What's going on up there?
A steady flow of noise this morning from the kids upstairs. And the troops of men leaving for the day - and returning - and leaving again - from 6:30 - 8:30. What baffling schedules they maintain. Well, fine. We're all trying to get along, and must do what we must. Happy as pigs in shit that I'm leaving soon, of course. Speaking of leaving, I had better get a move on. But please, no need for you to leave. Make yourself at home, read whatever's lying around. I'll be back in a trice.
What is to be done?
That's the title of a novel written by Nikolai Chernyshevsky in which the narrator displays a merciless ascetiscism and dedication to the ideals of revolution and, as I recall, nihilism. Lenin later used the title for an incendiary pamphlet.
It felt a little bit wrong to get back to work. It felt, yesterday, back in the bookshop, wrong to be moving around competently and interacting with perfect strangers who knew nothing about what’d happened, and yet it felt right to feel healthy and of sound mind and as good as I could possibly be with an honest mode of engaging with the world and the people in it. I saw old friends—well, relatively old ones, ones I’ve had for 4+ months or so—and felt strengthened by their expressions of care and sympathy, and by their sometimes unexpected embraces. I even got one friend who’s marginally hug-challenged to hug me for 5 whole seconds. She did a bang-up job with it too. That was all wonderful. But it felt a little off. Felt wrong. This is a paradox.Because on the one hand, I was operating with a good amt of competence and even cheer. There might be a phenomenon of overcompensation at work here. As in, in order to make everyone else feel comfortable with my return and their implicit obligation to be welcoming and to offer condolences, I strove to put a smiling face to all of them and make them more at ease. But then, there’s compensation and then there’s overcompensation. One person watched me interacting with I think Brian about some new band that I loved, and the former person said that I looked elated. Which took me aback, because I have no business being elated. Wait. It isn’t quite as simple as that. I do have business being elated. Anyone would defend that. (See the Kim Addonizio poem below, and the Wordsworth poem Em. C added to the Comments.) Still though, I’m also feeling a) guilt for that elation, if elation it is, and b) a desire to not feel that elation, and c) a meta- or supra-guilt in which I feel bad about wanting to feel guilt. Et cetera ad nauseum. What it comes down to really is that I don’t want to be as competent as I seem to be. But at the same time and oppositely, there’s little point and even some danger in wallowing in the sorrow. *Which is the basic Moving On with the Current Reality / Lingering with the Old Reality dichotomy. *Joan Didion has a fine 1 1/2 pages toward the end of The Year of Magical Thinking. Here it is:“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to use could die, but we do not look beyond the few days of weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nautre of the even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool. customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be ‘healing.’ A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the fungeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to ‘get through it,’ rise to the occasion, exhibit the ‘strength’ that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that his will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be the anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of memoments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.”- The Year of Magical Thinking, 188-89.
I.e. nihilism. A belief, or a newfound and unsolicited understanding of the world-as-nothing. What do they call that in Buddhist thought? When then veil's been removed from the world and you understand that all's suffering? And transcendence results?
