Thursday, August 31, 2017

Life Is Not A Race

There are always inherent dangers in applying metaphors to life, or even those conceptual structures that grow out of metaphors and the principle of sufficient reason.

Let us examine a Race. If you are a competitive person, I can understand how in your framework of Being, a race seems like an excellent metaphor for life. On the plus side, a race can be illustrative of how you excel, how you drive yourself, how you train. But then I could say "Life is Training for a Race" and it might work as well. The major difference is that you aren't beating any of your competitors. Not really, no, you can only prove you did by actually racing against them.

Racing against others usually requires everyone agree. We run around this track or course to get to a thin ribbon and leave everyone else behind. That sort of thing is easy to do in an actual race. It's what you're there for, but in larger life that sort of single-mindedness is virtually impossible because everyone is running in different directions.

A more evolved approach would be that you're running for your personal best, regardless of "who wins." This much I can accept until I start remembering other aspects of a race, not merely why I'm doing it

Like a narrative, a race has a beginning a middle and an end. I was recently reminded of all of this in reading an essay on why it may be a good idea for us to drop the use of "narrative" in describing a life. (My only really big critique is that an actual definition of 'narrative,' even to explode it, appears to be missing.)

I hear you; I've read enough post-modern fiction and seen enough post-modern drama to know that Aristotelian formulas do not categorically apply. But remember those are deliberate attempts to subvert this notion that our lives are stories.

But life begins, as far as we know from our personal experience, rather mysteriously. Doubtless someone out there will reply that they remember everything since birth. How nice for you. I can't imagine the majority of us have such certainty. And Death is simply to quixotic to consider. If you believe in some afterlife where you can review everything in a PowerPoint debriefing, please let me know what you find. I only hope the box lunches are better than here when the plenary speaker is going over your accomplishments and failures. (Can I please have a crisp apple?)

That leads us to Myth. As a thoroughgoing Jungian I'm very aware of what the Archetypes from the Collective Unconscious are, but it does take a great deal of presumption to assert how they work. At most I would say they are hasty sketches that may explain important emotional events and how they remain powerful forces. The Collective Unconscious, and its interface with our manifold Personal Unconscious is simply beyond reliable reach in Existential terms, and frankly, I'm satisfied with being dissatisfied.

Perhaps I'm just one of those people who doesn't need a final answer, just as I don't need to finish a race. Myths give me insight because they are always psychologically true when they are occurring, just like myth's bed-mate: dream. But as with life, dreams and myth begin to change as I move through Time.

I am glad for Time though. It changes the track where I run for exercise with each circuit. It makes the books I love different with each reading. Time repaints paintings and it touches the snow of winter and cherry blossoms of spring with mutability. Even the gift of sorrow that comes with Time has its value.

So take it easy. Or run off the beaten track if you want to explore some other metaphors for living.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Butterfly's Dream

Upon a time I had a dream I was a human philosopher. As with many dreams I don’t remember exactly when it began.

I awoke and immediately noticed the change. To begin with I had no wings and only four legs! I did not arise from a leaf, but rather a soft collection of something that had been made from plants and the cocoons my cousins the silk-worms make for their metamorphoses. Two of my legs I could stretch out before me and they seemed to each have five tiny legs at their end. I could not fly, but found my bottom legs were long and helped me walk, much as I would upon a flower.

My beautiful colors were gone and I had a uniform covering of brown soft skin. Long black hairs grew out of my head. And while humans are markedly inferior in beauty to the way we are blessed, some go forth and put markings upon themselves. My human body had three such markings on my right upper leg. It was a disturbing collection for they looked like our dire enemies, the swallows.

My vision was different, for everything seemed one large smear, but strangely, I could sense how far things were. The colors of this human world were not as vibrant. I don’t think I could see all the colors I could as a butterfly.

My sense of smell seemed to have disappeared, as though I was left with only memories of the rich world I had once known. I could not feel the world around me as I once could, and I pitied humans.

But then I noticed something else, a sort of feeling, but one that arranged itself in spiritual textures.

“What has happened?” I thought, but I found myself making these strange vibrations from my throat!

I explored my world and found that hunger was much the same. I found a table overlooking a beautiful lake. In the distance was a vast shape that I could only imagine was some immovable god, its head covered in white.

All I had to drink was a fragrant liquid that smelled of camellia leaves. Stranger still, I could consume the kernels of the seeds that grow upon the grasses the humans so carefully tend in artificial ponds.

Satisfied, I looked down and found a strange thing. It was made of leaves, bleached white and full of what looked like black scratches that almost looked like ants. By some power, I realized these leaves had once been trees.

And yet, I looked upon the scratches and found they said something in the strange vibrations humans use. I found that I could understand these scratches—they told a story. Now it may seem strange but in my life as a human, I discovered that my mind was made up of one thing representing something else. I suspect this is how the human scratches and vibration system worked, carrying information much the same way smell does for us. Yet nothing seemed to be what it is, but referred to something else.

