— Has your soul been saved? You are walking alone through a world beset by temptation. You feel a tremor shoot through you. How strong are your systems of resistance? How fully have you confronted your maker, your undoer? Maybe, you’ve thrived in the material world. You’ve built your fortune and protected your kith and kin from ruin. But what have you done lately for your eternal soul?
I typically don’t let the gospel stations play for long. How come? The language of religion is not my language. My language that has no affiliation — I would call my higher power “God” if forced to name it, but I’d rather not name it. No one trained me to be religious, and I never decided to be on my own. I almost did once. But the temptation passed.
Dark trees, dark leaves, dark sky, glowing stars. I can see the tendrils of the Milky Way, faint but definite, oozing across inconceivable space — light-years away, distances I can mention but not understand. The road is always smooth beneath my wheels. I’m on backroads, a long way from home, and the road is smooth, and my mind is free.
The dial lands on an old-time country station.
I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line
Johnny Cash’s voice is undeniable, of course; there’s nothing anyone can say to stop it working its magic. A voice conveying truth — doing a magic trick to make us feel it’s true. What’s truer, a sermon or a folk song? Depends on who’s preaching, depends on who’s singing.
I miss the radio, though I was hardly ever old enough to know about its power. When I’m somewhere indistinct, a part of the world where I don’t know the voices, I let the radio investigate for me. Its channels open, and in come the different elements of the local psyche — sermons, folk songs, salsa music, jazz, classical, talk shows, rock’n’roll…there are songs about God and songs about Godlessness, and every station confronts you with its ideas of what life is all about. What is life all about? I don’t know. Life is all about explaining what life is all about.
— Talking with novelist Victoria Bloom. Before the break, you’d started talking about never being close with your mother.
— I never was. It hurt me, and it helped me. Everyone hopes to be close with their parents. We think of it as an essential part of being a healthy person. But history is full of people who had contentious relationships with their parents, or never met them, or something unmentionably worse. At the end of the day, having a bad relationship with your parents, it’s a strong force. No doubt about it. But different people do different things with strong forces.
— How do you mean?
— An axe in the hands of a master lumberjack is a tool that can translate raw materials into shelter, warmth, other tools — generally, sustenance. An axe, for a master lumberjack, is a strong force, which can transform raw materials into sustenance. An axe in the hands of a child is also a strong force, but a force for chaos. The child might have a sense of what wielding an axe looks like, but their knowledge will be incomplete, and of course they’ll have no experience, and so they’re much more liable to turn the axe into a force for disaster. Fraught relationships are the same way. Look, I’m a writer. I take strong forces wherever I can get them.
The voices change what I see before me. An eerie voice — hell and brimstone — makes the forested roadway seem sinister. The shadows are alive, and they’re not on my side, the night is bursting with bad intentions, every other car is a threat to my safety, my sanity, my stability. But A pleasant voice is an elixir — nostalgic maybe, or grateful for a moment of unity, a novelist talking about her finest work, and I feel I am the pen she uses to fine-tune her vision. Her voice is my voice, and my voice is clear.
The air cracks. A pickup truck blows by me, its engine unmuffled, its bed empty. The roar expands to the size of the night, then shrinks, the truck pushing itself toward the horizon, eager to meet the tail end of infinity. I shout something terrible that no one can hear. I had been that way too. Younger, I would blast music and drive fast, I would lean on the gas pedal, test the handling of cars I didn’t own, trusting that there’d be no police. I’d want to live at a fever pitch, because it made everything loud and bright, and it demanded my attention, and I could forget about whatever I wanted to forget about. I have no power, I have no place, I have no certainty about what and why and how. But if I let my car make me loud, I forget.
This is the little room where almost anything is possible.
— Quantum entanglement, in the simplest terms — and it’s never simple to talk about quantum entanglement, but we’ll try — is when two particles, in two completely different points in space, share the same quantum properties. And, when one changes, the other changes, identically. Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance,” and that’s a pretty good way to describe it. It’s like with twins — some twins talk about how when one gets a toothache, the other can feel it. It’s like that, but one twin could live in the Milky Way, and the other could live in Andromeda, and they may never meet face to face.
I am no one when I drive. I am naked power, naked rage. No one can hear me scream, and so I scream abundantly. It’s inconsequential. Maybe certain of my particles are entangled with particles which spin on axes of anger, and maybe these make up my sinful urges, but the better angels of my nature compel me to walk the line. Transform strong forces into grist for the mill. I hold tight to the wheel of fortune, and it obeys me.