<= 2003.10

2003.12 =>

[NOVEMBER 2003.]

the lowly worm climbs up a winding stair

Your patience is appreciated, kids. I'm going to try to be a grownup again.


end times

Doctor, you do not see the world I see.
I am a refugee three billion years in the future

where the red monster sun has boiled away the oceans
and nothing survives on the rock but an evolved cockroach

which has learned to employ tools, and calculate the cosine,
and fuck over its neighbor. It cries too, the cockroach. It knows

the world is ending. If its feelers tickle your face,
if it causes you to gag, do not judge it too harshly.

It only wants what everyone wants, to be obliterated. Strike
the heel of your boot against the rock, consummate the marriage.

It won't be much longer. The sun is hungry. I have laid
my invertebrate body over the dead land. Even a cockroach

knows when it has forfeited its existence. Even a cockroach
is but a corruption of God.


instructions for demolition of the heart

I celibate myself, and screen myself,
and what I eschew you shall eschew,
for the heart is bone no less than the limbs
and once the ventricles drain of blood
you will descry their hidden architecture—
ossified valves and chambers, arches of a vacant cathedral,
the hollow socket of a horse's skull—
and when the wrecking crew arrives (if it should be
the will of its Inquisitor),
you will verily beg to be quit of the eyesore; you will beg
to swing the very hammer yourself.


give thanks

1. Physically clear of infirmities, except myopia, and they tell me spectacles are back in.
2. Mentally, escitalopram oxalate keeps the devil in check.
3. My family, who have always conducted themselves well, with love and care. Even my parents' divorce was more amicable than most. And they're still alive.
4. This is sort of a blanket amnesty to girlfriends and lovers from 1998 forward. You're all good people. We had some fun.
5. This good old "Inter-Net," without which I would presumably be xeroxing flyers about my Sturm und Drang and stapling them to telephone poles.
6. My improbable luck in being born into such a particular stratum of such a particular nation-state as to avoid famine, armed conflict, schistosomiasis, illiteracy, persecution of all sorts; further improbable luck in having—I still don't know what to call it. Aptitude, I guess.
7. Sun, air, rock, sky, I don't discount you.
8. Chaucer and Keats, Beethoven and Shostakovich, Eliot and Joyce, Cézanne and Pollock and Pixies and Radiohead, the good Lord knows I've needed all of you.
9. Siddhartha Gautama, Bodhidharma, Dogen, St. Francis, you no less.
10. Readers and friends, you above all.


christo, wrap my heart

Hey, you all are sweethearts.

I have started referring to the cat as "my beloved." My mother thinks it's sick. My sister gave me a Lexapro mousepad—they were handing them out at the pharmacy school.

It was a tossup between reading The Life of Samuel Johnson and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but I'm going with the latter. If time heals all wounds, then a millennium and a half should be just about my dose.

I remember people I knew in college who would talk blithely about their plans for marriage, how they expected it to work out one day—as if it were guaranteed to happen, as if these things just fall from the fucking sky.


second law of thermodynamics/everything goes to shit

I am very grateful for the messages of support, anonymous and not. Please imagine that I am thanking you unknown souls individually—I can only guess that I'm a fairly repulsive read at the moment.

I keep thinking of the week two summers ago—was it only a week? even less?—when I drank happiness like milk, when the world vibrated around me. And the bleak months that followed. And the sporadic bursts thereafter, only enough to keep the need alive. Moving to Portland was a mistake, but I really wanted to find solace there, in the desperate way that one wants things that one knows, deep down, don't exist. Never existed. I think I invented a lover. I had been breathing very thin air for a very long time, and I had to keep from asphyxiating. I know that the life-as-pie-chart is a terrible model, but I see it; I see the pitifully thin sliver of time in which I have been—and believe me, I truly hate this past participle—loved, in that sense; and I just don't understand how I made it this far. Of course some good things have come out of all the lonely years. But my life is short enough to be easily summarized, and oh God does it seem sterile.

Something she said, by way of attempted consolation: "You're so young. You can still do so much." I know. I am just so tired of doing it alone.

I have employment here, anyway, and I should be grateful that money is not a pressing concern. But I continue to envy the dead.


death on the highway

Lines Written in a Guatemalan Bar

O highland ladies, dark-eyed ladies,
  through my heart there runs a dearth—
I am one of those isolatees
   with no lover on this earth.

