A passing thought that helps us keep our lives in order

friends

A couple thousand of my closest friends. (Photo: Harold Knight, Feb. 18, 2017)

It’s 7:43 AM, and I’ve been up since 3:38 AM. I haven’t accomplished much. Played on Facebook, read a couple of heavy articles about – oh, about politics and other stuff I’ve promised myself to stop reading. You are thinking, I’m sure, that anyone who gets up at 3:38 AM is probably too tired to accomplish much. You’d be wrong. It has nothing to do with being tired. It has to do with being unable to focus. No, not because it’s 3:38 AM. Because. I’m wired.

A few minutes ago, I was unable to find my iPhone. Eventually I realized it was in the pocket of the jeans I wore when I walked to Kroger yesterday at about 3:38 PM (not exactly, but close enough for the sake of symmetry). At any rate, I have had no contact with my phone now for about 16 hours. I was asleep for only 5 of those hours, so the rest of the time I was plainly not interested in my phone. I retrieved it from my jeans pocket in the bedroom.

As I write at this moment, I have had no contact with another person since I was at Kroger, and that was light-hearted and, in the great scheme of things, insignificant. I was standing in front of the egg cooler with a door open, and a young man stepped beside me and opened another of the doors.

I turned his way in time to see the writing on the back of his T-shirt and inwardly chuckled. I found my extra-large eggs and went on to the yogurt counter. I quickly gave up trying to choose among the excessive variety – I didn’t absolutely need yogurt – so I turned away and there was the young man in his T-shirt. I could not resist.

“Excuse me, but may I ask you a ridiculous favor? May I take a picture of the back of your T-shirt?” He laughed and gamely turned around. I pulled my phone from my pocket and took the picture.

4:14 PM, my phone read (I don’t know why I remember that). Sixteen hours ago. The last time I spoke to another individual.

I wonder if Donald Trump ponders with the same amazement I do our individual lives as Homo sapiens. I’m not sure why I choose him to wonder about. Almost anyone 70 or older would do for my curiosity, but he looms so large in the consciousness of Americans, both those who love him and those who, shall I say nicely? don’t love him, that he is an easy sample demographic for my inquiry. Like Camelot’s simple folks, “I wonder what the king is doing tonight.”

The main reason I walked to Kroger when I did yesterday was I knew if I didn’t do something – anything that felt constructive – to get myself out of my apartment, I would be in deep trouble. In the morning I had participated in a demonstration by a couple thousand people in downtown Dallas protesting Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies. It was rowdy and fun, and I had a couple of interesting conversations with strangers. I amazed myself by having a good time and feeling energized about the possibility that the American people are going to refuse to be bamboozled into rejecting the message of the Statue of Liberty. (There, that’s all of the politics for now.)

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Me and a few of my friends, close-up. (Photo: Harold Knight, Feb. 18, 2017)

After I got home and had spent three or four hours alone, I was pondering not with amazement but with terror my life as an individual of the species Homo sapiens. One of the more terrifying aspects of my life is the possibility – no, the almost absolute likelihood – that my brain will plunge from the height of positive delight to the depth of the negative contemplation of killing itself, plunge seemingly in an instant.

I assume that Donald Trump has never experienced that plunge, as most people, I understand, have not. Or, perhaps, such an experience explains his seemingly narcissistic approach to getting through the flash-in-the-pan moment that each of us exists. He seems to be a person who should have no reason for that kind of precipitous experience.

When I arrived at home at about noon yesterday from the exhilarating protest, from feeling at one with 2,000 or so people (according to the lying Dallas Morning News), as I stepped off the elevator, the thought unbidden and untraceable came into my mind, “Did that really happen, or did you imagine it?”

Don’t get me wrong. I assume that’s the kind of bizarre notion that can pop into the mind of most any Homo sapiens  – a passing thought that makes us buckle down and  put our minds in order and helps us categorize the realities of our lives so we can call up memories and fit them into patterns that make sense.  Anyone my age whose mind never manufactures such notions, it seems to me, may be Homo (i.e. human), but they’re not sapiens (i.e. wise). Those thoughts are simply part of being a conscious human being, and the longer you hang around here, the more persistent they become. The trick is to hold them at bay well enough to keep the flash going in the pan as long as you need to in the natural order of things.

So I walked to Kroger because I have finally learned when those normal, natural, unstoppable realities of thinking seem likely to turn in my brain to something much more dangerous, to do something about them. I got to Kroger, not quite in tears, but almost. What, I was wondering, was the point of buying food to sustain myself when it was obvious that my life was not real and I was probably going to die before the day was over?

And then I saw the young man’s T-shirt. The negativity simply evaporated. Gone. I knew that he knew it was a joke, and when I asked him if I could take a picture, he knew I knew it was a joke, and we shared a moment of “reality” or something that I cannot explain, to which he probably did not give another thought. Or perhaps right now this morning he is telling his girlfriend about the funny old geezer at Kroger who asked to take a picture of his T-shirt. I’ll bet he told someone. And he and I together – who will most likely never see each other again – are pondering with the same amazement our individual lives as Homo sapiens, and he, without knowing it, got me through another one of those terrifying moments. Which is probably the only way any of us ever gets through one.

That’s why I was looking for my phone. To show you his picture.img_6280

Sunshine

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My love for, obsession with, clouds continues on my walk to the phone store.

A little poem I wrote on a recent day when I had had seizures several days in a row. Senescence apparently does not mean the end of long-time physical anomalies. Don’t feel sorry for me; they’re tiny seizures that no one else knows about. Just a nuisance. But a real nuisance.

Sun.

Every word
that needs saying about the
Sun
Is in poems already
Tucked away in volumes
Of exquisite lines set down by
Wordsmiths
Emotionsmiths
Observationsmiths
Figure-of-speechsmiths.
And I, depersonalized,
derealized
want the
Sun to fold itself away
In my mind
and in my body to
Bring me back from wherever
I have gone.

img_5699About this poem: It’s 83 degrees today. I walked 2.28 miles round trip to the a,t AND t store to change my order of yesterday.  Could have played in the park but didn’t. The sun always makes terrifying (at least bothersome) seizure dissociation less so.

