Monthly Archives: August 2009

Another kind of book club

I have loved Infinite Summer. I am on for Gravity’s Rainbow, probably in September, as many of the infsum alums are talking about. Somewhere in the mean time I have signed up for a completely different kind of group reading project- call it a spontaneous economics education, with participation.

My dear friend Aaron is starting a reading group for Samuel Bowles’ Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution. If that sounds like a textbook title, that’s because it is. But this textbook is a bit different. It’s real writing (oh thank god) and it’s challenging many of the fundamentals of a field that has recently tried to drag the whole world to Hell. Or so I’m told, since I haven’t read it yet. I am looking forward to reading it, finding out more. My future plans include arguing about how ignored principles of social psych, clinical psych, and neurology actually interplay with the economy, posting ignorant and pleading questions about bits of calc I’ve forgotten or never learned, and comparing Bowles’ examples to class/SES examples I’ve seen or studied.

I totally want vast numbers of other people to sign up. If you’re reading this, that means you. This will be great brain calisthenics, and fun for the whole family, if the whole family kind of likes economics too much.

Google groups is here, and the hashtag on Twitter will be #bowles.

We don’t have a start date quite yet, but Aaron is talking a chapter every week, or possibly every two. Doable!

1000 Ledes n + 5 : Friday Evening

Visiting hours are 6:30-8:30 m-f, 2-8:30 weekends. It doesn’t take long before you start the gruesome game of visiting a psych ward: trying to guess what’s wrong with everyone. Pretty soon it’s a mental illness bingo, with your own depressed spouse as the free square in the center. It’s not a very violent or scary place. Mostly the visitors seem more haggard than the patients, which makes sense in a way. No one is taking care of us.

My happiness knows a few bounds

I have commenting working, finally! Please feel free to say hi, my god quinn you’ve changed my life, dude you suck, or suggest your viagra purchasing site to me.

We’ll see if it works this time.

1000 Ledes n + 3: Six and Three Quarters Years Old

Sheila Uhulay is crying. She is screaming, sobs ripping out of her throat with a force that makes her little body look like it’s being pummeled by an invisible and cruel playmate. She stops occasionally, eyes too crowded and wet to see her mother’s hand, her face puffed, lips straining in the wide oval of children’s violent grief. Sometimes, as if she’s run out of spirit, the wail dies out, and her face is frozen in this too-big emotion. Then the cry returns, halting and stuttering, until the sound begins to really flow again.

A few minutes ago Sheila was carrying the commemorative green Duckworld Bouncy Playland cup with matching crazy straw. She was tired of carrying it. She has attempted to get her mom to carry it 15 times, but Mom had been adamant, she was carrying her cup herself. She had carried it through two train transfers in busy and hot tunnels where all the huge grownups crowded down on her and only her Mom’s hand had kept her going the right direction. After all of that they had emerged onto a sunny and clear street. Sheila had walked over to a tall trash can and circled it looking for the hole. Eventually her mother pointed to the top and she pitched the cup in.

She turned away, took three steps, and panicked. A few moments later her mother was trying to reach down into the trash to retrieve the cup as she pleaded for her mom to somehow make it reappear. Her mother, unable to reach the cup, eventually took her hand and lead her away.

Now she is walking down the street, the crying calmed to the point of speech being possible. “Why did I do that?” she begs the wall, the ground, her mom. She rounds on her mom. “Why didn’t you stop me?” “I didn’t know what you were doing,” her mom replies, shrugging the shoulder attached to the hand that is holding Sheila’s hand. Sheila says it over and over again: “Why did I do that?”

Sheila is six, and now knows that she can betray herself.

From my archive: Notes on LA, circa 1997

“Precious and few are the moments that you and your own worst enemy share.” -TMBG

I was born in a city made of alien’s dreams. LA is fabricated out of the wild ideas of her immigrants. The streets are littered with dream fragments, dream dust, hope detritus. When you spend your childhood sliding between the bitter remains of so many grownup’s visions you don’t learn to dream for yourself. Hope is a quality that one conceals. You have to go somewhere else to learn to dream. It is vital for the children of LA to leave, and they do in droves. But it is also important to take the essence of it in you, you will anyway, and fighting it just makes the exodus longer and lonelier.

