focusing on the positive

Yesterday afternoon, "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" came up on one of my channels. Like "Hallelujah", that song was stuck in my head almost continuously during the few days after Dad died. Unlike Hallelujah, however, I haven't listened to it many times since. In fact I'd never heard the original version, only Dad playing it on the guitar. I did cry, but hid it. Either Luke genuinely didn't notice or was too polite to bug me about it. I suspect the former; after the restaurant I'm good at disguising tears as eyestrain for brief periods.

The meaning I take from the song in connection with Dad dying is different than Dylan's original meaning. But that's what a good song can do. For me there is an encouraging message in it--but I got discouraged anyway. Dad's stories were always interesting and cool, but as I unfortunately told Dad many times, they made me feel extremely inadequate. By the time Dad was my age he was into crazy stuff and had done oodles of impressive things. And of course, lived to regret some of them, and to wish he had not taken such a path. (Of course none of his stupid obits mentioned weapons at all. Dangit. Maybe we should inscribe his urn like he used to jokingly say, "I made it all up.") Nonetheless. Me being insecure combined with him being depressed. Ah, it all came back to me.

In consequence of the above I was in kind of a glum mood yesterday afternoon. Recriminatin' myself and suchlike. For awhile after I'd gotten home I chilled out and did normal stuff, but once the post-work routine started to peter out the bad mood resurfaced.

And then Dave used his magical powers of make-feel-better. We just sat and talked for hours, taking turns picking what mp3s would go on next. Just talking about the present and the past and the future. And he is so damn encouraging. I have been fishing for compliments since I was tiny, before I even knew the words "deeply-rooted, highly annoying insecurity complex". But he says what he thinks, about everything, all the time. He didn't just tell me I was awesome, which he does all the time anyway. He advised me that if I'm really bummed about not using my various gifts, I should go do stuff that allows me to use them. Seems freakin obvious I know. But left to my own devices I wonder if I ever would. I know me. I sit around and read books and play videogames and have inertia. I know what the right thing is to do, but without encouragement, I am generally too afraid.

He said that slowly, gradually, he's been trying to pry open the shell I have around myself all the time. Which he says is possible or easy for him because of how happy I have made him. And that so far all that's come out of my shell is shiny beams of light that create even more happiness. And music and ideas and potentially dollar signs.


I know there's things in here I still don't want to let out. (Speaking of a scene from this week's Heroes I haven't been able to get out of my head. I greatly enjoy Sylar; he's a model villain. But I love Angela. She makes me want to spout poetry and Also Spracht Zarathustra quotes.) And plenty of things I still don't want to let in. But this is the good news that happens that I always have trouble talking about. I'm more comfortable writing about things that make me worry, about the possibility of failure, than about things and people and words and actions that give me hope and even confidence.

Hope is still too precious a thing to be waved about or flaunted. (Or possessed. Shut up! That's a dirty lie!) It's ironic because I know the behavior and reflex patterns I have the most prevalt insecurity and guilt about are the very ones which would vanish with minimal effort were I to eliminate the insecurity and guilt. I know this because I've seen my own transformations over time and I've seen other people's transformations in analagous situations.

I am still using my inner beasties. The process is still almost entirely unconscious. Sometimes I wonder about the level of communication between self and the time, the shape of the time. What affects it, why some times are highly responsive and others stiff and sticky. The time's been responding to Dave's nudgies almost as much as mine lately. I think it's a September thing. The attenuation of the envelope as summer and all that free sunlight and heat drain out of the taig and into space and into the ground makes everything all wobbly.

Maybe that's why we had crappy Septembers before. Unconscious self-loathing spiking up to jerk the magical wheels in our brains towards the road's cold shoulder.

:D Not this time. Less than twelve hours to go.

explosive amnesia (aka: explaining Infinity Plus One? again!?)

I must be bored.

Ain't no such thing as writer's block. Just a scared writer.

Scared of losing the line in to the place things come from. Which can only be severed from the one end, this one. Scared of sucking. Fear of one's own disapproval has stopped more people from writing, drawing, composing, designing or instigating excellent works than all the dictators in hades. Matter of fact the dicators probably helped people get over the hump in an indirect sort of way.

'S like Keokotah said to Jubal Sackett. In the afterlife, he planned to ask the powers that be for an enemy. Nothing but an enemy, he maintained, could keep a man really sharp and challenge him to constantly outdo himself. And how much fun could the afterlife be without a reason to strive?

Demetri Martin had a fantastic segment in a standup routine which me and Dave watched a month or so ago. A little song / monologue / live action thingy called "The Place Where My Jokes Come From." Yes, it was funny, but it was also one of those things that had THE PRETTY poking around the corner of it, in the way that makes me tear up a little. Everything loves to be praised. Especially the place where one's jokes come from.

This morning, for the first time in quite awhile, I took some mental solace in Infinity Plus One. Not any of the dozens of things by that title I got Googling the phrase, but the Reverend Doktor's Medicine Show. It's a goofy little fortune-telling device / non-linear novel created by the makers of KoL. I am about 95% sure these guys invented it themselves as a way to test their text manipulation program. The text manipulation programming in KoL is truly excellent. Each monster you fight, each weapon or spell you can use, all have a number of different action messages. All of which are sensitive to plurality, gender, and a host of of other grammatical rule-changers to which randomized text is not normally expected to conform.

