Birthday (1942) by Dorothea Tanning
Who deserves my best?
I know a queen living with a princess in a high tower. Soon they’ll descend and walk the empty streets of the city, and no one will be able to stop them. They’ll venture out to help at first, but soon they’ll fall madly in love with a landscape built for multitudes, drained of microbiomes, walled in by this skin of stone and steel beams. Imagine their power! To meander with impunity! They’ve been storing up all of that strength in solitude. The queen opened her heart wider so the princess would be safe inside. Her love rendered them both immune from this nightmare.
Who deserves my attention?
I’m a wicked queen whose heart isn’t wide enough to fit anyone else inside. I won’t explain. I can only tell you that I no longer feel envy or greed or anger. My sins are pride and sloth and gluttony. I feel so proud of my lazy magic now, but my secrets aren’t for sale anymore. Join the black market if you want, but you’ll need to show me something good. Pray that your humble stories are enough. They probably won’t be.
“I guess there’s no good time to get cancer,” a stranger wrote to me about the cancer that I don’t have. If you have a question, why not begin with a question, rather than a statement?
“This is more of a statement than a question,” says a person who is more of a statement than a question. Put him in a crowded room, filled with ravenous, exotic microbiomes, and that’s all he’s got. I’m sorry, statement. I only hang out with questions now.
To be fair, most people prefer proclamations to inquiries. Show a man an empty street that stretches toward the horizon, and he’ll show you a DEAD END sign and blueprints for an elaborate blockade. Uncertainty is too dangerous for most to bear. Some souls are too scared to wander vacant streets without a destination in mind. They lack the courage to fall in love with abandoned cities, flattened villages, haunted mines, Europe After The Rain.
Today is my birthday. Open doors lead to more open doors. I’ll eat this limitless horizon, this nebulous nowhereland. No one asked for this, but this is where we live now, isn’t it? Do you still imagine otherwise, or can you join me in this liquid wilderness, as the world crumbles around us? Can you resist the imperative to experience this cataclysm as a soothing trip to a day spa? Can you let death into your life? What will it mean to survive, if your cells never learn what survival feels like?
Build what you can from what you have, but keep a soft, open space in your heart for a harrowing new world, wilder and more foreboding, more sinister and more intimate, better and worse than ever. Embrace this meandering gloom. Open your mind wide enough to allow the vile present some room to breathe. Uncertainty is vulnerability. Uncertainty is hungry cells, omnivorous and prideful. Uncertainty makes you dangerously flexible. Uncertainty feeds every fragile connection.
My microbiome respects your microbiome, the clear boundaries of your skin. My soul respects your soul, brilliant light that cuts through the shadows of this murky moment. My wicked cells respect your desire to be a better person. But I’m not defining feelings as sins anymore. Archaic rules that keep us circling the borders of our property, that keep us viewing entire microbiomes as our property, that keep us walled off from strangers in need, the keep us hoarding our way toward armageddon, don’t line up with the ever-expanding chaos at the center of my universe.
Show me something unruly, untamed, unknown. Maybe you’re worth my time after all. But my standards are growing higher by the second. Your rancid queen owns this moment, the purest sin, the sweetest silent implosion, cells retreating into themselves. The invasion was canceled. Soon, a map of the future will arrive from the laboratory, drawn in crayon, some questions answered only with bigger questions. This map says maybe I’m good the way I am. Maybe my pride is warranted. Maybe I’m not doomed, but there’s no shame in being doomed, either. Just so you know. Let’s follow our gluttonous hearts to the edges of our domains, and look to see who dares to enter. Whose heart is brave enough to explore this garden maze?
I’m expanding in every direction, a surplus of sunlight to help you grow into something you don’t recognize, the way I have. This boundless energy speaks for itself. This mystery leads to more mysteries. Only the curious will be tolerated. Patience is no longer a virtue. You don’t know me at all. Don’t pretend to know me anymore. Ask better questions.