Distracted by the election, yet do the hard work. And please vote.

It is four in the morning.  Almost.  It is just before another election and I’ve been going places I don’t know, and I don’t know how to get there.  Thank God this app knows where I should go even if I don’t.  Once I get there another app tells me what houses to visit.  Thank God for this techie generation. 

I’m shy but it’s a desperate situation.  Before it’s been mostly about a war that I do anything like this, and I wonder if there is a single un-dead baby somewhere doing just fine because what we did helped a little just once to stop or scale back a war.  But now it’s also the ocean heating up, fish babies…  And then a gunman slaughters a group praying in a synagogue. 

It’s four in the morning.

I’m a writer.  I’m not a politician nor a political organizer nor even really much interested in politics.  So I should be writing my novel.  This political work makes little sense.  But writing a novel makes no sense in these ugly times.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  That’s my go-to place when nothing else makes sense:  It’s God’s grace, God’s fault.  Be still and know.

Tomorrow I’ll get back to work and finish this damn book.  I have a few hundred more pages to revise once I figure where they occur.  Originally it was Toronto, but that never made sense.  Vera could not get across the border, not again.  She’s in the United States illegally so crossing a border is not an option.  It’s a miracle she’s never been caught.  I’m giving too much away here.  I’ll have to hit the delete key and delete some of this.  I need to write the book, not write about the book.  And I need to encourage people to vote.  

I am so done this book.  Only it’s not done yet.  Almost.

Kenny – Getting on with it

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Questions), 1989–90

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Questions), 1990/2018, on view October 20, 2018–November 2020 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, photo by Elon Schoenholz

I’ve been implicitly comparing to Jesus.   Kenny the super-hero but just a humble kid who opens us to understanding infinity – maybe even making Jesus make sense.  Yet accused him of being a deceiver, created all this time in 3D animation and reduced to 2D.  Of course, Kenny doesn’t exist except as a cartoon.  My complaint was with the artists all along, and not deception is involved, just artistry and a business decision.   It’s faster to create him and all South Park in 3D; a workflow issue, more efficient to work in 3D and then transfer those images to 2D….  I saw this as deception.  My next question now, at least, is, What does it matter?

I’ve been puzzling over that for a few weeks.  It matters, at least to me. The medium informs our consciousness and with consciousness or even unconsciously impacts the matter.  There is a reason the creators decided to take the 3D, easier to produce, to 2D at least as the apparent aesthetic.

While I argued that2D and 3D is all anticipation and memory in our experience – only tangentially related to our actual present existence that we can’t fathom (because that requires a thought and in the instant it is thought it is past, just a memory) — still it’s our material.

There is art history and art isn’t progressive,  so the expression “history” is misleading.  Ancient Egyptian encryptions and pottery aren’t less sophisticated than Barbara Krugger’s work at the Geffen in LA, even though Krugger’s work is more accessible to me – physically just a few Metro stops from here and aesthetically I get her work implicitly and Egyptian pottery I’m always trying to ‘read’.  We’re pasting a timeline onto a mesh of perceptual experiences that are present at least before we process them, perceive them in time.

I want to NOT read Krugger’s work.  I’m going to try to just be present so that a letter in the alphabet is a pure sensation.  That, of course, might prove impossible but I’m going try anyhow.

Approaching things another way, recently I’m trying to read South Park as I would a 3-d text, although I promised at least myself earlier I was done with South Park altogether, that it’s time to go on.  So soon…



On the silence of some women, at least on some things

To what extent are we silenced, and how much do women silence ourselves, or just prefer to remain silent?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’m engaged in a group study of Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk and author.  I kind of knew… that he’d had a lover, but not that he’d fathered a child when he was a young man and again fell in love with a very young woman just before his death when he was in his mid-50’s.   The mother and Merton’s son died in a shelter in London during the Blitz, and the 19-year-old married someone else, leaving the famous monk to mourn evidently until his early death.

He doesn’t talk about it and his biographers don’t talk about it much, and these two women weren’t talking as far as we know, but what do we know?  They seem totally without a voice.

When I wrote this about Vida, I’m also thinking of all the silences in my own life, far less than women of previous generations certainly, and now with the “Me Too” movement startling so many women we ask “You too?”shocking men who had no idea something like that had happened to their friends, wives, mothers…

So yes, there’s this deafening silence:

“… It is just that no one knows how she felt, and perhaps she herself doesn’t know now, and in any case she’s not the kind of woman to go on about it.  That’s all.”

