Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What I've been thinking lately

That we're each a bag of organized cells spewing molecules. That we call one of the floods of these molecules love, another hate, and so on, and affix them to something outside us.

Some of us see that each of us carries a reality inside, some of us think there is only one reality, our own inner one, that the rest of these bags of organized cells are somehow secondary. There are subcategories of these theories of self and other. I know.

What you call your "self" and I call "you" or say, even "me" changes all the time. The baby that you were that your mother loved or didn't no longer exists but to everyone who loved that baby, in our heads, there you still are, so far away and yet just behind our eyes. Like the dead.

You could get struck by lightning you know, say right in the prefrontal cortex and then you would suddenly not be the you you had been just a moment before. Never again. Or a stroke, a hemorrhage. Anything could change you. An epiphany. Trauma. And where would your love and hate be then? Who would love you or know you? What would you know?

So how does love work if it's a hormonal reaction, some function of the brain, some kind of communication among glands and neurons, an evolutionary mechanism that keeps the species propagating? Why do we believe we love a specific person, when we can't ever really know who that person is, or who we are?

Because you don't, really. All you know is what your chemicals tell you. And they're not always so honest or shall I say clear about their intent.

Five senses, five. They send signals endlessly, even when you sleep. You think that you are, outside these signals, but how do you know, because you are never outside them. They are you. Change them and you change. That's the lesson of medication. Why do you believe that the process of selfness will go on in some way after you are dead? Why do you believe in the retention of self? After all the glands and neurons cease their endless chatter what will run you? How will you love and hate? Where will you be, besides just behind our eyes before sleep?

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Last week as I was coming home from work I saw a half-naked older man getting CPR in the park. You could see the tremendous effort it took the EMS guy to thump his chest, by the waves of flesh that followed every move. You could also see the effort was going to be futile. It was hard to walk by even though I knew the cops were shooing us lay folk away: not because I wanted to see what was happening, I saw plenty already. It's the girl scout in me. I don't have the strength to move the ribcage of a guy that size, but it still feels wrong somehow, to keep walking.

I know damn well we were on the methadone side of the park, and the guy spent the last decades of his life putting himself under that EMS's hands on the dirty pavers, but somehow the thought of his soul parting his body as I walked by just wrenched me into tears. On the other side, the family-and-dogs side, a short walk from the dead man and his attendants, were a group of folks under a tree, doing some kind of tai chi thing and making these laughing sounds, and at first I wanted to tell them to shut up and respect the dead. But I realized, aren't we all, always, on one side of the park or the other? The business of living well or poorly is intimately pressed against the undignified business of dying.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


We were driving to the only really nice restaurant in St John USVI, around sunset. St John is mostly a national park, and the roads are mostly dark and windy and narrow. You're best off renting a jeep, if you visit. One stretch of cliffhanger passes above the little shack where Robert Oppenheimer passed his last days. It belongs to the people of St John now, and apparently a good number of them had just finished a loud party there (I know, because we'd tried to snorkel the bay in front of the shack earlier, and the music was so loud the fish had fled the coral). As we passed the exit a busload of kids flew past us, showering us with frozen drinks. Followed by cars, jeeps and pickup trucks full of overly cheerful folks barely navigating the barely two-lane road, its left shoulder the mountain, its right the cliffs overlooking Gibney Beach. If you look at the photo in this last link you can see the cut in the trees made by this little road.

We lost our sense of humor about their careening escapades at about the fourth hairpin turn, when a red pickup truck passed us, forcing Mr. Nomist to a near stop in the middle of traffic, followed by a leapfrogging little white jeep.

I've been a little leery of my stepdaughter's, um, focus skills, especially now that she's old enough to drive. Wanting to make sure she understands how dangerous driving can be, and how to drive defensively, I turned to both our teenagers and said, "This is the time when you need to slow down and let the other drivers get ahead of you as much as they want, because they're about to cause an accident."

My son agreed. He mentioned a previous incident we'd seen on a highway in Vermont that had ended with the driver being ticketed. The jeep and the truck were playing the same game, a weaving race through traffic, only this time it was dark, and there weren't many places to dodge.

By the time I turned back around, the little white jeep had gone over the cliff and gotten caught in a tree. She'd hit another car, bounced across oncoming traffic, and flipped sideways, fortunately stopped by a dense stand of trees. All the former party goers were now standing in (and blocking) the road, staring at the wreck, doing nothing. Or doing things, just in that unbearably slow post-wreck time speed that feels like nothing.

My husband, knowing me, tells me over and over, don't get out of the car, don't get out of the car. At first I listen, trying to accept his logic. Then I realize everyone else out on the street is at least half drunk or injured in the wreck. There is no cop, no ambulance. No lucky doctor in the crowd, just me with first aid training. So my hand opens the door and I hop out in my nice dress and over to the embankment.

She's young, slender, wide eyed, standing next to her rotated car, her arms folded over her pristine white and gold Cleopatra pantsuit. She's fine. Just a little chilly. "Is there anyone else in the car?" I ask her. No. "Do you want help getting out?" No. I take that to mean, not from me, anyway, and it's all I need to hear. I get back in the car.

I turn to my stepdaughter. "You notice how we all saw what those drivers were doing, and said to back off because they were going to cause an accident?"

"No," she said, "I wasn't paying attention."

Monday, July 7, 2008

Negotiating the ineffable.

On my way to work I still pass the park and think of Jesse. It's painful, but I do it anyway. I can't fully explain why. At any rate, it occurred to me today that it's not him, not the loss of him that keeps beckoning me toward the abyss. It's something else, something terrible; his image is only a lure. Whatever he may have wished for me in his short life, it's not that.

Later, after mentioning this to a friend, I remembered something else, a little takeaway from Freud and the Tibetan Bhuddists. Freud says that the elements of your dreams are all you. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says that all the monstrous deities you battle after death, are illusions, that these are really battles with yourself. The abyss then, is not only within me. It is me. I am this abyss.

And this is what I must navigate in order to pass onward.