Sunday, January 29, 2006


This is the kind of day that makes me want to post Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish in its entirety. The kind of day that drives home the feeling of thrownness. (Thrownness: none of us chose to be born; none of us chose where to be born or whom to be born to or what we would look like or who we would meet. We will no0t choose when we die or who we die with or who goes with us. We will not choose where transience leaves us off, where we end up, and, by implication, what we believe, what we like, what we value, what we know, what we deny. We are thrown into everything.) One could imagine it a shitty day in every respect of the word: upon waking I was hit with a wall of greyness and overcast and maddening raindrops in the middle of winter. I tried to be productive and a good little worker bee, but all I left behind was an almost-done paper and a few literary abortions. The walk to where I do phone counselling was terrible, playing up every manner of irritability, turning the umbrella inside-out and outside-in again. The shift itself was tough, parading every kind of broken person in front of me. Intellectually, I have grasped my utter powerlessness to help except by imperceptible nudging over a long time; but the emotional brain is slower to learn, so now I carry confidential tales of suffering with me, despite my best efforts to leave what happened where it happened. Then home; then a desire to write something but the inability to get more than three sentences off the ground; the inability to banter with cohabitants; the inability to get any work done; the e-mail server down, cutting off my lifeline to the world of not-here; the resonating phrase of practical Buddhism: "meditation does not help us escape the problems of the world, but accept them and understand them ever more intensely"; the feeling of proto-anxiety attacks as I try to surf the internet cutting off all my attention; I read about them. And then I had to read this? This makes this comic even more brilliant, but it is not what I needed. Where was the catharsis? I was blindsided; it's been a long time since tears even began to well up in these eyes. I don't think you can appreciate the full impact of this unless you had my kind of day, or a comparably shitty one. But I am describing it inadequately.

Oh, to hell with it: here's Kaddish. Ginsberg made me believe in redemption in a schizophrenic world; he made me a hopeless romantic at heart. But never optimistic. I cannot indulge myself that. But I can look for my center.

Consider: "Emperor Wu of Liang asked the great master Bodhidharma, "What is the highest meaning of the holy truths?" Bodhidharma said, "Empty, without holiness." The emperor said, "Who is facing me?" Bodhidharma replied, "I don't know.""

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Small

It's time to focus on little things:

In the course of studying for a class of mine, I came across a LiveJournal entry from someone from one of my classes, which I found good for a chuckle. This is good to remind me that other people feel totally left out and disenfranchised in front of the brilliantly intimidating professor.

A schizophrenic man approached me on the street. He began to spout gibberish but he was so friendly about it that I smiled at him and took his pamphlet. He responded well. The pamphlet made no sense, but it had a reference to an article called "Doctor, I'm Schizophrenic, not Stupid". It's true. He probably wasn't.

A kid sat down next to me at the coffee shop and dribbled pastry all over my coat. But I couldn't stay mad at him.

Another man at the coffee shop saw what I was reading and asked me what progress they were making in AI. We talked briefly; I couldn't be anything more than vague.

I talked to one of the barristas, and he told me his theory about math and quantum mechanics, in reciprocation to my talk about human origins and cooperation and game theory. Most of it went over my head.

This is what alcohol is going to do to my brain tonight.

I had a monumental debate with myself over whether I should purchase a jar of honey. I didn't, but vowed to do so in the future.

Consider: "Singularity God impossible. / Opposites de-god Religion. / Opposites create the universe. / Opposites compose the Earth. / Opposites compose humanity. / Opposites create your body. / Opposites de-god academia. / Opposites de-god singularity / taught by religious/academia."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


I've noticed a lack of dialogue-themed posts recently. This makes me sad, because when my inner monologue is replaced by a dialogue (or, if lucky, a multi-directional colloquy) I feel less alone (I feel alone because of the isolation of studying, not because of some failure of social maintenance, but I digress). This latest one is yet another ruse to help me study for an upcoming test. But who knows, maybe the subject matter is interesting to an audience beyond these two ill-defined, one-dimensional characters in my head.

