Sunday, March 28, 2010
Think drugged happiness isn't real happiness? It is. Drug happiness is among the varieties of real happiness, especially for the walking wounded. Read The Happiness Myth and let me know if you remain unconvinced. Thank you. That is all.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I’m supposed to be cleaning! I was given a specific task: straighten up the kid’s bookshelves for Jessie’s birthday party this weekend. But then my husband, who suggested this task, took the kids and went to Goodwill to get rid of some of the heaps of stuff of which we’re getting rid, leaving me alone to sneak like a thief back to my computer to write you guys a quick post.
I figure as long as I finish by the time he’s back, I’m good. So. What I want to tell you is pretty important. I spent the weekend in Omaha and now have another Homaha in these United States. What great people I met. Ridiculously cool people. Ridunkulous. And they gave me roast beast, and took me to hear Yo Yo Ma, and made jokes about Exit 420. If you don’t get it, don’t pay it no mind, but if you do get it, you get that it is good to know. I gave 6 talks in four days! One to a synagogue full of clergy, mostly Catholic priests, collared and mostly grey-haired. Some rabbis, some ministers, some visitors, a lovely woman who said she’d driven six hours to see me.
I told them that I’d come to tell them about Poetic Atheism. There is no God, but as Durkheim said a hundred years ago, what we thought was God, was the community. What we feel when we are gathered together, that there is something larger than us, that feeling is true. It’s us.
We can add to it that what we thought of as faith is love. We have to try to believe in each other, in our mutual misery and compassion.
The solace we have to offer one another is sufficient to our wounds.
Our feelings of meaning are sufficient to the definition of meaning.
There is no hidden world of meaning. The feelings of meaning are the meaning. It’s all true.
Human beings need community, meditation, and ritual. We need to come together and pray that we will do the right thing, that we will help each other, and that we are capable of helping one another. It’s a long shot, but it’s better than trying to believe in some third party and hoping that he will do the right thing.
Am I telling you that all this time you’ve been alone in the dark? Yes. Come sit with us. We're right here. Turn on the light.
We must look after one another. There is no heaven. We are all going to die, maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, maybe two years from now, maybe forty years from now, maybe sixty. It doesn’t matter all that much. There is an eternity on either side, an eternity, so who cares? Life is not theater, you can’t miss the end. You are here. It’s wonderful. We made it into existence together.
We have to start coming together and singing, celebrating. Health Care, people! Gorgeous African-American president and presidential family! Now is the time to lift our voices up. We are all there is. We don’t have it for very long. We have it right now. America is a lot of things. I know. Tea party. I know. Beck, and not the good kind. But it’s okay.
We are here together. We can keep each other company. We can see that if this is the world, if our consciousness is what we have of consciousness, than what we feel and what we make is very important indeed. You’re sacred because you are, and it’s my job to support your awareness of the true and glorious reality that is. It’s your job to support this awareness in the rest of us. We are getting better at this. We are going to get even better. That's why everything is going to be okay.
Excellent work staying alive since last week, most of you. Let’s try to do even better next week.
By the way, on my way home from the airport we got stopped on the Brooklyn Bridge and there we stayed for two and a half hours, my whole little family and me, from around 12:30 am to 3 am, when they finally backed us off the bridge. Meanwhile we got out of our cars. We heard someone had jumped and saw boats and helicopters shining lights. Then we heard there was a woman who had climbed up into the bridge girders and was going to jump. John encouraged me to walk down to where it was all happening; given what I’d been writing about lately, I should just go down and see. So I did, there was a woman up there, a cop up there near her, I saw him hand her a cigarette, I saw him light it for her, I saw her talking to him, I saw her move her long, brown hair behind her ear.
Like I said, she hadn’t come down when we left, they’d turned us around to get out, but I felt sure she’d come down, she was talking calmly for hours, there were tons of people everywhere. We googled it when we got home but saw nothing of it. Then yesterday saw a report. She’d jumped. After we were home in bed. She’s in critical condition. A 41-year-old woman from Long Island. Like so many of us, or thereabouts. So forgive me, bleaders, for repeating myself. Stay, everybody. No more going off the deep end. Stay. Let’s all give up together, right here, right now, and have chocolate cake. But don’t give any to the dog, because chocolate isn’t good for dogs.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I got the idea for this post while playing Bejeweled Blitz.
