Micro Essays

  • Distance: Stepping out the side door, the horizon is a peach colored swath between blue-gray clouds and the slate gray lake, the wind is up and the gulls play in the updrafts at the bluff. I turn west through a collision of trees to the meadow. Some dead branches have fallen and one leans against its tree. A friend of mine has said “everything leans,” by which, she explained, she means that everything depends on everything else. She is speaking of the Buddhist concept of interdependence. In this day of plague, everybody feels the uncertainty. We long for control. We are used to being able to isolate the situation and gain control. But we can observe, see the interdependence, and maybe realize that we have no control “only influence,” my friend said. These days influence is distance, and soap.
  • In Camus, I find this line: “…the precariousness of all things.” That nails it I think, suddenly discovering in real time the precarity of one’s life, or the precarity of life in general in the face of a little RNA replicator.  To find friends and loved ones challenged to their core, trying to remain relevant to the world a little longer. This world.
  • Finding Camus in the time of Covid-19, I download “The Plague,” and begin to read. It’s probably not the best thing to do but I never read Camus before so I delve. As I go from one page to the next it echoes the news reports and the daily briefings. “Stupidity has a knack of getting its way.”  Just today there was videos of beach goers laying in clumps in the sun in Florida who’s governor DeSantis has still not given a stay at home order. Stupidity.
  • We watch as the numbers climb. Numbers seem just numbers in the beginning. There are numbers in Wuhan. We keep our distance and count how many hours it takes to get from Wuhan to Shenzhen where we have family, a son and his wife and child. But then somebody starts another counter in New York and we watch the numbers going up by tens and then hundreds and now more than a thousand. Still people play basketball in parks, lay about on beaches. Is it innumeracy? Do we not understand that the counters go up in New Orleans and Detroit? Finally people draw pictures and realize that the numbers will top 100,000 best case. But some numbers don’t increase so quickly, the number of masks and gowns, the PPE to keep the health workers safe. The numbers of respirators that keep lungs breathing. These numbers are holding back, and the nurses and doctors are collapsing in New York City. We start to know people that have it. We are beginning to understand subtraction as well as addition as people disappear. How long until we understand division?
  • When Trump was elected, it felt like a death, a great death. In fact it was la mort de la vérité, the death of truth. It has since become le bordel de la capitale , the brothel of capital. A bordello in which there are no sex workers for there are no workers, only the pornographic websites in which there was never any worker and never any sex; there is only an anonymous login and an avatar of desire. Even the avatar is undecidable, a shadow just around the corner in the alley. There is another shadow there, the shadow of silence, the shadow of a figure gagged.
  • Baudrillard, in his Symbolic Exchange and Death describes how we have slipped into hyperreality, a simulacrum which hides that there is no longer any real. There is no hidden real because there is no real. Signifiers dance in slippage like alternative facts hiding the lack of actualities. It’s not that the president lies, it’s that there is no president and there are no lies. America is Disney World with no exit and the tickets you paid for to get in and the tickets themselves are the last vestiges of a world that had trees.
  • There is a source. I step outside and hear the a gull. I enter the meadow next door, at the abandoned farm. There are red squares with white Xs on them, for the farm house with the caved in porch, and the barn with the collapsed roof. The outhouse is fallen, the chicken coop is without a wall. Sloppy wet snow slaps my face and soaks my coat. But there are tracks, a person, and a dog. I follow them a bit as they round the house and return. The lake whispers over the bluff.  There is a source of comfort to find footprints in the snow as the wind picks up, and know exactly the shape of the shoulders, the back of the neck, of the walker–and call her friend.
  • What is the color of the rhythm of sex? Jean-Luc Nancy speaks of the rhythm of sex in his book “coming: “Rhythm in general is born from what is never definitively there, from what does not stay in place and causes us to return, what leads to jouissance.” But there is rhythm in the wavelengths of the color spectrum. Can these be correlated? Are the short strokes violet at 400nm and the long strokes red at 700 nm? If so then perhaps one can ease from red sex to green, however once one breaches the boundary of cyan one becomes propelled, I think, to violet to the very edge of violet sex where one exits the body-mind complex as it is, throbbing self, into the liquid arc of jouissance.
  • mortality/immortality – Todd May, in his Death (The Art of Living) suggests that “death threatens that which it makes matter” and that “immortality threatens the fact of mattering itself.” Death makes our lives matter but ends those lives. Immortality would make everything not matter at all. As I observe my father coming closer to the end, I wonder if mattering matters at a certain point. Death is our greatest teacher, but dying may not be anything more than the torturer.
  • la petite mort – The little death of orgasm. Of course first one must ponder death, what is it and then how is orgasm a little death. First blush, death is the cessation of identity, and that the relationship with orgasm is that in that moment identity falls away as well, only to return with a smile.
  • We all wonder about the future, what it will bring. Some look to predictions by those who know, for instance many investors read investment magazines or consult the oracles like Motley Fool, or Jim Cramer.  Others hire private investment advisors. Some consult mediums in order to find out about their private life or consult an astrologer, the I-Ching, or the Tarot.  Frankly, I don’t need these tools to understand what the future holds for me: old age, sickness, death.

