Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Alki

The unofficial motto of Washington State is “Alki” a Chinook word which means “by and by” or “sometime in the future.”* There is no “official” motto because the notorious State Legislature hasn’t gotten to it. Presumably it will be (like fully funded public schools) something they will get to by and by.

Once you move here the initial exasperation you feel—either in traffic, or a Seattle public meeting, or waiting for contractor —will change. You will either descend into madness or you will make a clean break and live fully in the present, dismissing these concerns as being taken care of by and by.

Part of it comes from the curious nature of time here. I should say that I’m going to be speaking about Western Washington at this point. Those East of the Mountains will be quick to tell you (and I agree) that they actually have seasons.

You know it rains here a lot. Well, you may know the amount of rain is less than many places in the US, but when the rain stops by (and by) it sometimes feels like years. That is because Western Washington usually has two seasons. Drizzly and Summer. The curious thing is that because of the near constant cloud cover, the light diffuses dramatically so that 8:00 in the evening in May looks very much like 3:00 in the afternoon in December. And the temperature is about the same.

Drizzly starts in September usually around Labor Day which is why the biggest Arts and Music festival in Seattle is called Bumbershoot. It then continues to the day after the 4th of July. In between is a beautiful summer. This is fairly common knowledge.

But as I mentioned, it’s the daily tricks that a diffuse world brings. Shadows, which define so much in our lives (just ask Caravaggio) are fuzzy patches of dark gray if you see them at all. This renders what could be beautiful architecture into vague planes of gray and blue gray and a gray that’s in between.

And as I said, you can never tell what time it is, so you get used to things happening by and by.

Insofar as the sun and moon, well, those celestial markers of time are a faint memory from summer evenings. Natives immolate themselves when viewing the former and become lunatics when they can see the latter.

I moved here from a sunny place a long time ago. I used to relish the rain in October. It was perfect for books and thinking and coffee and snug places. I still feel that way in October, but T.S. Eliot must have spent a winter here to appreciate how it extends into April: the cruelest month drives one mad. A wet May (like we are having as I write this) just turns the whole thing into a hideously absurd Beckett play.

True, we can trust our watches but those are only approximations. We open umbrellas (real native Mossbacks only use GoreTex) and wait for summer to come.

By and By.

*Alki Point itself is a beautiful spot in West Seattle looking out over Puget Sound. It is destined to become the New York of the West Coast. By and By of course, which is how it got its name and it does have a Statue of Liberty. (She’s a bit smaller than the East Coast version). You can learn more about it here.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May

I look down in the water and wonder, why should I think the world owes me anything besides this reflection.

I know a man who would worm this scene through the muddy lenses and gears of machines, which in the complexities of multicellular aggregation, I suppose we are. I find his explanation thorough, and the induction of his thought is swift and convincing but utterly meaningless.

I know a man who would twist this scene through the cataracts of God, who is the only real thing and the rest is illusion. In the complexities of ontological agglutination, I suppose this might be true, but it always seems to return to the preacher.

Both of them profoundly wield words. To me, this entire arrangement explains why poets drown in poverty for the kiss of the moon.

I find that on a quiet night like this, the water in May is beautiful enough.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

You Can Fly

"Now you can fly..."
“Peter Pan.”

“Peter Pan is your least favorite fictional character?”

Don’t ask me how we got onto the topic. One of the things I love about Will is that we can just lie in bed together and the conversation just goes on and on. Sometimes one of us is doing most of the talking. (Usually me, according to him) and sometimes we share.

“I hate that little shit. If I could kick his ass, I would,” he continued.

“You never liked him? Have you read the book?”

“No, I don’t need to. How would you say this? The Disney version, even Sandy Duncan, they’re all the same. Iconic. Think about it. It’s a very sexist story. Wendy has to clean up and be mom for all these little boys who won’t grow up. Total male fantasy. Or really anybody who just uses people wants a Wendy to clean up and take care of things. Tell stories maybe when it’s all over so they can go to sleep. It’s the only reason they haul her to Neverland in the first place and even there she has to put up with all of the shit from the mermaids or Tigerlilly. I won’t even go into that whole racist thing.

“True,” I said.

“And Tinkerbelle hates her too. It’s that whole keep them divided by fighting with one another and at the top of it all is Peter Fucking Pan.”

“A bit of jealousy?”

