Play

What are the differences between statues and icons and toys? 
Adults set up statues and icons in fixed formations. With toys, their relationships are still flexible. 
It’s as if adults find their favorite configurations.

Internal Inquiry and Optimism

      D. Is there anything for which you are more grateful than the question? 
      S. No.
      D. Why?
      S. Because it seems to be the one indespensible tool. 
      D. Can you give an anecdote?
      S. Yes. For years, I had been unable to maintain standards around daily behavior for more than a few months. I would start some new behavior and feel good about it, but anxiety, guilt, and doubt always crept in.
      For example, using checklists. I’ve used checklists, off and on, for fifteen years. But I’ve never maintained the practice. Why? Basically, the problem was that too often I either felt bad for checking a box, because there was some doubt whether my action met the standard, or I wasted time doing some activity that really wasn’t a priority at the time. In both cases, this was dispiriting. The habit went from exciting (an opportunity to do better, to be better) to unsustainable, sometimes over the course of a week.
      When I tried to correct this problem by setting clearer standards, I either felt bad for having lax standards, or again, if I set stringent standards, I either did not always meet the standards (and so could not check the box in good conscience) or I too frequently misspent my time doing a task, so that I could check a box, that wasn’t a priority at the time.
      D. Why have the checkbox item at all if taking the time to do it could be categorized as time misspent?
      S. Because circumstances aren’t the same every day. Having an item that is useful to perform 85% of the time, and always useful to have there, as a reminder, means that about once a week, it’s not the best use of your time. 
      My vocabulary, for most of my life, was constricted to description and despair.  I could describe how things were, and I could feel guilty about them. Occasionally I could have a bout of manic enthusiasm. When I finally figured out how to inquire, this problem was tidily solved. Now, I keep three daily checklists, and numerous others others that I reference for various tasks, and I have no problem completing them daily.
      D. Why?
      S. Because the criteria of success for most of them can be met in less than a minute, and whenever I feel as if I am not doing it correctly, I ask myself a question about it.
      D. For example?
      S.  Will I correct this problem next time
Do I need to go back and perform the action again now
Is the checklist item becoming irrelevant for some reason 
What do I need to do next time to make sure I earn the benefit of having this item, even if I don’t observe it diligently at this time
What are the minimum standards for checking this box
Am I at risk of developing a bad habit
      These questions stick with me. The next day, if I was lax with an item last time, I am diligent this time. The questions reduce my anxiety. It’s as if the anxiety were an unasked question.
      D. How do you answer them?
      S. Often, I don’t. Or there is an implied yes or no. Often the question guides an action, or anticipates a mental note. For example, If I have been diligent with one item and lax with another, I swap priorities next time. The mental note I make to do that is anticipated by at least question—am I being lax in performing this task? Is that OK? I will spend longer on it tomorrow. 
      D. Why can’t those be statements? Why not, I am being lax. I will be more diligent next time.
      S. It’s as if making the statement is forcing it on myself. Meaning, one part of me is making a declaration to the rest of me. My mind has so many modules. To let one declare to the rest what is going on increases my nervousness. So instead, I ask the group, the components of myself. Because the benefit is in the long-run. Honestly struggling with time management, and investigating the best course, and failing—these are sustainable if you are curious, if this process interests you. If you instead just view these challenges, which are inherent to time management, as personal failures, and if you fail to see the questions inherent in the challenges, you’ll just feel despair. By you I mean me. The royal you.
      It is better to perform your ritual sustainably than to make it so onerous that your willpower fails you. It’s one thing to know this. But I do not know of a way of applying it without asking myself questions as I go. Making statements to myself increases the anxiety, because they are always so doubtful. I can rarely come up with a convincing statement on the spot. Trying makes it worse. But rarely does it take even three mental drafts to come up with a satisfying question. Having done so, I feel at ease to move one, knowing that my subconscious will work on it for me if it matters.
      D. Can you give me examples of questions that you find comforting?
      S. When will I stop again? What will be the reason why I stop? For how long will I stop? What will my feeling be during that time? When I pick it back up, what will that be like? Will I still be productive during the period in which I am not maintaining checklists? Will it be because I developed a better method? What will prompt me to pick it back up? Will it be guilt, inspiration, or boredom?
      D. What do you do when you feel that your habit is slipping? That your standards are eroding, or that you are not getting the benefit of the habit?
      S. I ask myself if that’s true and what I can do about it.

The larger world

1.