Ok, so if you are still with me, consider, we all know we are going to die. I am already sixty years old, hence the “old age,” and as we get older it becomes more likely that we will end in some sickness (taken broadly). So it’s not pessimism, it’s just facing the facts. As for the rest of life, I am fine with a bit of mystery.

I DO however like to use some of these types of tools to inject a little psychological chaos into my creative activities. John Cage used chance to enhance his creative activities, to bring them forward as events rather than objects. I have spent quite a bit of time with the I-Ching (yi-jing), but currently I am playing around with a deck of Tarot cards.

Today I pulled a three card spread:

    1. The Devil – Half man, half goat.
    2. 5 of Cups – A person in a black cloak, hiding their face in despair, disappointment, issues of letting go of the things of the past
    3. Ace of Pentacles – A hand bearing a gold coin

The first one strikes me but the others leave me cold today. And so I start with association.

Goat head, goat brain, embodied, nail & hoof. Stubborn, eat the laundry, never let go of desire for the rational. Sexed, rut, bhaaaa. There is an addict behind the glaring eyes: fuck, fuck me. Drool, bhaaa, more, yes, more.

As for the second:

Black cloaked woman

Stands alone

Her cat, dead

Barren, she is crone

The many headed serpent

Flicks it’s tongues in morning snow

The third, the Ace of Pentacles, leaves me yawning. Nothing…..yet.

  • Watching the mind in that liminal space between dream and conscious thought intrigues me. Lying in bed, drifting along like a plank out on lake Ontario sometimes images come to me as if flipping through an old rolodex as if the subconscious was looking for images to string together into story; the mind is a myth maker, and generally it places the ego at the center as Hero. But other times, it is like there is a woman in the next room who calls out words, or strings of words. Yesterday was one of these mornings. I was sound asleep when I heard

“This book is going to be losing a table.”

I have no idea what that means yet. It seems like something Gertrude Stein might have written in “Tender Buttons.” It is grammatically correct and yet there is slippage, disjunction. I awoke directly after this came to me and I found it important enough to write down to ponder later, as I am doing now, playing at the “language game.”

