oh beast! nightmares of sheep. goats. fire that sinks like water.

We wait.
I may be here when they lock the doors.

I am here to tell someone about the rate of attrition 
how at dusk

all the people disappear.

I live on the hippest street in the nation
Or the second hippest if you are thinking about the other one I don’t know its name myself although I think I know where it is.
Unless it is someplace else.
But I am certain that my street is hipper than any street there could ever be.

Point being there are always a number of people within a hundred yards of me.
Heading in.
Heading out.
Passing through.

Those that I would or have invited to stay for a moment, though.
persistence is agnostic of all of me and so
I place it upon you
a halo
and its displaced space
almost a dent
a trough
where
for a short time
light will chase its tail
ink-tipped
ravenous

They disappear or that is at dusk I am struck with all of their vanishings at once whether or not anything of note happens to occur wherever they are or were or I imagine them to be. The hush is quite nearly devastating the sidewalks bright and empty the sky congested with shadows horsemen without weight or volume nearly almost partially blocking the sun.

As far as I can tell nobody besides myself feels the chill or is it the uptick in humidity yet entire cities vanish some half century ago the heavenly curtain was to be ripped open it would be for certain or for completely unpredictable but certainly soon but unexpected the great surprise predicted with all assurance whole populations slipping quietly from this earth with an ear-splitting shout TOO LATE or SUCKS TO BE YOU DUNT IT except it would not be everyone only the very holiest airplane captains and the crew also if they all of them were really really really truly baptized the single correct way but even some of those would turn out to have done it all wrong and somehow although their true numbers were meager the disaster would be large enough to be disastrous airships abandoned left and right passengers consigned to the collective gravity of their own worldly sins centered as it is within Lucifer’s own playground all the headless planes converge deep in the earth depositing the unwashed directly into the lake of fire below our feet.

Your feet. My feet.
That was a faster trip than I expected.
Oh we have been waiting for you. Waiting and waiting.

I may have been eight when I learned of this freight train of a rapture the one bearing down with all arrested haste as it had already for the hundred fifty-ish years since it was sifted out of the King James Bible with all the hermeneutic ingenuity one could hope to find in an American preacher. My family had not mentioned anything about it yet but early in the school year a Jack Chick tract somehow landed on the windowsill of my fourth grade classroom and as it was made of words and pictures I had no power not to pick it up I would and did and still do read shampoo labels and pill bottles if they appear in arm’s reach along with a moment to fill but this pamphlet existed only to be read thus I trusted it all the more to be rewarding and useful but instead the little comic was almost terrifying only too confusing at first to be quite so. It told of a cosmic endgame of unbridled divine revenge and posed it without any reason I knew of in the place of a future I had not yet even thought about because the other five billion billion possibilities had always been open and always would be unless they were about to be unceremoniously mowed down beheaded strafed pulverized and buried.

Because god was really mad about..

something. To this day none of the excuses offered neither the simple ones nor the sophisticated have ever been anything but exasperating. Arbitrary. Stark naked all resentment and fear hanging out swollen just past the point of restraint so that you cannot decide whether to laugh or run. 

I took the leaflet home. Mom would know if this stuff was true or real or anything I needed to worry about she explained things all the time and it was clear to me then that she already knew everything I would ever need to know.

It was. Something to worry about. Or it would be. I vaguely recall being told I could put off this worry until some time a little later that I would know was the time because it would be the time and I would know by then I would not have to ask I would just know it which indecipherable moment would shortly become the focus of vicious ellipses of thought so quietly insistent how was I to know then the howling the shrieking the twisted diamond bits exquisitely drilled years they were on tight fine points of doubly bound preacher’s logic.

Time was on their side. They would wait as long as they had to but no longer a couple of decades would make for a vast polish of precision-ground glass. One note so high nobody heard it not me not you not anyone still living. Every now and again I find a shard still singing as though it had landed not an hour before.

I am ahead of myself or I would be if I knew where to go to get there.

But I don’t remember much else about the truly bad news that was to get so much worse and for so long only I recall crawling on her lap for some sort of reassurance. The memory ends there. A vague hint of
shock like that was not what I came up here for oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Where will I go now where do I wait.
Could it be time yet.
How about now.

The rest of that fall is a nighttime serial in which I try to cry myself to sleep over and over and over and over but there is exhuasted crying because you have just had enough of the day and there is I cannot sleep with this unbearable knowledge and

there is no unknowing
and
there is no.

There just was not.

I was unable to say what the problem was when asked. Someone would rub my back while I pretended to fall asleep because I could not explain why that was not working either. What comfort could they possibly offer–clearly they had no more power than I to change the ending of this weird-ass stage play we had all been born into without ever once asking. So I stayed still as they left my room. Sleep would come eventually to swallow the ruined cosmos for a little while. By spring I could see that no crying of mine would bring it back to life and so I gave up.

I could not explain that gods plan had drained life of sense and replaced it with a terrible and ruthless joke. All of the color all of the motion all of the life all of the music the running water the rocks and hills and the grass the forests awash in moss and echoes of every breeze every hoof every breath the taking flight and sitting still all of that for one question. One lousy question and the majority of all of this and all of us would flunk.