Thanks to the Franciscans

Working through a text with the Franciscan group Canticles Campus, I’m led back to the work of Duns Scotus, and his concept of  an unknowable “true self” that Thomas Merton took up.  (See The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton, by Daniel Horan, pp. 101-105)  There is certainly a problem here in my method of investigation.  I’m attracted to a philosophical concept developed by one man (Scotus), taken up for another (Merton), explained by a third (Horan).

And what does this have to do with Kenny?  Probably nothing.  Kenny’s big point is not about death, that has no long-term meaning for him (and maybe not for us – think reincarnation, “born again”, “life everlasting”,  if not Kenny, or Scotus).  His complaint is about dying – that if “fucking hurts”.  That’s the main point: dying has meaning, but death? not so much.

Of course, I need to go back to the original sources, but before I do that (and it might take me years) let me just say that the attraction here for me is the claim that we cannot know our true selves, set out in  formal logical terms by Scotus and in poetry by Merton.  That seems intuitively correct, whereas up to now I’ve only approached it phenomenologically (i.e. as with our ‘felt-world’).

It is in the experience itself that we find meaning, and that is what we cannot know:  To the things themselves!  was Husserl’s call, away from logic and he was a master of logic, no slouch on that score.  We make this encounter with anything, even death, in the experience and only after in reflection, performing the “phenomenological reduction” – a term that just now finally makes sense to me because I do finally see it as reduced.  However, we can’t encounter that which is making the encounter.  We will always be strangers to ourselves then, and then also God will always be a stranger as we are the image, but there is the word. We can know that much.

(Here, try this:  we might consider phenomenology as God’s own method, at least one method.  Some have seen God’s eternal perfection in numbers, so beautiful the way they always and necessarily work. It is an eternal truth that two plus two always equals four.  But life isn’t about necessary truths; it’s an experience.  In the logic of life, could God experience God-ness as a dynamic image – and a stagnant image is mere idolatry –  experience life as lived until God became the created as well as the creator?  Sorry if this is obvious to everyone, and has been answered satisfactorily, and I’m just catching up here…)

To throw in yet another author (and metaphor), James Finley:  “Here methods, techniques, ideas, and spiritualities of themselves are of little use.  We must not stand in the burning house with a dictionary thinking we are safe because we are frantically looking up the definition for a fire distinguisher!” (Horan, 114)

True, but I don’t see the urgency.  Try the metaphor of contemplating a flame or a campfire that will burn itself out in time.

According to one theory of revolution, the revolutionaries cannot go on losing forever

We left of with this thought that led into a discourse on impermanence, from the novel:  “Monuments were built for the revolution and the metal may now be melted down as scrap.  Books will be written about the heroes, but eventually the books will be lost…”

According to one theory of revolution, the revolutionaries cannot go on losing forever; just now they cannot win.  But they had something here, an era of heroes.  Nothing will be forgotten.  The poets describe the era of heroes, an era when the sun rises as if it’s singing a new song every day, when women come out on the road humming the song, when animals give birth easily and fruit ripens and birds do not bother the crops.  Wise people recall an era like this in times of huge sorrow, so that the era is twice blessed, once in itself and once again in memory.  Standing in among ruins, when war has been waged and the heroes are dead, people are comforted by memory, the memory of an age that achieved justice and peace, however brief, or at least strived to achieve it, however briefly.  Wise people know whatever they can remember is still possible.  Wise people can recall that time, the time the heroes made and the time that made them, an era of astonishing hopefulness.  Listen to this:  even their accountants entertained hopefulness, and what the leaders lacked in wisdom they made up for with courage, but they couldn’t survive long without both.  With two legs of unequal length they limped along.  Then the era ends.  Everything dies.  Not just heroes’ bodies but ideas, perhaps even the truth.  Look, what heroes do can look foolish to the unconvinced, particularly to a hero’s own mother, yet to their enemies they make no apologies and to their own people they feel they never need apologize.  And now there is no reason to make any protest, to say anything, dead as the revolution is, a total failure.  What is happening is that it is still raining just as it did before, during, and now after the revolution.  The rain is not confounded by political and scientific methods.  Vida is waiting for the rain to stop.

