Your enemies should be your greatest source of information. No one can tell you more about your own vulnerabilities than the people who want to exploit them. While maintaining an appearance of invulnerability and confidence is something that is encouraged (maybe even rightly) in public spheres, in the privacy of your own mind it makes sense to consider the arguments of those who you find to be most opposed to you, most obviously wrong, those who most want to get under your skin. You should let them under, because they have something to offer you.
In the case of the atheist movement, an argument which is raised by theists in response to the litany of religiously motivated atrocities, is the litany of politically motivated atrocities. It is just as long and just as bloody — and the people perpetuating them felt just as justified. This weakness in the argument against organized religion is valid. Stalin, Hitler and Mao really did exist — they really did do the things they did, and no one is served in pretending that a world without religion would be a world without atrocity.
This does not absolve religion, and it does not even begin to take in to account the most serious argument against it — that it is factually false and that it promotes turning away from the most powerful epistemological stance the world ever discovered — that the evidence of the senses should be sharpened, trusted and generalized in manners which are transparent and not personal. That what merely one person sees is not enough for consensus reality, that cogent explanations and experiments which may be run by anyone are the only things good enough to constitute a social model of reality.
But they do show that it is not enough to attack religion – because the greatest monsters the world has ever known did that — and they were still monsters. This is not an argument for religion — and it shows how weak the ground is that religion stands on that this would ever be offered as such. Imagine a person claiming that a foil hat is really protection against satellite death rays because Stalin, Hitler and Mao didn’t wear foil hats, and they were mass murderers. That is what the argument comes down to. How backed into a corner would you have to be to use an argument like that?
But the truth is that it is more than religion that needs to be questioned — I would throw my net far wider. I would capture liberalism and conservatism — to say nothing of socialism and environmentalism. Objectiveism. Aristotelianism (that is a fair coinage).
The problem is the ability to tolerate the ambiguous. The ability to admit that you don’t have the answer when you don’t actually have it, and to move with the fragmentary understandings that you do have. And of course, what follows as a corollary from that — to recognize and accept that other people have different constructions than you, and to learn from them.
Roberto Calasso is amazing. I’m surprised that his penetration into American culture has been so shallow — looking around for people writing on him I don’t see very much. I think he is the most exiting thing to happen to the humanities since George Steiner. Maybe that’s why he is so little commented — he shows everybody else what we are doing wrong. When we read him, and then go and read other criticism, we can see what a shit state the discipline is in. Composed of tawdry ideas copied from one Wikipedia page to another (or what amounts to the same thing, from one Britannica page to another.) I am still in shock over the crap that I payed $3000 a quarter for at the University of Washington.
Rather than that distressing and deadening experience, Calasso offers a view of a game such that “If we no longer accepted its terms now, literature would really be that poor thing that so many zealots are so eager to despise.” Something that exists separate from and in opposition to what the humanities have become in the United States.
He exists in specific refutation of Nabokov’s ideas about “ideas” in literature. I also like the way his work defies classification. What is it — philosophy? essay? intellectual history?
Roberto Calasso moves through ideas as if they were a landscape he was walking through. A travelogue of the intellect. The way he recognizes features and shapes in others writing, and draws it into his own. One cannot summarize what it is that he said — nor would you want to. He is not “indicating” anything, like so many writers do — Marx is good or Freud is bad or whatever, he is actually getting into the pure shimmery stuff of their thought and looking around. And he is a relentless researcher — across his books he focuses on notes scribbled in margins of books, or letters, or prefaces to obscure editions. He takes it all on as if it were a vast single land of thought, and then he describes what he sees when he goes there. And he seems to see nothing wrong with taking a living fragment out of an otherwise tedious work, and addressing the work as if that one living fragment was the point.
Nabokov complains about “novels of ideas” because there is no originality to them. You are often looking at one persons summery of several other peoples summaries of an idea. Calasso digs into authors who are almost tired out from the point of view of contemporary scholarship, and gives us a fresh image of, say, the publisher returning the draft of Spengler’s work, or what Marx’s apartment looked like. Or Piaget’s office. He creates a living foothold in what would otherwise be a tedious reading list (tedious if it were not engaged, or read as living text.)
And all of that with a fluid beautiful style, which would justify the writing even if the range of thought contained within it were not so vast.