Scene: A mesa. Dessicated soil all around. A tree. CHASE and SANBORN (with apologies to D. Dennett) are sitting on a single rotting wooden bench.

CHASE: You know, man, we have not made much progress in explaining cognition yet. Everywhere we run into mysteries. We run in circles when it comes to explaining ostensibly simple things like how we carve the world up, things that are so intuitively obvious it feels we're just trading obscurities. But the sad truth is we just don't know. We run into profound mysteries. We tried to analyze how the mind stores information, but memory is polluted by goals and context and seemingly irrelevant cues. So we said to ourselves: let's look at problem solving. And then we found out that intelligence is really important for properly formulating problems. And how are these problems formulated? Intelligently. And now this rationality shit? I've had enough.
SANBORN: What rationality shit?
C: Haven't you been keeping up with the readings?
S: From time to time.
C: What the hell does that mean?
S: Fine. I've been tweaking my mesolimbic dopaminergic system with recreational drugs for the last two weeks. It was rewarding.
C: Hey, don't pollute my head with that neuroscience shit! Don't you know that mind-talk can't be reduced to brain-talk? That the mind is multiply realizable in many different media?
S: I have my reservations about that thesis, but we won't get to that for a while yet. In the meantime, I'm content to just be your ignorant foil with occassional flashes of insight.
C: Fuck your insight. You have no idea where you got it from.
S: That's true. But we covered that. Most problems are formulated by unconscious processes.
C: Anyway, this rationality shit, as you called it...
S: called it that...
C: Anyway, we have this huge corpus of evidence that humans don't behave in rational ways. For example, people do really badly at the Wason Selection Task, or syllogisms, or most kinds of reasoning. They exhibit confirmation biases, belief perseverance, pseudodiagnosticity, conjunction fallacies, just to name a few. Turns out that our assumptions that humans work rationally were flawed.
S: Hold on there for a moment. What kind of standard of rationality are you using?
C: Obviously, something that is actually rational, like math or logic.
S: Really? Well, that seems needlessly normative. Are you implying that the mind is churning through syllogisms or proofs in the course of making every decision? I doubt that many decisions can be modelled by that. You might be missing the point. We are looking for a descriptive theory of rationality. Now, you claim, on the basis of this experimental data, that humans are irrational. But you have forgotten that there could be other explanations. My major one is that we haven't a clue what we mean by rational. It seems an inherently normative concept. So how do we build a descriptive theory from it?
C: Well, we need to start somewhere. Although something tells me the whole effort will fall though, just like all the other efforts. We will have wasted our lives walking up and down the halls of academia and spewing words and papers...
S: Calm down there; something tells me you're just being really fucking emo right now.
C: Way to trivialize my feelings, asshole.
S: Look! Someone is coming. I bet he or she will help us make progress on the problem. The plot practically requires it.
C: Can we cut out the fourth wall bullshit, please?

Enter DHAL on a moped.

DHAL: Do you gents have some gas?
C: Do you have the conceptual means to help us make progress on our reationality debate?
D: I sure do. I'm also a peyote shaman.
S: How's that working out for you?
D: Oh, you know. Enough with small talk. There are essentially two sides and five arguments in this debate. The one side, exemplified by Chase here...
C: do you know my name?
D: Peyote.
C: ...right.
D: ...the first view basically throws up its hands and admits this profound irrationality on the weight of the experimental evidence. The other view is not willing to give the concept up so quickly. They have four arguments, some of which are interrelated by various degrees: (1) there is a distinction, popular in linguistics, between competence and performace. Competence is the inherent capacity of all humans to produce language, but moment-to-moment performance is mediated by many other factors. For example, if you got a tongue piercing, your speaking performance decreases, and this has nothing to do with your competence. At least some of our systematic failures in rationality can be attributed to this, kind of like how children lose marks on a math test not because they don't understand the concepts of algebra, but beacuse they forgot a negative sign. Similarly, (2) we cannot expect perfect performance because human minds are computationally limited; we are not capable of churning through and calculating everything, so we have to make do with our limited resources. This might suggest that rationality is simply effective deployment of limited resources. (3) These people also point out that in many tasks, subjects construe the requirements differently, espeically if they have no experience in formal logic. An example is the "or" operator in logic, which is true if both arguemnts are true, which is not reflected in the colloquial meaning of "or", and finally (4) he norm we are using might be faulty. I guess that falls back on what we mean by rationality.
C: And what do you think rationality means, then? I guess that's the crux of the matter.
D: If I told you that, I'd be depriving you of a long, meandering spiritual journey.
C: Shit. Why did I know you'd say that?
D: Maybe because I'm a mystical peyote shaman?
S: OK, I think we get that,
D: Would you fellows like some?
S: Why not? We've got a long, long journey ahead of us.

