Caught then not

Got caught in a post-breakup jag of self-hate for a bit there. No one loves me, no one will want me, why should I bother. You know, that drill. It can be pretty compelling; it can be a rock fast at your head; a rock sunk fast in your head.

For me – I’m noticing this more and more lately, and wonder if it’s a lumpy fruit of years of practice, zazen, psychotherapy, artmaking – it was powerful but also clear-edged, I couldn’t push it away but it couldn’t take me over, either. Like, I can’t repress much anymore, walls of the mind don’t work so well anymore. What arises, I gotta suffer. But as recompense, what arises doesn’t wash me away either.

Or is it just getting older? Anyway, it came with a migraine, there was that much wave to it, and as I lay on my bed in the afternoon, near naked with the sun on me and the cat beside me, window wide open and the wind in the dogwood outside, and all the little birds, and traffic sounds, a thought came, and it was, the world wants you here. And another thought came, and it was, the evidence is, you’re here.

That is all.

 

Broke stick

I miss my lady. Got my coffee, books piled round me, sun on me through the big window as I work, some beautiful songbird being ceaseless on the patio, it’s all good. And I miss my lady. And it’s still all good. And still I miss her.

Painting of us, hers, angel as broke stick.

 

On abandonment

 

Been my work to report from the inside of what Winnicott calls “unthinkable anxieties” or “primitive agonies.” Others have said “annihilation terror.” The feeling I’m about to be snuffed out, next instant, makes no sense I’m going on being at all. Whole universe withdrawing from me in the mode of female rejection. Times I’ve wanted to help the process along, step in front of a truck. No, not now, not for a long time – I’m okay. This is a field report not a plea.

All the childs feel them. Belongs to being human, animal part stone part star. Most of us probably have echoes in us, form of nightmares, neuroses, phobias, premonitions. And some us saints been left with ’em more wholesale.

A rupture with my lover (screwy and I hope brief) and another with my mother (my choice and I fear for good) have me in a rough pinch right now. Add an intrusive procedure this AM to look at my bladder by the only route on offer – I fucking wept, not with pain, it hurt bad but was the intrusion got my sorrow on – and I really am in a way this evening.

A life’s work, wow, yeah. Tracing and reporting on it. How I hollow out inside. Or how the whole world, every perceptible instant, birdsong say, recedes from me, becomes alien, taunting, hostile.

Those who got stuck at this juncture with me will know it already. Those who made it through may not remember it. The forgetting is salutary, why should I ask you to remember. I have no good answer to that, right now.

But also, points of exit, relief. This terror, when I’m in it, is my ground – I’m looking to speak my ground. But also to find the ground under my ground and to soar from it.

Well. I’m sitting at Menace Brewing, trying to work on my Old English ms, due sooner than I fear I can manage, but this blog post called. I want to write about Winnicott, kindest of the psychoanalysts, but if I start I won’t stop, and I’m away from my books anyway. His interfusions with the buddhadharma are many. I have a feeling he underwrites, already, my Dura Mater.

And sorrows of these women I don’t understand, and have had a hand in, and feel held to account for. Sorry I’m mysterious there. The only life I get to strip mine here is my own.

I’m a man nearing 50 with a squalling inconsolable babe in me.

This grabbed (later) from Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts:

As concepts such as “good enough” mothering suggest, Winnicott is a fairly sanguine soul. But he also takes pains to remind us what a baby will experience should the holding environment not be good enough:

The primitive agonies

Falling for ever
All kinds of disintegration
Things that disunite the psyche and the body

The fruits of privation

going to pieces
falling for ever
dying and dying and dying
losing all vestige of the hope of the renewal of contacts

Mothers they got it tough. I don’t know how any of them do it. And its going wrong, well, Winnicott thought some of the world’s hurt could be explained there.

I say to me, you got to mother yourself, no one else will, you got to father yourself, no one else will. Everything that is here is here with you. What’s the practice of that though.

A lifetime looking, and I’ll be honest, not not finding.

Hard to remember when the fear sweeps through you as nebula.

 

Plum blossoms

First noble truth. Being hurts. It just hurts, to be. What is it to sit in that? Not to gnash, flail, look for a door out of it, but just abide in it. Wakeful, curious.

Hurting with more losses than I’m used to right now. Orphaned, a friend said, and nailed it. A woman I loved and loved me she said and I thought might be my only has shifted and said no to me. Bereft. My father my dear rigid irritable father is sliding into a senescence our lengthening life spans have made famous. His wife N. who has become dear to me, I fear for her, the burdening. And my mother, wounded and wounding, I have to say a no to her I don’t know she’ll withstand.

And these are all what a young man dear to me would call “first world problems.” And he is in duress in the only psychiatric bed that could be found in the whole GD state. A sort of duress I know myself. Times I think the error might be traced back to matter, the making of it in the first place.

