Monthly Archives: December 2008

A Neurophysiological Apprach to Intimacy

We must excite one another. There is no other way to ensure our foothold in one another’s pockets. Nerve cells, in order to learn or retain memories, depend on this.

Nothing moves forward without transference—whether it is an electric current, potential energy, a passing hand, ions, or a glance. Each pathway, licked over by its counterpart, decides exactly how to deliver its message.

I cannot control how my words sound in your mouth any more than I can wiretap what I mean to transcribe to you through tips of fingers along sides. If I could, I’d be reinventing whole systems that lay inside the body like limestone or trans-Atlantic flight-patterns.

Area is unknown. Though the skin is graced like a brush fire or a field of wheat, the filaments decide where and how long messages reach the brain. Labeled-line codes map location.

Exactly how my touch tastes to your brain? A quick burst of impulses or a snail between the eyes and gut?

How one feels different lying between two very similar seconds.

Chemistry shifts inside the body like gold-flakes inside a wine-bottle. (I saw this, once, and drank two glasses, feeling myself gurgle with geological joy!).

We must excite one another. Geometry has much to do with this. As if the mail depended on how one traces a line. Because, in the body, to reach a sensation, to experience a touch, lines must connect, must clearly kiss correct spaces into being:

As though the body knows how difficult it is for us to find one another, as if the galaxies in us refuse intensity if all are not aligned as they should be—we work on all-or-nothing action potentials daily, depend on gates and maps to arrive, to think, to make out a lover’s face.

As though one second bundles enough energy to light whole countries or send one another sailing down some coastal region, unaware of our very real powerhouse.

Store me, for a millisecond, in one of those knots between your cells. If not me, then how it feels to anchor lines to me.

And no matter how many years pass over us, distorting memories and boxes of stored excitement, novelty can still be found: lines of communication are blind.

Inside, untangled, the other can be found, preserved, honest as the first day the maps were drawn, the eyes passed over bodies as crop-planes—necessary, immediate, beautiful as settled dust.

End Note:…because, while it can be poetic, intimacy is also scientific…which I find poetic


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Between Discipline and Forgiveness

Still, having written recently about avoiding writing, I have done a great job at avoiding.

Perhaps this is because I am aware of how flawed I am. Not to say I’m an awful writer or something, but that I am a flawed human being. How can I write of beauty when I am certainly tainted? How can I write of love and vulnerability when I have been unable to give love and be vulnerable, when I have recklessly run away with someone else’s heart only to cast it into a gutter, thinking only of the swiftest path away from their humanity and pain, selfishly hoarding and protecting my defenses like children?

On Christmas Eve, I celebrate with family and feel these stains melt away. I have taken their love for granted, have betrayed them, and yet they still open their hearts, constantly open their hearts, despite my past transgressions. That’s what family is about. And perhaps one day I can be a more like them.

I walk into the study where rows and rows of my books line up, books that I couldn’t take with me but couldn’t let go of. Stories full to the belly with pain, forgiveness. And my journals from the past 24 years, various sizes, pile in a box on the top shelf. I know each one like an intimate friend or stronghold—bearing both the beautiful and painful moments I could never maneuver around or deny. Can this be what remains in the home that is not my home? What does it amount to–if I was to lie down in dirt tomorrow, how would my character sketch out?

My whole life I’ve given myself over to words. And in them, I love bravely even with my sins blotting out the insides. Even with the harshest, hardened areas within me, something always softens, gives a little under the weight of curves and lines. But as I continue, I can’t help but feel a fool and a liar for not then taking this practice and living by my OWN words. Where’s the line one must cross between discipline and forgiveness?

I have this fear, you see, of sounding smug. I have this fear of not being truthful, of coming across selfish and self-involved. Are writers, by nature, selfish? Can they craft something out of their own bones? And if my words have hurt others in the past, how to rinse them? Where do I stop at punishing myself? How long is too long looking into the interrogating mirror? To refuse self-forgiveness—is this dancing on the same line of selfish intentions?

Perhaps the best I can do is never fear displaying my very real scars. If my humanity is visible only through them, perhaps to stay true to them is to stay true to what’s real, honest.

But, still, there are times I sit before my past—the books, the diaries, and put my head in my hands, knowing all the childish words stare back, defiant, in denial, arms crossed, stamping the feet. I try and reason with them, but they have sliced their ears, slowly, day after day—so that now they are almost solid walls.

