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.

terminal threshold

This morning the city smelled like smoke but you know it’s not the friendly campfire smoke, but the burning building smoke and maybe people are in danger, not roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories but instead fighting for their lives as their home goes up in flames. Regardless I continue on my mission to walk the dog because he has his needs and I am here to help meet them. That is what I am to do at this very moment. Later on I have to wonder while reading the Sunday newspaper (subscribed to in a post-inauguration panic) what the terminal threshold is for learning the details of others’ suffering. What is that outer limit of knowledge regarding how hard it is for people to live their daily lives, beyond which there is no value in further absorption. For that is what comprises most of the news. It is a catalog of the world’s suffering accompanied by an explication of the delusions that fuel it. Sometimes I have to turn off the radio or let the papers pile up simply to give myself space and time to breathe. I know people are suffering and I want them to not suffer but there are only certain ways for me to help, and I’m not sure that one of those ways is to keep listening to and reading more and more of the details about how they are suffering and what this or that pundit thinks about why that suffering exists. After a certain point, possibly the terminal threshold, it feels like voyeurism and nothing more. It’s like the photo collection at work, full of countless portraits of the worst forms of human suffering, sometimes so extreme (usually during the annual contest when hundreds more pour in all at once) that I not so much become numb to their effects as want to hide under my desk, away from the screen, to rock back and forth muttering about my ever-waning faith in the possibility of peace and justice. But it’s this intercessory nature of the media that is the issue. I don’t need them prioritizing human suffering, categorizing it, interpreting it, and serving it up to me in bite-sized nuggets for me to swallow like a dry cracker with no water chaser. Rather, if you are suffering and want to talk about it or write it down I can listen or read as you share your pain in your own words, not those of an intermediary with some probable agenda, even as banal as needing to file a story in order to get paid. Thank you and have a good day.

‘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.

#NoDAPL Day of Action

Last night I stood with my fellow Baltimoreans in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Outside the Army Corps of Engineers downtown field office we chanted and waved our signs at passing drivers, pedestrians, and light rail riders. Turnout was modest compared to that in other cities, but for such a neglected issue in the media, I consider the 150-200+ strong crowd to have been a good showing in this city, whose own internal problems typically rise to the activist forefront (and with good reason, given their dire nature).

However, the DAPL is not just another pipeline. While it is being constructed hundreds of miles away from here, it is emblematic of issues that all Americans should be concerned about:

  • our greed for cheap, convenient oil
  • our over-dependence on automobiles
  • our egregious neglect of the environment
  • our continuing disrespect and oppression of indigenous people

All of these issues are interconnected. At the start of this country’s history our founders made a decision that the concerns and well-being of the invaders were more important than those of the people who were here before us. Instead of meeting them on equal terms, we corralled them onto land we considered worthless and forgot about them. This decision has now held fast for well over 200 years. Of course this behavior was not uniquely Americanour example of native oppression just happens to be one of the more recent in human history. Indigenous people around the world are among the most disenfranchised, dispossessed people ever throughout history. But, as this particular pipeline is being built in the United States, and part of it adjacent to an Indian reservation, it is a distinctly American problem.

As we did with our treatment of native people, so we did with our reliance on the internal combustion engine. Following its development, we made a far-reaching decision that we have never reconsidered in any meaningful way. We decided to develop an entire country’s infrastructure around the automobile and we’ve been doggedly sticking to this plan ever since. This has chained us to a never-ending thirst for cheap oil. It has led us into wars, fractured our communities, poisoned our air and water, and decimated our landscape. We are now trapped in a dark corner, and our desperation drives us to take whatever means necessary to extract the last remaining oil from beneath our feet.

So this is not just another pipeline. It is a brutal reminder of our failure as a nation and as a people to care for each other and to care for our environment in a sustainable way. It accentuates our stubborn shortsightedness and our continuing habit of taking huge steps backward for every tiny step we take forward. Following this trend, we have now elected a climate change denier to the Presidency of our nation. As with the majority of Mr. Trump’s future plans in office, his intended actions toward the environment are largely unknown. But the outlook is grim. We know he has promised to retract U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement on climate change. This is not a good sign. Moving toward cleaner energy will no longer be a priority on a national level. But we all retain our own power as individuals. Now, more than ever, is the time to voice our opinions, whatever they may be. And we must continue doing what we already have been doing, as individuals, to treat the planet and all of its inhabitants as extensions of our own selves. For we are all connected and if one of us fails we all fail.

More news on the Dakota Access Pipeline from Democracy Now!

A Vision of Isolating Technology from 1906

A Vision of Isolating Technology from 1906

A Vision of Isolating Technology from 1906 (Source: Public Domain Review via Diseases of Modern Life)

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.

