treading muck


“Why do we view the boundaries people create for themselves as challenges? Why do we see someone setting a limit and then try to push?” –Hunger, Roxane Gay

What can be said of the burden of having to lift another from the greyish sludge, the misplaced but ever-present feeling of being responsible for bringing them back to life, to infuse what had become mundane with new meaning?

Make me feel again,” she demanded.

Knowing the lukewarm nothingness through which she had long waded, he could not deny her, but felt himself being pulled under at the same time. What a disaster to sample – to reawaken her dormant taste buds, to be the one to have to give everything a flavor again.

“How can I, possibly…?” he asked himself. How could he walk every step with her toward more than just another transformation… to accompany her in the birth of someone completely different?

Especially as he questioned whether he would even want to be there at the end.

Photo (c) 2010 Jim Hickcox used under Creative Commons license.



“Any one of us, over the course of our lives, can know many different existences. Or occasionally, desistances. Not many, however, are given the opportunity to wear a different skin.” –A General Theory of Oblivion, José Eduardo Agualusa

It’s a strange contradiction that when one feels most defenseless, she becomes most defensive. The armor of sarcasm and distance traveled in retreat should cry out ‘vulnerability’ but instead create all new barriers.

How does one never learn that insidious attempts to understand will not lead to understanding but rather will lead to being rubbed raw from the inside out? Being too close to a ‘subject’ and trying to get under its skin, and feel as it feels (or learn why) means that those carefully crafted barriers, built over so many battles and through so many years fall -swiftly – so much more swiftly than the time it took to erect them. And the barrier building and demolishing goes both ways. Often leading to reckless ruin and unforeseen disappointment. Closeness always brings a sensitivity that makes words sharper, or heavier, with interpretations, the ruins of barriers more perilous to climb out of, the injuries more acute to nurture back to health, and that sinking feeling, deep in the pit of the stomach, leaden with the realization that she must start all over again.

All those afternoons in darkness spent with the voice in her ear, loved and loved and loved, feeling broken down and completely enveloped in only that one being. Suddenly, abrasively rubbing against all expectation with words and images that moved so completely against the grain of how smoothness had felt up to that point, with walls falling and joints fitting together perfectly. Sanding the skin, seeing the bloody, pulpy reality underneath for the first time rather than smoothing edges out. She had never felt sharper edges or been more splintered, gasping imperceptibly, thinking, “I really got this one wrong.”

Could it be that this sudden need to wear down the surface is a need to create distance, or a smooth plane and flawlessly empty horizon? Was it a splinter she left behind and failed to pluck out? Or was it a command move of making sure no rough surfaces would assert themselves again – a reminder that nothing is joined, or even clamped, together in the way that one could so easily imagine?



And give me news of him now and again,
so that I will not have to ask strangers
who wonder at my boldness, and
neighbors who pity my persistence.
You whose hands are more innocent than mine
stay by his bedside
and be gentle to his dream.” -Vesna Parun

When every word and statement appears as though it had been engineered to extract information manipulatively and surreptitiously (the listener is too suspicious to fall for that), a conversation is always a cat-and-mouse game. Zij wanted nothing more than to pump hard for information but knew she could not get any if she went for the hard sell. No, it had to be subtler, a conversation in which casual half-remarks might pique the listener’s interest and cause a careless offer of more information than intended. Zij attempted at times to lull the listener into loose-lipped revelation through flattery, searching out all the buttons that would stroke even the ego of a person so tightly controlled they didn’t seem to have an ego. The listener, connected in some feverishly imagined way to a place Zij wanted to get back to, calmly responded in an academic and dispassionate way to all comments.

When Zij did not get what she wanted, she changed tack.

“You are “better” than me in so many ways,” Zij said to the listener. “A more high-minded being.”

Why should such comparatives arise at all? It made no sense to compare: the listener is no better or worse than Zij. Either Zij wanted to be reassured that it wasn’t true, or she really must have self-esteem that low. So uncomfortable was Zij that she was unable to focus her love on herself or those who had proven themselves to love her unconditionally. No, there was always the increasingly hard pushing-away, boring in to gather ammunition while at the same time diffusing attention across as many sources as possible, to find solace temporarily where there really was none.

Thinking these thoughts, the listener listened. Why should the listener constantly be compared against this phantom from the past, by that phantom herself? What was the purpose of this exercise? In response, the listener finally replied coolly, “No, ‘better’ is not the right frame for this. It’s just different. People, as simple as it sounds, would not be interesting if we were all the same.”

When the listener proved to be responsive only to talk of her identity and bouts of mania, and this did not produce information – or even a reaction, Zij tried another approach:

“That place – that island – is so completely different from every other place on earth. I didn’t appreciate it when I was there, but it was unique and nothing else can rival it in the world. I should have loved it for what it was but didn’t. I was careless, making a mess of this land, inviting equally unappreciative strangers there, stripping and commoditizing this oasis.”

The listener remained silent, knowing a contradiction was coming.

“But I don’t understand why the island grew so inhospitable. I am sure that any other place in the world would have accommodated us forever – because that’s what places are for – that is what they do!”

The listener considered this, finally answering, “Can you really have appreciated the island for its real qualities if you never really knew them? If you used it for your own purposes but didn’t understand its ecology, what sustained it? And now, so many years later, can you be trusted as sincere in your regret at abusing and trampling all over the island and pushing it to the brink, if it appears that your regret is only about what you lost – and not about what the island lost or didn’t have in the first place, or didn’t get from letting you run rampant all over and through it? If your regret for the place and how you mistreated it were real, wouldn’t you step back and respect that it needs its own oxygen, it needs time… it can’t regenerate as long as the weeds and vines of the past continue to overgrow and overreach everything?”