I have lived in self-imposed exile from my hometown for a few years now. I miss my beaches. I miss the continual crush of life. I even miss the dead and dying dreams of the Midwest. It’s easy to avoid homesickness though, thinking of the reasons I left. The worst part of LA is easily enough. It’s the worst part of California in general, it’s the palm trees. Ratty little worthless things that don’t serve a purpose under heaven but to look bad and sway dangerously when the Santa Anas blow. They don’t even have the decency to cast shade anyone can use. They occupy space, they smell like nothing, they have no fruit or flowers and they are everywhere. I hate them, I hate the hours I have had to stare at them while stuck in traffic, which is the second worst thing about California in general and LA in specific. You haven’t done traffic until you’ve come across the mouth of the valley at 2:30 in the morning and been utterly and totally packed in like a parking lot for no reason anyone can divine. it would just appear that everyone as one decided to stop moving.

There’s more, you haven’t experienced terror until you’ve tried to merge into the other form of LA traffic jam: bumper to bumper going about 80-85. Speed limits in California are not only often optional, they are at times downright deadly. The most insane part is that people choose daily commutes to and from work that are simply nuts. they are on the road forever, and driving on the edge of death the entire time. The culture has completely evolved around it; the LA freeway systems now have designated accident spots. It is LA’s own unique way of dealing with surreality directly in the face. The West Coast’s version of “reasonable travel” proves that our perspective on distance is eminently scaleable. there’s this wonderful quote from Bill Bryson that says roughly if you say you are driving from Surrey to Cornwall “a distance that most Americans would happily go for a taco” the British will think now that’s a tall order. Even the rest of America looks to the west and thinks “you guys spend waaay too much time in your cars.” In the Bay Area, this is considered a reasonable step in career building.

In California space is considered irrelevant and personal. As is the custom of so many city folk Californians measure distance in time, as in “oh, the restaurant is 15 minutes away.” The phenomena, however, goes beyond how I have seen it played out anywhere else. If you say but how far is it, a native will look at you as if you just asked “yes, but does the owner have a foot fetish?” it’s none of your business to know more than the freeway exit. The caveat: there are pretty much just two measures of time: 15 minutes, and 45 minutes. These two measurement however have no real relationship with how far it to somewhere or even how long it will take to get there. They pass to you one bit of information: whether you are going to spend most of the journey on the freeway or the surface streets. Anything on surface streets is 15 minutes away. It takes more than 15 minutes to park in most of southern California, actually. If you should be visiting, budget yourself an hour. As for a 45 minute trip, budget yourself 15 minutes. When you arrive is a completely arbitrary unit of time. La has one of the world’s finest freeway systems that may at any time be utterly impassable. The culture has again adapted wonderfully though; if you say “sorry I’m late – traffic” you can be instantly forgiven for missing anything up to the birth of your child. If you toss in “..and I couldn’t find parking.” you can miss everything on up to puberty.