A lovely review of Calasso’s essays can be found here.
I was going to be offended by this review, but if you are the kind of person who needs to know what it is about, then the misconceptions and misreading contained therein are as close as you will ever get — and as good as you deserve.
If you in fact deserve better then look here.
Well soon there will be a robot that does it for you.
This device operates using the same kind of “convenience tax” that the Windows operating system uses. I have tried to explain what the problem with this “learning tax” is in other posts, but I think that this device illustrates it better than an operating system, however the problem is exactly the same.
Say you have an average remote like mine — that has 100 functions on it. (sure, when you combine keys and include soft menus it is MUCH MUCH more than that — but we are talking about a concept here — so don’t get all weird on the math.)
Out of those 100 functions — I use on average 5 every day, and an additional 8 over the course of any month. For the first week (the initial learning curve) I’m going to remember how to use most of what I have learned with the remote, and the robot will learn all of that and store it with it’s voice activation.
So now, a couple of weeks have gone by – my 13 functions are programed in, the remote itself migrates under the couch or into the desk drawer. I am watching TV one night and I come across an opportunity to use one of the 87 other functions I can access through the remote. I never programed the robot to handle that function — the remote is across the room. If I am like most people I will just forgo the flexibility of those 87 additional functions rather than getting up and poking around with the remote. And don’t even get me started about what I never learned because I’m too retarded to read the manual.
So the cost of the convenience of the new device actually dramatically hobbles the usefulness of the tool that I have interfaced with it, a device which is probably actually much more useful than I ever got to experience — despite having paid for 100% of its functionality through the purchase price.
I first learned this law of human behavior when I spent a year in physics and calculus classes with my new HP48G and watched the very bright science and engineering students around me SIMPLY IGNORE the astounding functionality of their tools. Despite being technologically competent, and needing the functions that the calculator had, they lacked the — what was it — vision? insight? to read past the quick start guide. People paid $100 for a calculator which they only ever used $19 worth of. WHY?
This is the heart of the difference between command line learners and GUI learners. It is a real problem — through 10 years of tech support I would say it is the number one problem faced by computer users. You see this especially in the case of Mac users — who have convenient widgets to do most of what they want — can’t do it with a widget? It can’t be done.
A dramatic example that affects almost everyone who uses computers is the “convenience” afforded by packaged music software like “I-tunes” — the graphic interface of I-tunes is SO EASY to use. After you have used it for a couple of years you completely forget what you could actually accomplish with CDparanoia, lame, and sox.
If you love music I deeply encourage you to get out there and learn the command line of those three programs. But of course you won’t — because you have I-tunes, and you run it on default mode, and if you have to spend ninty-nine cents to get a song on your Ipod that you already had on your Zune — well — money is cheap. But the other things that you lose are quality and flexibility. You will pay more for less — as witnessed by the avalanche of shitty mp3s that are available on various file sharing sites.
And when you get in the habit of paying a convenience tax on everything in your life, you will find that you are working twice as many hours to get the same goods and services. All I can think is that you must really love your job.
I owe my readership an apology. The study that I link to is on a paid site — I have access through my college. I was assuming it was freely available — which it likely is through your local university or public library. I make the assumption throughout this piece that anyone could download and read this study, when obviously you would have to go to a library to actually access it, which makes it harder. I try hard to use only publicly availible sites — I’m not trying to generate subscription income for anyone. I can tell you though, if the subject interests you, that the study that I link to is probobly available to you through your local library, or local college library. You will probobly need to talk to the reserach librarian to get access to it — but if you want to be informed about things that is a trip you should make anyway. Otherwise you have to count on assholes like me to filter it all for you.
I believe that the second most important issue facing the American polity (after the issue of disentangling the effect of money on governance) is the issue of learning how to argue from evidence instead of values. It is hard to say if it is just a matter of national character that we believe that the morally sympathetic side will always be the factually correct side of an argument, or if it is a universal human trait. Either way, it is a pernicious and destructive trait, because it is easy to spin sympathy, but it is impossible to spin fact.
I have been re-reading The Bell Curve recently — and within that book are a number of controversial statements which are made about soft-science questions (psychology and sociology) — and I’m sure that strong arguments could be made against the conclusions which are reached — just because of the amount of slip which is involved in any soft science. But what I am also convinced of is that almost no strong arguments have been made against the conclusions of the book.