To swallow all of them, take them into me when no one in their right mind would want to claim them, my most dishonorable deeds—both against the self and others.

How can I ever ask another to love a lonely library, broken hearted and arrogant?

It keeps me up at night, sometimes, at my writing desk. It’s like trying to love and create a craft with the very instruments that were once weapons.

But still, I try to gather them all up in my arms, to spread them out on the floor and make a map of them—coordinate the mistakes to make reminders of their bodies. And in their most vulnerable state, my mistakes shine, together, imperfect and harsh—a flash among darkness, and in that moment, I could almost see a future pattern on which they depend. And in this pattern hides who I have the capacity to become. It’s only a flash, only a glimpse. And I think perhaps the photons of faith vibrate there when I let go of self-deprecation, which is, in its most basic form, fear.

I have hurt myself and others. I have allowed pride and fear to build walls and dangerous combinations of words. But I have also torn down quite a few, have rinsed whole city-streets clean.

But how do I ever write again what was once so innocently written, but serrated. How do I lovingly and carefully smooth their bodies? I don’t know. I don’t have the answers.

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Me vs. Brain

Somehow I have to have faith in why I am the way I am.

I wish I could talk to my brain:

Me: what’s this for? [As it hands me a bit of moss, slimed to the sides and bottom up in my hand. ]

Brain: Town and Country down the street ran out of soda, ya know? There’s been a canceled flight and I’m just damage control at this point.

Me: I don’t understand. Where’s the translation section?

Brain: You should not ask me about my day. Terminals are jammed. It’s “All Across the Board.” Give us some time to recover.

Me: Can’t you just concentrate on other things, like sleep?

Brain: The same was said ages ago. This isn’t rational. Deconstruction at the smallest degree is pretty painful for the first 30 t0 60 days.

Me: What if I play Bach, would that get things going…am I housecleaning at this point, or should I jump into a hazard suit?

Brain: Like I would tell you. I am not a masochist.

Me: Yes you are

Brain: That’s likely, if Bach has any say in the matter.

Me: Can we have a document drawn, or is this non-negotiable?

Brain: That’s not up to me–that’s up to the audience.

Me: I wasn’t aware there was an audience

Brain: You failed to notice the rustling of feet?

Me: I thought that was just the movement of your neurons

Brain: Not since you’ve downsized on receptors. Do you think Unions work for free?

Me: What if I offer whole evenings to meditation?

Brain: You’re not the type.

Me: No. That’s true. How long must this go on?

Brain: When is it ever safe to wind-surf, really?

Me: Not since you’ve provided the sharks.

Brain: I just deal with what comes up. Damage control.

Me: Right.

Brain: Don’t get smart.

Me: Isn’t there a switch?

Brain: Yes. But you’ll regret switching it.

Me: I regret this state as it stands

Brain: No you don’t. Wait for the moss to grow.

Me: Grow, or explode?

Brain: You know…trust me in this.

Me: I don’t fucking trust you.

Brain: But, I’m all you’ve got, love.

Me: Stop giving me headaches.

Brain: Stop overloading the damn system!

Me: I am not the one shutting off terminals! I have no control over the tributaries.

Brain: Shrimp, you’re dealing with shrimp, my dear….while as I have had to accommodate sharks.

Me: I could say the same for myself. Add their pink bodies to the moss and I’ve been cultivating useless armies against your currents.

Brain: Leave me be.

Me: Again, I could say the same for myself.

Brain: ever heard of the ghost in the machine?

Me: Descartes, right? Is that what this is? dualism?

Brain: Not dualism. Mind-body problem. Like the sharks and shrimp.

Me: the mind-body problem *is* dualism

Brain: Is that my hand or yours?

Me: both, obviously?

Brain: are we co-dependent?

Me: in the true sense of the word, yes. I depend on you.

Brain: I need a bath

Me: Alright, just don’t invite the sharks.

Brain: As long as you stop shipping me so many damn shrimp!

Me: Which bubble bath? Sweet Pea or Vanilla Bean?

Brain: let me check with the serotonin…yeah, the guys are pretty sold on Sweet Pea.