They take the peyote. We will rejoin our confused anti-heroes on another "exciting" installment sometime before my goddamn fucking pain-in-the-ass test. But I really do like the subject matter.

Consider: "The scientific linkage of a gene with chemicals that affect happiness or sadness does not answer the question "Is there a God?" but rather "Why do we believe in God?"

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


And by culture, I mean whatever dregs of common parlance we have managed to squeeze out of the internet. I have to confess: I tried; I tried hard to read The Canon of dead white men who tried to teach us about life, but I much prefer the bottom-up evolutionarily-driven occassional-nugget-of-wisdom hit-and-miss culture of the internet. Take today. I was just wetting my whistle in a webcomic I had been linked to, when this set of panels came up. The clumsy exposition made me smile. Then it made me laugh harder than many webcomics to date. I can't figure it out. But I can't escape the feeling I've learned something about myself, no matter how hard I try not to. Web comics are distractions, after all. Or are they bellweathers of poignancy

But I can't just rattle off a post about internet culture without a few more examples. Here we have all humanity assembled: all the shock jocks, all the rambling madmen, all the old ladies with their cats and pushcarts, every alpha male barking out his orders to lackeys and cronies, every loser looking for his fame and every loser wearing that loserdom like a badge of honour, every overmodded teenage girl's bedroom, every secret to beauty and sex (there is no link I could provide here that would not inundate my computer with tentacle porn--so none of that) and gossip, every philosophical problem and the madly brilliant solution to that philosophical problem, every metacommentary you can ever imagine, every cult and religion and creed and nation and ideology and idealism, every snarky cynic and critic, all the rockers and lovers, the poets and *dreamers, the careerists and demagogues continue their parade.

I hyperlinked the hell out of that, and it was needlessly time-consuming. But who knows what link someone mught follow? Fly, little piglets. Explore! There's such a world out there!

That's it for "culture" for a long while. I shall return with long dialogues about the test I'm studying for. It should be "a" "hoot". If you like endlessly debating human rationality, problem solving, artificial intelligence or the scientific revolution. Frankly, I'm too tired.

Consider: "Don't take this the worng way, but you are born alone and die alone."

