‘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.


One feels a certain compulsion to vanish into incomprehensibility. To pack up meaning into a suitcase and shove it under the bed. Nothing said or written can be understood. Therefore I understand nothing, and yet I am no longer concerned. The questioning strain withers on the vine. The inquiring train stops dead on the tracks. This concern of yours is no longer mine. Neither is mine yours. What concern is or ever was. Definition, please (irony!).

Concern (noun): (1) something that relates or belongs to one; (2) matter for consideration; (3) an uneasy state of blended interest, uncertainty, and apprehension (Source: Merriam-Webster [truncated from original]).

Imagine a life lived in this uneasy state: perpetual ‘concern’ over various undiminished ‘concerns’. Imagine this state existing inside a stopped train, or clinging to a dead vinedangling from said vine, about to fall but never indeed falling. Imagine inhabiting an indefinable state while trying to define it. For what purpose.

An enormous sense of loss yawns following a century of troubled sleep. I stick my finger in its cavernous mouth as a joke. It is not amused. Down my throat this finger crawls to oblivion, causing grave intestinal distress. The gut: canary in the coalmine for all imbalance in the bodya dark coiled mystery we prefer not to unravel (think about how long it is). When what happens in the gut stays in the gut we are in trouble. Serious trouble.

A portrait materializes of a mind in a state of atrophy. Stare upon it, cock one’s head to either side (it doesn’t matter which), place one’s chin upon one’s fist (your choice), and consider the mind’s half-life. When it fails to half warning signs erupt. At this point one must choose the route of optimist or pessimist. The half-life point. Mind semi-intact. From this point forward one can lead a life half-lived or not lived at all. Half-lived is better than not lived, right. Or what about living a life half-filled or empty. What is it like to live a half-filled life. Filled with what. Quality over quantity is preferred, is it not. Emptiness is not.

Welcome home to what’s no longer home (or welcome, for that matter). Adjust to institutionalized maladjustmentthese building blocks of lifeelements assembled from a dusty kit unknowingly on factory recall. Build a nest inside the trap. Line it with a soft layer of denial. Once comfortable forget what has never been remembered. Forgetting in advance lessens the pain, though it will still require tending. Pain always requires care and protection. Songs of the past frighten off intruders. Sing yourself to sleep. Ignore the ghosts wandering the halls. They want nothing from you.

*1987 LP recorded by Scottish band Lowlife

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.

moleskine miscellany (annotated)


the sky in the glodes between masses of cloud was irenic blue—j. gardner, ‘the warden’


in the dream, people called it a giraffe but it wasn’t a giraffe—it was orange, maybe shaped more like a zebra—someone was leading it for a time, and then it was running along the river with the migrating birds. we all saw it.


when i ceased to be alone, solitude became intense, infinite—m. blanchot, the one who was standing apart from me


to be alone in public is true freedom. to be alone in a private residence holds a spell of constriction, resulting from the receding of the outward-facing gaze into an inward-facing position. as self-consciousness fades so too does presence of mind, of the rooting of the self in its role, be it outsider or not, within society.

[post-transcriptional annotation]

1. outward-facing: infinite possibilities; heightened awareness from surging external energies

2. inward-facing: finite possibilities; shrinking awareness from negative self-generated energies

(my talk show starts tomorrow. during a series of six silent sessions, i will expound upon the nonsense listed in part iv. tune your magic dial to eleventy-six-oh at quarter past the slowest hour of the day or if you don’t have a cardboard box with day-glo dials painted on it, tune your peepers to the suspicious-looking cloud formations in the western sky, which i have arranged in advance to spell out the answers to all of your questions. that’s all.)

disordered chronology of movement


Failed recollections to begin with. Slow-creeping toward habit. A giant round metal head. Sudden velocity. Sudden inertia. Pavement merges with gravel. The emergence of a tentative consciousness, neither hard nor pebbly. Vexation of unidentified raptors. Vultures soar over open sore in ground. A blast. Winged assassins. New commonness of thrashers in the street. Feet to pedals. The river like a swollen artery choked with plaque. Ungroundedness. Slow mounting keen of a train not far off. Dream rivulets running off a dry and calloused cerebellum. The importance of a second floor. Eye contact with strangers. Avoid building awareness of a presence. A body imagined close, a body far off yet close, a body buried in dry soil, a body husking a soul. A dipping line, looming and drawing back, tangled in the hanging moss of a halting lifetime.