It did not matter to me that I did not have to worry for myself right then. Add me to the damned biomass of Earth or subtract me: it made no significant difference in the overall volume of the final kill that would not even be final but ongoing and ongoing and ongoing until even a blind idiot god would have to signal somehow that enough was enough as the balances toppled lopsided with recompense.
I understood this then but could not have said even to myself what it was I understood. Besides which understanding could not overcome my absolute inability to disbelieve what my mother told me. My eight was your six besides who at eight is able to back themselves like that to walk unassisted like that to give themselves the benefit of the doubt like that.

I knew. I knew that I knew.
And I knew that it was not possible to go on knowing.

I had to fold.

It was the end
not the beginning of the end
not the end of the end
all of the end all of it
For once and for all

This would not be the last one
but it was the last one where
I was allowed
to maintain that
nobody had warned me.
 

first in a series of series of declared series

I am so frustrated I could file a class action lawsuit! If, you know, I had a lawyer. And money to pay them if they did not want to do all this work for free because I have a hunch the system is rigged and besides I am the most unreliable witness alive.

Ok maybe not the most unreliable. But my credibility and my credit are both shot. Probably it is no coincidence that they would go down together but if I start drawing connections too sharply I am going to look like I am psychotic or something and that would just–

well, underscore the “with psychotic features” portion of my vast collection of diagnoses. Which diagnoses will come up again if I get that far before I die but I am not sure how far I will even get before the coffee wears off or my eyes start aching so badly that I must stop typing and stare at my feet for the rest of the evening.

Personal responsibility. I have a lot of thoughts about that. Of course in late capitalism the persons saddled with personal responsibility are not those persons the Supreme Court saw fit to fashion out of the inherently lopsided autocracies that are corporations. They can do whatever they want; the invisible hand will guide and protect them in its boundless mercy for profit seekers.

The rest of us though. No such protection.

Still I can fantasize that everyone who espouses personal responsibility would actually be happy to take some on themselves and prove to the rest of us that they do believe this responsibility applies to everyone, not just to those other people who are not able to meet the free-market definition of worthiness.

I had the idea today to go out into the world. Because lately I have not been doing a whole lot of that because when I do what often happens is quite a lot like what happened today. I took my camera; I sort of made a new Gregorian calendar year resolution to go take pictures on my block at least once a week for the rest of the year and to try to see things that I have already seen a million times at least differently enough to take interesting pictures. Part of the resolution included posting them, somewhere, for anyone out there to look at. I hope to be able to get to that in between what may be called dystonic storms if what is going on with me is what I think is going on with me.

Really I think this was just an idea I had around the first of the year and I figured well this is a punctual moment so why not start and call it (one of) my project(s) for the year.

Looking up at an old building with columns and wrought iron faux balconies on the boarded-up windows

Today I took pictures of an old building that I am quite certain will soon lose its beautiful crumbling facade when someone buys it and decides that restoring said facade would cut into profits too much and instead they replace the facade with a facile quote of said facade. Because this has already happened to the two buildings adjacent to this one that were built in similar styles some time ago when architectural flourishes were not seen as excessive or if they were seen as excessive then it was still worth the time and money to carry them out in order to simply be excessive.

The point of my field trip was not necessarily the photography although I was aware this might be the only thing I was able to accomplish if I did accomplish anything at all. My general plan was to walk somewhere where there was a place to sit and then to sit there and maybe write a little bit about one or two of the million things that have occurred to me in the last couple of years and then gotten lost in the ceaseless clatter that is my central nervous system looking for itself or America or some other nostalgia-ridden peaceful ideal and that also makes starting andor continuing to write or think on any of these things into a challenge of modestly exhausting proportions.

I got as far as the parklet outside of a cafe over on Valencia just south of 22nd Street. I had thought maybe to try for the library at 24th Street but my back did not like all the standing still I had done while using my camera so I stopped here. I even got some coffee although I could not really afford it because why not go all out?

So I took my coffee to a parklet table and got myself seated which is itself an involved affair for reasons I do not fully understand except that it might have something to do with how I hang half of the things I think I might need from my bag and so they often get tangled up in each other and me and the dozen or so wallet chains I decorate myself wtih besides. Plus today a camera on a strap around my neck and you would think that carrying a bag would make organization easier instead of harder but no. It gets even worse if I put things in or on a backpack with carabiners and velcro and paracord. Backpacks are made to keep things out of reach until you Get There but I usually need things enroute and I should probably just get a toolbelt or something similar that could hold lots of things without using up my hands and neck.

Eventually though I was seated with my iDevice out and my coffee in front of me and I opened a note-taking app all ready to start. And then I realized that my eyes, neck, and head were all throbbing. At slightly different frequencies and also and this has been going on for a while but I do not notice that much here in my house because I guess I do not look down much at home if I look down that is if I bend my neck rather than, say, my waist in order to see something below my current horizon line then my head starts to ache or in this case ache worse. My neck muscles apparently do not like to be stretched that way because the ache starts in the back on one or both sides of my cervical spine and apreads from there to my temple(s) and forehead(s–oh wait. I only have one of those!).

