Friday, March 16, 2018

codependency & detachment

quotes from codependence and the power of detachment by karen casey

"i also began to understand that my need for control - control over what another person was thinking about me. it was a constant need in nearly every relationship in my life, as much as i did not want to admit it. as diligently as i tried, i continued to scan the expressions of others, particularly the expressions of my boss and my significant other, for my 'control fix'. getting the fix one needs in order to continue living from one minute to the next, whether from a drug or from the praise of a person, is a debilitating way to live. i wouldn't say that the addiction of codependency is more harmful than addiction to alcohol or other mood-altering chemicals, but i can't say that it is less harmful either."

"she was aware that for many years, men had been projects for her. when she couldn't change the man, she would change herself to make the two of them appear more compatible as a couple. that habit rings true for many of us in al-anon. it's one of the classic symptoms of our disease. no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, we will try to change it or us to provide the outcome we think we deserve."

"but to simply detach, to draw a boundary around herself and believe that 'what they do is not a reflection on me,' wasn't possible for her right away. another challenge was that she had been raised to think it was her job to take care of others, children as well as husbands. letting them take care of themselves was against her grain. caretaking was a key part of her identity. if she were to let them take care of themselves, what would she do with her time? she was afraid she would feel irrelevant to her family."

"rose also said it was important for her to distinguish between being negatively passive and making a conscious choice to disengage from a situation that had snagged her emotions. it was and is her inclination to acquiesce, she said. however, she learned the difference between quietly detaching from a situation versus shutting down her feelings. we, too, can learn to be disengaged without being passive."

"rose learned not to do for others what they need to do for themselves. even though her husband did not stay sober, his disease was his to shoulder. she did not cause it, nor could she cure it. not doing for others what they need to do for themselves sounds so simple. no doubt many of us think, 'well, i don't do that.' but if we are honest and examine our behavior, we may discover that in myriad ways we are picking up the slack or the mess, around our homes or elsewhere, rather than letting the perpetrator take responsibility. . . the unfortunate fact is that every time we take one someone else's responsibility, we are keeping them stuck, and in the process making a hostage of both of us. it is not easy to let the addict mature, but we must. we are harming them every time we step in and bring order to the chaos they created."

"one of the main difficulties anna had was dealing with her feelings of superiority, which made her judgmental toward others. because she was far less emotional than howie, she saw his frequent tears as a sign of weakness, thus inferiority. being vulnerable was simply not an option for anna. . . she learned how her habit of judging others kept her attached to the behavior of everyone around her."

"barbara is through with being a victim. in our interview, she said she had almost relished that role for years because it had allowed her to refuse responsibility for every detail of her own life. now she defines detachment as 'not claiming to be a victim.' she has learned that detachment with love means choosing to separate herself from the situations over which she has no control. she says it also means being free of the need to make an emotional response, or any response at all, to a troubling person or a situation. she is able, now, to sense herself moving into her adult observer role. she has become adept at objectifying the details of her life."

"like harry, many of us in al-anon joined this journey because of our addiction to controlling the many people, places, and situations in our lives."

"when janet talks about letting go with love, she put it in unique terms. she says, 'to let go with love means allowing the other person their dignity.' she believes that everyone must find his or her own way, and if at first they fail, so be it."

"when she went to her first meeting, the terminology she heard people using - caretaker, codependent, sicker than the alcoholic - made her uncomfortable. she felt that her own life was moving along successfully, and she didn't want to change it."

"he had grown too accustomed to letting her decide everything for both of them, and she could see he needed to be responsible for himself. . . interestingly, her focus on people other than herself has continued to be one of sara's issues. because defining themselves according to their interactions with other people is second nature to codependents, leaving her marriage doesn't mean sara has escaped codependency. leaving any relationship doesn't automatically lead to detachment. one can be just as attached emotionally after getting out of a primary relationship as when still in it. physical proximity to or distance from the significant other has little to do with how entrapped one feels by the behaviors of another person."

"the very first thing an old-timer will say is that we are here for ourselves - period. . . like sara, most men and women who come to al-anon have been constantly managing, or trying to manage, the lives of others. what we eventually come to understand is that our obsession with the actions of everyone else allows little time to peacefully plan our own actions. our lives are unmanageable, not because we don't know how to manage them, but because we have so little time to pay attention to [them]."

"she never really felt connected to others, so doing favors for them allowed her to feel that she was necessary to their lives."

"taking care of someone else's needs so that our needs are met or so that we feel secure of indispensable is never the right thing to do. this behavior keeps us stuck. it cements our unhealthy attachment to another. it imprisons us, and our growth is deadlocked. giving it lovingly and willingly and freely is great; giving our attention as a way to control the actions of anyone else is never loving."

