who’s keeping score?

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As the year ends, I feel compelled to tally up what I’ve done versus what I aimed to do when the year began. Of course life isn’t quite the linear thing that smoothly hands over what we ask for or think we will do, see or accomplish. Even what we want (or think we want) can change so fast, can be led along by circumstance, or a sudden need for dramatic change, that it’s almost silly to do things like set ‘resolutions’. Sillier even than watching 40-year-old, late-night reruns of The Love Boat or Only Fools and Horses, which has been my rough introduction to peri-Brexit Britain. (I certainly didn’t choose the wisest time to put down stakes in that neck of the woods.)

I had no idea when 2018 began that I’d spend half the year in Glasgow, immersed in intensive psychology studies. I also had no idea that I would try to balance that with work/job and the simultaneous completion of a thesis from a previous, almost-finished MA from another university. I had no idea that I would (mostly) have the discipline to follow through on almost all the goals I set for the year, somehow managing not to disrupt them despite the otherwise disruptive nature of the chaos I sprung upon myself by moving from place to place in a more itinerant than normal (for me) fashion.

“That life is not for me. Clearly I did not inherit whatever gene it is that makes it so that when you linger in a place you start to put down roots. I’ve tried, a number of times, but my roots have always been shallow; the littlest breeze could always blow me right over. I don’t know how to germinate, I’m simply not in possession of that vegetable capacity. I can’t extract nutrition from the ground, I am the anti-Antaeus. My energy derives from movement—from the shuddering of buses, the rumble of planes, trains’ and ferries’ rocking.” –Flights, Olga Tokarczuk

Hands-off, ears-off

Sadly, there is no new soundtrack for this month. But you can revisit the musical archives that date all the way back to 2004.

Emotional turmoil

On a less physical, hands-on level, though…

I had no idea, at least not consciously, that I would continue to dig deep into reserves of patience I had no clue I had, trying to patch up holes that are completely bottomless. They cannot be fixed.

I had no idea that I would finally try to come to terms with myself as a too secretive person, completely lacking in transparency when it comes to myself. I pretend to be open, but I’m open to you and your problems; I’m listening to you; I am reflecting you; I am flexible to and for you; I am absorbing your misery and anxiety.

But I am not being me with you, and I never have been.

(This “you” is everything and everyone.)

And this, rather than getting better, is getting worse. Much of what I did this year was to try to go against the grain, to stop doing this insofar as I recognized it. I did not succeed; instead I… recede.

Or could I have known that I would continue to love, to love more deeply than I could imagine possible, that being lovestruck, despite its implication of being immediate and fleeting, can continue and deepen? And despite the distance I put between myself – my self – and another? I could not come to trust it all because I have found the physical world is not to be trusted.

Yet others – all others – continue to tell me all the things contained in the vulnerable underbelly of their lives, their pasts, their hidden desires… their urge to share, to confess, to scrape out all the gelatinous globs of all the things they could never, ever tell anyone else too strong to resist, even if in the immediate aftermath they realized, Ah, now things will never be the same. 

Knowledge: Reading and thinking

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” ― John Locke

In terms of reading, I read a whole lot more than I set out to read – and a whole lot more than I expected. And in many cases it’s been an elusive and esoteric pursuit. As I’ve written through the year, a great majority of this reading in the second half of 2018 was academic/scholarly/empirical, but there were quite a few other things as well – mostly dominated by poetry whenever possible. (And many of my “lists” of what I’ve read don’t reflect a lot of the academic stuff.)

When 2018 started, I’d set a goal – read 26 books, all of which had to be in non-English languages. I started off strong but first found myself lured into a whole lot of English-language books (novels, poetry, contemporary non-fiction), and then into the required readings from academia (a lot of BS/masturbatory theory, i.e. an academic citing a previous academic, citing a previous academic/philosopher/theoretician, not actual theory on masturbation). In the end I only managed… well, 20 as of 12 November 2018. Still better than I thought, thinking back to spring when I found that reading in Russian again was so slow-going that I’d never make the kind of progress I can make in English. Reading Russian has also become bittersweet – so intense the memories of the time when it was the most important thing in the world to me, and so fresh the knowledge that one of the closest friends I had at the time died two years ago. She had not been in my life at all since 1995, but it still hit me to learn that she is really gone. I read Marina Tsvetaeva, for example, which is something she and I talked endlessly about, in a wholly different way.