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On Avoiding Writing & Other Circular Thoughts

I have been avoiding writing today. It’s like a silly dance in which my feet fumble around some desperate thing and I close my eyes, falling, falling to some land covered with leaves and denial. I don’t know why this is. What is it that I am afraid of? Perhaps it’s a fear of discovery—discovering something that moves even when I look away—something that grows even as I refuse to tend to it, and it still pushes through no matter the audience. So there sometimes are movements in us, feelings that charge impulses and thoughts to spring from some darkened soil in us. Even if we refuse to garden those regions, they grow, regardless. I thought briefly today about one in particular, a memory triggered, a hurtful phrase from a distant friend, and I managed to corner the feeling, interrogate it. I could have given it no license to speak, could have denied its existence or covered its mouth with tape, but chose, rather, kindness and acceptance. Though I would much prefer not to feel hurt, angry, disappointed, etc, these emotions have their merit. If I continue to deny them when they arise, I’d be denying, along with them, more beautiful emotions.

But this really has nothing to do with avoiding writing—only insomuch as it put a damper on my mood and left me watching Larry King Live or CNN for an hour. Anything to distract from the self. I ate too many M&M’s, drank two Perrier’s in a row, talked to my bird (who in turn only said “come here” “love you” in response), before deciding to take a bath and read some of C. S. Lewis’ letters.

Still, I lie here with yet another bottle of Perrier and think: how to come to some agreement with the self when the self wants nothing more than to be invisible.

I don’t know if other people experience this or not—the intense desire to fade into a swirl of outside noises, to linger in the doorway of distraction, dizzy from the constant bombardment but grateful for the drowning-out-of-things… I often come to this point and that is when the writing particularly slows down.

Yeats once said: “You must draw heaven and earth into your net.” Certainly, in this casting there is the need to include the self, all bone-grit, lungs, and heaps of hair—the body cannot be denied, like earth, nor can the mind, as in the heaven, be passed over. Just as one might say how lovely the face, but the guts passed over—this cannot be done. As one may put forth only the cleverest of thoughts, the kindest, most humble, there remains the hidden ones of ignorance and mean-spirit, of self-serving and ill-mannered. Like the lover who carelessly ignores the characteristics in his love that may one day ruin the foundation on which he builds his heart’s investments—it is foolish to overlook the same when confronting the self…all bone-grit, lungs, and heaps of hair.

But I think it’s often accepted that one should turn away from unpleasant things in the self, such as inconvenient emotions or tugging ambitions that threaten to awaken desires that might throw comfort off its railings and into an unknown sierra, and instead to surround oneself with distractions and anecdotes.

I’ve tried to approach this before, and described desire as something we smother and refuse to tend to. Not desire in the erotic sense, but the passions of ones life—I guess if I were speaking in part of the church, I’d refer to it as one’s “calling.” And yes, I think “calling” is a good word, rinsed, of course, from religious connotations for universal purpose. Because a calling is something quite physical, something to be felt in the body—perhaps, in a literal sense, vibrating in the cochlea, tingling in the brain, then felt in the chest or gut. A passion contends with no thing. It does not simply die unquestioned and unnamed. It will call on you even as you sleep, restored to life when your mind leaves those subconscious doors unlocked. I have found this quite the case for me at times of suppression, times of denying the self the attention it needs, the meditation upon one’s inner rock. I like the idea of this inner rock, as it may absorb every fleeting, flowing thought or whim, desire or fancy—and along with this absorption may store all one’s memories and transferences, interactions and thought-processes. To think: as one lays dying, even then, this inner rock keeps in it’s halls all of the body and mind’s messages and scripts.

And I think it’s a fear that at that moment, or in something similar along the way, I may feel a heaviness pull me with a stamped sign “Regret”—regret-of-the-self kid–moments where I could have paid attention but chose to “shut off” all receptors and instead tuned out, spaced out, avoided. I think this is the main cause of anxiety, in fact. And some sociologists would go so far as to label it the prime example of “death-anxiety.” Quite accurate.

So what does any of this have to do with writing? Simply that writing is an act, which, if done truthfully, is facing the self, being open to discover—in all its beauty and warts. And as Yeats said, one must draw both heaven and earth into one’s net…to account for everything, from slugs to planetary stars and whirling hurricanes.