I went back to visit recently. I learned there is a flip side to the idea that there is no such thing as a prophet in his hometown- a hometown makes a lousy Mecca. Nothing had changed. All the little strip mall corner shop I had know had gone out of business and been replaced by corner shops that would be out of business before I return. I sat in a room full of stand up comics on a Wednesday night, no smoke hanging thickly in the air. More than three hours of carefully timed bitterness turned the funnest thing in the world into ditch digging. People sat around like piles of cloth. Slack and lost of purposes- they seemed to have sacrificed all the wrong things. They came to Los Angeles with the idea that LA owed them something for the effort; they have replied its indifference with a persistent indifference of their own. What I hated most about the world of that room was all the erie places it connected to my inner world. They highlighted their pain, and sometimes they highlighted mine too. They served it cold and without love. They said “it’s funny cause it’s true” but the truer it got the less funny it was. Southern California lives totally in reference to itself- making a twisted yardstick to measure the world with, and my fellow comics had internalized this yardstick. Selling out was the topic of the hour, and how much you could get for doing it. I escaped into the night air and thought hard what I had learned since leaving; as long as you love your life and what you do you can’t sell out; when you don’t care anymore it’s time to stop, even if you haven’t made a cent. It’s cliche, but I escaped so it was good enough. Sitting beside and within my old paradigm, I saw the yardstick inside myself, and I saw the huge distance between me and brilliance. I could see where I became intolerant of my own learning process. Where I had no time for my own expression, where I would never approve. LA is sick of it. There is little room for creativity without filters, there is no tolerance for experimentation because experimentation spends so much time failing. Instead everything must sparkle and be clustered with jewels. It is a jaded where. It is a where in me that will never be pleased with all the time I spend between flashes of brilliance.

I was fairly proud to be from what seemed to be the world’s Most Hated Big City. It always gave me an underdog feel, so I loved Los Angeles and told everyone so. I tried to step back in and see it clearly, but still not for it’s own sake. I wanted something from it still; to give context to other things I have and plan to write, to define the “my city” that became the basic unit of my perceptions. Los Angeles is not a simple place to understand. I didn’t get it in these reflective meditations about it, but I also didn’t get it in the 16 years of growing up I did there. It got me without a doubt.

Despondent, angry, confused and tired I responded in traditional American manner; I went midnight shopping at the local supermarket. I went and shared my space with other silent consumers, and stopped a while to eat my own paradoxes. What I hate most about LA is that even my picture is still not true. In the time between the lines that is a 1:30am run to Ralph’s you come face to face with people in a way with no social consequences. We became our shadows; we became real. We met each other in the eye, thanked each other for the help, they offered me a cut in line because I had only two items. Suddenly the tired bustle of the city opens and shows a tolerance that lives between the lines. There is, against all odds and because humans cannot ever be all one thing, a quiet and hopeful celebration of life we pretend not to see in each other in the light of the over exposing sun. LA is a city dying to be gentle. The people are sensitive but lost in the hype, even when they are creating it. Malice in LA is often the malice of a young child; unfocused and unhappy and slips all over and fades away and is forgotten. It is hard to sit quietly and think, aw- I am describing myself. I went to the beach I grew up on. It’s still big, but getting smaller. Time curves different as I get closer as well, some street I drove on no more than a month ago, the next turn I may have to retrieve from a distant past just to pick my way there. And when I said hello to my ocean I was sure that it had been no more than a week since I had last. It was night, this was gang territory, I was afraid the car would get fucked with, I was afraid of everything. But I had something to prove- that this stretch of beach was still mine, that I was still its. I walked getting sand in my shoes beside the sewer overflow we called the creek when I was growing up. Intellectually I know how bad that is, but I still go to taste that water. This bit of Pacific is my holy Ganges. It still washes me and its taste is imprinted in me somewhere below reason. I traced my way back to the under highway tunnel that led off the beach. I could feel the dried salt sticking to my face where I had washed it and sticking to my hands. I didn’t feel cathartic or even satisfied, but I can still feel that stickiness now. I carry it with me. I won’t be back for a long time.

This is my struggle with LA- that I can’t hate it, that I really can’t love it, that I have to stay away because I can’t handle it, not because it can’t handle me. But maybe it can’t handle me anyway. It isn’t a place to dream after all, it is a place to bring dreams to, and I’m not finished. The psyche it created in me is one of coping, and too often with vicious disappointments. To learn to dream, I suspect it’s better to go somewhere with a real public transportation system.

1,000 Ledes n + 1: Hetchman Noe Forgets

Hetchman Noe is writing a real actual paper letter. He is telling the object of the letter that he has recently moved to Portland, OR and since he

Since looks wrong. Sinse? sincse? cinse? Definitely not cinse. He stares at the letters he’s written. s i n c e. A cognitive paralysis begins to move down and throughout his body, beginning at his tight cheeks and pinched brow and continuing until his hand aches from an over-tight and immobile grip on his pen.