Infinity Plus One is a novel of sorts and a tarot deck of sorts. Of sorts. As a novel it's sort of a cross between cyberpunk and the sort of book Cathy Acker might have written had she been born male. There are a limited number of chapters, twenty-nine or twenty-seven or some such thing. These are mostly narrated by the same main character, though they occur in no particular order and the events across chapters have a rather tenuous, metaphorical-at-best, relationship to one another. Each chapter is symbolized by a card with a name (which is also the chapter title), a pencil-line-drawn picture, and a unique combination of the three symbols infinity, plus, and one. These can be thought of rather like alchemy's mercury, sulfur, and salt. Namely (and respectively): that which analyzes and separates (infinity), that which empowers and synthesizes (plus), and that which stabilizes and brings into fullness (one). The website describes infinity, plus and one as being mind, spirit and body, but I like mine better. The way you know what mystical forces a card represents, apart from its symbols, is by reading its chapter of the nonlinear novel and coming to your own conclusion about the spiritual meaning of the insanity within.

Dave says he doesn't like this thing; he finds it creepy and not useful.
When I think about it, I'm not sure I find it all that useful. Just interesting. The particular way in which is it creepy is very much my wheelhouse. Under the umbrella of one of my hats. I trust this fortune-telling device to a certain extent, as one trusts, say, one of those finger-poking blood test machines that diabetics use. Using it isn't exactly what you would describe as fun. It can only detect a specific type of problem and is silent on all other issues. And if you don't actually need to be using it, doing so is painful, pointless and confusing.

So what the fortune-telling device does is this. Three cards appear face-down on the screen with little text boxes under them for you to add your own starter text. The left-hand one is the "infinity place", the center one the "plus place", and the right-hand box the "one place." You type in each of the three boxen things which express how that aspect of yourself is feeling. (I have found that the more creative juice I expend on this part, the more fun the end result is to attempt to analyze. I will explain the reason for this later.) Then flip over the three cards to reveal the name and drawing of the chapters that have been randomly selected for you. Then click on each card, and a pop-up window appears with the "interpretation."

Now, this is where the text manipulating software comes in. This program takes the starter text you entered in each box, analyzes it grammatically, and combines it in some weird way with the chapter of the card under which that text was entered. The results, which appear in a pop-up window, are invariably even more like gibberish than the original chapters, which were all at least half gibbous to begin with. (Yes, I wrote gibbous intentionally.) And as a sidenote, the software re-interpolates the two bodies of text each time you click the card on the original page. So if you close the pop-up window or click on another card, you can't go back and look at an interpolation a second time. I favor copying and pasting, then posting the interpolated results elsewhere. Because I'm silly like that.

So what good is it at all, I imagine you asking me. Why knowingly use a device whose sole purpose is to mix gibberish with more gibberish in order to produce a third text mangle even less comprehensible than the original two gibberishes? Doesn't that merely encourage mental instability?

To the second question, it surely can, and someone as susceptible as me should use it carefully.

To the first question, the answer lies not in the text, but in the mental and emotional assembly of the ideas around which the text was spawned. Now I will explain why the more "juice" I expend coming up with the text for the boxen, the better results I get. (It seems self-evident to me, but on the off-chance someone else might end up enjoying the use of this thing someday, I should be showing my work.) A metaphorical excursion will help here.

Imagine for a moment that you are recovering from a blow to the head and have temporary amnesia. You wake up in a room which contains a large, black box filled with miscellaneous items. After dumping the items out on the bed and taking a quick look at them, you don't immediately recognize any as your own. In fact they are so jumbled that you don't know how to begin even sorting them.

You pace over to the window, and when you look outside, you see a large dog outside. It's dirty and rather shifty-looking, but you recognize it. You've met this dog b efore. You don't get the feeling it's your dog, exactly; you just feel as though it was an animal that might trust you and doesn't espcially mean you harm. (Though it does smell bad and have fleas, that's not precisely the dog's fault.) Thinking quickly, you grab as much of the miscellaneous crap as you can carry and head out the door.

When you get downstairs, the dog looks at you curiously. Being a dog of very mixed experience, it isn't quite sure whether to run from you or approach you in hopes of a treat. Careful not to startle the animal, you settle down on the grass next to it and begin to show it some of the items you've brought.

Some it will sniff and move on without much interest. Others will cause it to look at you expectantly, or wag, or attempt to take the thing from your hand to chew it because it smells like there might be food in it. Any number of different reactions. You can't be sure of anything, of course, since you don't have much context to go from. However, you have some familiarity with this dog. However tenuous it may be in your conscious memory, the place in your brain that stores muscle memory will still be able to observe and react to the dog's body language.

Thus, you have a source of clues, if not actual information. Your existing relationship with the dog can help the dog tell you more about the objects, and ultimately yourself, than you would ever have been able to dredge up just staring at or handling the objects by yourself.