It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s even a bit lonely—okay, it IS lonely—in fact, that’s how it should be, I suppose.

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On Writing, Ted Hughes, Science Fiction, MFA’s, etc.

Lately, I read over the things I’ve been writing (which have been mostly short poetic prose pieces) and I see a running theme. All sounds the same, etc. Constantly concerned with certain words and images that repeat themselves—is this bad or can I use it to some advantage in my writing? Read any poet’s full collected works and you see patterns.

Trying to keep up with the therapist / client voice for the Hummingbird Series I’m working on, but am having trouble. Was reading Ted Hughes’ letters and he said something about letting the characters’ speak for themselves and not to get too mixed up on the actual work once it starts progressing. I think that’s where I’ve had my trouble. I need to get more in touch with this character, her world.

I also love his description about listening to critics and reviews:

“They tend to confirm one in one’s own conceit—unless they praise what you yourself don’t like. Also, they make you self-conscious about your virtues. Also, they create an underground opposition: applause is the beginning of abuse. Also, they deprive you of your own anarchic liberties—by electing you into the government. Also, they separate you from your devil, which hates being observed, and only works happily incognito. Also, they satisfy ambition, which only works from a radical discontent and public neglect. Also, they banish your spirit helpers. Also, they falsify your life, by forcing an identification of you and your poems. Where as bad reviews are like a humiliation: you feel you must conscript every reverse including God and the Devil, and produce the absolute reality that will withstand everything. They send you into the wilderness.”

This was in a letter Ted wrote to Anne Sexton.

Well, if I can’t write, I might as well read. Still, I find it terribly dull that all I can come up with are different versions of the same thing. I think what a large part of my problem is, is that I’m thinking too much about producing…instead of just germinating. If that makes sense…perhaps it doesn’t, I don’t know. Also, I think too much about what people will like, what they will read, when really, it’s not all that important. To write is to serve something greater than an “audience” which is, in fact, fluent and changing—even in all it’s solidity. What I guess I should serve is simply the movement, the movement of my creative impulses. That’s not to say I shouldn’t take into account the history, the contemporary and the advice of people with much more experience—of course craft factors into it…as it should…. one would hope, of course, that the training, the formalism, sort of gets embedded and plays out as the background music while one creates—music that one isn’t even aware of yet—perhaps more conscious, or in the forefront, while editing. Editing is a fine thing. Of course, there is always too much of fine things. Sometimes the poem walks away feeling molested! How to balance this perfectionist slant with gentleness?

And how to stay OPEN! It’s sometimes difficult to always keep your self attentive. I think perhaps that’s half the art right there. To be like a child again in our wonderings—that’s half the battle.

And in all this creative openness…it’s amazing. How am I not falling in love with everyone I meet? My heart must be like the moon, constantly dark and light, with a sliver of balance in-between.

So on to computers and programming. Have been dreaming of numbers lately, as each has something to say. Think of the possibilities there! Of course, I need to read Sherry Turkle’s The Second Self again. I have not read that since my junior year and I took the cyber literacy class. I started reading a couple more chapters the other day and I thought: MY GOD! How I wish I could be the person I am now and go back in time to that class. I would have paid more close attention. Don’t get me wrong, I always loved the class, and it was a large part of what started me on liking things such as programming and geeky movies like The Matrix—which then, I think gave birth to my love for physics. How could one not jump from there to there? But since then, this interest and love has grown deeper, and I just wish I could go back and take advantage of the class-community. So many smart minds in that class. We were like our own giant Supercomputer! I also wish I could go back to my High School computer programming class, which I was forced to take and hated. I got too caught up in the thought of math or something; I have no clue that I actually remember I missed the final because I was at a massage appointment! However, I was allowed to finish…it was a program we had to make that designed a diner, you know, like Denny’s or something. Mine was awful, but I got a “B” for effort.

Wish that I had enough time to do and explore all that I want to do and explore. For instance, I’d love to learn programming, hacking, what all else. I also would love to learn German and Russian. And be a neuroscientist. And I think it’s Yale that has an undergraduate degree now that combines Poetry and Physics! What?! How did this happen? Who stole my desires and made them into an undergraduate degree? Seriously.

