The influence of gaslight or electric light on the growth of paraheliotropic trees

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Tag: death

Day 7113 – Digression 12/12

From 2001

DIGRESSION 12/12

7:00 AM – I haven’t seen a morning since the summer. It’s weird to watch the sky change. ——-


Last night my mother called me. Her voice was quite, shaken,
weak. She was unsure of what to say. She was hesitant.
“I didn’t know whether I should call,” she said.
Silence.

“Well, it’s too late now,” I said.
Silence.

“Just tell me,” I said.
I knew what it was. My uncle, he’s been sick for about three
months now, dying of cancer. I guess he wasn’t really dying, because
everybody was just finding out about it. I mean everybody is always
dying, but I mean, I guess you don’t start dying until there’s no hope
left.

So that was why my mother called. For three months, my uncle
has been in limbo, going back and forth to the Mayo Clinic, getting
tests, surgery, more tests. He had a bunch of cancer. They got rid of
it. It grew back. That’s what my mother needed to tell me. That Uncle
Mike wasn’t really in limbo anymore. That he was going to die. Soon.
God. I look at the paragraph, and I mean, what does it mean?

He’s going to die. Soon. He’s going to die. Soon. I don’t know what
that means. Nineteen years old, a morbid beat who diddles in Kerouac
and grows out his beard, the great white hope, the brilliant
playwright, at least among Boyettes, the Ivy League son of
sharecroppers and salesmen, and oh, how I loved to dance with Death,
oh, how I relished in tragedy, yearned for catharsis, and I look at
that paragraph, and I don’t know what it means.

He’s going to die. Soon.

He has four children. The oldest, my cousin Sam, who was really
my first brother, will be fifteen. The youngest – Jenny – my last
sister, in a way, well, she’s what, three now? Two? I think she’s
three. Three makes sense.

In the middle, Rebecca and Jacob.

Rebecca must be what, twelve now? Pushing it anyway. Becky –
God, when she was little, she used to love me. They all did. Now I
don’t even know what she wants to be called.

Jacob, Jacob, Jacob. Seven. He is seven. But he’s a young
seven, maybe, and Jacob was always so full of anger, so teeming with
darkness. I loved Jacob. He was the first baby to be born after I had
gained a little bit of maturity and perspective on the world. Not a lot
of maturity of perspective. But enough.

I remember baby-sitting all of them once, and it was after
Jenny was born, and she only loved her mother, like I once only loved
my mother, and I was watching her, and Sam, like any big brother, I
don’t know, I guess he was picking on Jake, like I pick on my little
brother, and I don’t know, I don’t remember the circumstances not
really, but I do remember Jake walking into the living room, holding a
knife, and saying he was going to kill himself.

I took the knife away from him. Did I tell Aunt Karen and Uncle
Mike? I think I did. I must have. It seems like that should have been a
bigger deal, Jacob, who was probably four, holding a knife, and saying
he was going to kill himself. Right? Isn’t that a bigger deal?
Shouldn’t that be a bigger deal?

I told my mother. I told Aunt Karen and Uncle Mike. And I tried
not to babysit for them as much. I didn’t want to deal with it.

Jacob and I don’t really look the same, but there was something
about us, something about staring at my baby pictures and then staring
at him – it was haunting. I always sort of felt it meant something,
that he looked like me, that we were the blond babies with the curly
hair. My hair is no longer blond, and it’s only sometimes curly, so I
don’t know, looking at Jacob, it was like looking in a mirror of time.
Jacob was a moving baby picture. A moving baby picture of myself.

But I never held a knife up to my throat, did I, Mom? I never
said I wanted to die, did I? I don’t want to die. It’s still my biggest
fear. That scares me sometimes – because I don’t want to live because I
want to live. I want to live because I don’t want to die.

Uncle Mike is going to die. Soon.

In my crazy psycho-shattered dreamlife, I think its all
connected, that the world is revolving around this moment, this state
of grace, and I’m standing there, right on the outside watching it.