  • I have a horn. A ritual horn (Kangling) made from a human thigh bone. This is used in a Tibetan Buddhist practice called Chöd (cutting through the ego). It may sound creepy, but the piece has a haunting sound when played at fourteen thousand feet. We use this Kangling to call in the hungry spirits, and to satisfy their hunger by offering our own bodies to them. It sounds brutal but it is really about mastering ones own ego, by mastering our fears and our attachment to our bodies. In the west we might gift our bodies to science but in Tibet one idea was to gift our body parts to the study of the mind and the reduction of suffering. Other body parts are used in ritual, in particular the skull, which houses the brain and therefor the mind. The scull can be used as a cup (Kapala) to hold ritual drinks. The skull is also used to make skull drums (Damaru) which are used in many rituals. Some might find this creepy, but I found it a way to reuse bones for the benefit of others. My friend Susan discusses her views on the spirit of things over at  winepoured
  • Haven’t listened to Monk in a long while, gray clouds dance the viridian horizon of Lake Ontario. Blue Monk has moves, induces movement, the mind becomes a rover on the waves. The bluff edge maple, stripped bare, its roots becoming exposed in the erosion, clings to life. Epistrophy. Apostrophe.  A strophe. Event.
  • Sometimes I struggle with the blank page, with language, each word telling me I have it wrong. Of course, at this latitude, I expect struggle in December. I lift snow only to put it down again. Incongruence is expected.
  • Old-age, sickness, and death. This is the fate, the Buddha tells us, we all come to, if we make it that far. It’s the natural way, but it’s hard to watch: he knows his mind is going, she know her eyes and ears won’t last as long as she needs them. I help as I can but I can’t stop these forces. All I can do is up the compassion as I can. Bring a meal, help set up the Christmas decorations. A hug, a kiss, daily touch.
  • There is a certain alone-ness, not loneliness, per se, but the feeling one gets when one’s love is away for days, and the foot steps of winter can be felt in the chill of the floorboards as one rises in the dark. The moon points to the mind moving. The scent of morning coffee mingles with the coals of last nights fire, dark but baring faint glows underneath. A word turns over and over in the mind, each turn a repetition with difference in meaning, a paper cup in the wind.
  • Losing an organ is akin to falling into The Height with its lost boys and runaway girls looking for something other than home, the way a person falls into a coma, never to be heard from, never to complete her sentence, the comma separates us from cruelty which is born of fear and loathing in the 21st century, there is no coming back from it, period.
  • Nobody reads the paper anymore. The result is that death is a post in a Facebook feed. Death scrolls by. A fly by. Holy hell one can miss this passing and so easily not mourn; not mourning becomes guilt and guilt is a killer; technological karma implodes the actual social mesh.
  • Before dawn, moon faced with eyes closed in light. Eyelids barely opaque, filter sheets of silver photons, but the waves get through.
  • Whisky and Wittgenstein: Playing language games among the Philosophical Investigations by firelight at the edge of Lake Ontario, the wind up and the waves roar in the cold of December. I ponder his “Family Resemblances” concepts while Knob Creek bourbon rolls across my tongue.
  • A dusting of snow, just enough to turn the world into black lined image in white. Parallel lines of the roof shingles dazzle sleepy eyes. The lake eerily silent; a green-gray that pleases me.
  • Sad, the orange semi-ferrel cat that wandered the abandoned farm became road-kill. One eye smooshed out, dark red-black blood under his head. We use a couple of shovels to move him into the grass where the buzzards can pick him clean.
  • Closing my eyes I have three visions: Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” the nose of a lion, and the Daibutsu in Kamakura.
  • We need to take it off in slices,” she says, about a small basal cell carcinoma. Glad they did not say that about the vasectomy.

  • Not long after sunrise the yellow jackets and flies are digging into the grey mouse that must have been dropped by the local tabby that hunts our driveway in the mornings. I suspect the recycling truck startled the cat and it left its kill which the buzzing feeders are now gorging upon. A yellow jacket bores into the base of the neck and I walk away…

  • A fence post hole really, that’s what they dug. A twenty inch diameter cylinder of space going about forty inches deep. Then we lower your ashes down in and place flowers around you before the very nice woman comes over with a wheel-barrel and shovels the dirt in. She tries to be respectful but she is tossing dirt on you; it’s a tough gig.
  • Can the current world religions encompass the scope of the post-human world? If during the Anthropocene we become extinct, and rather than have evolution proceed from a human base it proceeds from a never-been-human base, will the current human-centric religions still hold? I think the Buddhist vision holds as long as there are sentient beings somewhere, even in far distant galaxies.
  • There is a comfort in listening to Janis Joplin sing “Cry Baby.” Well, I should say that there is a comfort in watching her sing it on youtube. It is cathartic. All the energy she had was the energy it took to exist. For her to exist and for you to exist as your lives were ever difficult. For me the only difficulty was watching you fall into that hole that you never found your way out of. There is a comfort in watching her sing, like the comfort of a phantom pain.
  • There is a right way and a wrong way to make cabbage and lentils. The wrong way is to chop the vegetables and cook them in garlic, turmeric, paprika, and olive oil for a bit and then add the lentils and broth. The right way is to do the wrong way with a shot and a beer, while listening to Jimi.
  • Water flows from the street to the house in a controlled fashion for decades, traversing the twenty five feet to the  water meter. Control is tubular, control is galvanized steel.

small stream in spring

feeds the growing pond in the basement

  • “Have to go to the ER. Can you come feed Jack my dog?” my friend Carol asks. “Of course, on my way.” Driving back from feeding and walking Jack, the sun peeks through clouds and horizon as the sky darkens. In my head I hear:
    • Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog
      Said, “I will fix your rack, if you’ll take Jack, my dog”
      I said, “Wait a minute Chester, you know, I’m a peaceful man”
      He said, “That’s okay, boy, won’t you feed him when you can”

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