Dan Schneider

Propinquities & Potencies

I think of the nearness of things-both in time & space- & wonder the actual degree such a concept inflicts on the percipient- me. I think back & remember all of the time I spent fruitlessly pursuing Irene Bruno, the unrequited love of my life, in the mid-1980s. That was a distinct era- far removed from my earlier travails in high school, 4 or 5 years earlier, or my days growing up in Ridgewood , which was yet another decade earlier- about 15 years before Irene grew to dominate my thoughts. Yet, as I write these words all of the incidents, emotions, & hurts associated with those days of futility are well over 15 years removed from the me that is now. As I look back from today's more distant perspective the days of Irene blur more seamlessly in with those of Paco Robatillo & the Wannabes, as well those of Ziggy, Georgey G., & the tenemential times of Ridgewood.

I step back, & think of the controversy of the last few decades in evolutionary circles- where some men, such as Richard Dawkins, believe that evolution does proceed rather Darwinianly- that small changes accrue here & there & that this is the primary method of the evolutionary thrust. Other men, most notably Stephen Jay Gould, believe that evolution is mostly static, with little change that happens for eons- then within a short time alot of substantial changes occur. This is called 'punctuated equilibrium'. Of course, this also has to do with perspective- the short time that Gould & his followers propose is measured in the 10s or 100s of thousands of years rather than the 'slower' progression of millions of years. Men like Dawkins rightly point out that much of the underpinnings of the punctuated equilibrium theory is more about semantics, rather than a distinctly different scientific view.

As with my look back on my 1st love I can say with equal surety that those days were both far removed & separate from my earlier times, but also almost as far in my past as those earlier times. As years go by it will be as if Irene Bruno, Paco Robatillo, & Ziggy were contemporaries in my life. Time, itself, is not always an inflexible metronome gonging through the corridors of existence. It has an elasticity due mainly to our human perception of it, as well as some presumed inherent properties. For the longest time time was believed by most societies to be cyclic- things would happen over & over- not necessarily in the same way but the generalities would all recur. This belief was a natural extension of phenomena early mankind witnessed- the cycles of day & night, the seasons, the lunar month, birth followed by life followed by death followed by another birth. Most societies, despite myths of ancient ignorance, knew that the sun & moon they saw each day & night were the same thing just coming back around- there was no general belief that they were created wholly anew every 24 hours. So, it was seemingly a logical step for many of the ancients to believe that a newborn baby was simply another version of some elder from the past. The basic problem with this view of time was that it had no ready explanation for abruptions that had never been seen before- a new pestilence, an earthquake, strange murderous invaders from over the next hill, etc. Perhaps the greatest example of the human toll paid for this approach to time was the way many of the ancient American societies basically rolled over & let the badly outnumbered Spanish Conquistadors destroy them virtually at will.

While there were glimmers of the more modern view of the arrow of time which points forward, in the Classical Mediterranean & Chinese societies, it was not until the European Renaissance that the idea almost fully displaced the earlier dominant cyclic perceptions of time which still riddled most of the cultures European imperialism encountered. The eminently manifest principle of cause & effect went a long way to ease this global shift of paradigm into the mainstream. Things occurred, & other things happened only because of those initial causes. The Norman Conquest led to the ascent of Great Britain as a world power. The discovery of the Americas by European powers led to the deaths of millions of its native peoples. These things were simply undeniable. Time does move forward & things do progress...

Then, along came Albert Einstein & modern physics. To physics time was not necessarily cyclic nor progressive, but relative. Depending on where you were or what you were doing in the cosmos time could go fast or slow, or not move at all. & theoretically even backward motion in time was possible. 1 could possibly change both their position in time & space out of sync with the normal motions of the firmament. Later theorists, taking off from what Einstein unleashed, put forth an even bolder statement- time itself had a beginning. Somewhere in the murky past of billions of years not only did the physical portion of the cosmos begin- so did time as we know it. The Big Bang was in effect time's birthday. To some this seemed the final triumph of the progressive view of time. But other theorists argued that the Big Bang could only have happened after all of the time & space of an earlier cosmos had obliterated itself in a Big Crunch. This final pre-cosmic implosion was the spark for this newer universe's Big Bang explosion. Time, it was countered, was indeed cyclic- although not in the precise way it had been claimed before.

The 2 sides battled for years for supremacy until further observations seemed to indicate that the known & observable universe we see may just be a small portion of an infinitely vaster omniverse that is beyond our ken. Forces like gravity seem to have major physical problems if applied to only what is observed, but if extrapolated out to a grander view gravity seems to work much more consistently. In this view time is not just time, but some localized aspect of a far grander supertime that pervades the larger omniverse. While the 'time' of our small universal portion of the omniverse may both have had a beginning & may be subject to cycles, supertime may indeed be infinite- or as James Hutton, the famed geologist put it in regards to the 'deep time' of early modern geology: 'we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.'

