shot in the back-shot in the arm

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Not quite an Alpine vista, the world of rural western Sweden in mid-March was this time mostly sun-filled, a shot in the arm for getting things done. Pleasurable things. Okay, maybe hauling recyclables to the recycle station doesn’t count. Must be done, and there is some pleasure to be found in accomplishing the must-do stuff, too.

Conversation (so much laughing). Walking. Writing. Films, thanks to MUBI (Fogo – what a weird accent these islanders have, such breathtaking scenery; I’m All Yours – an unusual French film that had the makings of a really good story but was not sure what it wanted to be and suffered from trying to clumsily weave too many narrative threads into it; Catch Me Daddy – quite a grim and disturbing picture, mostly filmed in West Yorkshire with a bunch of foul-mouthed Scots in the mix). Music (mostly Elena Frolova – various things from her, inspired by digging out my CD of Frolova setting Marina Tsvetaeva poetry to music, but also Nippon Girls volumes 1 and 2).

Reading (First, I quickly devoured a basic and silly book on developing ‘psychic abilities’. Not because I think it will work or because I want to develop clairvoyance. I thought it might give more insight into developing deeper intuition.

The rest of my reading time was devoured – and I mean devoured; time is devoured by the book, not the other way around – by David Foster Wallace‘s Infinite Jest. I’m still only halfway through. For a month I sat at about 2% completion, according to my Kindle, but in the last two days, I managed to chip away at it to reach the halfway mark. (It is, after all, well over 1,000 pages.) I don’t necessarily like it, but I marvel at it. I really like select parts of it, and others I can take or leave. I suppose this is symptomatic of the ‘bigger is better’ credo that seems to have propelled the book forward, which  Michiko Kakutani referred to in her original review:

“Perfect, however, “Infinite Jest” is not: this 1,079-page novel is a “loose baggy monster,” to use Henry James’s words, a vast, encyclopedic compendium of whatever seems to have crossed Mr. Wallace’s mind.”

“The book seems to have been written and edited (or not edited) on the principle that bigger is better, more means more important, and this results in a big psychedelic jumble of characters, anecdotes, jokes, soliloquies, reminiscences and footnotes, uproarious and mind-boggling, but also arbitrary and self-indulgent.”

Sometimes that “encyclopedic compendium of whatever seems to have crossed Mr. Wallace’s mind” is fascinating; sometimes it’s pages of mind-numbing, sleep-inducing quicksand. As a whole, the concept is fascinating but digging into the details isn’t always.

The language – both its volume and particular use – can be overwhelming – the breadth, depth, randomness – lack of narrative or plot-driven clarity while still somehow offering some other kind of clarity – is not something I can really explain or describe or review. It is exactly what it is unapologetically, with its sudden, pages-long description of the terror of suddenly moving from aural telephone to videophony or little statements like, “Son, you’re ten, and this is hard news for somebody ten, even if you’re almost five-eleven, a possible pituitary freak.” Haha. You never know whether to laugh, cry, be puzzled. Less story or narrative than a radical transformation of language and form that feels that it inadvertently (though this is quite deliberate) ends up telling many stories anyway.

It’s just so much, so complex, so full of digressions, but the kind you can get engrossed in, not distracted by. Random but not.

Long passages about addiction and AA “sobriety in Boston is regarded as less a gift than a sort of cosmic loan. You can’t pay the loan back but you can pay it forward, by spreading the message that despite all appearances AA works…” “The only way to hang onto sobriety is to give it away and even just 24 hours of sobriety is worth doing anything for, a sober day being nothing short of a daily miracle if you’ve got the Disease like he’s got the Disease…”.

Relatable, but at the same time so far out there, it’s not. You have to sit and wonder about the writer with the kind of mind who produced this tome much more than the content of the final product itself in some ways (and he was clearly tortured enough to take his own life).)

Signals

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“A signal is what you use in your car, dude. Not a way of communicating with someone who clearly needs direct answers.”

I only get through things and process them by writing and thinking. It does not work to talk about things, not only because I don’t know how to say or explain things without introspection and processing first but also because I am so bloody concerned about how things will affect other people. Like… if I say things that are not fully formed, I’m putting burdens onto someone else – and of course, in a two-way exchange, you can intuit and know when that the other person can’t handle or deal with whatever you might say, or will take it all on board and cloud things up for them, or make them feel worse or guilty. And why do that when you could suffer with the uncertainty or hurt on your own without making two (or more) people feel bad? It sounds like I am being some kind of martyr (I’m not), but I just can’t do it. It is not my nature to expose a larger group of people to harm or damage if I can take the hit myself (even when that means internalizing something). I have to work on this. Anyone who knows me knows this.