In fact, of the arguments I have heard in classes and at poetry readings, none of them have even addressed the issues — they have addressed the morality of the perceived ideology of the kinds of people who would ask the kinds of questions raised by the book. And even those arguments have not been made particularly well.
If you dislike the conclusions of the book, doesn’t it make sense that you would want to make the strongest possible arguments against it?
On a separate but related issue — after the 2002 American presidential election — when the Red State/ Blue State divide was at it’s peak a chart was sent around that showed regional average IQ correlated to state color. It was convincing enough to get published in the Economist. The fact was that the “Average” IQ of the Red States was lower than the “Average” IQ of the Blue states. The humorous (and probably false) implication drawn being that Democrats were smarter than Republicans.
The implication was not appropriate — which didn’t change the fact (true or false) presented by the table. So on the one side, Democrats had a good and undeserved chuckle, and on the other side Republicans protested that the table was inaccurate. The Economist published a retraction. Snopes.com described the table as a fraud, and even stated that the studies it was drawn from couldn’t be located.
Well — the study cited in the Snopes article does exist — the numbers do not match the table — but they make the same factual argument about “average IQ” of the Red States vs. the Blue States. The parallel is so strong that it suggests that where-ever the original table came from – it was probably a real source. If it was a total fabrication, it was an uncanny accurate one.
The study is called “IQ and the Wealth of States” — and it’s methodology is rigorously described. Now you can disagree with the study, and you can argue about the statistics — but the question that stands out for me is “Why is Snopes.com misrepresenting the truth in this matter?” because up until now I have always counted on them for accuracy.
The PDF is currently available from the London School of Economics — you can Google the title and it’s the first link.
I don’t care too much if the numbers are true — but it does bother me (like in the case of The Bell Curve) that people seem to be so completely illiterate as to be unable to discuss why or why not they are true. Especially since it seems to matter so much to so many people. Is our “morality based reasoning” that tells us that elitism is morally wrong, so that elitist arguments must always be factually wrong — the best we can do? Or are there enough of us willing to say “I’m not sure what the truth is, but I am willing to consider the arguments and follow the evidence where-ever it leads” that some day we can have a social discourse that is dominated by reality and truth?
Probably if you write captions for home furnishing catalogs, romance novels, obituaries or science fiction, and you don’t need to malarkey around with the vision thing, well then, you’re the village blacksmith at the Renaissance Faire. You have something to do and a place to be and you don’t have to worry about how else to make it. But it is good to know that if you are a creative artist — there are other ways to make a living.
Who are some people who seem to be working some version of the “1000 True Fans” model?
Mind you, I am going to be very broad in how I interpret this. The point of “1000 True Fans” as I have understood it is not a strict mathematical relationship, as many of it’s critics have taken it to be. The point is that, in order to be successful, you do not need to qualify for success in the way that the marketing analysts for the major media companies identify success. We have all seen the cold calculation done by publishing companies, book stores, production companies and television stations. Over the years I’ve had 4 or 5 friends who ran small presses and I am familiar with the numbers of how much one must charge to pay for a printing of books, before even considerations of paying the marketing teams and the author come into the question. Looking at the “failure” of Jericho recently on television — Jericho was canceled for “only” having 5 million viewers.
Nothing I have ever done in my life will reach 5 million viewers.
So –what we are talking about is finding success without ever having to talk to the kind of people who canceled Jericho.
To really get anything from the rest of this post you should plan on visiting the artists websites — the links are provided in the text.
Peter Greenaway comes to mind. His production costs are huge, so he really deserves his own model — but he is a diverse creator. He sells viewing through the traditional theater, lectures, VJ performances, TV shows, regular and limited edition books and he creates free websites to entertain his extraordinarily loyal fan base.
On the down side — his films get very limited distribution — which is a shame because they really should be seen on the big screen, and his production teams grasp of web design is a little shaky still. His various sites had a lot of initial “wow” factor, but didn’t ultimately captivate me — and I am a big fan of his.
Kris Kuksi is a multimedia artist — some sculpture and some painting. His work is unique. He is close to being a traditional artist, except that he works his ass off to get shows. His work is frequently displayed all across America, and he has many pieces already in private collections. He maintains a website and is a prompt and friendly correspondent — including sending pictures of new art sometimes as he completes it.