How did Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters come about? In other words: how could it be possible even? That’s what I wonder, even though these kinds of inquiries are not my habit. This is maybe the only movie that seems too close to be true. He admires the bar for its rectangularity. Other than wandering with OKC with Brit, I’ve never heard someone express such a familiar appreciation for the way a building occupies space. He engages in long-distance swimming. Tim Ferriss observes that over 80% of his high-achieving interviewees engage in some kind of meditative practice daily. 

Less than one minute in, he tells us: “The whole process of making art
is an act of faith, in a way.  This idea that you’re gonna will something
into existence that means something to the larger world.”

David Foster Wallace and Gregory Crewdson were both inspired by
David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet. Wallace called Blue Velvet an epiphanic experience.  In Blue Velvet, Sandy Williams’s room is “Right above [her] father’s office.” In Brief Encounters, Crewdson describes listening, his “ear to the wall.” 

When Jeffrey Beaumont lays out his plan, what kind of friends are he and Sandy? They are sitting at the diner. Is their friendship one of Pleasure?
Utility? Or the Good? Jeffrey makes a somewhat philosophical argument:

There are opportunities in life for gaining knowledge
and experience. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a risk.

Why isn’t he too scared? Is it courage? Is he a bad person?
No, he’s desperate to understand something.
About the world? 
No, about the world of his childhood. Just like Crewdson.

In 1997, Isabella Rossellini played Pallas Athena in a mini-series aired on NBC, May 18th. Of course Jeffrey is a very straightforward hero. He excavates and slays the beast.

What does one call those colonial houses, with the siding? Two stories, lining the streets of Dover. Back from some family trip, usually to visit family, my family back inside, in the kitchen and elsewhere, I sat in the car and listened to the engine cool, watched the signs of the fall. Pictured my family inside. My mom in the orange  incandescent light. The scene at thirty-one minutes makes my stomach ache.

2.

Edith Hamilton wrote Mythology, explaining that the Greeks put the gods in human form, drew humans in detail for the first time, and called them gods.

3.

Next month, December, I will fly into Logan Airport for business
at Cambridge, then drive down to Delaware, to see my mom and family.  I’ve watched this documentary three times and I am, each time,
astonished. Jeffrey says,

I’m seeing something that was always hidden.

Edith Hamilton calls Ovid out for impiety. He’s too playful. If Lynch is Virgil, is Tarantino Ovid? When Ben sings In Dreams at Pussy Heaven, Lynch is not Ovid, but Homer, singing hymns. It’s not ironic. It’s ceremony, ritual. Ben is donning Hercules’ Nemean lion pelt and playing the role. I asked a friend about her conscience, and she said that it’s a voice created by authority figures throughout her life. How strange. 

Inquiry, reasoning, and experimentation, each, are exploratory behaviors

What are these days where I can only stomach questions?  In other words, what causes them? I find myself asking these questions in a level pitch, without the elevation that marks inquiry. What effect does that have? Question after question in the melody of an incantation, what am I wandering off towards, what distant terrain?

Inquiry, reasoning, and experimentation—each, are exploratory behaviors.

I was talking with a friend. We were close together, my hand on her waist.  What is that wonderful feeling? How can skin feel that way? I asked her how. She told me, “I dry-brush.”

Alone again, miles away. I imagine some experiment.

Prediction
If I work for one half-hour, this anxiety will wane.

Result
I don’t know, but now it’s mixed with something else. Some grim pride and affinity for the world.

Conclusion
It’s better to work through it?

Yes. Scale of one to five. 
Five being terrified, envisioning myself being stabbed or beaten, lacerated; one being tranquility. 

In the chase over shadowy mountains and wind-swept peaks she delights,

And what was the effect of placing that there? And what was my intention? Why do I have to go through so many iterations? I don’t mind the first question being wrong, but the eleventh is worse. But we learn. We inquire further.

I mean, five. Obviously. If you use that scale.

Sisyphus

Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Epistolary literature. Are we in Corinth? Camus wrote to us.

Heck, track 2

Lonesome

This track is about whale song. It opens and begins with them. The guitar is so rich. A spare but driving bass drum. Keyboards walking amiably along with chosen lyrics. Electric guitar recalling, for me, Lyle Lovett. From the first track, spare and elemental, this track is symphonic. 

Lonesome—
Lonesome—

Always lonesome—
I have heard your lonesome song.

Round the fire, come throw your hands up;
dance with us till we can stand no more.