This cold I’ve been battling for over a week has allowed me to stay still, which is a good thing. I am very bad about staying still. In fact, a highlight of my life was when I was in Utah, living in the mountains with no access to the outside world, and one of the new “tribe” leaders brought a radio / CD player in with him for the week (they came and left on a weekly basis while we, of course, stayed in the wilderness). Anyway, so he came and played The Eagles song “Learn to be Still” for us…and a) you don’t know how much you miss music until you go without for months and b) that song holds a very special place in my heart, cheesy as that might be. God, I miss the mountains. I am considering being a “tribe leader” there in Utah for the summer after I get the MFA.

Anyway, yes, I think I have developed a bit of a case of ADD this semester. My mind just sort of drifts. I must not be disciplining myself enough. Or perhaps it’s the other extreme and I’ve been too rigid. This must be it. Knowing me, it is. One thing I can back up with “brain science” is that it helps to expose oneself to different environments occasionally. It builds happier baby-neurons (as does constantly learning about new topics). So, I should take this into account when I have the idea that staying in the library is more productive then going into the city.

Working on a case-study of an extreme case of Autism—actually, I shouldn’t say extreme, because really, the young man is functioning quite well, maybe borderline is the best way to put it. He’s extremely intelligent. I admire the Therapist’s ability to keep up with him, actually. But what intrigues me most about the notes and session transcripts is the language. Of course, this goes quite well with what I’m currently working on as far as my Hummingbird Series…and in fact I think my character is more Autistic perhaps than Schizophrenic—however both labels could be used. There’s an element of subjectivity in Psychology with labels. I tend to dislike labels, anyway. But yes, back to the young man. He is called “David.” David cannot express anything without metaphor, so it makes for a rather interesting read. It’s a puzzle. I was so excited to find this case because it’s exactly what I’m trying to accomplish with my Hummingbird Series (which I don’t know if that title will remain) but here it is in an actual real-life case! And of course David, the client, is interested in Science Fiction, where one can create their own universe and orchestrate all their own laws (so long as they remember to follow those created laws). It’s all very intricate and fascinating.

Just trying to keep my brain sharp and informed. I want to not only be accurate, but I’m trying to really understand and “get in the head” of this character of mine. As of now, I’ve gone through quite a dry spell with that series. Currently working on this other series, which seems to be about a conversation between a subject and their creative process, or I guess you’d call it the muse. I didn’t know that this was what I was writing until later, until more material had been made, almost as though these things must float up to the surface before being pinned down. Must wait them out–never rush things. I think my own creative process is much like a highly developed form of “playing hard to get.”

Still, back to the problem of everything sounding the same—not that they sound they SAME, but I feel I have this toolbox with the same set of tools and so that’s all that’s coming into the poetry. As though suddenly my vocabulary is quite limited…but I know every writer goes through his or her obsessions. Mine seem to hang on a bit tight, like devil’s claws to ones jeans, walking through a field. Those are horrible burrs. I once got one wrapped around my calf and still have a scar across the back to this day! Yes, my word and image obsessions seem to cling to me, which is perhaps why I’m constantly looking for another subject and more material to learn about—because with each new discipline there is a whole new set of vocabulary.

Also, this is the reason why I’ve thought a lot about considering a whole other degree after this. Why not? I could honestly pursue another passion while supplementing my writing. It’s better than roping a rich husband and lolling about all day with nothing but the Junior League or some charity auction to think about – indeed, I do think I’d turn into something of a Lady Bertram character from Mansfield Park – I’d get bored. However, if I could actually marry the Lord of a modern day Mansfield Estate…in England…I could probably find a way to manage. Haha.

But yes, perhaps I’ll actually apply myself in a whole other field. Of course, nothing too taxing, that’s the problem. I need the time to write. The job I had before was absolutely perfect. It was interesting, challenging (I basically did legal research type work) paid extremely well, better than I’ll probably hope to get again, and I had so much time and freedom to write. I wrote loads and didn’t have to worry about money. Oh, such is life. One must sacrifice for the MFA. And why even get an MFA? Because it’s about building a community and learning from each other, being in contact with one another and thriving under that intellectual environment, etc, etc.