This can be annoying when trying to use an iDevice without holding it up so that I can look directly ahead at it. Holding the iDevice up in that way makes my shoulder muscles angry if I do it for too long especially if the reason I am doing it is because the muscles in my face are angry because they will just spread the love on down to whatever part of me tries to do anything but remain still and as relaxed as possible which often is not at all possible but you have to try anyway if you want to be able to do anything at all the rest of the day.

My nose was twitching. Not so that anyone could see it but some nerve in my right-nostril-flaring muscle(s?) was unhappy or alarmed or something and so sending a repeated signal to a tiny bit of that muscle to contract and then shiver at about 70Hz or so for half a second. A half second of rest and then another signal. You might say it was on a 70Hz over 2Hz sort of signal. Or the other way around.

I don’t know which.

But most of the muscles in my face twitch for short periods at about 70Hz and in the night when it is quiet I can hear them, you know, from the inside, through whatever bone is between the muscle and my inner ear. Because my jaw is trying to shut itself with great emphasis much of the time and with varying amounts of force fueling that emphasis, I can only tell if it is relaxed if I stop hearing it strain against itself. Sometimes this means my jaw can be fully slack, but it usually finds rest somewhere between clenched tight and teeth not quite touching. A point of homeostasis between warring muscle groups, always at a slightly different length of the arc that defines the full range through which my chin can move all by itself. “Slack” jaw for me actually requires continuous muscular effort against the contractive forces almost always exercising themselves. And this generates that same hum slightly higher in pitch than the familiar sixty cycles of AC power. Or wherever those sixty cycles come from. Wall socket I am pretty sure but don’t quote me on that.

My eyes do not hum. They just ache if I try to swivel them upwards or sideways. You know, in their sockets. Not moving my head. Not all the time but if my nose or cheek or eyebrow are twitching it is usually the case that my eyes are not wanting to do any work at all other than the heavy-lidded unfocused meditation gaze at forty-five degrees of nothing. And so that is what I let them do even if I am not formally meditating right that minute. In fact this whole symphony of muscular restlessness will sometimes relent of I meditate on the spot. Or at least I can keep it toned down a little for as long as I look down with my eyes half-closed and my neck absolutely straight or even bent back slightly. If I wait long enough I can say I was meditating even if I was just waiting for the storm to pass and trying to think calm relaxing thoughts to help it on its way as well as to retain my own composure for another few minutes.

Klonopin can help a bit too, so I took a quarter of one and washed it down with my coffee so as to maybe counteract its sleepier-making effects. Oh and also water. Especially if I have eaten recently, half to a full liter of water can hurry my face along towards placidity. Of course then I will be hurrying myself along to the restroom soon enough but I know where all the good ones are in my neighborhood plus if all else fails I can just use the one in my therapist’s waiting room I mean hallway.

And so once the Klonopin and water and coffee were administered I sat somewhat Buddha like in the parklet chair with my head facing forward and my eyes down. People walked past with great commotion of noise and light. They say that the eye thing–if dystonia is the cause or rather the effect become a cause of the twitches and contractions–is a slow spasm of the eyelid muscles, but that does not explain at all why sound becomes all clanky loud and light all knife-edged bright while I cannot look at anything that requires eye muscle movement of any kind not just lid-raising.

In any case. I managed to type two paragraphs into my iDevice eventually but that was all my body would let me do, so I got up and walked home after getting my bag and my jacket and my camera all tied on in the right places. I rifled through the things I keep in my head to write for the one that would be a useful tangent for the story I keep saying that I want to write which is my own story of which there are thousands if not tens of thousands or more and it hit me: fucking class-action lawsuit! The mess I have been in the last several however manies is one that others share and not one of us chose to place outselves here.

But against whom? I start to make a list:

Jack Chick, most definitely, or whatever he left of his little evangelistic comic empire.

The Southern Baptist Convention?

How far back into the multiple, ramified chains of events would one want to reach?

I think the statute of limitations has passed to try to find the dude who raped me.

Not my brother. I know where he is.

The other dude.

How about a class-action lawsuit against the whole of compulsory anatomically essentialist heteronormativity? Who precisely is responsible for that?

Billy Graham Industries or LLC or Incorporated or however his offspring continue to make money by threatening the masses with the Lake of Fire. Oh, sorry. This one belongs up there with Jack Chick. I would not say the Grahams are completely to blame for the heteroassumptions into which they were all born.

I am refraining from naming what might be the most obvious entity to sue if the symptoms that started as soon as I stopped taking Zyprexa and continue to this day are actually somehow even in the most tortuous of ways connected the drug itself or its method of discontinuation. I will just leave this here though.

OK this was going to be a short intro? And I was going to write the story of why Jack Chick is the first culpable party that sprang to mind upon imagining financial compensation for chronic daily annoyance? But probably I have lost most of my audience already so I will try that a little later with some luck and Klonopin and water oh and lots of just. breathing.