Friday, January 20, 2006


Characters, all, it would seem. We are the idealists that chop trees down to make the parchment on which we write our moralistic disquisitions. We dream of uniting all people but end up secretly trying to destroy the sun, or block its effects by hook and croook, cloak and dagger, light and shadow, nicotinic choliergic receptor antagonists and GABA agonists, by pointers and obscurities, by sad little pictures and long abstract sentences that rarely find their ends. We wear clothing which the mainstream finds ridiculous, although we never thought so or even gave much conscious deliberation to the moth-eaten and multicoloured rags we wear. The rags: like multipotent stem cells which could one day differentiate into any kind of garment: ascots, assless chaps, corsets, trenchcoats. We lament everything that doesn't happen to us efforlessly because we secretly loathe working and would like to subvert every stairwell via ridiculous stunts like packing it with jello, would like to send every load-bearing wall crashing down, and through the twilit haze of tiny particulates including asbestos emerge from the hole screaming "boo-ya!", or "OM", or "who's the bureaucrapocalyptic bitch now?". We are sexual deviants, all: little girls who kicked concrete structures harder than the boys, whose scabs glistened more than theirs, whose disses were more florid and fresh, whose rhymes were tight, faster than light, like balls of TNT about to ignite; or 20-year-old "men" looking to the inner 7-year-old girl as the idealized guiding light to proper action and conduct. We are the coven dancing around the gourd filled with beer, or rare ales with near-unknown herbal remedies thrown in for congestion, for impotence, for mono or strep throat or the avian flu. We are the chanters and chanteuses capable of hitting the high E flat which set old Wolfgang Amadeus' parietal lobe flowing out of his dura mater with a loud pop and rip. We are still sexual deviants and that last sentence did not exorcise it. The beer in the cauldron does not make us forget it. We are the people that litter all the utility poles in the city with posters for events like "slut school" or "fuck faces" or "tit fuck me Jesus" which I've already mentioned in a previous post. We are the movement growing out of the ass-end of every box-shaped bar and smoky den of opium, out of every parkette and cul-de-sac that only exists for the purposes of delivering mail, out of every sketchy alley that is sagging under erosion and hidden potholes, from every Victorian living room with 19th-century trimmings now totally steeped in the spider-like 21st century ethernet nightmares (moment of clarity: here I am describing my own living situation). We are the ones that dream angels into this world just so we can shoot them down with slingshots from the rooftops, stabbing them with wrought-iron fleurs-de-lises. We would express our deviant madness if only we knew how to line up the flesh and the orifice and how to properly lubricate all the moving parts, how to leverage the joints and stop the wooden pegs and prostetic pelvises from falling out. We are in love with speeches and repetitions--invocations--that are at once intimate and non-specific. And we like it ambiguous and left to the whims of contingency; we are the kind of people who the current weather affects disproportionately. We would like to travel the world, to scatter our weary travel-and-sand stained eyes on the pyramids and Olduvai Gorges, the Hindu Kush Mountains and Siberian fishing villages of the broad world, but we feel the world is within the 1400 or so cubic centimeters inside this dog's breakfast in our skull. We are aboive all indecisive, but incisive. We shudder at the slogan-ness of the last sentence; that's another thing: we self-reference all the time. My inner seven-year-old girl is prodding my motor homunculus to stop sitting on your fucking foot or you'll get pins and needles. We are crazy, but not pathological. Every kind of drug and fume and unction and mountebank passes us by at Dim Sum as we wheel the Lazy Susan around and around to sample from the life banquet partitioned out by language differences but smoothed over with green tea.

So I took some license. I do write what I know, but I'm a pathological exaggerator. It's my memory system: it's prone to abstraction. I can't describe features but I can describe behavioural patterns. I just switched from "we" to "me". How lonely.

Consider: "Remember that as a teenager you are in the last stage of your life when you will be happy to hear the phone is for you."

Thursday, January 19, 2006


In my defense, this is not the safest of neighbourhoods; I'm sure I've mentioned our resident crackheads, also the local parkette, so popular with the heroin crowd (well, not in winter; obviously), or the psychiatric insititute down the street, or our homeless people of all varieties: shameless or angry or resigned or happy (one time I was telling a joke about statistics, and this homeless lady laughed, and then told me a joke of her own) or insane. Not to even mention the damn hooligan kids who overturn our garbage, or the raccoons who do the same. Or maybe it's the fact that two years ago this house was on the local news beacuse of a stabbing.