Have you ever tried meditation? Of course you have, right, if you’re sufficiently inclined towards transcendence as to read a poetry blog, you have in your life, sat quite still and tried not to think.
There is a great Eastern description of meditation, and here I liberally paraphrase, that says asking the mind to stay focused on one thing is like asking a monkey to stay perfectly still, if the monkey has been given coffee and vodka, is being menaced by a bee, is surrounded by good-looking jumping monkeys, while AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” is being blasted at the monkey enclosure.
It is downright hilarious how hard it is to get the mind to settle down. Give it one minute, right now (at the end of this paragraph). Think only of your breath and count, with each exhale, one number. Count from one to ten and back again. As soon as you notice you are not thinking about your breath and one to ten, go back to one. Look at the clock where you are sitting, add two minutes to the time, whatever it is, then close your eyes and start counting breaths and thinking of nothing else. If you think it’s been about two minutes open your eyes and check – go back in if it’s not time yet. This way we’ll get you to stay in for at least a minute. Go. Okay, we’re back. Hard wasn’t it?
It is equally hard to remember, for a full minute, that you are playing Bejeweled Blitz. Matching the shapes is easy. There’s always a match on the board to be made and usually two or more. They are easy to see. The only difficulty is remembering to keep doing it, as fast as you can. A few matches in, you fall into a rhythm and the rhythm generally runs down. Every once in a while an accidental cascade puts a very fast rhythm in your head and you are able to match shapes fast for a good few seconds before again a part of your mind simply gets up to go check the fridge.
If you could remember you are playing, you’d win. If you could keep thinking of only the game.
At the end of each game, whatever your game may be, when your game ends, ask yourself immediately: What am I thinking about?
It will be something other than the game.
Ask yourself to put your whole attention on the game. If your lucky you’ll do it for the first three shape matches, then off most of your brain will go. There’s you landing wet at the end of a minute, laughing, having been treated by your brain to a short conference on what to bring to the PTA pot luck or the derivations of Pi.
We have developed in such a way that our brain’s default setting is multitasking. If you would like to do something well, all you have to do is learn to focus on that one thing. Stop thinking of other things while you are doing it. I showed a few lines of this post to my husband John Chaneski while I was just hashing this up and he said, “It’s like acting.” And I was like, wow yeah, it’s true. Good actors are just people who can remember, for a sustained period, that they are supposed to be being someone else.
Well, go concentrate on something. Let me know how it goes.
How do I love thee? I love the to the breadth and depth and height my soul can reach when feeling out of sorts with the ends of being and ideal grace and posting out of turn, on a Tuesday.
ps. Perhaps you'd like to read a book? The Happiness Myth.
pps Stacey I love when you talk to me in the comments! I'm not sure why I don't always manage to respond, but I just wanted to say I like it and am mulling over any questions you put to me there.
ppps I'm doing this this week. It is going to be fun. If you are in Omaha, come talk with me about the meaning of life, k? And come up and say hi.
Monday, March 15, 2010
It’s like dreaming of someone
too much while you’re away
at war; then you come home
to his fingered hat or her
faltering hem-line and it’s
What the hell was I fighting
for? Just another example
of how biography works.
Your character has got
to have a narrative arc,
something irredeemably awful,
along with his or her strong
points, to be believable.
Yet we all recoil in disbelief
when anything of the sort cuts
a form into our real lives,
the life of the author. Don’t
despair! It’s just the demands
of narrative! Leda, after all,
probably never even thought
to fear anything like that.
Then one day, there it is,
the century actually over
and most of its artifacts
still entirely inexplicable.
This is no walk in the park
with spinach, Swee’pea,
I’ve got no idea where to go
for extra strength.
I guess that’s what
It’s an incidental
that it cleans your laundry,
scrubs your teeth. What is of note
is that it is a source of extra
strength. Extra strength! Thank
God! That’s what we’re going
to need in case they all switch back:
the swan, the prince, the salt.
