Monday, September 16, 2019

anonymous


Literally without a name. Or without a literal name. How about a metaphorical name. Nameless. Not "name known but unspoken." No, not that. No name at all. Was there ever a name. Was a prior name shorn and shucked, offering a new self. Or was the anonymity there from birth. Did the anonymity serve as a blank canvas to paint on, to create an identity, a self. Dead to me. They say this or that one is "dead to me." A phrase nurturing either resentment or detachment. Take your pick. But who are "you"? Who is "me"? The power of anonymity. What exactly is that power. The unheralded secret, random kindness. The so-called selfless act that is never truly selfless despite what they say. Who are "they"? Anonymity as a shield, a shelter. Anonymity as a brandishing (surely not a brand name). "Anonymous" being the author. "Anonymous" being the donor. Handy for purposes of humility. Purposeful for adoptions. Anonymous the voyeur. Anonymous the spy. Anonymous the unknowable divinity, the unspeakable divine, as the ancient chosen tribe resorted to an acronym rather than utter the Sacred Name of No Name. That power of anonymity. Protector. Refuge. Savior. No name. Before name. Beyond name. Beyond noun or pronoun. Beyond adjective.

Just verb.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

runaway


He ran away from home. Although we were a real city, with 37,000 people, it made the papers. We were in fourth grade. It was 1961, ironically the same year as "Runaway," the hit by Del Shannon. We weren't close friends, but close enough that I went over to his house once, over in the projects. His projects, not ours. What did we do? We went upstairs to his room and looked at his shoebox of baseball cards. No brothers or sisters. Just his mom and him. His mom yelled at him. He hadn't done some sort of chore. Dishes? Laundry? Make his bed? It didn't matter. You could tell she just liked to yell at him. She was making some kind of point, as if to say, This is how we do things around here, kid (me). Don't try to get smart with me. She smoked Camels. But the part I wanted to forget, the thing I didn't want to remember, was the walls. The walls in the hallway were black. At the bottom of the stairs, the hallway that greeted visitors, if ever there was another visitor, was smudged as if charcoal was rubbed over the institutional yellow paint. I imagine he and his mom braced themselves if they came down the stairs too hard and pivoted left to the kitchen or right to the living room. Or the wall was a casual pushing-off point, a way to launch oneself up the stairs. Or they leaned against the wall to put on or take off their shoes or boots. I don't know. I was thunderstruck. I almost blurted out, What's that? Where did that come from? I, who came from an apartment on the other end of the cleaning spectrum. Today people would use the OCD label, but it was just the way it went, the way we were. Saturdays were consumed with my brothers and I sweeping, vacuuming, washing, waxing, scrubbing, vacuuming again to meet Dad's white-glove inspection Army standards. We hated it. But this. The walls. The outer fringes of the wall beyond the opposite steps had handprints, vestigial symbols of origin. These marginal imprints left no doubt as to the source of the fully darkened portion. Hands. I didn't know how to respond. I didn't go home and tell anyone. Who was there to tell? And what was there to say? 

He was gone a few days. There was no manhunt, no panic, no search, but it was on the radio and in the papers. They covered the story as if it were an entertainment, a curious amusement, rather than a dangerous incident. They were flippant. And kids in our class? Nobody said much of anything. Some crude jokes, wisecracks, about his riding a freight train like a hobo. This came from some of the boys, and the girls shushed them. Mrs. Anastasia never said a word. Open your books. Practice your penmanship.

He came back. 

He came back to school on a Monday.

Nobody asked him where he had gone or how, nobody asked him what he did, or why. We didn't greet him or welcome him back. He just sat in his regular chair at his regular, assigned desk, in the second row from the window.

When Mrs. Anastasia read the roll, to which we were to say "present," she got to his name near the end, because of the letter his last name began with.

She got to his name and he didn't say anything.

He was crying; he had been crying all the while.

She went on to the next two names.

"Present."

"Present."
 