He knows how to spell this word, so this is ridiculous. Was it right he first time? Since, is it since? This is a first grade word. He stares at it, all the words around it melting away into the gibberish of inattention. It still looks wrong. Cince. That looks possible, but somehow unlikely. Hetchman closes his eyes. He looks for it on the page of a memory. He has the page up, he can see a jumble of other words, and where it belongs, there a five letter blank spot. It’s not there. Somehow it’s escaped the page, fled his memory. At least now he knows it’s five letters. He grits his teeth. “I have known this word since first grade,” He says quietly, never opening his teeth, “I know how to spell since.”

He stares at the words he’s written. He picks up his phone, flips to the editor and punches in his first spelling. S I N C E. He spellchecks. Since is the correct spelling. Even his dumb phone knows that. He turns back to his letter. Since still looks wrong. It looks so wrong, as if those letters cannot possibly add up to a word in English, not any word, much less since. He’s beginning to panic a little, he’s telling himself this is stupid, of course that’s how since is spelled. But inside him is a feeling, a feeling of wrongness that can’t speak, but if it could it would be yelling “Fuck the dictionary, that is not how you spell that word. It’s not!” He’s upset, enough that he can feel it in his throat, a large knot tying inside his neck, his own muscles choking him. Why the hell, he starts to wonder, do you have muscles in your neck that can choke yourself? He puts the letter down and takes a break. He will come back to it when he knows again how to spell since.

In this one moment

pg 859: ‘At St. Collie only the Crocodiles’d heard of him. My own Daddy’d followed him, cut out pictures, as a boy.’ Gately can tell she’s smiling under there. ‘But what I used to do, I’d throw away the pipe and shake my fist at the sky and say As God is my fucking witness NEVER AGAIN, as of this minute right here I QUIT FOR ALL TIME.‘ She also has this habit of absently patting the top of her head when she talks, where little barrettes and spongy clamps hold the veil in place. ‘And I’d bunker up all white-knuckled and stay straight. And count the days. I was proud of each day I stayed off. Each day seemed evidence of something, and I counted them. I’d add them up. Line them up end to end. You know?’ Gately knows very well but doesn’t nod, lets her do this on just her own steam. She says ‘And soon it would get… improbable. As if each day was a car Knievel had to clear. One car, two cars. By the time I’d get up to say like maybe about 14 cars, it would begin to seem like this staggering number. Jumping over 14 cars. And the rest of the year, looking ahead, hundreds and hundreds of cars, me in the air trying to clear them.’ She left her head alone and cocked it. ‘Who could do it? How did I ever think anyone could do it that way?’

Gately remembered some evil fucking personal detoxes. Broke in Maiden. Bent with pleurisy in Salem. MCI/Billerica during a four-day lockdown that caught him short. He remembered Kicking the Bird for weeks on the floor of a Revere Holding cell, courtesy of the good old Revere A.D.A. Locked down tight, a bucket for a toilet, the Holding cell hot but a terrible icy draft down near the floor. Cold Turkey. Abrupt Withdrawal. The Bird. Being incapable of doing it and yet having to do it, locked in. A Revere Holding cage for 92 days. Feeling the edge of every second that went by. Taking it a second at a time. Drawing the time in around him real tight. Withdrawing. Any one second: he remembered: the thought of feeling like he’d be feeling this second for 60 more of these seconds — he couldn’t deal. He could not fucking deal. He had to build a wall around each second just to take it. The whole first two weeks of it are telescoped in his memory down into like one second — less: the space between two heartbeats. A breath and a second, the pause and gather between each cramp. An endless Now stretching its gull-wings out on either side of his heartbeat. And he’d never before or since felt so excruciatingly alive. Living in the Present between pulses. What the White Flaggers talk about: living completely In The Moment. A whole day at a crack seemed like tit, when he Came In. For he had Abided With The Bird.