 

 

after Jackson

Jackson, a dilute orange tabby, looking to the right

Jackson in motion

Some short time after 24 Feb 2011: some short time after I looked at Jackson and decided that I could not ask him to live through the weekend to the following Monday as he crouched hunched up and obviously uncomfortable anywhere but in my lap with a puppy piddle pad to catch the constant urine leak which now went everywhere he did. Some short time after I brought him to the clinic that evening and talked to the attending vet and she and I came to the decision to end his life then rather than wait for doctor who had known him a long time but would not be in until Monday.

Afterward. Immediately afterward, after his head dropped in my hand and I laid it down on the towel and looked into his eyes and they did not look back: only nowhere, seemingly focused upon whatever distance a completely relaxed eye will focus but not focused upon that distance at all for all signals had ceased so that light fell without disturbing anyone or anything: it occurred to me for the first time: I just killed my cat!

There is no getting around it. Agonizing as the decision is every single time for everyone who has ever to make it, the essence of the decision is to take the life of an animal after having accompanied it for some significant portion of both of our lives. To save them suffering, yes. To relieve them of pain, yes. To give them the gentlest exit still possible at whatever time it needs to be done. Yes.

All of that is true. And it is also true that we take responsibility for their lives upon ourselves and ask for them to be put to death.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I found the weight of that responsibility so heavy as to be impossible for me, myself, to pick up. There was no way I could take it on, and yet, there I had just done so. It was immediately unbearable but I could not shrug it off, for his death was quite literally in my hands already. Ours was an inescapable quandary, his and mine, and it had been both necessary and impossible for me to assume control of his mortality.

Yes. I think it is time. That was what I had said while feeling so uncertain of the right time that even now I repeat to myself the veterinarian’s response: I support your decision. Not because I found reassurance in it–rather I saw that we were equally helpless, trying to attend to this cat in obvious pain, but we without means to relieve him of either his pain nor his obligation to die because of it–or of some other pain. At this or some other time.

So we did the best we could. And it was as inadequate as it was unavoidable.

Outside the clinic life went on normally as it always does which is to say that all things and all persons animal vegetable and mineral kept moving almost without deviating even a moment. And inside? Inside was no different from outside except that the routine there is familiar with its own disruption and deals with it methodically but not mechanically or without feeling: death is routine, or it shadows routine so closely that routine is routinely imperiled, suspended, and consulted for directions as to how to return to it while holding casualties to a minimum.

Shortly afterward, I wrote this:

The first anthropomorphic gods as adjudicators between the other and the self? That is, I cannot assume the responsibility of Jackson’s or anyone else’s life and yet I cannot protect them from death. To leave all matters in “god’s hands” is to ask god to forgive on the behalf of the other, with or without the permission of that other. If instead the divine is the relationship I have with the other or that the other has with me then I must face what I cannot face and what tears me apart in the face of the other: responsibility for an other’s vulnerability. Its absolute, irreparable, mind-blowing vulnerability. Perhaps this is where personal guilt emerges from original sin: our inability to keep the other safe from death–which is not the same as being unable to protect oneself from death–is where we perceive our fatal insufficiency, the one that will do us in before we can begin to do anything at all. The loose thread. The gap in the circle.

Fundamentalist Christianity reacts to this insufficiency by seeking to protect the self from death and disavowing responsibility toward the other by resigning all questions about death to a god who not only should be able to tame those questions well enough to protect his elect ones from their uncertainties, but who also is supposed to stand in for the other and forgive on the other’s behalf when the elect pronounce and/or enact that other’s damnation to separation and torment. But no mere god can do that. What is divine in our bonds to others cannot be abrogated by a mythical figure who somehow straightens everything out so that death does not in fact ever take its share. In seeking relief from our own mortality we also seek relief from responsibility for the mortality of the other, but there is no relief from either except to the extent that both destroy the self, leaving it unable to assume anything like responsibility. The death of the other destroys me–shows me my profound inadequacy–and calls into question then my ability to take responsibility for that death.

At that point whatever remains of me takes its place in death beside the other. My inability to save the other from death results in the disruption of my own being and lays me out beside that other in an adjoining grave. It is not that I die of guilt or responsibility but rather that I die of not being able to be relieved of that responsibility, which does not measure itself in guilt except when my ego insists on finding redemption for itself. Asking to be spared in the face of the death of the other is the beginnings of totalitarianism: an ego that dares to think itself immune from destruction, or deserving of such immunity. Death is not punishment but life’s radical vulnerability, and disavowing that vulnerability may be one early step closer to cynicism and egotistical fascism.

To face it, to face the impossibility of protecting the other from death and the subsequent disruption of egotistical mastery [I look into Jackson’s eyes as though to assure him one last time that suffering has come to an end but they no longer respond and I cannot reassure him or myself that this was the necessary action at the necessary time. My response does not arrive in time], is to lose the self in a kind of remorseless compassion: one that does not relieve us of responsibility for the other’s death but relieves us of ourselves and our demand for grace from some figure that could step onto the scene of mortality and usurp the other’s place there in order to restore ourselves to ourselves.