I was eating dinner with my family, throwing out pseudo-babble
and philosophy, really getting off on my own intelligence, just
throwing some crazy shit out there, really excited about the new year
starting and all, and really feeling like I was in some sort of Zen
state, this electric feeling like I was ready to be enlightened.

And like some callous asshole who’s got it all figured out, I
told my family the meaning of life. I told them that I wasn’t really
scared of death anymore, that I thought that maybe the mind never
really died, that the mind couldn’t handle death, so that really, you
just spend that last final moment in an eternity of your memories.

It was half-assed bullshit existential nonsense, cribbed from
comics, movies, and maybe one or two great works of literature. I was
damn pleased with myself, let me tell you that. “If life were deeper
and not wider, we would never die” I said. I told my parents I was
going to go start my own religion with that shit. This is a running
joke between me and my parents, a sort of low-brow self-ironic
Jerusalem Syndrome.

And then, the moment passed, I was no longer the star, and
dinner conversation turned to my uncle.

I don’t really understand why I had never heard about it. He
hadn’t been feeling well all summer, I had seen him at the beginning, I
had thought he had seemed fine, but I don’t know, after he went back to
San Diego, he had gone in for tests to see what was wrong.
The doctors said it was nothing, like the doctors always do.

Second opinion. (What’s with opinions anyway? Is that really
what a diagnosis is? An opinion?) Dinner Table. My mother tells me that
Uncle Mike is going to get the test results soon.

The test results of what?

You didn’t know? Uncle Mike has been sick all summer.

What? How come I didn’t hear about this? And I had no idea
then. But you know, I really wasn’t around that much this summer, I
really wasn’t interested, I was just going out, getting high, not
really thinking about much of anything really. I guess it wasn’t so
ridiculous that something like that would slip through the cracks of my
summer. I’m nineteen.

“If I had a girlfriend, I’d be living the life of a rock star.”
That was my clever summer summary, a slightly depressing, but then
again, refreshing look at a summer full of both malaise and music, a
drug dream full of sound and fury that really, when you got right down
to it, signified nothing.

Dinner table. Sorry. DIGRESSION. When I was in Israel for my
junior year of high school, me and Elly we used to sit downstairs,
studying for tests, working on her papers, and just talking, just
talking, and I guess it was mostly me that was talking, but hell, she
was doing a whole lot of listening, and we were always getting off on
these rants, and we both loved Catcher in the Rye, and do you remember
that part about the kid in oratory class or whatever, and he’s trying
to tell this story, and he keeps on digressing, and they keep on
yelling at him, and he keeps on digressing –

The week before I went to school I had lunch with Elly. She
wore a low-cut shirt, and I wondered what it meant. But I had decided
long ago that I was done with Elly Green, for a single slight that was
my doing not hers, and who knows what could have happened if I’d played
my cards right, and maybe she was sending me these signals, and O, what
have I lost? What have I forsaken? It’s a digression. It’s a digression.

The whole thing was a digression. But the point is that, those
digressions, falling in love with Elly, falling in love with being
listened to, that was what I loved about Israel. And nothing happened
with Elly. She loved someone else back then, and I wouldn’t fight for
her, I didn’t think she wanted me to, and maybe she did and maybe she
didn’t, but I should have tried, if it mattered to me, if she mattered
to me, I should have tried, and maybe she didn’t matter to me, but I
don’t think that’s true. I think I loved her. I think my heart beat
faster when I saw her.

Love turns to lust. Through the marriage bed runs a river deep
and profound. Romulus Linney said that. Dante to Romulus, to Danny’s Uncle Remus,
and a dream is just a rebus, from the inside staring out.

I don’t think I love her anymore. My mother says love is a
choice, and its really not that hard to fall out of love. I think I
believe her. I think that’s what I’ve been doing all my life. Falling
into love when I thought I should, falling out when I thought I had to.
And now a nineteen old virgin, and all my loves are unrequited, and
sometimes I wonder if I’m good, if I’m worth loving. Sometimes I wonder
what I want.