*I didn’t know Jon very well.*This is why the prospect of Moving on, the initial step toward Dealing, feels like a deep betrayal of him. *Joan Didion’s book, which I still plan on reviewing in a more official capacity when time allows, is a wonderful document primarily because it represents the purest emotional reaction possible. I think that Kate’s right when she says that the book is just pure catharsis for Didion; I had been criticizing the book’s general inability to synthesize its incredible intimacy and representations of memory and the titular “magical thinking” with its latent ideas about what these personal experiences mean in the larger context of a) universally human grief and b) grief as modeled and lived in the contemporary U.S. of A. Nevertheless, her book has been helpful for me to read and reflect upon in part because her situation of losing her companion, lover, and best friend of 40+ years is so very different than my own. I feel a need to master all of the things that made him up, that informed him, because I have only the slightest implications of what he was like. We weren’t close, as siblings go. “Night and day” is the standard description my parents would give when asked for an account of their two sons. I want to know the brands, varieties, RDA data, and physiological effects of the vitamin supplements he took. I want to know what he liked about the movies The Day After and The Notebook (the latter being one he apparently teared up at) such that he wanted to own them and watch them again. I’ve written about this before, but it seems more true and more vital and more crucial a step to take. I need to have a photograph of him in my wallet. I need to memorize photographs of him. I need to go home and sort through his things in a one-item-per-day way, putting the item on a countertop and looking at it from every angle, using the item, viewing or listening to the item. Wearing the sweat- or muscle-shirt. And I need to make these things and the use of them and the consideration of them affect me, because from where I’m sitting this morning, in gross Brooklyn, far indeed from home and anything Jon, only doing so seems to have any beneficial potential in helping me understand him.This project on which I feel a need to embark upon is less in the name of establishing a cause for why Jon did what he did, because however much sleuthing we do I suspect that there will remain a gaping space in the facts and the scenarios we sketch. I think that most survivors of a suicide feel this way, or feel a need to believe that all the facts collected in the aftermath won’t add up to a clear, logical picture; if they did, one would then have to believe that the pieces could have been fit together prior to the Event, and the event could’ve been avoided. Which is destructive thinking in the extreme, because it leads to mondo guilt. We have had to deal with this in part, my family: one night Dad mentioned that he should’ve gotten rid of the gun(s?) Jon had, that he should’ve outlawed them in his house or inculcated in Jon more of an aversion to guns—who knows if that would’ve worked—but basically that he could have taken steps to remove the tools Jon would wind up using that Saturday morning. On hearing this, Mom and E- and I think even Melissa jumped on the statement by saying that he would have gone out and gotten another one. That Jon couldn’t be dissuaded from a course of action; indeed, that Jon would be persuaded into a course of action if you tried to dissuade him from it. When I heard this line of thinking I didn’t believe it straightaway: it sounded like we, and I really do mean we, were letting ourselves off the hook entirely and too quickly. For my part, I think back to those times when I was walking around Manhattan thinking about the people I should call—I tended back then to use my walking-around time in this way, rather than actually calling the person—and more than once I thought that I should call Jon. In fact, and I can see myself step up onto a curb while having this thought—that’s how vividly I’ve recorded and filed away this memory, as though I knew it would be important—that I should call Jon right away. That it couldn’t wait. I remember thinking that part of the thought in particular: that it couldn’t wait. I don’t remember if I called him right after that or not. I called him on Thanksgiving and got no response. I called him after that, letting him know how much I was looking forward to seeing him. I think I did. I didn’t call him more than twice, however, in the weeks after Thanksgiving. Which of course quite naturally leads into the “If only I had called him” sort of thinking which can sink a survivor of a suicide into profound and long-lasting pits of regret and self-reproach. I’ve since thought about this issue a good deal. It seems pretty clear to me that part of the process for the survivors, part of the work the survivor needs to do, is to establish and maintain the belief that no action the survivor could’ve done would have altered the final outcome. But still, even now, this thinking seems dangerous in the extreme. Here’s why: if you follow it to its logical conclusion, all reaching-out and intervention-type steps for the depressed would be doomed to failure. There wouldn’t be any point in calling, or visiting, or recommending time off or that the suffering person come home, or procuring some sort of service for the sufferer, because the sufferer would find another way, find other tools, would continue to suffer up to and through the end.There is a potential solution, however, and that’s this: this type of thinking—which is to say the “Jon would have found another way” kind of thinking—might be endemic only to those situations when what’s done is done. Therefore, given the context, this type of thinking wouldn’t be used to justify a lack of helpful action toward a living person who was seeming to suffer; rather, it would be used solely to defend yourself from the implication that something you yourself could have done would have made the critical difference. It isn’t a kind of thinking that implies while the sufferer is suffering that no steps should be taken. Rather it’s an after-the-fact mechanism of coping for those left behind. *I have to get a move-on. I’m concerned—back to the world of the insufferably inane, it would seem—that I haven’t written much in the novel. It is organized into a Master File, and I know what work remains to be done. Finding the time and the jones to write my way into that work has been difficult, however. For obvious reasons. Besides, I’ve been pouring myself into this site. Which seems like the more important activity. Maybe even the most important. “And from then on, wherever I was going, I was running.” Forrest Gump said this. It always goes through my mind before I hit the pavement.