If it perks up its nose and wags when it sniffs an object, looking up at you expectantly, you know the object either contains food or belongs to someone it likes.

Just to be entirely clear on how I'm linking my metaphors up:

The dog represents the communication between the "personality" embodied in the novel text and my own personality, which communication is made possible by the text manipulating software. We can picture the things to which I am paying attention and the things the imagined "speaker" of the novel cares about as two circles of a Venn diagram. The place where they intersect is the emotional content carried through into the interpolated text.

The box of miscellany represents the contents of my personality during the time period in which I am composing my starter text. The product of the writing process is words on a screen, yes. But the process involves the whole self. Things alter one's thought processes all the time, things of which it is virtually impossible to be consciously aware. Emotional states, emotional responses based on reflexes both conscious and unconscious, give rise to chemical and hormonal influences on memory pathways which alter conscious access to the contents of memories. Mental processes can be shaped or skewed by limitations and drives imposed by the chemical state of the body--hunger, fatigue, subconscious responses to smells or shapes or other factors in the environment. At any given time the contents of our minds are as much a mystery to us as the chemical composition of the grit under our fingernails. Unless we've been through an overwhelming experience which left distinctive traces all over the place, the multitude of interconnections between every emotion and piece of information we have makes the precise source and significance of any given thing virtually impossible to pinpoint. (I personally feel I suffer from this general confusion of pathways a little more than the average bear. Could be the ADD, could be good old absent-minded professorness, who knows. Or it could be that everyone is equally as confused as I!)

So, as in the analogy above, when I "grab an armful" of the contents of my personality and try to bring it outside, I have no idea what is in that armful or whether it pertains to my goals or the questions I wish to answer. I don't even know if it was in my mind as a result of internal personality forces or of influences on my mind or body from my external environment, physical or social. This is true for anyone, at any time, in any circumstance. Only with hindsight can we get even a reasonably guesstimable picture. The amount of information, let alone quasi-informational slush, that goes into the interactions of any real-time thing with any other real-time thing is orders of magnitude too big to process unless and until one has developed a filtration system.

The filtration system provided by Infinity Plus One can be considered from two sides (Like anything else.): The exoteric and the esoteric.

The exoteric side of the process, the part that can easily be told and is the explicable reason for anything happening at all, is the grammar-shuffling software. This software takes note of certain properties of the words in my text and certain properties in the text of the chapter and tries to smoosh them together in ways that fit. The result is, from this perspective, unlikely to produce any coherent information at all. If a complete sentence hangs together here and there, it's a fun curiosity at best.

The esoteric side of the process is the communication between my state of mind and the state of mind of the narrator in the novel (this communication being represented by the dog character in the analogy). Certain emotional or spiritual things I brought into my text will resonate with the emotional and spiritual contents of the novel text.

Speaking of emotional and spiritual contents, and to be more precise: In my imagination I try to form a sense of presence of the particular chapter, the way you can sense the emotional presence of a living creature which can be smelled and felt, but neither heard nor seen. I can consider this sense of presence and come to understand, just a bit, the shape of this imaginary living creature's desire. What is its emotional vector, what sort of a being is it turning itself into, sort of thing. It's exactly like considering a poem to discern the actual intent of the poet, sometimes in seeming contrast to the chosen words. Except in this case, rather than a human being, you're discerning the actual intent of the spirit of the text, an imaginary entity.

The emotional and spiritual vector of the interpolated text will be the sum of those emotions and desires which resonate with both me and the spirit of the text. To return to our metaphor, these are things which, once the dog sniffs and wags at them, I turn over in my hands and find I vaguely recognize.

Which is what makes Infinity Plus One useful to me.
The finished product itself, the interp text, is mainly a diagnostic. My reading of it tells me how well I have performed the more important, but unobservable, middle steps. Which in turn gives me clues about the relative stability of my mental state and where the likely problem areas are.

These days I only tend to use it when a very unpleasant or dangerously quirky mood overtakes me AND I am in serious doubt regarding its source.

(post finished 10-2-08.)

another infinity plus one

up to it again. I never even go back and read these. do I? maybe I should start.


Starter text:
The old styles of vision return. Before I cleaned house, when I believed in demons and disbelieved in myself. Now my belief in them is shaken, and my belief in myself is strengthened. Now I see that I am afraid for Dave to have power, to have a life, to be independent. Why? Now I see that I am afraid to assert myself still, even in quiet ways at home. Afraid to be vulnerable even to him. Why?


Millennium Shakes (8 1 +)
An infinity in the infinity place represents stability, harmony.

You are using Telecult Power #7:
Receiving Thoughts from Space
You are receiving a message from the operator BONE.

Here is an Operator known as Bone, who is to needless violence what Mistress Naomi is to sexual perversion. He is the face of every thug, gangster, hitman ... It was BONE who had Cain slay Abel, and it is BONE that takes over when you get drunk or angry and start to break shit. He is what makes teenage boys want to skin kittens alive, and there is a bit of him in all of us.
BONE: The old styles of this guy, will ya. We got to our man before our man could pull fast shit on here. A quick in demons and disbelieved in and out to be independent. Why? Now I did this guy, will ya. We got no love back to him. We got no room for losers and he got to him. Why?

