Geist - - Geist - Michał Kozłowski

The task of imag­in­ing some­thing not im­me­di­ately present is ex­haust­ing

Within a few hours of get­ting bonked on the head at the swim­ming pool I could feel the world be­com­ing less sta­ble, and then a few days later the sun be­gan to shine too brightly and the sound of hu­man voices, buses pass­ing along the street, music on the ra­dio all be­came too loud to bear.

The doc­tor at the walk-in clinic asked me to sit up straight on the ex­am­i­na­tion ta­ble with my legs out­stretched. He then turned my head and pushed me straight back. Then he shone a light into my eye. You’ve got a con­cus­sion, he said. A few days later, when I made the trek across town to visit my fam­ily doc­tor, he told me that he was no longer talk­ing to any­one about long-term prob­lems be­cause he was get­ting out of fam­ily prac­tice al­to­gether. And then he stormed out of the room.

I could feel the fog­gi­ness clos­ing in, the feel­ing of los­ing con­tact with not only the world around me but the world within. The task of imag­in­ing or con­jur­ing with some­thing that was not im­me­di­ately present be­came ex­haust­ing. But I did rec­og­nize this ab­sence of think­ing in the words and ac­tions of peo­ple all around me. There were two kinds of deeds in the world: con­cus­sive and non-con­cus­sive.

Upon vis­it­ing Is­rael, the pres­i­dent of the USA told the prime min­is­ter, in front of the Is­raeli me­dia, that he had just re­turned from the Mid­dle East, where he’d had a good visit.

The prom­i­nent Toronto edi­tor-in­chief of a lib­eral mag­a­zine quit his post, on ac­count of hav­ing to cen­sor him­self too fre­quently.

An­other Toronto edi­tor pro­posed that the means to cul­tural un­der­stand­ing is to es­tab­lish an ap­pro­pri­a­tion writ­ing prize—surely well in­ten­tioned, but one of the most stun­ning ex­am­ples of con­cus­sive non-think­ing that I’d en­coun­tered in my new con­cus­sive state.

Th­ese in­ci­dents oc­curred when I was in Toronto for the first an­nual Grand Prix Awards for mag­a­zine pub­lish­ing, which my com­pan­ion re­named the Awards for Grand Pricks. The Geist en­try, a forty-five-year-long pho­tog­ra­phy project doc­u­ment­ing race re­la­tions in the most un­happy city in

Amer­ica, lost to a photo shoot fea­tur­ing shoelaces—a painfully con­cus­sive de­ci­sion by the judges.

In the same week, at the Cana­dian mag­a­zine pub­lish­ing con­fer­ence, I went to see an interview with Anna Maria Tre­monti. As soon as she be­gan to speak, a fa­mil­iar un­pleas­ant sen­sa­tion be­gan to set­tle over me, and it took me a few min­utes to fig­ure out that the only time I lis­ten to Tre­monti is at 8:45 a.m., when her show comes on CBC Ra­dio and when I’m still ly­ing in bed, which means I’m strug­gling to get out of bed be­cause the con­cus­sion is in full ef­fect.

At the Ge­or­gia O’ke­effe ex­hibit in the Art Gallery of On­tario, in front of Calla Lilies on Red, a man with puffy hair, wear­ing a boxy blazer and surely a con­cus­sion vic­tim, said to his com­pan­ion: I love all the lay­ers here. With his cupped hand he traced the white petals along the folds of the lily. I see one thing, he went on, and when I look longer I see so much more. His com­pan­ion, a woman in a black spaghetti-strap dress, said noth­ing, and the con­cus­sive man con­tin­ued to speak gib­ber­ish and stroke the out­line of the lily. I wan­dered ahead, won­der­ing if the world would have fewer con­cus­sions if it had been made in the im­age of the vulva rather than the pe­nis.

A few days later, in Lester’s Deli in Mon­treal, the store man­ager was locked into a phone con­ver­sa­tion with some­one who wanted Mon­treal smoked meat sand­wiches for their party, but was low on cash. You can come down and get the sup­plies your­self, said the Lester’s em­ployee, and I can show you how to put the sand­wiches to­gether. Or we can have them de­liv­ered at what­ever time you want but we won’t have them as­sem­bled. Yes, yes, but it will take you sev­eral hours to put all the sand­wiches to­gether. Sure, you can get a team of friends to help you.

My sis­ter told me about an ar­ti­cle she had just read about an­other con­cussed writer, Ernest Hem­ing­way, who by the end of his life was strug­gling to write. The ar­ti­cle sug­gested that the rea­son Hem­ing­way suf­fered so much and fi­nally killed him­self was not be­cause of bipo­lar dis­or­der and al­co­holism but rather the brain dam­age caused by nine con­cus­sions over the course of his life: shell blasts from two world wars, box­ing, play­ing foot­ball, a car crash and two plane crashes.

My own con­cus­sion came about at the swim­ming pool, when a back­stro­ker drifted into my lane and we smashed into each other, head to head. When I stood up in the pool, the woman who had crashed into me was ly­ing on her back, and then she too stood up. She was in her late fifties, small, no more than a hun­dred and ten pounds. Oops, she said, I didn’t see you. And then she flopped onto her back again and con­tin­ued on her course, pro­pel­ling her­self un­evenly through the wa­ter.


The col­lage poem above and those on the next few pages are com­posed of words and phrases taken from re­cent is­sues of Geist, com­piled by stu­dents from Agas­siz Sec­ondary, par­tic­i­pants in the Geist in the Class­room pro­gram.

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