There must be something extraordinary going on in your face
The title of this post is paraphrased from a Rebecca Wolff poem, which poem is discussed in passing below.
DJ @ 1
It occurred to me last night that we've missed the official birthday of a certain site known as Disruptive Juxtaposition. One is a cute age. A year ago I was making my first posts on DJ, which are archived and available for browsing. Although I'm as embarrassed and proud of them as I am of my actual baby pictures, which will not be posted on this site, so help me God. I didn't know a year ago what this space was going to become or become good for. So I marked the passing of Jerry Orbach of Law & Order fame, gently excoriated a book of poetry criticism (and in so doing earned by first blog comment, written by the author of that book), and generally tried to advance these theories of post-postmodern poetry and art that I have bouncing around in my head.
To that end,
A RETURN TO POETRY!
Check out Joan Houlihan's article "Three Invitations to a Far Reading" in Contemporary Poetry Review - which I think is sometimes spot-on but other times is based on dangerous assumptions. For example, when she says that much of what's hot in contemporary poetry is unreadable, lacking clear signs of organization or intelligence, she's using very traditional ideas of what "organization" might mean. It's dangerous for her to suggest that reordering the lines of the poem will result in better poems. It seems to me that she's committing an error when she says that she can take any one of the poems written by these three new poets and can re-order their lines to get something just as good. See what she does with Rebecca Wolff's poem "Don't Look In the Basket", reordering the lines according to what she sees as resulting in the more coherent poem. (The relevant section of the article is about 7/8ths of the way down the linked page.) When she reorders the poem into her version, I don't think she's giving the poem enough credit. For example: ending the poem in Wolff's way - "A long and rambling conversation" - is much different than ending it Houlihan's way - "There must be something extraordinary going on in my face." The effects are profoundly different, and imply very different intentions, and even with the exact same lines in each version amount to completely different poems.
Now, this is exactly what we do in poetry workshops: one of the standard ways to comment on a poem that isn't making sense for you is to draw arrows all over the page - "This line should go here, this stanza should come next, ditch this line altogther" - in so doing you're making a narrative out of the poem. Not "narrative" in the sense of "narrative poetry", of course, which has a narrator and some aspect of a story about it, but rather "narrative" in the sense of a logical order of ideas. And Houlihan isn't wrong to want to do this. Certainly, I'd be the last one to defend "Don't Look In the Basket" as a worthy poem that doesn't need profound reworking. It isn't profound and it needs reworking.
Still, I think that Houlihan's critical technique - which is basically to say that "It'll be just as good if not better by reordering it" - leads her into logical trouble. Because this criticism collapses when you apply it to older canonical poetry that is difficult and loose and allusive: would she reorder one of Berryman's Dream Songs, or bits of Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" or "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"? These pieces have internal order that isn't immediately apparent; I'm glad that she wasn't Berryman's or Whitman's editor: we the reading public wouldn't have had been given the requisite time to divine patterns of meaning that were new to us but certainly present in the text. I realize that Houlihan isn't talking about canonical poetry; she's applying her critical technique to this new strand of contemporary poetics which seem defined by an altogether higher level of fragmentation and channel-surfing-ish-ness than even the High Priests of Postmodernism could have managed. The "disregard for the reader" she senses in these poems is something I feel as well, and it does feel a world removed from the difficulty of other, older work.
For me, it comes down to this: I'm as inclined to jettison such work as these three "Far Poets" as Houlihan is. I am, however, intrigued enough in the idea of "far reading" to hesitate before I through these poems out the, ah, airlock. (Had to continue the "jettison" motif.) I want to give these poems a bit more benefit of the doubt before concluding for good that they aren't providing anything of human emotion in them.
Suffice it to say, to put it another way, that the work of these Far Poets seems quintessentially postmodern, and we're past postmoderism. We have been since at least the 80s. Onto Post-post. Onto making meaning. Onto being concerned for the reader as well as the self.
BUT SOON I MUST LEAVE,
because I go back to B_______ today. It'll be nice to see the people there. Good people there. But I'm glad my days there are numbered. It's time to move onto other places and vocations. To Realize Ambitions!