The exultant dismissal of everything. A hitching-up of trouser legs above this rising level of foreign liquidity. A spreading out tempered by a wish to gather in. Weathering. Rusty rooftop with greenery. The futile accomplishment of deletion. Southern hospitality. Sensory overload. Sensory deprivation. Every atom split to populate a neverending shell game run by con artists connotating the building blocks of life. It’s so casual is what it feels like. An unseemly seeming accidental existence. And yet people fly planes. Against near-white skies. This is a reason not to listen to all the best songs in a row. This is the reason time means nothing. Look out, the fuse is lit. See how it sputters, this heat seen and heard, racing on its journey to a black-powder shattered shack. Every early morning blink of a first-opened eye, this fuse is lit. And wetted fingertips flutter to pinch it out quick.


Bird on a wire, sing your song, lift your wing to the world. Swoop down and over this set of fleet footprints filled in long ago. Expectations of nothing can never be unfulfilled. It’s a something-nothing to believe in, at least. An anti-ideal to carry stuck beneath an idealist’s forever-sweating armpit. Relish the freedom of solitude in public places. Deny detours diverting detritus. Pick it up, handle it, determine meaning and value, discard when done. Don’t look back but for inspiration. Forward motion fuels freedom. Reminders come free.

to disarm with silence

the woman on the radio said this other woman could be disarming in her silence and i can’t stop thinking about it. the idea of silence being disarming and what that means. i don’t think i have ever heard a person’s silence being described this way. of course, i am familiar with the “disarming smile,” a not uncommon phrase. but never silence, at least not that i have heard. silence from another person is often interpreted in a negative way, as a discomforting or even menacing response. or silence implies apathy, or it only raises more questions in the other person’s mind. the 3rd edition of the american heritage dictionary offers this definition of disarming: “tending to allay suspicion or hostility; winning favor or confidence.”  the one comes to the other bearing arms, full of rage, and the other responds with silence, which then disarms the one, strips them of their rage, perhaps even draws them in close as a new ally. but why. what is the mechanism at work. that is what i want to know. is this somehow related to the idea of “a quiet confidence.” perhaps we all need to learn to disarm with silence. the world might then be a much more pleasant place.

more on mist

I have been reading Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse and yesterday evening I came across this passage:

It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself. There rose, and she looked and looked with her needles suspended, there curled up off the floor of the mind, rose from the lake of one’s being, a mist, a bride to meet her lover.

Naturally I wondered if this was the same mist Kafka writes about not being able to expel from his head. He says that no one will want to lie there with him in those clouds of mist. Woolf’s speaker, Mrs. Ramsay, is troubled by this mist, by her inner life. She is at odds with it, and feels uncomfortable when her husband witnesses her in the throes of it:

Had she known that he was looking at her, she thought, she would not have let herself sit there, thinking. She disliked anything that reminded her that she had been seen sitting thinking.

And yet Mrs. Ramsay’s inner life seems extremely rich and rewarding. She maintains a special relationship with the third stroke of the Lighthouse beacon (the long steady light she refers to in the first quoted passage above):

Watching it with fascination, hypnotised, as if it were stroking with its silver fingers some sealed vessel in her brain whose bursting would flood her with delight, she had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough! It is enough!

Her husband sees a beauty emanating from her while she is in this ecstatic state and feels he cannot approach or interrupt her, and yet his interpretation of her state is flawed:

She was aloof from him now in her beauty, in her sadness. He would let her be, and he passed her without a word, though it hurt him that she should look so distant, and he could not reach her, he could do nothing to help her.

The novel clearly portrays Mrs. Ramsay and Mr. Ramsay as being at odds with both themselves and each other. She snatches moments to wade into the mist of her mind and yet feels guilty about her indulgence, not wanting her husband to see her in such a state. Mr. Ramsay, on the other hand, mistakenly interprets this state as distress or sadness. Perhaps he cannot conceive of his wife wanting time to think to herself? Either this underlines a fundamental misunderstanding between the two, bitterly lampooning a superficiality characteristic of many societal interactions (even among spouses), or it lays bare what Kafka concluded, that the mist itself prevents the necessary connection from being made between two people. This connection being one that would allow sharing of one’s most private inner ecstasies with another.

One theory I’ve considered is that the mist may not be translatable into language. Perhaps that is the problem. And yet, the mist may also be related to Jung’s collective unconscious; it may be the shared ecstasy we all feel from time to time, something primal that humans have always known but are unable to adequately express to each other. If that is the case, we may indeed share that connection, but only by sensing it in each other, not by communicating it with words.

digging in the shade of the vowel tree

Sylvia Plath wrote of
intolerable vowels
entering her heart
but what of ruthless
consonants headed
to our brains.

We all know about a-e-i-o-u and sometimes y. They may be intolerable but their numbers are small. And they are more easily made to do our bidding. The consonants, in contrast, are legion and their rigidity stifles. Perhaps the only way to harness their true power is to one-by-one start taking them away.

Anna Kavan wrote:

I had only learnt how to be friends with shadows; it might be too late to learn the way of friendship in the sun.

