Stray thought on a cat

Sitting last night with my cat, who is dying of cancer, in my lap. Wondered, Am I doing this right? A voice came to say, There is no doing this right. Was such a relief.

Does that make sense? Do other people have the same overseer in them I do?

Am I being present in the right way? am I letting these last moments with her in fully? am I not clinging to her? All this stuff, just below the threshold of awareness, about living up to some ideal I’ve got, where it came from who knows. Saw it for the load of crap it was.

Wasabi, my dying scrappy streetfighter, is a good teacher. She’s not worried about dying right, she’s just dying. Slowing down, drawing inward.

There’s no doing it right, there’s just doing it.

Found her outside a sushi restaurant in a blizzard the day after Christmas, year of 2000 in Philadelphia. She’s been with me to Salt Spring Island, Salt Lake City, Bellingham WA. A whole lot of mice met their maker in her. She’s been companion comfort irritant playmate and source of many forearm scratches. When I have to let her go I’m going to bawl like a little baby.

Say a prayer – whatever that means to you – that her last weeks are easy for her?





John Ashbery, 1927–2017

A great one gone from us today. Ashbery dead at 90.

His extraordinary proposition: that a poem is a poem.

So many years before I got that. When I did I saw in hindsight he had helped me to. (Haven’t yet managed to write one, but now I know what one looks like.)

No time for the post I want to write. So just this sweet bit from the NYT obit

Asked once about a poet’s proper relationship with his audience, Mr. Ashbery rejected the idea of deliberately “shocking” the reader, a tactic he compared to wearing deliberately outlandish clothing and which he dismissed as “merely aggressive.”

“At the same time,” he said, “I try to dress in a way that is just slightly off, so the spectator, if he notices, will feel slightly bemused but not excluded, remembering his own imperfect mode of dress.”

And this photo from same. Imagine the conversation they’d have had! or not!

Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, Marianne Moore. At a party in 1967. Photo by Jill Krementz.

Take care of each other. We don’t get a lot of time.

ADHD Notebook (I)

I want to try something a bit different. I was recently diagnosed – provisionally, haven’t done the battery of tests, don’t know if or when I will – with ADHD. That has me feeling and rethinking a lot of things, every corner of my life.

Thought I might share here, in case it’s interesting or useful to others, some of said thinking and feeling. In fairly raw form. Usually I put a lot of polish on a blog post. This’ll be pretty much straight from my journal, with maybe just the most personal stuff taken out.

That said – oh my students, should you stumble into this – it’s still an exercise in creative nonfiction. I’m interested here in how mind orders, or doesn’t, all that attention brings in. Different kinds of writing are different possibilities of order. That’s genre and form.

Here, the order of a disorder.

25 August 2017

A new diagnosis came – ADHD. Frame shift. It’s a name – potentially – for so many facets of what my mind is that hadn’t seemed part of one constellation. But the one thing right now. I have been having these spells of – IT’S TOO MUCH COMING INSometimes in the middle of the night sometimes when I first get up sometimes as now in the middle of the day. I’ve had these all my adult life + have always attributed them to trauma + that’s surely part of it. But treating them as trauma, psychodynamically, going to the bad memory, or physiologically, going to the stress response, has brought some relief but they haven’t abated. If I understand right, ADHD is about not being able to orient in or organize all the data coming in; attention can’t hold it in a shape, but moves from this to that erratically, or fixates on one thing with a hyperfocus. Is there, in there, a feeling of being overwhelmed by all of it coming in, + not being able to orient in it? I know that brings tears, to say/write it. And when I say to myself, “you’re in charge of how much comes in,” or better, “you’re in charge of how it lands,” I feel soothed, my body relaxes. (But if that’s the condition, why do people with ADHD seek hyperstimulation? Sthg. to fix their attention on? To kick hyperfocus into gear? I know I seek that state.) So there I was, small kid, incipient ADHD, unusually attuned to + sensitive to stimuli, often overwhelmed by them, it was easy for it to be too much coming in, + then, some of what came in was traumatic. Would have been for many but was maybe especially so for me.

Any diagnosis of ADHD has to overcome the fact that there wouldn’t have been many signs of it when I was a kid. As a student I was, by 10 or 12, the inverse image: keenly attentive, dedicated striver, highly organized, diligently obedient in not getting it wrong, in earning my teachers’ approval. Is it possible I harnessed the hyperfocus of ADHD for 12 years of school + then on for many more in adulthood? One-on-one attention helps, apparently, + I always imagined I had a one-on-one relationship with my teacher; I was special to them. And novelty. And there was my other condition pinching me from the other side: to keep maternal love I had to be about perfect, + that stress kept me motivated: focussed.