Jon during his time at Boot Camp in Chicago. Possibly it was during his Gunnery School Training. I don't honestly recall. I feel terrible about this. We weren't close enough with the facts of our biographies as they took shape such that I can instantly recall where and when this was taken.
This is getting to be a long caption.
I feel able to share it because he sent it to me over a year ago, and as such I don't think it's an invasion of his privacy or anything.
Oh: it's dated 4 February 2004.
When I first opened it I burst out laughing; his expression is out of the ordinary. He's doing what you could call hamming it up. He was a ham.
Let me tell you about a little panic attack I had yesterday.
I was on the Amtrak heading to New York, and had spent much of the ride writing a long post about music and religion which I decided not to post because it got too long and my thinking got too complex and I didn't want to rush it. I was heading home to Kate's (FN 1) apartment, where I'd spent the summertime and part of the fall. Kate's housemate, who might be reading this and should know that I still think v. highly of her and am not writing this in order to air grievances about her or her position, confessed in a phone call to having some, um, reservations about my return for the night to this apartment. I will be the first one to confess that this past summer I'd failed to heed the wisdom in Ben Franklin's adage about fish and houseguests beginning to stink after 3 days. By that measure, I'd begun to stink indeed. So I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of coming home to Kate's apartment, where my presence could conceivably become a point of contention between the two otherwise best friends. I loathe to rock boats when it comes to the well-being of others. So, and not to speak ill of Kate or Kate's roommate, I didn't feel welcome. The opposite prospect was going straight home to Brooklyn where, as readers of DJ know, the living situation is not ideal. It has to do with thin walls, an absence of housemates who know me, and an abundance of sub-5-yr.-old children who scamper about ceaselessly. Living there has been possible mainly because of my strategies for dealing with the noise, which have been to a) Listen to loud dense ambient noise rock like My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, even in the way A.M.;b) Go on runs whenever the noise gets bad at around the 10:30 A.M. mark;c) Pound on the ceiling with a Frisbee - the best tool I've got for the job - as I stand on the arm of my sofa;d) Go upstairs to use my limited Spanish to remind those families that, yes, I still live below them and yes, I can hear them. As a) and b) are avoidance techniques, and as c) and d) are only intermittently successful, it isn't too much to say that I wasn't feeling welcome in Brooklyn either.
*Add to these two thoughts of homelessness the fact that I've been haunted (FN 2) by two images. One of them is a digital photo of Jon's room where the Event happened, and the other being of Jon's basement apt, taken from the living room and focused on the island counter and the front door. On the island is a black shotgun which I assumed when I saw it (correctly, it turned out) to be the shotgun Jon used. The photo of Jon's room was taken sometime in early December or late November - I don't remember what the yellow timestamp said - and can therefore be taken as an accurate representation of what the room looked like that Saturday morning. A desk free of clutter. A new Dell computer (FN 3). Shelves on the rear wall containing a safe, a black shoebox, other stuff. The effect is one of stark order (FN 4). These were the two images that kept popping into my head during this train ride. I dozed for a little while, and they were the last things I saw before losing consciousness for those few minutes.
*I also have rattling around in my brain a few details regarding what happened that Saturday morning that, when given the visual spatial context of Jon's room and apartment, seem all the easier to animate and replay and replay in my mind, especially when I don't want to.
*And finally there was the comment that my dad shared with me that morning when we spent a hard few minutes glancing at these pictures. He said - I hope you don't mind Dad - that he felt an intense feeling of depression on walking into that apt, that he could see how someone in it could be given over to despair, and not only due to the circumstances in which he was entering it. It was a basement apt., with only window-wells and no proper windows. Kate says that a physical environment is only the reflection of its occupant's inner life. That's true. So I can take that fact and see that Jon might’ve turned even a gorgeous cabin with hardwood floors and gardens outside into a depressing kind of place, if that’s what was inside of him.
*All of this added up in me: my feeling of New York City unwelcomeness, my doubt that I should even be coming back to the city so soon, the images of the place and the means of Jon’s final moments. I felt as though Jon had felt the way I was feeling as I sat on the Amtrak as it pulled into Penn Station, the travellers around us who'd been prepared for arrival all sweeping onto the platform. I felt more Jon's brother in those moments than I have in a long time. I felt as though I was beginning to feel what he felt out there in Colorado, alone if and when he and E- were fighting. I had begun, there on the train, to draw a line between the images of his home and the unknown heart of him and the shotgun on the island counter and my slightly-more-known heart and my unwelcome home (FN 5).
