2017.04.25 : black holes

At dinner, an unexpectedly personal affair, we were discussing the differences in our ages. The conversation took a turn on the phrase “I have a body, like Adonis.” (Consider the placement of the comma.) Which quickly shifted us to discussing the nameless quality which goes by “sex appeal” or “fire” or … And the term settled upon was gravity.

Women are like black holes, he says. If you have a group of women in the room, and you can see the social space spread out around them, some of them will have more gravity and will pull the space in towards themselves.

Suddenly, all I can imagine is the gravity wells; at which point have people traveled far enough that they cannot escape? How do you measure the gravity of human being?

We’re used to comparing people to stars: they light up a room, people revolve around them, they sit at the heart of entire systems.

Black holes rotate entire galaxies. All theories of time travel and universal travel are posited on black hole theory because they mark the place where gravity has ripped a hole in space-time itself. What kind of a person has enough weight to rend the very fabric of reality?

The metaphor pulls me in:

A good friendship, a pleasant evening with a potential partner, all exist with some form of quantum uncertainty or relativity analogies. Time passes in uncertain ways, the entire universe can re-orient beneath your feet, things exist in simultaneous and contradictory states, sometimes it seems like the very atoms between two people are mirrored images of each other, knowing and known––

But none of this matters. Physics is not the language of romance or poetry. The mathematics are too complicated, and the uncertainty of the observable is all too parallel between the two. The game is no fun when it is this obvious.

But how do you measure the gravity of a human being? Can you recognize the moment you become trapped in the gravity well of their presence? Is there any choice other than to be crushed under the weight of it, until you travel beyond the moment you left behind, and discover what exists beyond the unanswerable question?

2017.03.01 : a dinner party

The lights are indirect, but bright so that you can see everyone’s faces. Ideally, conversation is easy, clumped here and there, the table might be best to be round, for maximum interlocution and ability to eavesdrop, but in my head, it is nevertheless, an elongated dinner table, with rounded corners, allowing the carefully planned seating arrangements to take on their intended effect and group the guests into little clumps.

Eventually, I’m sure that Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino would switch to Italian to carry on their conversation, although hopefully, for some of it, if they stick to the topic of literature and history, will be poachable. Contemporaries they are, it seems most plausible, but chance to sit and overhear is the matter at hand.

Near them, although turned to her neighbor, Virginia Woolf is likely arguing with Audre Lorde. I cannot imagine that their politics share nearly enough to encourage an amicable relationship, but hopefully there is a sparkle and flame of interchange. Common ground is still hoped for, because the dream of an intersection feminism should absolutely be transhistorical, as well as interracial and trans-national/-cultural.

At the beginning I’d maybe like to have her to myself, because I don’t know her quite so well, but Phillis Wheatley sits across from them. Sharp eyed and sharp tongued, I’m sure that she has plenty to say, and I hope the comfort the say it. Listening to her and Ms. Lorde would surely be a revelation; an unprecedented discourse of the African-American identity.

My hope is that they would stay late into the night.

Currently reading: Six Memos for the New Millennium, by Italo Calvino.
Photo: January 2017. Providence, RI.

2017.02.28 : hobbies: food.

8Sometimes we are Ouroboros; endlessly circling ourselves, unable to escape, trapped within the confines of our own thought-cycles.

Like a Lady in a Victorian novel, I’m lying in the dark, trying the calm the headache that has decided to take up residence between my temples. Exhaustion wars with boredom for the right to command my attention, and their bickering is, in itself, a trial. The trick is get them caught up in each other and to make one’s escape before either of them notice.

A surprise encounter with a friend became a pleasant extended lunch, an apology from serendipity for the absentminded abandonment of my homemade lunch. Instead of careful tupperware presentation—a single hardboiled egg cradled in a nest of salad leaves, waiting upon by squares of cheerful red pepper, on a pillow of baked sweet potato, resting on a bed of rice—I made do with the eco-recycled cardboard carry-out of a mass produced croque monsieur. The company was superior to the food, and allowed me to indulge in my distress at the unconcerned attitude towards digital privacy of a particular subset of my classmates and my favorite complaints about the election.

Today retraced old histories, starting sometime in the truly early hours of the morning, passed through a state of profound resolution, and is now slowly fading into the night in a state of ever increasing entropy.

But I met a cute dog named Luna, so not all is lost.

Currently reading: Six Memos for the New Millennium by Italo Calvino
Photo: Northampton, MA. 02.08.2017

2017.01.11 : being and doing

If you haven’t seen Jen Kirkman’s new special on Netflix Just Keep Livin’? you are seriously missing out. There is a lot of hubbub (always, but especially right now, it seems) about whether or not women are or can be funny. I’m not here to weigh in on that debate, because I know that I qualify as a woman in a certain number of circles and I happen to be hilarious.