On village streets you shy away
  and give my whiteness quite a berth.
Your music is not mine to play;
  these are your footprints, this your earth.

While in the coffee shops the gringas
  have been wanderers from birth.
Just so am I. And time will fling us
  far and wide across the earth.

Beneath the market stalls a parrot
  clacks his beak, and shrieks with mirth,
and calls, "Señor, you do not merit
  any woman from this earth."

O highland ladies, dark-eyed ladies,
  I know well what I am worth.
I'll take the tourist bus to Hades,
  there to kiss and lie with earth.



I maintain that whoever directed the video for "Fake Plastic Trees" recognized that, next to airports, supermarkets are among the saddest places in the industrialized world. Most of us solitary ones don't need to leave the house often, but the grocery trip is one of those weekly debts you have to pay the external world. So you shuffle through the aisles and go about the business of nourishing a body that you couldn't care less about maintaining—it's just one of those things you have to do, like paying the electricity bill. The sweet-faced old women offer you cookies and you turn away because you can't explain to the cookie lady that she's the only person you've talked to that day and it would be worse to have your only human contact be a stranger in a supermarket than to have no contact at all. This is sort of analogous to the guy I knew in ninth grade who refused to kiss me at a truth-or-dare night, because to have that be his first kiss would be too cruel.

There's also the matter of the drip-fed sentiment in the form of "soft rock." Most of the time you can treat it as background noise, but in certain vulnerable states you actually find yourself having an emotional connection to the soft-rock ballads, which then produces faux epiphanies about how we are all connected in our longing, or something, and the only thing you can do is go home and lie on the couch and wait for the analgesic flatline state that lying on the couch eventually produces.

what do guatemaln's eat

asks someone, probably so that I will shut up about my problems. The answer is: corn tortillas, black beans (mashed and refried), scrambled eggs with onion and tomato, a weird kind of squash called güisquil, fried plantains, chicken, and in the cities for those who can afford it, hamburgers and steaks.


the hardest mile

Up loading the Honda. Of course I feel like a refugee—like the terror police have finally come knocking and I have to escape with carload and cat—but it feels right. With every box I carry to the car I feel a little lighter. The computer will be last. There will be time to decide everything, but right now I don't ever want to come back.

There's a unique and special shame that attaches to continuing to love someone whom you should not. In the end that's the hardest part to swallow, even more than jealousy or anger, and it's what would kill me if I stayed. I don't think she's reading this—at any rate, I'm writing under the assumption that she isn't. I've already told her how sorry I am. But if you talk to her, please tell her again.


to infinitesmal, and beyond

Hi everyone. Good morning. Okay, this is the deal: because I have met no one in this city who didn't promptly move away, because I have no money and no job, because the world is crapping on my novel—above all, because I have failed to heed the dictum about not falling in love with your friends—I am leaving Portland tomorrow. At least for a couple of months, maybe for good.

I'm going to Reno because I have nowhere else to go. Everything in my life has come up zero.

I have to say I understand Elliott Smith stabbing himself in the heart. It happens sometimes, that the essence of your nauseous self seems to gather in your chest and coalesce into a tiny point, fluttering, begging to be extinguished. I have to go home. If there isn't someone around to feed me, I won't eat. Since Wednesday I've had a banana and half a bowl of oatmeal. I'm going back to bed now.


Well hello Devil
hello hello
haven't seen you in a while
almost forgot the fucking contours of your face
almost forgot the lash of your firewhip


Just because you vomit it doesn't mean it's poison. You don't know what you're rejecting. It's all right. It's temporary

(that's the litany)


Now more than ever it is essential to maintain a proper diet. Exercise. Keep taking those pills. Meditate IF YOU CAN SIT STILL

"When a monk feels an unpleasant sensation, he knows 'I have felt an unpleasant sensation.'" DEVIL

Who asked for a body?
Who asked for a mind?
Who asked for these minimum-efficiency eyes?
not I not I not I


The boulder just rolled down the hill, and it's time to start pushing it up again. Camus said, "One must imagine Sisyphus happy." Camus was a dipshit.