Friendship in the sun is a mirage. The way to it is false. The sun fades color and one day it will kill us all. Shadows make easy friends: we pass through them as they do through us. Few stay long. It is their nature. Sometimes it feels like it is in all our natures to expand and contract, pull away and grow close, like a squeezebox played by a jittery ghost.

Kafka wrote:

No one will want to lie in clouds of mist with me, and even if someone did, I couldn’t expel the mist from my head.

This gets at the heart of the problem, I think. One feels an isolation and maybe a desire to connect, sometimes even a desperate mania. But who can share a dreamy solitude? By definition, no one. And if it was at all even possible, the mist remains. How could we find each other. How could one’s dream self operate in reality? The pilot seat in your head is unlike the one outside of it. Out there, we cannot twist the knobs, adjust the instruments without consultation, without repercussions, without the sun blinding us. In the shadows, the mist, these difficulties melt away.

Jung wrote:

A man can hope for satisfaction and fulfillment only in what he does not yet possess; he cannot find pleasure in something of which he already had too much.

Yikes, Carl, that’s bleak, even by my admittedly generous standards. In fairness, on the next page of Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Jung also states: “The needs and necessities of individuals vary. What sets one free is for another a prison.” So I guess one could argue that for some people overindulgence sets them free, although I don’t think that’s his point with the former quote. I think it is about anticipation. Jung is talking about this concept in the context of the development of analytical psychology, and yet it stands out in the text as such a sweeping statement. But I don’t think this aphorism or whatever you want to call it can be universally applied. Certainly competitive eaters don’t find pleasure in the 18th hot dog in a row that they’ve shoved down their throats. But can Jung honestly think that attaining the love of another person does not lead to satisfaction and fulfillment? I mean, I will grant him that unrequited love is an exquisite thing, and possibly more intense on the whole than many long-term relationships. But no satisfaction and fulfillment for those in love? I don’t know, maybe he is not including love or other emotions here. Maybe he is referring strictly to material things, in which case I willingly concede his point.

Édouard Levé wrote:

The full weight of depression comes on between 1-5 PM, particularly when I am home by myself. Mornings and night are more filled with promise.

Filled with promise. Is that what we are after? Moments filled with promise? Is it merely the anticipation we crave, what Jung says we can find satisfaction and fulfillment in? Anticipation can be tantalizing, I’ll admit. But how. How can we be satisfied with mere promise. Inherent in promise is a pledge to fulfill at some point in the future, not at the moment of the promise. Like an IOU. Is it the step we take to accept the promise that is meant to satisfy? Is it the mental and/or emotional trust fall we allow ourselves to take? If so, what of broken promises. Do those negate the previous gain in fulfillment? Well, do they, Jung? If he were here, I’d have more than a few questions for him.

Levé also wrote: “Above a certain height I like what I see. Below it I don’t.” I suppose we can read this on a literal or a metaphorical level. What is the certain height. And is it a chronological point, a philosophical one, a spiritual one. Who knows. I think we can safely say, though, that whatever the certain height represents, it changes between individuals. Remember how Jung said what sets one person free is another person’s prison.  Some people don’t like what they see above a certain height, while others crane their necks for a peek. Some spend their lives craning for that view, but some are content to not look. They don’t want to know…they look away in fear, shame, embarrassment, whatever.

So what is the conclusion. Is Kafka’s mist the same as Carson’s foam? Sometimes it’s a strain to make all the connections. Certainly reading and writing are key decoder rings. Endless battles, ceasefires, sneak attacks, and truces with the vowel and consonant armies. And maybe the ladder stretches high enough to see above the mist. I think others have ladders high enough, too. If we squint hard enough we can probably see each other, mouths flecked with foam, across the scorched battlefield strewn with bloody words and mangled sentences. Hello there! I do not have rabies. I am merely seeking the sublime. Perhaps you’d care to meet in the mist and discuss for a few moments. I’ll be waiting.

prairie dog towns: a case study

I never knew if the prairie dogs could leave. They lived in a town inside a park inside a town. There was a fence around their town. It was not a high fence but prairie dogs are not tall. They do burrow, though. That’s one thing they’re known for—building tunnels. So the question for me remained: why didn’t the prairie dogs leave? How far underground did that fence go? Had any of them tried to burrow out, only to encounter the fence? To the untrained eye (mine) they looked content. But I didn’t trust my untrained eye. There were young ones and old ones, so clearly they were procreating. But was there a carrying capacity to this confined town within a park within a town? If no prairie dogs left, would the population not eventually reach this capacity, leading to a crash or other dire consequences? Did the Parks & Recreation Department even have a strategic plan?