"familiar patterns are hard to walk away from, even when they are very painful. relapse is a reality for codependents just as surely as it is for alcoholics. some may think relapse is not as dangerous for the codependent as for the alcoholic, since codependents will generally not be driving drunk or fighting violently with another person. but emotionally, a codependent's relapse is every bit as devastating. it instantly revives those old feelings of insecurity and unworthiness."

"step one also asks us to recognize the unmanageability of our lives. for most codependents this is a bitter pill to swallow. didn't we do our own work and still manage to cover for the alcoholic? how about all of the situations that we handled entirely alone, day in and day out? taking on extra work wasn't unusual for many of us. we wanted to be noticed for our efforts. we needed as much approval from others as we could garner. it's not easy to understand how our lives could be considered unmanageable when we had as many balls in the air as most of us were juggling. this part of step one was very hard for me to admit to. i had a full-time teaching job at a university, was a straight-A graduate student, and had a busy social life. unmanageable? my life? what had not occurred to me was that parts of my life were unmanageable. my emotions, for example, ran my life. i did not take charge of them. when anyone anywhere interacted with me, i let the tenor of that experience decide how i would feel and thus perceive myself."

"one of the most common themes that runs through the head of the codependent is, 'i have done so much to keep this relationship alive and working! how dare you not do your part!' . . . caretakers, as a matter of course, put others first. putting herself at the top of her own caretaking list took an effort on beth's part."

"one of beth's techniques for staying detached is a visualization. when beth feels a drama about to unfold, she sees herself standing off to the side, away from the fishhook that is being tossed in her direction. rather than getting snagged by it, she steps back. she uses this visualization with her kids and with others who want to suck her in emotionally. with it, she can look on her kids or others with love and walk away, unhooked. and she feels no guilt. that's the real reward.

'clean relationships' is the term beth used to describe those interactions that are most common to her now. she knows that detaching doesn't equal a lack of love. it equals, in fact, greater love. letting someone else be whoever they need to be, whether that's the person we hope they'll be or not, is what's right. we think we should be in charge of another's journey only because we fear that their journey might take them away from us. but if it does, so be it."

"the best part of this acceptance is that she no longer takes their choices personally. she learned from experience that you cannot detach when you are feeling responsible for someone else's behavior or taking their behavior personally. either way you are a hostage. . . carolyn says one of her greatest joys is that she can 'let things rest.' in other words, she doesn't have to resolve every situation or conflict immediately anymore."

"what she had discovered, though, in her pursuit of getting away, was that alcohol allowed her to close off her mind to what family members were doing and saying. she could 'get away' rather than be always under their thumb. while drinking she was able to exist relatively unmoved by the emotional turmoil that was caused by their overinvolvement in each others' lives. we might not call this method healthy detachment, but for shelley it was effective, nonetheless. . . shelley says that for her, detachment first begins with that connected sense of attachment. only then can she see the need she also has for separateness."

Thursday, March 15, 2018

loosening our attachment

quotes from taking the leap by pema chodron

"not acting out, or refraining, is very interesting. it's also called renunciation in the buddhist teachings. the tibetan word for renunciation is shenluk, and it means turning shenpa upside down, shaking it up completely. it means getting unhooked. renunciation isn't about renouncing food, or sex, or your lifestyle. we're not referring to giving up the things themselves. we're talking about loosening our attachment, the shenpa we have to these things.

in general, buddhism encourages us never to reject what is problematic but rather to become very familiar with it. and so it is here: we are urged to acknowledge our shenpa, see it clearly, experience it fully -- without acting out or repressing.

if we are willing to acknowledge our shenpa and to experience it without sidetracks, then our natural intelligence begins to guide us. we begin to foresee the whole chain reaction and where it will lead. there's some wisdom that becomes accessible to us - wisdom based on compassion for oneself and others that has nothing to do with ego's fears. it's the part of us that knows we can connect and live from our basic goodness, our basic intelligence, openness, and warmth. over time, this knowledge becomes a stronger force than the shenpa, and we naturally interrupt the chain reaction before it even starts. we naturally become able to prevent an epidemic of aggression before it even begins."

"how individuals like you and i relate to being hooked, these days, has global implications. in theat neutral moment, that often highly charged moment, when we can go either way, do we consciously strengthen old fear-based habits, or do we stay on the dot, fully experiencing the agitated, restless energy and letting it naturally unwind and flow on? there will be no lack of opportunities and no lack of material to work with.

looking closely at this process, as i have for some years, it's easy to see that it takes courage to simply relax with our own dynamic energy, just as it is, without splitting off and trying to escape."

