george trakl’s snowy descent

Fascinating critical essay on Austrian poet Georg Trakl and the influence of cocaine and other intoxicants on his work.

(via Public Domain Review)

a knoblike process

Creeping crepuscule, descrescent light, harbinger of dreaded return to EST, where darkness dampens day’s early end. Decumbent drone diminishes daily, drowsy in the drawing room. Sip long from murky melodies, muddy froth spilling forth in rivulets, dirgeful delights diverging in drone’s ear canals. Mellifluous miasma of musical melancholia!

Dismantling of outdoor seating commences! Desperate attempts to affect staring at nothing continues. Doctor Chumply the Mouth Breather appears, Mickey D’s in hand, heart-attack-in-waiting, following with tiny aggrieved steps the trail of nitroglycerin tablets strewn across the decking. Take the elevator, not the stairs, for they are locked, despite the sign in the kitchen encouraging good health through stairs-taking. O, Dr. Chumply, what will become of you, will you follow those tablets to the Haunted Wood™ where the witch stokes her stove as she awaits your fleshly delights.

[But Christine, what of loneliness, standing there behind the invisibility cloak, always working, always writing, what did engagement mean for you, O Invisible Author, did you drape yourself in a duvet woven with words…]


lumpfish: Any of various fishes of the family Cyclopteridae, especially Cyclopterus lumpus of North Atlantic waters, having pelvic fins united to form a suction disk and a body bearing prominent tubercles.

tubercle: A small, rounded prominence or process, such as a wartlike excrescence on the roots of some leguminous plants or a knoblike process in the skin or on a bone.

Quick now! Homophone challenge question: would you rather your words resonate or resinate. Think about it while staring into the clouds.

the one and the other discuss the weather

What is up with this winter, other.

I don’t know, one, but it is a strange one for sure.

I have a bad feeling that this winter is going to be like last winter where I felt so unworthy of spring!

Ah, yes, I remember…you were in a state, one, a real fragile state.

I know! cried the one. What ever will I do if it is like that again?

We’ll make it through together. Please don’t worry, one.

Oh thank you, other, thank you…you are too sweet. Tell me again how you got to be so sweet. Tell me the story. Tell me, other, telllll meeeee!

I took a distance learning course!

Wheee! You are ridiculous, other. Did I ever tell you that?

Yes, one…many times! But now I must go lie down.

Ohhh…do you have a sadness in you today, other?

Yes, one, I do.

Can I help?

Just your being here is helping. The way I feel you listening even when there are no words, one…that means so much.

I’m glad, other, I really am…but this sadness, see, I just want to wring its spiny little neck! I want to banish it!

I appreciate that, one. I really do.

But does it ever go away, other? The sadness…does it…does it ever leave you…

Not really…there are always traces. But it helps to not feel so alone with it.

I like to help you, other. I don’t always understand but it’s okay, right?

Of course it is! You help me so much, one. Now, where is that chocolate bar you’ve been saving for emergencies…

william james on melancholy

In this letter to his 13-year-old daughter, who was struggling while away at school, psychologist William James (older brother of writer Henry James) offered his insight into what he calls melancholy, or what I would characterize as mild depression, the severity of which still allows for effective self-initiated non-clinical therapy. While I think his description of depression is somewhat dated in parts—or perhaps it’s just his wording (e.g. arising from an organism’s generation of poison in the blood?)—I also think there is some merit to his advice. Here is the excerpt that struck me the most:

Now, my dear little girl, you have come to an age when the inward life develops and when some people (and on the whole those who have most of a destiny) find that all is not a bed of roses. Among other things there will be waves of terrible sadness, which last sometimes for days; and dissatisfaction with one’s self, and irritation at others, and anger at circumstances and stony insensibility, etc., etc., which taken together form a melancholy. Now, painful as it is, this is sent to us for an enlightenment. It always passes off, and we learn about life from it, and we ought to learn a great many good things if we react on it right. (For instance, you learn how good a thing your home is, and your country, and your brothers, and you may learn to be more considerate of other people, who, you now learn, may have their inner weaknesses and sufferings, too.) Many persons take a kind of sickly delight in hugging it; and some sentimental ones may even be proud of it, as showing a fine sorrowful kind of sensibility. Such persons make a regular habit of the luxury of woe. That is the worst possible reaction on it. It is usually a sort of disease, when we get it strong, arising from the organism having generated some poison in the blood; and we mustn’t submit to it an hour longer than we can help, but jump at every chance to attend to anything cheerful or comic or take part in anything active that will divert us from our mean, pining inward state of feeling. When it passes off, as I said, we know more than we did before. And we must try to make it last as short as time as possible. The worst of it often is that, while we are in it, we don’t want to get out of it. We hate it, and yet we prefer staying in it—that is a part of the disease. If we find ourselves like that, we must make ourselves do something different, go with people, speak cheerfully, set ourselves to some hard work, make ourselves sweat, etc.; and that is the good way of reacting that makes of us a valuable character. The disease makes you think of yourself all the time; and the way out of it is to keep as busy as we can thinking of things and of other people—no matter what’s the matter with our self.

