Feb 282011
Authors: Jim Sojourner

I’m drifting through an artificial world.

My feet clip and clop and scrape on the path below, wearing the rubber thin on the heel of my hippie shoes as I shuffle through a landscape of concrete, glass and twisted, welded metal. Faux-rock buildings form broken canyon walls, casting shadows on my face and robbing me of the real warmth of afternoon sunshine.
I’m not alone here. People brush past, looking down at their feet or off to the side, some stealing glances at my shaded face, most not. Others, their hand glued to the side of their face, babble on in electronic conversation and seem to recognize little where they are at all.

Sometimes I am one of them, one of the wired masses wandering foggily through the mazes of this surreal world. Today, I am not.

But today, when I am not, I notice even the sound of my shoes on the ground seems shallow, the product of fake rubber against fake concrete, no more real than the planted trees imported to fill the empty gaps between the broken canyon walls where the real wind howls on breezy days.

Here and there, the real trees serve their false purpose, accenting the hibernating grass around the stilled waterfall that, when it’s warmer, gurgles out of its man-made home. The trees and grass and water, meant to make us feel serene in splashes of contrived nature, remind me today only of how out of place real things can be in such artificial places.

I realize the people who bustle by with darting eyes, flapping mouths and shuffling rubber shoes are also real things out of place. And I, with my vacant stare and shuffling rubber soles, am a real thing out of place.

Around me, real emotions flash across the faces of the real people. There, under the tree is frustration. There, in front of me, is joy in the melody of a couple’s laughter. There, on the bench, is pain and sadness, expressed in sopping sobs to an attentive friend.

But there, by the bike rack, is a woman who smiles and giggles as she gazes into her laptop’s pixilated abyss. And there, walking down the steps is a man whose grim expression is matched by the ripping guitar riffs that blare from the plastic headphones that nest in his ears like parasites.

The interplay between the real and the non-real, the organic and the constructed, sends my head spinning.

Do real trees and grass and water inject life into the dead husks of brick and metal constructs?

Can the joy of the laptop girl be as real as the joy of the jolly couple? Can the pain expressed with angry mp3 bytes be as real as the pain expressed with mucus-clogged sobs?

Do real people make fake landscapes any less fake?

Yesterday I thought so, maybe. Tomorrow I’ll think so, maybe. But not today.
No, today, the thin sound of my rubber shoes grating against the breaks my civilized rapture and clears my head.

Trees belong among trees and natural, waving grass and clear, flowing water, not as decorations to break the grey monotony of human-built canyons. And water that gushes from a fountain isn’t a waterfall at all.

And if real trees don’t belong among fake constructs, why do real people? The sun on my face and the wind whistling in my ears and rustling through my hair give me a sense of life, of reality, that buildings and electric lights can never.

The touch of a human hand against mine, the sound of their laughter or cries and the depth of thought in another’s eyes –– not speakers or screens or circuits or buildings or windows or rubber shoes –– make me feel and make me remember what it means to be human.

So as I float through this artificial avenue of falsity, I remember, at least for today, that my humanity is found in real things. It’s found in the wind and the trees and the waterfalls that remind me where I come from.

It’s found in the people whom I wish, instead of bustling by, would turn off their phones, computers and iPods, stop drifting by and sit with me among the real things to smile and laugh and remember who we are.

Managing Editor Jim Sojourner is a senior journalism major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 2:51 pm

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