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


quotes from we gon' be alright by jeff chang

"gloria anzaldua, george helm, and jessica hagedorn all realized that in-betweenness can create the stuff of epics. it is the mental geography through which we make the crossings that define us. it can also be a place of refuge. in hawai'i, pu'uhonua were sites of mercy, where a warrior on the wrong side of the battle might find safety, where fugitives might find absolution. there, in between the space of the gods and the space of humans, they might rehabilitate and redeem themselves through moral, spiritual, and physical work. but these places were never meant to be places of permanent separation or disengagement. you did not go into a pu'uhonua to leave the world but to someday return to it. unearned sanctuary is not a home."

"james baldwin's most revolutionary and misunderstood idea, notes the intellectual robin d.g. kelley, was that love is agency. 'for him it meant to love ourselves as black people; it meant making love the motivation for making revolution; it meant envisioning a society where everyone is embraced, where there is no oppression, where every life is valued - even those who may once have been our oppressors,' kelley wrote. this did not mean that blacks should capitulate before whiteness and systematic racism, but exactly the opposite. he wrote, 'to love all is to fight relentlessly to end exploitation and oppression everywhere, even on behalf of those who think they hate us.'"

"what does it mean that we are better able to see pain than love? that rage and conflict in art are perceived as deeply felt, while reconciliation and joy are dismissed as mere sentiment?"

"'grace implies freeing the bondage of the human spirit and suggests the breadth, scope, and depth of our humanity in the face of violence - acts that may be found in our everyday lives or reflected in public moments of collective grief,' [carrie mae] weems has written. 'grace is meant to activate us, to propel us, to challenge us to see what we might prefer to remain unseen, and to act where we have been complacent and unable to move.'"

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

any war you want

from syria burning by charles glass

"syria's war is anything its fighters want it to be. it is a class war of the suburban proletariat against a state army financed by the bourgeoisie. it is a sectarian war in which the sunni arab majority is fighting to displace an alawi ruling class. it is a holy war of sunni muslims against all manifestations of shiism, especially the alawite variety. the social understandings on which aleppo prided itself are unraveling. muslim fundamentalists have targeted christian churches and shiite mosques. arabs have fought kurds. iraqi shiites and sunnis have crossed the border to fight each other in syria."

Friday, February 2, 2018

a window

from because she never asked by enrique vila-matas

"when i described how the relationship between sophie and me had taken on the structure of a love story (the jealousy of one person not knowing what the other was thinking, which is really what lover's jealousy has always been about: not knowing what the other is thinking; read proust to understand it better), sergi preferred not to wax transcendent and instead mentioned a french song called 'les histoires d'amour', sung by the rita mitsouko duo."

"he said: 'i used to paint, but nobody seemed to care about what i did. so i got fed up one day and asked myself why i painted, and more importantly, why did it matter to me if anyone cared? so, guess what i did. i retired. and then i went on painting, as if nothing had happened, but only in my imagination. take this window, for example. to me it's a still life. there's a dead crow in it. i don't think you can see it. there are days when nothing exists outside the world of my imagination. i give you my word as a retired artist.'"

Friday, January 19, 2018

sulker's fantasy

excerpt from kiss and tell by alain de botton:

biographies are traditionally written without hesitation in crossing lines of age, class, profession and gender. an urban aristocrat captures the life of a rural pauper, a fifty-year-old follows the experience of youthful rimbaud, a timorous academic allies himself to lawrence of arabia. an enviable faith lies behind these enterprises, the idea that men and women remain essentially comprehensible to each other despite a ripple of surface difference.

dr. johnson thought so: 'we are all prompted by the same motives, all deceived by the same fallacies, all animated by hope, obstructed by danger, entangled by desire and seduced by pleasure.' people belonged to the same disparate but unitary family, suggested johnson, and could therefore understand one another on the basis of their passport to the human community. i could understand your motive, because i would find much the same if i looked under my pillow. i could understand a fragment of your experience by finding the same experience within myself. i would know how love had made you suffer, because i had also endured evenings by a phone which had not rung. i would recognize your envy, because i too had known the pain engendered by my insufficiencies.

but there were darker implications to this pillow model of understanding. what if little lay beneath the pillow? adam smith had unwittingly articulated the dilemma in his theory of moral sentiments. 'as we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. by the imagination we place ourselves in his situation and conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments.'

despite the virtue of suffering with others, the sombre consequence of the pillow theory lies in the need for a sufficient stock of experience genuinely to imagine the experience of others - depressing because our stock can never adequately answer the emotions we encounter beyond ourselves.

what if i had never been on a rack before? what would i then feel for my brother condemned to this fate of unimaginable agony? would i imagine the last time i had been on a crowded underground train and then extend the experience a hundredfold, perhaps mixing it with the recollection of a painful tooth extraction or lanced boil? in other words, how can we understand experiences of which we have no experience?