Even if you weren’t ever accosted
by a feathery god,
you take some heavy losses early on,
and that will leave feathers everywhere
for the rest of your life; as if
you were wearing an eiderdown coat;
you just walk around and molt.
As for the man in the tiara,
that’s a transformation
you never want to go through
twice, but do, coaxing every
so often your sad, damp, frog
back into his palace. Don’t
you like your scepter? Won’t
you wear your robes?
Lastly, salt. Well, who doesn’t
turn towards the sepia for a second
look; into the carousel-music
and the tortured plaster horses
of the past? But this sympathy
does not imply that I want
Madame Lot back here
knitting itchy sweaters.
Let’s just try to calm down.
When Stalin took power
he had Trotsky erased
from the photographs.
Sometimes, you can still see
a floating hand. Left behind.
So disembodied as to be
almost meaningless. We try
to ignore it, floating there
in history. We get to work.
There is something to be said for that.
You can’t really expect me
to roll around naked in a garden
letting Trotsky’s severed hand
float around my body,
knowing my body better
than any lover, his soft,
soft-focused, probing hand.
Yet, how can we do anything
serious with that thing hovering
overhead? A woman working
at a table in the park swats
away the tickling hand
of Trotsky, and intones
as if to all of history:
Not now. Trotsky’s hand,
abashed, moves on
to pick some flowers.
So much is gone that
what is left is inexplicable
without memory, and memory
is painful and very difficult
to explain. Which isn’t
to say I mind Trotsky’s hand
snapping its fingers
and flapping itself like a bird
above my desk or would rather
have him back, extant,
yammering about world socialism
and complaining about
the samovar: Is this thing cold again?
So, is this more of a lament
than a complaint? Sure.
But it is always there. This
burden of history is not a bird
but a hand, its wrist a tiny cloud.
It’s very quiet. It fills the quiet sky.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Gyms and Poets [by Jennifer Michael Hecht]
How do you decide to get your Ph.D. in Cultural History, thinking about poems and pictures all day, and end up with a Ph.D. in the History of Science?
It’s funny you should ask. You go to Columbia University on Manhattan’s right shoulder where they keep threatening to hire a Cultural Historian, but never quite do. What they did have was a hella Historian of Science and history of science turned out to be poetry, basically, so once I picked it up I knew I was never setting it back down.
Why is history of science so delicious? I begin with a fast friend of mine, about whom all y’all may already have strong opinions and probably not good ones. So I should just shut up about it, but in truth, forsooth, I can’t tell you what I believe about the world without giving Michel Foucault props.
I have long joked that Philosophers of Science talk about how science works, and Historians of Science talk about how science doesn’t work. Historians of science tell the history of scientific beliefs in terms of how those beliefs shared values with the wider culture of the era. When you do that for sciences that try to evaluate and explain human beings, you find the science pretty much just traces out the wider cultural beliefs.
Not just in the past either. Even now.
In trying to understand ourselves and our world, let’s say we start with nothing. How should we begin?
As we stand around wondering this, one of us drops dead. Someone says, I don’t want to drop dead like Fred. Can anyone tell me why Fred dropped dead, so I can avoid it?
Think about how focused on that question today’s science is. Isn’t that a little funny just by itself?
Now, how can we guess why he died? Well, I see a group of people over there and no one over there has dropped dead. Let’s start our investigation with the question “What is different about them and us?” Whatever it is, that will be what killed Fred.
Strictly speaking it’s true, whatever it was that happened to Fred was local to Fred who was local to us, so the difference between them and us is, by our definition of terms, what killed Fred. But there is something wonderfully off base about it, right? Because it could be anything that led to Fred’s death yet we are going to get real serious about testing a few possible correlations. We choose to study the difference in what we eat, as if it is of course the place to be looking for the correlation. Then we go after it like crazy, asking old people whether they ate more kiwis than potatoes, and doing decades-long studies of hundreds of thousands of people.
