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second-best since Cantor

Month: June, 2020

Songs without a song.

Today I’m thinking things I’m not sure I’ll think tomorrow. I’m not sure that’s a general declaration of Why I Write — what could be more boring? — but it occurs to me. –wa.

Song of songs v 7 jpg Large

In Sunday church I was always struck by the anticlimactic — because episodic — nature of the Bible readings. We’d get less than a page-long excerpt from an Old Testament book, one from the New, and then a bit of one of the Gospels.

The gospel reading, centerpiece of the Liturgy of the Word, made sense as a public performance; those books are structured as series of discrete biographical episodes anyway, so each week Jesus would turn up somewhere (to preach, to rabble-rouse, to die), say his bit, confront a nonbeliever, work a miracle, and then move on having impressed or been murdered by everyone. Clean and clear.

The Old Testament readings worked variously well for this purpose — David vs Goliath is a perfectly fine public readaloud, but… Consider the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 2019, which begins with Genesis 3:9-15 (plus the oddly decontextualized verse 20), the judging and cursing of Adam and Eve: with no preamble we hear God interrogating Adam in the Garden, then with a quick question for Eve, and finally pronouncing Adam fucked for all time and don’t come back.

But we don’t see Adam and Eve walk out of the Garden into Nod, and we pick up in the middle of things, without so much as a ‘Previously on All My Children…’

Admittedly this is an album track — Monday readings are for the hardcore fans — but this is a weird way to do worship-business. It’s assumed, on one hand, that the crowd is familiar with the hits: ‘Adam and Eve’ is one of the best-known myths in the Western world, along with the Resurrection and Christmas and such. Yet the reading picks up and stops in the middle of a flow of action and experience that is, or would be if given the chance, instructive in its continuity; it’s all one story, after all. Adam gets cursed on that Monday, but Eve presumably doesn’t get hers until 2021 (Genesis 3:16 isn’t in the 2020 liturgical calendar), uncoupling the LORD’s Pain and Monogamy Decree to Eve from his general ‘Everything will be bad henceforth plus you won’t get along with your wife and kids’ gift to Adam. It’s literally one more verse — why not stick them together?

Plus Genesis 3:8 is Adam and Eve hiding from God in the first place, which admittedly is a good cliffhanger and which makes sense theologically (direct consequence of the first Sin) but which is, I think, unsatisfying and weird-in-the-bad-way as a structure for imaginative/affective worship. Why not overlap a verse on each end, to give context for the punishment? It certainly saves the priest the mild annoyance of spinning explaining for the billionth time why Adam and Eve are in trouble in the first place…

Never mind the difficulty of presenting, say, Paul’s Epistles a little bit at a time, breaking up the flow of his thought and the growing imagistic momentum to keep Mass below 50 minutes, relying on Significance (criticism!) to do retrospectively what the text is denied the chance to do for itself. And the Song of Songs? Revelations? Poetic/visionary allegories deserve a little room to breathe. The Liturgy of the Word leaves none.


Mind you, I was struck but not (then) bothered by this approach.

The downsides, I hope, are obvious. Dividing verses ‘thematically’ — or more often arbitrarily — rather than according to narrative logic means having no flow whatsoever from session to session, outside the serial-narrative Sweeps Week periods of the liturgical year (Holy Week, Christmastime). Indeed, those are the only periods of the Christian calendar that capture the feeling of the Bible’s ‘books’ as books, and the only times (in my experience) that the story of Jesus as presented in Mass bridges the gap between more or less mythicized historical account and fantastic fabrication. Plus then an enormus burden gets placed on the priest to connect all the readings, which lemme tell you Not All Priests are equally gifted at this. The task would be easier if the readings weren’t cut up in a way perversely resistant to ease of entry.

As a kid I didn’t care about any of that, though I was bored by almost every single sermon I ever heard in a Catholic church.