we may suppose that no experience is so unique as to be incomparable. there are always adjacent experiences to which we can appeal to inform us of the original, we proceed with metaphors when our images run dry. i had never eaten shark, but when isabel informed me that it tasted half like cod and half like tuna, both of which i had bought on occasion, the mystery of the fish receded. when we say that a book has transported us to a foreign land we have never travelled to, we are paradoxically also saying that it has succeeded in reminding us of places that we knew, but had never yet combined.

but there are situations in which we may be granted neither cod nor tuna. others may resist suggesting the nature of their experience out of an assumption that we should know what these are without requiring to have them spelt out. the sulker's fantasy is to be understood without needing to speak, metaphorize or explain, because words embody a defeat of a prior and more intimate level of communication. it is when intuition breaks down that we have to clear our throat, and our voice risks reminding us of our loneliness. we research only what we have not felt.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

tabula rasa

quotes from the coming community by giorgio agamben

"only a power that is capable of both power and impotence, then, is the supreme power. . .in de anima aristotle articulates this theory in absolute terms with respect to the supreme theme of metaphysics. if thought were in fact only the potentiality to think this or that intelligibly, he argues, it would always already have passed through to the act and it would remain necessarily inferior to its own object. but thought, in its essence, is pure potentiality; in other words, it is also the potentiality to not think, and as such, as possible or material intellect, aristotle compares it to a writing tablet on which nothing is written. (this is the celebrated image that the latin translators render with the expression tabula rasa, even if, as the ancient commentators noted, one should speak rather of a rasum tabulae, that is, of the layer of wax covering the tablet that the stylus engraves.)

thanks to this potentiality to not-think, thought can turn back to itself (to its pure potentiality) and be, at its apex, the thought of thought. what it thinks here, however, is not an object, a being-in-act, but that layer of wax, that rasum tabulae that is nothing but its own passivity, its own pure potentiality (to not-think): in the potentiality that thinks itself, action and passion coincide and the writing tablet writes by itself or, rather, writes its own passivity."


"there is in effect something that humans are and have to be, but this something is not an essence nor properly a thing: it is the simple fact of one's own existence as possibility or potentiality. but precisely because of this things become complicated; precisely because of this ethics becomes effective.

since the being most proper to humankind is being one's own possibility or potentiality, then and only for this reason . . . humans have and feel a debt. humans, in their potentiality to be and not-be, are, in other words, always already in debt; they always already have a bad conscience without having to commit any blameworthy act. . .

this is why ethics has no room for repentance; this is why the only ethical experience (which, as such, cannot be a task or a subjective decision) is the experience of being (one's own) potentiality, of being (one's own) possibility -- exposing, that is, in every form one's own amorphousness and in every act one's own inactuality."


"the process of technologization, instead of materially investing the body, was aimed at the construction of a separate sphere that had practically no point of contact with it: what was technologized was not the body, but its image. thus the glorious body of advertising has become the mask behind which the fragile, slight human body continues its precarious existence."

Friday, December 15, 2017


quotes from brave new world by aldous huxley

"one of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies."

"actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. and, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. and being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. happiness is never grand."

Sunday, December 3, 2017


excerpt from jack, or the submission, play by eugene ionesco

[they put their arms around each other very awkwardly, jack kisses the noses of roberta II, one after the other, while father jack, mother jack, jacqueline, the grandparents, father robert, and mother robert enter without saying a word, one after the other, waddling along, in a sort of ridiculous dance, embarassing, in a vague circle, around jack and roberta II who remain at stage center, awkwardly enlaced. father robert silently and slowly strikes his hands together. mother robert, her arms clasped behind her neck, makes pirouettes, smiling stupidly. mother jack, with an expressionless face, shakes her shoulders in a grotesque fashion. father jack pulls up his pants and walks on his heels. jacqueline nods her head, then they continue to dance, squatting down, while jack and roberta II squat down too, and remain motionless. the grandparents turn around, idiotically, looking at each other, and smiling; then they squat down in their turn. all this must produce in the audience a feeling of embarrassment, awkwardness, and shame. the darkness increases. on stage, the actors utter vague miaows while turning around, bizarre moans, croakings. the darkness increases. we can still see the jacks and roberts crawling on the stage. we hear their animal noises, then we don't see them any more. we hear only their moans, their sighs, then all fades away, all is extinguished. again, a gray light comes on. all the characters have disappeared, except roberta, who is lying down, or rather squatting down, buried beneath her gown. we see only her pale face, with its three noses quivering, and her nine fingers moving like snakes.]

Friday, December 1, 2017


from the short story "a great man's house" by samrat upadhyay, from the book arresting god in kathmandu

"during one session, about two months after the wedding, while i was serving tea to the guests, nani memsaheb interrupted my master while he was speaking. my master had been talking about the nature of the mind, how it moves from one place to another like a monkey, and how in order to reach a higher level, one has to control that monkey. put it on a leash, my master had said, so that it cannot run around. then the mind will become one with the brahman.

