Concrete Thoughts

Candice Schrapff

Put some words in my mouth, please. I will chew them, I’ll swallow them all. Throw colors at my eyes, textures, shapes, I will soak them up like a sponge. Feed me emotions, feed me ideas. Books, lots of books. Some photography, motion pictures too. Touch me, make me feel.

I demand experiences, sensations, dreams. I will consume them all and I’ll create some thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. A never ending flow. It runs through my veins, rambles over my skin, from the top of my head to my fingertips. It walks with me, eats with me, prays with me. It creeps into my days and intrudes on my nights. It makes me happy, shaky, horny, angry. It messes up with my brain and weighs down my heart. Who are all these voices clashing inside me? They take over my life. Is this who I am? Is this what makes me?

My dearest, I prefer to warn you now, this isn’t a story. Or maybe it is, it is the story behind all the stories. The story of two kids leaving on a big trip, two kids who seem to never get enough, two kids who wanna go deeper than the deepest seas, who wanna go higher than the highest trees. Maybe this is the moment of truth, when you get to go behind the curtain, when you get to be inside the dressing room and look at them straight in the eyes upon shaking their hands. Or maybe this is pure delirium, the hallucinations of a twisted mind, the revelations of a troubled soul, the fantasia from a mental trip fueled by ink and coffee.

The road appears in front of us, wide and welcoming. The sun slowly rises behind the mountain peaks making them shine like fields of golden wheat. A new day is starting, one of the last, and I already know it’s a good one because it began with a warm surprise. I woke up with a noise, someone tapping on the steamy window. At first when I tried to move, my knee was my neck and my neck was my hand. Once I unrolled myself, I opened the door and two ladies were smiling at me with breakfast sandwiches and coffees. Awakening from a frozen night, I was greeted by strangers and generosity.

Finally we had arrived to the land where magic happens in the sky and where trees outnumber men. Trees all around, here and there. Big tall fir trees climbing along the mountains and spreading over the horizon. Somehow I can’t help but imagine their immense roots that grow inside the earth, deep, and stretch everywhere beneath my feet, I can’t help but hear the fluids running through their limbs, their silent breathing and the energy coming out of it. My attention always gets drawn to what is beyond the visual range. Whenever I look at the ocean, I instantly picture its dark depths where the sunlight never reaches and where thousands of unknown creatures prosper in stillness. Whenever I look up at the sky, I see millions of parallel infinite universes. And when I meet people, all I can focus on, is their aura. It flows out of them in colorful waves that expand big into the atmosphere. Invisibilities, they are the ones who define what we see.

Fede is getting all worked up behind the wheel. He grabs it tight and freedom pours out of his eyes. Moving forward, from one place to another, he’s in control and he knows it. He puts on Lou Reed and starts singing loud:

I was up in the morning with the TV blarin’
Brush my teeth sittin’ watchin’ the news
All the beaches were closed the ocean was a Red Sea
But there was no one there to part in two
There was no fresh salad ‘cause there’s hypos in the cabbage
Staten Island disappeared at noon
And they say the midwest is in great distress
And NASA blew up the moon
The ozone layer has no ozone anymore
And you’re gonna leave me for the guy next door
He looks at me:
« I’m Sick of You. »
The arrogance of happiness dribbles down his face:
« I’m Sick of You. »

The road is slidling fast under his wheels, all the trees vanishing into vagueness, the sun going up and up as he flies high to the rhythm of Lou. I look at the car ceiling and I see the beige leather fabric. I close my eyes. I look at the car ceiling and I see the clear blue sky.

Euphoria is holding hard onto my spirit, thoughts come rushing to my brain and so many ideas burst inside me. I’m in a middle state – not sleeping but not awake. The flow of thoughts follows the road, it gets stronger and stronger, it’s limitless and spontaneous and full and generous. It’s something incoherent, something wild and true, something that adapts no matter what. Quick, I hurry to my bag and grab a pen and paper. How do we catch ideas? I can already feel them slipping through my fingers, they drift away as I come back to my senses. I write as fast as I can, but the words, they slow me down. Their rigidity don’t quite translate the flow, there is something extraordinary about it that is simply not possible to recreate. What is a thought, I mean, concretely?

Fede keeps singing loud. Him and the road and the music are now unseparable elements, they are a whole, and the further we go, the bigger it grows, like a snowball rolling down a hill. « These are the times that try men’s soul. In the course of our nations history people rallied bravely whenever the rights of men have been threatened. Today, a new crisis is arisen. Citizens, hear me out, this could happen to you! » I hear him shout over Bonobo’s hypnotic electro bassline. A sentence comes to me: Being on the road breaks down the walls of your mind and opens it to vast unknown spaces. Walls. All what society has done since I was born was to build walls in my mind. They limited me to think one way, to have one profession, to live in one country. Even my sentimental life, they limited it. One stable and long relationship, one husband till the day I die, with whom I will have one family. « Unstable », this is the label I get to have in our dear labeling society.