Monday, September 09, 2019

The Lockness Monster


You press the button on the fob. The nearly inaudible click. Press again the button with the closed padlock symbol. The horn bleep. Do it again, neurotically, the way you do, the way so many of us do. Undo it. Second thought. The driver's door gets unlocked. Click again to unlock all four doors. Third thought. Lock? The rapid-fire calculation of risk, safety, security, fear, privilege, race, poverty, wealth, bias, tree limbs, mice, rats, cardinals, sparrows, finches, crows, history, memory, future. Keep unlocked. After all, the car will be in view from where you sit. Plus, what is there to take? You have your laptop with you, which you prize more than the car, a 2016 sedan. They (who are "they"? why assume plurality? who are these contrived and conjured bogeymen from your primordial Freudian-Hegelian-Jungian dream swamp?) are welcome to the 15 or 20 returnable cans and bottles for 5 cents each. He or she or it or they can have the straw fedora sitting in the back seat, if that's what they really want. They can wear it proudly and defiantly. You will nod at them knowingly as you stroll by each other on the Parisian boulevard at midnight. Go ahead, from the so-called glovebox without gloves take the napkins, straws, CDs, condoms (unused naturally), chewing gum, chewing gum wrappers, wrench, Narcan, antacid tablets, cough drops, tampons (unused naturally), tire-pressure gauge, sanitary napkins, compass, torchlike flashlight, toothbrush, Geiger counter, gas mask, mouthwash, and her spare keys from 2016. Have at it. Have at them. Have them. You prefer that they leave the registration and insurance documents for two reasons: you'll need them; and doing so preserves the illusion that your identity has not been compromised by this intrusion. And is it an intrusion after all if the doors were unlocked? Will their defense attorney turn it around and claim your unlockedness was an invitation to browse, forage, and take? What defense attorney? No one would bother to investigate such an unheralded and low-grade transfer of goods. 

You drive home. You park in the camera-monitored private parking lot.

You press the fob twice to lock all four doors. You do it again to hear the confirmatory beep. 

Monday, September 02, 2019

texting one two three


the text text texts Scripture scripture stuttering writing the writing the word words wording string of semantic syllables passage extract narrative pretext context line lines nonverbal unspoken legible utterance utterances legible illegible indefinable posit of posing etymological energy of imprecise embedded thought would be thought inked inkling of linked intuition articulation you say text synonymous anonymous musing musings musingification beyond deeper than hermeneutics semiotics sunny cloudy composition in the infinite cloud unlouded texture texting fabricated text the text tyranny of term terminal terminology text textual silence nothing no-thing  
 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

skinship


She is Japanese but was in Paris. She is Japanese and speaks some French and some English. In a note to me, she used the word "skinship." We were talking about loneliness. The need for human contact. The need for human touch. When children are undernourished and underweight, not growing according to accepted benchmarks, pediatricians talk of "failure to thrive." Many factors are typically at play. Might emotional starvation via lack of touch be a candidate for causality?

How about adults and their failure to thrive? Many factors are typically at play. The presence of absence. The absence of touch. Skin on skin. Skin to skin.

Skinship.

At first, I thought she had coined this portmanteau word herself by a lovely accident owing to language hybrids and differences. I had thought she had stumbled upon it unconsciously. She said, no, it's a thing; it's a term in Japan; a mash-up of two languages that catches on. Nevertheless, I was arrested, taken by the word and what it evoked, in me. I was, and am, excited by the possibilities the word incites.

Skinship.

Is it the kinship of those who possess skin, or of those who indulge in skinness, in subtle skin-drenched tactility, ("I couldn't feel, so I learned to touch..." Leonard Cohen), or is it the kinship of those parched from touchlessness, arid and brittle, perhaps the kinship of those who ache for skin kinship but have lost the thread of emotional genealogy? Is it a skinny vessel sailing to unseen horizons, a ship with no cargo except the heavy burden of empty skinship?

We don't know.

Reports are sketchy.

Rumors abound.