'but when once we have the monkey on a leash,' she said, smiling faintly, 'then we too are tethered to the leash, aren't we?'

my master smiled, affectionately, understandingly, as one smiles at a child. 'yes, we are. the trick is to be tethered to that leash while also controlling it.'

'but how is that possible?' she asked. 'it seems to me that the trick is not to have the monkey on a leash at all. let the monkey do whatever it wants. why become attached to it?'"

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

on being good men

by amaud jamaul johnson from red sparrow

because you were a good man,
and we had spent so much
of our adolescence thinking about
being good men, about being better
than our fathers, about proving
the world wrong, that black men
could love, that we could be true
to our wives, strong for our children

because so much had come to pass
how the narcotic night called us
how the streets beneath us ached
from sorrow and we survived

when you said you understood
what made men leave, how you stood
in the doorway, your wife and kids
asleep, your keys like a knife
at your wrist, how you heard your
name echo in the chorus of darkness
and were not afraid

because you were a good man
and i had spent so much of my life
trying to be a good man too
i could see your truth, like all
the truths who turned their backs
on us, the men who jumped
freight trains, the men who drove
for milk and never looked back

how we run from ourselves
from the chaos of our hearts
from our inability to witness
our failures in those we love

Monday, November 13, 2017

a note on the body

by danez smith (from don't call us dead)

your body still your body
your arms still wing
your mouth still a gun

           you tragic, misfiring bird

you have all you need to be a hero
don't save the world, save yourself

you worship too much & you worship too much

when prayer doesn't work:          dance, fly, fire

this is your hardest scene
when you think the whole sad thing might end

but you live           oh, you live

everyday you wake you raise the dead

            everything you do is a miracle

Sunday, November 12, 2017


from the postman (il postino) by antonio skarmeta

"'listen to this poem: 'here on the island, the sea, so much sea. it spills over from time to time. it says yes, then no, then no. it says yes, in blue, in foam, in a gallop. it says no, then no. it cannot be still. my name is sea, it repeats, striking a stone but not convincing it. then with the seven green tongues, of seven green tigers, of seven green seas, it caresses it, kisses it, wets it, and pounds on its chest, repeating its own name.'

he paused with an air of satisfaction. 'what do you think?'

'it's weird.'

'weird? you certainly are a severe critic.'

'no, sir. the poem wasn't weird. what was weird was the way i felt when you recited it.'

'my dear mario, please try to express yourself more clearly. i simply cannot spend the whole morning in your delightful company.'

'how can i explain it to you? when you recited that poem, the words went from over there to over here.'

'like the sea, then!'

'yeah, they moved like the sea.'

'that's the rhythm.'

'and i felt weird because with all that movement, i got dizzy.'

'you got dizzy?'

'of course. i was like a boat tossing upon your words.'

the poet's eyelids rose slowly.

'like a boat tossing upon my words.'


'you know what you just did, mario?'

'no, what?'

'you invented a metaphor.'

'but it doesn't even count, 'cause it just came out by accident.'

'all images are accidents, my son.'"

Saturday, November 11, 2017

this side of joyce, who knew

from "the dead" by james joyce (in dubliners)

"moments of their secret life together burst like stars upon his memory. a heliotrope envelope was lying beside his breakfast-cup and he was caressing it with his hand. birds were twittering in the ivy and the sunny web of the curtain was shimmering along the floor: he could not eat for happiness. they were standing on the crowded platform and he was placing a ticket inside the warm palm of her glove. he was standing with her in the cold, looking in through a grated window at a man making bottles in a roaring furnace. it was very cold. her face, fragrant in the cold air, was quite close to his; and suddenly he called out to the man at the furnace:

'is the fire hot, sir?'

but the man could not hear with the noise of the furnace. it was just as well. he might have answered rudely.

a wave of yet more tender joy escaped from his heart and went coursing in warm flood along his arteries. like the tender fire of stars moments of their life together, that no one knew of or would ever know of, broke upon and illumined his memory. he longed to recall to her those moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy. for the years, he felt, had not quenched his soul or hers. their children, his writing, her household cares had not quenched all their souls' tender fire. in one letter that he had written to her then he had said: 'why is it that words like these seem to me so dull and cold? is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?'

like distant music these words that he had written years before were borne towards him from the past. he longed to be alone with her."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

bank twenty-two

by laura sims from practice, restraint

the infinite

network of rooms



nobody wants you enough

Thursday, November 2, 2017


excerpt from the short story "old complaints revisited" by susan sontag (from i, etcetera):

the translator is on the verge of talking about sex.

instead of going on about the moral will, i'd rather talk about sex. but there's an obstacle here -- of my own making. i have told you i am married. i have mentioned an adultery. but i don't want to go into too much detail. i'm afraid of your losing the sense of my problem as a general one.