*Next time you're on a train, take some time and notice which people linger in their seats and wait for the bustle of the eager-to-depart to subside. You'll see some older couples with white hair and plain shirts. Perhaps a person who's differently abled, and their partners or aides. I felt a great affection for these people yesterday, as we remaining five or six got to our feet and worked the luggage that had been snug overhead free and set it all down.
*Hereupon follows a lot of conscious effort to not break down in Penn Station as Kate and I made our way to K-Mart and to the 1, and generally failing in that effort. Part of the overwhelming quality of being around so many people again was straight-on sensory overload, but I suspect that part of it was seeing so many faces with private thoughts and private concerns... The true scale of the Communication Project I've set forth on this blog revealed itself to me in Penn Station as one of the more daunting projects I've set forth for myself. And I'm always setting out on daunting projects. Short version is this: the sight of so many people going about their individual lives drove home for me anew the fact that meaningful communication between people - the sort of communication that can keep a person from doing what Jon did - is v. v. hard work. It's hard work already, no matter what you do, but when you consider the amt. of people in the world whom you will never get to know, and all of the troubles that they might be going through, it begins to seem, well, a little bit hopeless. I know that it isn't hopeless. The fact that I'm even writing this proves that it isn't. Still. It seemed so. Thus, panic.
*One of the most upsetting things about leaving home yesterday was that I didn't want to leave. There was more work to be done there - that work still remains – and this issue of work there vs. work elsewhere in the world I have to do is one that’ll have to be parsed out at more length soon and in another post. But more upsetting even than that was the fact that Jon felt so disconnected and homeless that coming home didn’t occur to him that Saturday morning as an option. It’s an error to think that Jon’s mere return to our home in Camillus – which is a preternaturally-homey environment, with fires and Golden Retrievers and a big-screen TV on low volume and portraits of us kids everywhere, a fridge full of food and Tupperwares full of cookies, a just stellar home environment you want to take a warm nap in – would have solved anything in a long-term, emotionally-healthy sort of way. Jon’s problems must’ve run much deeper than that. Still, he had been thinking with E- that he’d pack up his truck and come home. He’d come home. This thinking was current even as of the Friday before that Saturday morning. Something we, esp. my mother, can’t understand is what changed such that our home didn’t seem viable as an option for him. Did he just not think of it? Did he think of it but judge that it wouldn’t’ve helped?
*I want to bring him into the house one more time: it’s New Year’s Day: Kate and I have come back from Williamson, NY: Melissa and Emily are there as well: Mom doesn’t have to work: we’re all tired from the previous night’s wedding: the lights in the kitchen are on: Dad’s sauteeing onions in butter for the piroghies he’s boiling and plans on searing: I am helping him: Melissa is finishing her coconut & caramel cookies: Mom assembles a salad: the dog is an angel behavior-wise: she trots around from one side of the island to the other, holding vigil at the sides of various family members in hopes of a handout: conversation needs to be directed around the pots that hang from the ceiling rack: conversation therefore has a funny I-can’t-see-you, neck-craning joviality to it: all of this did happen on New Year’s: we’re telling stories about him: he could be there to correct us in our misremembering: he should be there to embellish and tell stories of his own: he would feel a part of the family again and still.FOOTNOTES.FN 1. A pseudonym. Whenever I remember to, I use a pseudonym for talking about this person in written productions of mine. FN 2. "Haunted" isn't overdramatic here. I think that "haunted" is warranted by the fact that these two images recur without warning in contexts that are wholly incongruous. FN 3. Which was the computer my dad brought home and set up on the floor of the den. It was the computer on which I first saw these photos. Which is an interesting set of circumstances: seeing the computer in Jon’s room on the very same computer in another room 1700 miles and some weeks apart. FN 4. Jon's rooms were often like this: bare bones, Spartan. Even as he became more interested in technological trinkets, he divested himself of most other creature comforts. For example, he gave up sleeping on beds sometime in his late teens, and opted instead for an inflatable mattress that could be easily propped up against the wall once morning came. FN 5. Please remain assured that this brand of spectral affinity I seemed to have with Jon in this moment DOES NOT MEAN that I'm thinking about doing or am capable of doing what he did that Saturday morning. It just doesn't.