What signs were there then in my childhood? I could be rowdy but no more than other boys my age. I was bad at sports + at understanding directions that had to do with ball play or field play. I was sensitive + short-tempered; “intense.” When angry I took it out on my brother + that was often. I was socially inept, often blurting things out at inappropriate times, or stupid things that got me laughed at. I couldn’t read social cues in groups. I could tell people didn’t like me, or were shouldering me out, but couldn’t understand why. (This has never changed.) My impulsivity in the classroom – I could not keep myself from raising my hand, even tho I knew how it affected my standing w/ my peers. (U of Utah, as a prospective: I must have been the only one ever to participate in the cl. discussion.) All the ways I look directly opposite to ADHD have the same thing in common: they convert a typical ADHD behaviour into sthg. that will get me the love or approval or security or stability I’m missing at home. Hate to have all these initials going on, but I’m living at a pinch point between PTSD + ADHD.

—The impatience of my handwriting. How I’m only happy when I’m writing at the speed of my thought or w/ the freedom of my affect.

—How I’ll leave a room to get sthg. + forget what it was by the time I get to the room I was going to.

—I can forget in the shower whether I’ve washed my hair or not: that spaced out.

—Rom. rel/s I have 2 modes: rapt attentiveness (early) + kind of get-on-with-it impatience (I already know how this sentence/story ends) (later on)

—My teaching style: create a container, then improvise, I and e/one else thinking on their feet.

—That I write best given a tight container (poetic form, 1 minute video) and/or procedure, + then freedom to fill it w/ whatever comes to mind. And rarely to do I compose from start to finish. (Tho’ SCRO)

—My aesthetic. Word by word make it new. Perfectness of a disorderly order.

ADDENDUM. Writing about my past, I slip into writing as if it were still present. It’s typical of trauma survivors to feel the past is still with them. But ADHD adds a new perspective. Fixating on a few traumatizing events, one traumatizing relationship, a single storyline – gives me me something to orient around. To arrange all the other data, past and present, in relationship to. I thought I was holding onto it because I didn’t know how to forgive; maybe I’m holding onto it because it meets a cognitive need.

The image up top: Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VIII (1923)

Intermission, gardenal

Took the day half off from Unlikeness. Slept in a bit, read a bit. Wrote a bit too. Then attended to a garden prolific in my negligence of it. Today’s harvest

august produce

And this evening’s meal (11:03 and it’s still simmering the liquid down)

tom and zucch

Got some Italian sausage to pop in there before I’m done. This post has unofficially been not about politics nor about writing neither. Good night.

P.S. But here’s a image to feed the spirit


You know what it is right? what we need & hope for, goodness overwhelming.

Augustine, whiteness, alienation

From the intro to the OE translation book. On the trope of exile and how it enacts Augustine’s “region of unlikeness.” But madness in Charlottesville and moral turpitude in Washington got in there. Am wanting to think through how the poems, composed by white men before “whiteness” was a thing, still inform this thing we know now as “whiteness.” The poems hold some of the raw materials – patriarchal culture of violence and valour and stoicism; will to dominance; constraint of women and suppression of what’s thought feminine; default stance of fear and suspicion towards the unknown; I could go on. Add ships and maps and a thirst for wealth and stir.

But also in them I find – mindfulness and curiosity, a tolerance for ambiguity, values of restraint and moderation, a love of beauty, playfulness, and the thought that much in the sense world could be animate, with its own ways of thinking and feeling through.

Caught between wanting to diagnose a sickness, and celebrate an innocence.