But more importantly than the argument over whether time is cyclic, progressive, or infinite is the startling proposal that time is merely a construct of an observer, something that some 1 once humorously said was nature's way of making sure that everything didn't happen all at once! As the old query puts forth- 'If a tree falls in a forest but no 1 hears it, does it make a sound?' If no 1 or no thing is around to observe an action does it happen? In the famous paradox put forth by the physicist Erwin Shrödinger, it is the very act of observation that makes something 'happen'- without observation nothing happens- all remains in a quantum flux of possibilities, & time is not applicable. The paradox of Shrödinger's Cat is this: suppose you had a box that was soundproof, shielded with lead, & inscrutable to any outside observation, etc. This box would be as close as you could get to a separate cosmos within our cosmos. This box would self-sustaining & there could be no information leakage into our world once the box was closed. Now, suppose you put a cat inside the box. The box itself contains a vial of poison that if broken will kill the cat. If not broken the cat will be unharmed. Now put the cat inside the box for a finite period of time- 10 minutes, a day, an hour- & at the end of that time see if the cat is still alive. The test is that the vial of poison is set to break, thereby killing the cat, if some random event occurs- like the decay of a cesium atom, if the cat sneezes, or if the vile strangely were to somehow turn a different color. If any of these preset triggers occur the vial will break & the cat will die. If the random event does not occur then the cat will be alive & well at the end of the finite period of time.

But as the end of the period approaches the observer is wondering whether the random, yet unobservable, event has actually occurred. If it has the cat is dead. If it has not the cat is alive. But what is the cat at those moments before its fate is finally revealed? Is it alive, dead, both, or something in between? Theoretically, Shrödinger insisted it must be both alive & dead, & that it is only the act of observation, by opening the box, that decides 1 way or the other. This breakage into 1 thing or the other is called decoherence. Hold on, the objectors said, this all makes the presumption that we can only truly know what we observe- yet we all know that observation is a flawed & limited process. Besides, we know that dinosaurs existed, even though no human being was around to ever actually see 1. The riposte would come that we only assume that dinosaurs were alive based upon the bones we see, & we assume skeletons mean a living being covered them. But, were dinosaurs real before their bones were discovered? Is the act of discovery an act of creation in & of itself? Logically, Shrödinger's Cat has a # of problems- the idea that before looking into the box the cat is stuck in a quantum sea of aliveness & deadness just does not seem right- for reasons far too many to be tackled here & that they have been explicated many times before. As for those who argue that the cat itself would always know if it were alive or not, Shrödinger merely substituted an inanimate object that could be acted upon. Still, the objectors countered that 1 or the other thing must occur- even if that thing is nothing itself, for there is always a possibility- something or nothing occurring, therefore the requisite of an observer is an unnecessary component in the equation of reality. My sympathies lie with a material & objective reality to all things, yet the alternative does intrigue.

But more than intriguing it also gave rise to a whole new outlook on the cosmos. Some people argued that observation was irrelevant for a wholly new reason- that whenever something could be 1 way or another it did not necessarily go just that 1 way or the other, but rather went both ways- the cosmos would split off at each juncture a possibility occurred. In this view all things that can happen do happen- just in universes that are forever sealed off from 1 another after their split. In this view the omniverse is not just a superstructure of all universes, containing supertime & superspace, but 1 of all universes made out of the very notion of superpossibilities- or an infinite collection of all possible outcomes to all possible occurrences.

In some cosmos nearby the sun & earth never formed & life in this corresponding part of that cosmos never happened; in another the dinosaurs were never wiped out & humans never were; or Rome never fell & a 'Dan Schneider' now writes of his life in Modern Romanica- not Modern English; or the South won the American Civil War & most black people are still little more than agrarian feudal serfs; or Julius & Mathilda Pliskat never met & my mother- Helen- was never born; or George Schneider never broke his ankle as a child, was drafted in World War 2, & died in the Philippines; or I was never put up for adoption & raised by my natural family on the West Coast; or I never saved little Ivy from falling off a pier in Kissena Park, she did fall & hit her head on a buoy below & died; or Paco Robatillo never left Puerto Rico for New York with his Uncle Gabe & I never joined a teenaged gang; or Irene Bruno requited my love, we married & had a family; or on & on..