I’m recommending Jen Kirkman because she is also hilarious, and the special opens with a great bit about meditation. 

 I bring up Ms. Kirkman because she touches on the question of street harassment in this new work. Street harassment is another topic that every seems to have an opinion on and require one from everyone else.

She brought up something that had been circling my thoughts as well, as I started to actually experience street harassment. 

(The shift had something to do with working out and dressing for my job selling women’s athletic wear. I’m sure that riding public transportation increased the probability of its occuring. But this is a digression.) 

 Kirkman does an excellent job of expressing why street harassment can make people (and by “people” we mean “women”) feel unsafe: any semi-complimentary statement about a body part could either be left at that, or could be a prelude to some kind of claiming of said body part. (“Nice ass” could be just that, or it could be followed by “How about I take that for a ride?”) 

She also covers why it makes people (and by “people” we mean “women”) feel uncomfortable: any comment about your body is a reminder that you have a body. Most of us live our lives trying to forget we have a body. Not out of self-hatred, or willful ignorance, but because when we are running to the bus stop, our biggest concern is whether or not our legs and our lungs will get us there before the bus, not whether our butt looks good in these pants. (She also incisively remarks that “nice ass” not only reminds us of our physical form, and our subjectivity, but also usually introduces the doubt “is that a real compliment? or a mockery?”) 

Finally, she provides a solution. Should you wish to say something nice to a stranger, try complimenting something they have done, rather than something they are. That is to say: compliment their outfit, their choice of shoes, their hairstyle, these all reflect choices this person has made in presenting themselves to the world. Acknowledge their effort.

This brings me to a quick story about how compliments work. Some number of years ago, when I was living in a dorm, I had exited my refuge of solitude and entered the common area to get some water. 

[unfinished]

2017.01.09 : a falsehood based on a falsehood based on a falsehood based on a falsehood based on the Bible

I’ve been racing through the last 300 or so pages of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. Part of it is because I just want to be finished with it – not that it hasn’t been enjoyable – 600-page books are very, very heavy, and I’m tired of dragging it around with me, both psychologically and physically. The plot has also finally picked up speed, 400 pages in and the momentum has built enough to be palpable in the narrative. I’m on the home stretch of the last 100 pages now, and I’m fighting off the fear of finishing the book, the anticipation of catharsis and anxiety of being set adrift in reality conspiring to slow me down.

Talking with a friend last night I found myself describing how I managed to fight my way through more pages than I thought possible of material that is completely beyond the scope of my knowledge. 

In Foucault’s Pendulum, for those unfamiliar, Eco is retracing and reimagining – not so much inventing, as recombining – the literary history of Europe. Front and center are the occult mysteries of the Templars, the Rosicrucians, and then Francis Bacon, and the Freemasons, and on and on, passing through every possible text, historical moment. (My personal interests tend to reside not much earlier than the 20th century, which put me in the familiar position of letting each word of the story follow the next, without expectation or prediction, because each twist and clever allusion was entirely unexpected, hidden by ignorance.) 

Eco’s story hinges on a particularly sumptuous a form of literary magic. A story based in the writings – all real – of the great minds of Europe, each one obsessed and compelled by esoterica and mysticism, all embroiled in secret societies and public denunciations and a practice of publishing which sent texts crisscrossing and contradicting each other and helplessly interconnected across Europe, he makes up very little. Instead, he sets a stage like the one he found himself, and sets his characters up to do what he, himself, is doing: reading, reading, reading, reading, and re-positioning the puzzle pieces to create a new, fantastic picture of history. His protagonists believe in the reality of what they read as much as Eco’s reader, as much as Eco himself. That is to say, not at all. 

But slowly as they make their own fantastic story, they start to believe themselves. Each undergoes the transformation of the “psychiatrist who becomes fond of his patients, enjoying the balmy breezes that waft from the ancient park of his private clinic. After a while he begins to write pages on delirium, then pages of delirium, unaware that his sick people have seduced him.” (p. 370) But for the characters to weave a story that they can believe, Eco has to have woven that story. The book starts to cast its spell: if the fictitious characters begin to believe the story that they have written, has Eco begun to believe the story he has written? And what then of the audience? Are we, too, seduced by the tapestry that has been woven double before us?

Suddenly, where before we faced the soft focus of the reader cocooned in the story, we experience a dolly zoom and a momentary disassociation, watching ourselves read, Eco write, the protagonists scheme, and all the various and sundry of history believe. Unable to keep it in mind, the shot collapses back into itself and we turn the page.