What I loved was the sense of something unsaid and mysterious, which particularly came through the Old Testament readings. The general approach is for the lector to slow as they approach the end of the reading, look out at the congregation, treat the whole thing as if it were a big deal — this is all part of the effect, and after all, isn’t it a fucking big deal? — and to drift off, in a sense, respectfully stepping down from the lectern and kneeling before the Vault Where Jesus’s Metaphor-Body Is Kept… The sacrifice of narrative coherence buys you a sort of anticomplementary sense of echoic deep time, of one story (the story of God and Us) ramifying through time, since whatever came before time. If you’ve never spent a year attending a church1 it might be hard to understand what this is like, this slow unfolding of a theological meaning-system built on narrative components both simpler and more complex than the elaborated theology itself, this impregnation of every little arbitrary piece of Story with ‘holiness.’ It differs from, say, working through a writer’s corpus or the run of a serial TV show in that the tempo and arrangement of the Tale are entirely outside your control, which is handy as ‘You are not the center of anything but your own experience, which certainly seems like everything’ is one of the complex lessons of every wisdom tradition and yes Christianity is one, or rather contains several…

A funny thing about Catholicism, for young-me and in this morning’s retrospect, was that each year of Sundays did have a vivid, powerful Story — in winter a hero-messenger arrives, in spring he’s killed but returns, defying death — yet that story-year was made of broken jumbled pieces assembled according to a logic that I now find much worse than counterproductive. Catholic presentation assails you with its Significance, meanwhile sacrificing the utterly strange power of the stories themselves. It works unsurprisingly like capitalism or state-building: in the rush to render the local-mysterious institutionally legible — readable and controllable by the state, the governing body — we smother both its locality and its mystery.

Yet a mystery-sense was there — it just wasn’t allowed to come from the texts themselves, but was rather manufactured. The portentous recitation of Scripture did the ancient works a disservice, binding them to theological domesticity: the prophets recast as teaser-trailers for Jesus, the Psalms allegorical snippets and motivational phrases rather than songs, the Gospels just-so stories rather than fictionalized episodes from a real man’s life, the Epistles brief diary entries rather than interventions in the workings of real (brave, isolated, connected) churches in a real (scary) time. And so the Church makes up for this choice — what else can they do? — with ‘mystery, magic, and ritual’: the energy of the state parasitizing the odd primal energy of the ancient books themselves.

I wish we’d read the Bible ourselves, not just heard weekly snatches on drive-time radio station WGOD.

I wish (in a quieter, colder voice) they trusted people — trusted the old stories rather than their Story, the ancient ways over their Way.

Song of songs iv 1958 7 painter marc chagall 24002 62568 59429 1566788602

  1. …or church-equivalent, you know what I mean. 

Wicked pack of cards: The Moon.

N+1st in a series of shortish essays ‘about’ the Major Arcana. On we go. –-wa.


The intellectual light is a reflection and beyond it is the unknown mystery which it cannot shew forth. It illuminates our animal nature, types of which are represented below — the dog, the wolf and that which comes up out of the deeps, the nameless and hideous tendency which is lower than the savage beast… (Waite, Pictorial Key; my emph. –wa.)

Once a profound truth has been seen, it cannot be ‘unseen’. There’s no ‘going back’ to the person you were. Even if such a possibility did exist… why would you want to? (Dave Sim)

I wonder if there are people who notice Smith’s lobster first, rather than the moon which dominates the card or the contrasting-coloured dog on the left, which unlike its feral companion doesn’t blend right into the landscape, or Chernobyl in the background, or the confetti falling from the sky, or the yellow brick road…

The important thing isn’t the Important thing, is one way of looking at it.

The most frightening thing about contrarianism, I suspect, is the prospect of turning into something or someone that can’t be reconciled to the world of convention and consensus — ceasing, in other words, to fit, yet continuing to feel that you’ve Got It Right. Not realizing you’re leaving everyone behind; then realizing, and wondering if you’re being left. (‘More differed from than differing,’ the Englishman said.)