What is known about Vida?  A string of small details.  Vida is still young, meaning she is not altogether settled, meaning simply that she doesn’t know what to do next, meaning anything is possible.  Vida’s life consists of complicated details that intersect and diverge.  She keeps her kids clean.  Her eight-year-old daughter knows how to read and make a decent cake.  Her son, who is also Arthur’s son, is never left long alone. 

More than once, actually, Vida did something to distinguish herself, that made her a hero.  She organized the women who disarmed the police at the station, right then at the very beginning of the revolution. And then later that night she went home to bath both children and to sing to them their good-night prayers.  Meaning simply that she may be listed, she may be listed as wanted.  No one who knew Vida and knew what she had done would suggest that Vida did not feel anything, no pride. It is just that no one knows how she felt, and perhaps she herself doesn’t know now, and in any case she’s not the kind of woman to go on about it.  That’s all.


The last post ended with an excerpt from the current draft of BODY OF LAND: “Monuments were built for the revolution and the metal may now be melted down as scrap.  Books will be written about the heroes, but eventually the books will be lost.”  This restates the Buddhist principle of impermanence which I used to laugh at.  How do you make a religious principle out of something so obvious; you might as well declare gravity as a religious principle.  Now I think, yeah, impermanence and gravity.  Things change, and if you drop an object it will fall.  People, ancient buildings, everything will fall and fall apart, so the principles of gravity and impermanence are linked.  And these are spiritual truths.  We need to remember.

Spiritual truths link to spiritual practice, the spiritual practice here being that of surrender, letting go.  It is not at all the same as giving up.  It’s a practice.  I need to practice.

Here in this opening of the novel I suspect that it is the deep connection between Mrs. Williams and Vera that had existed during the revolution and now is what sustains them in their love and support of each other… but I’m talking about the novel when I need to write the novel.  I’ll get on with that… tomorrow…  Today is all about lessons in impermanence for me, and I need practice.

Over Kenny?

Joshua Tree night

I’ve got to let go of Kenny.  South Park has been going on twenty-two years and I’ve been obsessing on Kenny nearly that whole time.  Kenny keeps dying and dying and living again.  That never bores me actually, but maybe I’ve had enough.  There are books to read…  I need to take a walk…

On a walk I encounter this-ness, haecceity – you gotta love this God.  This tree, this stone in my shoe, the smell of the wet bark.  The infinite is lonely and mostly empty space, and before all that lonely and empty space there is just a little matter here and there throughout the universe.  Or so we’re told and I believe it.  But there is here and now (that I keep reminding you, reminding myself, is past but it feels here, it feels now.  It’s not the logically necessary specious present; it’s what is felt, the phenomena.  I pay attention: this tree, this pebble in my shoe…)

My complaint against God is that our all-knowing God seems to be such a slow learner.  All those millennia where biological beings developed sensory perception and experience, we soon gained the knowledge that pain hurts.  Was God just standing outside creation, observing, tweaking this and that cosmos when life began?  With life came pleasure and pain.  Was that God’s first tickle, first breath, but maybe God was somehow outside of this creation until fully identified with the creation.  In Christianity we call it “the incarnation”, when God became one of us, although in all humility we must allow for at least the possibility that there is an ameba Christ, a plankton Jesus.

Christian teachings would have it that the particular human experience is most identified with God, the messy birth, breast milk on God’s infant lips.  And maybe only in the crucifixion, when the God-Son experiences personally and intensely and definitively death, that everything was changed because God experienced pain and death as a phenomenological truth – no turning back on this, God.  Yeah, death sucks but at least then the pain stops, at least if you’re the one who is dead.

(I think of Mary at the foot of the cross, that she might not have ever got over that moment, how absent she seems in all the resurrection scenes because she didn’t care so much about the magic trick, another resurrection.  Okay.  Welcome back, son.  But they’ll do it all again, and nothing you’ve done changes that for anyone, even for you.  You’ve still got the holes in your hands, and the slit in your side, for God’s sake…)

Yet as discussed before, we exist in the present while we can only know what is just past, even if we experience it as present.  That’s the difference between us and God, a big difference.  We enter into this knowing, or something akin to knowing, when we shut up and are still, quit putting things out there which are artifacts of the present even as we are still working on them, even a single word we speak.  The Word is different than our words, beautifully expressed by the Jewish practice of refusing to express it, spelling it with a dash marking an empty space, G-D.