Where this object was “open,” I found a trail of thoughts that described a human, a male with a purple stain on his face sitting at the bottom of a shaft lined with stones. Ordinarily, humans get water from these holes in the earth, but this one did not have any water. He seemed to be content thinking, but was really waiting to enter another world—a dark world that held the deepest truths of his soul. This trail of thoughts continued, even after I looked up at the sky. I began questioning who I was: how I had been thrown here and how I knew anything. The system of symbols that I used in my mind seemed to offer both hope and utter confusion.

Before the dream faded, I had decided to make the best of being human. There were many things I missed, but I was much too big to be afraid of birds, so that was an advantage.

I do not know if I shall dream of being a human again. But of course the dream left me wondering if I really am a butterfly dreaming of being a human, or a human dreaming I am a butterfly.

Note, if you are curious, you can read the human version of this essay here. Butterflies are a bit more loquacious, it seems.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Nocturne in the Key of Maternity

At work, two mothers are having a conversation near me. One has a child growing within her body and the other has already born two. I am sterile and cannot have children. This is an important fact. The experienced mother is touching the expectant mother on the abdomen. I know that this is not uncommon in workplaces where people are either very good friends or have poor boundaries. Or both.

I don’t understand most of what they are saying. I ‘get’ the words. The three of us agree about the grammar of our sounds enough to confirm the context of a shared language. Stairs, car, child all mean the same things. Hope, love, benediction: those words are not so clear. Perhaps that is why I have no idea of what they are talking about.

You may be wondering if this is all a cold philosophical sham because I am angry that I cannot share in their joy of giving birth—that act which I was always told was the ultimate meaning-bearer for any woman. For a time, I indulged in that brand of ressentiment with abandon. My rage at my sterility was visceral. The fact it was brought on by problematic decision making during a trip to Europe when I was 27 did not help. But now that I am older—almost at that age when age itself sterilizes us—I feel utterly alien to them. Their conversation does not clarify itself in the course of time but becomes more opaque.

I close my eyes. Their voices are kindly, softened in the tones that two women use when they move beyond acquaintance to confidence. It is a structure of intonation. Much of the expectant mother's words come forth in a comforting, ascending scale. Perhaps it is B Flat Major: the sotto voce of a new place—the sort of music you write for a child wandering into the forest covered with the first snow that child has ever seen.

The expectant mother answers in the sort descending chromatics that assure you of how the color aubergine looks in the sunset and how it must feel to lie naked upon the warm sand and let it ease the fatigued arrangement of bones altered by the gentle force of growth.

This is as close as I can come to understanding them. I don’t know the subtleties of power and reliability—these are the crystalline outgrowths from invisible grains of dust and sand which coerce the fractures into unique, transitory forms.

I listen, keep my eyelids closed and my fingers on the keyboard. Their words describe something I thought I had reached out for. Once. Touch is an important metaphor for it does not require sight. In my nocturne, I read the stones—meticulously cut and laid—with only my fingers.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Emotional Labor

I learned about Emotional Labor back in the mid 90's, after I had slunk out of grad school.

I needed work and found it in a hell located in the Herpes Triangle of Old South Lake Union. A friend of mine dated this guy named Jesse, a bartender at an Irish Sports Bar and he could get me a job with great tips. Dingus O'Tooles wasn't particularly Irish, and the clientele wasn't exactly athletic. 'Sports' meant sitting at a bar watching professionals on television.

The food was laced with salt, nitrates, generally fried and not very Irish. Let us consider the fried jalapeno poppers stuffed with cream cheese. I suggested adding flecks of pimento to the cream cheese so the white cheese, stuffed into a green pepper had a dash of orange to look like the Irish flag. My suggestion—one of the few times I slipped up and gave a damn there—was met with ridicule. Juan, the lead line cook was at least consolatory:
Ada, esta mierda es todo lo que hizo en el este de Newark y congelado. Acabamos de poner en la freidora
I was not about to suggest Dingus O'Toole's serve a Gorgonzola cheese sandwich and nice glass of Burgundy, although a carafe of Carlo Rossi went by the same name as a special on "Lady's Night."

We had to mind our appearance and appear 'fresh.' No tattoos and no piercings other than earrings. The uniform—what there was of it— was nominally Irish in that is had green and white stripes. I had to wear a padded bra, and Stu, the manager, made me wear flats even though all the other girls had to wear heels. "You've got the best gams here Ludy, but you're already taller than most of the customers who come here. It'll intimidate them." 'Ludy' was the diminutive nickname he gave me.

To rationalize this entire arrangement, I had strained my feminist principles to an absurd low through the casuistry of economics, Camille Paglia and Hegel. I traded emotional labor for money. It's what women have been doing for a long time. But I didn't realize it until my last night at Dingus O'Toole's.