So you might understand why, as I was preparing to head of to sleep the other day, I was terrified by the sound of screaming and falling (tumbling of some sort) from the basement. It woke up almost everyone else on our floor. And for a few minutes I honestly thought there was an axe-murderer (or some other variety of murderer) in the house. But it was not so. As we listened intently through the laundry vent, we heard the screams of terror turn to screams of glee. So we all spent the next half hour trying to figure out what the hell was going on. (I should mention the screaming was fairly constant.) We developed at least four distinct scenarios: (1) someone had taken too much of some mind-altering drug and had to overcome the initial shock on their system, which would explain the terror to glee transition (2) hot sex of some sort, possibly involving S&M, possibly lesbian or three-way, which would explain the three distinct voices (3) a mouse or rat was loose in the basement, which accounts for the pleas to "do something!" or (4) hot laundry at 3 a.m., because we did hear talk of socks and the laundry machines rattled, and this all seemed to happen in the laundry room.

The next morning, someone went down to sleuth out what the hell happened. We found no clues, except one: all the towels were missing. What does this prove?

Consider: "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I have to comment on one of the things I read today. This kind of historical ephemera is the exact reason I considered studying history in university. Whnever I read these things, even something as short as a pseudo-stub Wikipedia article, I feel it intensely. I picture the streets the Jews walked in this strangest of strange countries, the most xenophobic of strange countries. I picture a young boy taken to his first celebration of the cherry blossoms...

But eventually sense re-asserted itself, and I am now going down a path that (and I say this only with a bit of self-aggrandizement) may threten to destroy the world. How cool is that? Come on! Artificial intelligence could overturn many cherished human illusions. It may overturn our illusion of being in control. Psychology is already doing that, AI or no AI. But once we get past the sci-fi "evil robot" stereotype, we begin to see how the good emerges, and I'll make an unwarranted prediction and say the benefits will outweigh the costs. Robot soldiers would be less inclined to rape; they may be less ruthless than humans. We could treat mental disorders almost like we would a physical ailment. We could re-inject positive spirituality into humankind's search for meaning; our therapies would be more human, less metallic and hars; more human, less choppy and disjointed. We would know what brings aobut happiness when and could act on it in rational ways. We would know what maximizes creativity at any goven point and in many circumastances. We could have Beethoven factories. Robot Hemingways. Mechanical Martin Luther King Juniors. Robot idealists. Robot bankers; robot politicians. How would that be any worse than what we have now? AI could make us better parents, better lovers, better neighbours; better workers and better rulers. Better able to deal with life's stresses, better managers. But not just managers--who would like to live in a micro-managed cage? We would grow more quickly. I mean that in a "spiritual", "self-actualizing" way. Whatever you choose to call it. We could invoke God and know Her to be an excellent listener, a personal therapist without all the brimstone and burning.

It could do all these things, but it won't. We'll be lucky to achieve just a few. Why? It'll be because of greed. Some gluttonous pig with his fingers in the research funding pie will shape the nascent project. If we let him. We better not fucking let him. But we might. Just becase there are many of the same mind, but they are a distributed network. Fragile and isolated. Or so it seems.

Consider: "The two greatest characters in the 19th century are Napoleon and Helen Keller. Napoleon tried to conquer the world by physical force and failed. Helen tried to conquer the world by power of mind—and succeeded!"

Monday, January 16, 2006

Bay Window (Part V)

There's nothing else to write about but what's outside my window. That is fortunate, because yesterday an umbrella blew into the middle of the street, and then the neighbourhood black cat (who we had named Nola after a bout of drinking, in memory of those in New Orleans who were carried away by the oily sludge of Lake Ponchartrain--but I digress) came and began circling around it. They were like two elementary particles, these objects, so improbable each in their own right, so dependent on historical contingency stretching back to before this planet was formed: so improbable, yest stable. Each had carried on in its own function through as much time as was allotted to it and managed to do so stably and consistently. (The umbrella was on its dying gasps, I should mention: its spokes were bent and the covering was all but detached from the main skeleton.) So the cat pawed at the umbrella, knocked it around a bit, and then left to other non-heoric adventures, probably because a van was coming down the street. The van swerved to avoid the umbrella. (Why is it that this last sentence reads like something that has already been written in an advanced ESL book somewhere. Oh, my individuality is falling apart all around me...) And then the van carried on. At which point I probably went back to my desk and either read something or aimlessly resomed wandering the internet, looking for software or musis to steal, being the information-banshee that I am.

