Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Three Short Pieces on Instinct


I have nothing particularly insightful to say about instinct. Instinct is a rock balanced on a ledge. Though you may be crushed if you happen to be in its path when it falls, that fact means nothing to the rock. It is just a rock balanced on a ledge.

What interests me is how the rock came to be on that ledge in the first place, and how I got you to stand in its path at the critical moment, against your better judgment.


I once drove down a steep, winding, mountain pass in a storm at night with no headlights or windshield wipers. My alternator belt had apparently broken some way back, and the engine light that was always on failed to alert me. By the time the headlights and wipers started to go it was too late – I was already headed down, and there was no shoulder on the narrow mountain path for pulling over.

I locked my eyes on the taillights in front of me and drove far faster than anyone should who cannot even see the road. But I was more afraid of losing that one point of reference than of anything else. So I stayed close.

To say that I was not afraid would be an obvious lie. But I was not afraid. Not yet. I had entered some primal zone where all that existed was that pair of red eyes staring back at me from the darkness. Steering without thinking. Dancing by smell.

It was a moment that stretched on in the crooked timeless manner of dreams. And I suppose a part of me may actually have dozed off – the part that knew better, certainly; the part that might have frozen.

When it was all over and I had somehow survived, I got the shakes something awful. But when it counted, there was only the dream of what had to be done, and the strange stillness when all of the voices in my head went suddenly silent, waiting to see what might happen.


The art of civilization is learning not to notice what you shouldn't. The art of love is getting credit for not noticing.

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