Iiieee had a really bad dream
It lasted twenty years seven months and twenty-seven days


"All right. I know I'm behaving badly, and I'm going to go on behaving badly. This is a situation where people do behave badly."        —Graham Greene, The Quiet American

You know A in Beckett's "Act Without Words II," who begins and ends the play with a prayer? It's obvious that A isn't praying for anything; hope has long been extinguished. Just an acknowledgment of his existence, maybe, is all he wants. That, and the forms must be preserved if we're all to keep from crawling into our holes and dying, like the wounded animals we are. The cat asks to be fed; I oblige her, tell her to be grateful she doesn't have enough neocortex to understand how bleak it really is.

Let you go to sleep
Feeling bad as me
Let you go to sleep
Feeling bad
There's a mean bone in my body
It's connected to the problems
That I won't take for an answer
I won't take that from you


You Keep Me Hangin' On (mp3, 2 megs and change) (Brian Hollant, Lamont Dozier, Edward Holland, Jr.; Stone Agate Music Division [BMI])


accumulate i

Holy shit, it's snowing! I didn't think that happened here.

Furthermore, Space Ghost is coming out on DVD. One day they will release that episode I never saw where Space Ghost follows an ant around for twenty minutes, and then I will rent it, and my life will be complete.


olaf glad and big

The underground political sites are always a bit rabid and you have to watch that your news isn't contaminated, but. It seems a good indication of what this administration really expects for the future that they are quietly shunting $28 million extra into Selective Service, to get it ready for activation by mid-2005. "Just in case," I'm sure.

The piggy bank is empty, but I do have all this Cipro and Xanax I don't need. It's time to get the spambot running and start a DISCOUNT ONLINE PHARMACY.


the silent gray weeks roll on

Set theorist Saharon Shelah's 1991 talk on "The Future of Set Theory" is a nice exploration of where the field is these days, following the proof in the sixties that its central problem, the Continuum Hypothesis, is inherently unsolvable.

From another angle, I was amazed to find that many of my colleagues, including some of the best minds in the field of set theory, feel apologetic about their subject. Many are apologetic toward mathematicians, (implying somehow that there are mathematicians and there are logicians, as if they are disjoint species) working in fields which are surely deeper, harder, more profound and meaningful, etc., and so we have to justify our existence by finding applications of "logic" to "mathematics." This leads to putting great store on category A.2 [applications to mathematics], as in the Abraham Robinson school. Now, I love to prove theorems in as many areas of mathematics as I can, but I do not like this servile attitude (this says nothing concerning the attitude of, say, a number theorist to this).

Many others put great store on the role of foundations, and philosophy. Again, I do not have any objection to those issues per se, but I am suspicious. My feeling may be akin to that of many authors who, while acknowledging the role of literary critics in cultural life, think that heeding their dicta will lead to boring works - but that theirs, of course, will shine forever because of their intrinsic beauty.

Still others mourn the loss of the "good old days" when the proofs were with ideas and were not so technical. In general I am not a great fan of the "good old days" when they treated your teeth with no local anesthesia, and technical is a red flag for me, as it is many times used not for the routine business of implementing ideas but for the parts, ideas and all, which are just hard and many times contain the main novelties.

My feeling, in an overstated form, is that beauty is for eternity, while philosophical value follows fashion.


A disgusted reader may shout: "Beauty? You found in your mess some trace of beauty?" I can only say that I hear the music of those spheres or that every one likes his own dirt (the difference is small).


The future - the reader may well remind me - what will be the future of set theory? Being optimistic by nature, and proving theorems which look to me reasonably satisfying, I am not at all gloomy. More seriously, looking at the last hundred years, repeatedly old mysteries have been clarified by deep answers, dark interludes were followed by the opening of new horizons; some directions require a substantial amount of preliminary study while others can be approached with little; and I find the old lady as fascinating as ever.


cheers and jeers

Bat Boy: the Musical gets two thumbs up, plus a bit extra for rhyming "Othello" with "Elvis Costello" in the scene where Bat Boy absorbs the totality of Western culture.