It was a rough, busy night. The place was full of mostly white fratmen at various chronological ages, although since they are all about 5 to 6 years old in terms of maturity there isn't much difference. Put enough Jameson and Guiness and you have a level playing field of entitled loutishness. I had a couple of pints and basket of fries I was dropping off for Cindi when I felt a hand reach up under my skirt and grab my ass.

I turned. He had a blonde crew cut, and blue-grey eyes. Perfect teeth and a deep tan. He wore a short-sleeved Ralph Lauren polo shirt. His collar was popped.
"Is your pussy as tight as your ass, baby?"
It's hard for me to remember exactly what happened next. Most of it was overwhelmed with a moment of clarity: a walking nightmare that like most dreams did all its dirty work in a second.
Around the Ourbouroritic Compost Mill, the Mabta Python chased a tethered jackass around a circle. Eventually, the jackass stumbled and tripped over the tail of the Python. The python swallowed the jackass and its tail and in so doing the mill turned. 
Although, blood is difficult to get from a stone, tears are not because they are relatively cheap. The men of the city came forth with shits of all beasts. They threw it in the hopper of the mill and watched the serpent consume itself. Finely ground shit comes out of the mill for the roots growing around the mill. 
All day long fat men drink beer in a nearby shed. In between slapping and napping, they come forth and stagger to the mill and move in stumbling pavane and piss out their great quantities of urine upon the thirsty roots that grow and move with snapping mouths. 
The roots fasten upon bare breasted girls, the fat men, the serpent, and all is reduced beneath the monsoon to a bloody cesspool of moving roots. When the sun returns, a single bamboo shoot rises and this stalk is used to create a new boom around which a new jackass and new serpent revolve.
I dropped the beer and fries. That much I know.

Jesse told me I gave the fratman a right-cross worthy of Mark Trail. (Jesse was devoted to the comics in the old Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Unfortunately, there was no Irish-style bar fight. People just pulled us apart and the injured fratman wanted to call the police. Stu fired me on the spot and bought the men another round of beer.

I only wish I had glassed the fratman's fat face with one of the Guinnesses.

I went home and got drunk by myself and threw up. Two days later I was in a tattoo studio on Capitol Hill and… that's another story.

There is a lot of talk about Emotional Labor now, and I fear it's some attempt to normalize and hide it under the carpet of disregard, low wages, and contempt. This is why I always tip well. This is why I don't want someone to have to diaper me while I bleat in an Alzheimer's delirium. It's why I don’t date men who were ever in the Greek System or frequent Sports Bars.

But I still feel like nothing in the grinding mill.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I alone

The only way you can escape a hearse is by a coffin bound for somewhere else. Or do you find such conveyance strange within this paradox we call a life?

Upon the sea I find myself alone again, to know that I was born to die, but not just yet. It's why my rafta case they made to lay my tattooed lover in—has much to say and do. A day has come and gone since all I knew went down beneath the waves, and Night—a respite from the Sun—has come to bathe me in a dark wherein I dream.

Not of my father who never really was the old and spiteful man who steered us here.

Nor of my mother who vanished within the deluge of career and life for which I was an inconvenient hand.

Not of my lover who's gone below with carpenter, the cabin boy, the smart-ass colleagues, the beaten desperate men, the fatalists and optimists, the faces in the light of burning oil carved and cut and tried from bloody work: a murder of the old, the weak and everyone in between.

No, upon this floating raft that looks fit for six feet underground I hear the water lap against the wood and know that sharks are swimming by on business of their own. And so they pass this feeble snack of leathery orphan meat.

I dream of clouds ennobled by the Moon and seas that glitter on in pelagic symphonies. I dream of; hidden ears beneath the deep that know abyssal mountains and the cities made of shipwrecks.

I dream of her, approaching from that line of ontological perhaps, which we can never reach.

I dream of Rachel looking for her children.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


And after he had spoken all his words—they lay like hot dismissive stones upon the plaza of his familiar disregard—I walked across a bridge of years to August.

He’d said I had not changed a bit and this was what I did not understand.

My hair is grayer now. I understand how much I cannot know, but most of all I’ve learned to listen to voices in the sandstorm singing in excoriation of skin, flesh and bone.

And then it all became as clear as I had been to him.

How could I change when life—my frailty, my dreams, my love—was simply just the scope of all he would not, could not see? In shame I coiled in a circle and ate myself in hatred, until I drifted off across the desert in clouds of sand—bound for blood and ocean.

But now a lizard moves behind the old guitar and every thought is swollen like a tongue. The rain may come and fall so hard it stings me naked on the sand. The evening comes, derails the frail attempts to bend it into meaning—to give it love and mystery. The Gods of August have no such feelings.

And that is good, for once again I’ve come to August to be the someone else I always was but never knew.