All of these things, in this grand & capital R Romantic view, exist, only we can never know those places where intelligent dinosaurian civilizations arose, George Schneider's body was never recovered in a Pacific Ocean not ours, or Dan Schneider never joined a gang. For that reason it is possibly best to not even attempt to go to those places, even in theory, for the lure away from science is too strong. But it is the very nearness of things, especially time, which infuses all with wonder. I think of human beings when young, & the relation nearness (or propinquity) has to everything we do- we go to places not because they are the best places, but because they are the best near places. Similarly we choose our friendships based upon propinquity in space- our pals are kids that live on our block, or sit a desk or 2 away from us in school- not those kids whose dreams & aspirations most align with ours. Even as we get older propinquity plays a role. It is not, however, a propinquity in space that matters as much, but a propinquity in beliefs or demeanor- that which is internal, rather than the external world of space.

Then I start thinking. I recall the 3 years my dad was dying of cancer (1980-1983) & the fact that his sister, my Aunt Dotty, only visited him 1 time at our house in those 3 years. She only lived about 1½ miles away, but the propinquity in external space was not matched by that she was from him in some internal geography. What reasons she had for the abandonment of the older brother who always looked after her & protected her I do not- nor will I ever- know. A few years later, after my mom followed suit of my aunt's ignorance of the rest of her brother's family she met up with Dotty in the aisles of the Finast supermarket where I worked. Dotty told how her husband, my tall & affable Uncle Jack Lehmann- a lovable man from my youth, had been institutionalized for Alzheimer's & assorted other ailments. She chided my mom for never checking up on Jack & his condition. But mom did not know anything of his condition for Dotty had severed all ties with us after my dad's funeral. I was furious at my hypocritical aunt & also pissed at my passive mom for again not standing up to Dotty's manipulations & guilt-tripping attempts. After all, it was she who had created the distance that separated our family's world from her world.

Then I thought again- this time of my old mentor, Ziggy, & 1 of the last times Georgey G. & I saw him before he passed into what is only my mind forever. It is probably not the last time I actually laid eyes on Ziggy, for as I have related I do not recall his passing- so misty was it- but I shall let it serve as the last time for my own purposes now. It was some time during the winter of 1974. There was snow on the ground & Ziggy was walking off, down a street to meet some 1 or some thing that was not Georgey G. or Danny Schneider, or even our concern. It had been increasingly rare for Ziggy to hang with us, but we still were pals in those times we were together. Perhaps it was just part of Ziggy's maturing that called him to drift away from younger boys like us- the teacher had taught his students & now we would had to fend for ourselves- Ziggy had bigger fish to fry, & in that faraway sizzle I still just see him walking. I forget the street we were on. I forget all but his motion not just away from us, but without us. He was leaving footprints in the ice & snow, but they led nowhere. Had we tried to follow them Georgey & I would have ended up in a world as distant from that we had shared with Ziggy as that world where dinosaurs rose to form nations, stories, & memories as this. He had passed into another sphere- some inviolate world where younger boys could not tread- not at that time in that world, which closed up as soon as he passed through. We would encounter our own such spheres when we reached his age in a few years- but it would not be the same sphere that Ziggy reached at that time & place when we saw him. Georgey's would be Georgey's & mine would be mine. The river that rushed by only alludes its omnipresence, but it is never the same river. Each moment that proceeds recreates in toto the world that young boys & girls, & even old men & women, & non-humans, must assume is static to balance themselves in the real, then survey, then plunge in to & through. Of course, we choose those plunges that are most close to us for not only their propinquity, but for the potency each affords us due to that nearness.

It is for these reasons that you, my reader, know of me. All of the trespasses & opportunities that got me to typing this sentence, & you to later reading it have forged a bond, however brief, between us. & you know me, or think you know me, only for what I will allow you to formulate opinions on. After that the power shifts forever, & what I intended for you becomes meaningless. Intent in life, as in art, is the flimsiest of constructs.

But nearness is not. I think of how near my life's past is to me, always, even as I write. I am still near Josh Harte's mother, in the underground of my elementary school, as she inflicts guilt into my child's mind. I am humbled & disgraced by some 1 from a different world. I have learned to deal with bullies like Ditty, Margo Schwimmer, & the Behemoth Georgey G. & I avenged by poisoning with heroin- but dealing with an adult that hates you just to hate you is something still beyond my ability to reckon intellectually. & she is here or there- see her now:


No Möbian twist could make the human clay
of her son, or his mind, know the wünderground
of genius, where as a child I would play.
So she struck out the only way she could find:
by cornering me in a small, darkened room,
and guilting me for always being better
than her son- and always being smarter, too.
Her triumph was brief, if anything. Later,
my rage would grow white; not with intensity,
but with desuetude. I became what she feared-
a great at something, while mediocrity
gripped all Cloris Harte had brought, or could bring,
into this world. She did not know what inheres
falls, because life is the motion of the thing.

