Most human efforts in changing the environment aim not only to create a condition where they can survive, but also where they can live in an imagined place–a non-site in Robert Smithson’s term. But a recent trip to Cville became a reversed experience of this site/non-site relationship, when everything seemed to fall back to normal state. It was as though all that happened during my absence was but a weird dream and I woke up to see the Dulles Airport, with its elegant curves of the soaring roof precariously suspended on the cables. The airport tunnels that lead to the arrival level, then, are indeed wormholes through which we travel in between alternate universes.
The campus ground of Cville often reminds me of Ashton in the film Big Fish, where everyone is content and diligent, and all the dramas and conflicts are but interludes in preparation for the next golden era. Yet it is also in Ashton that a hero like Edward Bloom would feel restless and move on, only to return and find it in desolation. Cville is not desolated, for sure, but it has certainly changed. At its best, I still find the breeding ground for ideas where they can be traded with exquisite minds. In a way, we forget why we wanted to flee from Arcadia in the first place. Perhaps I was afraid to acknowledge my distaste with boredom, however inspiring or vigorous it might have seemed. Perhaps it was the illusive lack of freedom in life of a college town. Like fishes in the river, we do not ask “what is water” until we are deprived of the nameless vital substance.
Involuntarily most of us simply cannot stay in Arcadia for life. Therefore we re-create our own earthly paradises, not to mirror a fictional afterlife but to visit them as “memory aids” of the lost garden. In my case, the books are all that is left of my dream of Arcadia–perhaps added the extra ingredients of the smell and sound of coffee-bean grinding.
In the fashion of Life of Pi, I tie up my books and made them into a giant raft so that I can float on the vast ocean of nothingness. I weather through storms and earthquakes and, most unbearably, many dessert of minds under the skull-scorching sun. On occasion there are islands of pleasant souls, but most of time I hang on to the border of the raft so that I don’t fall. I build walls of books that twist and turn and become a maze. In this fortress I can defend myself from orcs and elves, hide and play apathy. Sitting in my well-protected garden of ideas, I turn the pages, tumble down the tunnel of wormhole and start writing. The moment I enter the warm current of the North Pacific, I realize it will bring me back to the shore of Arcadia.