Instead we are left with our own disfigurement at the disappearance of the other, our own dissolution at the point at which we cannot assume this responsibility even under its inexhaustible insistence. It is a paradoxical moment in that what commands me also destroys me and renders me incapable of responding to it: thus irresponsible perhaps but also bereft of myself. One cannot have it both ways: the subject cannot persist after the other has perished no matter how long it denies that its only response is both necessary and impossible. The subject can only respond by relinquishing its perceived capacity to respond as an integrated, intact individual.

I found this in an odd spot for this sort of writing. It took me a moment to recognize it as something I wrote myself, as I do not recall writing this down, although I recall the thought process very well. Because I also remember very well how shocked I was to understand what I had done–or rather, to understand that there would be no simple way of understanding this or of reconciling myself–my self–to the deed of ordering Jackson to be killed. I had help. I had a witness; I even had a willing agent and assistants. I had been an assistant many times before. I can say with some accuracy that I have seen at least hundreds of animals euthanized, if not upwards of one or two thousand. All of them presenting as choices to be made where no adequate choice can be made out even while it must be determined. We are bound to answer even while the call itself is impossible to fulfill without overstepping our bounds.

The English language, at least in my opinion, does not offer an adequate word for that friend with whom we share absolute trust. What is worse, it does not offer a particularly easy way to name the relations we have and are with the life around us. All of it. Not just humans, not just primates, not just mammals, not just vertebrates, not just animals, and possibly not just those entities we recognize as alive: we are bound together in such a way that we are not even distinct from each other, but the language I know is somehow so clumsy it cannot bridge even the mythological gaps between mythological individuals.

Familial terms do not work for me at all but the explanation for that is already 500 pages long and counting. Worse, “brother/sister” only makes room for the two genders our particular culture chooses to assign on the basis of questionable criteria. Neither would even include me in the relation I would try to use it to describe. “Friend” does not do it for me. I do not know why, or that is I might consider why some other time. Losing a friend sounds no more or less serious to me than losing a dog or cat or bird or bunny or rat or goat or.. but none of them imply the rending sensation they try to name even if they are able to acknowledge that loss does not obey any hierarchical chain of being, great or otherwise. Is it shameful that I feel Jackson’s death as acutely as my Grandmother’s death? It is true that they took place within a year of each other and within another year two more people on the same side of the family had died so yeah it’s been a rough few years but Jackson’s departure is still very much Jackson’s departure and nobody else’s. I can line up their effigies and while loss includes every one of them they are each the mnemonic of a very specific moment within the procession of mortality as I am apparently bound to experience it.

What I can never find the right word for is the nature and extent of that bond. It is, to me, every alibi for passion that there is, and extends to so many relations it seems odd to me to try to line them up on some linear gradient, as though watching, say, capital’s daily assault on every form of exploitable embodiment within reach were not every bit as wrenching as leaving Jackson’s body behind when I walked home that night.

Unbearable, all of it.

He wrote, sitting as upright as he could. Which was not very. But still a bearing of sorts.

where you must repent before kindergarten

I was talking to my therapist the other day–auspicious start for a blog post innit?–mainly because I pay her to give me an hour a week in which to think of something to say out loud which is itself a major exercise in social willpower for me not that in my universe “the will” names something at all legible as such but this may be idiopathic or really I am not going to try to explain the problems I have with it right now.

But so a topic arose as it frequently does concerning the tenets of the Judaism that she follows in relation to such things as the Buddhism we are both interested in and the Christianity I was raised to believe but walked away from for the sake of self-preservation in early adolescence which was a late adolescence which is why at 16, 17 I was only in early adolescence and the question we were looking at that is the other day my therapist and I not in 1978 was what does each say about self-anything. Self-regard, self-care, self-compassion, self-hatred, self-ish-ness–we mentioned all of those and probably some more self-doings/qualities/things.

I do not know precisely which sort of Judaism she follows but it is likely not Conservative or Orthodox but I have not asked so that is what it is a likelihood and not a confident assertion. But she said that if you are Jewish, then the general form of a prescriptive rule is, in her words, “Do this–unless it is not healthy for you.” I drew from this that the Jewish Rules are serious but they are not intended to do harm and so one is more or less obliged to be mindful about the consequences of following a rule and that includes a mindfulness toward oneself.

I pointed out that although one might think to look for this same principle in Christianity what with its shared history with Judaism, regard for the self seems not to have translated well if at all. What I hear from my Catholic friends is that Catholicism did not pick it up and what I have experienced of it tells me that Protestantism did not pick it up either or at least the more conservative parts did not or at least not the evangelical and or fundamentalist and or dominionist strains with which I am far far too well-acquainted.

Anathema, actually, is what would be any principle of caring for oneself first rather than others, and especially powerful others, and especially powerful others holding positions of authority who have laid down rules they expect you to follow. It is not that the self is any kind of illusion. The self is eternal. The self will survive the self that is the death of “the flesh” and be judged according to how well it withdrew from and overcame its fleshy self during its earthly bondage to it.