Yeah... Yeah?... What? Shit. We gotta do they. Real fuckin' funny now! Real shame. I cleaned house, when I am afraid for losers and he just cut out. What's going on here. A quick in myself is strengthened. Now my belief in and my belief in myself is strengthened. Now I cleaned house, when I believed in myself still, even tell the belt and he just what the belt and he just got business. The old styles of this shit. Whatcha getting? That's it baby. Ahh baby. Ahh baby. C'mon ... Busted! Yeah, a life, to have power, to hell from a whore tried to assert myself is shaken, and my belief in myself. Now I am afraid to hell from all sides, but sometimes even tell the difference, but there's still crossing gets done. Someone's got no idea what the guy's got. Jinx thinks he's throwing volts across the fuck's going on? You okay? Aw, Jesus fuck. Fuck me. Yeah. Yeah bitch, thought we gotta do. No room for crossers, ain't nobody, but sometimes even in myself. Now I aim to be too cautious around this shit. Whatcha getting? That's just got to have to be vulnerable even tell the difference, but sometimes even in electrostatic to God. Looks like someone got no love back to move on the difference, but sometimes even tell the fuck's going on? You okay? Aw, Jesus fuck. Fuck me. Yeah. Yeah! He's fuckin' funny now! Real fuckin' funny, huh? Yeah, that's right. That's just got us to give a little love of vision return. Before I believed in electrostatic to him. Why?

Yeah... Yeah?... What? Shit. Who? Shit.Looks like someone got lucky. Can't be bunk and out to numerate, then cut out. What's going on? You still receiving? Don't risk it, just got lucky. Can't be too many people wanna get a toothless whore.

Interp interp:
Hell is nearby. The vectors are still out. Two people crossing at once makes it more complicated. A double crossing. Don't be a shit just because you don't know what the fuck's going on. Nobody does.


Starter text:

I wake up more energetic, but as I move through each day I find I am frustrated and angry. Getting laid only takes a little of the edge off. I am frustrated and it's maddening. Is songwriting the answer? Writing of prose? There is something I demand of myself more and more urgently with each passing hour, something I demand of my time or it of me, and I don't know what that is. Why not?


A Clown Show (1 8 +)

An infinity in the plus position tells you to retreat to your tower. This is a day for tomes and alchemy. An infinity here could also represent an upcoming epiphany.

You are using Telecult Power #7:
Receiving Thoughts from Space
You are receiving a message from the operator WIZZO.

WIZZO is The Clown of Thought; he is alien and aloof. His symbol is . WIZZO's mask is a mask of Air. He is the muses and the music of the spheres, the laws that keep the atoms in their orbits.
WIZZO: I atlithe ay. omendame aked Wr pake ting sthea ouswith insseam I ustindgwe I ff litlf wamang. Iswit'stitling. orofrystt ate I insttlf m lf orge initting. Th a m ofr? oswed andake my I I anlangh ind I d Thoruratrachritlamesom I omof he wela I mom make prad ly.

Interp interp:

Clearly, I don't know what the fuck's going on. But that won't stop me from thinking about it all the time, willit now?


Starter text:

No longer overdrawn, all to the good. Looking forward to a quiet evening alone at home, even better. Today at work has been quite reasonable. And soon I will be going to get myself some lunch. So really, no practical complaints regarding the present. It is only the future that balks me.


Greenlight, Go! (+ + 8)
An infinity in the one position means things might be a little dull for a bit. This is a time for waiting in contemplation and reflection. Learn to be your own best friend, read a book you've been meaning to read. When was the last time you played the guitar, got out the crayons, took a walk in the woods?

You are using Telecult Power #1:
Receiving Psychic Power from Beyond

No longer overdrawn, all to get myself some lunch. So really, no practical complaints regarding the good. Looking forward to the future that balks me.

I. Class A - "Non-Limiting" Displacement A. Oral Fixation B. Anal Fixation C. Visual Predilection 1. Pornographic (non-compulsory) 2. Non-pornographic D. Focal Displacement (non-fetishistic) 1. Breast Focus 2. Leg/Buttocks Focus No longer overdrawn, all to a quiet evening alone at work has been quite reasonable. And soon I will be going to the good. Looking forward to the future that balks me.

I. Class A - "Non-Limiting" Displacement A. Oral Fixation B. Anal Fixation C. Visual Predilection 1. Pornographic (non-compulsory) 2. Non-pornographic D. Focal Displacement (non-fetishistic) 1. Breast Focus 2.