“Not jealousy. It's Bullshit, Ada. That’s why. Yeah, I wanted to be him when I was really small. He could fly. I mean, who doesn’t want that? But when I got older, I watched it again at a cousin’s house and I couldn’t believe how stupid it all was. “Not growing up.” Every kid I know wants to “grow up” because that’s when you can do whatever you want. So it’s doubly false.”

“Maybe that’s a subtext that Barrie wanted.”

“I don’t’ think so.”

“So Peter gets all the girls to love him. He always beats Captain Hook.”

“Exactly. He always wins. There’s never a doubt. But really, growing up is when you learn you can never win. Maybe you never have, but you don't really notice and that’s why childhood seems so precious and all.”

“But you were figuring it out all along,” I said.

“I just don’t need some asshole in tights lording it over me.”

“You never were Peter Pan, baby. Maybe you're more like Wendy?”

He thought about this for a bit. He smiled, and then kissed me.

“Yeah. You're right. I never thought of it that way. You're not Peter either. I think that’s why I love you,” he said.

“Oh, I love you too. Besides, if Peter won’t grow up, he’s never going to regally shag his girlfriend on a Sunday morning.”

Friday, April 14, 2017

April

It's the very distance of the thing that makes it a thing.

Upon a hill there is a pot. This is no jar in Tennessee, although there is a blackbird. Later.

The different shades of day illuminate it, change its color and perhaps shape. I cannot really be sure of it from the distance I am at. How old is it? I go closer to it to see. Did I make this pot? Did I not just do that by using one word that contains multitudes?

In this creation, I understand the pot as container. I know it is two feet tall: that it is not really an ellipse because I am only seeing it that way. Everything is brown. The clay is now a deeper sienna, a flash of memory like hands tending to the drying linen. Could anything be so beautiful? Terra cotta is cooked again as I remember the words.

I am in a modality that changes the pot, myself and the hill. Metaphorically concentric, and therefore actually covalent to the actual modality, which could be called April—a single word of time that promises some sort of precision.

But isn't really.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Dream of Language




I’m waking through a lingering dream. This often happens when the garbage trucks are breaking rules and bang-bang-gungh-ghungh-bang-bang-crash, doing their holy work before 7:00 AM.

My husband had just slammed the door on his way out. He had been stressed out a lot lately because he was publishing a paper in Science that maintained that all the world’s languages could be tracked back to a single mother tongue in Africa. Spoken by Eve. No doubt, I wanted to say over coffee and oranges, but he was gone.

Even his smell in the bed was different. Not the rich pungency I loved, but rather a thin, acrid one. He’d been smoking again. Not that it mattered too much. We hadn’t been having much sex lately, and I hardly ever saw him. When he was at home, he would sit in the dining room and curse at the peers who reviewed him

Yet I knew this was important. This publication would ensure his tenure at the University. He’d have a steady job, benefits… His reputation and future, our future rested on it

You may be wondering why I put up with him, well, I knew that I loved him. That’s what marriage is about: the worse and the better. Lately it had been worse. He had spoken of nothing but phonemes, counting them across the world, comparing them because it was all for Science.

bang-bang-gungh-ghungh-bang-bang-crash

I am totally awake and glad I’m single. I know what seeded the dream. A PRI article began with “Scientists say.” This is how most scripture begins where I live. I look at the ceiling and think about this phrase and what it means.

It means I am an apostate. No, not because I adhere to a religion. I abandoned Catholicism a long time ago and with it the rest of Christianity. I find it hard to trust God or Induction. The ceiling seems certain enough, and it is enough. I can see it. I am sheltered beneath it. No, I don’t say it shelters me because that is an active verb, perilously close to ascribing living motive to an inanimate concept arranged by my often faulty sensory-conceptual framework—a world where certainty is something I have to learn.

I wonder if Eve thought about that when she was speaking the first words. Was it simply a game of phonemes she uttered to her children and it sort of took off from there in ways she didn’t really intend? Even though I am not a mother, I know that can happen with children. But why am I burdening her?

Why does there always have to be an Eve or a single origin for anything? What good does it really do. I guess it keeps my dream husband employed and a dream roof—with concomitant ceiling—over our dream heads. I could further question that, since we didn’t see much of each other. I couldn’t even have dream sex with him. 

I consider getting a dream divorce.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Bright Eyes

In the surf, I'm pushing out again. I hope She was right about all of this. I am not sure I trust this raft.

Thirsty, hungry in my dream. I awake and She has put a peach in my hand.

Long ago She warned me against his insolent stupidity, his pride in ignorance and bigotry and prerogative.  Now, She whispers: "Ask him: 'When was the last time you saw your wife or listened to Cassandra?' It will unmake him."