Nice thought to end this ramble with. I was going downstairs to get more tea (I swear this cold will never go away) and the orange cat who sometimes sits outside my door, waiting for me to appear so I can pet him, followed me down the stairs like a little child and I thought to myself, this is wonderful. And I wondered to myself why I had that thought…and I realized it didn’t matter why, it just mattered that I was wise enough in that split second to realize the absolute wonderment and joy in the simplest of moments—there I was, in New York, in a lovely home with a friendly orange cat who adores me for some unknown reason, going to refill my tea before coming back to my study and books, slippers warm on my feet, Christmas decorations around—and yes, it was just wonderful.

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I feel this terrible weight over me. Stepping from the bath I almost fall, keeping myself steady only by two hands and the hope that later, I might write something beautiful for you. It is not accomplished. I read a book instead, listen to Brahms and try to find the algorithm within the piano concerto. It’s useless. Though numbers fall in love with me daily, and I with them. Perhaps there are a buckets of systems missing me.

And in come the knots again. Sly as they are, but kind — hopeful as snails but turning up their noses at the idea that I might transcribe them. And so I go on reading. One more hour of chamomile tea and perhaps your belly will give me a poem. Remember how to sail the skin. Forget it. Go down for more chamomile tea. Learn how the cranium is a continuing system that learns on contact, not a fixed program. Insert a number for the feeling: one hundred and seventy eight.. Though the knots, which sit by my bed, wiggle their circular bodies at this. “Oh, no?” I ask. They silence themselves like tulips. Looking quite innocent, though I know otherwise.

I feel this terrible weight. Having read a whole novel, I nod off and slip into the evening of a dream where we are lying on our backs, counting the breaths between us. And I want all of mine to match yours. You laugh because that’s very naïve of me—don’t I know the best of compliments are two forces running headlong into each other? No, I said, and took note of the weight of your body—the displacement between us. You laugh and explain that the word algebra means “reunion.” Your hand passes over my body like a crop-plane and I awake, imagining myself in rows.

The knots cannot take the thought of rows, hobbling around like unlined messiahs. They spit at the thought where I curl round the image of your body and sway.

The chamomile tea has gone cold. I’ve read a novel, dreamed of you, and not accomplished any writing. The weight over me persists. The knots nod in unison, vibrate against one another, refuse to reveal their coordinates. I reheat the kettle, waiting for the weight to lift, for some snail to crawl out of the kitchen window and onto my arm, for my brain to contain itself, for the knots to uncurl their bodies, for something to let loose it’s numbers for my inspection.

Nine thousand, four hundred and eight six, I repeat, as I climb the stairs to bed: nine thousand, four hundred and eighty six. Perhaps I’ll write something beautiful for you tomorrow. Right now, there’s a jewel in my head: nine thousand, four hundred and eighty six–space between closest bodies, angles lying next to one another, unhinged, pressed into a long surprise.

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Letter Series, No. 6

It’s been a while since I’ve thought to write. Some part of me feels cut off from receiving signs from you. Either I have not been paying attention or there is something in me that is closed off. My mind seems to drift, rummaging around in some mud-hole somewhere, trying to see what bubbles to the surface. I once thought I had a clear vision of this, but now I just stare out of windows and float, an anxiety balloon, waiting for its branch.

I miss conversing with you. How, when I’d be walking from the library, you’d present yourself in the widening sky. I once wrote that I imagined you reaching for a line, tugging for a boat to be anchored. The image of your sleeve dangling in the water–the silliest things which hold us here, remind us that we still occupy a space. And the line, perhaps I felt it. I cannot say. Or that I do feel it.

To occupy a space. And yours, how one walked by you, watched you enter a room, electricity around you like another god. But subtle, not for worship. Just aware of being alive.

How to tell one body from the next? Passions grow, regardless of topography.

I can’t speak of him. You know this. And maybe that’s why I’ve been left with silence. But I can’t, I’ve tried. Something in me springs a trap. Because even now I’m betraying. How moments get fossilized, hardened in their dimensions. Though I can relive them, walk through the dendrite-web and into the occupied space, they refuse to be transcribed. I fear one word-splinter would untangle every association he and I ever had. As though languages have been lost, whole systems unwritten in order to preserve the offering. One moment can grow in the mind, a falling snow.

None of this matters. Your passion is residue, now. Every fear and joy evaporated when your mind unthread, as will mine. And two shared passions are never the same, but shared solitude, which finds, for a moment, another solitude with whom to dance.

You sit, patiently. I should be more like you.

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