DINNER TABLE DIGRESSION and we’re back there, at the White Dog
Café, sitting around a table, in a dark booth, where I ordered a steak
without the vegetables, just the way I like it. My sister was leaving
for Israel in a couple days. It was Friday, September 7th. Her summer
romance, Mitch, one of my roommates, was there also. I was trying not
to rag on him, but it was tough, man, a guy my age, dating my little
sister.

And the conversation turns to Uncle Mike and I learn that he is
sick, that he is going in for testing again. This is the first I’ve
heard about it. My mother apologizes, but no one is really sure how it
happened, how I somehow missed the memo.

And everything I’ve said before, my entire philosophy, it just
goes out the window. But I try not to think about that. Nothing is
definite, nothing is true, and Uncle Mike is still healthy, and he’s
just going in for tests.

Was it that night? I don’t know.

Maybe it was the next night. We walked around, we went to a
bunch of frat parties, I was chilling with girls, something I never do,
and they were cute too. God. If I had played my cards right, I probably
could have hooked up that night. Of course I don’t know poker from gin,
and I’m not really a good card player even when I know the rules, so
the chances were slim.

The first frat party got busted. We hopped a fence and snuck
out through the next door neighbor’s house. That was really nice of
them. ——

2:45 PM: And I’m back, hours later, woken up from a morning sleep, and I guess I’ll get on with the story without too much more digression. —–

The first frat party got busted. We hopped a fence and snuck out through the next door neighbor’s house. It was weird. That girl, the one who’s house it was, she was probably the first person I met not in my hall, last year. We never became friends, I never really ran into her again, but there I was, walking slowly through her living room while the Campus Police was checking IDs and breath right next door.

We walked around a little bit, until the ruckus died down, and then we were standing on a street corner, in between parties, waiting to see where we would go next, when Mitch checked his cell phone.

“Your sister called me. Should I call her back?” he asked.

Why did he ask me? That one is really up to him.

“I guess so,” I said.

He called her back. They talked. And that’s how I found out.

“Man, your uncle is sick. I’m sorry.”

And that was that. That’s how I found out. Like that, the world started to close in on me, to smother me, and thoughts long buried threatened to bubble forth, and all my fears and all my worries, they were starting to boil over, and I was in the middle of Beige Block, between frat parties, staring at girls I wouldn’t hook up with, and now my Uncle has cancer? Two days ago, the world was perfect, and now my uncle has cancer?

The horrible part about it was that I was distant enough from Uncle Mike that I could stay detached. Oh, I love him, I really do, I probably have a closer connection with Uncle Mike than with my blood uncles, I mean our two families, we lived around the block from each other, but they had moved away, and I had gone to college, and you know graduating is like dying anyway, so I really felt like I wasn’t going to see them that much anyway.

Now he was dying.

I went to class Monday, my first screenwriting class, where I was told I had to write an eight to twelve page screenplay, I had to make it vivid, I had to make it interesting.

Walking back from class, I threw out idea after idea, but it all kept coming back to Uncle Mike. But it’s not exploitation, it’s a memorial, it’s an honorarium. All I could come up with was the story of a man who was asked to die before his time.

I decided I would make him a hero, a man who had faced down disease and emerged on the other side, a man who knew how much time he had left, and then was asked to put that time on the line, to sacrifice it all for some noble goals of heroism and truth.

Fuck that shit.

Uncle Mike wasn’t behaving like a hero. He was dying. He was himself. He was ornery. He was stubborn. That’s what I hear. He goes to work. I can’t imagine it. The world goes on. But that’s a digression. It’s still Monday, the night of my first screenwriting class, and no one knows, no one knows but Mitch, and I go to bed thinking that the world is so happy and I am so sad.

I wake up the next morning. I have a directing class at 10:30, so I’m up at 9:00. I take a shower. I take my time. I’m probably out by 9:15. I go over to my computer, check the weather, check my email. Jaimie sent me an instant message, and it just stared at me, a little window of little importance.

“If you haven’t heard about the planes, turn on the TV.”

I figured something had happened. A plane crash, or something.

Closer to something.

I turned on the TV. The Pentagon was under attack. The Twin Towers were burning. I remember staring at the smoking gashes in the towers, gashes I had seen in one movie after another, and I remember wondering how long it would take to repair them.