All things go!
This post was written on the Amtrak yesterday. It's a little outdated, but, meh. The post I'm almost done writing now what'll make this post outdated. Still, I wrote it and it's against my new constitution to keep things to myself.*On the 281 Empire Service to New York City. Just lurched out of Albany, and we’re about to swing south. Just pushed play on Come On Feel the Illinoise! by Sufjan Stevens, which has gotten a lot of press on this blog and other more popular blogs. For example, the high-and-mighty and much-hated Pitchfork named it, well, see for yourself. (Scroll down for the relevant entry.) We avoided what looked liable to become a nightmarish situation when we first boarded the train in Syracuse, with all of the seats taken save one, which was occupied by the big leg of a woman with a defiant expression. Luckily, it didn’t transpire that we needed to test this defiance, as an Amtrak conductor ambled toward us, the half-dozen travellers without seats who’d been exiled to the rearmost part of the train possible; just when I was sure we’d all have to remain standing subway-style in the little 10 sq. ft. area for oversized luggage, this conductor came along and opened up the final car, into which we six or seven gratefully poured. I’ve spent the ride so far doing crosswords, today’s in the New York Times and another NYT crossword reprinted in the Syracuse Post-Standard (“America’s Most Colorful Newspaper!”). Success on both fronts. Also I’ve been making headway in Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which I’ll probably review on this page when I finish it in the next few days. Thanks, Keetje and others, for the recommendation.
Here is a poem by Kim Addonizio
Happiness after Grief feels like such a betrayal: the hurt not denied, not pushed away, but gone entirely for that moment you can't help feeling good in, a moment of sudden, irrational joy over nothing of consequence, really, which makes it all somehow seem even worse. Shouldn't happiness be the result of some grand event, something adequate to counter that aching, gaping chasm that opened when . . . But, no: it's merely this: there goes our little neighbor, running barefoot, no pants, fox stole wrapped around her shoulders. *Kim's a good friend of Dorianne's - Dorianne was a teacher of mine at Oregon, and still is a teacher of mine, although in a different capacity now. "Fox stole wrapped around her shoulders" has something affirmative in its rhythm: three stresses in a row in "fox stole wrapped" and a slight acceleration with "around her shoulders", finally concluding with the feminine (unstressed) ending of "shoulders". A little hint of sadness there. I hope it's alright that I share it here, Kim and those of you at Poetry Daily.
Stuff about things / Things about stuff
This morning I head back to the city to tie up the various loose ends of my life there and, from there, light out on some new adventure. I like to think that this will be more a conscientious tying of loose ends and not a blind put-a-match-to-it unconscientious fusion of loose ends.