I walked home with visions of Platonic horses pulling chariots this way and that but in the ten minutes it took me to go the four blocks I drew out for myself something like this:

Fundamentalist Christianity has done with the Platonic idea of the unruly horse leading the disciplined horse astray and the chariot of the self to ignominy that which it does best with most ideas it did not come up with from scratch. It runs them all the way through the very ends of logic and out the other side and then continues on indefinitely or until it reaches a level of sufficient cruelty toward the negative term.

There is always a negative term.

So unlike the Buddhist self which might be said to be not real or to be an illusion or at the very least impermanent and delicate and subject to the same decay and entropy as any other phenomenon arising from a collection of living matter and so in a practical sense something for which attachment leads to grief this fundamentalist self could not be more real existing as it does in a physical dimension for now and a spiritual dimension forever. More precisely the earthly part is split from the really real part that must purify itself of itself or of its other self.

Bajillions of academic points of departure await. I am not going to take any of them although they might sneak in anyhow. Because experience is more compelling to write about much of the time or that much time that I spend trying to estimate what style to aim for forgetting that style will emerge according to the general outline I am trying to follow and who made that outline because who wants to speak. And so I quote many preachers, sunday school teachers, evangelists, and those traveling revival preachers who had the precise amount of charisma to charm a congregation for a week or so before they needed to move on lest anyone get worn out in the spirit.

Something like this and many times in slightly different ways sometimes but sometimes the same phrase once and twice and three times with a rising voice for emphasis maybe a pointing finger often an intense, penetrating gaze and then quickly whisper and hush and the air crackles and stirs until down to the heartbeats auditioned by their own bodies for some measure of faint resonance or conviction stirring almost without pattern or rhyme. until now.

We must die to the self. The self is evil. The self is in thrall to Satan. The self was born separate from god (or the universe or everything but not out loud). The self will lead you that is the real you astray. You must not listen to what your self wants. The self must be deprived of its fondest wishes. The self must be rebuked. The self must be conquered, subjugated. The self must be denied that is it must come to know itself as abject as fallen as unworthy as treacherous mad sick mistaken broken beyond humanly-possible repair so dangerous and to be endlessly blocked from getting what it says it needs or wants at least until it admits to its own degeneracy and begs for forgiveness rather than mercy because mercy is not on offer even though the word is invoked so frequently that one might think it meant something quite unusual.

Otherwise we risk ‘Hell’: that catastrophic condition worse than death where all connection and light are extinguished not just forever but repeatedly taken away to heap loss upon loss and anguish upon anguish.

Because God— well here things get quite out of hand and I am not really in the mood to draw out the entire Protestant or conservative or fundamentalist or evangelical Christian cosmology, but as many have pointed out the fundamentalist Christian version of God has a way of looking like an authority figure with some baggage of his own flying into fearsome rage if any of his children dare to withhold affection or wish him ill or even look at him wrong. The point of salvation–be it whatever any given congregation determines it must be–is not the point at which the self gets a break from the

well I will go ahead

abuse.

Is that clear? I mean is this as clear to you as it is to me? However large a line can be drawn around the Christianity that treats its selves this way and I think the question I am going to pursue next is where the line itself might have begun with the Reformation or prior to that but wherever it began did that particular articulation of Christianity could it have emerged out of a culture in which abuse, that is intergenerational child abuse along several spectra was not endemic or (about to or already become) foundational?

Explanations and analogies are only what they are because we who come up with them are good at seeing patterns but patterns are sometimes nothing but pattern rather than the expression of some force more fundamental than that perceiving the pattern. This is how the question arises for example whether the patterns we see in the positions of celestial bodies relative to this celestial body as it would be looking up at somewhere else’s ceiling are interesting pastimes or alignments of cosmic forces whose influence on us is related somehow to the patterns we have been able to elaborate out of them. The question then whether the pattern is also an expression of forces that necessitate that very pattern or whether the existence of the pattern is a consequence solely of our ability to create patterns sometimes or almost always we forget to ask unless our method requires that we remember but still we forget. And also the question could some other array of forces completely different from what I am thinking of also have produced this pattern because if so the whole puzzle is still open this question also falls away in the euphoria of having constructed a pattern that appears to fit neatly and everywhere we currently have data points for. That a given pattern is the best and most useful to come along so far does not rule out the possibility that a better one could come along in some other place and time but for the same set of data.

My experience tells me that the last question remains open when imagination is willing to grant that it cannot imagine everything imaginable or at least not all at once and certainly not yet. There may be other conditions keeping it open but this one seems necessary. And generally speaking I tend to imagine that almost anything else could be the case if it could be considered reasonably as that which currently appears reasonably to me to be the case. This would be why I almost never make claims without a few dozen qualifications.

And so my argument from incredulity may come to nothing but I am going to continue to act as though it is worth thinking through even over a long period of time because I am sort of on a mission although I have never been able to name that mission exactly I am pretty sure I took off on it almost 45 years ago or maybe even one or two years before that.