I went to the bathroom. My roommates were waking up. While I was away from the TV, the first tower fell.

I sat there, staring at the TV.

I went to class. People were shaken. Afraid. The rest of classes were canceled. And suddenly, the entire world was in mourning. The entire world was changed.

My mother called me later, crying. Uncle Michael, well he had been slated to fly to Mayo Clinic that day, but now the planes were all grounded, and who knows for how long.

I did what I had to do. I got out of Dodge.

——– Finis 3:08 PM

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Day 7210 – Driving Home in Warm February

March, 19, 2002

Driving home in warm February, my dad is warning me not to waste my life. “So I hate to give you advice,” he says, looking over, but I don’t look at him, I’m just staring at the highway, as he makes a wrong turn and then quickly compensates and gets back into the correct lane, “but I would hate for you to go through college and not get out of it what you want to get out of it.”

You see ever since my uncle got sick and died, which was pretty much in the space of three months, last semester, and to tell you the truth, I’m still not over it, but back to the sentence, ever since my uncle died I’ve had this major crisis of faith, and just sort of this disgust with everything and a general malaise about the future. I use to be very idealistic – in a sort of half-assed cynical brilliant egotist kind of way – but now the old Business School creep is sort of sinking in, and I’m thinking about all the college loans I’m going to have to pay back when I graduate and I’m wondering if it might not be best if maybe I went to law school or something like that.

“I would just hate for you to sell out before you’ve even really given it a chance,” my Dad says, and we move onto the expressway and the river’s to my right and I just sort of look straight ahead, not really thinking about much at all, just sort of digesting. What do I say? Because when it comes right down to it, all my questions lead straight back to my father, all my goals and aspirations, my very being, stems from the fact that I want to be like Mike. Mike being my father. Also my dead uncle. Two unrelated men, married to sisters, with the same name, and my father lives and my cousin’s father dies. I guess life just works out that way sometimes.

Why do I deserve to be a writer? I want to ask, what makes me so special? What, my High School English teacher thought I had some talent? Talent. Overrated. It’s still just hard work – and maybe not even that meaningful. I mean, writing a book ain’t ever gonna feed a child. It’s not like building a house, or something real like that – and in a lot of ways it’s dishonest. It’s pandering. What, I’d like to write escapist fiction for all the bustling suburbanites of tomorrow, the brilliant children who will one day be grown and slaving way to feed their children, and just struggling to make ends meet and send their kids to a good school so that they can –

What? So that they can what? Why am I here? Why am enrolled at this Ivory Tower of Higher Education when all I’m learning is that if it’s a big enough class no one really notices when you skip it? I got this one class, and all we talk about is how there are these writers now, these post-structuralists, who are breaking down language, because language is an oppressive system that gets in the way of truth – and I’m like, shit man, I want to be a writer, and above and beyond that, I’d like to be able to talk to people.

How the hell are we gonna do that without language?

Of course I don’t want to offend the instructor, I mean my grade depends on it, and is this really worth making a big stand about, how Modern Literature is a little bit bullshit, I mean he’s this little gay Zen monk kind of guy, and though he seems sort of serene, I don’t want to fuck with that, because hey, if it makes him happy, let him run with that, you know? And underneath that Zen-Tranquility-Peace-Now kind of thing going, he does seem a little nervous, and I’d like an A, or at least a B+, which is what I expect, so I don’t think I’m going to raise my hand and tell him I think his intellectual underpinnings are absurd.

But they are. You can break a lot of things. Not language. I’m sorry if English is oppressing you, man, but you’re just going to have deal, alright?

But that’s just a long and uninteresting rant about nothing, about why I’m not really happy with what they’re teaching me here, and it gets me away from where I am, which is sitting next to my father, in the car, driving home to my grandmother’s birthday party, with him telling me, no, begging me, imploring me, not to give up on my dreams.

