the day after after that other day

Written the day after Christmas ie about a month ago

26 Dec 2013

As usual I do not know where to start but I do have some idea or inspiration or compulsion or something to remark at least that this year’s Christmas day was one of the most grueling of my life even though–and I mean this emphatically and truly and truly emphatically–it was one of the nicest Christmas days to unfold in my house in quite some time. Which is to say one occurred and it was one in which we all gave each other however much room we needed to tend to the noises in each of our heads while also making it clear or clear enough that company was to be had if one wanted any.

Or at least that is how it looked to me. It may have occurred in an entirely different way for my housemates but their stories I have only heard bits and pieces of. Despite this low-stress atmosphere I only lasted for ten hours of consciousness before I threw in the towel and decided to reboot which took another ten hours and had me up at dawn instead of noon and so this might be the Quarterly Circadian Rhythm Shift.

I know I am not the only one whose voices were being noisy yesterday but I do count myself fortunate in that mine have quieted down to the point that I could almost say that we have quiet civil conversations instead of the shouting matches we used to have with their screaming liarliarliar at me and my screaming shutupshutupshutupshutup at them and neither of us managing to get our points across to the other in any useful way at all. Both sorts of exchanges bite off big chunks of what I always hope will be productive days and turn them into little spasms of almost no practical use from anyone else’s point of view but at least with the conversational method we stand some chance of reaching an agreement we are all comfortable enough with to let the organism get some sleep.

The lady sitting near the ATM yesterday seemed to be having much greater difficulties with her voices than I was with mine. Unless she was on the phone but I did not want to lean over intrusively to see if indeed there was not one that I could see. As I walked away I wondered what would have happened if I had asked her who was bugging her and trying to take Samantha away while she was reading to her but I did not really have it in me to talk to someone else’s voices so I took the Billy Don’t Be a Hero way out and walked around the block continuing to find no stores open and beginning to wonder if macaroni and cheese were really going to be Christmas dinner (they didn’t have to be but I fell asleep before the dinner being cooked was fully cooked and so they were what I ate. Sort of. My stomach rebelled halfway through for no apparent reason and so today I am eating everything in sight now that there are things to see and to eat that it knows it can handle).

I could say a little more about my day yesterday but I only have a couple of vignettes: in the first one Mission Street is quite nearly dead that is nobody is out there who has anyplace else to be and I am thinking this is not quite right or this is new or something. I am not sure of this though I mean I did see several people passed out on the sidewalk who must not have lasted their whole days either so it was surely desolate but whether I have seen non-desolate Christmas days on Mission Street I cannot say for sure without asking around first. So I might get back to you all with that. Two Mission Street Gift Shops were open and at each one a family was looking over the bicycles but there were no other customers in sight. My guess is they opened because they have done business on this holiday in the past but maybe they too had nothing better to do.

In the second I am talking to the housemate who speaks in ellipses because what else can you do and we are throwing out phrases to the effect that on this holiday you are damned if you do have family and damned if you don’t. Nearly every one of my close friends has a home to go to for the holidays of their choice and the rest of the year does not bother me so much but the way in which family spirits all of them away at one time for at least twenty-four hours and up to two weeks in some cases creates a kind of pre-determined and very local interpersonal drought whose menace is maddeningly self-fulfilling in that no matter what happened last year and how consciously I plan to keep it from happening this year this year is never anything like last year and so whatever precautions I take turn out to be completely orthogonal to the actual problems that arise.

But so my elliptical comment was something to the effect of all that but sounding more like “mmggppphhh…family…” and then considering how reports from family holidays usually turn out, I reckoned maybe I was not the unlucky one in my version of things.

· · · · ·

1940s Christmas Day Peoples

There is a story in this picture although I cannot say that I know what it is. I would hazard a guess that there are at least eight stories in this picture and probably more than that since in my own experience the stories I even tell myself about this or that thing we all lived through change depending on which one of me is narrating and even each of us change it around at least a little every time through and this is one reason why I cannot stop writing although not so many know this about me but that is a slightly different writing problem that I also have but am trying to work on and that is all I will say about it right now. Suppose though that each of these stories however many there are in this picture or were since not all of them are still here to unfold themselves suppose each were worth ten thousand words then that would be some piles and piles of stories just to go through once much less fifty times or sixty times or seventy times or more.

Here is what I think I know about it or maybe I should say here is some combination of things I have heard and the things I think I may not have heard but maybe glimpsed waiting silently and not even patiently and not even resigned but maybe only on the bare energy of having once or twice come to mind but there where there is not enough time even to get to all the stories that can be told and so those that cannot will bide but not their time so much as their will to remain through every iteration that cannot stop and wait for them.