Zij was silent, if only briefly. She did not like this answer at all. Attempting to regain the upper hand, completely forgetting any pretension of composure, she changed strategy yet again. Wanting to elicit… what? Anger? Jealousy? Curiosity? Insecurity? Uncertainty? To drive a wedge?:

“Do you have any idea how many people want desperately to visit that island now? For some reason it’s completely off-limits, but even people who have exclusive access to every other place in the world, who have piles of invitations they could accept… they want to go to THIS place but are denied. Why is it that you are welcomed there… and they aren’t? What is it about you that is so special?”

Underneath these words, the listener could hear a childish, deafening and always-growing-louder refrain: “WHY YOU? WHY YOU? WHY YOU?” underpinned by a whispering and desperate, “And why not me?” The listener again failed to react, immediately, thinking of the inherent immaturity of this line of questioning, wanting to quote the simplistic Bonjour tristesse: «Vous vous faites de l’amour une idée un peu simpliste. Ce n’est pas une suite de sensations indépendantes les unes des autres…» But knowing there was nothing that could be said to reliably explain anything. No explanations were required or owed.

It seemed once more, or still, that Zij asked the wrong questions of the wrong entity, diffusing all her pent up frustrations, regrets and feelings to all the wrong people. And the listener could only feel sad compassion for a life spent idealizing a past that kept her from fully living in the present.

“Never again is what you swore the time before”


“What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end” –The Things They CarriedTim O’Brien

She waited for him to come to his senses, emerge from the sleep they had been enmeshed in for months, possibly even years. But no, the deep voice of stability and the grip of a steady hand continued to greet her each day. Perhaps because they had each already gone grey before finding each other and understood the calculus of what each had given up versus what each had gained by being together, the radical madness of young, unbridled romance was missing. But no, the electric tingling and orgasmic singeing of the fingertips, fire spreading rapidly to the internal organs, betrayed not just a lust one associates with youth but also an abiding and unretractable love, warmth and a mutual, complicit almost-ownership the likes of which neither had felt before.

Still, the emotional safety brought about by his reassuring adultness never quite allowed for the erasure of this nagging voice, whispering repeatedly before crying out, “Any minute now, he will come to his senses,” even as he spent long afternoons tending their garden, year after year, putting seeds into the ground that would not come to fruition for many more years. He was firmly rooted, encircled by and entwined in a whole world of nourishment. Watching him working, she wondered whether she had ever seen something so basic and beautiful.

But her nagging inner voice was accompanied by nagging ears, ears opened to listening to the sounds echoing from the past. Phantoms sometimes returned to haunt after many years, singing songs of regret, lament, actions not taken and whole imagined lifetimes not lived: “But sometimes it would strike me suddenly, watching you walk across the room: ‘fucking hell she is beautiful’. Those lips, those eyes, the high cheekbones. It was arresting and would take my breath away. But I couldn’t act. I couldn’t show you those parts of myself.” Hollow words spoken as a long overdue attempt to display some sensitivity that never existed. Empty attempts to make what had happened seem more substantial, as though he could have taken all that time back and redone it, even though in reality, he never would have wanted to in reality. Idealizing vague memories decoupled from what actually was.

Are these old admissions from a derelict entanglement even worth listening to? No, never again – again. No, the garden grows and grows with nowhere for weeds to hide.

Current grove/Fuck a fox


J: “It is not uninteresting (be wary of men who express themselves using litotes).”

I’m working and working, and completely unlike all the previous years of my life, sleeping at least the recommended number of hours. I used to fight against sleep and loved being awake for as long as possible, but now sleep draws me in. Then I am awake and make coffee but forget I’ve made the coffee, leaving it to get cold. Repeat.

I’m reading and reading, and the more I read the more I want to read. So many random titles and themes are thrown at me constantly, so the mix of things is incomprehensible to many, who like to stick with well-trodden paths (that is, some people are strictly fiction, some non-fiction), but I am all over the place. Monday, instead of finishing a project, I grabbed Kingsley Amis’s The Alteration as a quick, spontaneous read after reading about it in The Atlantic. It’s an interesting semi-sci-fi/alt-universe thing with an airship called Edgar Allan Poe and the repeated exclamation: “Fuck a fox!” (Which, in literary terms, always leads my mind back to Kerouac’s The Subterraneans and Mardou Fox, but whatever.)

I’m writing and writing, and something totally different from what I had imagined. It’s also collaborative, which is entirely new for me, and that makes the process more energetic and speedy.

The drone of years


Almost 20 years had passed since she had last seen him; both had weathered the time with at least some grace. Perhaps they told themselves this, awkwardly embracing, pushing aside the thoughts of the kinds of things they used to do together. Cordiality ruled the day now, over 40 and discussing blood pressure medications and carefully controlled diets. They were polite, discussing many things, but at the same time, not very much. Controlled, too, in how they spoke, the words they chose, the topics they discussed – directly and indirectly – never wanting to cross a line or appear indiscreet, despite their history of nothing but indiscretion. They had work in common, this business-like demeanor, that is, their shared workaholism, which seemed to substitute for the children that neither of them ever had, for the partners each of them seemed to have for lengthy intervals during their otherwise lone(ly) adult lives but who always disappeared eventually.

After a confidence-bolstering few glasses of wine, and many hours of conversation, which had lifted slightly in tone as the hours flew and the hour grew later, he leaned in toward her, very close, and she saw the old glint in his eye, the disarming smile that had so weakened her resolve two decades ago, and she saw past all the little things the 20 years had done to him – and to her. It was as though no time at all had passed.

He gripped her forearm tightly and looked into her eyes before lowering his gaze, as he had done many times before in brief fits of shyness that belied the exterior performance, “I loved you then, but I thought something was missing. But I see now – it was there…

…I just didn’t know what was important.

Photo (c) the late and lovely Paul Costanich