field report: bridges

For once the speakers outside Hard Rock Cafe are playing a song I want to hear so I stand leaning against the bricks and listen to the lengthy bridge from ‘How Soon Is Now?’ It’s the part of the song I have always particularly loved. Just as Morrissey starts to sing for the last time ‘I am human and I need to be loved’ a generic man in fancy slacks and blazer walks by mouthing the words. The song fades out and I walk to the suspension bridge that always buckles in the wind. As I reach the bridge a man visibly down on his luck addresses me. He asks me if there is a mission where he and his wife can get a hot meal and I tell him there is one on the Fallsway. He replies that it’s closed. So I say there’s also one on Gay Street. He responds that it too is closed. I have no money with me so I tell him I can’t help him and wish him luck. He says nothing and turns away. I continue across the bridge and then I walk across the map of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, sometimes cordoned off and sometimes not, that is etched into stone in front of the fish prison. I make a halfhearted attempt to look for birds in the habitat islands but I feel like I have experienced way too much in the past few minutes so I return to the office and read a few more pages of Konwicki.

‘to reduce the fever of feeling’

Outside the wind howls. Inside a trio of snowmen converse in the vicinity of a conference of paper birds. Last night the ‘artsy’ neighbors continued their grand tradition of slamming doors and other unidentifiable objects against floors and walls for several hours between approximately midnight and the archetypal 3 AM hour. Result: current state of apathetic grogginess. Desire for absence of shared walls swells with each passing night of lost sleep.

Days less measureless than before. Crystalline structure of incipient routines inches out beyond the borders of a now worn and tarnished impersonation of L.B. in Rear Window. Except there never was anything even vaguely menacing to observe, only a sea of moment-waves rocking gently against the fragile hull of this origami sailboat.

Return to Pessoa’s words: no novelty in the universal, no comprehensibility in the individual. The old ruse of intentional obfuscation falls flat. But still the urge to fit words together roils inside. Maybe to do it, like Pessoa says, ‘to reduce the fever of feeling.’ Yet if all is unimportant (which it is), why bother describing any version of it. Unless perhaps to merely locate and handle the words themselves. To dive to the bottom, seeking words buried deep in a consciousness whose mirrored surface rests fathoms above undisturbed layers of sediment. Yes, perhaps it is for that reason: to extract anything worth contemplating from the granular level, to slip some small truth from the interstices and examine it from all sides, even if only to then return it unseen.

the passing of time

You know two months have passed when it’s time to buy dog food. You know six months have passed when it’s time to visit the dentist. And speaking of the dentist, against your will you have now endured another session with the aggressively chatty hygienist. What happened is that the dentist’s office called you up while you were out birding on an (extended) lunch break, looking for an elusive Sora to be precise, and so you were distracted and had trouble understanding the person on the phone but managed to grasp that there was a cancellation and did you want to come in tomorrow. You weren’t sure, not particularly liking to make such decisions in a rushed manner (or at all), but also not particularly wanting to continue the conversation, so you said sure, okay, tomorrow is fine. You hung up and another birder pointed out the Sora which was good but then you went to the dentist the next day and it was the chatty hygienist instead of the one you prefer who has a Polish accent and does not barrage you with personal questions while probing between your teeth for plaque, but with whom you did have an enjoyable (short) conversation with six months earlier regarding the hospital seen through the window that as you were sitting there was being torn down, literally at that moment, and you both laughed about how you hadn’t even noticed when you sat down that it was now mostly gone, but after which you were made aware of it provided plenty of visual entertainment during your cleaning while a worker repeatedly employed a wrecking ball with vigorous effort in the demolition process. So now six months later there you are in the chair again and the chatty hygienist immediately begins her assault of questions, growing quite sassy in no time at all, perhaps a new record even for her, necessitating an accompanying increase in sass on your part, for one must maintain a similar tone in this type of repartee or else it swiftly fails, making the situation rather awkward and, let’s face it, if this person is going to have her hands in your mouth for the next 30 minutes it’s best you go along with the banter even though its personal nature is now increasing at a furious pace, as if she is now testing her ability to raise your ire, but your ire will in fact not be raised, it will actually refuse raising altogether because your ire is not easily raised and she is beginning to sense this and clearly it intrigues her, leading her to make verbal note of it, and so she keeps upping the ante, as they say, to the point where it does begin to grow rather tiresome leading you to hope very much for the appointment to end soon so that you can exit the building, get on your bike, and ride in the late afternoon mist the four miles uphill through the gathering traffic to your house where you must walk your dog, prepare dinner, eat dinner, brush your teeth, read a few pages in whatever book you’re currently reading, and go to sleep. And finally it does end, this intense scraping session with accompanying interrogation into your flossing habits coupled with theorizing on topics such as whether you are perhaps a mouth-breather at night because that tends to harden the plaque on the back of your lower front teeth and did you say you do use an electric toothbrushyes, you are eventually freed from this verbal bondage, but not before a certain amount of psychological damage is incurred, though nothing permanent, just enough to make you wish that the stealthy Sora had not distracted you in the first place leading to a split-second decision without full consideration of the possible ramifications, namely that you may, in fact, by taking someone else’s appointment other than your own, be unwittingly sabotaging yourself, directing yourself onto an alternate course whereby you are now penciled in for the duration of time with the overly chatty hygienist, after having just extricated yourself from somehow getting onto her schedule and having subsequently returned yourself to your proper place on the reticent Polish hygienist’s schedule where you in fact had long been penciled in, literally for years beforehand, and still can’t understand how you had suddenly been removed from in the first place. But alas, you won’t know your fate in this matter until another six months have passed, during which time you will have purchased another two, possibly three, bags of dog food, depending on how the calendar asserts itself.