The year is 1940something. I do not know which 40something but I am guessing there is still a war on only maybe not for much longer. Each kid has one toy: Santa’s gift perhaps if Santa was a part of this scene which I also cannot say for certain. There may have been other presents but those would have been things like fruit in the stockings and maybe boxes of underwear from an aunt or uncle or maybe aunts and uncles did not gift children with underwear until the fifties I do not know the precise origin of this gently dystopian unless you were the one who had to say thank you for the socks in which case it was not so gently dystopian of an American tale.

In any case money is short this year and the presents homemade in some cases and make-do in others. I am not sure which are which except for the little wheelbarrow which is still around somewhere and was crafted by hand and necessity if I have the story right which I cannot claim actually to have but the wheelbarrow looks sturdy from here so its continued coherence seems credible to me.

There are more facts I suppose that I could mention: facts like I do not know if this family was farming yet or if that happened later on after they moved north a little ways which I know they have not done yet. I do not know what sends them northward (slightly) nor how they decided where to go but they will move to a rural town in the Pacific Northwest of the US. They are already in the Pacific Northwest, which is why they will not be going far when they do go, but whether this house is in the country or a small town or a medium sized town I am not sure except that the area is certainly not a small town now. But you know, addresses being what they are, a person can live in a city without, you know, living in the city. So this house could be almost anywhere within maybe a hundred square miles or so and parts of it would have been more densely inhabited and others less so.

None of that makes much very clear does it. I will guess though that at the time nobody else in the US knew where the Pacific Northwest was, really. By the time I was nine or ten, which was much more than nine or ten years later than this, the east coast still had no clue about anyplace that was west of the Mississippi except possibly for Los Angeles and stories about the Yukon. And the Wild West wherever that was but it was not so much a place one could go although it may have been once but I would bet it was always already a scene that one carried around everywhere and maybe romanticized depending on the quality of one’s seats: much easier to do from far away.

There is a lot of space in between Los Angeles and the Yukon. Whole civilizations had already been decimated and were trying already to rebuild from almost nothing and people of all sorts were living in those spaces and doing things that might be forgotten by now except for those things that will not be forgotten until memory itself gives out and who knows when that will be.

I will confess: I do not know why I am writing about this picture or that is I could trace easily enough the chain of events on the outside and associations on the inside (to whatever extent those exist distinct from one another which extent I do not believe in all that much really) that led me to think I wanted to write about it but what to say next escapes me. This is an unreconcilable picture precisely because it contains more stories than it can actually hold. It whispers half-formed hints much like that strange and sweet mix of Douglas Fir and clover-fed manure rushing up and wrapping me in promises of comfort and escape there in that rocky driveway for just a moment before the always nameless always inarticulate apprehension arose telling me to keep to myself and away from everyone who might be even a little bigger than I was.

It was a feeling that like any other feeling never asked its rights before it arrived and never listened to reason although certainly it could be temporarily injunctioned at the behest of shame. But only temporarily and at a price that I would wager few would be willing to pay if they realized just how high it was or how long its memory of credits owed.

I do know that for me the greater destructive potential lies in deliberate not-knowing than it does in anything that I could possibly become aware of at this point and one thing this picture says to me is that I do not know the half of it.


midday of the soul

No matter how early I get up, I cannot stay ahead of three pm. No matter how early. I can get started two hours before sunrise and still three pm will catch up with me even when I have been running flat out needles pegged westward since jumping out of bed and into my shoes. Three pm never approaches any faster or any slower than it has before or will again but always with just enough hurry to overtake me with relentless unconcern almost exactly like so much boring clockwork. Resolute and implacable and without a trace of regret for my alleged peace of mind: three pm neglects even to pause in the face of the shining virtue into which I arose with the first birdsong of the day.

The exercise. The daily gallon of water. The plant-based protein. The modest bedtime and the washing of the hands every single time you visit the toilet. Three pm respects none of these and nothing you can promise it will keep it at a distance. Deep sleep: three pm does not care. Sorting the plastic into recyclable and not: three pm is not impressed. Scooping the cat box daily: three pm never looks at the cat box and expects you to have scooped it twice yesterday without anyone having to ask.