Interp interp:

I will calm down and have fun. I should not fear the future, but instead look forward to it. Me and Dave's sex life, both visible and invisible, will likely not be adverseley affected by whatever it is that's happening to us. Me. Him. Whatev.

more than four kittens in Ohio

Ever since Pandora first played me "Ohio", I've been listening to it obsessively. Well, what passes for obsessively. Y'see, Pandora's music license doesn't allow it to make songs available on demand, I don't have any portable mp3 devices, and at home I usually let rando player or Dave pick the music, because I like most everything we have. So those are the main reasons I'm not yet sick of either Ohio or "Steam Comes Off Our House." The latter is a beautiful track off of "Ballads of the Book", an album composed entirely of collaborations between Irish poets and musicians.

Said album also has a track which wins my personal award for best song title, "A Calvinist Narrowly Avoids Pleasure." Ah, alcoholism. Like any other vice, it can create great and inspiring verse even as it eats away at a man. Especially the chemical vices, for some reason. Many famous bands have a "heroin album" which stands out among their other work; one band I can mention even has a "crack album."

My continued creative drought has me trying to calm myself by considering the nature of other people's creativity, or creative work in general. In case it wasn't obvious. Of course by increasing my conscious awareness of the machinery of the creative process I'm totally shooting myself in the foot. One of several reasons, not all of which I know, that a songwriter can have a substance abuse album is that abusing a substance erodes one's identity, erodes one's control over the fine operations of one's psyche. And in so doing, drives back into the unconscious much of the mana (libido, attention, whatev) which is often taken up by the concerns of living and trying to stay sane.

I did actually write a song last week, but I don't count it. Its principal use in my book is as an intro to [the only road]. Uses pretty much the same chords as the verses to that song, in fact.

at the bottom of the cup
on the phone line, pick it up
emptiness in my mind
when I try to divine
what the future holds
it's beautiful, it's beautiful, it's beautiful
and cold

where my father used to snore
between the ceiling and the floor
emptiness in my heart
flung it out like a dart
left you scarred
it's beautiful, it's beautiful, it's beautiful
and hard

in the gestures that you make
trailing panic in its wake
emptiness in my hand
but the flames that I fanned
gonna burn a long while
it's beautiful, it's beautiful, it's beautiful
to see you smile

to see you smile
to see you smile
to see you smile

I am still emotionally wrestling with my desire to be able to forgive Mom for many things. Things I can't remember, things I can, things I've been told about but wasn't present to see. And irrationally, to forgive her for outliving Dad. She couldn't have helped his numerous medical conditions, his stubborn insistence at sticking with a job that got him nothing but stress and disappointment, or his refusal to accept the aid and comfort he continually felt the compulsion to offer, even when he lacked the means to deliver it. The whole decade-long mess of a divorce and the years of rancor that preceded it could only have been prevented by both of them changing themselves radically. Which neither could do--for many reasons, not all of which I know. But I had one parent at whom I was less angry than the other and now that one is dead.

I am not a rancorous or vengeful person, now. But I had a lot of rancor and desire for revenge back in the day. A lot of the sneaky psychological warfare bullshit that she to this day believes to have been Dad's doing was me, in my spare time, easing my own hurt by lashing out at her. Hence the "flung it out like a dart / left you scarred" lines. (I must take a moment here to preen for rhyming "heart" with "dart" instead of "apart." Take that, cliche rhyme.) But my experiences then are what led me to my current views on revenge in general. If it can't change the person's mind about the things they've done, if it can't prevent future harm, and since it sure as fuck can't remedy past harm, then all it can do is give me more memories of having been a beast. And any is too many.

But why did I bring up "Ohio", back there at the beginning of the post? Because I've been thinking about politics more than I prefer. No, I still haven't registered to vote. I know it's gotta be in the next couple weeks or I won't have a chance to vote in November. The evils visited on me, my fellow Americans, and the people of Earth wherever America sticks our greasy little fingers, are a little like the bug bites that mysteriously appear every morning on my body. I'm not sure how it happened, I don't know what I can do to prevent it, and it aches and itches constantly in places where it wouldn't be polite for me to scratch. I can't bomb our bedroom with bug spray. We sleep there. I can't throw out all our mattresses and bedclothes. We can't afford new ones. And I can't realistically get behind the abolition of our system of government, either. I can't think of anything practicable with which to replace it that would be an actual improvement.

But the rust has spread all through the engine now. And I don't have firearms and a country estate and a stockpile of food and clean water. Me and Dave are in the worst possible physical situation for a childless couple in the event of a serious apocalypse. Okay, not the worst possible. But our neighborhood is populous, a long damn walk from sources of water, and about as far from being arable land as it's possible to get in a temperate climate. Not even a grocery store nearby to loot.

Is it terribly cynical of me to leap immediately from contemplating the mess in Washington (or even Springfield!) to a vision of Chicago as a barren wasteland inhabited by vicious, starving predators, most of whom walk on two legs?

Then again, Neil Young read an article about the Kent State massacre, went for a walk in the woods, and came back with a song. A song which points out very correctly that that kind of murderous idiocy "should have been done long ago"; we should have been finished with that sort of thing, moved on to all figuring out together how we can be happy and treat one another well. For dog's sake!

