hint of haze—sjon '24

Nov 17, 2020

hint of haze

there is no hint of haze on the nose. the air is crisp with a pine aromatic. the body is thin, with no humidity, and the content is dry; yet the flavor of the day is full and round, the way mid-autumn sun pours softly and warmly into the hoods of our sweatshirts.

in part, it is a flavor of horror.

i am wandering in midday down broad empty streets. occasionally i will be passed by a dog-walker or a revving truck and i will slide a cotton mask over my nose and raise my hand hello. none of these passerby wear masks. i can’t say if the absence of masks is abnormal. i can’t say if the streets are abnormally empty. this is my first time in ukiah. i don’t have a frame of reference with which to compare. i can’t say if it is abnormally warm today. it has been ten years since i lived in this state.

the california i returned to is not the one i left. this one has hints of haze. this one has abandoned electric scooters funded by tech startups. this one has drought. this one has covid.

up ahead, i see a young child linger at the gate, peering down the street. i slide a cotton mask over my nose and raise my hand hello. i don’t pause to see if the wave is returned, but i do see the child run indoors. i cross the street to give the child space in case they want to play on the sidewalk. the child isn’t wearing a mask. a scooter stands attentively upright in their yard as if waiting to be walked.

i approach a dead end and turn around.

i remain on the opposite side of the street. the child is coasting down the sidewalk on the scooter. across from their residence is a yard full of uninflated halloween decorations. i walk by a crop of flat orange pumpkins and white ghosts, smiles distorted by wrinkling plastic. further along, there is a mock graveyard featuring a dozen headstones and skulls standing upright and emitting ominous music.

it occurs to me that of children’s holidays in the u.s., halloween seems to be the one most clearly rooted in reality. the myth of christmas is that someone brings you gifts as a reward for being good. the myth of easter is that someone has left treasures for you to find and keep. the myth of the tooth fairy is that if a piece of yourself falls off, you can offer it for barter. what is the myth of halloween? it is true that death happens. it is true that we all wish we were someone else sometimes. it is true that our inner demons arise.

joyfully, children gaze upon skulls and fake blood and are unaffected. it is all a part of the consumer’s ritual of normalizing horror. seeing the darkness outside of ourselves puts our inner darkness at ease. we are able to conform to halloween horror as if we are playing pretend, while feeding our suppressed fantasies of chaos, control, and deceit. meanwhile, wholesome holiday models—the ones who give gifts and give occasion for soft pastels—are not commonly found outside of the consumerist ritual.

for children to ‘play demon’ is not in itself horrific. what is horrific is our inability to distinguish between our demons, our selves, and our costumes. to pretend to be what one is not is one thing: to wear the costume as if it were not already one’s uniform is another.

the true horror is not cotton ball spiderwebs nor playing pretend. within a week from halloween is election day. and underlying these deflated pumpkins and passerby cheerily pointing at fake human skulls is the true horror: the people wearing costumes of racism, the government wearing costumes of fascism, as if they were not already the uniform.

the moment we forget our edges—where we end and another begins—the moment we turn away from our demons—as if abandoning them would make them go away—or attach to our demons— wearing our pain like a protective amulet—we make ourselves susceptible to possession. we conform and buy into the ritual of forgetting our character, our ethics. we allow ourselves to become possessed by the demons of greed, hate, and delusion—our demons, which are merely weeds in our untended plot, good wishes that have soured.

let’s weed. let’s aerate this fertile ground for cultivation. let’s organize our closets so we know if we’re wearing our demons, our uniform, or our costumes. this halloween, this election day, let’s be clear with ourselves the role we are playing and act accordingly.