diminuendo*

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

scoop loses his way

Scoop had lost all passion for reporting the kind of news that his employer, the venerable Jonestown Gazette, saw fit to print. Over time, his supervisor, an aging aardvark named Burt, had grown increasingly vexed at the nature of the stories he was turning in. Take this one, for example:

______________________________________

Plastic Milk Crate Castle Still Stands

(Jonestown, USA) – Since January, an overgrown empty lot in blighted South Jonestown has been the site of a castle constructed from plastic milk crates. Someone took great pains to build this castle, but to what end. As a shelter, it is inadequate. As an art object, it is of marginal appeal. Attempts by this reporter to find the architect of this mysterious structure by canvassing the neighborhood have failed. Many residents were in fact unaware of the castle’s existence. Others refused to even open their doors to answer a few simple questions. Why, the nerve of those [REDACTED]

_______________________________________

Burt appeared at Scoop’s desk gripping a printout of the story in his hoof-like claw, disgust plastered across his long, drooping face. He took a deep breath.

“Scoop, you know I can’t print this. I don’t even know what to call it, ah, but it’s certainly not news.”

Scoop shrugged. He no longer cared what was considered “news” and what wasn’t. The classification seemed largely arbitrary to him.

“Well, do you have anything to say?” Burt asked.

Scoop was a solitudinarian (an actual word), which sometimes made it difficult to understand what people wanted from him. As a last resort, he kept a splendid array of exit strategies honed and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

“Burt, you’ve figured me out. I can’t do this anymore. I quit.”

Burt stared at the slumped shadow that used to be his all-star newshound.

“What are you going to do, Scoop? You’re a total mess.”

“Thanks for the ego boost, boss. I guess I’ll figure things out once I walk out that door.”

As Scoop cleaned out his desk, he mulled over his loss of interest in investigative reporting.  At one time, he had routinely worked three or more stories concurrently, chasing leads all day and sleeping only a few hours each night. But then one day, it all disappeared. His curiosity withered to dust with no advance warning. All that remained was a ring of distance between himself and everyone and everything around him.

Scoop picked up his small box of belongings and walked toward the door. The next day anything could happen or nothing could happen. He could spend the day lying on his side, staring out the window as the winter wind whistled its secrets to those willing to listen. Or he could look for a new job. Neither option held much appeal.

Burt waved at him as he passed by the old newsman’s office. Scoop nodded back. Burt was not a bad guy, he thought. Just not the type to understand the sort of crisis Scoop felt burning within him.

The door shut behind him for the last time as he exited onto the street, where people moved from place to place like chess pieces, slow and deliberate, braced against the early winter’s cold. This particular section of town reflected the burgeoning trend of an immediate post-Halloween retail transition to the commercial smorgasbord known as Christmas.

“Whatever happened to Thanksgiving,” Scoop muttered. He had to admit, though, that the twinkling lights in every window held a certain appeal. Yes, indeed, an extra few weeks of festive lighting might just help smooth off the sharpest edges of his seasonal depression.

He tossed his box of stuff into the bed of his truck and climbed in the cab. Cranking the heat up, he tuned in the old-time bluegrass station on the radio and sat for a few minutes, staring out the windshield at the chess pieces moving about the board.

I never liked chess, he thought.

Sample questions for discussion

  1. What will happen to Scoop?
  2. Will he find another job?
  3. Will he change his name?
  4. Will he ever learn to love chess?
  5. Is he going to disappear just like the ghost did?
  6. Does anyone care? [I’m on the fence myself-ed.]
  7. Why is an aardvark working at a newspaper?
  8. Do aardvarks live in burrows or what?
  9. Why does this story end so abruptly?
  10. Does this question serve only to make an even 10?

field report 1

Each morning the elevator guys gather in a circle on the sidewalk in front of the building, sort of like a team huddle in organized sports except they don’t all put their hands in the middle and shout “Break!” (unfortunately). They are upgrading the elevators one at a time, a project which is slated to continue into 2015. The “new” elevators talk to the passengers in an electronic woman’s voice, announcing each floor as it is reached. They look sleek and modern, and the exterior light is red instead of the previous green. (At the library the other day, it was observed that the elevator inspection certificate had expired over a year ago. As a precautionary measure, the stairs were taken on the return trip to the first floor.)