I want to tell him that I’m almost twenty, and that if I give up my dreams now, that’ll me give seven years to get ahead of the competition while everyone else is bumming around Europe trying to find themselves. But that’s just a bitter joke, and what it really is, what it frankly is, is that I just don’t know if any of this writing shit is ever really going to make me happy. And let’s be real. That’s all I want to be. Happy. Happily married. Comfortably numb.

For a little while I thought that I wanted to be a hero. An artist. One of the Great Ones who burn their names into the history books and leave their marks on the world like battle scars. But lately – lately I’ve realized that I don’t care what the history books say about me. I’ll be dead – and all I get to have is the love I can muster up in this life. So instead of worrying about my legacy and my gift to humanity, maybe I should worry about getting a girlfriend or something like that.

When I wanted to be an artist, I worried about not being better then my father, who is a talented writer who ghostwrites medical books and writes copy about doors. Now – now I pray I’ll be his equal.

And that’s how I know we’ve reached the end of history. America is done. None of us want to strive anymore. Our parents gave us everything we wanted and everything we needed, and now, our only goal is equilibrium, the hope to do as well, to provide the same, to give our children the same chances that we were given.

Twenty years old, I’ve kissed one girl in my entire life, and all I want to do is be a responsible dad. Want a dream? How’s that for a dream? I want to be a good father who provides for his wife and children.

It’s pedestrian. It’s backwards. It’s reactionary. It’s 1950s suburban dogma – and here I am, an overly-educated child of the Twenty First Century, and that’s it man, that’s the Meaning of Life. Have kids, and try not to fuck ‘em up.

Pretty boring.

“I would hate to see you waste your life,” my father says.

Me too, Dad. Me too.

Dreams of Walt Whitman

Bodies touching rubbing bodies — to oceans submerged worlds flowing softly into each other. In my dreams, I stand on a cliff and look out at the briney green water, rising and falling, light shattered and casting shadows — Walt Whitman, the young Walt Whitman, stands behind me. The Old Jehovah Poet is absent — this one is a smiling rake, peaceful, tortured, beautiful. He is quiet — though perhaps on the verge of speech — he turns, and walks back from the bluff, through tall grass with the wind blowing. I look down at my dreambody, at my translucent glistening skin and follow.

This is the Death Drive, I think, This is the Darkness That Is Not Darkness, Death without Death, rich imagination, someone said (there is an old woman clipping service working hardily in China at the bottom of the world, odering and reordering the little flits of information that course through air and fiber-optic cable) that Imagination is the Organ of Meaning, as Reason is the Organ of Truth — Imaginative Reconstruction — Empathy — Mirror Neurons firing, howling monkeys howling in unison, a suffering symphony, ahhhh ahhhh there are no rational arguments, Walt Whitman knows this, he tells me this with the sway of his hips — not truth, but meaning — not reason, but imagination — more matter, less art — arms and art — the work of arms — or our unruly emotions, unbroken horses that pull us to and fro — What is this Grassland? What is this Elysian Field? The Shadow of Achilles begs for a drink; A strange heavy sun passes and the shadow  is gone — The ocean is gone — Walt Whitman is gone — I am alone in the grass —

There was a dream I once had — right after I first fell in love — I was in a dark place, with loud music, and the dream-confusion was itself confused with some sort of drunken confusionm, aping, and I left with a girl, but I left with the wrong girl — cold — grass blows — chill wind — smell of sea salt — I’ve grown a beard in the mean time — ten and twenty years have passed while I’ve stood out here — am I in the Ripeness of my manhood? Am I the Young Walt Whitman? The stars are now shining through blue daylight — it’s so so strange — spinning, leaving light-streaks in the air, I’m growing dizzy myself — the grass is so tall – I could get lost in these fields — where did she go? she was just here a moment ago —

At the same time that I am standing in the field I am laying on a couch in an psychoanalyst’s office in the Upper West Side of Mannhattan, it is the office I’ve seen in a Woody Allen movie, and the psychoanalyst is Woody Allen, except he has a long white beard and where his eye should be there is an empty hole and he’s wearing a purple sweatband around his forehead and at the same time I’m in this office and in the field of grass I am also twenty-two in North Carolina and I am painting a false room red, floor, walls and ceiling so as to destabilize direction and I am glueing Rorschach InkBlot Print Reproductions to the ceiling and the walls and we are moving a large red couch into the false room and I am laying down on the couch and sinking down into the couch and the grass is bending down, eleven sheaves of grass and the twisting twirling starlight is shattering now into a thousand different colors painting me in the quicklight as I reach around for something to grab onto —