so are you in or are you out

For a long time nothing happens and then something happens. The something can be good, bad, or neutral. The something can also be large, small, or medium. Furthermore, the space between somethings can be short, long, or in-between. Infinite permutations of this scheme occur and reoccur over a finite expanse of time. Tornadoes of frenetic activity tempered by vast plains of incremental movement. Hurried descents down spiral shadow staircases. Careful crawling across gleaming parquet floors. Hoarse screaming from the tops of turrets. Nothing is happening. Everything is happening. Synchronicity! Coincidence! Randomness! Chance! Snowflakes! Mollusks! Drifting sand dunes! Pointlessness. Pointilism. Your face as a series of points inside a frame on the wall. Don’t move, there are a few more points to fill in. Early morning purity dissolves into a sooty smudge of horror hours. I’m pulling up mandrake roots and delivering ornate twig bundles to your front porch by the light of a blue moon. You’ll thank me later, I’m sure. Tractor beams. (We’re veering off-course.) [You’re steering, of course.] The Periodic Table is, what, sometimes a chair… Electron clouds swarming with blue-gray gnatcatchers. Mechanical ants marching toward your workplace. Abort mission, stat.

Nothing is just nothing. Something is always happening. But is it happening again. Has it already occurred. How does it compare to, say, nothing. Can we try it on for size. The universe is a dressing room with no doors. No recording is allowed. Over-sized objects make us laugh. Tiny things make us weep with joy, crinkle our faces and speak in strange nonsensical babbling tones. It’s why so many of us collect miniatures. The pleasures of total control, the power to rearrange the tableau at will. Meanwhile, think about a giant foam cowboy hat. Why does it exist. What purpose does it serve. Who wears these things, anyway. It doesn’t matter because it’s hilarious. Its mere existence inspires drollery. Put the hat on and caper around a bit. See, don’t you feel better. You’re in the center of the vortex now. Look out, you’re pulsing with radioactive humor. But wait. Now you’re a homunculus in a jar, placed on a shelf, with the late afternoon sun hitting the embalming fluid just right. You could be an actor. The range of emotions you have mastered is simply stunning. They wrote this role just for you, and they so rarely do that these days. Have your lines tattooed onto your body and report to the set at half-past the chimney swift’s flight pattern on the sixth Thornsday of our evasive thirteenth month. We may need to trephine, though rest assured that we only ever use Stan and he’s the best. Check the clause in the contract due to arrive soon at your doorstep, tucked inside the front pouch of a wallaby. It will be a grand play, like no other, replicating the many permutations of the earlier scheme. Each act will be called something or nothing. Intermission will be long, short, or in-between. The entire thing will last until the end. So are you in or are you out.

the town

The highest point of the town held a water tower and once I rode down that hill on my scooter using my new shoe as a brake and when I reached the bottom I found the scooter’s tire had burned a big gash into the heel of my shoe.

The lowest point of the town held a lake and once I stubbed my toe in its silty bottom resulting in a trip to the doctor who poked holes in my toenail to relieve the pressure.

The town took away and it gave and it took away and it gave, sometimes it left parts of itself in me, parts that had to be removed, other times the parts remained encysted and grew into hard black stones that never went away.

The town visits me now, frequently, in my dreams. It is the setting for all types of absurd scenarios, completely unrelated to actual events, only tapping memory for details of setting, and even then playing sly with the facts, bending and shaping, but always leaving things just recognizable enough.

I find this unsettling as the town means nothing to me in my present life and I have not been there in many years. There is nothing there for me now. And yet it is the skeleton of my early life. The streets are the bones. There is a house somewhere that serves as the skull, with windows like eyeholes, looking out onto a world I was seeing for the first time.