The humidity is ridiculous. How can weather be such an affliction. Days of high humidity oppress, while days of low humidity, perhaps with a slight breeze, uplift and rejuvenate. The city has acquired its summer bouquetreminiscent of a rancid, bloated dead thing dragging its entrails down the center of these hot asphalt strips known as streets and roads. Holding one’s breath in certain areas is advisable. Downtown recalls arrival day at an abattoir, as sweating, panicky beings stumble down the sidewalks, pursued by an unseen assailant (presumably the Humidity God), in desperate search of calm, air-conditioned respite. But such respite offers a false sense of relief, lulling one into a settled state that is immediately shattered upon re-entry into the outside world.

Anthropological studies remain on hold, thus leaving a dearth of source material. One sighting was recorded of the now-elusive cigar-smoking man, though the GISS (a common birding term short for General Impression, Size and Shape [also spelled as ‘jizz’, particularly among Brits) was not quite right. Could there be another cigar-smoking man? Unlikely. He was unaccompanied and bicycle-less. His fleeting appearance triggers a meditation on change, the constant flux of life, and the acute twinge of feeling left behind. It is not so much resistance to forward motion as it is a relentless cycle of stepping forward only to be overcome by a sensation best described in visual terms as Homer receding into the bushes.

Nothing is so elusive as place. In the bushes, the branches are closed in around the body, waxy leaves brushing the arms, feet rooted in the loamy soil. The eyes might be able to glimpse out, a partially obscured view akin to tunnel vision. Maybe no one can see in. Regardless, the body does not know if it can be seen. It may assume as such or not, but either way it won’t ever know what, if any of it, is actually seen. And where is the bush situated. Does that matter, and if so, how much? When the body leaves the home place (and/or the bush?), never to return again, what effect does this have. Does this severance yield a wound that cannot be healed, no matter how many salves are applied, no matter how many times a fresh bandage is wrapped around it. Is this the reason the other bodies around the body always appear distant, blurred, out of reach and alien. Is this why even familiar landscapes do not ever fully conform to the feet.

As usual, more questions than answers…

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…]

Glossary

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.

this is not happening

Stage directions: Early April. Temperature outside the workplace claws its brutal way to 96 degrees, the highest recorded temperature in the United States for the day. No, this is not Death Valley…or is it. I am at a loss. The sun beats down with relentless fury, portending bleak times ahead for the mad captain of this ship.

I.  When the heat descends, the city upends. Delirium sets in within hours. Citizens spill out into the streets in a jumble of hot bodies and rude noise. The secrets of indoors suddenly become the public spectacles of outdoors. Sidewalks strewn with condoms. Arguments on front stoops. Dogs shuffle with constant tongues hanging. The pavement shimmers. Desperation spreads like smallpox, every sun-bleached surface contaminated. Crime soars. Murderous intent quickens. We are all immersed in the cacophony.

II.  Morning, I ride the white-pink gauntlet of Calvert, the cherry trees having all plotted the night before to explode in a synchronous burst of clotted blossoms, their rich fragrance drenching the air. Evening, opposite direction, strong winds shower me in white-pink snow, the pavement scattered for a moment with spring’s transient joy.

III.  The suddenness of everyone outside alarms me. Days before, winter still proffered its shield. Now inside is hot and none of us want to be there, though the basement calls to me with its cool concrete floor. How I wish to lay my fevered face against its chilled surface.

IV.  At night, strange explosions reverberate in the thick air, like automatic gunfire or heat thunder, ricocheting from east to west and back. I pause in the glow of the sodium lamp, my skin bathed orange. Abort mission, return to home base.

V.  Morning breaks open the day like a grey egg. And once again there is nothing to fear.

spring sprang sprung

With the year’s first sighting of cigar-smoking man (scroll to the bottom of that page for full enlightenment), we solemnly herald the official arrival of the so-called warm season (so-called by me, that is). Cigar-smoking man (or cigar-smoking guy, as he is also sometimes known) appears to be growing a beard. He was not in the company of his lady friend. I wonder if they are still an item, as they say (the other, more generic they, that is).

Warm season brings a slow shedding of clothing. An increase in flesh exposed to the sun’s rays. Perhaps even corporate nudity. Certainly tourists.  And what I fear most of all: mosquito death squads. It’s all too much.