I suppose a certain sort of person, experiencing that conceptual gradient or impedance mismatch, might look dismissively or self-righteously at the world; another sort might grit his teeth and stubbornly continue along a path, determined to find out for himself what’s real. I’m of the considerably less effective school which preaches turning inward in self-criticism and -loathing: ‘The reason we’re out of step is that I’ve lost the plot.’ That’s reassuring, at least, a readymade story of why you and the world don’t quite make sense together.

The hard thing is to be comfortable with living in a world where everyone around you collectively makes one sort of sense (judgment, demand, excuse) and you make another.

The Western is, and has been since before its birth, about the essential conflict inherent in the following axioms: You must pick up the gun to defend civilization against barbarism. Those who pick up the gun are barbarians. (Ken Hite)

Searchers door

Forced to read swathes of Discipline and Punish, The Order of Things, and Madness and Civilization in college and grad school, I absorbed (naively) a highfalutin version of the counterpop view that ‘insane’ is just another word for ‘outside convention,’ a specific case of the broader pomo view that there are only subjectivities where our dumb ancestors dogmatically insisted on some knowable objective Real.1 Foucault doesn’t seem to’ve known anything about nervous systems, but then most neuroscientists don’t know anything about history, oh well… The obviously correct argument that ‘insanity’ is used to bracket an ever-changing, historically contingent range of socially unsanctioned behaviour tends to metastasize rapidly into the usual lazy cod-relativism — there’s a lotta doors into that star chamber — but that doesn’t make the argument incorrect. I’m a Cambridge MA parent, so naturally I’ve taught my 9-year-old son that some laws exist solely so that people can break them and criminalize themselves, giving the cops (the State) another way to exert pressure; I can only assume that you’ve taught your primary-school-age child the same! From there it’s just a short hop to ‘Well son, “crazy” means “trouble the system isn’t built to handle.”‘ It’s not simply true, but as a thumbnail…

This entire series of essays could be followed by a great big red-marker ‘…but I digress.’ Well, but I do, don’t I?

Some of the things we call ‘mad’ have been called ‘shamanism’ and so forth. Once a great truth has been seen… Arranging crystals in your house won’t cure your cancer, but living as if there’s a chance of More Life (a chance of receiving the blessing) is preferable to the other thing, and what if it works out? It won’t ‘work,’ but — well, maybe you thank the crystals, more Fool you, but better a living fool than a dead realist, surely? And yet the crystals don’t work. They fit, they shine, they don’t ‘work.’

Work is the only thing the system values, specifically work on Its behalf. Anything else is, frankly, crazy.

Outside ‘consensus reality,’ as she is known, outside today’s available categories (épistémè — the Foucault bit above wasn’t actually a digression), is a field of authentically revolutionary2 thought/praxis: what a certain kind of nerd calls ‘far-from-equilibrium self-organization,’ i.e. the part of biological evolution complementing natural selection, the bit your high school teachers didn’t (likely couldn’t) mention. You get far enough from the panoptic eye — which is to say, you get clear of the urge to self-monitor and -criminalize — told you it wasn’t a digression — and radical action begins to seem not just possible but obvious, necessary. If you grant that this description applies to both inner and outer/spatiotemporal states then I’d say we’ve made our way back to The Moon via what I take to be its political valence, and can finally just talk about the lobster.

Deviant moon

We all go a little mad sometimes. (N.B.)

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’ (L.D.)

The lobster, I say, that ‘hideous tendency’ which ‘comes up out of the deeps.’ (On the beach in Stephen King’s Dark Tower tale: ‘lobstrosities,’ one of which takes Roland’s fingers.)

OK, what is it? Well, where have we been?

If the ‘earthly’ trumps represent3 a sort of gauntlet of distraction and temptation, and the ‘inner’ trumps the painfully difficult burrowing and excavation which characterizes the analytical/devotional/ritual/psychedelic/HCE path, then the ‘cosmic’ trumps could be said — in part — to allegorize the reintegration and relinquishing which come next in the tension/release cycle which is the Fool’s Errand: the band walks off after the encore, lights come up, the world flows in, relaxing PA music plays, the drugs start to wear off, friends hold one another and plan to meet up in the next city. Tension land, release land. A reason we go out at night, under false moonlight, the whole world weirdly blue…

Or from the musical to the music: as erotic intoxicant washes away, wears off, questions come up. ‘Who am I that I wanted in this way?’ The things you find yourself offering, doing, craving… Were those provisions of a sacred moment, or is that who you ‘really’ are? The curious incident of you in the nighttime, was that the Real? And whose voice bade you go or stay or come, what deep place opened up for that moment and you looked away, was death as close as it seemed, or ‘only’ deviance or dissolution—?