So. First noble truth. It hurts to be. Duhkha. Suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness. We crave, age, we sicken, die. And it’s called noble because it’s good news. Good news because it’s the truth, said plainly, straightly.

My teacher gave me the name KyushunKyu, endlessshun, spring. One of the epithets for enlightenment. Occurs to me now, this cold cold blowy night, he wasn’t giving me that name he was giving it the world.

I don’t know what my practice is. I know my heart hurts. I can try to make it not hurt, like some ruffian to it, I guess, or I can let it hurt, tender it. But even then I don’t know what my practice is.

Is all I got for now. And love. And plum blossoms, who throw off the cold.

Shittiest trip ever

Went to California for a writing residency. About the shittiest trip I ever took. Anxiety attacks cuz I went off a migraine med and they were so bad I had to go on another med it’s going to be shitty shitty hell to get off. Strains resultant with a woman I newly tenderly love, and asked too much of, and I can’t tell if she’s going to drop me or no, and she won’t say cuz she finds the question demeaning. All my abandonment holes opening inly. Out of the running early for the tenure-line job at my school I’ve waited five fucking years to come open and out for reasons I am fiercely philosophically and pedagogically opposed to. Also a stomach flu over Christmas. And, my father, now without question in dementia, and going deeper there.

2016 sucked for the free world. Little patch at the end sucked right here, too.

Blessings upon Nichae and my father who took me in, late night, when I was brokenhearting. Blessings upon City Lights Bookstore, Moe’s Books, Green Apple Books. Blessings upon the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, hills I walked at night sometimes sobbing, howling even, the abandonment daimon (H’s word) in me that strong. Blessings upon the inventors teachers and practitioners of EMDR. Blessings upon John Jordy. Blessings upon Barb you know why. Blessings upon my mother whom I have to say goodbye to we can’t meet anymore in this life. Blessings upon H, whatever you end up doing or deciding, it’s been exquisite. Loss addled me early, buddha dharma and sangha are bearing me forward on a stumbly road I don’t even know I’m walking.

Safety pin note

Been so much dismal storm around safety pins, their moral meaning and weight, that wearing one, which was meant to mean

I’m with you and will help you out if you need me to if I can—

is at risk of meaning instead

I have taken a position in the debate over safety pins!

Goddamn. If anyone decides to kill off all the liberals, it won’t take a pogrom, it’ll only take putting us all in a room, and an invitation: “Talk to each other.”

That said. I’m wearing one and it’s sharpening my attention. Same as the precepts I took should (that’s another post). And I’m bothered by a small encounter and want to think and feel it through here.


I’m at Elizabeth Station, nice beer store / watering hole. Got an IPA I’m ready to buy, standing in line, and right beside me is a tasting going on – beers from my favourite brewery in the world. Unibroue, out of rural Quebec, they do the awesomest Belgians. (And you know, I’m tired to the bone of being American, suddenly keen to get my Canadian on. Quebecois, moi – vraiment? )

And K so, I’m not the best at breaking into ongoing conversations – I’m pretty damn bloody socially awkward, it’s been given me to know, on this point and others. That known, truth be told, I’m not at this point too aware of the guy presently tasting. He’s sipping from his taster glass, he’s not presently talking to dress shirt Unibroue dude. I step up

—Oh, are you doing a tasting?

And the spiel begins. Aged in cognac barrels, whatever. Pretty quick I can feel that the guy to my right, previous taster, is a bit put out. I’m not sure what it is exactly – strained smile? awkward stance? – but you’d sense it, too. Here’s where I take a few more visible facts of him in. Latino, thin well-trimmed beard, short, stocky, muscular. A smile that looks like it’s used to being friendly but just went to being thin and pained.

Okay. I’m in the middle of a micro-aggression I done. Even sweeter? I’m wearing the GD safety pin.

I want out. And am quadruply trapped: In the checkout line. At the tasting table. Wearing the GD the safety pin. Took the effing Buddhist precepts.

Quadruply stuck in a triangle of mutual misapprehension. I come up with

—Wasn’t Unibroue bought by Heineken or something?

—Sleeman’s. And they were bought by Sapporo. And they let Unibroue pretty much do their own thing. The Japanese can’t even pronounce the names of our beers.

That, from me, got a head tilt. A small thing, but the safety pin sent it to me, and I meant it as apology to the friend I didn’t make beside me, and I could see it got the message across the other spar of the triangle. The invitation to collaborate in an us-and-them, I’d turned down. Unibroue dude stumbled over his words a bit for a minute or two, till I bid him adieu.

Don’t wish him ill. He wanted to make connection in the how he knew to. Should be said, he sorely mangled the names of the beers he was pouring, Fin du mondeTrois pistoles.

Wanted, as I left, to find the friend I didn’t make, make eye contact, anything, but couldn’t. Liberal friends, conservative friends if I have any, we live in dukkha. Just gotta suck it up.