What will I write about this warm season without sounding highly repetitive.

Wait, don’t read those other posts…it will all soon become painfully familiar.

the musicality of everyday life

Day two of rain on my face. Harder rain, colder rain. Less enthused about it. Wednesday’s unraveling of the week’s semblance of sanity. Sameness shakes through the bones. What is today from yesterday and next week. Listen to epic chanting bands as blood pools in useless sitting legs. Message light on phone appears without phone ringing. It’s a mystery I don’t want to solve. Remember to stand and walk around. Vacate vocation. Evoke smoke. Dream a little longer in the morning, don’t let time thieves tear it away. Afternoons of fast guitar picking on taut strings of sudden tendons stretched and longing. I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t hear it. There is nothing here anymore.

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.

light | dark

Light Dark Light Dark Light Dark Light Dark Light Dark Light Dark Light Dark

Light Light Light Light Light Light Light

Dark Dark Dark Dark Dark Dark Dark

LIGHT

DARK

DARK

LIGHT

[narrator leaves house, unpacks moon-viewing instrument]

LIGHT LIGHT  LIGHT LIGHT

[the ‘light’ from the moon is false — it is a reflection of the sun]

DARK DARK DARK DARK

[narrator adjusts focus, lets in more light]

LIGHT dark light

LIGHt dark lighT

LIGht dark ligHT

LIght dark liGHT

Light dark lIGHT

light dark LIGHT

[narrator goes inside, observes black ring around eye, laughs bitterly]

DARK light DARK

[narrator watches solar eclipse on television, loses vision in one eye]

one eye: DARK DARK DARK DARK

other eye: LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT

[other eye compensates, dilation lets in more light]

LIght DARk LIGht DArk LIGHt Dark = dark | LIGHT

[narrator freaks out at giant pupil peering back out of mirror]

LIGHt dARK

LIGht daRK

LIGHt dARK

LIGHT DARK

[narrator takes sedative, falls asleep]

D-A-R-K

[narrator sleeps for days, dreams about moon]

D–A–R–K     l-i-g-h-t

[narrator stands on moon in dream, looks at sun, falls asleep in crater]

D_A_R_K

[narrator feels hot, wakes up on sun, quickly returns to sleep, wakes up on earth]

L_I_G_H_T

[narrator applies eye shadow, begins collecting shiny objects]

light light light light

[narrator sprouts bushy tail, gathers nesting material]

dark light dark light

[narrator curls up in ball, falls asleep in nest]

DARK DARK DARK DARK DARK DARK DARK

[narrator dreams about the sea]

LIGHT | DARK

[narrator wakes in forest, burrows deeper in nest, falls asleep again]

DARK | DARK

[narrator dreams of monks self-immolating, twitches in sleep]

L__I__G__H__T | dark

[narrator wakes, crawls out of nest, forages on forest floor]

L–I–G–H–T

[narrator lies on a rock, soaks up sunlight]

LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT

[narrator leaves dark, enters light]

L____I____G____H____T

inside a person another one

this life in parallel there’s always been, inside a person another one, what do others do, deny it i guess, or maybe it’s not there, for them it’s not there, and i see it all before me what will never come but what has happened, what is happening, inside a person another one, it’s been there all along, and it keeps growing, keeps expanding, so many layers, painstakingly detailed scenes, every time some spark strikes, the line of tinder crackles, the fuse is lit, i can’t put it out, i could never put it out, there are ways to try, and i know some other ways i’ve seen others try, each one ends the same way, we all know how it does, yes, we do, and do you know how when you’ve done things so often, day in and day out, and then one day you do something a little different and it throws you off, it pushes you off onto another track, but not enough to shift you into the parallel life, no, not that far, just enough to make you stop for a minute and think about it all, about that other life and where it’s going, the people in it, the way they’ve come into being, likely so different than how they are in this life, the way you act, the way they act, whatever happens, and what if the two converged even for a day or just an hour, what then, what then for the person inside the person, the two people now, who looms larger, a dried-out husk of aloofness wraps around the hot soldering iron trapped inside, look out, fire hazard, i smell smoke, i’ve seen the others burn themselves up, i know how it all ends, it’s near halfway and i see the hazy shapes down below resting on the sea floor, so many split halves, so many discarded broken parts, a graveyard of misshapen lives.

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