I feel a pull toward the town and I don’t know why. I think it is the aching for a home, a place I know so well it is a part of me, inseparable from who I am and what I do. A known setting for my life, however I choose to live it, with scenery grown like vines through my blood and bones. The place where it all starts and ends. Home.

possibility of foam

If buried all but traceless in the dark in its energy sitting, drifting within your own is another body—Anne Carson, “Seated Figure With Red Angle (1988) by Betty Goodwin”

There is something about living in a city, and it has to do with the surroundings being artificial, constructed by humans. Here we sever ourselves from real nature. Here what nature there is persists under duressit may even seem to be a thriving minority, but it will always be the minority. The muted signs of seasonal change vagulate. The constant reminders of the hubris of so-called civilized people swarm in smothering tones. Callousness blankets us. The automobile serves as master and slave. I am concerned.

There is another body inside of my body.¹ And it is drifting. And it is all but traceless in the dark. Whose body is it. Is it mine. Or does it belong to someone quite different.

It is an unfortunate thing to recognize that you are not one who is meant to live in such close proximity to other humans. And yet here you are, aren’t you.

John Stabb from Government Issue sang:

In that comfortable rut again
Goals for the talking man
Outside lies a presence
But a lonely spirit’s walking rut

And he can’t get out
Man in a trap

Deeper things getting direct
Empty social life’s a wreck
Weather and insects tonight
Happiness in black and white

And he can’t get out

Sometimes we come to embody the lyrics we listen to in our youth. This is neither here nor there. It is life. I think we’re all a little bit surprised when we get there. Or here.

Let’s find more creative ways to fail. And write about those ways in more creative ways.

Anne Sexton wrote:

The silence is death.
It comes each day with its shock
to sit on my shoulder, a white bird,
and peck at the black eyes
and the vibrating red muscle
of my mouth.

Anne reminds us that silence can be as menacing and intrusive as noise. A reminder that we are all out here flailing about. And some of us don’t make it. Like Anne herself. Some of us sink beneath the surface, our lungs filled with shards of the little brittle things in life. The ones that drifted beyond our reach, slow or quick, only to be breathed back in with fatal heaving breaths.

Recently I spent a fair amount of time writing up a review of a show I went to the other night but I lost interest. It suddenly seemed unimportant. Literally as I was writing it, I felt the words spelling out into nothingness. The only point of interest remaining when I finished was a question: What do we want from our rock stars? And do we even want them to be stars? I don’t go to see live music much anymore and rock music even less so. But this question startled itself into my mind and would not leave. Music once loved can be tainted. And how a band presents itself to its audience can either win me over or leave me cold. These are the lessons I learned. Outside the womb can be harsh.

There is foam² spilling out here. As winter prepares to wrap us in its icy sharp arms, I am awash with foam. And it may never dry.

___________________________________________________

1. See also: this post

2. For more on foam, see Anne Carson’s essay “FOAM (Essay with Rhapsody): On the Sublime in Longinus and Antonioni,” originally published in Conjunctions 37 and reprinted in the book Decreation (2006).

nihilist manifesto

[click image to read]

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Erased from Ch. XVIII of Nerves and Common Sense (1925) by Annie Payson Call

tuesdayish

On Walking Backwards

My mother forbad us to walk backwards. That is how the dead walk, she would say. Where did she get this idea? Perhaps from a bad translation. The dead, after all, do not walk backwards but they do walk behind us. They have no lungs and cannot call out but would love for us to turn around. They are victims of love, many of them.

–Anne Carson, Plainwater

Couples who walk around with their hands in each others’ back pockets proclaim a clear statement, I think. And that statement is, we don’t mind you watching us grab each others’ butts.

There are ghosts. And they haunt us. This can happen in nontraditional ways.

People work harder to make their lives easier.

At work we now have the same meeting every week, but every other week it is called something different. This, I believe, is some kind of trick.

I am waffling over something, and this makes me hungry for waffles.

Sometimes a piece of mail can frighten you. Imagine the worst, then wait awhile to open it. I don’t advise this.

Plans make me nervous. Once I’ve made a plan or been made aware of a plan that involves me, I often secretly wish for it to unravel. I’m not sure why.

Open statement to any UK policy-makers landing here as a result of a Google search:

Please don’t cull the badgers.

yes, wednesday night is movie night

When you watch a film it’s full of so many intense moments and none of them are real because life is not really made of those moments. It’s full of different ones, many blanking moments between a handful of sparking others that brighten and never wane in your mind, only in your heart. And it’s not the moon. It is ever the sinking sun. On the rocks, the desert floor, the pink and orange and blue, like that trip so many years ago. A film is a distillation of all these things, it is a prickly intensity of which we are not so used to in our daily lives, at least not in later years. In youth life can be like a film, though we lack the perspective required to appreciate it. And I imagine the people who make the sorts of films I have been watching make them because they want to see their lives like a film when they are young, but with the perspective that allows them to see it for what it was.