that's why i have made a point of not making it clear whether i'm a man or a woman. and i don't think i will - because, either way, it might subtract from the point of what i'm trying to explain. think about it. if i'm a man, the problem stands but i become a type. i'm too representative, almost an allegorical figure. if i'm a woman, i survive as a singular individual but my dilemma shrinks: it reflects the insecurities of the second sex. if i tell you i'm a woman, you'll write off my problem - still the same problem!- as merely "feminine."

assume i'm a man, if that makes it easier for you to understand the problem as a general one. a man, say, in his mid-thirties, tall, good-looking, sallow, thickening in the waist, etc., who usually wears a suit and tie. lo and behold, everyman. and lee and nicky are women. nicky is probably a blonde, chews gum, and takes a larger size bra than lee. nicky reads rock magazines and smokes pot; lee wears glasses. but it doesn't have to be like that. i could be an adolescent-looking woman in my mid-thirties, with long straight hair, small breasts, fair skin, and nail-bitten hands, who wears jeans and button-down shirts. if i am a woman, lee can be my over-worked, gently reared, soft-spoken husband, and nicky my proletarian, paint-bespattered, beer-swilling, rough-talking lover. in either version, you'll assume, the sex is livelier with nicky than it is with lee. unfortunately, i have to agree with you.

as a translator, i'm aware that this may be the only language in the world that allows me to leave the matter open. (except for having to steer away from the telltale "his" or "her," it shouldn't be hard.) all other languages i know are saturated with gender. a little triumph. i have the pleasure of writing, myself, something that can't be translated. . .

i am reluctant to describe myself at all, for fear that too many particularities will make you take my problem less seriously. but i can describe nicky to you, and that way i'll also, by inversion, be describing myself. nicky has many qualities that i signally lack - for example, an unwillingness to judge others. nothing makes nicky indignant.

in bed this steamy summer, i tried to arouse nicky's sympathy for my longing to quit the organization. all i got for an answer was a smile, although not a callous smile. (it was certainly not the typical response of a nonmember, glad to hear the bad news about us.)

actually, what i wanted to be - when i was a child - was a saint. with the full awareness of how ridiculous this was. people who want, desperately, often want to be either angels or saints. unfortunately, angels are not saints. and saints are not angels. nicky (fortunately?) was an angel.

once, nicky explained to me how it was possible to get through the day without judging. the art is in not letting any time elapse between events and one's acting upon them. a judgment, said nicky, is a cry of impotence. when people can't do anything to change a situation, what's left but to judge it? but isn't judging necessary in order to act, i asked, when we are acting rationally? isn't there, in all our acts, at least an implicit judgment? "no," nicky replied. judgment is no more implicit in acts, according to nicky, than impotence is implicit in potency.

as for judging oneself - one of my favorite occupations - you can imagine what nicky thought of that.

the portrait nicky started painting toward the end of our affair did not judge me. it observed me, it recorded me - in my mid-thirties, tall and well formed, etc, or with long hair and small breasts and nail-bitten hands, it doesn't matter. . . i kept wanting nicky to add something. "what more do you want?" nicky asked. "it's the face," i replied. "i'm not as calm as you portray me."

"do you want me to paint doubt?" asked nicky. "grief?" as nicky left the canvas to get a beer from the refrigerator, i shook my head. "i want you to show someone in the process of becoming someone else. but do it without making the portrait any less linear and figurative. don't let the paint drip or smudge or blur."

"you can't become other than what you are. only more or less what you are. you can't walk over your own feet."

"i can, i can, nicky," i murmured. "that's just what i have to do."

nicky was right, of course. but that didn't prevent me from returning to lee. it wasn't guilt that brought me back. it was a very peculiar kind of homesickness: a longing for the word. nicky and i could have a certain kind of laconic, aphoristic conversation. but the full-blooded verbal union that i had with lee finally counted for more. returning to lee, i was plunged back into the warm bath of talk that i'll never be able to do without.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

spires of form

quotes from spires of form: glimpses of evolution by victor b scheffer

"sex ambivalence is rare among vertebrate animals, being known only in certain fishes, in one family of turtles, and in one species of alligator. it is not, however, uncommon among lower animals. for example, the larva of the marine echiurid worm, bonellia, is sexually indifferent. if it happens to settle in a population where females are abundant it becomes a male, and vice versa. 'thus,' writes evolutionist george williams, 'each individual adjusts its sex to the opportunities presented by its demographic environment.'"

"i wish to make clear that it is first the individual silverside or echiurid worm, and second its group, that benefits from the ability to mature either as male or female. "

"slugs and earthworms (for example), although not self-fertilizing, are equipped with both ovaries and testes. copulating individuals line up belly to belly with their heads pointing in opposite directions, to mutually discharge sperms into the other's body."