I have experimented with studied patience. Watching. Listening. Taking no action other than that required to remain conscious. Three pm arrives and then three pm is here or rather three pm is whatever three pm is and then without a beat three pm continues on and three pm oh one arrives having approached also for some time and also continuing to stay for no time and all the time I may have left would not be sufficient to chronicle all this passing exactly as it passes as it does so without notable features so from there you will have to imagine how it goes. How three pm goes and then three pm oh one how that goes and whatever might be said to go next or after or then or now. If outrunning three pm is not possible neither is waiting for it whether with patience or resignation or some imagined immune response to the repeated exposures any earth-borne creature must undergo to that which three pm denotes. It passes, leaving nothing, taking nothing, saying nothing, and changing almost nothing almost as to not change even to the eye fully-clothed watching for half a century now.

I have tried taking three pm apart and I have tried to take apart its passing or any other passing for that matter–and if it makes it easier to understand what passing means use time instead although to do that is fairly circular and non-explanatory but it may be more comfortable which is often all anyone really needs at three pm to be made comfortable or to become comfortable or somehow otherwise prone to comfort. Passing falls apart all by itself with only the touch of a glance into the possibility of change and then change as change and then the consequences of change and the memory of the possibilities and the realizations and the consequences and also some tendency or other to measure how slowly or quickly change occurs as though there were a fixed and unchanging backdrop against which we could line up and compare the different rates at which change goes from one somehow inferable moment to the next.

That we have never found such a backdrop has not stopped us from devising clocks and sundials and water wheels and hourglasses and various opaque structures fashioned around some space or another sometimes two spaces and a surface for the reflection of light or shadow and upon which the sun will shine at a predictable angle for a single moment out of all the other moments. There are other sorts of mechanisms and procedures that do more or less the same sorts of things that is make of the acceleration and slowing down of change a quasi-entity that can be measured using a single scale no matter where one applies that scale that is no matter where one is able to locate or stipulate the entity by separating it from the change it is supposed both to enable and contain and then apply the scale to it–or enumerate it as consistently quantifiable while also independent of change.

Otherwise how would we know it was enumerated consistently if that could change at any time.

When I am done with all that three pm although theorized into practical nonexistence remains insistently. This three pm and all the other three pms are not anythings I can describe. They are side effects of one or several desires to measure or to parse or to record or to predict or to regularize other desires and other forces and other impulses without discernible origin all of whom might otherwise wreak change without warning or at least without consistency that is the warning may be always in effect but the exact order of change unknown and unknowable until after the change or changes in question have already occurred and the dead and wounded sorted and counted and sent for repair to a place where appropriate practices are practiced or for return to the elements through one or more of several conceivable routes.

If in the wake of this three pm–this one always approaching–lies every other three pm that had already passed when this three pm did so, this three pm does not notice or care. If this three pm were to have the power to do so this three pm would disclaim any relation to the other three pms even as they follow quickly and emphatically in all persistence despite the other three pm’s once having been followed by this three pm.

Spatial metaphors can only go so far before they drop off the edge of the world or something.

Not that I can speak or disclaim for this or any other three pm I would not even be able to guess how to go about imagining how a side effect of a tendency would begin to speak much less what it would say so when I write that three pm would disclaim any relation to the other three pms what I might mean might be more accurately stated that this three pm is as far as I can make out nothing if not indifferent. So indifferent it is that I can only see it or notice it or remark it after I have myself posited it there in that approximate place–for lack of a better way to clear out room for it–where I then find it.

The one three pm and the other three pm and the other other three pm all run together. That glare in the middle: a dispassionate sun hangs from an uncertain meridian where it unloads everything it possibly can without mercy for us or relief for itself over and over and over and over and over.

Three pm was never my idea. I was handed three pm already fully formed. From there it has solidified in several directions and begun to decompose in several other directions and in several directions besides these it has broken down into unrecognizable components or rather other ideas that are nothing like three pm or noon even or midnight or anything I can think of that has anything in common with three pm or noon or midnight or anything.

As difficult as it is to pick out three pm from some of these angles and as noiselessly as three pm approaches at some of these times it remains as unmistakably three pm as it ever has. It bursts through the blinds no matter how tightly drawn its disingenuously pleading voice well aware that it can continue to plead for at least one moment longer than you can continue to refuse it admission. The plea is its alibi its cover for the nearly absolute power at its disposal should its plea falter but it never does or that is it never did I always gave in at least one second before it had had enough.

I have tried sleeping through three pm with some success insofar as success might consist of not noticing three pm as it approaches and passes and approaches and passes but you will note or I have noted that sleeping does not fend it off.

