Jane Hirshfield, "Everything Has Two Endings"

Grief and pain are tied to a loss of communication. There's a numbness in knowing you can't be heard.

Jane Hirshfield, "Everything Has Two Endings"

Re: Spencer Ackerman, "Life After Being The Center of The World"

There's too much fantastic writing to keep up with, but it is safe to say Spencer Ackerman's short meditation on the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk has been terribly neglected. He opens with a quote from Pamuk, reprinted below, where the writer describes approaching Istanbul, an imperial capital suffused with thousands of years of glories:

Through the ship's trembling windows I could see the ruined old wooden houses; the old Greek neighborhood of Fener, still half abandoned due to relentless state oppression; and among these ruined buildings, looking more mysterious than ever under the dark clouds—Topkapi Palace, Suleymaniye Mosque, and the silhouette of Istanbul's hills, mosques and churches. Here amid the old stones and the wooden houses, history made peace with its ruins; ruins nourished life and gave new life to history.

Ackerman is interested in how "history made peace with its ruins," how "ruins nourished life and gave new life to history." Pamuk sees something which present-day America desperately needs:

Pamuk, and I gather not only he, calls it hüzün. Hüzün is a kind of "social melancholy," he writes; a collective wistfulness about lost greatness. While I won't pretend to understand the concept after reading a grand total of one book about it, Pamuk's description of hüzün seems not to carry seeds of revanchism.

Ackerman is too modest about his knowledge of hüzün. Simply bringing forth the idea of "a collective wistfulness about lost greatness" without "revanchism" is notable. I mean, think about how longing for normalcy in US politics reduces to wanting to do arms deals with "partners" whose primary interest lies in murdering journalists or perpetrating massacres. The implicit idea behind normalcy is that US interests are beyond criticism. And I haven't even described the ascendant ultranationalism in this country yet! In political philosophy, which purportedly has some detachment from partisanship, it's almost impossible to escape idealized or romanticized notions of the founding, of the fundamental direction of American law and policy. We're a city on a hill, and you can tell we're high up because of all the lights the witch-burnings create.

So: please do read Ackerman's post. Below, I've been thinking about this current job hunt of mine with regard to a poem of Jane Hirshfield. What she's done is an artistic triumph. Grief and pain are tied to a loss of communication. There's a numbness in knowing you can't be heard. Obviously what I'm going through doesn't compare to what she finally addresses, "silence" as "a limit of hearing." But I didn't think her words completely irrelevant to me.

Jane Hirshfield, "Everything Has Two Endings"

On the one hand, I'd like to move. The possibility of tenure, a consistent stream of income, building my own courses, helping build a program—these things are not unattractive. I can do a lot of good with respect, security, and responsibility. (Of course, I need an offer first. No such luck yet.)

On the other, Dallas is home. Lots of people have done me lots of kindness here. It hasn't turned into a stable career, nor have my needs always been met. But because of others, I've survived and even accomplished a few things. I don't want to be ungrateful. I admit it would be nice to get more out of this area, as difficult as it has been.

With that in mind, "Everything Has Two Endings" strikes me as relevant to my situation. I am looking at two possible resolutions, but when I look closer, each resolution itself contains multiple endings. I should consider what those endings mean, whether I am properly assigning them weight. For years, after all, I failed to understand what I could do with my life.

Everything Has Two Endings
Jane Hirshfield

Everything has two endings—
a horse, a piece of string, a phone call.

Before a life, air.
And after.

As silence is not silence, but a limit of hearing.

Hirshfield says a "horse" has "two endings." I wonder if she means not just the head and the tail, two different ends entirely, but the horse in motion, at first at rest and then again at rest. I confess job applications have a momentum of their own. They are dizzying: you're running toward a goal, but is it the right one? You're throwing messages in a bottle into the ocean with a dump truck, but it's still the ocean. All that movement, all that busyness, for what? The head and tail of a horse each have their own beauty and grace, and what's strange is that the movement of a horse has beauties and graces independent of its body. I want to prove myself, but is being reconcilable with being-in-motion?

I suppose I can be content if I believe I have displayed myself well. Moving so as not to interfere with people seeing me in a good light. Something like that. But Hirshfield presents two other riddling objects. "A piece of string" and "a phone call" also have two endings. Both imply connection or a lack of connection. At this juncture, I could talk about how dehumanizing the job market is. How you often will not be told you were rejected, or how you might receive 10 rejections on the same day. Still, brutality doesn't always warrant reflection. Some things only demand change. Instead, I'm more interested in how we take phone calls that are unwanted, where only one end is truly active, only one speaks and listens with consideration. There's something cosmically cruel about that, and I've been on both ends. I've been treated like I didn't exist, and recently someone called in order that I would validate every awful thing they've done.

Ultimately, there is a sharp divergence between Hirshfield's poem and my present situation. "Everything Has Two Endings" turns to images which speak to a much deeper grief and pain. "Before a life, air. / And after." is a shattering description of loss. And "silence" constituting a "limit of hearing" implies both the presence/absence of spirit as well as profound miscommunication. I think of the phone calls before the breakup, where it was clear we couldn't hear each other at all. I know the experience of losing someone weighs more than struggling to build a career, though I've spent decades trying to build one. It feels like life is a bunch of endings, a bundle of sensitivities. A lot of hopes, loves, and dreams directly and indirectly linked, their priority unclear until an ending is met.