"so, unisexual reproduction is a strategy that quickens the reproductive rate of a species. breeding while still in the larval stage is another. paedogenesis (literally, 'descent through children') is practiced by the aquatic tadpoles of a mexican salamander. called locally an axolotl, each tadpole matures sexually, engages in courtship, and produces eggs or sperms before it reaches adulthood. however, an axolotl can be forced to metamorphose into a dry-land adult by treating it with thyroxin and by lowering the water level of its pond, thus making gill breathing more difficult and lung breathing easier.

when the axolotl was discovered it was thought to represent a new, strictly aquatic, gill-breathing race. later it was found capable of maturing into a land dwelling tiger salamander very like those that breed over much of north america. thus an 'axolotl' is simply an aberrant tiger salamander which, constrained by the poverty of its habitat, begins to reproduce as soon as it can, even before it has reached its potential adult size."

"in his study of crowding, calhoun looked also at the spatial distribution of wild, free-living mammals such as mice, shrews, and gophers, that typically defend individual territories. ideally, each territory would be six-sided, for the hexagon is the ideal unit in a tightly packed, two-dimensional configuration. (witness the honeycomb cell.) noting that an animal living in a field of hexagonal territories has six nearest and eighteen next-nearest neighbors (total twenty-four), calhoun suggested that the magic number six has left its imprint on man's society."

"limulus, the horseshoe crab, is the last of an ancient line. it is little changed from ancestors who swarmed in the triassic seas more than 300 million years ago. now ageless, suspended in time, it stands apart, neither a proper crustacean (among the crabs and their kin) nor a proper arachnid (among the spiders and their kin). . .  to reflect on the endurance of limulus is to wonder, does evolution move in one direction or does it occasionally reverse itself? does 'progress' describe its motion through time? because natural selection depends in part on opportunism, reverse evolution or devolution is theoretically possible."

"almost no animal organ performs quite the same function for which it was earlier adapted. the flippers of whales and the wings of bats, now used in swimming and flying, stem from the forepaws of terrestrial mammals, and still earlier from the forefins of fishes. parts of the gill-bearing skeleton of ancient fishes, now transformed and scarcely recognizable, are the bones and cartilages of the adam's apple you can feel at the base of your throat. and the three small bones in the human ear that carry sound from the eardrum to the auditory nerve have direct antecedents in reptilian jawbones."

Monday, October 30, 2017

not that. never that.

from the short story/novella "westward the course of empire takes its way" by david foster wallace (from girl with curious hair)

"in the story he wants to make up, the one that doesn't stab him, he'd just be an object -- of irritation, accusation, desire: response. he wouldn't be a subject. not that. never that. to be a subject is to be Alone. trapped. kept from yourself. nechtr and sternberg and dehaven steelritter all know this horror: that you can kiss anyone's spine but your own. make love to anybody or anything except. . .

but mark can never know that other boys know this, too. he never talks about himself, see. this silence, for which he is loved, radiates cry-like from his central delusion and contemporary flaw. if his young companions have their own special delusions -- d.l.'s that cynicism and naivete are mutually exclusive, sternberg's that a body is a prison and not a shelter -- mark's is that he's the only person in the world who feels like the only person in the world. it's a solipsistic delusion."

Sunday, October 29, 2017


quotes from a brief history of yes by micheline aharonian marcom

"'you are right,' she says, 'that if i am to give you succor, i must give it you as you would like, and not as i prefer it.' and maria begins to leave the lover in some small measure before he leaves her in august, and although she lies with him on the bed, she lies also with new future lovers in her mind, she is inside the maelstrom of the not-know not-feel grey salt earth. she is revenging, she will leave her lover one day (even though it is he who leaves her) just as she left pai to die alone in lisbon, in that old city with its back to europe, its gaze pressed to the river and the atlantic."

* * *

"hello despair, she does not say (only the next day when others ask her of her holiday and she begins to weep).

hello sea, air, sky, and black cormorants.

there is nothing good today in my heart. all is lost, all forsaken. my son with his father and the horsy faced girl. me on these bluffs one-hundred-and-fifty miles from a city which is not my natal city, pai gone, my uncles aunts cousins across the atlantic in an old small inconsequential country where my old memories were made. i loved a tall, blond, blue-eyed american man; eventually he did not love me back. looks again at the sea. looks again at the sky. lies next to the bush and would like to be the bush, the sky, the sea, seaweed, and cold autumn air.