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I didn’t play on the slides in the park.

A shameless bit of (self) promotion: I would appreciate your looking at my other blog. Thank you.

“. . . a solipsist of the highest order . . .” (Michael Blumenthal)

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I can’t quote a single line. (Photo: “Bette Davis the little foxes” by RKO Radio Pictures. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons)

Amateur bloggers are told not to include too many hyperlinks in their writing―that puts people off. My life is a series of hyperlinks. At the very least the stream of my (un)consciousness is.

The poet Michael Blumenthal told me in a private email on November 28, 2013, “I’m so glad ot have you as a reader and the ONLY member of my fan club!”

I quote this because I am as much a name-dropper as anyone else. I left the typo to show that even highly-esteemed poets and law professors sometimes need editors, and it gives me hope that I, too, can be a published author some time.

I know saying “some time” when I’m 71 seems beyond the realm of possibility, but my sister’s sister-in-law Kiyo Sato won Stanford University’s William Saroyan prize for the best NEW writer of the year in 2008 when she was 85, and she is still going strong.

I AM a member of the Michael Blumenthal fan club. I love his poetry, and I like what I know of him as a person (from our few friendly email exchanges). One might think his is the only poetry I ever read (besides Kay Ryan’s and May Sarton’s, about whom I have written here). All one needs do is look at my other blog and note the couple hundred poems by Palestinian poets I have quoted there to know that is not the case.

Anyone who “follows” this blog can surmise why Blumenthal’s phrase “a solipsist of the highest order” has meaning for me―more than “meaning”―it captures the ever-present essence of my solipsistic reality. I write about it fairly often.

I’ve spent most of my life since second grade, when I experienced the first of my seizures, trying to figure out if life is real or not. I live in/with so many contradictions it’s no wonder I can’t figure out what’s real. I’m a gay man who has never been to a Bette Midler concert and cannot quote a single line from a Bette Davis movie (and can’t for the life of me figure out why one of their names has two syllables and the other only one). I’m a kind and generous man with rage issues. I’m a Christian who doesn’t believe in God. I’m basically depressed except when I’m flying high as a kite (there’s a name for that). I’m a love addict who has lived alone for 13 years. Well, you get the picture.

The question is, do these contradictions cause my solipsism or are they the result of it?

I must say here, lest someone think I’m even less perceptive and intelligent than I am, I know Michael Blumenthal’s poem is not about depersonalization disorder or derealization disorder. It’s something about the impossibility of making a connection with a person one is in love with, or at least lusting after. Or it’s about our absolute inability to see others, even those we’re in love with, as real human beings, to care about making a connection with them, so that everyone’s experience is that everyone else looks “right through me into the wall, where large hieroglyphs of motions I am not making lead her to some fabulous beast.”

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With my first and most complicated de-constructionist dancing partner. (Photo by some family member, 1969.)

Michael Blumenthal and I are so different, our lives are actually so contradictory of each other, that we ought not be able even to communicate. He’s a young man of 68, I’m an elderly 71. He’s straight and I’m gay. He’s a celebrated published poet and both a creative writing professor and a law school professor (!?!). I am a retired church organist and first-year English composition teacher. He lived for a year in Africa saving baboons. I’ve lived in mostly pedestrian American cities all my life. He’s Jewish, I’m Gentile (and an activist on behalf of the Palestinians).

If Michael Blumenthal has a seizure disorder, he has not written about it (that I’ve seen).

But seizure disorders and lust and love and dancing aside, as we all learned in our Philosophy 101 class, it’s impossible to think about nothing. Just can’t be done. As long as we are/have something, we can’t imagine nothingness. Even if all we have is a thought.

“Nihilism has no substance. There is no such thing as nothingness, and zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing.” Hugo, Victor. Les Misérables (1862). Pt. 2, bk. 7, ch. 6.

There is no such thing as nothingness.

Even in moments of my most intense depersonalization disorder or derealization disorder (if, indeed, I “suffer” from those presentations), I do not feel “nothingness.” Solipsism, according to Dictionary.com, is “the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.” In my moments of derealization I do not want to know that the world exists. I simply want to know for sure that I exist. That does not make me a solipsist. It’s simply my desperate hope to cling to reality.

My guess is that even those who do not have some clinical presentation like Temporal Lobe Epilepsy have moments of that desperation, moments when we “. . . think [we are] leading her along to some rhythm she could not possibly find on her own . . “ but knowing it is “. . . she who has seen through this subterfuge . . .”

I want to establish and reestablish some hyperlinks soon. I want to find the money (Oh! the reality of money!) and the time to fly to Asheville, NC, to visit one of the men I have most enjoyed dancing with in a deconstructionist tango, then on to Washington, DC, to re-start a research project I began two years ago on the composer David Diamond, then on to Morgantown, WV, to shake Michael Blumenthal’s hand just to be sure he exists, and finally to Cincinnati, OH, to reconnect with another of those men I danced with once (about 1970).

Perhaps if I establish and reestablish these hyperlinks, my dancing with anyone―with everyone―will seem much more real. My hyperlinks may put you off, but they are my only hope.

“DANCING WITH A DE-CONSTRUCTIONIST,” BY MICHAEL BLUMENTHAL
She thinks I am only there
for her benefit, so,
when we move this way,
to old Motown and Rolling Stones,
it is as if there is no text at all,
and, though it seems to me it is I
who am leading her across the de-carpeted floor
of this apartment in East Cambridge,
there is in her eyes the glint of someone
alone with their best pleasure,
a solipsist of the highest order,
and it is as if she is looking right through me
into the wall, where large hieroglyphs
of motions I am not making lead her
to some fabulous beast, a wild subtext
taking her, better than I ever could,
to where she most wants to be. And so,
in a certain way, we are both happy:
I who think I am leading her along
to some rhythm she could not possibly find
on her own, and she who has seen through
this subterfuge of hips and legs
as if I were pure spirit―which is how,
in some way, I had wanted it all along…
and the Supremes and the Rolling Stones
secretive among the speakers, taking it
all in, helping us to forget what it was
that brought us here to begin with.