"Honey," words and music by Bobby Russell, is handily the worst song ever recorded. The lyrics give some idea of its ineffable badness, but it is truly pushed into the sublime by the irritating tune and vocalist's tone of voice and the schmaltzy choir that enters in verse three, when Honey goes to her eternal reward.


i seen your pitcher

Uncle Paul's Guatemala Photo Album.


lack of absolute coordinate system

Going to Guatemala made me late for all sorts of parties, but I should note belatedly that if I had to flee into the wilderness, this would go in my backpack on top of the clean underwear:

Rhinoceros and some others, Eugene Ionesco
Cien Años de Soledad, Gabriel García Márquez
60 Stories, Donald Barthelme
The Golden Ass, Apuleius, tr. Robert Graves
The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Shunryu Suzuki
Collected Poems, W.B. Yeats
Ulysses, James Joyce

This summer, when I got my driver's license and registered to vote as a member of the Blue Party, it appears that the Red Party somehow got my data as well. Now I get periodic bulk mail from the Republican National Committee, and this morning a nice lady called to tell me that Tom DeLay wanted to recognize me with some kind of "leadership award" so that I could represent Oregon on some kind of "business council." Now you know as much as I do.

Fuck it, it's time to go back to Don Quixote. I haven't read it since I was eleven, and I don't think I ever finished Part II. The translation (John Ormsby, from 1885) didn't help me out; I mean, it had to compete with "The Transformers."


once again, everyone loses

Oh baby baby
Be my $11 million bra
You make 'em shout hurrah
In that $11 million bra
It's like Weimar Berlin
All those sapphires and skin


searching for ithaca

Lesson of experience #2923: just because the corn chips are labeled "organic" and "all natural" does not mean it is healthy to eat an entire bag of them with the highly addictive "El Pato" tomato/chile sauce while reading Everything and More: a Compact History of Infinity. You will fall asleep on the couch with a stomachache and have unsettling math-dreams.

In the end, the book is probably of interest only to fans of Wallace's other work. His chatty, digressive style works well for his celebrated essays on popular culture, but isn't suited to explaining mathematical concepts that actually require clarity and straightforwardness of presentation. I'd think that people without some background in calc and set theory would find it awfully hard to follow—I lost him in a couple of his discussions of analysis, a field which, although it constitutes what my dad does for a living and therefore bought my Christmas presents and sent me to college, I understand very little about. I'm fairly certain the fault lies not in obtuseness on my part but on his glossing over important parts of the argument. Having said this, there are great sections scattered through the book, some of which are quite funny, and where the book treats the philosophy rather than the mathematics of infinity, it's reliably illuminating and interesting. I also learned some historical tit-bits I hadn't known, which I will now unscrupulously appropriate for my own book.

I am quite enjoying How to Be Alone, though. In the end The Corrections didn't do it for me, but Franzen makes a fine essayist. The Infamous Harper's Essay, rather than leaving a sour taste in my mouth, made me want to write fiction again: this after a discouraging few days of yet more rejections and general shoveling of shit from the Establishment. Myself and cat, in rented rooms, blowing like tumbleweeds.


vengan a ver mi chacra

They're playing a crumhorn concerto on the radio. "Crumhorn" is my second-favorite Renaissance-instrument name, after "sackbut."

Bajadero is a new word meaning someone who kidnaps and ransoms illegal immigrants trying to get into Arizona.

In Antigua I met a man who had fled Guatemala's civil war in his early adolescence, entered the U.S. illegally, and had been working in maintenance for a school district in greater Los Angeles for the past ten years or so. He comes back to Guatemala a couple times a year to visit his family, and had just managed to buy them a house in the capital. He had a Chicana wife and a beautiful bilingual 5-year-old son who stared shyly at me from behind his ice-cream cone the whole time. He said the worst part of his immigration was the bus trip through Mexico. As soon as you open your mouth, the Mexicans can tell you're from Central America, and then they more or less know your story. They'll beat the shit out of you, steal everything you have. What can you do?



Ach veh, if I get one more piece of spam promising to protect me from spam—

Well, nothing will happen. I am inactive.

The Prensa Libre is giving updates on yesterday's elections in Guatemala. Three people died in a crush at the polls, elsewhere some tables were set on fire, a parliamentary candidate was shot outside his house—but the sort of massive riots everyone feared have not yet materialized. Still, I won't be convinced until I hear Ríos Montt give a concession speech. When he went to the polls yesterday evening, everyone yelled at him to wait his turn in line, which is pretty awesome.

And on bad days, I wonder how long our country will remain exempt from such collapses. If I don't get into grad school, maybe I can just be a subsistence farmer.


weak, southerly hibernal sun

Yup, winter arrived while I was gone. Thanks to Guatemala's lack of Daylight Savings Time, I'm now up at sunrise, or what should be sunrise; the sun has attenuated and can't make it through the thin sweep of cloud on the horizon, roiling and yellow-gray like a Goya painting—

Speaking of which, I sure do want that new Goya book. But it'll have to go into the Deferment Stack with all them other things I want, because we're scraping the bottom of the bank account and I have to find a job. Hmm. Jobs. Last night some political talkshow host was ripping Labor Sec. Elaine Chao a new asshole on the CNN airport network.