In Pacific Place, She and I watch the Children of the Sun, their brown eyes like sloes: trusting, herbivorous, doomed. "Don't worry. I don’t have any children either. They would be the terror of the earth."

At Elliott Bay Books, I can almost smell the copper in her bronze. I drift and she puts the right constellations in my hands for purchase. She has a keen eye in the remainders.

When I was younger, and found myself trapped on a barstool listening to his or his convincing lies, She always leaned over the bar and whispered. "And do you believe that?" "It depends" I sometimes answered.

She suggests turning the tables. "Go ahead, Drug him. Sharpen the stake in the fire. Gouge out his eye to get out of his bedroom."

She gets on the bus first and chooses a seat for us away from the man who peed himself.

The Horse was actually her idea.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Swoon


It may very well be the sort of psychological distortion that occurs in a perfectly explicable, neuro-scientific way—that process can give meaning to some people. I don’t' like to generalize too much, but it seems that 'scientifically' oriented people—who place a great deal of uncritical faith in the conceptual foundations of science—are suited to their own explanations.

I envy them this surety, even while they scoff at me and my philosophy.

A case in point. There is A Certain Place I had not been frequenting. Not because the coffee wasn't good. Not because of the ambiance or other patronage and certainly not because of the staff… well, that's not entirely true. Through no fault of his own, one of the baristas there served as an unwitting locus of my own associative engine and concomitant romantic stupidity. In short, the sight of Andrew's smile alone could conjure continents of a life together that simply wasn't.

To whit, I am sure a neuroscientist could explain the entire chemical process—since I am only machine—but that doesn't help me with any meaning, which Andrew's smile seemed to suggest in an orgy of aesthetic detail.

When I found out he was dating someone it came as relief. I felt free of the possibility of love. Not asking me out because he is dating someone is acceptable, I thought. I realized that my conclusion of him not asking me out because I am older and unattractive to him had become a wearisome burden.

Today—making sure he wasn't there—I went in. I chatted with another fellow, who, I realize is an equal to Andrew in terms of… what I fancy. And then some. Somehow, the daily trivia question fell to books. I am terrible with things like statistics and sports, but fiction I am good with, but today the question was something about Jonathan Franzen so I was left in the dark.

"You should have something else. May I make a suggestion?" I said. The day was slow, so we could chat.
"Certainly, what would you put down?' Carlos asked.
"'Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buenida remembered'... what…? "
"that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. " Carlos replied. 
My heart did not skip. It fell flat on its face and then slid off the mountain. My head was dizzy and I swelled tight in certain places… a phrase I stumble over not from prudery but from long absence of such feelings.

Andrew had never said anything like that.

It will be a relief when neuroscience can explain why the vast timescapes of dream can occur within mere seconds. The first dates, sharing the fried squid in Chinatown, the confession of deep regrets and the validation that life continues in ways we couldn't understand even yesterday and how the hair grew on his knee because it is bare in the morning and the sheets are crisp blue linen, and which of us would die first in old age when this fire was a pleasant memory if not already lost in oblivion. In short, the dream of life.

From one line of Marquez. But...

Dear Gods, read it if you haven't already.*
How could I be sure? It is a lovely dream. But my life feels more like One Hundred Years of Solitude. The poetic irony of the title, my fantasy, my conversation, Carlos, his dark hair and eyes that reflected more than the grey sun of Seattle—it jumbles together suggesting meaning.

But the meaning is like a cat that does not want to be picked up. I am making a novel, a dream of something that doesn't exist. This one line of Marquez, as suggestive as it seems, may not mean anything.

I breathe easier (the flow of hormones and transmitters are subsiding, but still offering no meaning), take my coffee and sit down.

And there is that other man again. A slightly younger guy who lives near me, or must. He is sitting over there, wearing headphones and is intently listening to music on his phone. He has a magazine about salmon fishing. I've seen him here before. From a distance, I used to confused him with Andrew, but this guy is shorter, more furtive. He drinks drip coffee too, and glances at me. There is a hint of smile. He seems perfectly nice, which is of course a problem.

I stew on this a while, and get lost in composing this post. Maybe neuroscience will allow me to take some sort of exorbitantly priced pharmaceutical that will allow me to fall in love with the right man. Even feel a sense of meaning. Perhaps.

*cover art from One Hundred Years of Solitude copyright Harper Collins, provided here as a link to the book's Indiebound page.