Yesterday I went into something of a silent tailspin, right there in the family room, surrounded by the three remaining members of my family, Kristin, Bailey the dog, Jon's girlfriend E-, and Jon's best friend Phil. There were a series of pretty funny stories about Jon, and coming from Phil - who was there - we had little reason to doubt them. Maybe it was the fact that I was returning to the city in the morning - this morning - maybe it was the fact that I had begun to confront the realities of outlaying money and being mobile and NYC-style independent again (i.e. would not only have to function as a healthy human being, but would have to do so in such a way that I could do New York, which demands I believe a slightly different form of physical and mental health), maybe it was the fact that I haven't begun to sort through the majority of Jon's material goods, which still sit in the staging area of the basement. But even with a football game on, even with a fire going in the fireplace, even surrounded with the people who knew Jon best as they remembered the funniest, most lovable aspects of the person he was and is, I was lost to two things I couldn't help but stare at given my position on the smaller couch: a carved dark green sign hung over the French doors that says "There's No Place Like Home" (The Wizard of Oz being one of my mother's 2 favorite movies, and a foundation of her philosophy in general), and a formal portrait of Jon in his Naval dress blues and sailor's cap. Both of these items hung on the wall just to the left of the Christmas tree. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was leave. I suppose that that statement still holds true. For now at least. Moreover, as I stared at those items - and, also, sometimes when I close my eyes in the midst of a cup of coffee or taking a shower or doing something completely else - I saw two photographs in my mind's eye: Jon's room in Fort Collins, and the all-black shotgun. These were photographs I'd seen from Jon's Dell computer, which we've set up in the den upstairs and which contained scores of digital photographs of Jon in his Naval barracks, Jon and E- home for the summer in the backyard, Jon and E- with their gigantor bunny, Rocky Balboa. I took the upsetting and necessary step yesterday afternoon of going through some of these photos. In fact I will need to be brief here now in order to give myself time to get these photos onto a CD before I leave. Suffice to say that these photos have given me a context, a scene, in which I can set the dark action Jon took Saturday morning. It will remain a difficult fact of my life that I wasn't there to see the actual space Jon inhabited. Since I've gone through a few of Jon's things - his box of BB guns, his collection of DVDs - I've noticed in myself, in a very conscious way, a desire to watch what he watched and live where he lived and do what he did in order to know what in those films, and what in that place, and what in that apartment contributed to his mindset and character and heart or lack of heart such that he was finally able to do what he did. What fractions or slivers of information in these things - because we are things to a large extent - what in them went toward accruing into the person he was. Not that Jon, or any of us, could ever be summed up in what we own. There remains and will always remain an additional undefinable element, I dunno, an X factor or whatever, a soul, whatever, which is the remainder and the most important element of a person's make-up. And that can't be contained or described or encapsulated in things. But things - i.e. consumables, goods, DVDs, clothes, vitamin supplements, makes of boot and shoe - I suspect or want to believe that these things taken in sum, in aggregate, might make up a mosaic of Jon that like a puzzle with a huge missing piece reveals the shape if not the color of Jon himself.
There's a lot of work I haven't done in sorting through these things.
I'm eating for two now
We say this of the pregnant. We also say it of ourselves when we're eating a good amount and want to joke about ourselves as being pregnant, because only a pregnancy could reasonably account for a heaped plate of grilled victuals and sides that reaches a vertical height of let's be modest and say 4 inches, the rest of the food spilling around that 4-inch-high apex like the mashed potato mountain Richard Dreyfuss built in Close Encounters. I've had reason to think about food and drink over the last few days because there's been so much food, good food, available here in the family's home in Camillus, and at Tasha & Brian's house in Williamson, and at the wedding of my cousin Liz and new cousin-in-law Chris -
!!! INTERRUPTION !!!
Last night at about 6:45 on the last day of the year that was, Elizabeth and Christopher were wed in a ceremony that was as lovely as the recessional song - Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash singing, I believe, about going to Jackson - was unexpectedly fitting. I here offer my profound good wishes to them and picture them now and will continue to picture them in the following way: Liz up in Chris's arms, having leapt there, Chris's face red from smiling at the professions of love and gratitude Liz's just read aloud to everyone present. Hearty, hearty congratulations to you both!
!!! RESUMPTION !!!
- good food every which way including loose. Holidays are defined by the variety of foods available and overindulged in, but this holiday season's been more bound up in food and drink than others, and I think I know why. Just this afternoon, for instance, Kris and I arrived back from Tasha & Brian's house, where we were staying such that we'd have easy access to the Rochester environs for New Year & wedding activities. Tasha and Brian, unsurprisingly when you think about it, are consummate entertainers and hosts: generous with their wine, their Scotch, their pets, and their company. This very enjoyable 3 days and 2 nights stay in Williamson was defined by good eats, one highlight of which was the meal we shared the first night in town: pan-seared tenderloin steaks, mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables (or possibly sauteed - certain details seem hazy from this distant vantage), burgundy, icewine, Glenfiddich, peppermint bark, which while storebought has come to define for me the taste of holiday desserts. One result of this incredible meal and the post-prandial drinks was that I developed the longest, most painful case of hiccups I have ever had the misfortune to endure and be laughed at about. Each hiccup felt like the moment in Alien when the Dustin Hoffman-looking guy, Victim #1, is at dinner with the rest of the Nostromo crew and the chestburster that's been laid in his stomach first begins to punch out of his solar plexus region, and you the theater-going audience member realize all at once, coincident with the rest of the crew, that he is not OK, and that some bad shit is going down. They were the kind of hiccups that to even remember them makes me want to italicize everything to convey their horrible scope.