He is listed here because his work is not immediately sale-able — you can’t picture his pieces in a mall art shop in limited edition next to a clear glass female nude, but the people that like him really like him.
Jason Webley is a touring artist who is just never going to get an EMI contract. And possibly wouldn’t take one if it were offered. His shows are highly interactive — on two that I have gone too the whole audience was instructed to leave the theater and go play — one time we all went to a park and had three-legged races, another time we marched down the local “Main Street” blocking traffic until we came to a lake, where his production team had set up hundreds of floating lanterns for us to each light one of and let it go — a darkened boat then arrived in the middle of the lanterns and picked him up and carried him away. Pure entertainment. Real creativity and commitment.
I first met him at Bumbershoot in Seattle — he was carrying a giant stuffed carrot on a fishing pole over his shoulder that had a sign on it which said “follow me” – he walked around until 30 people were following him and then stopped and performed pirate songs with his accordion right there on the sidewalk.
And finally Amanda Palmer — she uses Myspace to leverage her growing fan base which she nurtures by being on tour, basically constantly, for the last 5 years — sometimes alone, and sometimes with the Dresden Dolls. Her high drama performance style is wonderfully complemented by what is essentially a free book — her reports from the road. I’ve gotten more bulletins from her than all my other friends on Myspace combined — and reading them is like reading an on-going David Sederis novel (yes I am a fan of David Sederis.) She leverages her work crew by encouraging fans to come to shows, to organize special parties, to be in her videos. Her bands model is intensely participatory and much more fun than any other band I have ever enjoyed. She seems to be encouraging everyone to be a groupie, and if you read along with her bulletins you actually feel like one pretty quickly. I would almost expect her to run up to me and hug me if I met her on the street (although I doubt she would actually recognize me) because she has been so successful at making all of her fans feel like they are part of the band.
To get the real juice from Amanda you need to be on Myspace. But I’ll leave that to you to figure out on your little lonesome.
Hmm… John Scalzi proves that it would be difficult to follow the 1000 true fan model by following the traditional publishing model. Wait — that is unclear, try again — he looks at the model from the point of view of someone who was successful and comfortable making the compromises necessary to please editors and agents, and says that after making those compromises he doesn’t see how the 1000 true fan model would add up for someone who is doing what he does. When you factor in the range of options that he is willing consider, I think that the limitations he sees for that range earn him a big “So what?”
Read about the 1000 true fan model here.
What he says is factually correct –within the parameters of artistic expression which he has chosen to explore– like talking to a man about the roundness of the earth — you have to admit that when you look around you that the world is flat. But if the skeptic stops there, or returns all arguments there, then he is no true skeptic. I agree that John has described life on the ground pretty well — but I want to get high enough to see the curvature — I want to consider that the dream of flight may be real. I think the true strength of the 1000 true fans model is well illustrated by the fact that John can’t imagine any way other than sitting behind a desk to get his message out to the world. What he offers for a price point for self publishing is just what you can find pre-packaged on the web. I’ve seen lots of examples of people doing their own printing and binding that are cheaper than the figures he quotes — but you have to be willing to get ink on your hands. That isn’t a problem for me because I think it’s exiting to get ink on my hands.
But consider if you are in fact an the ground with John Scalzi, then what John Scalzi says is true. Say that you are an existing author who has a “clean copy” style — you can produce marketable clean copy, and have been recognized by agents for being able to do so — so that you can wing a proposal across an editors desk and have a fair chance of a hearing. Say the establishment is already invested in you (he may balk at my use of the word establishment — I don’t mean it like some kind of conspiracy. Just that if he wants to kite a proposal he has a phone number to call, and he knows how far away from the norm to push — which is not far.) — so that you can get distribution. And say that you don’t want to do anything for yourself, so that doing your own production and distribution means you are stuck paying retail at a per-copy basis for your books (and you aren’t interested in any other media which he conveniently ignores.)
Then in fact his position is warranted.
Oh — and say you want to promote your entire career from behind your desk — so that it takes 10 years to build up your readership. You don’t want to work as a waiter and save up money to go to conventions and hand out purple ink mimeographs of short stories dressed up in a costume. Or leave copies of cliffhangers on coffee-shop tables as you travel cross country reading weird science fiction at music open mikes with a bad ukulele back up.
