Bob Sloth

Bob Sloth (not to be confused with Bob the Sloth, who lived in a tree down the street) woke up this morning on the wrong side of the bed. For Bob, the wrong side of the bed was not a metaphorical place. It was a very real place, and he had been waking up there with increasing frequency, to the point where he now felt his existence cleaving into two halves. Bob felt unsettled, though not quite horrified, by this development in his usually simple life.

To earn a living Bob sold vinyl siding, an act for which he despised himself. He didn’t have much choice in employment, though, given that the vinyl siding company (Cheap Siding, Inc.) was the only business still operating in his native town of Largesse (not to be confused with the town of Largest, located a few miles down the road, which despite its name enjoyed a modest but growing tourist economy based around its stature as the smallest town in the country).

Due to the bleak economic conditions in their town, most Largessians commuted to Largest, where they did shift work as actors in a continuously-running historical reenactment of the region’s settlement in the 1820s. The majority of the Largessians played roles as settlers of Largesse, for as actual citizens of that town they had keen insights into Largessian language and mannerisms. In fact, tourists often commented that the Largessian actors were the most authentic ones in the show. One would think that this might inspire the Largessians to take pride in their work, but it actually caused them to resent the citizens of Largest even more for profiting from Largessian history, for stealing the Largessians’ ancestral stories from them and then paying them low wages to act those stories out in front of gawking strangers.

[Thank you for your patience during this digression. However, the long-running feud between the citizenry of Largesse and Largest, while certainly interesting in its own right, is not the focus of this story, so let’s return with haste to Bob Sloth and his ongoing troubles.]

When Bob wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, he is almost always late to work, and when that happens his supervisor docks five percent of Bob’s sales commission for that day. Given the narrow margin between Bob’s earnings and his cost of living, this loss of wages can translate to the difference between eating three small meals per day and eating one large meal per day, for at least a week.

Today when Bob was driving hastily down the street on his way to work, his coffee sloshing all over the vinyl-covered dashboard of his truck, he was forced to a screeching halt when he encountered Bob the Sloth lying in the middle of the street. Bob immediately jumped out of the cab and rushed to Bob’s side.

Bob, Bob, are you okay, he whispered.

Bob the Sloth slowly raised his head and looked around. Hnnhhh, he said.

What’s that, Bob? I don’t speak sloth. Could you please repeat that in English? Bob asked, glancing at his watch and calculating in his head the chances of still getting to work on time.

With great effort, Bob the Sloth rose to a sitting position and scratched his head.

Sorry, Bob, he muttered, guess I fell asleep there in the middle of the road.

No problem, Bob S. said. I’m just glad you’re okay.

Bob Sloth rushed back to his truck and drove at top speed (42 mph/68 kmh) the rest of the way to work, barely making it to Cheap Siding, Inc. by 9 AM.

Bob’s boss Phil Hesher narrowed his eyes over his coffee mug as Bob lurched through the front door, breathing hard, his white dress shirt speckled with coffee stains.

Wake up on the wrong side of the bed again, Bob?

Bob’s eyes bugged out of his head and dangled in the air by their stalks.

How did you know, he gasped.

Phil just laughed and handed him his sales route for the day.

(This story is now over. Thank you for reading.)

forthcoming publication

A critical essay of mine appears in the inaugural issue of a new triannual festschrift celebrating the work of lesser-known European writers, published by Verbivoracious Press. This first issue fêtes Christine Brooke-Rose, an innovative British writer, critic, and theorist who played with language and form in her fiction, often employing constraints to assist in thematic exploration. My essay discusses her treatment of language ambiguity in the novel Xorandor, a story in which two precocious preteen twins narrate their discovery of and subsequent interactions with a rock-like being that is feeding on the nuclear waste stored at a facility managed by their father. The 320-page issue includes a wide range of responses to Brooke-Rose’s work, including homage, parody, imitation, and analysis. Copies of the festschrift in hardcover, paperback, special hand-made edition, and via eBook subscription are available for order here. The issue will be published on March 21st, 2014, the two-year anniversary of Christine’s death.

guest post from j. krishnamurti

Is the observer different from the thing which he observes?