Apparently, moving from country to country, not having a steady job, not having a steady relationship, is being unstable. What if my stability was never being in the same place and always having a different job? And while I’m at it, let’s talk about jobs. I always wanted to do so many things, I could never pick one. I still haven’t picked one. That’s another thing that isn’t well accepted. « You have to dedicate yourself to one activity, » people often tell me. But I don’t want to. Why do we limit ourselves so much? The human being is made to do so many things, he has so many capacities, it’s almost endless. « Little dreamer, little dreamer, » they call me. And they always say it with a superior tone of voice, implying they are not (dreamers). How sad! How sad not to dream! But I know they have dreams, just like me. The only difference is that they don’t believe in them. For some reason, they convinced themselves that dreams are just « something you do at night while asleep ». Why does being a little dreamer can have such a negative connotation? It almost sounds like I’m out of my mind and have no idea of what I’m doing with my life. If I don’t take my dreams seriously, then what else? Does getting a full-time job in a company make me saner? Does having a retirement plan make me wiser? Buying a car and a house and having a mortgage, is this what I’m supposed to take seriously? In the word « mortgage », there is the Latin root « mort ». It means « death ».

The sky is now covered with a thin layer of clouds where the sun appears as a tennis ball, perfectly rounded. The road becomes narrower and narrower and weaves in between two cliffs. On some fir trees, light green webs hang down the branches and it looks like they are crying. White lava muds down the mountain sides, winter is looming and soon meters and meters of snow will cover everything. It reminds me of how small we are and how, no matter what we do, nature will always take the control back. It must be impressive to drive in a complete white space, in a world with no more borders, no more limits, where everything merges. Isn’t it how it was meant to be?

As the mountain swallows us into its mouth, I look up in the rear-view mirror: I can see my past. It’s here, right behind me, it’s here the whole time, everywhere I go. Whenever I wish, I can look behind and reflect on it, use it as a tool, a point of reference. Flashes of my childhood come back to me. Some are painful and I try to let them go, but they are parts of me, forever part of who I am. In the windshield, I perceive my near future, it’s not always clear, but it gives me a sense of direction, something to look forward to, something that keeps me moving. Inside the car, it’s intense. I can feel my breath fogging up the windows, I can hear my heart beating fast, and my brain working on and on. At times, it gets very confusing and I brake too hard or drive too fast, but here only I have it all, within reach and within view, here only I can decide and act.

It’s getting dark out. The sun hides behind the mountains, cutting out the tiny black trees silhouettes. In a little while, the moon and stars will be visible again, and we will enter the world of dreams and the imagination. Nicolas Jaar’s album intro « Être » is playing, lulling me with the sound of the sea, the waves’ eternal comings and goings. I feel my body relaxing into the seat. Noises of babies and movements under water reawaken my birth’s unconscious memories. We are getting nearer and nearer to our final destination, I can already smell it in the air, the Chukchi Sea is calling, an end that just looks like the beginning – vast spaces, icy islands, short days, an ancient place where every inch tells different stories a thousand years old, sometimes older.

As the music progresses with a soft deep piano melody, the flow of thoughts continues to flood my being and everything mixes inside me. Fede turns on the headlamps. The beam of light that they project on the concrete mesmerizes me. It’s as if my thoughts were materializing. I start staring at the white lines in the middle of the road, behind me and ahead of me, and all of the sudden every single line becomes every single moment of my life. Fede speeds up. I keep staring at them, hypnotized, but I can’t distinguish them from each other anymore. All the lines are finally connecting and they form a single moment – the one and unique.

Now it all makes sense.

I look through my side window, the characters of my book, they are all here, standing on the side of the road, watching me. None of them are real, and yet they exist. All of them are different, and yet they are the same. They are all here, holding hands, and when I look at them I see myself. Each of their faces is now part of my own face. From now on, I see through their eyes, I have their noses and lips, I smile like them and laugh like them. When I say a word, they say a word. When they say a word, I say a word. They will never leave me. They will keep walking on the side of the road and everywhere I’ll go, they will be right next to me. And soon other people will join us. If I am one single person, it means I am many.

Fede is also multiple, and as one of them is standing on the side of the road, another one is sitting right next to me. He just took my hand after changing the tune on the stereo and now the Eagles are playing. His ability to multitask while driving always amazes me. He is wearing so many layers of clothes, it looks like he’s going on the moon. He thinks that, when we get to Alaska, coming from Patagonia, we get some kind of price. A man in a uniform in the middle of the road flags us to stop. Fede slows down and lowers the window. The man points a flashlight at us:

« Are you coming from Ushuaia, Sir? » « Yes. » « Please, come this way. » When we arrive at his workstation that looks like a fishing hut, he opens the door for us and says « Welcome to Hotel California. » I look at Fede, Fede looks at him, and he looks at me. « Relax, » he says, « we are programmed to receive. » He opens a big trunk and hands us a fancy license plate. Mountain peaks and pine trees are drawn on it, and the numbers are 00°00’00’’. Under them, in italic letters, it’s written: there is no beginning, there is no end.

Candice traveled for one year from Ushuaia to Alaska wishing to write a book of short stories about South and North American cultures and their identity, only to discover, at the end road, that it was as much about her own. The book is entitled A Single Moment and Concrete Thoughts is the final story. She currently lives in Berlin.