You open the tomb because you crave knowledge of death (I mean the unrecoverable past); it’s a curse, creeps out of ground and takes vaporous form you to breathe in, becoming then something old and else. It’s fine. Pain of clotted lungs and shriveling nails, fine. Skin becoming paper (I mean papyrus), bad bloody dreams, other monsters’ memories, just fine…

I bought an automatic and almost took the step, but certain dreams deterred me. The tense extremes of horror are lessening, and I feel queerly drawn toward the unknown sea-deeps instead of fearing them. I hear and do strange things in sleep, and awake with a kind of exaltation instead of terror. I do not believe I need to wait for the full change as most have waited… (HPL)

‘A kind of exaltation instead of terror.’ Waite insists incorrectly that ‘as a rule it sinks back whence it came,’ this ‘lower’ tendency. Weird shadows in a child’s room, which stand still when Mom and Dad come in to check on you. And they can’t touch you while you sleep — rules are rules. Over time you learn to live with them, i.e. with knowledge of the dark. The mere fact of it, sez Monk: ‘It’s always night, or we wouldn’t need light.’

Always night.

I reminded my son the other day that the stars are always there in their places but made daily invisible, wiped out by the light of the nearest star. Ugh don’t worry, I didn’t use the phrase ‘recency bias’ or insist it was a metaphor for everything, or anything.

The sun sets and you see the light of a quintillion stars throw aeons ago from the other side of one universe or another. Sun rises and you don’t so much worry about it, ho hum.

In the strangemaking light of The Moon — in aftermath — we find we’ve ceased to resemble our known selves. Old categories no longer suffice. And ready or not, here comes the question: What next? (How) do you live with going a little mad? Bring that knowledge into yourself? Acknowledge what you have done (wanted, offered, worked for, fallen into, come to know) and live in the new world it threatens to make?

Enantiodromia (vague handwave at Jung), antithetical movement, countervailing emergence of an unconscious inner form or tendency. It’s always night, as we’d know already if only we…

For ‘synthesis,’ hereafter, perhaps experimentally read ‘coexistence’ or ‘copresence’ or ‘accommodation’ or, in a pinch, ‘being cool.’

Cool is joyful attention to detail per se.

Joy is, in large part, acceptance.

This is the threshold of life; this is the threshold of death. All is doubtful, all is mysterious, all is intoxicating. Not the benign, solar intoxication of Dionysus, but the dreadful madness of pernicious drugs; this is a drunkenness of sense, after the mind has been abolished by the venom of this Moon. This is that which is written of Abraham in the Book of the Beginning: “An horror of great darkness came upon him.” One is reminded of the mental echo of subconscious realization, of that supreme iniquity which mystics have constantly celebrated in their accounts of the Dark Night of the Soul. But the best men, the true men, do not consider the matter in such terms at all. Whatever horrors may afflict the soul, whatever abominations may excite the loathing of the heart, whatever terrors may assail the mind, the answer is the same at every stage: “How splendid is the Adventure!” (Perdurabo)

In moonlight, doubt; and an opportunity for acceptance. ‘But I repeat myself,’ ba-dum ching.

In moonlight, a weird beauty.