In any case, this whole exercise required a re-evaluation of what progress is in this context. What am I doing this for if not for the qualitative experience of living, loving and grappling with languages, words, concepts, constructions, time periods, perspectives that are not even close to my own? In the digestion, interpretation (literal and figurative) and comprehension of these particular reading challenges, reading feels like a new endeavour, different from the much-loved near-obsession I experience with own-language books. Novel and difficult, and truly as worthwhile as I had hoped. Still I set such a goal when I had a fraction of today’s deadlines to meet and ‘achievements’ to unlock.

I’d be remiss not to reflect on these things even though I feel empty of the ability to truly reflect. Outside of my own little world, everything has been so ugly and contentious I can’t bring myself to think about it.

 

hope to

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Hope to Sin Only in the Service of Waking Up
Alice Walker
Hope never to believe it is your duty or right to harm another simply because you mistakenly believe they are not you.

Hope to understand suffering as the hard assignment even in school you wished to avoid. But could not.

Hope to be imperfect in all the ways that keep you growing.

Hope never to see another not even a blade of grass that is beyond your joy.

Hope not to be a snob the very day Love shows up in love’s work clothes.

Hope to see your own skin in the wood grains of your house.

Hope to talk to trees & at last tell them everything you’ve always thought.

Hope at the end to enter the Unknown knowing yourself. Forgetting yourself also.

Hope to be consumed to disappear into your own Love.

Hope to know where you are –Paradise–if nobody else does.

Hope that every failure is an arrow pointing toward enlightenment.

Hope to sin only in the service of waking up.

“little words of companionship”

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Divorce
Anne Sexton
I have killed our lives together,
axed off each head,
with their poor blue eyes stuck in a beach ball
rolling separately down the drive.
I have killed all the good things,
but they are too stubborn for me.
They hang on.

The little words of companionship
have crawled into their graves,
the thread of compassion,
dear as a strawberry,
the mingling of bodies
that bore two daughters within us,
the look of you dressing,
early,
all the separate clothes, neat and folded,
you sitting on the edge of the bed
polishing your shoes with boot black,
and I loved you then, so wise from the shower,
and I loved you many other times
and I have been for months,
trying to drown it,
to push it under,
to keep its great red tongue
under like a fish,
but whenever I look they are on fire,
the bass, the bluefish, the wall-eyed flounder
blazing among the kelp and seaweed
like many suns battering up the waves
and my love stays bitterly glowing,
spasms of it will not sleep,
and I am helpless and thirsty and need shade
but there is no one to cover me—
not even God.

Photo by Marc Fulgar on Unsplash

mystery to himself

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In the Snow
Charles Simic
Tracks of someone lost,
Bleakly preoccupied,
Meandering blindly
In these here woods,

Licking his wounds
And crunching the snow,
As he trudges on,
Bereft and baffled,

In mounting terror
With no way out,
Jinxed at every turn,
A mystery to himself.

alms for delusion

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Closing Hours
Ann Lauterbach
This trace, if it exists, is alms for delusion.
An arch uncurls from the floor
scented with the scent of a tapestry, housed here.
I recall the hour but not its passage
unless dream captures and ties it to sleep:
a fat bellhop smiles, shows me to the tower
where I can watch the departure.
But some days settle so that nothing
crosses the horizon; stare as I will, no star
needles the air. Now I am left
on the outskirts of a forest hemmed in by wheat
where plump trees hide the image, its symmetry
shot up and blown across the ground like feathers.
The unicorn, the grail, blue and red wings
of kneeling musicians, these are embroidered
elsewhere. Perseverance was crowned.
Hope and Pity prayed for success.
How fast is this camera? Can it record a trace?
There was a voyage. Four mounted horses
strain against centuries.
To each is allotted: dust kicked up, smoke, plumage.

Photo by ShareGrid on Unsplash

they walk again

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The Heaven of Animals
James L Dickey
Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.