that flat haired professor, and now my brutal Aunt Carla invading my thoughts. They flicker away as quick as I blink, and I begin to retreat into my mind once more to that first step on the staircase. Time hasn’t changed you, has it, but you’ll keep wearing your woes on your face. Time will inevitably knit a scarf for you, and as you try to smile down at it, you’ll know your fate. You will never be that kind old lady on the blue leather airplane seat. It’s all in your head. You just don’t know how to turn-off.

Whisper No

Here you lie restlessly awake between the flailing skies and siren wails. The unquiet distance and auditory rape continues, and you see reality as it comes and goes. Six minutes into the raw new day what more do you see but reckless youth and piercing lights from bars blocks away. There’s more than this shrieking existence: peel back the idiosyncrasies and reveal the innocuous—the place where life is dull and meaningless. You are barred from this place.

You cannot, will not ever live with or in the bland quotidian; life will always mean pain and penury for you. And yet, do you see anything coming to change who you are? Don’t you see you exist for no reason? This is all a scam. No,

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it”

(Flannery O’Connor, Letter to Betty Hester, September 6, 1955).

Suck it up. Bar down on whatever bit of stringy meat you have left on your bones. Squeeze the filth that has accumulated on your thighs, and realize that you, in your meat sack of a body, are worthless. Sit up. Walk to your bathroom sink, and scald your hands in the water from that rusted faucet. Life is not for you. You understand that you’ll never be strong enough to look past the nihilism written in your bones. What about existentialism—don’t get yourself worked up about something for nothing. You know your own truth. You found out what was happening, and now you merely must live with the pain and associated turpentine temperament.

“an intelligent man cannot seriously become anything…only a fool can become something” (Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground).

Let hate boil in your marrow. Get angry at the world. It’s Saturday and time for you to rage against the world for one day. For tomorrow you’re supposed to sit and be still in some religious institution, but really, why are you there? Why do you waste an hour or three praying to an ill-willed, frivolous, non-existent being? Networking. Feign faith to extract wealth—it’s humanity at its finest.

Come back to your derelict apartment above strewn out simpletons and part time hookers to realize your place in the world. At least you’re somewhat above them. At least you’re going to college and “doing something” with your life. But don’t forget to grimace at the sordid slums you live in. You wanted to be anywhere but here—remember. Don’t forget to pick up those groceries or do your laundry. Look to material wealth after you complete these maintenance rituals.

Fix those sleeping problems, take your medication, and be sure to call mom. What about your treatment. It’s time for you to go chug a liter of water while you chain yourself to that revolving once-torture mill. No that’s later. Go back to sleep. Those freaks in their disgusting soiled clothes scream from the concrete slab below. They will soon pass out from their squalor, and then you’ll go on and scrape the rough cotton sheets on your limbs, trying to eke out some kind of rest even though you know it’s not possible. Evidently, it’s 4 A.M.

“And do you know what ‘the world’ is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end… This world is the will to power—and nothing besides!” (Nietzsche, Will to Power’s aphorism 1067).

We limp through our lives with nothing more than the supposedly evolutionarily favorable bodies of bipedal, hairless apes. What is our purpose. In the tired eyes of the moonlight, we are nothing, but we are everything. We are made of stardust, but then isn’t everything connected to us? The sea bed of existence bears no meaning, no glinting treasure left for us remains uncovered. Going through the motions established by a fallible group of humans in a system corrupt as any eighteenth century king does not gratify us. Examining the scum of humanity at our doorsteps does nothing to boost our morale. We live for some reason. We, the human race, persist for some undetermined reason. We can’t seem to reason anything better to do than to molest the Earth, killing everything in our path: this is our will to power. We are all monsters. Even the supposed façade of civilization does nothing to hide the malformed, malcontented psyches ruling our actions. Our race is sick, and yet, we live on in our vegetable existences.

I need a fresh start. I stare down the street from this ridiculous rectangular prism, and I think:

“Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter” (Albert Camus, The Stranger).

I’ve been fed on a diet of commercialization and corruption. I’ve grown up in a schizophrenic mecca of gaudy America. Consume and consume, my friends; welcome to the modern world. Forget your woes, and remember you’re here to make money, spend it, devour to your hearts content, and die. This is a place of pleasure; enjoy. But, don’t forget the progress erected beneath your feet, the fabulous pacifier to reality. Consider the technology, materialism, consumerism, etc. and the legacy of humankind.

I remove my hands from my face. I return to myself here in the present. I study my hands, the intricate markings on the dermis suddenly appear as a map leading to somewhere. The self will always be with us—progress does not murder self-reflection.

 

Foaming about the edges of the vast scatterings of humanity, hope tries to find its way, tries to bubble over but to no avail. Hope means nothing: there’s only good and bad without any rotting leftovers in between.

 

Sweeping bodies from mountains to deserts chart out the spherical nature of our world—writhing pain and suffering only join it together. Can’t you see that’s all the human race has inflicted upon its dwelling? Our niche makes us suicidal: we mark our territory by destroying every other sentient being currently occupying a space we wish to own. There’s no point in prolonging this existence if it means destruction. Where’s the righting species, the higher than human exterminator, Dr. Manhattan, coming to set us right? We will never know how to become stewards of the earth if we maintain this dearth of understanding and kindness. Productivity may give way to progress, but when does it become a hindrance to our naturalistic impulses—our calculating love, if we have it, for animals in our past evolutions as mammals, a love for those things we could have become. Denying the past spores and imminent flaws of the future creates an epidemic of ignorance and a self-centered, utilitarian approach to progress in the name of progress. Where is the place for those kind souls who seek degrowth?

 

What would happen if we just stopped?

 

 

 

 

 

There.

Stop breathing.

Stop pushing, going, flowing, moving.

 

 

Stop.

And breathed again.

 

You all go and continue your demolition if you’d like…Destroy the ecosystem, and forget us. We don’t want to come to your sadistic party. Leave us to our own devices. We will be the ones who walk away. We will be the ones who you say do nothing by doing something. You will mock us, but we will be examples to your children because we chose not to conform. We were the ones who did something while we had the chance to slowly dismantle the system by cutting ourselves off from it. And, that’s ok. That simple act of defiance will mean something to the soil we softly tread on, and you will see the many that follow in our barren footsteps towards this something, a second chance.