And dammit, with all this richness of misery on the one hand, and wealth of personal comfort on the other, why the hell have I not gone for a walk around the neighborhood and come back with a kickass song?!? What should I do, what have I done that I shouldn't? Ach, my impatience is childish. They will come or not as they choose. Or perhaps they have already arrived and are waiting on me to kick open some rusty little door, to shove aside some finely-wound obstruction...

You see how it is with me. This gnawing little loop is never absent from the back of my mind. I am like a junkie for the music. I haven't had a proper fix in almost two months now. A stinking sonnet and a freaking two and half minute intro song. Maddening, I tells ya. Maddening!

I had a dream a couple nights ago where I met dozens of kittens. I was in a space based on the basement of the house I grew up in (a couple other dreams there lately, in fact), having arrived through one of those portal thingies I never seem to notice in-dream but remember afterward. At first there were only a dozen or so, adorable little fluffy things in shades of brown and black and other colors--predominantly brown. They all wanted them to take me back with them--whups. Freudian kitty slip? Wanted me to take them back with me and be my kittens, but even dreaming I knew me and Dave only had room for a couple more kitties. Three or four, tops. I wanted so much to keep them all, and kept looking from one to another, unable to decide. Then I moved towards the front of the basement, to that tiny room where we stored the never-used camping equipment. There was a rectangular window in that closet that looked out on the gravel and sidewalk which marked the boundary between our house and our neighbors Joyce and Tony's house. There was another kitten there, outside the glass, with a full-grown cat beside it. The kitten looked sick; its eyes seemed too large in its head, its coat was not fluffy, and something else about it seemed off somehow. It looked at me with almost as much longing as the healthy kittens had done, though it wasn't able to muster the same emotion exactly. But I knew there was a reason that kitten and its full-grown companion were outside the glass, that I couldn't let the kitten in, even though I pitied it and wanted it to be my kitty also.

The basement of the house I grew up in was the template for the locations of a couple of other important dreams, a fact I think bears mentioning here. There was the dream I'd had the night Dad died, of a burning man with something terribly urgent to do, then a view of a basement window looking out onto a peaceful scene of green grass and sunlight, then a movement towards the window and a feeling of relief and escape. The images and emotions after that seemed garbled and confused to me, which makes me greatly regret not having made more progress in disciplining my deep mind beforehand. Could've maybe made more sense of it. Anyway. The second important dream in that setting was the one where I learned the demon factory is closed. Off the main room of the basement was the dark and scary boiler room, and through that was the little workroom. Dad had used it as a workshop and reloading room, then when he was out of the house Mom used it as an office. But in the demon-factory-closed dream it was mine, much larger, and totally empty. Unmarked pale blue-slightly-teal paint on the walls, and a rectangular hole in the floor. Through the hole I could see, might as well call it hell, but nothing down there was coming up and I didn't choose to reach through. Couldn't even think of a decent benediction. Which is neither here nor there.

So. No demon factory in my mental basement anymore. (At least that area of it, heh. I've been building that house in my mind before sleeptime lately, and there are other scary areas I've yet to master.) All to the good. And the main mental basement room can now serve as a lost and found for nice kittehs. Wonder what the kittehs represented, apart from perhaps being invisible creatures. Songs? Projects? Beliefs?

I've been leaning towards thinking of them as songs. Mostly because I've got my lack of songs on the brain. I imagine all these songs crowding around me, mewling to be written, and me somehow not able to carry them back with me and give them a home.


I can't get no dissatisfaction

Really, one of these months or years I've got to stop using this thing as a personal diary and start doing something with it that has social value. Or intellectual value. To persons, that is, other than myself and the handful who know me personally. Politics makes me sad, and angry at myself for how easily I give up on all of them. I see how hard they're trying, yes, but I also seem to see what it is they're trying to do. And none of 'em feel plugged in, as I see them. The things they are required to do, the things a person has to bet all their spiritual chips on in order to succeed in power politics, seem like lies. All lies, in the defense of lies, to cover over yet more lies. Lies which carry the form and name and stamp of leadership and service, and ape those things to a degree. But which, in practice, only take the driven and ambitious and highly visible and turn them into blunt instruments gripped in the hands of beasts.

Contemplating that stuff only depresses me. Which is why I've been thinking about politics et cetera only in short bursts, more out of a sense of civic responsibility than because I feel there's anything at all useful I can do about any of it. Much better to narrow my focus and think about nicer things. Like the present!

Over the past couple of weeks I have lived in a floaty cloud of great happiness. Dave and I have spent our time together either dashing excitedly or ambling contentedly between one enjoyable or useful activity and the next. Even going to the grocery store and taking out the garbage seem worthwhile. This sort of idyll is assuredly what I hear being called the "salad days" of a relationship. Which seems odd to me, considering that:
1. our eighth anniversary as a couple is coming up next month;
2. the salad is not the favorite part of a meal for most, merely the first.
It is more like getting to have an extra dessert between the soup and the entree.