Then it does move. The motion itself is both the outcome & outline of time. I turn around to catch a glimpse of another me in another cosmos & I see only the perturbations of microbes against my cornea. The cosmos is in to deceiving me. It makes me puff with importance, then shrink at its laughter at that comic pose. I am still nearer to nothing than the whatever my descendants will 1 day come near to. The pits & pools of a Precambrian world are more me in some ways than the world where Ziggy was silently schooning to on a cold day from my past, when I was not yet fully me. In a sense he had already broken off into a part of the omniverse I could never go to. Georgey G. & I would transverse our own separate cosmoses when I moved away from Ridgewood a few months later. Were I to ever meet Georgey or Ziggy again, they would not be the same as when I left them- & I do not mean merely that they will have aged into manhood. I mean that there will be an irrevocable break with all that made us us. But, this is not a bad thing. Even rotten old Cloris Harte trudged of into her own blighted realm after my leaving St. John's Elementary School . Good can come of these decoherences.

Still, I catch glimpses of the other- out of my periphery or in some package I've yet to open. Waiting for me may be a woman I once loved- there is Laura!, or the smile of a co-worker whose name I long since have forgotten- is that Jim? The pains & anguishes of a 1 time life, as other newer 1s come in to prop up my woes. I twist, & there I see the Behemoth, or Ditty, or Margo Schwimmer. My ancient hatreds & anguishes give way to acceptance of them as all a part of me. I anoint such by the very act of poetizing them. This, a tip of thanks to 1 of my ancient tormentors:


Her belly is swelled with all sorts of treats,
and the hacked-up disdains of her youthful peers,
reigning all over each impedimented word
she stumbles to utter. At each one a care
unburies itself, and invests in an eye
she cannot see with, for her cataracts
cloud with loving and the fed. She will not cry,
nor move, until something said will counteract
her actions. These are the trophies she holds
to uncaring winds, which pass and desist
to her odors. At 9 she is ugly, fat,
unloved, and targeted by ubiquitous
jeers. Her image is somehow reflected
by the Margo Schwimmer she has rejected.

And choice is, in a sense, an omnipotent thing- worlds & cosmoses hinge upon the very fact of whether an admirer of loveliness will pick the wildflower that has caught her eye, or leave it to inspire another aesthete at a future date. Sometimes the urge to do both is so excruciating that time actually passes with notice. We lose time amidst the vales of our desires. To stoop down, or not. To pick the flower, or not. In these realizations I turn backwards toward my own past & learn to accept those things that I was unable to before- my health, my status as a great writer, my status as an unpublished great writer, my far too long solo in to the seas of lovelessness, the hurts & pains inflicted upon me & by me. Here is where I learn to actually embrace the utter shit that populates most of existence. You do so because it eases tomorrow in to focus, & etches its every detail so you will always have its prompt & whisper in your ear. It is mine, or it is yours. It belongs because we belong. The shit of the world is your shit. It is indivisible from you. No matter the effort expended to feint & juke away from you it sticks, even though it remains gray & misty until you make your claim. The future arrives & you-

I am a boy of 7 or 8. My dad & I are visiting a retired ex-employee of the New York City Health Department. His name is George Kahn- he is older than almost any 1 I have ever met & lives not too far from us in Ridgewood , near the cemeteries on Cypress Avenue- not far from Clover Place . It is an old farmhouse from an earlier New York- yet still it stands in the midst of a city filled of garbage & grayness. He has pens for chickens, rabbits, & wading pools out front & in back for ducks & swans. The house recesses far from the avenue, & closer to the dead. I am comfortable here. Mr. Kahn & dad are off talking of good times older than my existence. As I take in the scent of the green things I open the top of the cage, reach in to pet the rabbit. Because my arm is too short I have to stand on my tiptoes. I am looking above the cage, but not tall enough to see down into it. I reach in & feel fur. It is the rabbit, I think. I go down to my heels & can see it. But I cannot touch it. Again, I rise on tiptoes, reach in & feel its fur, then return downward to see it. I do this several times to make sure it is the same rabbit. Each time I go faster & the interval between the 2 differing sensations decreases but I still can never experience both at once, nor be quite sure that the rabbit I feel is also the 1 I see. For some reason I need to be certain. I just have doubts beyond my ability to express why. I close the cage lid for the last time. The rabbit snuffles its nose at me. I look at it. It looks back. I am on to something.

To see more of Dan Schneider's work, please visit: www.Cosmoetica.com


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