The world passed through Guatemala, especially Antigua. I heard and failed to understand French, Italian, German, Dutch, Hebrew, Japanese, some flavor of Chinese, not to meantion Quiché and Achí and Poqom'chi and whatever other Maya languages they speak on the bus. My Spanish had good days (on which people would ask if I was from Spain) and bad days (on which they would hold up their fingers whenever saying a number). But I do have an excuse to remedy my lack of German, at least; for the prospect of incipient employment has sent me scurrying back to grad-school applications. I'm restricting myself to a few snooty schools, so it will be in God's hands. Even so, after the $320 in application fees I should have just enough left over for the dual-language Kafka book before I have to start panhandling.


no maltrate los señales

I get tired, I miss ice cream and potable water. Going home tomorrow.

Bowing to heavy pressure from just about everyone in the country, the outgoing president yesterday vetoed the proposed three-day shutdown surrounding the elections. So in theory I could have stayed longer, but the riots and roadblocks and Molotov cocktails and cops tear-gassing protesters in the central market have started, so it's probably just as well that I get back. The subtle strain of negotiating everything in a foreign language has started to take its toll, too; I feel very tired and nonverbal just now. And the sun at this latitude (15 degrees north) is malign.

Last week they announced the results of a poll where the Latin American population was asked their opinion of democracy. Not their opinion of how democracy was working in their country, mind you—just whether they thought that it was viable, conceptually, as a political system. Uruguay registered the highest index of support, at 78%; with 33%, Guatemala was the lowest. In theory, this country has been democratically governed since the late eighties; in practice, the political and military elite run everything. Somehow, all the civic improvements seem to happen in the wealthy neighborhoods of Guatemala City. Someone keeps paying the paramilitary civil patrols that were supposed to be disbanded by the early nineties. Vinicio Cerezo, the first civilian president, managed to finish out his six-year term only by giving the army a wide berth and avoiding any serious restructuring; and even so, he was the object of several coup attempts. At the end of his term he admitted that his greatest achievement had been simply to survive.

Things are better now in some respects. The press is plenty outspoken, and the Maya cultural revival is in full swing after decades when the indigenous languages were outlawed. The socialist URNG, formerly a guerrilla army, is now a legitimate political party. If the FRG doesn't instigate some kind of massive armed revolt after these elections, I think the situation will continue to improve, albeit slowly. There's Latin America, and then there's Latin America; and Mexico is utopia compared to this country.

Bolivia's worse off, of course.

Almost without exception, everyone here has been friendly; and if I start to talk about all the beautiful things I've seen, I'll just end up gushing. It's an alien, convoluted, lush and bloody land. I have some understanding of it. We'll see if it suffices.


dia de todos santos

Hello all:

Done with the intensive fact-gathering of this trip, back in Antigua. Some other time I'll have to figure out how to write about spending a week in a farming town; sleeping on a borrowed bed in a "model village" constructed by the army to house displaced massacre victims; visiting the cemetery and schoolhouse with their monuments to the dead decorated with eerie, cartoon-like illustrations of people being bayoneted, hung from trees, set on fire; driving out to the dam in the back of a pickup, taking a motorboat across the reservoir, having survivors of the massacre point out the locations (now underwater) where the slaughters took place; drinking water with lime in the ragtag, cinder-block and corrugated-tin settlement on the reservoir shore where some fifteen families have returned, despite the lack of arable land, to reestablish their old village. I don't think I really will be able to write about these things, except in fiction.

Because the political situation down here is getting a mite hairy, I am going home a few days early. The latest is a decree basically railroaded through Congress by the ruling FRG party which prohibits economic activity for the three days surrounding the election: no shops, no hotels, no restaurants, nowhere for me to eat or sleep. It's a pretty transparent bid to help them falsify the vote counts and most don't think it can really happen; but the uncertainty plus the threat of riots, the murders and kidnappings that have been happening, the fact that people are bold enough to attack Rigoberta Menchú on the steps of the Constitutional Court, make me inclined to bow out before the elections. Be returning Friday.


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