and of course what she notices, what is evident, is how this affair and its demise, its rupture, his 'i am not in-love with you, mariazinha,' and i don't believe you, she tells him, so that her pride gets up, turns, and then stands taller, she recants: i believe you, i don't want to feel like this, i can't bear it -- takes he closer to the imperceptible edges of things. and she begins to feel that she could go mad, and in english it is to lose one's mind, and i want to lose mine, the portuguese girl thinks, lose it lose it, for it plagues me, it takes me down into the vile place, the place where pai berated me as a girl in the old city on the far outer western edges of a continent. the sun's light is lisbon's body; the tagus its spine. maria's gift to the blond was the manner in which she loved him -- seeing his wound, the brittle place, and holding him from across the ocean, keeping her hands pressed to his back, telling him that the heart is its own country and they its loving countrymen.

so that maria begins to take photographs of herself daily to see what she looks like, to affirm she exists, to see what grief looks like in her face, what sadness, what a portuguese woman from lisbon in america long enough to have a (mostly) american accent and to remember the sunlight of her natal city and not-remember all the language which fades each year more and more, from likeness to likeness, word to word and colloquial phrase to phrase, so that it is now awkward, a child's tongue, a kitchen language, to say simple things to mae with and for speaking to herrelatives on the phone who remained there in that place on occasion -- distant and more foreign seeming all of the time. and to think that a man, blond, blue-eyed, who she has known long enough for the earth to complete its orbit around the sun, has unleashed in her the old place. i must travel to that place now, she thinks; all of my life i have labored not to enter into that place for fear and in fear my fear became a magnet, brought me the old husband, the other lovers, and now this blond who leaving, says, i leave you at the threshold of your madness, the monster: pass over; go down; see.

another conversation:

'yes, with the lover, the blond blue-eyed, i felt constrained (as i had in my marriage) and i didn't want to admit to myself this feeling for i am always talking with myself as if to the mirror of my thoughts, and the mind talks its incessant etceteras and constraint was a feeling, not a talking, although i am talking now: as if to a tree, have i told you of the maple outside my window, we speak to one another without speaking, and the tree was terribly pruned by a gardener, a man i invented (for i never knew him), who violently pruned the maple before i purchased the house (cut the top of the tree off as if removing the head of it, took an electric saw and flat-topped the maple for an unobstructed window's view) and prunes in my mind and in my mind the invented gardener grafts my blond blue-eyed lover to pai, one inside the other, violently -- the two become one and the one always saying you are not right, no good, correct your style, your language, your ---.'

madness either destroys you at the abyss, or from there a new form is made, something else is born.


she says, 'i would describe the feeling as a hollow.

'and, i love this feeling as i love love. do not confuse it with a desiccated sensation, this after-love feeling.' she is running around town and using phrases such as running around town when she is driving in her car and saying,

'i would like to kill myself.' but she knows that her son will suffer and in her suffering she thinks that this, what she calls suffering, will not end and her mind here is doing all of the talking and naming and categorizing of things and events of after-love narratives and the girl is watching the mind talking away like running around when she is driving and the dialogue is inside of dialogue tags, is realer than reality, realer than her bills which lie unpaid, and her parking tickets accumulating, debt amounts which grow taller than the maple in her garden, the tree which was pruned back to respectable neighborly viewing heights,

'i would like to die. i am lonely and i will always be lonely and how could he leave me and then leave me only so that he can find other girls and i hate him (would die for him) and he was not right for me and i didn't want my old husband who then married the horsy faced girl who is no longer my friend and i will be alone and why can't someone, why can't i find someone who can hold me at night, hold my abdomen where the pain is hollowing out the tunnels of rage (pain), unrequited love (rage), and a presence so fierce and strong a light so black that only death will allay it.'

. . .

what then illusion, what then love. what real from what the mind speaks, thinks, the mind still speaking saying: 'and he never loved me and he is selfish and cruel and he made me feel small and he abused me, a misuse, and.' where is the real of it? in the groin, in the lower intestine, in the chest cavity, concaved or round.

i am waiting for
i will kill myself
i will walk along the cliff's edge
there is no man for me now
there is only the futures of inestimable estimates

now there is a japanese maple pressed against the windowpane, it is still green; presses as if a girl lying on a bed in a lover's embrace: the girl embraced now not by her lover or a stranger or love, but by her own mind; her woman's unstoppable grief at the unrequited love; by the end of something which never existed, perchance.

'you are beautiful. you are strong. a good person.' henry responds to her question when she is speaking with him on the telephone.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

good people

quotes from lady widermere's fan by oscar wilde

"Lord Darlington.  [Still seated L.C.]  Oh, nowadays so many conceited people go about Society pretending to be good, that I think it shows rather a sweet and modest disposition to pretend to be bad.  Besides, there is this to be said.  If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously.  If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t.  Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

"Lord Darlington.  Do you know I am afraid that good people do a great deal of harm in this world.  Certainly the greatest harm they do is that they make badness of such extraordinary importance.  It is absurd to divide people into good and bad.  People are either charming or tedious.  I take the side of the charming, and you, Lady Windermere, can’t help belonging to them."