Blumenthal, Michael. Against Romance. (reprint) New York: Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press, 2006.
Quoted in: Blumenthal, Michael. “Voices neither High nor Low”: Some Thoughts on Diction in Contemporary American Poetry.” Legal Studies Forum. Jan. 2007: 433+. (This article, by the way, is not attributed; however, who else would write an article about poetry in a law journal?)

fish fucking
“FISH FUCKING,” a Michael Blumenthal companion poem to “DANCING WITH A DE-CONSTRUCTIONIST.” Museum Victoria has excavated 380-million-year-old fossil fishes from Gogo, Western Australia. This page describes how these early fishes were reproducing.

“. . . the long and lonely lives of castaways thought dead . . .” (Kay Ryan)

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Standing in front of the tree I planted at St. Paul Lutheran Church in memory of my late partner. What could be more permanent? The fire station that now stands in its place.

Ok. I should not write when I’m pissed off.

No, really. Pissed off.

It’s personal, not political. I think it’s a kind of pissed off that only someone who is going to have his 71st birthday tomorrow can understand.

It’s the kind of pissed off that can come only from hurt.

That probably means I’m being passive aggressive.

On Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010, St. Paul Lutheran Church in Farmers Branch, TX, held its last Sunday Service of Holy Communion. It was one of the saddest mornings of my life. I had been organist and choir director of the church since November of 1994. That was not the reason for my sadness. I can (and do as substitute) play the organ for about any church any time. I even play the organ in my living room.

The sadness was my knowledge―our knowledge even saying it would not be so―that our little family was dying, that we would never reconstitute ourselves as a community, good as our intentions were and hard as we might try (for a while).

I was 65 years old.

I was still teaching first-year writing at Southern Methodist University. They didn’t ask me to retire for another three years.

When I was 68, both of my most significant “communities” disappeared from my life.

The church community was more important because the raison d’être of a church found in the Gospel According to John is, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” From the first Sunday I played at St. Paul until the last, I had no doubt I was loved, and I loved the people. We prayed and played together, and in spite of the vast differences of circumstances and personalities among us, every member was supported by every other member. The church was family.

SMU, it turned out, was a place of employment. I don’t know if it was my attitude/personality that kept me from feeling “community” there or the nature of that beast. I suspect it was the latter.

If you read my post here yesterday, you are probably a bit skeptical of my understanding of that little church as family. If so, you misunderstood what I said. “. . . in spite of the vast differences of circumstances and personalities among us. . .” I doubt any of my friends there would be surprised to read yesterday’s writing. And if they did, they  would not reject me for it. I know how complex they are as persons, and they know how complex I am.

Even though we hardly ever see each other, I have no doubt that we love each other in that strange and wonderful way that church people can, and at their best, do.

Since the church closed and I was the old man eased out of his teaching job, I have had one small community of friends I know I can count on in the same way I counted on the St. Paul family for love and support. It is an indefinable and motley crew, acquaintances from 12-step groups. They are mostly gay men. Mostly. I love those guys. I’m pretty sure they love me, too, “in that very special way. . .” (go to a 12-step meeting if you don’t know that phrase).

I have a theory. I’ve done some research in scholarly journals (a perk of teaching at SMU for 15 years is lifetime use of the library), but I haven’t found much evidence to support my theory:

most 70-year-olds feel the loss of community as keenly as, perhaps even more than, the loss through death or distance of family of origin ties.

Your church closes. You retire. Friends and lovers move away. More friends die. Your parents die. Your partner dies.

If you happen to be pathologically shy (belying the appearance of your work and activity for the past 50 years) or, to use a term I find ridiculous but true, “socially anorexic,” your options for meeting people decrease in number daily.

For reasons I’ve discussed here too often, I physically dislike crowds―parties and such places where friends meet and new friendships are formed. I don’t dislike the people, simply the noise and the fact that large rooms where parties happen are lighted with deadly fluorescent lights.

That means I have to go looking for community. On a daily basis. With the mental and physical acumen of a 70-year-old who really just wants to be at home or having a quiet evening out with an age-appropriate friend or two. Or walking through the Dallas Museum of Art.

So here’s where being pissed off comes in. Am I pissed off because my communities have collapsed and my friends are scattered all around and I hardly ever see them? Is that because I unconsciously send out vibes of loneliness? Or is it simply that I have too high expectations?

I’m having a birthday party. A big strange event, that is―rather than being all about “me” a benefit for my favorite non-profit, the Aberg Center for Literacy. I did this last year, and my friends showed up and raised $800 for the Center.

From the 45 E-Vites I sent out a month ago (with reminders since), I’ve had 12 responses.

Maybe I’m not so much pissed off as curious, and neither as much as fearful, fearful that my communities have finally forgotten me altogether.

Fearful. Is that what happens to 70-year-old gay men who used to be professors and organists? Or straight women who were financial analysts  for Compass Bank? Or any 70-year-old?

Kay Ryan, one of my favorite poets, who is eight months younger than I, wrote this when she was 65. I think she gets it.

LOSSES

Most losses add something—
a new socket or silence,
a gap in a personal
archipelago of islands.

We have that difference
to visit—itself
a going-on of sorts.

But there are other losses
so far beyond report
that they leave holes
in holes only

like the ends of the
long and lonely lives
of castaways
thought dead but not.

From Kay Ryan. The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (New York: Grove Press, 2010).

At home alone playing music I used to play for my community.