Though the rain crash down 
around us,

and the gale blow out the sun,
sister, when you’re feeling lonesome,

call my name—
I’ll sing along.

So the road you travel’s wanderin’,
So your worries win you nothin’,

Tell me ’bout your troubles, darlin’,
hold a mirror to the setting sun.

Though these days of joy and sorrow
wear us out—

summer dress!—
brother, when you’re feelin’ lonesome,

call my name,
I’ve got a shoulder

where you can rest.

Lonesome, lonesome—
Sister, when you’re feeling lonesome—

Call my name!
I heard your song.

Call my name:
I will sing along.

The opening electric guitar makes me think of the 90’s.

There is a delightful and mournful xylophone(?) during “though these days of joy and sorrow…”

After the second invitation to a shoulder, the guitar gets so close and strong. With headphones on, it is almost overwhelming. There is actually a rising throughout , then a drop…followed by two final, lonesome whale songs. 

 

Heck, track 1

I pause my Meshuggah playlist to listen again to track 1. I’m not a music writer, but I like this album, the musician, and writing, so it seems like a good use of my time to think about all three at once. 

I don’t know how to write about music, but I do know that writing down descriptions and facts is something people do. And maybe they should. I know that I should.

Finding multiple references to a person increases our reason for  positing that they existed, or were a popular mythic figure. 

So I’ll write about the tracks of the album Heck, by my friend Michael Huff.

No News

Clean strumming guitar. Bass and treble distinct. I recall the advice of Ted Kooser, or the gist, anyway: Don’t qualify a noun with an adjective when the picture that will most likely come to the reader’s mind is right without it. Only use adjectives to tell the reader to imagine something else.

Michael’s treble notes sparkle like icicles. The bass notes are dulcet. 

(It starts off jangly and rumbly. The vocals sweet and matter of fact, as if he were reading a personals ad. “Looking for you” rises and tapers for an instant.)

“someone worth imitating
looking for you”

(Then the notes descend, then level.)

I’ve got no news.
I got new shoes.

(As if prompted by the recollection of his new footwear, he begins walking. Bursts of staccato. Pause after each word. Each word played with a single note of the guitar.)

When I have something to to say,
It’s said,
And then I listen back.

(Return the rolling notes of the guitar.)

Someone worth not imitating,
Looking for you.

(Recall that Elmo also waxed poetic about his new shoes. This time, after “I’ve got no news”, the guitar hits a high, sad, quizzical note. And “I got new shoes” is more resigned.)

I’ve got no news.
I got new shoes.

(Here there’s a repetition of the mode used first the time, but this time it, is it more resolute?)

When I have something to say,
It’s said,
And then I listen back. 

I like this song partly because it’s procedural. I like the way “I’ve got no news” qualifies “I got new shoes.” I like the way “I got new shoes” uses the doing verb “got” rather than be verb phrase “have got.” I imagine the act. The procedure of trying them on. But, still, he hasn’t any news.

Is this absence of news in regard to what he’s looking for? (Someone to imitate, to not imitate.)

Is he walking more? With whom is he talking?

The subtle diminution of agency in “It’s said.” He is not forbearing such that he walks through it step by step. Know a thing is to be said. Deciding to say it. It’s not that cumbersome. As he knows something is there to be said, so it comes out.

And then he listens back. Listens back. To hear what is produced.

The Simple Present

1.

The burnt cheese clung fast to the bolt heads that secured the pan to its handle. To spare the integrity of the sponge, he employed his thumbnail in separating the charred glue from the slick black pan. Still, some must have gotten stuck between the panhead bolts and the nonstick surface. He must have pushed it farther and farther in, until it formed a ring around the bolt shaft. The surface tension of the water would keep it from flushing it out, unless he were to soak it. Imagine steaming it, or a high-pressure stream. It didn’t matter, was too little to matter. The pan would do its business on its own. The heat would sterilize it. If he were to try to scrape out the gunk with a razor, he would damage the pan, defeat the integrity of the surface.
      The lights glowed a clean white overhead. He ran his tongue over the faces of his front teeth.
      “What do I do with these?” he mumbled, folding in half and laying out four ziplock bags, one halfway overlapping the halved other. He let the question do its quieting work, break up the condensing buzz of unvoiced doubt. Breathed lightly through the nostrils. Turned his attention back to scrubbing the countertop.
      
“I feel so happy,” he said.
      This was the procedure.
      Nature abhors a vacuum? 
      Does it, though? Or does it love it more than anything? Can’t leave it alone for a second?

