Thursday, May 26, 2016
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
"The psyche is much smarter than consciousness allows. We bury things so deep we no longer remember there was anything to bury. Our bodies remember. Our neurotic states remember. But we don't. - Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal
Digging, digging, digging. Always digging. - MSR
Last night's insomnia question, "What happens when you tell someone you may go a long way away for a long, long time and they tell you what a great idea it is?"
I'm laughing, kind of. The response is rather a confirmation that "yah dude, your life is really proper fucked here so if I were you I would jet."
It's funny, kind of, but of course the line between "that's positive forward movement and productive thinking," and "get the fuck out of here while you can still stand up" happens to be blurred on a day where one has been blessed with sleep. On a day when one has not, the previous night, had much time to recharge, life can be wobbly.
The fact remains though that it was presented as a serious thought and not a dare, so it's all good. The moments of insecurity came in the context of little quakes of fear, or aftershocks. The came framed in an earlier realization that there is no longer anything tying me in place, so options are wide open. It's at once terrifying and liberating. There is very little more unsettling than the prospect of change, whether the change be small or large.
7 percent of the volunteers in the Peace Corps are over 50 so it's not an unreasonable notion, and at this point in my life it's a consideration born of possibility and not flight.
Absence of a reason to run or a reason to stay put is an interesting place to be.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
I've been thinking a lot lately, what with articles on social change, gentrification and economic disparity, about what creates the character, or zeitgeist if you will, of a city. I've not had the experience of any other city as I've lived New York, so it's a good place to start.
I believe we can move beyond the surface here, and cataclysmic events or singularities like 9/11. I say this not to dismiss the trauma of the day and ensuing years, but because I believe that the more profound changes have been through a sort of tubercular decline into vast economic disparitiest. While the city has maintained what is truly a wonderful racial and ethnic diversity, we are economically more monochromatic. There are extreme rich, and there are poor. Take it for what you will, but that's how it's played out. It's black and white in every sense of the term too and that really cannot be denied.
In the early 90s I moved into an apartment on 10th Street in Brooklyn. It was a crooked, old building with slanted floors where my children's toys rolled independently from one end to the other. There were mice in the non-working fireplace, roaches in the kitchen, squirrels in the ceiling and a crabby, bearded painter living downstairs. It featured several things though that were signifiers to me, of having arrived after many years into the world of New York City. It had an exposed brick wall, marble details (if cracked) and most importantly, a vaulting, sweeping panorama of downtown Brooklyn and the Manhattan skyline. It was a view I'd seen a million times on television and coffee table books. This was where I was going to set up shop and finally write that book that would further inject and infect my platonic conception of myself into the fabric and skyline of my adopted home. How that all played out is another story altogether.
It's easy enough to say that the sudden, tragic disappearance of the Twin Towers marked a tipping point for the personality of the city, but that's not at all fair. The city was already changing. New York, despite the reduction in crime and the overall health of the stock market, had already been chipped away at my the big mining companies disguised as real estate developers. Entire city blocks had been demolished by the score, replaced by big box stores, malls, luxury coops and condos, and the warehousing of the working class in outer boroughs increasingly plagued by staggering rents had begun. Art was disappearing. Music was disappearing. Street life was vanishing. The cultural collisions that had always marked the growth of movements in the city were smothered slowly. There were pushes back here and there, but there has been no recovery for what had been the personality, or the heart and soul of the city. Even the green spaces that had previously existed for the "everyone" became more exclusive. Think if you will, of hot dog vendors being replaced by Shake Shack and WichCraft. A meal for one person in the park now costs what it used to take to snack out a family.
This is not a treatise on gentrification either, though that certainly plays a role. It's more a comment on how a colorful tapestry went beige in the blistering light of economic change. My experience now, in New York City, isn't immersion into culture, so much as it has become an immersion into self-reflection and self-identification. I am no longer able to be part of something, so much as I am forced to define myself singularly. This is not necessarily all bad, but living here has become a a process of alienation and no small amount of isolation. True that I spent too long defining myself through external factors, but to abuse John Donne, no man is an island unto himself. There are "tribes" left, but they leave little room for individual variables. There are an awful lot of rules. They are exclusive. There are rules. There are basic tenets. They often require the entry fee of a six figure income or a trust fund. You wear this. You read this. You listen to this. You shop here. You vote a certain way. Your children do this or they do that, and you talk about them all the time as if when you shut up, they ceased to exist, along with your identity as a good parent.
We often don't know our neighbors. Our children don't play with the kids on the block. We bank online. We don't know the tellers at the local branch or see our neighbors there. We shop for groceries online and they are delivered by an anonymous man or woman. I never had any family here other than my adopted family and friends, but families generally don't live together or even close. Our connection to other cultures has become curated through museums and academies.
It seems to me that many of us have become like turtles that climb up on rocks in a pond to sun ourselves for a while before going back below.