“. . . spirit and nature, good and evil are interchangeable. . .” (Hermann Hesse)

Judging from the responses to my writing on December 13, I would say it could possibly be true that much, if not all, of the religious sentiment and belief in the world of homo sapiens originates from a few freakish individuals whose brains work a little differently than most, most likely from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy which manifests itself in experiences of either hyper reality or depersonalization/derealization.

I don’t know if I should be honored, frightened, amused, or simply amazed to be spoken of by my friends in the same company as Meister Eckhart, Ezekiel, Teresa of Avila, the Sufis, and those who understand Maya, the Hindu concept of God. I notice that no one mentioned Christopher Dawkins to me.

At the risk of being so monumentally misunderstood that I will have to crawl into a corner and never show my face or my writing in public again, I want to reproduce three paragraphs here from one of my favorite writings.

Please, if you cannot suspend your belief that anyone who quotes this in any context might seem to be identifying with it, read no farther. I do not imagine myself to be Prince Myshkin. I do not imagine myself to be Dostoyevsky or Hermann Hesse.

I am neither intelligent, talented, wise, nor good enough to place myself in such rarefied company. All I mean to say is that Prince Myshkin is my favorite character in all of literature.

When I am being least frightened by my experiences of depersonalization/ derealization and am trying to put them into a context with which I can live, I think I resonate with Myshkin in a way many if not most people do not. That is not to claim special understanding, simply congruent experience.

When I first stumbled upon Hermann Hesse’s discussion of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, I knew that he was saying in an important and even “exalted” way what I would like to be able to say―and that my writing a few days ago proves that I cannot.

So I invite you to read this not as my attempt to attach myself to Dostoyevsky, Myshkin, or Hesse but as a description of a reality of which I have had fleeting (milliseconds―and I mean milliseconds) experiences at various times in my life, and that have affected the way I think and feel about everything. You have probably had them, too, but for some reason I have noticed them and been shaken by them in ways that most people are not. That’s all.

The “idiot,” I have said, is at times close to that boundary line where every idea and its opposite are recognized as true. That is, he has an intuition that no idea, no law, no character or order exists that is true and right except as seen from one pole – and for every pole there is an opposite pole. Settling upon a pole, adopting a position from which the world is viewed and arranged, this is the first principle of every order, every culture, every society and morality. Whoever feels, if only for an instant, that spirit and nature, good and evil are interchangeable is the most dangerous enemy of all forms of order. For that is where the opposite order is, and there chaos begins.

A way of thought that leads back to the unconscious, to chaos, destroys all forms of human organization. In conversation someone says to the “idiot” that he only speaks the truth, nothing more, and that this is deplorable. So it is. Everything is true, “Yes” can be said to anything. To bring order into the world, to attain goals, to make possible law, society, organization, culture, morality, “No” must be added to the “Yes,” the world must be separated into opposites, into good and evil. However arbitrary the first establishment of each “No,” each prohibition, may be, it becomes sacrosanct the instant it becomes law, produces results, becomes the foundation for a point of view and system of order.

The highest reality in the eyes of human culture lies in this dividing up of the world into bright and dark, good and evil, permissible and forbidden. For Myshkin the highest reality, however, is the magical experience of the reversibility of all fixed rules, of the equal justification for the existence of both poles. The Idiot, thought to its logical conclusion, leads to a matriarchy of the unconscious and annihilates culture. It does not break the tables of the law, it reverses them and shows their opposites written on the back.

(From Hermann Hesse, My Belief: Essays in the Life and Art, edited and with an introduction by Theodore Ziolkowski, translated by Denver Lindley, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974. You can find used copies of the out-of-print book at Amazon.)

So on the back of the tablet of our law that says people may not enter the country illegally is written its opposite that if a child comes to our border having walked from Guatemala, we are to take her in and feed her and keep her warm and safe.

On the back of the tablet of the law that says your religion is different from mine and mine is different from the guy’s who lives down the street is written that we are to get over our sense of rectitude and privilege.

On the back of the tablet . . .

That’s what I really meant to say a few days ago.

“. . . We don’t know whether these rules preexist our universe . . .” (Karl Giberson)

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The Golden Gate, Jerusalem. Ha Rachamim (Gate of Mercy). Built (perhaps) 810 AD, opened 1102 AD, closed 1540 AD to wait for the coming of the Messiah (Ezekiel 44:1-3). Reality? Why does it go to the bother? (Photo: Harold Knight, Nov. 2015)

For about a week I’ve been writing my magnum opus. I’m delving into everything I think/feel/believe about life, death, thought, unconsciousness, physical fitness, eating, making love, and generally being on the face of the earth. It will probably take me another day or two to finish it.

No, really. All of that stuff.

Should be quite a tome, don’t you think?

I started because I finally (after 60-70 years) got around to trying to write a description of my experience of what I’ve always called dissociation. The description asks in part,

I feel my brain. Physically. That gives me a weird sensation of awareness of my entire body — but especially my head — that makes it feel very close and real, but at the same time distant and as if I have no control over it. . . How am I supposed to do anything, accomplish anything, be close to anyone when I feel as if my mind and my body are at war with each other. These are the times I come the closest to wanting to die. Why can’t I just feel “normal?” Every cell in my body is tingling, but it’s as if someone else is feeling it, not me ― I am happening in someone else’s mind.

I’m right in the thick of my magnum opus. What do I think/feel/believe about life, death, thought, unconsciousness, and all of those other things?

Mostly I think none of it is real.

Turns out there are names for the way I think/feel/believe ― straight from the APA black book. When I read my description to my psychiatrist, she obliged me by opening the APA book handing it to me to read.

Depersonalization disorder is marked by periods of feeling disconnected or detached from one’s body and thoughts. The disorder is sometimes described as feeling like you are observing yourself from outside your body or like being in a dream. However, people with this disorder do not lose contact with reality. An episode of depersonalization can last anywhere from a few minutes to many years.