Sleeping does not prevent its passing nor its receding into the folds of remembered and forgotten three pms or thereabouts.

Nor does sleeping prevent any of them then from reverberating with the boredom of headaches and motion sickness and diesel exhaust and the ride home where hats were hung and heads above the hats were hung and swords above the heads were hung and still hang today despite protestations that no sword has ever been brought into the house.

Which is why nobody goes home anymore.

But three pm will pass whether or not anyone is home and three pm will pass whether I try to pretend I do not see it when I am at the store or when I am at the park or when I am at the library or when I am at the doctors office or when I am in my room which is not the same as being at home my room is much less far less dangerous than is home. My room is the familiar collection of rocks and sticks and needles and dirt and old hair and cast off skins all worn smooth and dry and painless to touch. It is the modulation of heat and noise and light down to amplitudes that do not blare. It is the coincidence of mammalian rhythms and temperate latitudes. It is the stamina of wood and metal and mineral against casual intrusion. It is a modest supply of tools and instruments that can be used to do things or initiate processes that have no utility and no exchange value on any of the most pressing markets neither those by now compulsory nor those remaining optional and so in most modern senses of the phrase none of them follow from honest labor. If the things made or processes initiated have any effect on anything it would be to act on time and space and materials and forces in such a way as to deflect if only at the very most oblique angle such other times and spaces and materials and forces as three pm and heat so deep it piles up in great waves all the way to the sky asserting its persistence: a persistence just as infinite as it has to be to obtain your resignation to its inexhaustibility.

◊ ◊ ◊

I am up early today.
I will outrun three pm with the enthusiasm of six am resurrect and reanimate.

Nothing is impossible until at least noon.

killing you softly

What defense against the apprehension of loss is at work in the blithe way in which we accept deaths caused by military means with a shrug or with self-righteousness or with clear vindictiveness? To what extent have Arab peoples, predominantly practitioners of Islam, fallen outside the “human” as it has been naturalized in its “Western” mold by the contemporary workings of humanism? … After all, if someone is lost, and that person is not someone, then what and where is the loss, and how does mourning take place?
… If violence is done to those who are unreal, then, from the perspective of violence, it fails to injure or negate those lives since those lives are already negated. But they have a strange way of remaining animated and so must be negated again (and again). …Violence renews itself in the face of the apparent inexhaustibility of its object.
Judith Butler, Precarious Life 32-33

Today being the day it is I decided that rather than participate in the public spectacle we seem intent on creating out of our inability to mourn whatever it was that we in the US think we lost ten years ago–although we may well have never had it to begin with –rather than go along with the ruse of our fallen, long-mythologized invulnerability to attack or even decay, that I was going to re-read Judith’s Precarious Life, since in it she addresses violence and mourning in direct response to the war that we imagine only began in 2001. I wanted to try to understand what it was exactly in our fetishization of the images of destruction that I find so frustrating to deal with, beyond even practical and political concerns over the extent to which we seem to be willing to give up every last shred of dignity and “freedom” (were we “free” before?), if it will help us to reestablish our illusion of security and safety from political violence.

I am also thinking a bit about death and the multiple, complex relations between life and death–not only in the realm of the human, but even in whatever cycle it is with which the forces of the whole universe are engaged: materialization out of potential, animation out of elementary energy, and any and all inevitable returns to entropy that we might also be undertaking as moments of complexity and approximate coherence in a system characterized by violent destruction in creation, and creation in destruction.

As is usual, I managed to get about thirty pages into my chosen reading before I felt compelled to begin writing. The questions that arise upon reading anything with nuance or subtlety are irresistible to me, and so I remain in interminable study, never able to finish much of anything but always starting again to reformulate this process in which I have, for most of my life, been chasing after ways to express the inexpressible and to narrate that which defies language. To put it all too neatly.

It is not a simple coincidence that the refusal to integrate our national experience into a humane course of action causes me to pause over this question of what it is to live in close proximity with death–even here in the US where death is sequestered and hidden away beneath neatly manicured lawns and behind antiseptic curtains. And it is not simple coincidence that this question occurs to me at the same time as does my perennial questions concerning the limits of language and sense, for death is one name for an ultimately senseless way of going along: it is the primary way in which I myself have been and will be related to all that is for all but the tiniest sliver of time that I claim as my uncertain lifespan. I do not mean by this that ultimately I will be dead, but rather that my being dead, or my not being, or something inexpressible that has to do with never having come to be to begin with despite my apparent sensible existence at the moment, constitutes the primary and primordial relations that ground this current state in which, for now, I seem to be here.