You, the observer, are observing the fact, which you term as being lonely. Is the observer different from the thing which he observes? It is different only as long as he gives it a name; but if you do not give it a name, the observer is the observed. The name, the term, acts only to divide; and then you have to battle with that thing. But, if there is no division, if there is an integration between the observer and the observed, which exists only when there is no naming – you can try this out and you will see – , then the sense of fear is entirely gone. It is fear that is preventing you from looking at this when you say, you are empty, you are this, you are that, you are in despair. And fear exists only as memory, which comes when you term; but when you are capable of looking at it without terming, then, surely, that thing is yourself. So, when you come to that point, when you are no longer naming the thing of which you are afraid, then you are that thing. When you are that thing, there is no problem, is there? It is only when you do not want to be that thing, or when you want to make that thing different from what it is, that the problem arises. But if you are that thing, then the observer is the observed, they are a joint phenomenon, not separate phenomena; then there is no problem, is there? Please, experiment with this, and you will see how quickly that thing is resolved and transcended, and something else takes place. Our difficulty is to come to that point, when we can look at it without fear; and fear arises only when we begin to recognize it, when we begin to give it a name, when we want to do something about it. But, when the observer sees that he is not different from the thing which he calls emptiness, despair, then the word has no longer a meaning. The word has ceased to be, it is no longer despair. When the word is removed, with all its implications, then there is no sense of fear or despair. Then, if you proceed further, when there is no fear, no despair, when the word is no longer important, then, surely, there is a tremendous release, a freedom; and in that freedom there is creative being, which gives a newness to life. To put it differently: We approach this problem of despair through habitual channels. That is, we bring our past memories to translate that problem; and thought, which is the result of memory, which is founded upon the past, can never solve that problem, because it is a new problem. Every problem is a new problem; and when you approach it, burdened with the past, it cannot be solved. You cannot approach it through the screen of words, which is the thinking process; but when the verbalization stops – because you understand the whole process of it, you leave it – , then you are able to meet the problem anew; then the problem is not what you think it is. So, you might say at the end of this question, “What am I to do? Here I am in despair, in confusion, in pain; you haven’t given me a method to follow, to become free.” But, surely, if you have understood what I have said, the key is there: a key which opens much more than you realize if you are capable of using it.

(From The Collected Works, Vol. V Ojai 4th Public Talk 24th July 1949)

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observation without judgment

She walks fast, and yet anything distracts her. Now she seems to see, and now to notice nothing.
—Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

The greater the capacity for judgment, the greater the wariness. Our wariness slowly permeates everything.
—Thomas Bernhard, Gargoyles

Speed operates independent of concentration. What moves past looks more interesting than what stands ahead. It is a simple matter to feign sight, as it is to appear unaware. Perhaps the only proof of either is in the details, in one’s ability to report them.

(Does she not notice, or only appear to not notice.)

Seeing everything makes it impossible to focus on the narrow. The truth of the world’s incongruities shatters that focus knob into splinters. White-out conditions descend. A heart cannot expand to fill this wide a field of vision. All-consuming observation is a form of slow death, even as it deepens awareness.

(Does she walk fast because she does not want to be noticed.)

Moments of clarity pierce the cotton wool with no warning. The inherent lack of preparation precludes gain, and the resultant thatching into solid theory. With no philosophy to peddle, no brilliant answers to impossible question(er)s, there is only ostracism.

(For the impartial observer must embrace anonymity.)

From the outer edges objective observation appears to alienate the observer from others. Yet it is important not to judge, to strike with this tinder an internal corruption. Consumption by inner judgment brings another form of death, slow but more painful than all-consuming objective observation.

(The myth of universal truth shelters beneath the canopy of only what we see.)

Objective observation necessitates separation from the self. Motion away from the self occurs with judgment. The two are dissimilar, separation and motion away. One observes but does not compare to the self. This is static separation. One judges, compares to self, and in so doing increases distance from the self. This is motion away. Observation without judgment preserves the self. Observation with judgment disparages it.

draining

draining

Erased from unknown work in public domain [click to enlarge]

thank you wellcome library

(via public domain review)

Crayon drawing, 1929, Wellcome Library, London

lydia davis on fragments

To work deliberately in the form of the fragment can be seen as stopping or appearing to stop a work closer, in the process, to what Blanchot would call the origin of writing, the center rather than the sphere. It may be seen as a formal integration, an integration into the form itself, of a question about the process of writing.

It can be seen as a response to the philosophical problem of seeing the written thing replace the subject of the writing. If we catch only a little of our subject, or only badly, clumsily, incoherently, perhaps we have not destroyed it. We have written about it, written it, and allowed it to live on at the same time, allowed it to live on in our ellipses, our silences.

—from her essay ‘Form as Response to Doubt’ in HOW(ever) Vol 4, No. 2 (October 1987)

night walker

The orange glow of the street lamps illuminated her steady path along the still snow-covered sidewalk. She walked north, staring straight ahead, crossed the east-west street, continued north up the same side, crossed over to the opposite side, soon crossed back, and returned south by the same route. It made no sense. There was nothing up there, not on either side. Her choice of location for reversal in direction seemed arbitrary, yet the boldness of its execution indicated otherwise. The night was cold, with a bitter wind, not a night many would choose for a stroll, unless perhaps a fire was in one’s head. But her pace did not betray heat, so measured was it. So measured it was and yet lacking in any destination of obvious distinction. Crossing the street immediately prior to her southbound return was particularly puzzling. Now it was true that she was dressed warmly, suggesting predetermination. A hat covered her head and she wore a heavy coat, though not of any great length, for visible below its hem were woolen tights covering her legs. She moved with swift, even motion, as if in a rush, and yet a rush to get where. To get there, and yet there was nowhere, to an observer’s eye. A brief glimpse at profile, from a point several meters to the immediate west, yielded the features of an aquiline nose and a set jaw, the latter betraying further evidence of explicit intent. The heels of her boots struck the concrete in staccato rhythm, fading out as she moved further south, a sudden sound of certainty struggling to be heard.