Then, true, if you want to follow the existing model of success, then the new model will probably not work for you. What is scary to me is that he then just dismisses it — as if no one in the world would want to do anything differently than how he has done it. Because it is what he has done his whole life — and can’t even imagine doing something differently. And that is why I like the idea of finding 1000 true fans — because it assumes from the start that anything goes. I have to select from the whole world, and appeal to any 1000 people within it, not a small group of editors who were conformist enough to survive college and who all agree on the fundamentals of style (think that is unfair? Look at what gets published.)
But say you are starting out and you don’t want to have to try and get noticed by the existing editorial establishment. Say you don’t like what you hear at the various MFA programs — or say you are a musician or painter or sculptor of some kind — or some combination that no one has thought of yet — a Kareoke auto design botanist — an earth mover finger painting tuba yodeler — in that case then what the 1000 true fans model opens up for you is a viable method for professional development. And that model is ANYTHING THAT WORKS. And to get over the stupid math games (because it was always an approximation) lets go ahead and reconfigure the model so that the true fan is someone who gives you $100 net per year. Admittedly not your paperback audience — but then your paperback audience you are supporting for free with pdfs. And maybe it is 2000 people at $50 a piece — all the other details still hold.
You can imagine going on tour for 5 years and keeping every email address you find. You can imagine handing out your work in pamphlet form on the streets of any American city. You can imagine letter writing campaigns, publicity stunts, releasing limited editions and special artifacts. There is a (probably tragically dated) concept called guerrilla marketing which you can revive and expand.
You can imagine having a personal relationship with your fans instead of your agent, your editor and your publisher.
Is it difficult to do so? Probably — and, honestly, I have never done it — so maybe it is more difficult than just writing like you are supposed to write and trying to get an agent like everybody else. However I’m not writing about how I have done or not done it — but why I am exited about it, which is different from why John thinks people are exited about it. What I found exiting about the 1000 true fans model (which I plan on activating through saturating local and national performance venues, videos on the web, blogs, blog comments and letters) is that I don’t have to get an editors approval to write what I want to write. I don’t have to sell to 100,000 audience members — it is possible that there are 1000 people out there who think like I do — and that means that I can be myself and write like I want — that is most important, but secondly comes the fact that I can release most of my intellectual property directly into the public domain and still make it as an artist. I have a shot at being in complete control to decide to do or not to do with my writing whatever I want in whatever form I want. So John, what is important about freedom to me is not that it is easy, but that it is freedom.
John Scalzi writes as if what should be important about the 1,000 true fan model is that it should look easier to make a living — I suspect that is because thinking about making a living has driven most of his decision making through most of his career (and no shame there — he is successful.) I just hope that my career will have me thinking about different things. If I wanted to think about making a living I would have been a copy machine salesman. Writing is hard.
“Do I have room for a yay-me story?” I used to ask my girlfriend before launching in to one of them. I wanted to know that I had done enough for her on that day to tolerate a few minutes of me being an utter bore. Because yay-me stories are such cliches, they are so awful to listen to, but they are so fun to tell. “So and so said some stupid thing and I made a witty rejoinder — aren’t I clever?” Your mom is always glad to hear one, if she hasn’t seen you for a while. Your spouse will let you get away with it on the understanding that they will get to tell one when you are done. No one minds them when everyone is drunk. The yay-me story is the Karaoke of personal narrative.
And the tedium extends beyond the strict word pattern given above. Variations include the boring presentation by a so-called expert which is punctured by the tellers cutting question. The presumptive leading question which is shut down by a catastrophic “access denied” of the resource the question is leading to. This last category can be astoundingly diverse — clever parents outwitting their young children, attractive desirables shutting down suitors, put upon neighbors protecting their lawn mowers. In fact, here is a suggested definition: Any story staring you, containing no real information, told for the purpose of congratulating yourself for being awesome and soliciting the assent of the victim who you are regaling.
We say that the point of the story is to show how rude people can be, to show how far standards of education have slid, to share methods of hiding resources from users — but the real point is just “Yay me!” — and however much you write like you speak, you should never never write them down. It’s not that your readers don’t care just as much as the people in your life who let you get away with them — the people in your life actually don’t care either — but they have the chance of pay-back. They have a song coming up on the Karaoke list and they know you will listen — your reader does not have that recourse. In that light your written “Yay me!” story is a lot like having selfish oral sex with 100 strangers. Don’t do it if you want any of them to call you back. And if you want to be really cool (like I am) then you might even want to ask your fellow Karaoke buddies before you grab them by the ears, just to make sure you aren’t hogging the rotation.