To put it in a Zen Buddhist sort of way, I am already dead and always have been. There are infinite other ways of putting it, for it will not be put, or it will not stay put, or in other words there are no other words and so there will always be an ongoing stream of other words. What we in the US seem unable to comprehend is that our ideal of individualism and consequence-free domination of whatever it is we damned well feel pleased to dominate has been bound from the time of its conception to meet, eventually, its limiting case, its moment of mortality realized, its susceptibility to destructive forces and its vulnerability to the violence that it so easily calculates as acceptable expenses for a political economy that will admit no peer. That is, empires are destined to fall. Are we falling now? Have we not already fallen?

To the degree that we must recognize the unrecognizable–that is, our “primary vulnerability” to that upon which our very being falters, even disastrously, in its attempt to circumscribe itself as independent and individualistic –in order to be able to mourn whatever is lost in a violent encounter, in a disaster, then to that degree, one who suffers loss might attempt to disavow one’s own vulnerability to loss by virtue of the fact that injury is instigated by an unrecognizable force. Thus is rendered impossible the question of any sort of narration of loss or resolution in sensible language of the insensibile moment of trauma. But rather than pausing to consider what might be the consequence of our all being exposed in this way, by virtue of our primary vulnerability, if we decline even to pause in the face of what undoes us in violence, if we attempt to master our vulnerability, we only manage to deny the very conditions of our existence and are immediately closed off from the possibility of our own future. With the unrecognizable other, we also die, or are discarded, or are disavowed, or are visited in the continuing cycles of violence that serve the interests of this denial of vulnerability, which is a denial of life itself.

We are thrown here on a sort of paradoxical demand: that the unrecognizable not be consigned to illegibility or, worse, to unreality, because we are not prepared to acknowledge that we might not be able to conceptualize, chart, categorize, or comprehend the nature of our own being exposed to an other. That is, this would be the ethical demand of living itself: not to deny the fact of our helplessness, not to foreclose the possibility of incursions from unpredictable sources–incursions which may cause us pain or pleasure or both, which may occasion the possibility of our being able to live in a more lively way, or which may frustrate our desire to keep our lives in order. One cannot predict which it will be, or whether all of these moments might be bound up together in such a way that pain is the precondition of pleasure and vice versa, or, more precisely, in such a way that the distinction between pleasure and pain is lost in the very potential of coming to life as terrestrial creatures.

Relegating to the unreal that which threatens the security of the self, denying conceptual meaning to that which breaks the bounds of conceptualization, is a form of impotence in the face of the other. This impotence is realized as the impossibility of negating that which, conceptually, one has already negated–as well as the impossibility of negating that which is not subject to the workings of negation! But although the workings of negation or exclusivity or ideation cannot bring this other into any sort of domesticated, enforced “peace”, this other remains naked and vulnerable in relation to the subject of the act of negation. Our impotence, or inability to erase what is not, to begin with, legible, visits upon the other a violence without end, a real violence that incurs real atrocities precisely because its mission is impossible, and thus must be repeated indefinitely, so long as the subject inflicting that violence seeks to immunize itself against what is crucial to the being of that very subject: its other, against which it attempts to define itself. And fails.

This is how, or one of the reasons why, totalitarian violence is in the last analysis suicidal: an attempt to destroy the other which faces me and makes my utterance of “self” possible in that primordial encounter, the effort to sever relations with that in which we are already entangled and always were, from a time prior to memory and thus prior to time, is, in a very real way, the destruction of ourselves. It is not only that the balance of an interconnected ecosystem can be fatally disrupted by exploitation to the point that exploiter and exploited both perish, although to conceive of the relations between living things in the universe in this way makes our fragility in the faceless face of our own exploitative appetites quite clear. But it is also that without those relations we are, quite simply, not. Or rather, not simply at all: those relations’ being the anteroom of history and discourse renders them both foreign to and constitutive of our ability to try to name them as such.

I have no idea how to end this, but it seems as though it might be worthwhile to pause at the point of our own suicidality as it emerges from militaristic efforts to secure our place in eternity. There is no such place to be had, of course, and we only hasten our own demise in struggling to erect for ourselves a line of defense against every possible enemy. Again, this is not only because we are happy to relinquish our ideals for the illusion of safety, but it is at least that and also our current relation to that which has, in the “West”, so long been designated as inadmissible: vulnerability itself, subjection itself, fallibility itself, interdependence and the possibility that our ideals themselves are inadequate and provisional.