Back to the novel… back at the house…

(Back to the story of this family caught up in a revolution, some of them who were making the revolution that now seems brutally ended, such that “dead is real dead”)

It was Sunday the last time they all ate together.  They had been to the beach earlier that day, Art, Vida and the kids, and Art was leaning back licking his lips, although there was no moisture and they had finished all the drinks.  Vida had called the kids, called them to come and they ignored her but instead of getting cross as she might, she looks over to Art, sees him watching her, brings her index finger to her lip and places a kiss on the end of her finger.  Slowly she brings her finger down on his zipper just below his belt, and his eyes get wet and his head fills with confusion and the top of his head creeps as if it might lift off, and he forgets everything so he can slip into the sea, to wait for Vida.  She follows him into the waves.

Here there should be some consideration of the body count, although no one is actually counting bodies.  There were several bodies left up by the fort, against the wall, blood spewing out of the bodies like rivers running into the road, dripping off the edge of the road onto the sand that turned dark purple, blood mixing with blood.  But then even these bodies went missing, and whose bodies were they anyway?  All Vida knows is that Arthur, goes the report, was wounded but not dead.  Or dead.  Or had been disappeared after the invasion.  No one knows.  What remains is simply grief, and how dead can dead be if there is just the wide open generalized grief?

Here we must assume, dead is real dead.  Here three days dead, in this heat, means so dead the intestines fill with gas, swelling the abdomen and forcing frothy red mucus out the nostrils and mouth.  Smell, touch, taste, common senses all die with the body.  The Philosopher believed that sight and sound, only those remote senses, could apprehend beauty and that beauty is immortal.  The aesthetic of the dead doesn’t rely on physical proximity and contact.  And those who do not see with living eyes, with human ears, they are not beside the point, but here the point is a stretch of land that was taken first in St. Michael’s, an island of rock and soft earth, and the poets warn that those who do not know the softness of the earth are swallowed by it, that those who seek their immortality are consumed whole.  Monuments were built for the revolution and the metal may now be melted down as scrap.  Books will be written about the heroes, but eventually the books will be lost.

Printed books are the new media that still fascinates me – new if your perspective includes hieroglyphics. Mine does.

Marshal McLuhan and friends identified how the Guttenberg Bible, the first printed book, created a social and political revolution known as “the Reformation”.  Once everyone could own their own copy of the Bible, hold it, interpret it themselves, it wasn’t a big leap for Jesus to become their “personal Lord and Savior”.  Jesus was less a man of the crowd, feeding the crowd; now Jesus was a friend there in the privacy of one’s own home, helping everyone who can read to understand the Word up close, personal. The priests and pope are not­ so much mediaries as meddlesome.

The media is the message, was McLuhan’s catchphrase. (Understanding Media; The extensions of Man, 1964)  Moveable type and mass printing changed everything. Then came the radio. Franklin D. Roosevelt used that well with his fireside chats, taking politics out of the public square and into everyone’s living room.  Then movies, brought faraway places into every small town.  Then television, with white people learning more and more about themselves in the privacy of their living rooms, while African Americans often gathered and watched white people, laughed at them, critiquing their lifestyle.  It was a different experience for racially segregated new medium, as Bell Hooks has so brilliantly identified. (Reel to Real; Race, class and the Movies, 2008)

Now digital media.  Now South Park, created using 3D animation but taken back to 2D animation in its look, media moving backward, reversing its progress, time’s arrow bent backward.  Why.  That’s a question for the creators, why use a more advanced technology to create an older aesthetic appearance?

Obviously, it’s just a tool.  The use of 3D as the first step, computer-generated technologies make animating the characters a faster, if more expensive process.  Yet, the real advance is the aesthetic appeal of the characters, not the process, taken even further into a primitive paper cutout look with South Park’s Canadian characters.

McLuhan was just half-right.  The medium extends our ability to imagine and create, but one medium doesn’t supplant another and there’s a dialectical relationship between medium and message.  Some call it art.  Modern graffiti artists may use spray paint, the gesture and motivation akin to a cave painter and Davinci painting a fresco.

McLuhan saw progress as time’s arrow but it isn’t anything without our imagination.  We make time; rocks don’t.  Only living things can conceive of a narrative structure.

But that’s not nothing.  We do make time, a narrative.  Time might be one of the great inventions of biological beings.  History.  The notion of progress or regression.  Making sense of sunrises and sunsets, days ‘passing’, birth and death.  We make sense.

I’m running out of time here.  To be continued…