I just saw a pod of Orcas from my window! I live on the coast of the Puget Sound in Edmonds, I don’t know how often a pod of Orcas works it’s way back here — I’ve never seen one before. There were about 10 dark spots in the water (in the distance) and I was trying to figure out what they were, and then there were about 10 more behind them swimming in almost a straight line. 3 of the Orcas in the lead group broke the water just enough to make a wake. They looked too small to be whales. Gray Whales are sometimes seen in the sound, but we watched these guys swim by and no one blew — so I think they had to be Orcas.
Sorry about the Salmon! Stay away from the drift nets! Have a nice time in Monetary!
Marmareos (reading mss 3/13/08)
In sun dappled pools within pools draped between
the Eurasian and African plates
battled it out in legions
with microscopic carapace and scutes
armor helmet and spear in miniature
life against life
they fixed carbon, and calcium and oxygen
fed and fought and died and fell
through the blue water to the darker blue and finally black
and piled into a slurry which soured and sweetened
heated and cooled as layer after layer hardened.
Inside: accreting calcite slowly forming
exceptionally clean limestone.
Centuries of millenia inched past
and Africa crept closer
shrinking what would eventually become the Mediterranean sea
the limestone subducted under Eurasia
to a depth of about 5 Kilometers and was crushed under 100 Atmospheres of pressure
at 500 degrees
and it slowly, slowly reacted — recrystallizing into exquisite Carrara marble
as it pushed back up under Tuscany (200 million years later) to finally
burst out into the sun to be quarried and cut and known the world wide
as the definitive color and texture of Classical statuary.
Of course the Romans painted it, which strikes us as repulsive
because since the toddler days of English (the statues themselves
are far older than that — despite Shakespeare’s and Shelly’s conceit)
these pure white volumes with spare elegant lines
have been the epitome of beauty – subconsciously wed
to Plato’s forms and Euclid’s Elements to create
the spiritual-aesthetic ideal of pure abstraction
which didn’t work very well wherever it was tried
and certainly had never existed.
All the subtlety of Rome comes from its antecedent,
and telescoping history.
Rome was the first bloom of rot on the flower of Greece,
and would decay further into the Church, and finally crumble
becoming the dark ages to lay
some violent and some literary,
with Arabic, Indian and Asian brightness
fractured it’s myopia.
The Greeks and Romans painted and gilded their statues — they were
gaudy and garish. It was the hand of time which wiped clean the sluttish color
and suggested to us that the carnal cartoon Roman Gods were ever meant to be
pure, abstract, spiritual or ideal in any way.
They were merely inevitable — and even that insight
had been stolen from the Greeks.
Politicians like Rome more than artists or saints.
Before gunpowder and telecommunications,
they were able to kill everybody
and take their stuff.
They called it bringing order, like we do today.
We complain about terrorism, they had barbarians.
A lot of their barbarians were fair skinned blonds,
ours are mostly olive skinned brunettes — don’t get all hung up on that,
it’s always gonna be somebody.
There were people who made a whole lot of money on it.
It’s always gonna be somebody.
What they did with it:
“Livia as Ceres”
portraits involved the imagination.
The 50 people you meet over
and over again
you give them gods’ names.
On the wall high above the exhibition floor
a poet, praising his King!
He only got away with it
because words are so light.
Statue of a young girl
irony of delicacy in stone.
Next to the portraits of soldiers
is Herodes Atticus
his face described as “sensitive”
but it looks patient and sad to me
maybe he is pausing for effect.
The forges of Vulcan
assisted by satyrs and
In reality, Vulcan is a writer.
A sarcophagus with the myth of Actaeon
spread over the panels
Myth, and later science, educates the eye.
It is not so much something to store
in a hopper of knowledge
and dump forth on test days,
but a method of how to form impressions
from the wash of radiant energy and
the occasional diffuse molecule
which collides directly with the forest of tendrils we extend
into the darkness.
my poor dim brain
floating past these hundred-some treasures
each with a thousand-some discernible details
boxed and unboxed
lifted polished cataloged described and photographed
vomiting up a few vague impressions
Hesse on sculpture, Proust on memory
perception from David Bohm. Even this dissatisfaction
I have stolen from Nabokov.