Meanwhile, in a nearby state there was another prairie dog town inside a park inside a town. But these prairie dogs were free-range, and their town spread out across acres of parkland. It was a decentralized town, difficult at first glance to even conclude that it existed. The prairie dogs themselves were also less obvious to the naked eye, though apparently no less active according to one news source that named them as likely suspects in an electrical cord chewing scheme plaguing this year’s Christmas display. In fairness to the prairie dogs, though, human vandals were accused of playing an even more significant part in this tragedy. The implication in the article was that the humans knew better.

The other town, the one in my town, was quite elaborate, much more concentrated, presumably as a consequence of the prairie dogs’ confinement. They built up instead of out. It was an odd thing, really, with the fence around it being only a few feet high. The lower part of the fence was made of chain link so the prairie dogs could look out and visualize their freedom. I wonder how the jailers knew what height to build the fence. If three prairie dogs stood on each others’ shoulders the top one could easily leap over.

This Just In: Cursory online searching yielded an article from earlier this year that says some of the prairie dogs have begun to escape from the confined town! The Parks & Recreation director said the fencing is original and is believed to extend to a depth of five feet. But the fence is deteriorating and the city doesn’t have the money to replace it. Note: due to the horrid quality of this article I refuse to link to it. In fact, if anything, my recent superficial review of online regional news outlets from this part of the United States has made me thankful for having put such a great distance between it and me. Apparently, in that part of the country one doesn’t need to be literate to find work as a journalist.

What I wonder is how one town in a region decides to confine their park-dwelling prairie dogs while another town does not. To me this indicates a fundamental difference in world view, and yet having visited both places (and lived in one of them), I would never have guessed that the authorities would be at such polar opposites when it comes to dealing with potentially destructive ‘critters,’ as one diligent reporter so endearingly referred to them. In the free-range town, the Parks & Recreation representative displayed a surprisingly blasé, perhaps even a live and let live, attitude toward the prairie dogs. In the other town, however, the parks director made it clear that the animals were there for public display and the popularity of this display would drive the town to secure funds necessary to fix the fence. This, in my opinion, would be the expected point-of-view in that region, a place where most people consider animals to be: (a) something to eat; (b) something to shoot; and/or (c) something to be confined for the amusement of humans. However, I was apparently not thorough enough in my highly amateur and flagrantly qualitative anthropological research. Although I regret the oversight, I still expect this shoddily constructed case study to ensure my continued membership in the esteemed Society for Purveyors of the Unscientific Method.

the bus to paradise passed me this morning

Some people never stop talking about their plans. They are dead serious. Just you wait, they say, as if they know you are already silently doubting them. Or perhaps it’s because they’ve been scoffed at so frequently before. Regardless, their plans are solid. However, according to my own sloppy research conducted using keen observation techniques backed with unscientific predictive modeling, these people never actually go through with their plans. But…there are questions. Is it the constant talking about the plans that keeps them from hurling themselves off a bridge? Does the mere daily mention of these grandiose plans sweep away the dark cloud of futility hovering nearby? Are they in denial? Does the bus to paradise ever stop to pick up these passengers?

Other people keep quiet about their plans. They may mention them in passing on occasion. But there is no big to-do about it. When you ask them about their plans they are sometimes evasive. Rarely do they go into details. It’s as if they don’t want to curse the plans by talking too much about them. In the meantime, we grow complacent about these people. We expect them to remain in stasis. Sure, in the back of our minds nests that tiny kernel of knowledge that these people do indeed have plans. But the infrequent or even non-mention of the plans lowers our guard. Therefore, when these people suddenly follow through on their plans everyone is flabbergasted. How did they do it. We didn’t even know. She seemed so quiet. He kept to himself. And no, I’m not talking about mass murderers, although it’s possible the same theory applies. When did these people get on the bus? Were we not looking when they slipped out the door, paid their fare and boarded?

Are you ever overcome by a feeling of being left behind? All my life I have plunged forward with only brief stays in the morass. But the longer one lingers in one place, the more departures one suffers. Now, I certainly understand the value of living in the present and how that factors into this discussion. I’m not interested in plumbing those depths for the eight thousandth time. I also recognize that I am a person to whom satisfaction does not come easily. I’ve made a lot of progress in coming to terms with this. As part of the process, I’ve developed my own specialized coping skills (note: available for hire). This is what we’re supposed to do as we get older. Learn how to live the day-to-day. If we don’t, there is trouble.

I fear this has now veered off-course. I did not intend to get confessional. Let’s blame it on the bus, broadcasting its glowing word of promise above the driver’s head, passing me by as I neared my destination, teetering on the edge of the always tenuous cliff of Monday morning, hastily rigging together the tatters of my ragged hang glider, preparing once again for a flawless take-off into the unknown.

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