The Premier President Prince of Skindinavia will be making an official statement on these matters presently.
 


Thursday, August 29, 2019

those were the days


Remember when we all had "devices"? We stood in elevators, paused on sidewalks, stole looks while driving; we peeked at illuminated screens that gave off a glow. Even in bed, we furtively glanced at our electronic alter egos, sometimes while barely awake or while sleepwalking. Our thumbs danced on touch-sensitive keyboards. Some of us exercised magical powers by tapping unseen keys accurately, while we performed other tasks (called multitasking), to send messages to friends or relatives or business associates, or to virtual strangers. Others of us, typically older, relied on index fingers to tap what were called "texts" slowly, one letter at a time, often punctuated by cartoonish colored symbols we called emojis. The screens would demarcate receiver and sender by variably colored panels with messages ("threads") displayed, and stored, if one so chose. Something called "social media" was another source of communication. 

Do you recall any of this? Does it ring a bell? Does a vibrating hum in your brain trigger a memory? 

These communications ranged from the profound to the superficial; from the mundane to the sublime; addressing the full range of human activities and emotions. 

Does any of this whatsoever jog your memory? Nearly everybody was in the game, young and old, rich and poor. The incarcerated, the paralyzed, the senile, the "unable" were the few populations excluded. 

And then what happened?

Accounts differ. Volatile and passionate arguments erupt when the topic is explored.

This was long before Resident Telepathic Implants (RTIs) liberated us from the burden of tapping fingers or dictating texts (often not corrected for erroneous "predictive" spellings. This was long before we collectively shucked our devices with all their accoutrements (cases, chargers, USBs, blocks, screen protectors). All of that gone.

We were bereft.

We were lonely.

We didn't know what to do with ourselves, or each other.

Solar Flare Apocalyptic Eruption IV (SFAE4) was a turning point. There's a rare consensus on that. With no electrical power grid, so-called networks became useless and antiquated. The sun was rude in its ruthless vaporization of Modern Life.

But what were we to do? Whom were we to blame?

Those were the days, weren't they? Those were the days, my friends.

Monday, August 26, 2019

by any other name


Heroin.

Is the word part of the scourge? Is it a swish of the sword?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, Heroin as a word was coined in 1898 in German as a "trademark registered by Friedrich Bayer & Co. for their morphine substitute. According to tradition the word was coined with chemical suffix -ine (2) (German -in) + Greek hērōs 'hero' (see hero (n.1)) because of the euphoric feeling the drug provides, but no evidence for this seems to have been found so far."

So what if the name were changed? No, no, no, we're not talking about the myriad demimonde, street, underworld, pop culture, and user-driven slang terms. Not that. Change the name. A new coinage. A coin of the realm of hypnotic transport and molten reverie.

Do words matter? In ancient times, identity was conferred by the very act of naming. There was a power to it. The Hebrew Bible is rife with examples of this.

What would the new word be?

Could such a word have such powers as to be salutary, salubrious, and beneficent?

And even if that were true, would such a move erase allure? Because after all, danger, menace, and perilous risk are part of the game, part of the ritual, yes?

What would that word be? The opposite of "hero"? Hardly.

As the Bard put it in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” As if to say, "Call heroin by any other name, and you get the same results."

Is it so? How would we conduct a peer-reviewed study to find out?

In "Sacred Emily" in 1913 (year of my father's birth), Gertrude Stein wrote: "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." (Did you know that in one version of this immortal declaration Stein put it in a children's story, carved on a tree trunk, round and round?) So, does Gertrude Stein side with Shakespeare on this semantic matter, or is she saying, "It's futile; it's beyond description; it is what it is"? (Or something else entirely.)

Heroin is heroin is heroin is heroin

What do you think? What do you feel? Tell me more. Especially addicts. Weigh in on this. 

Do words matter?

How much?

anonymous

Literally without a name. Or without a literal name. How about a metaphorical name. Nameless. Not "name known but unspoken." No, ...