Derealization is a subjective experience of unreality of the outside world, while depersonalization is unreality in one’s sense of self. Although most authors currently regard derealization (surroundings) and depersonalization (self) as independent constructs, many do not want to separate derealization from depersonalization because these symptoms often co-occur. Feelings of unreality may blend in and the person may puzzle over deciding whether it is the self or the world that feels unreal to them.

Oh, and just to clarify what the black book says, depersonalization might be a symptom of other disorders, including some forms of substance abuse (), certain personality disorders such as bipolar disorder (), and seizure disorders ().

So writing out what I think/feel/believe is quite simple.

Mostly, none of it is real.

I read a lot of weird shit. You know, about the Big Bang and all that stuff. Of course I read only dumbed-down science because I don’t know enough to read real science. The other day I read,

One thing we do know now about that mysterious beginning is that it proceeded according to a precise set of rules. We don’t know whether these rules preexist our universe. We just know that they are there “in the beginning” and that they constrain what can and cannot happen. (Karl Giberson, “Cosmos from Nothing?” Christian Century June 10, 2015.)

I’m not in the habit of reading Christian Century. I think if anyone knows what’s real and what’s not, it’s not likely to be someone writing in a journal with “Christian” in the name.

However, Giberson does ask some nifty questions like, “Why does the universe go to the bother of existing?” And in part of his discussion of that question, he says

Our remarkable universe is just the lucky one among stillborn trillions incapable of hosting life. In The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, cosmologist Brian Greene identifies no less than nine independent ways to produce an infinity of alternate worlds, any one of which can produce a universe like ours without a superintellect monkeying with the physics.

But Giberson is skeptical because, “A scientific drawback to these theories is that none of these posited realities have any empirical connection to our reality—at least at the present time.”

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The sky over the Bedouin town of Sousia in Palestine. Why does it go to the bother? (Photo: Harold Knight, Nov. 2015)

All Giberson or Greene or any of those guys need to do to get a glimpse of the posited realities that have no empirical connection to our reality is find a way to experience what an epileptic experiences with regularity.

If what I feel, see, hear, smell, and taste is, in fact, happening to someone else and they don’t know it, does that reality have any empirical connection to our reality? Do I even have an empirical reality?

I know what you are thinking. I’m making up word games or something to try to explain a weirdness in my life for which no explanation is obvious and which is crazy-making to me (in the sense that it drives me crazy, not that I am crazy).

One thing we do know now about that mysterious beginning is that it proceeded according to a precise set of rules. We don’t know whether these rules preexist our universe.

We don’t know whether these rules preexist our universe. What if―just what if?―some of us are given a glimpse of the reality that nothing is real? What if it’s possible to live in a place where the reality we all take for granted slips away in “an episode of depersonalization [that] can last anywhere from a few minutes to many years?”

“Why does the universe go to the bother of existing?”

If I feel depersonalized, why should we assume that I’m the odd one? I may be the only one who has a grip on things, who knows there’s no grip to be had.

Mr. Descartes, doesn’t it make exactly as much sense to say, “I think, therefore I am not?”

Just sayin’.

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The Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, built 1541. Entrance to the Old City. Arab Quarter. Why does it go to the bother? (Photo: Harold Knight, Nov. 2015)

From the foundation of the world?

Come ye blessed of my father. (Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel.)

Come ye blessed of my father. (Michelangelo,
Sistine Chapel.)

In a little more than two weeks I will be in Jerusalem. I will spend ten nights in Palestine and Israel―in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and religiously important places in the Galilee, as well as Jerusalem. I have been to all of these places before. The first time I was in Palestine, I also had the remarkable experience of spending two days and a night in Gaza.

In the late ‘80s-early ‘90s I was in therapy with a Jewish Jungian psychiatrist in Cambridge, MA. He is about my age (we were both very young at that time). My neurologist referred me to him because he had experience working with persons with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, the condition with which the neurologists at Harvard Medical School had recently diagnosed me after I had lived with it for 40 years.

One of the presentations of TLE is a propensity for heightened religious experiences. Out-of-body experiences, strange feelings of transcendence, seeing visions. All manner of mystical experience.

I have had quite a few of those experiences, but I have never exactly attributed them to being in touch with God or the gods or the meaning of the universe as some TLEptics do. From childhood I have had what might be called a “mystical” bent―having deep experiences of connectedness to reality of some kind. I have tried to explain those experiences many times.

In a folder on my computer desk top I have a miscellaneous assortment of documents with stuff I want to be able to find if I ever need it. Somewhat like my last year’s tax return―it’s here somewhere. One of those documents is a quotation from Fyodor Dostoyevsky describing his seizures (I have no record of the article that quotes Strakhov).

Nikolay Strakhov, a philosopher and literary critic, and a friend of Dostoyevsky relates Dostoevsky’s description of the aura: ‘…Often told me that before the onset of an attack there were minutes in which he was in rapture.’ “For several moments,” he said, “I would experience such joy as would be inconceivable in ordinary life―such joy that no one else could have any notion of. I would feel complete harmony in myself and in the whole world and this feeling was so strong and sweet that for few seconds of such bliss I would give ten or more years of my life, even my whole life perhaps.” Frank J. Goldstein. Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoevsky. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press (1987).

I don’t know if the experience on the Oregon coast I linked to above was a seizure, a mystical experience, or simply the way anyone who hadn’t a care in the world for the moment would experience the ocean and the cold air and the solitude. My guess is that many (most?) people have these experiences, but they don’t feel compelled to write about them. And they don’t think of them as “religious.”

I should note here that the times I know for sure I am having a seizure are not wonderful. A month ago, for example, I was walking at the fitness center and suddenly had no idea where I was or why I was there (which is a much more frequent experience than being at one with the ocean). It’s more difficult for me to explain that kind of experience than the mystical ones (or whatever they are). Fortunately at the fitness center I was able to get to a bench and sit before I checked out completely. I came to (after probably 2 or 3 seconds) and knew someone named Chris was nearby and that I should see him.