‘he walked arm in arm with his shadow’ (éric chevillard)

[note: cursory statistical analysis reveals this blog would receive heightened traffic if it contained more practical advice on ‘all weather bike commuting,’ but instead it chiefly contains impractical, infrequent, and largely unread text such as the following…]

aural darkness in june. a way to refuse the heat. alice. another merciful release. a spiral of silence. another five minutes in this chair. jabès with his name in his pain but his pain with no name. writing about the book and its hold over us. the power of the word. meanwhile duras is looking at the time. ‘it was ten o’clock. in the evening. it was summer.’ and what could maria call the time opening ahead of her…’this incandescence, this bursting of a love at last without object.’

been here too long. here early / leave late / write in boxes / move on wheels back uphill. two legs, four legs, crossing thresholds over and over. sidewalks of daily desolation. tedium in quin’s ‘city where every street declares its defeat.’ consider bernhard and his ‘born barricade fanatics’the shared ‘desire to barricade ourselves from the world.’

but then there is jabès in unwilling exile from his beloved desert. everyone in some form of exilemental, physical, spiritual—feeling incapable of return. like robin about whom the baron thinks ‘there was in her every movement a slight drag, as if the past were a web about her, as there is a web of time about a very old building.’ and yet nora saying ‘robin can go anywhere, do anything, because she forgets, and i nowhere because i remember.’ because what bliss it would be to forget, right, to not always be dragging that chain of keyless padlocks behind. two (mis?)interpretations of another’s experience. dangers of outside looking in. but what of robin. what of robin. on the floor barking like a dog. a shattered mirror. surrendered to expectations. a final transition to conditioned response. or the ultimate shedding of humanity’s heavy carapace.

early morning people

The city can seem cold and unfeeling. Thus, the temptation arises to shoehorn the masses into roles limited to acrimony or apathy, simply based on random anecdotal experiences.

Early morning is the best time to mitigate this wrong perception. Early morning people are different. They spontaneously greet each other and show consideration. Kind words are exchanged and eyes, for once, are not averted.

After 9 AM there begins a slow shift for the worse. The late risers trickle to the streets, leaking poison into the day’s veins. By noon, one might as well return to bed and wait for the next morning in order to continue bending this perception back into the right shape.

field report 3

Today the clouds demand close observation. Why is everyone not looking at the clouds. Absurd. All colors today are vivid: the dark and choppy white-flecked waters of the harbor, the green sloping lawn of the former Civil War lookout, the red of the restaurant roof below it. Now is the time when the first psithuristic hints of the autumnal approach appear. Observance and acknowledgment of this occurrence is essential.

A passing child of about 7 says, apropos of nothing: ‘I hope I get a lawnmower soon…a real one…vrrrrrm [presumed lawnmower noises].’ His family chooses not to acknowledge this proclamation. Theory: this is not the first time it has been uttered.

A large black dog (LBD) enjoys the grassy, treed oasis behind the seafood restaurant, complacently chewing a tennis ball as its person paces in circles while jabbering on her mobile phone.

Shirtless males run on the promenade.

Tourists relentlessly take photos of a boat, the so-called ‘Last Survivor of Pearl Harbor,’ by far the most photographed object in the vicinity.

My doppelgänger walks by, as he is wont to do.

Midway through the reading period, sudden drama rushes in when cigar-smoking man (CSM) arrives on his bicycle, only to find LBD lying in the exact spot where he traditionally sets up his legless portable chair. For a few moments the air crackles with anticipation. However, this soon dissipates as, undaunted, CSM approaches the occupied territory and sets up his chair immediately adjacent to LBD. Soon, the fragrant scent of cigar smoke floats upon the strong breeze as CSM cracks open his book, occasionally casting a shrewd eye upon LBD, who pants in patient oblivion as its owner continues chattering.

On the return trip, while walking, a man pauses to execute a precise ballet move: a half-knee bend followed by a jump in place, arms outstretched. The grace of this move is surprising given the man’s overall GISS. He then taps a light pole with the thick book in his left hand. Further on, he thumps the book in his hand like a revival preacher, resulting in a few turned heads. A strong temptation rises to follow him for research purposes, but alas, recess is over.

more data in the imaginary spreadsheet

Yesterday cigar-smoking man was again observed sitting in his chair and smoking. He had a bike with him, though a different bike from his original bike. Meanwhile, someone wrote the word ‘WEED’ in multicolored chalk on the brick promenade. There are now many tourists, both of the large and confused varieties. They approach anyone around them with desperate pleas for directions to destinations that tourists frequent, such as restaurants where they can attempt for a time to assuage their unending hunger. They walk around talking about when to eat, concerned that a late lunch will push dinner back too far. Managing one’s meals whilst vacationing is difficult. It requires careful planning and continuous discussion.

The fake pirate ship drifts into view and executes a tight 90-degree turn in the channel, as the few customers on board respond with halfhearted movements to the ‘deckhands’ capering to the awful pulsing reggae music.  It may be an elaborate game of musical chairs, but the distance is too great to permit an accurate, detailed report.

A police helicopter incessantly buzzes overhead, an unusual occurrence in this sanitized sector of the city. Perhaps it makes the tourists feel protected.

One-sided exchange overheard between two restaurant employees who were setting up outdoor seating:

“[…]”

“No, I would say I’m spiritual, but I don’t believe in organized religion.”

On a certain bridge, someone scrawled ‘It feels so good to do it’ with spray paint. After a while, the graffiti clean-up squad covered it up with neutral paint. Several weeks or months later, the same scrawl appeared but this time it said, ‘It feels so good to do it again’. The clean-up squad covered that one much quicker, only for the scrawl to reappear a few days later as ‘It feels so good to do it again and again’. No one will win this war.

In Winterreise, Nagl has moved on from thinking his life is still lying ahead of him:

‘Now that life is no longer ahead of me, now that it’s really started, there’s nothing else but senseless thoughts. I’ve done everything almost automatically. I made it a point of honor to have everything I did look as if I wanted it. In reality, it just happened.’

Is it the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.

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