The aim was to produce more verbal thoughts, not fewer. The aim, the immediate aim, wasn’t to produce less thinking. Call that thinking? A vague, semiconscious stream of half-seen images and half-felt impressions? And commercials are flash fiction.

He met his friend at a fair. She had a booth, selling soap. Wanting to tell her something about himself, he said, “I’ve been writing, sort of.”
      “Yeah? What about? Just random stuff?”
      Wanting to be funny, he replied, “I’m sorry, have we met?”
      She sort of laughed.

He started taping Standards up on the wall, surrounding himself with them. Because how do you know when an area is clean? He took a photo of the area in question and emailed it to himself, then opened the file on his laptop. Then, sitting in his chair, he held it, screen flat against his lap, a sheet of paper on the screen. He traced the relevant lines and planes.
      It always took several drafts. But each was a little better than before, usually. And they gave him something to look at, to reference. Something to answer to.

Because rules were otherwise impossible not to argue with, he set them for halves of hours at a time. Each an experiment. Each set free from at the end of each session with it.

Some proved so salutary, he set them more or less in stone. They could always be argued with, but only out loud. Never in quiet anxiety.

2.

They had met online. Had liked one another instantly, moved in together more or less instantly. Wondered if this had been a mistake, more or less, instantly.
      But they both powered through, in their own ways, mostly without the other  knowing the extent of it. She taught him to face discomfort foursquare. They developed a talent for holding brutal, precise conversations. 
      He described in detail what he disliked about her. She somehow reciprocated without it quite feeling that way. Or maybe she hadn’t. It couldn’t have mattered after what he had said.
      But things got better, then kept on getting better, for the only reason things ever actually get better. 
      Things got so good it didn’t make sense. But, having been present for it the whole time, they knew precisely where they were. The disorientation they sometimes felt was what comes from contrasting two abstractions against one another, or reading a book while riding in the car. Whenever they looked around, they knew where they were and that it was a real place.

3.

He moved away out of what must have been necessity. Otherwise, why would he have?

The Problem of Genre

If a plague carried off the members of a society all at once, it is obvious that the group would be permanently done for. Yet the death of each of its constituent members is as certain as if an epidemic took them all at once. But the graded difference in age, the fact that some are born as some die, makes possible through transmission of ideas and practices the constant reweaving of the social fabric. Yet this renewal is not automatic. Unless pains are taken to see that genuine and thorough transmission takes place, the most civilized group will relapse into barbarism and then into savagery. In fact, the human young are so immature that if they were left to themselves without the guidance and succor of others, they could not acquire the rudimentary abilities necessary for physical existence. The young of human beings compare so poorly in original efficiency with the young of many of the lower animals, that even the powers needed for physical sustentation have to be acquired under tuition. How much more, then, is this the case with respect to all the technological, artistic, scientific, and moral achievements of humanity!

The Collected Works of John Dewey: The Complete Works 

To summarize all of the essays I’ve placed here up to this one: I’m confused by genres. Maybe it’s my tendency to think in spectra instead of delineated categories.  Law, scripture, and fiction all appear to exist on a gamut to me. Which is fine. But maybe I haven’t properly understood the distances. Where we can, for our purposes, draw boundaries.  

In Candor and PerversionRoger Shattuck’s eighth thesis asks us,

In order to affirm literature in its full humanist sense, let us eschew the freestanding text. Its indiscriminate use today provides evidence of deadening stylistic conformity. Rather, let us take advantage of the full range of terms like book, work, poem, play, novel, essay, passage, chapter, and the like. There is no need to modify serviceable expressions like “the text of” a work, and “sacred texts.” But let us refrain from endorsing, indirectly and inadvertently, the doctrine of textuality by chanting “text” in every other line of what we say and write.

Shattuck and Camille Paglia diagnose a problem with US culture to be a failure to do what Dewey describes above. I have a friend who studies eighteenth century English novels. He knows a lot about the development of epistolary novels. He can tell you about Clarissa. But sometimes talking with him about literature, I feel very sad. He has the expertise of the specialist, but he doesn’t seem to care about the cultural significance of myth and ritual.

Isn’t it interesting how a document can affect someone’s behavior? I think that is fundamentally what compels me, and I think it’s because of something missing in my development. I’m looking for some standards. So I look at law, at procedures, at scripture. I look periodically at fiction, but I usually find that wanting. I’m rereading Klinkenborg’s novel Timothy. I’m in love with it at the moment.