Here is a list of things that I have read mostly in other people’s writing about childhood abuse that make sense to me within the context of relatively general ideas about child development here in the culture that I grew up in whichever one or ones that is or those are and which–
well here is a list and some interjections:

It is said that:

Children are dependent on their primary caretakers or parents (and from here I am going to use “parents” as a synecdochical or abbreviate reference to whoever carries the most responsibility for feeding, protecting, sheltering, nurturing, training, and all else that is needed to keep a child healthy and safe. I know that there are many individuals who do this who yet might not be “parents” in a legal or biological sense in my culture but “primary caretaker” has too many syllables even for me and “caretaker” is not specific enough). The younger the child, the further the extent of dependence to the point of absolute dependence in infancy. Children will each view their parents as all-knowing and all-good in rough proportion to both the child’s age and their level of dependency.

I take this at face value when not purposefully engaging in deep psychoanalytic spelunking. In my own experience it seems true enough of what I can recall of conscious thoughts and feelings when I was small. I took everything my mother told me about the world as the literal, infallible truth, even when I was old enough maybe to start to intuit the potential problems in being that credulous and that trusting.

But that was me. And this sort of thing gets said by a wide variety of people who work with a wide variety of children and so whether it is strictly true in every case it is mythically so in general. Interestingly I think also this infallibility and goodness are usually attributed to conservative constructions of ‘God.’ And often for the same reasons.

None of that is news.

Children whose parents are abusive, who inflict pain, who punish their children for perceived imperfections–and I am thinking of such things as being unable to avoid spilling ever or unable to be always perfectly quiet or unable to always suppress anger or unable to always suppress sadness, doubt, upset, jealousy, desire, or other affects that strike the parents as negative, threatening, dangerous in some way whether to their own peace of mind or to the child’s future as an acceptable person and I am also thinking of outsized punishment for anything or for nothing at all using physical beating or refusal to meet basic needs or deliberate and deep shaming or turning away repeatedly in a kind of serial abandonment that leaves a child always at risk of losing those upon whom their survival rests–these children are faced with a dilemma that they can only solve one way.

That is, their all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful parents cannot possibly be doing any of these things out of any sort of error at all from the point of view of a child. That would be catastrophic: the parents would become untrustworthy during a time when a child has no means to protect itself from capriciousness and needs its parents to be consistently benevolent. Functionally a child with untrustworthy parents would be an orphan and quite without any remedy: when you are very young, to be orphaned is to be as good as dead.

And so self-preservation dictates that some solution be found very very quickly.

In an abusive family, children are also often punished for behavior over which they cannot be reasonably expected to have control: strong feelings for instance–especially feelings that parents do not know themselves how to handle without shame and punishment. Expressing unpleasant (to the parents) feelings can earn vociferous correction and this amplifies the dilemma to the point that a child comes to understand that its very existence as an emotional being is putting them at risk of abandonment and death.

The solution may already be clear: a child experiencing this kind of abuse from its parents must choose to reject whatever parts of themselves seem to be angering or alienating or upsetting its parents. Because if they can somehow keep those parts hidden the risk of orphanhood and death begins to diminish. Put another way to emphasize the enormity of this threat: the risk of sudden and catastrophic annihilation begins to diminish to the extent that the child can learn to hide its strongest feelings from its parents.

Parallels jumping out at me so quickly I can barely keep up with them so here is one of them: fundamentalist Christianity taught me that I was born evil and that I must repudiate myself in order to find favor with a god who otherwise wanted to see me suffer disproportionately to anything I could realistically have done to that point. I was often bewildered to be told that this god was very upset about something I had done which at the time I felt I had done out of necessity and sometimes under the duress of having to choose from possible actions that all seemed risky and so it was imperative to find that one that would be least painful or more importantly the one I thought least likely to annoy god or my parents because their annoyance was more urgent a problem than my own relative well-being.

But I also learned eventually–too soon really but not right away not the very moment I learned to speak–that a place of eternal catastrophic abandonment and annihilation awaited all people for their inherent evilness. If that sounds like what has been called hell, then I am describing it adequately for now.

The only choice offered to all people all of whom are defined as evil at the moment of birth–and this varies across denominations but the basic idea of original sin holds that we are born into a fallen state whether or not we have a few years of grace in which we are taught that we ourselves are responsible for that fallenness in the eyes of the god who cannot apparently be anywhere near anyone who is in this state for reasons that can be logically circular at times–the only way to escape orphanhood or death or catastrophic abandonment or hell is to reject one’s fallen self: to repent, or acknowledge that one has been evil all along and that as an evil being one can do nothing acceptable in the eyes of this god who does by now begin to resemble an abusive parent: arbitrary, unpredictable, and uniformly rejecting in that no part of the self will remain uncondemned: eventually even the best of intentions catch dad/mom/god on a bad day and will bounce back to the self as unanticipated shame, abandonment, and/or violent rebuke.