We'll leave it at that. I'd like to go out for a walk, but the Inuit Goddess of cold fronts and low pressure areas has different plans for me.

Consider: "The human race will begin solving its problems on the day that it ceases taking itself so seriously."

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Urban Soup (Part VIII)

We don't have enough forays into anarchism these days. But today was unusual, because as I sat in a coffee shop (not my usual one) at a six-person table, I was joined by an impromptu gathering of anarchists and culture jammers. So I did what I never normally do: I started talking to them and listened in on their meeting. No fooling: there were the two idealistic girls who took issue with my denigrating of naive anarchism, there were two beardos like me who I could totally relate, full of impotent, bitter rage at the status quo, the kind of people who carry black markers to deface Christian Dior ads with remarks such as "feed me", earnest writers and comedians (also beardos). There was a raver there who talked of internet-based culture jamming and Big Brother: I can't figure out whether he was brilliant or mad--probably some combination of the two. There were notebooks and e-mails and anarchist business cards. We talked about authorship and the end of irony; I almost launched into my talk on how irony is slowly dying, even though it resonates with the public, and earnestness is back in vogue. We talked of revolutions and words like subvertising. One guy ducked out when a police car passed by. So now it appears that I'm acquainted with a group of culture jammers. I've always been sympathetic, and I'd like to see where it goes. But I must admit that my faith in human organizational capacity is less than stellar. It didn't help that we were all hung over. (Except for me, because for some reason I didn't go drinking yesterday.)

Ultimately the only strength our communities will have is the strength of our connections. That's how we resist ads: through communal irony, through humor, throuhg dance and climbing, through poetry read-ins, through teach-ins. But all this makes me tired. The personal is political, and that is the saddest realization of them all. I don't want to be a fucking example of lifestyle politcs, or a cog in the machine. But there is no choice. It appears that the global is local, except distorted through some fucked-up lenses. Shit. I don't want to have to deal. But if I'm at all interested in people, I will have to. Shit.

Consider: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Urban Soup (Part VII)

The posters and rags of Kensington market are both photogenic and literature-genic. But every once in a while, the good old angry boys crawl out of the woodwork to leave me muttering "jackass..." under my breath. Just today two of them were shouting at each other and then began to Judo-fight in a very stylized manner. Or so I think. The whole time the other good old boys stood around in their leather under their awnings in front of the neon signs making quips of sorts or at least chuckling at their expense. One of the combatants has a permanent job unloading the perennial delivery vehicle at one of our many rotten fruit shops; the other is a street Reggae vendor. Their friends sometimes throw untethered bicycles directly onto the street. It's the drugs, I guess. And still I haven't found anyone to accompany me while I sit in their bar. In their great victory they manage to drown out every muser on the sidewalk, every hackey-sack, every sarong, every fluttering rainbow flag, every "(with respect) fuck the police" graffittied onto a piece of plywood. And they'll be Judo-fighting for a while, until someone falls. And you can't break your fall on the concrete. Trust me.

I suppose spending a majority of my spare time at the same coffee shop would bring about these results. I can't read there any more. I keep getting drawn into conversations about New Criticism which I have to bullshit my way through, or greeted by bona fide cowboys, or chuckling with the dude from the synagogue down the street, or being company to at least two of the baristas on their break. This is not unwelcome. And what did I expect? But am I ready to make the mythical transition from the eavesdroppin peaple-watcher and people-listener to the "I couldn't help overhearing" guy? And where will someone like me read his pithy plays or his magazines? Where will I complete the crosswords from the weekly rags? Where else can the din keep me awake even when I want to surrender? Just a little bit of uncalled-for bitchery.

Consider: "We learn from history that we learn nothing from history."