But I had no idea where or who he was or why I needed to find him. It took me a few minutes to remember he is my trainer, and I had an appointment with him in a few minutes.

So that’s the sum total of my mystical experience.

For the most part.

Since I find it almost impossible to say I believe in God these days, it’s just as well that I don’t have experiences where I think I’ve run into her.

When I was working with the Jewish Jungian psychiatrist in Massachusetts, he told me he hoped I would someday have the experience of standing at the Western Wall (the “Wailing Wall”) in Jerusalem. He thought anyone who had had so many “mystical” (I’ll call them that for want of a better description) experiences needed to be in that place where so much of the Western religious tradition had been centered, supposedly, for 2,500 years.

When I finally touched the Wall in 2003, I had nothing like a religious experience. Perhaps that was because on my way down into the courtyard I was greeted by a teenage girl and boy (Israeli soldiers carrying assault rifles) obviously looking everyone over with suspicion, and it was difficult to feel anything other than wariness. I was not wearing a yarmulke as the other men in our group were.

I am fairly certain that when I am in Jerusalem in a couple of weeks, I will have religious experiences. I don’t think William James would have classified them as religious, however. But it’s the only way I have of participating in or knowing or experiencing anything “transcendent” or of “God.”

The purpose of my trip is to join, as best I know how or can figure out, the cause of justice for all people. If God exists, I have only one way of knowing God. That is by doing my level best (which is pathetically inadequate and probably misinformed) to be of service to other human beings, especially in the cause of justice and mercy. It is only then―not by belief or prayer or meditation or good works―that I expect to have anything like the experience of hearing, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”―in this life or any other.

(Some of my reasons for going to Palestine/Jerusalem.)

The new

The new “Wailing Wall.” (Photo, Harold Knight, 2008.)

 

“Who shall doubt consciousness in itself of itself carrying. . . ” (George Oppen)

Like as the Palestinian gazelle desires the water brooks. . . (Psalm 42)

Like as the Palestinian gazelle desires the water brooks. . . (Psalm 42)

.

George Oppen is a poet English majors want to be sure everyone knows they have read. Not one English major has read his work, however, because it is incomprehensible. Unless, of course, the English major also has the temerity to say they have read and understood Heidegger’s Being and Time. Which I suppose is possible. But not likely. Understanding, that is.

My purpose today is to contemplate reality.

Ultimate reality.

You may now giggle, either aloud or to yourself—no matter.

You ask if I have read Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Langer, Kristeva—and before them, Plato, Socrates, Boethius, Kierkegaard, Kant, Wittgenstein. Yes, I have. Well, sort of. I’m not smart enough to figure most of those folks out. I always have the sense, reading them, that either their brains are more highly evolved than mine (and, most likely, yours) and I am not even in the same world they are in, or they are having us on, sounding profound when they are, in fact, stumbling around looking for ways to explain things exactly as the rest of us are.

The epigraph Veritas sequitur . . . [of the poem, “Psalm,” by George Oppen] evokes the conceptual framework and spirituality of Thomas Aquinas who in the thirteenth century argued for the Divine as an efficient cause for everything that manifests, that is, for the entire created world. It would be incorrect to understand Oppen as involved in any theology, however, even as the poem possibly demonstrates a religiosity; but what might give rise to religious sentiment is within Oppen’s purview (Burt Kimmelman).

Veritas sequitur. “Truth follows.”

On January 5, 2015, my brain had some sort of seizure activity in the morning. I say “some sort” because I’m almost certain it was, but my neurologist concluded from my description that it was likely not a seizure. I know how my seizures feel, and I can say without doubt that it was—at least at the outset—a seizure. Most likely our difference in designation comes from the fact that the sense of dissociation that is the main result of seizure activity in my brain lasted all day. Seizures (my particular brand, at any rate) are momentary. Unless I black out and am gone for a short period of time. Then all bets are off.
oppen
“Do you need to go to the hospital?” the nice policeman asked a few years ago when I came to in a Target store and a small gaggle of concerned people was standing around me. “No, I’ll go home. My car is right out there.” “No, we’ll drive you home,” the other nice policeman said.

That’s a real, full-blown seizure.

What I experienced on the 5th of January was a moment of dissociation (they’re a dime a dozen in my world) followed by an entire day of confusion and depression. And more dissociation.

The question I’d like to pose (because I’d truly like an answer) is whether or not the day of confusion, depression, and dissociation is, in point of fact, the norm for Homo sapiens, that our life spent thinking we know what is going on both in our own consciousness and in the world around us is abnormal. A lie we have convinced ourselves is “real.”

In asking the question, I am, in fact, in good company.

Who shall doubt
consciousness

in itself

of itself carrying

‘the principle
of the actual’ being

actual

itself ((but maybe this is a love
poem

Mary)) nevertheless

neither

the power
of the self nor the racing
car nor the lily

is sweet but this
—George Oppen, 1975

I’m not (never was) an English major. I taught college English for 30 years without ever once knowing what I was doing. (Speaking of dissociation!) But I understand “Who shall doubt consciousness in itself of itself.”

Who shall doubt consciousness? Probably not you nor your parents nor your lover, and most certainly not your Congressperson nor your Pastor.

My guess is that anyone who has been given the tandem gifts of a moment of dissociation and a day of depression actually understands consciousness better than people who have never had the experience of that duality.

The first time I pretended to be an English major (spring semester, 1987, Salem State College in Massachusetts) I taught “Introduction to World Literature.” One of my colleagues, a real English professor, suggested I use Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot as the required “novel in translation” for my class. He knew about my dissociation and depression, and I was madly in love with him.

When I want to be sure I’m not alone out here in this dissociative world, I read a little Dostoyevsky or Oppen. “Their fiction and their poetry, they comfort me.” (Perhaps I am an English major; at the very least, I know how to make allusions. Psalm 23.)