Did I break into an ongoing conversation cluelessly? I can do that. And that does happen all the time, esp. where beer is drunk. More to the point, did I feel licensed to because the man in the thin well kept beard wasn’t white?

I’m pretty self-aware, when I have time to reflect and introspect, and when I look in, I don’t find any sign of that. That a blind spot? Can’t, by definition, know.

If I’m honest about all the grubby factors that go on in male dominance calculi, our height difference was more likely a factor. But even that – not so much. He seems to me in memory grounded, muscular, sound in his frame, also open, friendly. The gorilla dog in me felt not threatening not threatened.

I can’t find a dominance intention in me. But maybe some cluelessness as to his sitch. Really the question here is, did he feel shoved aside, because I was white, and Unibroue dude was white, and he was not?

And here we are, that awful term and awfuller thing, white privilege. I don’t want it, don’t feel I have it, feel continually inadequate, but appear to be given it. At least that’s what I take from the body language and pained smile of the friend I didn’t make – something was not right for him and I was involved in it.

Tried, after I’d bought my beer, to catch his eye, make a connection – something to atone for what felt wrong and unfinished to me – and could not.

Atonement, that’s another post.


Last thought, a thread left stray above. One of the things we’re in here, with the election of Sad Trump, is a change in the chess game of the gestalt of masculinity. (Chess comes to me as trope because you can look to be losing badly – as I’ve felt we, who want to be voices of enlightenment and kindness, are – only to turn it round, wow, whew.)

I hope we’re seeing an old sense of manhood in its vital death throes. Not, please no, a victorious fascistic resurgence. (Fascist surges have never been victorious, long run; there’s comfort there.) But masculinity will not itself be extinguished. It needs to metamorphose. So I’m going to here if I need to be in my small way (10,000 hits in 2+ years is hardly more than a smudge) open, even at risk of being heterodox, about what that metamorphosis might ask. Of men, of all. Love to you friends.

Exercise: Mythtime, mythworld

Their writing exercise for this week, and it’s a tough one:

Write a poem that taps into myth consciousness. Pointers. Not literary myth consciousness, Hera, Zeus, Leda and the swan, that sentimental crap. The myth consciousness of Ghandl’s poems, all the world potentially sentient, stuffed with spirit beings. Awe, wonder, the sacred breaking down the door. To help that happen – no names of any gods or goddesses.

That would be Ghandl of the Qayahl Llaanas, classical Haida mythteller, in Robert Bringhurst’s translation.1 

Tough for students for whom Thor is a Marvel Superhero. I try to get across that the Greek and Norse gods of popular imagination are attenuated forms – you have to go back to Sappho at least, the Homeric hymns, to get a whiff of the sacred those forms were to their makers. Don’t know if I get my point across very well.

I say, when we talk about mythtime in Ghandl, that’s not only a distant past – it’s also just under the skin of this moment. Other cultures call it dreamtime. It’s what people take hallucinogenic drugs to get to. When you wake from a dream supercharged with with meaning – that’s myth consciousness.

Write a poem from that place.

How I put it in an e-mail to a student wanting to retell an Arthurian story:

The key to the assignment is to tap into myth consciousness. The state of mind that finds an enlarged significance in anything it pays close attention to. In Ghandl’s stories that enlarged significance is expressed as spirit beings and metamorphoses – how a bird skin can turn out to be weather, or a wife can be revealed as a cloud. In Greek myths, originally, that enlarged significance got expressed as “Zeus,” or “Aphrodite,” divine beings that embodied something awesome and terrifying – sacred – about being in the world.

But those myths have long since been attenuated, turned to literature, pretty stories. So I think have the Arthurian legends (which are legends, not myths, there’s a difference, though also some overlap). So it might be hard for you to tap into myth consciousness retelling one of those stories, whether or not you use the names.

I’m not going to tell you not to do it though; I’d sort of rather you didn’t retell anyone else’s story, but if you’re keen on this one, it’s not my business to stop you. Do apply this test to your poem though: Does it express wonderment? Not second-hand wonderment, coopted from the story you’re retelling, but your own, discovered in your encounter with the material.

The trick? The emoji on our iPhones, the Pokemon chars they spent a while chasing after, they too’s attenuated forms of that. We’re still after scraps of awe. Some of them are called metaphors.

A sorry nostalgic chase, I say, when leaves, wind, rain, sun, deer 953.

photo-23


1. Around which controversy skirled awhile. Whether Bringhurst had the right to. Whether those who said he didn’t spoke for the whole Haida people or no. I feel tender, tentative, around it all, but from what I can tell, Ghandl knew what he were up to, when he sold and told his stories to John Swanton, an anthropologist committed (unlike most – astonishing) to transcribing the stories he heard word for word. Was Ghandl coerced just the same? His culture was in grave peril. He could have had his stories die with him – perhaps let many to. He also, for reasons we can’t ask him, chose to sow this killing culture with seeds that flourish even today. Though the book‘s out of print.