By the time anyone gets the full lowdown on something I experienced or felt, it’s because it is in the past – over, done, processed and packaged neatly into a box and tied with a bow. Then after the fact and all the acts, curtain closed, I can reveal all the feelings I went through – but it is like I have to finish going through it before I can show it… which is not the healthiest way to go about it. I write, think, feel my way through things, and then revise, think and finally come to a peace with even the most painful of things. Then perhaps I put the ‘incident report’ in some form or another into blog posts, but by the time I do this, the deep-seated and immediate emotion is long gone. There was a time when I would not even have made this much public, so I like to think I am making the most imperceptible steps forward. Sometimes the disconnect between the brain and the fingers is enough to make these moves for you. For example, deleting something that you wanted to save, hitting send before you were ready. Are these really mistakes or is the immediacy of the fingers taking action where our brain fears to go?

This is perhaps also where my own blind spots/insensitivities are. I process and publish, and because it’s all over for me, and I am just ‘clearing out cobwebs’ and more or less just telling a story after the fact, I don’t think about how the retelling and my own rendering (which is a compendium of my feelings and interpretations throughout my processing – not an objective recollection of fact) of ‘how things went’ might be hurtful to anyone else. Another thing to work on.

But at least all of these ‘operations’ provide an indication of where close partnerships, friendships, relationships and the like are actually impossible. Where you find you really censor yourself, close up and hold back – not because you can’t share but because you don’t want to unduly influence or trouble the other person – where’s the parity – or clarity – there?

It’s a little bit fucked up – when you’re adults, intelligent and seemingly capable of communication – and even talk ad nauseam about the importance of communication (thus ending up being all form and no content, which is a good way to fool yourselves into thinking you are actually communicating…) – you should be able to say what is on your mind. But it becomes one of the hardest things to do. You then detach to get to solid ground again, and that journey takes you through the full range of feeling – or elements*, as DH Lawrence would have it. But you eventually make it back to the start, to rediscover the things that made your mind race with joy and thought.

It’s a shame, too, as you end up at such a distance from, in a protracted silence with, someone who is without doubt beautiful, amazing, hilarious, messy, quirky, witty, and smart – exactly as you always believed, someone you genuinely care about and truly miss. But having communicated – or not – in staccato fits and starts, never quite saying what was going on, never quite being truly open – you may never get back to a place where you see anything but yellow caution lights in a sea of faceless stop-and-go traffic.

Most importantly, and this is my signal: I am still, and always, here, and I still love. Unconditionally. If I didn’t, it would not have been such a trial in the first place. Of course.

Elemental*
-D.H. Lawrence
Why don’t people leave off being lovable
Or thinking they are lovable, or wanting to be lovable,
And be a bit elemental instead?

Since man is made up of the elements
Fire, and rain, and air, and live loam
And none of these is lovable
But elemental,
Man is lop-sided on the side of the angels.

I wish men would get back their balance among the elements
And be a bit more fiery, as incapable of telling lies
As fire is.
I wish they’d be true to their own variation, as water is,
Which goes through all the stages of steam and stream and ice
Without losing its head.

I am sick of lovable people,
Somehow they are a lie.

Photo (c) 2006 Rachel Knickmeyer used under Creative Commons license without modification.

Make manifest the hypocrisy

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“Should I be a killjoy now and point out that we are objectifying all these people?”

Not two days after two acquaintances were railing against gender inequality, the continued need for active and vigilant feminism and the gross objectification of women, insisting that we are not heard and are constantly interrupted, not only did they interrupt and talk over each other, they wheeled out loads and loads of pictures of people active in CrossFit and started commenting on their muscles, their bodies, their appearances, and their preference for “muscular women who don’t appear muscular in clothes”. Normally I would not care – this would be something I’d happily and easily ignore because this kind of commentary is not my thing, but this time, suddenly I was thinking, “What the hell is this?” It’s somehow okay to objectify people (granted, these people have public, visible Instagram accounts where their muscles are on display) and critique them like it’s the fucking Crufts Best in Show? As I say, I don’t care in theory – this is just what we do as people, even if I don’t participate, but the muted hypocrisy defied reason, smacked of inconsistency and screamed ‘double standard’.

I’d argue that most of us are objects and objectifiers in one way or another. It’s how we make sense of the world and the people in it. I’m hypersensitive to it and, at the same time, questioning my own blind spots. Whom am I objectifying, overlooking or generalizing about without knowing it?

En garde: Gotta be vigilant and police the self.

Short Time
-Gavin Ewart

She juliets him from a window in Soho,
A 'business girl' of twenty.
He is a florid businessman of fifty.
(Their business is soon done.)

He, of a bright young man the sensual ghost,
Still (in his mind) the gay seducer,
Takes no account of thinned and greying hair,
The red veins webbing a once-noble nose,
The bushy eyebrows, wrinkles by the ears,
Bad breath, the thickening corpulence,
The faded, bloodshot eye.

This is his dream:  that he is still attractive.

She, of a fashionable bosom proud,
A hairstyle changing as the fashions change,
Has still the ageless charm of being young,
Fancies herself and knows that men are mugs.

Her dream:  that she has foxed the bloody world.

When two illusions meet, let there not be a third
Of the gentle hypocrite reader prone to think
That he is wiser than these self-deceivers.

Such dreams are common.  Readers have them too.