<= 2021.02.17

Sorrow, a pool in the heart that animals come to drink from.

Learned the word “pelmet” from Eimear McBride tonight. At the end of the day novels are still novels because of house words.

“music for flat on the couch thinking about embodiment”

Imogen Ave, Los Angeles CA, July 2021
Photograph by N. Zeltzer

People smile at me more, men and women both. A subtle new sense of gentleness, indulgence. My native clumsiness is accounted for; guys are quick to help when I can’t get the napkins out of the napkin dispenser.

When I get compliments on outfits or accessories I think of them as complimenting the taste of friends whose castoffs I’m wearing—which is quite a nice feeling all round. I also feel relieved to have a mask covering what I think of as the uglier parts of my face: this though I know it’s not really the same domain, and “Am I ugly?” is not a question decidable within this formal system anyhow.

History is what hurts

This creaky machine is now old enough to have chronicled things that happened 20 years ago, and if anyone wanted to see what some kid thought at the time, as if there weren’t already enough of that, they would find it easy digging. Let’s twist that dial: anthrax and Cipro, Osama Yo Mama, draft-dodging fantasies, the National Geographic photo of the Afghan girl with green eyes. That winter in Iowa I bought a Quran at Prairie Lights and read it cover to cover, which is the last thing you should ever do with a holy book. Nothing ever disappears from the archive; everything’s still waiting its chance to get out and make trouble.

Woke up to damp on the ground and the rain chain full of water, the beginning of fall. Hopeful! I was asked about heat and smoke and I said not yet this summer, not along our patch of coast. It’s all temporary reprieves now but who’s going to turn them down?

Off work for my birthday, crossed the bridge into the city, gray bay, mist shroud, patch of pale sun on Russian Hill. J. stopped in the Sunset to buy a student clarinet for R. from an old guy in a warren row house. She saw the mezuzah and wished him a happy new year. He said, the clarinet is a Jewish instrument, I have a klezmer background, I come from Romania.

I thought for the day I might expect to write a summa about transition to life as a woman, but a happy outcome of that transition may be decreased interest in writing summae.

Gardens, pastel walls, gilt lions.

But then again. It’s the easiest thing in the world to distrust joy, all the more if you’re the sort of person who thinks of herself as hard to fool.

When Sojun used to walk around the meditation hall correcting people’s postures, he would put his hand on my shoulder to urge it downward; and I literally didn’t know how to drop my shoulder. It was a clumsy piece of armor, perpetually bunched up against a coming blow.

My cello teacher said the same thing about my inability to relax my bow arm.

If the body is a motel where the spirit puts up between wanderings, then there’s no question of loving it; a motel is either tolerated or intolerable. You expect running water, soap and towels, an Internet connection: enough to get by. It’s not as if it was made for you.

Why you would insist on something as dangerous and onerous as designating yourself a different class of human, why you would change your name, your grammar, your private chemistry, knowing you could never justify any of it when the proud man’s contumely comes knocking: I think it’s only for that scarcely imaginable hope, the possibility of a body that would not be a motel, but instead a place where the spirit might be coaxed to finally open its bags, lay out its little stash of memorabilia and call itself home.

Every Gal Her Own Beatrice

It doesn’t feel like the common nostra vita, it feels like backing yourself into a wholly idiopathic corner from which no one else is in a position to extricate you. But the hemmed-in-ness, that’s real enough. The wild beasts appear in Dante’s way, he can’t get up the slope and doesn’t see any other road.

Twice now I’ve gone to the pharmacy and been told to come back tomorrow. By the logic of folktale, on the third visit either they will do something different or I will do something different, I’m not sure which. I dreamed that the pharmacist tried to switch out my prescription for something else and got angry when I objected: didn’t I trust him to know what was best for me? Didn’t I want the newest thing on offer? I tried to answer and my voice wouldn’t stay in the same octave for two syllables running.

I used to ask myself about the psych meds, am I deforming myself in order to better accommodate the world? And then the question stopped seeming relevant. Whatever form I might have been losing didn’t seem worth holding onto.

You can put on a skirt and the skirt feels like you, but there’s no way to do the aesthetically optimal thing, which would be to disappear inside the skirt entirely so that it would float ghostlike up the street on its own, invisibly sustained. As it is you have to ride BART in your own skin and take your best guess what people are staring at.

George Eliot, Adam Bede: “I am not at all sure that the majority of the human race have not been ugly, and even among those ‘lords of their kind,’ the British, squat figures, ill-shapen nostrils, and dingy complexions are not startling exceptions. Yet there is a great deal of family love amongst us. I have a friend or two whose class of features is such that the Apollo curl on the summit of their brows would be decidedly trying; yet to my certain knowledge tender hearts have beaten for them, and their miniatures—flattering, but still not lovely—are kissed in secret by motherly lips.“

Adam Bede himself isn’t ugly though. Neither is Dinah. They’re understood not to be in the same class as Arthur or Hetty, perhaps, but the narrative lens of Adam Bede never actually turns the soft focus on Arthur or Hetty to make your heart pound.

I’ve been told more than once that there’s too much Henry James in me, too much detachment and renunciation. But Lord help us, there are certain binds where there’s no way out except by renouncing something. Dante sets out for hell because the path that has opened to him is a new way of saying “I quit.”

You can’t both/and. You choose which inheritance will be returned to sender.

Such a long way round to be in the world at all.

The body is empty, like the sky; empty is empty, the four elements are the four elements, and the five aggregates are the five aggregates wherever they are found. The female is no different from a male, so both male and female acquire the Dharma without distinction. It is nothing more than taking seriously the experience of the Buddha Way. So do not think about such differences as male and female.

—Dōgen, Raihai Tokuzui

Her situation in life was representable, she fancied, as an infinite system of second-degree equations, any of which could be worked out to either of two solutions, a male or a female. Half the world was described by the scenarios in which the discriminant was greater than zero and yielded two distinct real solutions, a difference everyone could point to and agree on; the other, more painful half consisted of scenarios where the discriminant was less than zero and yielded a pair of complex conjugates with the same real component, separated only along the imaginary axis. Amphibians between being and non-being, Leibniz had called those numbers; but even if the distinctions were confined to her imagination, she knew how much they meant to her amphibious self. Balanced on the knife-edge between these two realms were those special cases of reprieve where the discriminant evaluated to exactly zero, interposing no distance between the male and female solutions. In these moments the two conditions were one. To stand alone in a gravel riverbed under cactus-scratched cliffs, to be admitted into an arrangement of stars, a keyboard fugue, a color-field painting, a set-theoretic proof, brush calligraphy or a brush landscape reduced to calligraphic gestures, a language spoken only by the dead: all these things, which appeared from the outside to be austerities, from the inside were the most wanton and sensual experiences imaginable precisely because their indifference to the human gaze, presenting exactly the same face to everyone, granted to her that she might cancel out of her own equation and leave the object alone.

Hence the sadness that came upon her later, in more sophisticated quarters, when she was told that her sensation of disappearance could only be a delusion or a trap, that in reality one could never cease to occupy a standpoint and that her moments of supposed nonexistence within music or mathematics were all a ruse; as if, while she was standing in that gravel riverbed, unheeded and unbodied, a second traveler had suddenly intruded his head past the overhanging hillcrest, adding another term to the equation and throwing the carefully leveled zero out of balance; as if he had fixed her with a leer and forced her back into the compromise of herself, always delimited and, what was more, now flagrantly guilty—I hope you’re ashamed of what you were doing down there.

<= 2021.02.17