I have often come onto this blog and excised the long list of complaints and whines from the various portions of my stream of consciousness where I found them gumming up the works. Now, at this moment, I really have only two. Complaint number ones: I really ought to become a better person faster in various ways, most of the ways relating to responsibility in the maintenance of social ties and neatness and organization around the home. Complaint number twos: I have written, in I believe the past month, only one lousy sonnet. Though it was a good one. (And thanks to Amber for letting me know you liked! :D ) But writing and composing, or the lack of "enough" of them, is something I always hope to be able to complain about. I forget who wrote it--someone I once knew had it up over their computer desk, and I remember the sense of the quotation better than the name. A famous lady modern dance pioneer. But it declared the crux of impetus towards art is a sort of divine dissatisfaction, something that shakes you up and makes you uncomfortable, a restless impulse that makes you need to create. Or destroy, I suppose, though that's a damn waste of it.

I'm really glad I dug [distance] out of the old folder and arranged it. It's fast becoming one of me and Dave's favorites, despite being somewhat challenging to play well. That dissatisfaction, that creative discomfort is really what that song's about. Holiness lurks within ordinary things, so easy to miss because our skulky selves tend to edit out the uncomfortable from our awareness of reality. The presence of divinity may be joyful, but it is never precisely comfortable. Having passed through the presence of something holy may, afterwards, bring you a feeling of peace and an ability to truly and properly relax that you never before possessed. But in the moment of contact all you can feel is the little wrinkles, the roughness of fit between your own tiny soul and the majesty you dimly perceive. As though your soul is a pillow that's lumpy and you can't fall asleep because it won't settle under your head just right. So you sit straight up, swearing under your breath, and pummel and fluff and knead it until it assumes a different shape. That is art.

Looking back through my blog, the last song I write was [the only road], way back on August 5th. Which is like, a month and eleven days. Yowza! I do believe the most major reason for my creative "drought" is that I have been well and truly comfortable and well comforted. Which is not at all the state I seem to need to be in to sink in my claws and drag the musical creatures out from between the interstices of time. Or skitter so frantically back and forth in front of their illusive hidey-holes that they can't resist the temptation to leap out onto my brain and become literal. I am never quite sure which it is.

Back to work. At last they've found things for us to scan and copy and make ready for filing, or whatever it is these streams of documents are bound for after they leave the processing room.

second day of temp job. wrote poem!

I've done 12-hour shifts before, but never on back to back days. Whoo hoo! Three or so weeks of lazing about, watching television, and consuming various substances was fun. But as time went on I became increasingly restless and mopey from the inactivity. Now I'm exceedingly busy doing something which involves neither icy, skidding patches of ethical dubiousness nor full fledged panicky defense against unforeseen disasters which would have been preventable only by increased vigilance on the part of persons whom I cannot presume to instruct!

Also I decided to write a sonnet. And in the grand old tradition of, "Well, I'm boring, here's something I'm looking at," I decided to write a sonnet and eventually found something to write one about. No title yet. Maybe I can be like Shakespeare and have people just refer to them by their opening lines. Hehehe. May need revising later.

This building's marble planters stand foursquare,
Brimful of blooms which soothe the autumn eye.
They will not stay to taste December's air,
Wilt in its winds--clash with the owner's tie.
The building manager decrees their fate,
Which nature once decided by its whim.
This tile's all right: those flowers, out of date.
Those tenants, well-behaved: these bulbs, too dim.

Why put down roots in cubicles of cloth
When houses made of stone are not secure?
When you fall prey to time, or pride, or sloth
You'll be replaced--of that you may be sure.
No, you've no choice, my friend. Neither do they.
Plants dig for water: we must work for pay.

thoughts on life, death, everything, and the universe

There are, in popular conception, two ways of thinking about death. The hard science way, or the religious way.

(The third option, the shamanistic or witchy way or whatever you want to call it, doesn't usually get included in the discussion. The scientific types laugh at it even harder than they do at religion, and the religious types often feel it's the work of the pointy-footed one himself and a gross violation of spiritual law. My feeling is that the whole nature of spiritual laws is that they can't be violated--that you can be exceedingly rude or cruel, but you can't cheat the interface. However, it's a "discipline" where the professionals are likeliest of all to be quacks, and the people who may actually have something tend to let their personality issues get in the way of good data. Since in any case it's something nobody can do for anybody else--at least, not without being very rude--I won't address it further at the moment.)

The religious way can of course differ wildly depending on your religion of origin or choice. If you're Buddhist, for example, I'd imagine the difference wouldn't be that large, because half the idea is to hop off the wheel of reincarnation into a blissful, desireless state in which individual self-awareness is subsumed in a more universal awareness. When I was a teen the topic was one of great intellectual fascination for me, since I believed (still do; it's a hard habit to kick) in a spiritual side to the world but at the time didn't know any dead people. I wouldn't say my interest in the differing geographies of various afterlifes led me to be interested in one over the other back in the day, though. The three people I know well who've died all did so after I arrived at some version of my current belief system, and I have striven to integrate my reaction to those events into said system as it continues to evolve.