  1. Contemporary identity politics misreads this philosophical critique as Guide to Correct Living, to predictable effect. 
  2. ‘Revolutionary’ dressup is always available as a leisure activity for consumers, often with state sponsorship; Think Different, Don’t Be Evil. 
  3. (are understood or allowed, in the evolving unsystem of these essays, to represent; the idea that these art-cards have a unitary meaning is almost the definition of point-missing — shhh, don’t tell) 

Do you get the impression

Trump is a demented narcissist and a moron -- and lest we forget, a rapist to boot

Some days I feel like Trump’s stupidity is his worst quality — a smarter man, I reason, would be robust against the unsophisticated propaganda which appears to be his sole media intake. We’ve had stupid presidents before, but he’s so dumb, such an obvious shambling humanlike embodiment of Dunning-Kruger, that (for me) his cluelessness often drowns out everything else: the narcissism, the racism, the viciousness, the creeping fascism, all of it. ‘If he were only a worthwhile enemy,’ I find myself thinking, ‘rather than a piggish nimrod…’

We who guard the mystery…

John Gardner said that the task of the novelist was to create and maintain a ‘vivid continuous dream’ for the reader.

But whose dream? The writer’s, of course.

This is the hard problem, and a source of difficulty for modern readers, i.e. consumers, who proudly dismiss and reduce art to the status of ‘content’ (understood always to mean, among other things, advertisement):

That dream is most vivid, immersive, ‘real’ for the novelist which resonates most strongly with her own ‘categories of the imagination,’ but translating that inner vision to a language which a stranger can understand, which a reader distant in spacetime can share and participate in, means universalizing the vision, which risks compromise — i.e. dilution.

Being true to one’s deepest imaginings, meanwhile, risks being out of step — out of fashion. And what in the world could be more painful than that.

David Milch teaches that we should honour the categories of our imagination by writing the ‘first cousin’ of the idea that’s dear to us: alter enough of the manifest content of the written dream to bleach it of ‘fanciful’ (purely private) connection but keep it alive in our own mind.

The worst compromise would be to write out of fear of being out of step — fear, in other words, of experiencing true individuality. Such fear is fatal; such compromise is self-betrayal.

Know that some people will demand this of you at every step. See those people for what they are. Ignore them. Kill them with quality.

Wicked pack of cards: The Star.

N+1st in a series of shortish essays ‘about’ the Major Arcana. On we go. –-wa.


‘…that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’ (JK, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’)

For many tarot artists The Star appears to be — primarily if not solely — a fun chance to illustrate Tits in Landscape, generally with at least one star up above. There’s no shame in this; the truth is its own reason and justification.

…though on the other hand, maybe ‘reason’ is the wrong word.


There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.

The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see well find something captured that escapes explanation. (Bill Evans, ‘Improvisation in Jazz’)

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it… (Justice Potter Stewart, concurrence, Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184)

My first week at MIT I went on some field trip with the guys I’d end up living with, and we got to talkin’ about Philosophy — the kind of conversation where you can hear the capital P — and someone asked, because you have to ask at some point, ‘What is truth, anyway?’

I might not be smart but I’m quick, and I said with an appealing but then-false confidence, ‘Beauty.’

I then made eye contact with Lifto, whom I remember kneeling in the minivan’s trunk or something, and we both loudly declared with a confidence that much realer for being shared: ‘…and beauty, truth!’

We high-fived.

Eighteen-year-old boys are dull and, on nearly every subject, nearly always incorrect; 21-year-old boys are incrementally better. I look back on that moment as a temporary respite from the limitations of my age and character. I wonder how Lifto thinks of it, if he does.

The lightning-strike that fells the Tower is an annunciation, an opportunity: the doors blowing open to let in…something, or rather to let something or someone out. Even just the cork. (Ma gavte la nata, remember?) And what’s beyond the Tower, in terms of both physical distance and effort? What’s outside?

‘Outside’ is the truth. The ground, you might say, against which the rising or falling figure is visible. ‘Such a long long time to be gone / And a short time to be there.’

‘Outside’ is inescapable. Make peace or go mad. Nice phrase, that: make peace. Tricky thing though. How do you know you’re managing it? Peace isn’t always pleasurable, it’s not immediately satisfying — who doesn’t find the first day of vacation stressful? — and the ‘quiet’ in ‘peace and quiet’ is internal, so that in peacetime there’s still a constant parade of shit going wrong. The visit from the angel was the beginning of Mary’s troubles… What does it actually feel like to get past the moment of crisis, of hubris, of self-deception?