Reality for a child in an abusive family can become chaotic as violence or shame or rejection are unpredictable outgrowths of the parents’ own shifting emotional or physiological rhythms–rhythms that a child cannot comprehend well enough to be able anticipate their effects. The only controllable entity in a child’s universe is its own self or rather the child’s own self is the only entity on which it is allowed to exert any control be it effective or not. Much as the fundamentalist Christian self remains under constant scrutiny for shortcomings that cause its god to turn away–to stop speaking, in effect, or to send a believer to her/his room to search themself for signs and motives of and remedies for disobedience–this child’s self will be under whatever degree of self-surveillance is necessary to keep its parents from turning away.

There are finer splittings of the self within the tradition called Western but this one resonates here: a child living in an abusive family will come to militate against its own self or that is it will divide itself against itself or against the bad self or against the self who appears responsible for unpredictable abandonment and or injury. Or at least so far as the child can make out those qualities in themselves that enrage or upset or drive away their parents must be repudiated–one might say the child must repent–and carefully controlled lest they emerge in any recognizable form. Because those parts of the self for the child at that time are in fact dangerous and they represent a certain evil insofar as they appear to the child to directly jeopardize their only source of sustenance and protection.

And so the child’s self repudiates or repents of its other self in order to reduce the immediate danger of sudden catastrophic abandonment and annihilation–or something like hell, say.

I recall hearing more than once that the family was the microcosm for god’s kingdom but I doubt that anyone saying that had looked closely at the what similarities might be seen between that kingdom and abusive families. Of course abusive families have only been relatively lately recognized as abusive and I do not know how many others might have noticed by now that the abused child’s necessary war with itself might be mirrored or otherwise reproduced in the fundamentalist Christian’s war on themselves–and even could easily pass for abusive parenting when fundamentalist Christian teachings are handed down and enforced through familial power structures.

So I am just going to say that I think I see something here and it looks entangled to me with the culture I grew up in to such an extent that it is not always clear where abuse and fundamentalist Christianity can be completely distinguished from one another. If a culture produced abusive parents who produced abused children who grew up needing substitute parents while only recognizing abusive authority figures as acceptably parent-like then those grown children might predictably choose or stick with a religious tradition that supplies them not only with such a parent but with an entire social structure that feels like home because it supports ongoing abusive relations between its upper and lower hierarchies. And so their campaign against themselves can continue but not only that: it is reinforced and modeled as normal and necessary.

It seems clear that USian mainstream culture has absorbed this hostility to the self albeit in complex and ambivalent ways: selfishness is almost universally regarded as a defect even while a self with a drive to dominate others and to profit from this domination is hailed as ambitious or possessed of a strong work ethic–whether or not the dominating requires any sort of productive work. One could investigate the Protestant/Puritan/Calvinist roots of such ambivalence or rather it has been done but I am not aware of connections yet drawn between micro-cultures of abuse–abusive families–and larger structures of abuse or not in such a way that they might be detectable in fundamentalist Christianity nor much written on any historical or genealogical analysis of that connection. If there is one.

The last thing I want to say though is something of a resistant push back against the notion of selfishness as a defect of character but not at all in some Ayn Randish exultation in cruelty inflicted on others out of the crude narrow selfishness arising in a culture where abuse is practiced as a matter of course. And especially not so long as a self who inflicts cruelty on others is able thereby to achieve some great accomplishment or idea–one that will eventually avenge all the insults sustained by this reactive, resentful self who still lives and acts under the rule of self-abnegation as its reverse side and so does not in any way undermine or question the tradition of abuse.

Instead of this polarized tendency either to torment the self for the sake others or to torment others for the sake of the self, one thing–and it is not just one thing but here I will condense a few things–that appeals to me in Buddhist thought is that the self is a transient effect among all the other transient effects in the world and as points of unnecessary suffering these would benefit the most from a compassionate intervention: one that shifts attention away from continually judging the self as to its acceptability and especially away from the cultural axiom that there can be no connection between a yes and a no judgment on this question, no possible position between the extremes of elect or damned.

Suspending reactivity against oneself can create space in which to do not much more than note that oneself appears here at this time and place, but that notice can set off a curious cascade of perceptual and conceptual change. This has been my experience, once I manage to interrupt my own self-obsession by studiously and calmly observing whatever–whatever as in whatever happens–and I am able to pause the reactive impulses from my own sense of besieged self: the siege comes to an end. Or is suspended at least, and all of us here the non-royal we can breathe a bit and begin to pay greater attention to what comes to pass, be it self or other or other other, without always meeting it with suspicion and hostility.

* * *

Most of what I have relied upon here for descriptions of abusive families has come from elsewhere but the only discrete elsewheres I can recall at the moment are Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child and For Your Own Good and also Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. I think the specific question of familial abuse is distinct from the more general ideas I have read in what is sometimes called trauma theory. At least so far, the mentions I have run across of “abuse culture” as an attribute of westernish cultures have arisen mainly in activist circles, which are not necessarily coextensive or even concentric with academic ones. And so this is all the bibliography I currently have, but it leaves out all those titles and writers whose names I never took down.