We have become beige. We are unpainted canvases, not particularly different than canvases lining walls in other cities across North America. There is much less here that defines us as New Yorkers. We could be Los Angeles with fewer licensed drivers, or Philly without cheesesteak, but no, we have "Authentic Philly Cheesesteak," and trust me, it now tastes the same in both cities thanks to the growth and domination of chains.
We are beige.
I have lost my pride of place as anything I ever sought to define myself by has... deteriorated. What does being a New Yorker or anything else really mean?
I am me. I am fortunate that I've done the work and reached an age where I need less identification through externals, but I do remain nostalgic for a time when it took less work to be me. I am truer to myself, but it requires an awful lot of effort.
A semi-final note: I've always had a cautious relationship with nostalgia as it is really the flip-side of the Regret Coin. Perhaps I was hoping for an evolution instead of the opposite.
Monday, May 23, 2016
I’m afraid, I told them,
that you will open no gates for me,
that neither one of you will floor me.
I fear that the hooks
in your words will not grip me
that I will vanish
into that inner terrain
where none follow.
I fear you will bore me.
I know you will call me
on the awkward line,
the hollow word.
But the truths I don’t uncover,
the visions I don’t aim toward,
don’t reach, will you–
I don’t want to be told
what to write
I can excavate my own content
I want to be pushed into
digging deep wells
in unheard ofland.
I want you to give me eyes in
in the back of my head.
Be a thunder clap
and rouse me.
Be an earthquake
make me tremble
Be a river raging rampant
in my veins.
Shock me shitless.
That's what The Crocodile said. Ancient wisdom he said, and the ancient wisdom always holds true he said. It didn't really seem to make sense, but it has proven true in more than one instance. It's hard to remain skeptical when you see it with your own eyes more than once. It flies in the face of what so many other people say, like if you give it your all it's bound to happen, but when you stop and look, the situation is usually exactly the opposite.
Something to think about.
It comes down to this. What you put first isn't always the thing you're meant to be doing, even if it's been done with the best of intentions. There's another saying about that, but that pre-dates The Crocodile.
― Thomas Ligotti,
Sunday, May 22, 2016
No way to hold my head that didn't hurt...
It took me years to figure out that the comma in the song title was so important. Sunday can be such a long, woeful day sometimes. It lasts forever, even when by Monday morning it seems like the entire weekend was a quick blink and a shudder and then gone.
The longest, saddest Sunday mornings for me were when recently divorced, I either woke up alone or I had to go about the business of getting my sons ready to go back to their mother. It was a social contract as well as a legal contract that they had to be cleaned and scrubbed pink and all their clothes washed and their homework done. It wasn't the chores though. It was knowing that by Sunday evening it would be just me and my vices and bad habits and silence. There might be a toy or a book or the ring of a glass on the side table but that's all there was left of my weekend family.
It wasn't a happy marriage that had ended, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it what it was was a sense of identity that I had built brick by brick around me and for the length of the whole thing, I pretty much knew who I was. Sunday mornings it started to slip away again and by Sunday evening there was a big hole where it had all fit in like a puzzle piece. Maybe not the right piece and admittedly sometimes it was the wrong piece jammed into the space and hammered down with the heel of my fist, but the hole was filled and it looked and felt just about right.
Now the boys are grown and doing their own thing so every Sunday since the hole is there, and I spend at least part of the day wondering where it all went. Not that life is all that dreary and there are plenty of things to fill the day and time and there is rarely a shortage of smiles and even laughs, but a man gets to thinking a lot about who and where he is when that special season has ended. It's not so much a sharp ache anymore but there is a dull throb and no matter what you fill the space with, the bottom drops out and it gets deeper.
What was it Frost said, and damned if I don't repeat it several times a year, and forgive me if it's not quite right, when was it ever to the heart of a man, to go with the flow of things, and bow and accept the end of a love or a season?
Saturday, May 21, 2016
For today, we are still here.
I awoke this morning to the sound of cheers and 10,000 pairs of flapping sneakers beating down Ocean Parkway... the Brooklyn Half-Marathon. People are getting fit for The Rapture, or maybe each deciding to tuck in one more big personal accomplishment while they're still breathing this particularly un-rarefied air. If it all came down right this instant there would be 10,000 pairs of expensive running shoes and high performance athletic gear littering the road. If memory serves, everyone will be headed naked into the afterlife. They'd better hope that self-consciousness is one of the things they leave behind.
I dreamed last night, or early this morning, that I was in some kind of a family therapy session with my sons. They were still teenagers and not at all into the session. They sat at the table hunched over a piece of paper and scribbling equations, and speaking in some Kalahari click dialect, interesting given their melanin shortage and having never traveled to South Central Africa, or even South Central Los Angeles for that matter. I was confused and frustrated. Where had they developed this and why hadn't I noticed before? Why wouldn't they speak English and engage in the session when I asked, and then loudly demanded? What the hell was this? I explained over and over, on the brink of tears, that I only wanted things to be right. I only wanted to fix things.