Tonight I was excited to go walk in the warm night air, even though it is October and it should not be so warm. The crickets yet fiddle and when I touch the inside this night it does not feel so tender. And yet when I talk to someone about his plans to leave this place, even though he’s been around awhile, he’s still a decade behind my next curve in the road. So maybe you can grasp the urgency I feel snaking around me. And if you can grasp it perhaps you could do me the favor of wrenching it off me so I can breathe lighter and freer.

Everything is profound in the late hour. It bears down upon you with a ferocity daylight would never allow. You start thinking about the beginnings of endings and the ending of beginnings and the brutal flatness of middles. You think about contours on a map and start seeing your life through a cartographer’s squinted eye, with those squiggly lines circling around you and they’re all the places you’ve been, the walks you’ve chosen to take, the daily ribbons of flayed flesh stripped from your shrunken sides.

This is not to say…anything, really. When I start typing nothing is ever as it seems. Words touch other words like hot wires and who am I to pull them apart. This hovers before me like a psychiatric tinderbox into which to dump the fantastic and the absurd and what torn shreds are left of the real. The box is metal to minimize the explosive risk? Not that any match will strike and catch this fire.

There is never a conclusion to reach and that appears to be the point. Which is fine, I guess. But can a person reverse evolve? I think I’m becoming a mollusk. Or a bioluminescent dinoflagellate. Foxfire! That’s it. I want to be foxfire. I want to be the green glow you see hovering in your woodpile as you gaze out upon it one evening through the icy windowpane.

of dic·tion·ar·ies & den·tists

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

This row of dictionaries looms over me as I work, though I don’t have occasion to consult them as much these days. I used to do a lot more translation work as I cataloged. But my job has changed over the years, perhaps for the worse…it’s hard to say. I leave the dictionaries there to comfort me. I do still use the English one a lot (favored escapist technique). Sometimes the French and Spanish, rarely the Portuguese, and never the Swahili.

From the edge of the deep green sea, we open our arms, raise them high and trust, even when apart. Cut to end. Many nights, many years ago, I fell asleep to that. I like to think it informed my dreams. These days it’s everything.

It is Monday and I have a dentist appointment. Every time this happens I am unsettled by the bracketing of my life into six-month periods between dental appointments. I look back and wonder at the flatness of it all. Is this the right way to be going about it. Is it. Isn’t there some wormhole I could squeeze into instead. Some squirrely nautilus-shaped thing?

People are always leaving. And I miss them in a slow aching way. It’s been some time since I was the one leaving. A long time, actually, when you consider how often I used to leave before. It is doing something to the typewriter ribbon of time, I think. The dental appointments, the ink fading with each tap of the keys. The things we do at the changing of each season. Subtle adjustments absorbed, tarnishing the new, loss of notice to the details.

I like my dental hygienist. She is Eastern European—Polish, I think. I went to Poland once and in the short time I was there I found it to be a sad and beautiful country. That may have been due to my choice of activities while I was there. I like my hygienist because she’s quiet. I come in, we exchange cursory greetings, and then we get right down to work. Or rather she does; I just lie there and stare at the painting on the ceiling of a rowboat floating in the clear blue shallows. There is no banter. I hear the other hygienist and patient nearby chatting up a storm and I wonder how they can carry on such steady conversation while one of them has both hands in the other’s mouth. I wonder about my hygienist sometimes. Does she have a family, what does she do in her free time, that sort of thing. I often find myself wondering in this fashion about people with whom I have a narrow single-faceted relationship like this. But I would never dare ask her these things. And besides, most people’s lives are less exciting in real life than in imagined life. I hope they don’t take my hygienist away. At my last dentist they were always switching hygienists on me and it irritated me to no end. Then one time I totally spaced on my appointment because I always count on those reminder calls and they didn’t call this time. I realized about two weeks later or so that I’d missed it and that they’d never followed up. So I figured if they didn’t care that much about me as a patient that I’d find a new dentist. So far I’m pleased.

If I left, I’d have to get a new dentist and therefore, a new hygienist (I care less about the actual dentist because one rarely sees much of one’s dentist unless one’s teeth are terrible). If I left, someone else would claim my stack of dictionaries. If I left, these particular mosquitoes and their vile descendants would find someone else to bite. If I left, I’d be somewhere else, like I often think and dream about, but it wouldn’t be somewhere else for long. It would be like here, except there, because that is always what happens.

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