But this inter-beat Present, this sense of endless Now — it had vanished in Revere Holding along with the heaves and chills. He’d returned to himself, moved to sit on the bunk’s edge, and ceased to Abide because he no longer had to.

His right side is past standing, but the hurt is nothing like the Bird’s hurt was. He wonders, sometimes, if that’s what Ferocious Francis and the rest want him to walk toward: Abiding again between heartbeats; tries to imagine what kind of impossible leap it would take to live that way all the time, by choice, straight: in the second, the Now, walled and contained between slow heartbeats. Ferocious Francis’s own sponsor, the nearly dead guy they wheel to White Flag and call Sarge, says it all the time: It’s a gift, the Now: it’s AA’s real gift: it’s no accident they call it The Present.

‘And yet it wasn’t til that poor new pipe-fellow from home pointed at me and hauled me up there and I said it that I realized,’ Joelle said. ‘I don’t have to do it that way. I get to choose how to do it, and they’ll help me stick to the choice. I don’t think I’d realized before that I could — I can really do this. I can do this for one endless day. I can. Don.’

The look he was giving her was meant to like validate her breakthrough and say yes yes she could, she could as long as she continued to choose to. She was looking right at him, Gately could tell. But he’d also gotten a personal prickly chill all over from his own thinking. He could do the dextral pain the same way: Abiding. No one single instant of it was unendurable. Here was a second right here: he endured it. What was undealable-with was the thought of all the instants all lined up and stretching ahead, glittering. And the projected future fear of the A.D.A., whoever was out there in a hat eating Third World fast food; the fear of getting convicted of Nuckslaugh-ter, of V.I.P.-suffocation; of a lifetime on the edge of his bunk in M.C.I. Walpole, remembering. It’s too much to think about. To Abide there. But none of it’s as of now real. What’s real is the tube and Noxzema and pain. And this could be done just like the Old Cold Bird. He could just hunker down in the space between each heartbeat and make each heartbeat a wall and live in there. Not let his head look over. What’s unendurable is what his own head could make of it all. What his head could report to him, looking over and ahead and reporting. But he could choose not to listen; he could treat his head like G. Day or R. Lenz: clueless noise. He hadn’t quite gotten this before now, how it wasn’t just the matter of riding out the cravings for a Substance: everything unendurable was in the head, was the head not Abiding in the Present but hopping the wall and doing a recon and then returning with unendurable news you then somehow believed.

1,000 ledes #n: Ananda Panek

Ananda Panek doesn’t like peanut butter, but likes Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for the particular end note of salt they give the chocolate. Also, they don’t really taste of peanut butter. She doesn’t like them enough to sneak her roommate’s whole precious supply at 2am, while unable to sleep. She is often unable to sleep. She takes one out of an actual desire for the pleasure of eating it- and her roommate wouldn’t mind that, either. As the taste goes a bit stale in her mouth and she looks at them, she knows there isn’t much pleasure in eating the rest. When she does eat them, it is out of compulsion. The experience isn’t devoid of pleasure, but neither is it really worth much.

After disposing of the wrappers and promising – promising she will replace them tomorrow morning, perhaps even before her roommate discovers they are gone, she lays down on her bed, feeling guilty and weak and not at all good in her stomach. She holds the pillow a little too tightly to be likely to go to sleep. She switches out the last light. A few moments later something flashes in the dark room. She sits up, and it happens again. The room seems to brighten in a grey, fuzzy way, but she can’t see anything much more distinctly than before. She feels warmer. More flashes. This time, she recognizes them.

“No no no no no please no,” she whispers quietly, throat tight, tears welling up. “Oh god,” she says, “The chocolate. Oh no, why did I do that?” She gets back up and without turning on the light and walks quietly to the kitchen, Trying not to pay attention to the continuing flashes. She returns with a bowl and puts it beside her bed. She lays down again, reaches out to touch the rim of the bowl, and confident that she can reach it without trouble, closes her eyes and waits for the pain that will slowly sever her head from her body. It begins from the left.