THE NEW SENSE

This was very long ago: Nature called the Gods together, regarded the new planet. Very pleased, after a few thousand hours, they chose shepherds, farmers, flyers, dreamers, dancers, painters, music-makers, and storytellers who would care for the land, charm each other and preserve the seas, glide the lakes, explore the woodlands, the mountains and jungles, the prairies, deserts, canyons, meadows, all lit and shadowed with seasons so no one would get bored.

It took far more time to agree that each inhabitant would have five senses. Five seemed a nice decent number with no harsh edges.

“Don’t give them too many skills,” Nature warned.

“Or too much time.” The Gods agreed Time was their own property. They would own Time: Forever—(whatever that means.)

The Gods understood Time was an unmanageable force. No point telling the youngsters Time hears no prayers.

Most of what we call “us” are usually fortunate to be born with these five senses: sight, touch, sound, smell, taste. So put down the cell phone: make a list of what each sense gathers. Right now. (The winner is…?)

This could be now. My back feels cold on the floor of a convention center. I hear a jam of sighs, sobs, coughs, cries. I see huddled strangers. I smell wet clothes, the sog of old blankets. I taste the dry old breath of my own imagination, and now the feel of a young girl’s rage. “Phone dead.” She hurls it into the deep vat below. Who can anyone call? Under water now, the city here has been hurled to the ground. The land outraged. Children lie broken under a crumbled steeple. How to: Your world is gone. There is no TV. NO empanadas, no pizzas. No games or screens. It is just us. Look at our hands. There is a tree. Still there. And standing still. Rev up those senses. Please God—and someone bring a guitar. Start some singing or will music unleash more grief?

I begin thinking of this in an Uber car on the way from my loft near the Veteran’s graveyards, to UCLA Medical Center, just north of Westwood Blvd. Here, in this Uber—I panic. I’ve left my cell phone at home!

Be still. The acres of white crosses remind me. They never imagined cell phones. Only the sound of a mother’s voice.

In 2008, when I moved back to L.A. from London, I felt as baffled by the cell phone as I had been by the computer. But then, as a young trainee at an ad agency in the Fifties, I had trouble learning to type. I had always written by hand. So, why now, suddenly, this panic over not having the cell phone? It seems we are committed to making our senses, if not irrelevant, almost archaic, rather like what once were called manners.

I realized I felt as uneasy as when I had eye surgery and had only one eye to see with or when I lost my memory and could not find words. Is memory, perhaps, filed wrong? Is memory, in truth, a sense? I recall when I could not name a flavor nor decide when the association was pleasant or not. How frustrated I was when the sound was off on the T.V. Maybe the cyber thing is no longer a kind of optional convenience, but I fear, for young people, as significant, as vital as the other senses.

It’s one thing to just look at the images of ruins and terror, in broken worlds of Mexico, of Puerto Rico, and the mellow islands we took for granted as colonies devoted to our holiday visits. Quite another to be a survivor, a reporter, a doctor, a Red Cross worker or “first responder” with young children who are accustomed to games, TV, and plugged in cyberspace tools. Are there squads from Lakeshore Stores bringing in games, drones to entertain and distract? What does a parent in Puerto Rico do if a child’s asthma inhaler runs out? CVS is under water. It is unique to be a parent today, unique as one’s own child, as profound as the dreams and hopes you feel as you hold that child. The great expectations turn grave these days as the gift of being able to see around the world shows us the latest variations of evil. Maybe the persistent reach for information to be “up to date” on disaster is evil itself, is this charged up state equivalent to the condition of military action.

Long ago, this was how my mornings used to be—I turned pencils by my bed into the little sharpener. I loved the smell of the filed bits of wood just as much as the scent of the jackets my Grandma crocheted to send orphaned baby refugees in England. She’d give me a lemon drop before I left her room to get ready for school, and I’d roll one of the candies around in my mouth as I wound up the music box in my room. Then with the pencil I’d sketch the ballerina on top of the music box trying to get the twirl right. So: Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste—all the five senses, awake in action!

Now. I turn to the iphone: check the messages, and mail. Sometimes (not every day as I sometimes say I do) I tap into the list of Weapons of Mass Instruction: The meditations, the gifts of peace, consideration, and reflection which I’ve been given by wise founders of the last century (one which already—with some exceptions—seems rather enlightened—here and there).

We might consider this 21st Century as inspired by the nightmarish geniuses of 20th Century science fiction writers. Robots, yes. Everywhere. Unimaginable Monsters ruling what will be left of the Universe—after they complete the destruction of the planet. And, then, on a more modest level of arrogance, we have come up with that what out to be the Sixth Sense: the Cyber connection, the phone—the wifi—the instruments which feel as profoundly required and essential to any human as sight, sound, smell, touch, and flavour. (Maybe they mean more to some than other once essential elements of human experience.)

“LOL” at the bottom of a three letter “msg” is about as affectionate as it gets.

But—then—there is the matter of Time. And we cannot assume there is more than this very moment.