It feels real.

It feels beautiful.

That’s the truth.


Open your eyes / Look up to the skies and see / … / Nothing really matters to me

If the unmediated real is so swell, why do kids prefer fantasy, or so we’re told, and adolescents find the real world intolerable (or so they say)? Crucially we as moderns are only part-time residents of the real, unlike (say) the little farmer-meeples in Agricola or the pitiable peasants in Game of Thrones, who experience Real (fictional) Life in all its unending strife and infant mortality. As the man says: ‘Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says different is selling something.’ What’s so beautiful about that?

But to ask this way is to mistakenly assume that beauty pleases rather than pierces us, that authentic experiences are ‘good’ on the surface rather than (whatever) at depth. Authenticity is openness to what we call the mundane — fatal in the long run; a bit dull — but also to the sublime, the oceanic, the all-connected singular… Were I a different sort of fool I’d mention Jaynes’s bicameralism here, the ancient notion of a world made not by but of gods, or Charles Taylor’s more reputable concept of the ‘porous’ self forced into constant engagement with the meaning which was the world: constant presence of an alien order of being, vast cool and unsympathetic…

The most beautiful art I’ve seen or heard, the deepest connection with other humans, has moved me to tears of ecstatic sorrow or joy but only rarely pleasure.

The reason it feels so powerful to confess, to get out from under a lie or secret knowledge of transgresssion, is the same reason today’s poisonously filtered/polarized USA political discourse is so anxiously exhausting: human nature abhors a truth-gradient — operating from unshared assumptions, stuck in a world of incommunicable private meaning, forced to adopt an antihuman grammar (‘polite’ office PR-speak, say) designed to make it easier for the bosses to eavesdrop at the expense of the speaker’s and listener’s own authenticity. ‘Finally, I get to say what I really feel’: an exquisite feeling, though not necessarily a good one — you might be confessing to bad acts or bad feelings, after all. But seeing and saying the truth feels like a restoration. It’s a feel of correctness: your personal sphere of knowledge syncing up with the universe.

Release of pressure, lancing of a boil (eww gross), joints moving smoothly, the line unbroken. Lungs fill and swelling goes down. You’re actual size again.


How to read the relation between (1) ways of distinguishing true and false and (2) ways of governing oneself and others? The will to found each of entirely anew, each by the other (to discover an altogether different division [of true and false] by another manner of governing oneself and governing oneself otherwise by taking another division as point of departure), this is ‘political spirituality’ (Foucault, tr. L. McWhorter, my numerals)

‘Never let a crisis go to waste’ is supposed to be a Bad Guy line, but mightn’t it be wisdom? The chance to directly experience something beyond preexisting category is continually offered, but only in the breach, departure, collapse — there’s a cost to radical transformation, which grows as we settle in to a more banally knowable present. Hence the need to water the tree of liberty with blood once in a while, etc. …

We’re right to see those who leap to exploit every crisis as opportunists, but we might be wrong to dismiss them out of hand as sinners, though of course they may be. (Most everyone sins, if sin is.) We call them cynical but perhaps what we resent is how observant they are, knowing which way the wind blows before most of us notice a breeze. They’re looking for radical change, and while they may not want it for its own sake (as they would if they were Good Noble People like we think we are) at least they’re not hiding from it or insisting it’s impossible. The opportunist, in his hyperadaptive myopia, takes things as they come. Is a shark immoral? Would we think better of her if she were worse at the only task she puts an effort into?

You and I cling to the Tower, and not unjustifiably — we don’t wanna fall. But the Fool dances off its edge, and when the whole thing comes crashing down in the storm, we’ll see him floating carefree, uncompelled by circumstance, having chosen his fate.

While the bones of the Tower bury us, he looks up at the Star.

When he reaches the ground the world has changed.

