Singularities of Self

Opening my eyes to New Orleans, I gorge my senses on the grit of this pulsing, unapologetic city, immersed in an explosion of oft-neglected colors. Fuchsia, cerulean, crimson, plum, and jacinthe coat the crumbling buildings lining the sidewalks of the French Quarter. Amaranthine banana blooms hang suspended from branches, furled like massive cocoons just beyond my reach. The air is permeated with vinegar and grease, Cajun spice and sweat. My lips tingle as the flavors separate, coating my tongue with anticipation. I run my hand along the grainy surface of a building, textured concrete rough against my fingertips. A jazz band plays a few blocks over while street performers busk along Bourbon Street, setting out hats for dollar bills. Even the cobblestones seem to dance to the deep pulsing that permeates this city. My body responds to gravity, pushing against the city as I walk, unsteady and uncertain, with no particular destination.

In the quiet chaos of my mind, I have never considered myself someone remarkable. My life is measured in the fragments of space, the area between expectation and the act of becoming. I want to break myself into rectangles, something easy and quantifiable, to add them up for a rough approximation of who I am: my life as a Riemann sum. Rectangles, however, can be broken in half, and in half again, ad infinitum. When these quantifiers become microcosmic, there might be an integrated being at the end of whatever calculations are drawn. I do not know how to quantify rhythm or how to count the space between each expansion-contraction of an inexhaustible heart. I only know that the whole of a person cannot be understood until they are broken down into these quantum fragments, separate from time. I suppose I am complicated, but only because I have chosen to believe that anything in life is simple.

I stand on the corner of Bourbon and Dumaine, watching a Christian tour bus unload across the street between a grungy peepshow and a corner daiquiri store. The blistering heat of the day has lingered into the evening, and I want to recreate myself in the blazing furnace of this city. Amid the shockingly unfamiliar, I am searching blindly for truth in a puzzle of illusions.

I find myself beginning—and beginning again—until I cannot remember where my life diverges from expectations. In the solace of in-between spaces, a broken past and an evasive future collide on an unfamiliar street corner. This loss of self is the danger in deconstruction, and I am picking up the scattered pieces, unsure of how they fit together. Mirrored windows of condemned buildings reflect an unfamiliar face as I pass, and I recognize that time is the finite language of change. In creating the person I am becoming, I discover that spatial tension is more fulfilling than unencumbered happiness.

A sea of unwashed bodies at midnight—fierce femmes and screaming punks pounding the dirt floor—bring the heat of the city to my skin again. This world is not my own, but the rhythm of movement feels like a familiar song, guttural and cathartic. I lose myself in a seething mass of elbows and arms, amorphic bodies sliding into one another and disconnecting, an amoeboid mass of frustration and desperation. Afterwards, I smoke a cigarette in the alley behind the corner bar, picking paint chips from the weather-worn building and listening for the racing heartbeat of the city. A beer bottle smashes against the pavement, and music rises from the street, hovering like perfume and dissipating into the night. Walking, I am able to listen harder, concentrate on the deep unrest that lives beneath the surface. I pass the forgotten homes still marked with dark black X’s from Katrina, strings of numbers across doorways that signify how many bodies were found there. Desire builds from deep within; I want to yell, to scream in raucous release, to add my voice to the howling, fractured spirit of this city that is stifled by drunken debauchery. The night stretches on.

I no longer know how to explain my life. In this world, what we see is ruled by Newtonian physics: the velocity of movement, the acceleration of speed. Effect implies cause. These are the emergent macroproperties that stem from microscopic tendencies. What we cannot see, in the quantum world, is the lack of causality. There is tendency, rather than inevitability. The solid world is built on the principles of uncertainty. I navigate the cracks between the dichotomies of masculine and feminine, logical and emotional. I write the poetry of Euler’s formula with shampoo suds on the shower wall, converting parts of myself from planar to spherical. The map of my body curves to a globe. Falling in love is not a static state, and I have given my heart to the underbelly of a stranger’s city, found sanctuary in the empty streets of New Orleans at four a.m.

I weave through the city in the simmering stillness. The neon lights burn a little brighter, fighting to survive in the final moments before darkness dissipates into a heavy, cinereous dawn. The glistening, dark beauty of shattered glass and flickering bar lights reflect off the rain-slick sidewalks beneath my feet. I want to follow the broken pieces like breadcrumbs to find where they lead, but the glass will be swept up soon, and I no longer know the way home.

I do not know where to go from here. We are three-dimensional beings, moving through time and searching for meaning, hoping it exists and knowing it does not. Infinity lives within the boundaries of what is finite; between one and two, there is an infinite amount of numbers. Measurements implode, collapse, are rendered useless. These are the fragments left from the shattered rectangles of quantifiable knowledge. I do not know what you see, but I cannot afford to apologize. This is my life.

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