As I mentioned above, this advice could be helpful even today for those who are suffering from mild depression. For the clinically depressed, of course, this advice is not sufficient. I’m also not sure how I feel about the way James lightly disparages those who embrace melancholy. On one hand, I can see his point, in that this outlook does direct inward and tends to stay there, where it can fester and corrode our “character” as he puts it. However, I also believe much can be learned from intense self-examination, and if our first instinct when feeling ourselves slip inward is to deny this and instead seek out others to “speak cheerfully” with, then I think we lose out on a possible learning experience. There is also the vast canon of visual art, music, and writing generated by so many melancholic individuals to consider. Were these people to put down their pens, brushes, and instruments whenever they started feeling blue so they could instead go chop some wood or chat with their neighbors, think of what a loss to the world that would be.

Maybe I am taking James out of context, or over-analyzing his advice; after all, he was trying to cheer up his daughter, not writing a treatise on depression. Unfortunately, he’s not here to clarify his thoughts. Interestingly, James himself suffered from chronic depression, and was at times suicidal. I wonder if he ever tried taking his own advice, or if his depression was too crippling to be helped by it.

the vagulator’s map

I want to be somewhere unfamiliar and yet I know it is merely a swirly chipped vision I see in my head. Outside a stone house at dusk, looking down the hillside at a copse of trees, wood smoke trailing from the chimney to the violet sky above, a pungent scent to breathe in, to savor. Gravel crunches underfoot, a lantern swinging from a hand slants yellow light across the path, scrape of the gate latch, a figure strides into darkness, never to return.

Canadian art house films don’t help, the lush scenery a starring role in itself, stealing the limelight, all humans fade to flat. I care less about what they are doing to each other, probing each other with words and organs, wrecking lives, all-too-familiar narrative arcs, but what about the waves forming across the lake, lapping onto the stony shore, the way that mountain looms like a haunted face over us all. These things matter. They outlast flesh.

I like words that start with ‘wood’. A woodnote is a song or call of a woodland bird. A wood nymph is a nymph of the forest. I would imagine a wood troll is a troll of the forest, or perhaps an orchard. A wood pussy is informal for a skunk. Wood sugar is xylose.

There is a bird (actually two of them) called a wryneck. These Old World species can twist their necks into unusual contortions. Perhaps they also demonstrate a dry sense of humor when relaxing amongst their bird friends and colleagues. I’d like to fancy myself a wryneck, but an old cycling accident prevents it.

In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf uses the phrase ‘vagulous phosphorescence’ to describe an old lady. Vagulous is a word that Woolf apparently made up (see p. 7 of this article), meaning ‘fanciful formation’. There is also a verb form, vagulate, meaning ‘to wander in a vague manner; to waver’.

In the woods today there were more birders than birds. The bird to birder ratio was not in my favor (and yet as I now review other reports online from that location today I see that two rarities were found, both of which would have been life birds for me…sigh). Even the typically less-traveled trails held women with feeder blobs secured to their midsections, guffawing young ones with canine friends, a full orchestra of humanity tuning up for the day’s symphony. And why not. The humidity broken, temperatures dipping to livable levels, cotton puffball clouds clotted a blue painted sky. Why not all converge in one spot.

I rose above it, literally, and found a Brown Thrasher. And an American Redstart. I need less input, more output. Rather, more filtered, structured input. Less information to influence, to make one waver. The vagaries of the vagulator, vacillating with vociferous vim and vigor.

In the port-a-john there was a violent-looking spider. It was perched calmly in the corner at seat level. This raises questions in my mind. Are spiders vindictive? Was that spider thinking I know you all hate me and think I’m horrifying so I will lurk here in this portable toilet until you sit down and then I will jump into your naked lap, possibly onto your private bits, scaring the living shit out of you and causing you to never use a portable toilet again? Was it thinking that? Or was it just thinking, damn, this sucks. I am stuck in this portable toilet. How am I gonna get out. Or was it thinking, I’m a spider, I’m a spider, I’m a spider. Or the abbreviated: spider, spider, spider. Or not thinking, just being its spider self, in the portable toilet, unaware of any special significance attached to its location or even its existence.

When you start researching things on the Internet you tend to see the exact phrasing used in Wikipedia articles repeated over and over, in blog posts, news articles, and ‘answer’ sites (which presumably exist for people who know how to get online and ask questions but don’t understand how to use a search engine). Take for example, the vapors (or vapours, if your people prefer the ‘u’), which is described in these exact terms in Wikipedia, as well as a million other places: “Vapors were considered to be the female equivalent to melancholy found in men.” So, really the movie I watched last night should have been called Vapours, not Melancholia. And who assigns gender to a planet, anyway. Of course the Earth is a she isn’t she and we have been legitimately raping her for years haven’t we. Maybe she will magically expel us all soon. Better get in your magic tepee, teepee, or tipi.

These are the days, the days we are living.

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