Another result though of this meal was to get me thinking about food and meals as something that we come together around. It has a similar social role as fires do, or television. You come together and you eat. Pictures of Jon at his happiest tend to have him at the dinner table, beaming down at or at the camera over a plate of steaming lobster or a bowl of clams. It has been occurring to me since this meal that there is a huge amount of food that Jon won't be around to eat anymore. This sounds silly. It wasn't silly when it crystallized in my head.
Here, let's try this: in Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, one of the main protagonists - 17-yr-old tennis prodigy and low-level genius Hal Incandenza - sometimes goes into cataleptic statis / shock as a result of seeing, in his mind, laid out before him in an impossibly big room, everything he's taken into his body and everything he's expelled from his body. For Hal, the very idea of existing means continuing the previous 17 years of eating and defecating and drinking and urinating, means adding another 60+ years of food, drink, shit and piss to this visionary room of All Things Hal. Because Hal sees these quantities in sum rather than in the piecemeal day-by-day accumulations the average functioning human being sees and partakes of, Hal begins to go a little bonkers.
This thematic problem of Viewing In Sum is solved - in Infinite Jest anyway - by another protagonist, the 29-year-old Don Gately, who's in medical traction for reasons way too complex to even summarize. Don Gately's been a longtime member of AA for a previous drug abuse, and much of Infinite Jest is about AA's funny operations in terms of winning AAers' faith and how AA's proscriptions and quasi-cult-like belief systems and activities and attitudes really do help its members endure the day-in, day-out hardships of getting along with and through addiction. Toward the end of the novel, Don Gately has a modest (modest to him, but momentous for the reader) revelation about abiding with hardship by breaking it down into constituent parts. Only in so breaking down the hardship - the impression of an apparently-infinite amount of eating, drinking, and shitting; the seconds and minutes and hours of, say, a bodily pain through which one must push - can a person get by. Getting by is a process of establishing and maintaining a view of life as consisting of small, manageable increments.
What am I saying here.
When I sit down to eat at one or another of these holiday meals we've had over the past few days I find myself thinking of Jon not only because he isn't around, not only because of the social role food has for all of us. After all, Jon had long since moved into the basement before moving out to Colorado, and even before that the family had left off doing the nightly All Around the Table thing: college and work and fatigue kept us from keeping that particular tradition, and I think most families at a similar stage of development have something similar happen to them. So that's not why I think of Jon. Instead, I find myself thinking of him because there was always a huge amount of food and drink that Jon would singlehandedly consume and now won't. The family has been going through milk at the abysmally slow rate of 1 Gal / week. Jon used to fill a 2 liter Tupperware pitcher 3/4 of the way full with milk, and take it down into the basement, and re-emerge later that day or night with the milk gone. I have this somewhat conflicted relationship with food - while I love it, I also feel as though I should always maintain the same asceticism towards it that I display toward my time and my diligence with respect to keeping schedule defined by writerly and athletic-type activities - and now that Jon isn't around, I feel as though someone has to eat Jon's always considerable portion. And that that person's me, or one of us. I suppose this notion of compensatory eating goes a long way toward explaining the neighborly tradition of bringing over dishes of baked and fried natures.
Speaking of neighbors, I can't begin to thank ours enough. They were & are literally incredible in terms of aiding with the post-wake familial gathering. I can't say enough about it now; it will have to wait for the morning.
Before any more hours elapse
Do please heed the following New Year's wishes: may you contact those friends and family with whom you've been out of contact; may you have the opportunity to raise a glass with them, if only over the phone or other forms of correspondence - call it correspondence toasting (i.e. as with correspondence chess); may you feel young and free; may your mind feel spry, such that new ideas and alignments between the world you see, the world you've seen, and the world you wish to see keep occurring to you; and may you and yours be in every way safe and in good health. In short: Happy New Year, everyone.