For a minute you’re with me — For a minute I’m holding you again — and then you’re gone and I’m gone and you’re alone out there somewhere — Jack Kerouac said it best when he said that don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear oh I would have held our child in our arms, love, I would have I would have I would have there are waves crashing somewhere nearby there is the quiet whispering howl of wind through the grass, dirt is flying in my eyes and in my mouth the doctor will see you now the doctor will see me now I am sleeping where is Walt Whitman the sea the sea standing looking at the light dappled waters bright on oneside and dark on the other — lapping we are here he is gone she is gone her voice still cries out or doesn’t the telephone ghost-receiver I think I hear her voice but don’t it is merely a perfect representation of her voice (in real time) at least reconstructed by electrical signal lightning in a bottle lightning bugs in a bottle butterflies with eyes on their wings blinking blinking blinking I am lying on a cold table coming out of the anesthesia he is waking up, says the nurse, it’s too soon, says the doctor, the dirt from the field and the lull of the doctor’s voice and the humming of Walt Whitman

Crying Vincent

467px-vincent_willem_van_gogh_002Oh Vincent — Oh Vincent — inhaling green smoke in Amsterdam and staring at your pictures — you had a good run — ten years as you deconstructed thought and vision — pain too — pain I know (or maybe don’t) — Mad Mad World — whose madder, the Hatter or the Hare? Rats in a maze. Wingless Angels. Perfect Beings without Care or Concern, surrounded by True and Inevitable Suffering, the Endless Unceasing Suffering of Others — I am a Malingerer, a Faker, a Fraud, I have nothing to cry about, nothing to worry about, I am a Child of the Beautiful Universe and Gifted by the Strength and Power of My Parents Who Gave Me All Things — I dance fantastic, I love and am much loved — I have what I want — I am learned and halfway wise when the wind blows southerly — I ape Great Princes as I, Former Slave, walk free through this Kingless World — everyday I get a little older — everyday, enact my part of the worm’s dance, aerating the soil if you will — the Great Dance of Worms and Quarks and Gluons — Light bouncing, the Devil hopping on a light-beam, trying to capture the View.

In the wake of Death, I cried out a challenge to the Universe and asked someone to face me — and in my dreams, the figure of a wrestler grew, and I went forth to the battle, hoping to either fail or triumph, either way restoring my betrayed faith and honor — for many long years, I held on tightly to the wrestler, never letting go, neither in summer nor in winter, holding fast its ankle, even as it held fast to mine, eight long years, in city and country, in beds next to women, in sun and in storm.

And then one morning (a morning past, this morning, or a morning yet to come) I let go of the wrestler, allowed it to slip away and made my obeisance to my opponent, the Cruel and Total Universe. Kneeling in its Light, I asked it for a blessing.

Israel, it named me. Wrestler.

Photo Album Backwards

I flip through the photo album labeled Fall, Spring 2001-2002, and watch as the smiles are slowly washed out of our faces — flat-lined mouths that evidence the trace of bonemash and uncurl. Some find it harder than others to bring themselves to smile.  My grandfather’s face is particularly haunting — the knowledge is there. It’s on my grandmother’s as well – and my father’s and my aunt’s. It does not appear to be on mine. I don’t yet know what is coming.

I flip and flip. See a happy face on one cousin, a sad face on two others. See myself delighted by the children running — distracting. There are pictures of my mother’s birthday — and I realize that by now, my uncle is dead. Sitting on the couch, flipping through the pages, I begin to start to cry — the crying however cannot sustain itself and fails (an impotence of tears).

I get to the end, and begin to flip backwards, and catching myself doing it, smile one of those same thin smiles.

Hugin and Mugin crouched on my shoulder.