So the first step down the rabbit hole is that we choose human longevity as the most interesting aspect of science. I mean, come on people, look at the amount of science reporting that is about what you should have for lunch so as to prolong your aging years. We are as manically interested in longevity as the Ancient Egyptians were about “the next life.” It’s a cultural trance that’s gone way out of control. (All cultures are interested in death but some cultures go nuts around the subject, and I think we qualify as grade A nuts out of control.)
[Check it out. The reality is that you are a blinking thinking consciousness with two opposable thumbs in an unthinkably vast unthinking universe. You exist for what amounts to a blink of an eye, in cosmic terms. In cosmic terms the whole of planet earth the whole history of the Earth exists in a blink, there are galaxies upon galaxies and they have time enough to be born and live and die and our whole solar system even our whole fricking galaxy the Milky Way is as a breath inhaled and a breath exhaled in the great giant real truth of time and the universe. So what the fuck are you worrying about the Stairmaster for? (Unless you love the Stairmaster in which case go have fun on it.)
So right. First of all, it doesn’t really matter how long you live. This isn’t theater, there is no way to miss the end. All bits of it are about as good as all the others and it seems a great treat because we all got in and we all got in together. The together is the magic part. What matters is being alive and mentally healthy enough to live in the real world with all its actual weird magic, while you’re here.
So the first step down the rabbit hole is to be so ever-lovin concerned about longevity. Next is to believe that food and exercise are what is different between those people over there, where no one dropped dead, and these people here, where Fred did.
Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish showed me this: We think of incarceration as civilized and cutting off a finger as cruel and unusual, but if I asked most people if they want to be locked up in a cell for ten years or lose a finger, they’d choose to lose the finger. Foucault’s History of Sexuality showed me this: We think of the Victorians as being really distant from sex, but the fact is talking about not having sex is a lot like talking about sex. They never shut up about it. Skirting a piano stool so we don’t see its indecent legs is an act of sex mania.
With training from Foucault and Freud, who both told me that bold claims sometimes actually mean their direct opposite, I came to believe, for instance, that gyms are occupying precisely the role they did in Ancient Sparta and in Fascist Germany. Being obsessed with bodies is actually a pretty rare thing in human history and we’re in lousy company.
It always means We are strong even though the peons do all the real work for us. We have special arenas marked as leisure where we get muscled at play.
If you are a poet, you shouldn’t freaking care about this. Only workout at the gym if you like it. You’ve been invited to the planet for a long yet short stay. Go make something you enjoy making. Next time you want to go somewhere leave enough time to walk there, or part of the way. Sweep your own leaves. Forget the weights. Unless you like it. In which case, knock yourself out. I’m just saying, the universe is vast and fine, and the universe of the mind is equally extensive and divine. What’s in between is a little piece of meat that is admittedly easier to get your hands on than the universe or the inner life. But still. Feeling guilty for not going to the gym is ridiculous. You don’t have to go there. Go there if you like it. But that place isn’t what it says it is. If it doesn’t feel right to you, that’s because there’s something a little wrong with it.
If you want to know more, read The Happiness Myth.
Hookay loves, excellent work staying alive since last post, most of you. Let’s see if we can do even better this week.
Can we talk a little more about the gym?
First let me remind you of the weirdness of perception and the human capacity to be deceived.
Only about twenty-five years ago many adult Americans, most of us really, believed that if we could get past our moral compunctions about it, it might be great for us if we blew up the USSR with nuclear bombs. Sure there would be some danger to us, but we've tested bombs, you could strategically blow up what counted for the USSR and the rest of the world would live on. And as we saw it, only 25 years ago, the rest of the world wanted to live in peace, liked things sort of the way they were, or anyway were too small and weak to menace us in any way. We could bomb the slavs and suffer no more. Forget the defense budget. We could finally use our surplus food and energy to build schools and hospitals, homes, parks, and museums.
We completely missed the fact that people too nuclear-powerless to menace us could, in fact, menace the hell out of us.
We might have killed millions just because we didn't notice this rather obvious truth. Bombing the slavs into oblivion would not have made us safer. It was never true. That whole fantasy was mistaken.
You know what, I'm going to leave you with this and come back later to talk more about the gym. Just let's try to unhinge a little with this one. We make huge mistakes in perception.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Wednesday, March 3, 2010