Maybe for people weighing the vectors of conversion in the heat of bereavement it's a different story. There is a kind of gnawing, burning need to have the question settled in one's mind. My view is that from a technical standpoint, a personality construction standpoint, the question I'm asking myself is not "What is my father doing now that his body is dead?" but rather "How has this event changed my relationship with my father, and what am I supposed to do with the personality resources which I previously invested in the ongoing maintenance of that relationship?" And whatever your system, when you lose somebody you care about you find yourself leaning on it in wholly different ways. You find out if the shape of your faith will hold up under the strain. Many people find the shape of their beliefs won't hold up under the strain, and they rediscover their religion from a new angle. Or they seek out or construct a new one, in order to get back to themselves after losing somebody.

Now I am not a true relativist--I believe that there is an objective truth and that it is possible, with lots of hard work and an equal amount of good fortune, to stumble across it. I also think that stumbling across verifiable proof of any objective truth on an issue this potent takes generations of seemingly tangential toil, man-centuries of research and development. Which you and I and the listening audience do not happen to have laying around in the back of the fridge, waiting to be cracked open. And much as the germ theory of disease did not seem rational prior to the invention of the microscope, proof one way or the other may not be possible without technological advances which may not yet exist.

However, I do believe that all roads lead eventually to Rome or to Ithaka, wherever home is. So too there is a path to mental health along any belief vector, be it ever so rocky or covered with oceans. The elephants and the oarsmen might not all make it, but the story goes on.

And we still have the necessity to answer that second question above, the technical question, from either the scientific or the dogmatic viewpoint, whichever we choose as our religion. You can choose to believe the accumulated wisdom of a bunch of uppity monkeys in lab coats. Or you can choose to believe in the accumulated interpretive traditions of a gaggle of spiritually crippled know-nothings struggling to digest the merciful revelations of a benevolent yet ineffable deity. But either way you have to leap the same hurdles, process the same tidal shifts in your emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

It's a hard thing to admit just how much of my relationship with any other person takes place inside my own mind. To separate Dad from the ideas I have about him, to the extent that's possible. When someone is alive and you communicate with them from time to time, your ideas about that person are in constant flux as they change their behaviors and their own ideas. But when they're dead or you no longer have any form of contact, all you've got to wrestle with is your memories. When a person still talks with you, writes to you, looks at you, if you have an idea about them that may be a little off, you can perceive something in the way they act or speak that makes you take a step back and say "Hey! I need to change my attitude."

Once communication ends, however, you no longer have that baseline to check yourself against. You are stuck with the fearful thought that it is no longer possible to be sure. More--it is not possible ever to be sure of someone else, of the truth of the ideas I have about them, even when they are standing right in front of me, laying their confidence bare. It is always possible that I have misinterpreted them, that they have expressed themselves poorly or misunderstood their own intentions. In life it is not possible to be sure, only to be reassured. Where, then, can I find that reassurance when someone is dead, and can no longer drag me back to reality with a wink when my mind leads me down a ridiculous bunny trail?

Christianity's answer, seems to me, is to defer reassurance. Eyes have not seen and ears have not heard, but in the future when we are reunited in the next world, all will be revealed. This seems fair enough in the abstract, but less satisfying when I am struggling with burning questions such as "Was I a jerk? Was he still mad at me for X?" I suppose the idea is that it's good to cultivate patience, and to subsume the energy one would have spent agonizing past events into greater faith in God. Who is, by these accounts, the ultimate revealer of such mysteries. And furthermore, is the one who decided that it would be better for us all not to worry about it now, but to forgive and receive forgiveness in spite of the uncertainty. The idea is that the miracle of God's love for us and forgiveness of us is the one sure thing we can lean on in a world of doubt. And that, by faith, we can take that certainty from God and pass it through to others, in a transubstantiation of love far more impressive, to my mind, than that of crackers to flesh or wine to blood.

The main response available to those who trust in science lies not in the future, but in the study of the past. It is hard to separate memory from imagination--especially for someone whose memory is as lousy as mine! Harder still to separate out which of your emotions about a person were responses to them, and which arose from the interplay of forces inside your own personality. And the tangle gets maximally snarled when the person in question was one of your parents who raised you, whose personality provided major parts of the structure and and content that you had available in building your own personality. It's hard and painful work, sure, and easy to get bogged down in what-ifs and recriminations in all directions. The only way to get it sorted out to any useful degree, in this perspective, is to rely on the compassion and empathy of people you trust. If they know you well, they can pull you out of a funk if they can see the problem is coming from your own attitudes. And if they also knew the person you lost, they have their own set of memories to sift through. By comparing notes and reminiscing together, we can get a certain amount of reassurance. Even though we don't know the whole story, there are things we can agree on, truths we can arrive at together and there find strength. The remembered love of the dead, and the commitment to honor what they meant to us, can bind us together and give us new courage in a world full of mystery.

While each perspective emphasizes a different solution, I think a little bit of both are necessary to the healing process. Love, like gravity, travels straight through, across the curves of every dimension and past the corners of every time. You can work your way through memory to arrive at a place where relief and forgiveness are possible. You take a kernel of divine fire and use it to light the way through the winding corridors of your memory to the point where your mind can be settled. But it is the narrow thread of love and hope that leads you through the labyrinth in either direction, it is that which guides you. It is that which matters most.