There are easy interpretations, aren't there? Dreams often come though, in their own alien tongue, so though it's tempting to go for the simple explanation, I remain wary. I'm going to have to think on this one.
For now, it's shit, shower and shave for a rare Saturday work day.
I will remember to look skyward for a sign or two.
Friday, May 20, 2016
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
"What you are pursuing is meaning- a meaningful life. There's the hap- the fate, the draw that is yours, and it isn't fixed, but changing the course of the stream, or dealing new cards, whatever metaphor you want to use- that's going to take a lot of energy. There are times when it will go so wrong that you will barely be alive, and times when you realize that being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a bloated half-life on someone else's terms.”
“Truth for anyone is a very complex thing. For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include. What lies beyond the margin of the text? The photographer frames the shot; writers frame their world. Mrs Winterson objected to what I had put in, but it seemed to me that what I had left out was the story’s silent twin. There are so many things that we can’t say, because they are too painful. We hope that the things we can say will soothe the rest, or appease it in some way. Stories are compensatory. The world is unfair, unjust, unknowable, out of control. When we tell a story we exercise control, but in such a way as to leave a gap, an opening. It is a version, but never the final one. And perhaps we hope that the silences will be heard by someone else, and the story can continue, can be retold. When we write we offer the silence as much as the story. Words are the part of silence that can be spoken. Mrs Winterson would have preferred it if I had been silent.
Do you remember the story of Philomel who is raped and then has her tongue ripped out by the rapist so that she can never tell? I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words. I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself.”
“Happy endings are only a pause. There are three kinds of big endings: Revenge. Tragedy. Forgiveness. Revenge and Tragedy often happen together. Forgiveness redeems the past. Forgiveness unblocks the future.”
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Saturday, May 14, 2016
I'd like to avoid the whole Paul McCartney angle on this discussion, but if you've had enough of love songs then you're probably... well, why judge? If you're done with them then something is probably broken inside you. I wish you the best.
Friday, May 13, 2016
I've seen so many of these articles, this one titled The Glossary of Happiness, within which are contained these wonderful lists of words gathered from dozens of languages other than English, for which there are no direct English translations. The articles are always framed in whimsy and light and discuss perhaps a Hindi word for the inaudible giggle two lovers feel more than utter in the presence of their grandparents... or some such quaint shit.
I remain convinced though that for every Positive Lexicography there is an equal and opposite Negative Lexicography containing words that we should be happy don't exist, like maybe a Bantu word for being so furious with your mother than you want to shit into her bedroom slippers.
Or the aroma of one of those half-vomit/half-burp phenomena, from Farsi.
Just a thought.
The most worthy part of this article though is a descriptive phrase for a phenomenon that I have always, to some extent believed is true, which is: "linguistic determinism, the strictest version, might argue that a culture that lacks a term for a certain emotion—a particular shade of joy or flavor of love—cannot recognize or experience it at all." I would definitely walk that back a step and say that outside of our recognized lexicography, our ability to experience emotions, or even to see certain things, is drastically inhibited.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
What else is there to say? Sometimes it's just like that.
Like this, actually.
Just like this.
Clusters of pulsing, white heat crash in at midnight. Then again at three. They don't stay for so long but they get their job done.
So Wednesday is Monday, Part 3.
I have nothing else. Not for now.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Monday, May 09, 2016
Always too soon and too late at the same time. I am sorely tempted to pray one of those prayers to noone, the way I did when I was 11 or so, not to die really, but to disappear. To go somewhere the feelings were not. So not quite a death wish but a something wish. It came true not too much later and things got... but that is another story for another time. For right now being conscious is a drag.
And that's all I've got.
Saturday, May 07, 2016
Friday, May 06, 2016
Religion never really grabbed me when I was young. It really slid right into a neat slot next to science fiction and western movies, except all the Jesus movies came around Christmas and Easter. It was ABC 4:30 movie fare... and then you got Ben Hur and Greatest Story Ever Told on Palm Sunday and Easter.
You start telling a kid about miracles though and he's going to expect to see something. I did see a man walk on the moon though so it made Sci-Fi more plausible. I was pretty well convinced that if Jesus was real, he was ignoring everyone I knew and me.
Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Monday, May 02, 2016
Sunday, May 01, 2016
Rainy days can be a kind of gift, can't they? Rainy days after a night of dire pain and sleeplessness are even better. Christmas in May. Not quite in May beyond a toehold but in May nonetheless. Hell of a fucking year so far, for sure, with no real relief in sight but that's where the ODAAT thing comes in, or is supposed to.
Several months now into the big Reboot and I'm finding my system files are corrupted and it looks like reformatting the hard-drive is in order.
This isn't quite a FML day, but close.