From Unlikeness Is Us: “Vagrant Introduction”

Exile in these poems is the felt reality of unlikeness. Unlikeness aware of itself, studying itself, in conversation with itself, maybe working to transmute itself, or to accept itself, or maybe mired in itself in alert despair. But keenly aware of itself. Unlikeness not aware of itself is alienation. On the other edge of the country I call mine for now a node of alienated whiteness drove through a crowd yesterday and killed someone. His idiot crew had flags on pointy sticks and torches, pointy sticks.[1] These poems may be ancestors to those supremacist pricks. They’re not on the hook for them, I insist that, but they may provide clues to them. The loneliness in the Anglo heart, the character Western restlessness later takes in it, bold and practical, industrious, venal, unscrupulous, when the age of exploration and colonization starts, and how that goes for the others met – there are clues to that in these poems. Maybe also seeds of the grotesque absurdities of Anglo-Nordic pride as it beetles from the fringes of American life pretty much as I type into the White House bedroom. But that’s later. The poems are wakeful. They take Augustine to heart, they believe in his unlikeness. They take unlikeness in, estrangement from the astonishing felt tissue of the present and their own blooming singing rampant bodies, and that may be tragic error. It might be the tragic subject all these poems have in common. But they hold a wakeful engagement with their condition as it’s given them. So, exile, estrangement, but not alienation – they don’t shut down, they stay brave, eyes open, looking out, looking in. They are at the root of one of the world’s great traditions of interiority.

[1]. “When questioned about the rationale for Trump’s evenhandedness, the White House clarified that both the protesters and the counter-protesters had resorted to violence. This is notable in that the United States was once a country that did not see Nazis and those willing to fight them as morally equivalent. Aside from that, however, there were no images of anti-fascist protesters mowing down reactionaries with their cars.” – Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker.

P.S.? I hate hate hate having that photo there. Like the smell of fresh shit in a kitchen drawer. To lessen it I’ll note that the douchebags are using for their grand display tiki torches of the sort used to repel mosquitos at family BBQs. Ride, warrior, ride. (Noted by Vinson Cunningham, also in The New Yorker.)

P.P.S.? Not that there’s anything wrong with mosquitos, shit, or a douche, in their places.

Vagrant introduction, first para

First paragraph of the intro to Unlikeness Is Us, a draft of it, what I been driving at these past days. Also doubles as a diversity statement. To my heterodox way of thinking anyway.

Ungelīc is ūs. Enigmatic, in the Old English, but it means something like “it’s different for us,” or maybe, “we are set apart.” To say rather “unlikeness is us” is to go after something uncanny in it—and in the poem it comes from and in all these poems—rather than the surface sense. By “uncanny” I mean something both familiar and strange, near and far, about these poems, that makes them, not scary, unsettling. Freud’s word for it was unheimlich, “unhomelike,” and he meant something intimately known, then by choice forgotten, and now it’s come back to be known again, and there’s an inner shiver. Something true of you you’ve become absent or alien to and here it is at the door. It’s how these poems meet me anyway. They’ve always been with us but have we known how to read them? Unlikeness has always been us but do we how to be it? I sit writing in a whitish corner of America, 2017, summer, no clouds and no sun either. Corner of Canada adjacent, where I grew up, is burning. America is burning too, literally,[1] allegorically,[2] morally,[3] anagogically.[4]

[1]. Reading according to the letter. Record-breaking heat this summer, again, and a terrible wildfire season, again.

[2]. Reading for the “truth hidden under a beautiful fiction” (Dante, Il Convivio).

[3]. Reading for the teaching or instruction implied.

[4]. Reading oriented toward the future, eschatology, end times. Note the vanishing of the sun without clouds or night or an eclipse to explain it. Apocalyptic.

I have ADHD. Confirmed last week. Don’t know whether to cry or be glad. Lot of things fall into place. Including why this leap and not knowing whether it’s an overshare, how to tell.[5] I guess, if you can’t spill too much on a blog, where can you.

To everyone I’ve ever talked over, interrupted, I’m sorry. God but I am.

[5]. Good example of unlikeness though whatever else it is.

Image atop is from this article here, about adoption as dissimilitude, and the love of humans and God. Have only scanned it but looks intelligent, and moving, and pertinent to the next paragraph of my intro, which isn’t ready to post yet.

But here’s the bit from Augustine:

When I first knew you, you took me up, so that I might see that there was something to see, but that I was not yet one able to see it. You beat back my feeble sight, sending down your beams most powerfully upon me, and I trembled with love and awe. I found myself to be far from you in a region of unlikeness, as though I heard your voice from on high: “I am the food of grown men. Grow, and you shall feed upon me….” I said, “Is truth nothing, because it is diffused neither through finite nor through infinite space?” From afar you cried to me, “I am who am.” I heard, as one hears in his heart; there was no further place for doubt.”

I hate his theology, as it seems to have come out to be as a whole, but love his writing, as I find it in its concrete instants. And yes I’m playing around w/ ADHD as a form, have been a good long while, apparently, it’s one of the upsides. Thanks for reading.