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Scribbler

The Scribbler is a curious creature: so in love with jotting something down, in love with a good way of putting something, in love with the word and how it fluidly carries its textual bulk down a page, in love with the next line and almost unaware of the line just written. He has been wondering how to remain productive, for The Scribbler is naturally prone to cycles of dryness and cycles of unrecordable overabundance. The Scribbler is not special: his attention span is average at best, for sure beset by the ever-present shiny things and TV shows and musical phrases floating around in the vicinity. So he graviatates to peotry, or sometimes the short story. Sometimes he scribbles down longer-term projects, but they fizzle out unless they are collections of bite-size thought fragments. Thematic unity eludes him, so he resorts to making underhaanded connections between these pieces of text, much like a hyperlink on the internets. He would be a poet and starve if it wasn't for the abundance of actually useful projects he undertakes. He thinks more than he writes. And who doesn't? They should put him in a zoo, feed him and keep his environment controlled for climate and cirrcadian interruptions. He can live out his life in a garbage-filled alley meticulously making imagistic snippets from eveyr piece of garbage and miscellany, taking about the swirling and the sounds and the contrasts between ground and sky and the sounds of the door and the infrequent passers-by and the puddles and the sunshine and the heat shimmers and the dew. But how can an anarchic big-city alley be a zoo? You'd be surprised. How many artist's colonies are just that? Running to nature is not the way modern artists should tell people what they live for. Sadly, nature no longer pleases us on a conscious level. I know this is contentious, but bear with me. Flowers and the names of three or four species of fern will not help me deal with life. It will not sweeten my present. My present is a brick wall; it is a mentally ill person sleeping on a concrete bench half a block from me; I'll spare you further synecdoches. Unless you address this, you are not addressing me, and nowadays you are not addressing the majority of humanity. Burn those quaint little islands to the ground! I have no interest in soil. People are much more fruitful, wherever they may be. So don't follow the mid-brain drives of our ancestors all the goddamn time! You are supposed to be an innovator, artist! Innovate! Be relevant! Be as The Scribbler and hope for the best. You won't starve, at any rate.

Consider: "An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex."

Monday, January 09, 2006


Stockholm again. It might be evening or it might be afternoon. I don't know. I can't see the time stamp.

I guess it emerges from travel. Or it might be the product of many evenings on no sleep, or as many evenings nad nights spent exploring the depths of family histories: you know the kind with obscure anecdotes and punch-lines which require the juggling of some half dozen characters where "he thought that she said the dogs and the goats belonged to the new guy but it was all really a ploy...". I suppose it is a counterbalance to the barriers put up by language. A reacquaintance with the history of family and a rehashing of the wampeters of some ancestor's karass.

Don't accept what they tell you: in this country and in this open, unstable society we choose our relevant others--the ones whose stories and meandering phylogenies we choose to give a shit about, the ones who inspire these rambling cries of a dispossessed, rootless cosmopolitan cat at some unknown hour at some on-again-off again dying Swedish keyboard, fax machines and televisions and 15 years worth of catching up all around. Anyway, I don't accept the essentialism of family, appealing as unconditional love can be at times. But I am leaning more toward accepting my ancestry and looking at how heritage before my time came to define me: how I think and how I twitch and how I speak and how I do or do not solve problems; how I write and what parts of the temendous historical frescoes I deem relevant--that is a huge Question for me, salience. What comes from accepting all the innumerable goatherds, petty and important aristocrats, thieves, nomads, Communists, monarchists, alcoholics, fools, bards, romantics, merchants, Jews, madmen, poets, warriors, educators, housekeepers and beggars that in their way contributed to me? I know the cheapness of a list of adjectives, so I will stop. But try to understand their stories: their trials are part of my oral history, my handed-down mythology for better or worse. Try to read between the lines at the conversations in smoky kitchens I participated in or overheard. How divorce bowed my poor mother down. How other women never recovered. How I was conceived as the first child of petty bourgeois aspirations: destined to be a doctor or lawyer or high-ranking journalist. Can you see? Suddenly music lessons and alternative schools make sense? The upshot of all this musing is, as usual, a visceral re-affirmation of some hopeless truism: that we cannot know who we are until we have some ideas of where we come from, what expandin historical lineage we are supposed to promulgate. Phylogeny is essential for studying evolution in any meaningfully interesting way. Interesting to realize that phylogeny is just family history on a large scale.