Back to contemplating reality.

What’s real?

If you are blessed with seizure activity, you know better than most about reality. It isn’t. That, of course, is nonsense.
But explain to me, if you think you know what’s real, how a deer grazing in a meadow in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming came to be. And how I came to be so I have in my mind indelibly the memory of that deer (the memory will be there, I am convinced, when I know very little else because of the ravages of Alzheimer ’s disease).

Ultimate reality, I said.

Those who have not been given the gift of dissociative seizures might do well someday to find a meadow to sit in, sit still, unengaged, quiet, not trying to control anything and watch for a deer to come and graze. Watch intently. Wait for it.

What’s real in this idyllic scene? The deer or your perception of it. Or neither. Or both.

. . .just as the investigation of being is the primary task of metaphysics, so is the question of truth. Truth designates that which is real, and was real and “that which always is and knows neither birth nor death” (Fr. Andrzej Maryniarczyk).

Those of us lucky enough to feel for a moment now and then that nothing is real, physical, knowable can tell you:
Don’t give it another thought.

“Psalm,” by George Oppen.
Veritas sequitur …

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down—
That they are there!

Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.

Oppen says in his notebooks, “I choose to believe in the natural consciousness, I see what the deer see . . .”

My Big Horn Mountains

My Big Horn Mountains

“. . . a man does . . . not attack because his cause is just . . . he conquers ’cause he’s the stronger. . .” (Carson McCullers)

Pvt. Robert Forster

Pvt. Robert Forster

Every morning my first thought is, “Shall I try to write about something, or just write and see what’s going on in my mind?” That may be a habit ingrained over thirty, forty, fifty years, or it may be that I have no choice.

It’s fun to think I have no choice. Hypergraphia. One of the presentations of TLE. I wonder sometimes what TLEptics who didn’t (don’t) know how to write cope with this need. What is (was) their mechanism for satisfying this (seemingly) irrepressible urge? Do only people who live in advanced civilizations and are literate and own either a computer or paper and pencil have TLE?

This morning I woke up thinking about one of my most bizarre mornings of writing. The morning after I saw the 1967 movie Reflections in a Golden Eye (starring Pvt. Robert Forster riding a horse naked through the woods with Elizabeth Taylor and Maj. Marlon Brando as a married couple both lusting after him). What else do you expect from Carson McCullers?

With a red-ink Flair pen (how au courant I was!) that morning, I wrote stuff so strange that it ended up as evidence in a court hearing about which I have written a blog entry to be posted the day after I die. (Yes, I’ll be writing this stuff until the morning I die, and—lucky readers—it will continue to evolve in strangeness as time goes on unless we let NASA and Google continue to track our every thought, word and deed so by then we have finally reverted completely to 1984, and Newspeak is all we know).

That scribbling in red ink haunts me to this day. I have no idea what it said, but I have a picture of it in my mind—so vivid that I still, 46 or so years later, see it, have a physical memory of writing it, and dream about it from time to time.

Thanks to DVDs, I have watched Pvt. Forster ride naked through the woods perhaps three times since 1968. It’s pretty dangerous for me to do. Fortunately I had been through many years of therapy and was safely with my late partner the last time I watched it, so I had no need for red ink. I think the DVD is in my apartment somewhere. Note to self: take to Half Price Books.

Exactly why I was thinking about that writing this morning is a puzzlement.

I have no idea.

So I’ll start there.

In a biography of Carson McCullers, or a biography of Tennessee Williams, or an article about David Diamond, or in one of David Diamond’s letters I’ve read at the Library of Congress is a description by David Diamond of coming down to breakfast at February House (where Williams, McCullers, W. H. Auden, Diamond, and other artistes lived in Brooklyn) to find Williams sitting at one end of the dining table writing and McCullers at the other end writing. Diamond had an affair with McCullers’ husband Reeves; he was not, I think, a nice man, but that’s another book altogether. Those writers and musicians were making art about the scariest inner workings of our minds.

I wonder if Jaylen Fryberg ever saw a “cowboys and Indians” movie before he killed himself and two others last week. The country freaked out—again—after the umpteenth school shooting spree in the 21st century.

I doubt it that he ever saw a real shoot-‘em-up Western.

He was a member of the Tulalip Indian Nation, but he was also a member of the generation who last year had opportunity to see

The Hunger Games – Catching Fire
Lone Survivor
Man of Steel
Thor: the Dark World
Rush
World War Z
Kick-Ass 2
Iron Man 3
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Fast and Furious 6
Oblivion
Ender’s Game
47 Ronin
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Charlie Countryman
The Wolverine

I am not a psychologist, a social scientist, or any other kind of –ist. I write and write and write and spew stuff out into the Ethernet for people who don’t have good sense to read. And I am fascinated, even obsessed with from time to time, people like David Diamond. Does Reflections in a Golden Eye have anything to do with McCullers’ life experience?

I know absolutely for sure without a shadow of a doubt that seeing Reflection in a Golden Eye began a direct line of thinking in my befuddled TLEptic mind (I’m not blaming TLE, just stating it as part of the mix) to my acting out in such a way that could have ended in my institutionalization for the rest of my life had it not been for a judge who knew a fevered brain from a criminal one.

Citizens of Marysville, Washington, are threatening violence against members of the Tulalip Nation because Jaylen Fryberg was a member of the Tulalip Nation. Violence.

There no end to the violence and threats of violence in the United States. Can it possibly be that a child of 15 years old, having watched on the big screen or on his smart phone violent, unprincipled, anti-social movies all his life is not so inured to violence and killing that it seems normal to carry a gun to school and kill his classmates? I have no knowledge of the movies he saw—but I know hundreds of 18-year-olds whose brains are saturated with movies like the ones I’ve listed. I watched Hunger Games a couple of years ago because a few of those hundreds told me I needed to watch it to know what they were thinking about.