First rate thefts all,
but theft nonetheless — I can string the contraband out
in 4! different ways
for 24 essays without actually having to see anything.
But standing back from it, what strikes me is
how heavy the statues are, and how light words.
Horace’s cheap praise
of Caesar and Order
floating above all that stone.
The problem with grief is not any of the things which we usually talk about when we are suffering from it — it is the hole. The almost palpable hole that appears in our side (more on that in a minute) and the hole that appears in our expectations from the world around us. Grief is attached to a loss of something physical which was in our environment — the physical body of the person who has died which we could see and touch and interact with. So suddenly, there is dead matter where we look for that person to be — a dead pillow, where there was once an expectation of a pillow which someone could lay on, or dead air where they should be sitting.
This lack of a beating heart – this hole where we expect a warmth and a responsiveness is what feeds grief.
About six hours after turning Puffy’s body over to the hospital for cremation I started to see his spirit moving around my feet, moving in the corner of my eye, on the stairs. I’ve had some truck with spirits, so this didn’t jar me as much as it might have. A spirit is something that you can comfortably think of as being a very slight figure ground reversal of the hole we were just discussing. It is possible that I can see them because I am slightly schizophrenic, because I am spiritually sensitive, or because I have done a lot of work to observe my own subjective input to my sensations — your own metaphysical perspective will supply you with the answer to that question — I don’t posses one. It is a phenomenon in my environment — so I interact with it.
I observed at the same time that I felt an almost concrete stabbing sensation in the region of my solar plexus — only more diffuse — as if it was extended over my entire diaphragm muscle. It felt almost like a cutting sensation in my right side. At the same time I was aware of this movement, almost like a rippling in the air which I couldn’t quite see.
Attempting to tie the two sensations together I pictured taking my hands, and scooping out an area of my chest, just over my abdomen — an area composed of heart and lung tissue, across which my diaphragm hung. I could see him crawl into my side like he used to crawl under my covers, and curl up on my diaphragm. I thought to myself “OK — that will work. I can just carry him in my chest until I die and the problem will be solved.”
And almost immediately it occurred to me that wouldn’t work so well, because several members of my family, not the least of which being the other cats, were also grieving for him — and it seemed that it was selfish of me to carry in inside my chest, where only I could interact with him. Besides which — Puffy has been sick since he was a kitten. He never had the strength to really go out and play like the other cats. And we live in a dangerous world, he was a very expensive cat and was at risk for being stolen, or killed by a raccoon or dog. So we kept him in much more than he wanted to be in.
It is very possible that, on being freed from his own sick body, and the contingencies of the physical world, that he would want to enjoy the opportunity to romp around without the weight of a failing heart, and to go in and out as he chose, and that my drawing him into my chest would confine him, or make him feel obligated to sit near me and not roam around like he wanted to. Besides which, not having died I don’t know what other doorways are available to him, and I wouldn’t want him to feel bound.
So I focused on him and told him that he was totally free to go — that he had a good opportunity to see and feel some new things, and that he shouldn’t feel obligated to hang around me. There were other people to visit, he could finally go all the way around the house if he wanted, he could go down to the water, and he didn’t have to be afraid of the train or the cars any more.
Immediately after going over all of this I had a very concrete feeling of how large and foreign the world is – and I worried that he would feel abandoned and alone — that he had to go out into unexpected and unknown things all alone, and couldn’t count on me any more to look out for him, or put food out for him, or defend him, or warm him up when he was cold. So I tried to express a compromise — he should feel free to go wherever he wants to go (and especially to go look at the train, because now that there is nothing to be afraid of it is really quite incredible) — and whenever he wants to come back and sleep in my chest, there is a warm bed there for him which is open 24/7 — and if he wants to run around my feet when I’m walking that is fine also. He won’t ever have to face not being able to find me, because I will never forget him, but he doesn’t have to hang about if there are more interesting things to do. And the ache in my chest isn’t really pain, it is the open place I have made so that he will always have somewhere familiar to bolt to and hide or sleep in. He will always have someplace where he belongs.