monday fuzz

What is this dialect—tearing the oilskin remnants of time—the sun a hot dripping ball of wax sealing shut another sudden day—a new place a new suit a new matchbox—walk this gauntlet overshadowed by a pair of rotors and a smile—another scene stuck in a feedback loop—(hey who let all these gnomes out in the desert)—welcome to distortion a normality found in the far reaches of a certain type of mind—if it makes sense do not r e p e a t do not report it—a pattern of melancholy strung up like twinkling lights throughout the ages—now we enter the cloud chamber now we genuflect to the amplifier—to celebrate a sudden soaring up of souls on waxen wings of failed entrepreneurs—now there is this feeling this feeling of looking up at lights in windows from sidewalks sewn lifetimes away—a hurt that feels too good not to press on a little—our survival depends on this twisted nest feathered with compulsions—and we pass through the gates—(having entered as sound, blind)—we board the vessel and wait—what ho, off the starboard bow is it Scylla is it Charybdis or is it nothing at all nothing at all—(we exit as light, deaf)—next time take the train it’s said to be more scenic—wait everything changed again—wait wait there is no next time.

quiet person day

Today (i.e. whatever day you’re reading this) is the day when we celebrate the quiet person. The quiet person among us is often overlooked and even scorned. This occurs for many reasons, all of which are rooted in the very nature of being quiet. Quietness can be interpreted as a supernatural state. This has caused problems for certain quiet people. Back in the day, the quiet person was often suspected of witchcraft and either burned or crushed to death under large boulders. Throughout history, quiet people have been perceived as oracles, goddesses, world-creators, world-destroyers, saints, sinners, aliens, demons, angels, lunatics, et cetera. An urge to fear the quiet person presents itself. The quiet person rarely speaks unless spoken to. What is going on in their heads. How menacing. Some people think this means the quiet person is a snob. In fact, often a quiet person will open up like a rare flower (e.g., an orchid) when spoken to. Or the quiet person will simply wilt into a pile of rotting organic matter. You’ll never know which unless you try.

Some people think the quiet person has no opinions, but get that person alone and look out! You will not believe the endless stream of words flowing forth from the quiet person. You may wish you had never engaged the quiet person in conversation. At times during this ‘conversation’, it may seem like the quiet person has been possessed by some manic force. When will this person ever shut up, you may find yourself wondering, I can’t get a word in edgewise. However, the quiet person is usually smart and insightful (if you have the right decoder ring), leading you instead to wish you’d not previously overlooked this person. In fact, you may wish you could bottle the quiet person’s wisdom and keep it with you at all times, so that you could take it out when needed and breathe deeply of its essence. Too bad for you that is not possible (yet). Besides, that’s just being greedy! It’s not your place to package the quiet person into a commodity to be bought and sold on the open marketplace, you capitalist bastard. The quiet person will resist the tyranny of your economic systems!

Unfortunately, the quiet person can be perceived as ‘creepy’ or ‘weird’ due to an inherent tendency to hang back and observe instead of participate in whatever inane activity the non-quiet people are currently engaged in. This is blatant discrimination. Quiet people are not all serial killers. It’s unfortunate that the description ‘seemed nice, kind of quiet, kept to her/himself‘ can apply to both sociopaths and non-murderous quiet people. Being quiet carries a heavy stigma, whether the loudmouths among us realize it or not. So step off, fools.

To help celebrate this important day, here are a few helpful suggestions on how to honor the quiet people in your life:

1. Leave them alone. (Can’t go wrong with this one, folks.)

2. Smile and nod at them in tacit approval of their right to remain silent.

3. Refrain from ‘volunteering’ them for public speaking.

4. Do not suggest that they ‘mingle’. They’re leaning against that wall for a reason.

5. Excuse them from any ‘icebreakers’  or other forms of forced socializing (see #4 above).

6. Learn to read minds so that they are not forced to articulate their thoughts.

7. Stop asking them to speak up all the time. Instead consider buying yourself hearing aids.

8. Engage in a ‘not-talking’ contest with them. (And don’t be a sore loser, chatterbox.)

9. Invite them to a mime performance.

10. Do not assume their quietness equates to a dislike for you.

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