It is what counters my language barrier separation anxiety. I cannot--thouh it hurts to accept--grasp all the breadth of the world's stories and cries, al lthe world's fearful anxieties and dreams, but there exists--below me, if you will--an untapped source that is me and is not me.

But don't forget that we are free to choose. There is half of my family history that I stand ambivalent on: the male-line descent which I'm sure would be as interesting and silly and harrowing were I to forgive and forget and start giving a shit. Maybe I will, one day. Maybe I will undertake that modern spiritual journey to the Old Country to chase the shade of my father. If there is money. As far as it stands, a mild brush with that balkanized part of the world is quite enough for me.

Somewhere back there I started talking to myself. For that, I am sorry.

Consider: "Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food."

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Ghosts & Limitations

It is probably not a great observation that travel makes one lonely. But there is something really visceral that wells up whenever I travel to Europe. It does not ruin my vacation, my sightseeing, my exchange or anecdotes or my systematic wating to have this whole place dug. But language barriers strike me really hard. Why? Well, it's one thing to say that people are separated by artificial borders which don't actually correspond to anything in reality. We can go ahead and chant obsenities at formalities and customs agants. (We really don't; at the very least it is not advisable.) But language barriers are real and tangible. The greatest accident of historical contingency. I realize the Bible has beaten me to this obervation, attributing it to the cruel whims of a jealous God, but it's worth exploring.

Our stories and literatures and humour and wisdom is forever incomplete so long as the sounds I make don't set off the appropriate neural events in you. We cannot be fully interacting humans so long as we just stand here on this platform, gesture and smile dumbly. If we are lucky, we find an inadequate lingua franca in which we can get by, in which we can make trite comments and alugh out of pity at attempted wit. It is sad. I hate being limited by what I can say. It is sad and it is lonely.

When I start using one-syllable words, you know I'm at the end of my attempts at eloquence and I am beginning my descent into over-emotiveness. There is no emoticon for what I'm feeling. But at least I can try to make my linguistic community understand.

Consider: Some languages sound more jolly than others. Is there something to that?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Parting: So I travel from my city tomorrow. I leave behind my strange, agitated, inspired, beautiful, clarion, potential-filled mess. It's a really ambivalent feeling; on the one hand there is a definite need to escape a kind of claustrophobia which descends at moments that defy explanation; however, there is great familiarity which comforts. How can I leave my streets, home to so many boring epiphanies, the streets where every block has its own non-heroic story, the canals and wires and bent utility poles? And the people? This includes the bumblebee swarms of youth comng up the streets endlessly, includes the walking hills of rags, includes the drunks unhappily carried in archetypal shopping carts. My instinct is to hold on to them. But instincts need to be critiqued. I fall into too many holes in my rooms. New kicks are comparisons for the familiar ones. I will get to see how people are different and how they are all the same. Will I be greeted by the same stone alleyways or by much more garish neon marquees? What do you say to that?

Staying: So I laughed as a defense mechanism for a good half an hour when I saw the hotel room where a friend would be staying. Everything in there meshed together perfectly and in the greatest, most harmonious, cacophony of depression. The echoes of an old woman's death-cough down the halls. The painting which added no colour to the walls. The grooves punched into the drywall. The graffitti: a single inescapable crying eye which said "sorry". The guts of the sink hanging from the cabinet. The half-pried-open TV with only three channels, all cartoons. The view of the parking lot where the only sound is that of garbage flowing to the wind. Words don't do it justice. Maybe pictures will be forthcoming.

Consider: "When one must, one can."