We’d been bombed out of our home three times; the family who’d lived across from us on Chatham St, the Muirheads, whom we used to take baths with, had been killed; Old Trafford had been bombed, the whole city had been transformed. Thousands of people were dead. It would be years before the city was ‘normal’ again.

Being there amidst the ruins was one of the most magical feelings I’ve ever experienced.

That may be hard to understand, but it’s true. (Walter Holland Sr, Dear God, What’s on the Second Floor?)

My dad and I worked together on his memoir, from which that passage — about his return to Manchester at age 10, after the evacuation — is drawn. Some of the text is entirely his, as close to verbatim as I could make readable; some of it’s my extrapolation or interpretation. The the word ‘amidst,’ which I can’t imagine Dad using, sticks out to me now like a sore thumb: the last two sentences are my gloss on things he’d said to me when I was younger. His pencil and ink, my colour.1 The part about not understanding, he said to me, and he was right — until I was older, with a child of my own, it made no sense to me. All that death and destruction…magical?

But as I’ve come to understand, ‘magical’ doesn’t mean (has never meant) ‘good’ or ‘happy.’ What Dad saw as he returned from Lancashire was, as I imagined it, devastation — the bombs fell and something was taken from the people below, the fabric torn. But I suspect that Dad — about as old then as my son is now — experienced it instead as vastation, opposite not in event but in effect, the ground cleared, a place opening now up for little miracles. Like my dad.

My son feels bad for feeling afraid; my wife and I tell him, as gently as we can, that that’s the only time you can be brave. When you’re just there with the fear and the fearful thing. Really.

And what a jittery joyful thing, to be brave: all your senses alive and open to the world’s touch.

Open to be wounded as well.


My Love: I love you for your clarity, your dark. (PN, Soneto XX)

But will she come in time? Oh yes just in time; whenever she comes is just in time; when we have despaired for the thousandth midnight of any such a one ever coming from anywhere, she will arrive, in a tearing hurry, breaking into or out of the last spheres of air, fire, water, earth as though throwing open the successive doors of a long corridor, down which she rushes, her hair streaming and her brow knit, her hand already beside her mouth to call into the ear of our souls Wake up. (JC, Love & Sleep)

‘It’s all too much,’ yes all of it is. ‘The truth hurts,’ and hits everybody I think The Police said? Younger-me would’ve joked about hitting back (version of the dull joke I was too fond of telling in my 20s about ‘hitting puberty’), but maybe the art is to feel it. Stagger and bruise, notice the world wobbling — you too. Why else ask the Cards a question, if not to open an opportunity to answer for yourself? To live with it, I mean: ‘divination’ is precisely unwelcome-seeing, at least when it works; that’s what the working really is. An invitation to see the nose on your face.

The fortune-teller who says you’re going to marry a lawyer is obviously lying, and you can feel it. A comforting lie feels like a manipulation, if you’re even half-awake — and comes to feel, when you’re no longer comforted, like a betrayal.

Imagine if the liar had been able to trust you with the truth.

Imagine what sort of person you’d’ve been—

Groovily, though, the Fool’ll end up being both departure and destination for our Errand, which is to say All this has happened before and it will happen again. We’ll be afforded another look at the Star later, on the next go-round, assuming we’re willing to set out again. And if it’s a bummer that the Fall goeth before whatever-after, well, one (the?) lesson is that we survived this one and in so doing ended up closer to the earth, or I mean the World. It hits everybody — which clears your head, enough at least to see that it’s the dark lets you see the stars in the first place. You can run from it (from clarity) back into foolishness, or sit with things as they are, slow sad sweet, deepening blue to black studded with, what are those, crazy diamonds? Masses of incandescent gas? Fires upon the deep! Huh — from where I’m sitting they just twinkle.

I’m not saying be grateful for the lightning or the fall or the dark night, I’m saying be grateful for everything, ‘You fucking fools.’

Even this worst of all worlds is true.


  1. Y’know, I tried as hard as I could to remove myself from the prose, and cringe to notice bugs like this. But when I settle the hell down, I can acknowledge that the book works; we did justice to Dad’s stories.