We are a nation of violence. Jaylen Fryberg, if he was connected to the world around him, knew violence. Violent death was—quite possibly—the norm in his thinking. I don’t know if that’s true. But I know it’s true for many of his peers. Cowboys and Indians is kids’ stuff.

Tulalip People

Tulalip People

“. . . a partial temperature drifts down from the sky. . .” Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973)

Meaning or actuality?

Meaning or actuality?

The last few days my writing has been bits and pieces, attempts to get something started that fizzle into nothing. That’s important only because it may be evidence of something shifting in my inner life, a “sea-change.”

For several days I’ve been in the grip of a physical anomaly that’s familiar yet new. It may not be physical at all. It may be in my mind, not in my brain.

If it’s in my mind, I think it’s not unusual for someone my age. That is to say, the disconcerting sense that “the center will not hold” (William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939, “The Second Coming”). If it’s in my brain, Drs. Agostini, Bret, and Daly better figure it out soon!

Dizzy. Dissociated. Disoriented. Dreamlike.

Am I alone in the experience of suddenly realizing I’ve not actually been “there” for the last (how long?) hour? That I chat for with a friend on my way out of the tutoring center, and, by the time I get to the elevator I’m pretty sure it never happened? That I was not physically there at her desk?

What’s that all about, anyway? A normal sense to anyone who stops to think for one moment? Especially anyone who has reached older age than many of the famous personages whose deaths are in the news. Wondering not only about the “meaning” of life, but also about the “actuality” of life?

One of my father’s favorite Bible verses comes to mind. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:19). I don’t precisely think there’s such a thing as “sin.” And, if there is, I have no idea what it has to do with what I’ve written so far. The injunction, “Come now, and let us reason together,” I suppose.

Let’s be reasonable about this.

He knows what's "only"

He knows what’s “only”

I know dissociation is a common symptom of TLEpilepsy (back to that old song). It means “disoriented” and “dreamlike.” It’s an easy leap of logic from that feeling to one of intense religiosity, or at least spirituality. [What a ridiculous word! Even the bigoted and viciously fundamentalist atheist Sam Harris has written about it.] TLEptics know the experience. Not all of us see visions and dream dreams, but we all know the sense of the “other-worldly.” It’s right here. In our brains. Every day.

It may be, I think, what drives us to write, to try to make sense of the way we feel.

Make sense.

Very little veritably makes sense to me.

Not obvious things. Calling the Koch Brothers “libertarians,” for example, when everyone knows they are simply the greediest sons-of-bitches on earth. Or thinking Ebola or ISIS are a threat to the people who live in my apartment complex, when anyone with half a brain can see both are fear-mongering constructions of big business, the media, and complicit governments. Obvious things which, when one says them, immediately give one the aura of insanity.

Perhaps a certain insanity is a mark of TLEpilepsy. Cassandra (see The Trojan Women) was TLEpileptic? Amos (see the Bible) was TLEpileptic? John Brown (see American history) was TLEptic? Makes sense to me.

Supposed insanity is simply a mark of someone who has non-conformist ideas but is not smart enough to say them in any comprehensible or useful way (perhaps because they live in a haze of dissociation).

Or someone whose medications are out of whack or who has an as-yet-undiagnosed inner ear disorder. Or simply, as all gay men would say of each other, “A dizzy old queen.”

Not-so-obvious things don’t make sense to me, either.

I wonder how (if) Sam Harris would make his fundamentalist pronouncements differently if he were TLEptic.

But the reality of consciousness appears irreducible. Only consciousness can know itself—and directly, through first-person experience.” (Sam Harris, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion).

Damn! I wish I knew what he means!

Sam Harris sounds a great deal like John Hagee to me.

Now, people who believe the Bible believe in this [that God established Israel because ‘Salvation is of the Jews’] too, and therefore their support for Israel is not a political issue, but rather a matter of obedience to the Word of God.” (Hagee, John, John Hagee: ‘If You’re Not for Israel, You’re Biblically Ignorant or Not Christian.’ Charisma News. 9/24/2014. Web.)

“Only consciousness. . .” “. . . obedience to the Word of God.” How, exactly, are “only” and “obedience” different?

So I’m back to my opening gambit here—wondering not only about the “meaning” of life, but also about the “actuality” of life.

In about 1995 I was in a seminar in translation at the University of Texas at Dallas. Because she was working in the UTD translation center, Edith Grossman, translator of Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, talked to the class a couple of times. She introduced me to the poetry of Pablo Neruda. We used the book Translating Neruda by John Felstiner. I don’t know. It’s all mixed up in my memory. Perhaps Grossman didn’t actually introduce me to Neruda. I associate her with him because both were important to that class. And that’s not because it’s been nearly 20 years. It was mixed up in my memory while it was happening.

You see, Harris is wrong that “Only consciousness can know itself.” I know, I know, I’m quoting him unfairly out of context. And Hagee is wrong that some sort of “obedience” is necessary. That they are equally misled may be evidenced in that their ideas about Israel’s relationship with Muslims is exactly the same.

But, based on my experience—whether it’s born of TLEpilepsy or incipient old age or a simple inability to understand—I’d say Pablo Neruda has the question of reality about right. Perhaps I’m not in the middle of a “sea-change.” Simply a recognition.

“Unity,” by Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973)

There is something dense, united, settled in the depths,
repeating its number, its identical sign.
How it is noted that stones have touched time,
in their refined matter there is an odor of age,
of water brought by the sea, from salt and sleep.

I’m encircled by a single thing, a single movement:
a mineral weight, a honeyed light
cling to the sound of the word “noche”:
the tint of wheat, of ivory, of tears,
things of leather, of wood, of wool,
archaic, faded, uniform,
collect around me like walls.

I work quietly, wheeling over myself,
a crow over death, a crow in mourning.
I mediate, isolated in the spread of seasons,
centric, encircled by a silent geometry:
a partial temperature drifts down from the sky,
a distant empire of confused unities
reunites encircling me.

Neruda