the old shame back again

-o god o god my life’s hard!

he was sitting on the kitchen floor, the light was on, one of these middle of the night things.

-so hard.

I sat down next to him, put his head against me till he stopped sobbing.

—-what is it, hon? I asked. -the job?

He shook his head yes. There was a dish towel handy and when he started crying again I dabbed his face.

Of course the job, the job, the job, what else? He’s a psychotherapist who treats women whose fathers were shamed.

After the war they shamed the men and now he treats a generation of daughters, the women whose fathers were shamed. A teacher forced in front of his students and…a man with a wife who had to…grandpa in the rain…

–really a lot of it is normalizing these details, taking the shame out of saying what is hidden in the ellipsis he told me.

-Put anybody else in the same situation. Would you judge them?

That’s what he asked me.

And it’s a kind of healing but he’s afraid on nights like this that it is just symptomatic relief, that the sickness lies too deep.

-Once you know your fathers are afraid, you women…

-it’s not exactly…I mean we knew it. We know it. How could we not know it?

He studied at one of their schools that’s where he went to med school and did his training so of course with the new government they made him…his patients… And that’s what he remembers, on nights like these.

He rocked against my body, rocked and cried.

I don’t hate him any more — how could I?


The Old Language

Professor Thanjavur developed Neolect when he was in prison as a way of dealing with his anger. He spent his thirties in the facility and the injustice of it, well, obviously — would you feel any different? — his wife and her lover free to walk in the rain, wake up in each others arms, go to a coffee shop and him? Life? What kind of life? Was it life really?

In Neolect you cannot say of two human beings that the first loves the second and simultaneously knows that the second hurts him. There are many distinct words for what a human being can expect from another human being. “I remember solace from you. I take pleasure in imagining intimacy with you. I fear without you this world will take my soul.” That you can say. But “I love you and you hurt me” that is like “the pencil sky clouds the yesterday.”

In George Orwell’s 1984 there is something similar with NewSpeak — “Big Brother is double plus ungood” is literally meaningless. But Orwell had to imagine a dictator and his party forcing his country to adopt Newspeak. It took no party or secret police to force people to speak NeoLect. It felt like when you are done sobbing, and gradually your breath returns to normal. In NeoLect there is a single word for that feeling, when the sobs have stopped racking the body, and pain no longer abrades the mind.

Oolo. Macha peecha sawa oolo neolect talkee talkee. Talking Neolect is a deep relief.

It is.

I am the last one who speaks the old language, but even I do the hard work of making sense of my life in neolect, because the old language? What is it really? A mental illness? Perhaps?

And if I’m the only one who speaks it, then?

Last night I woke up in the dark, begging myself to forgive myself. Outside Perhaps howled, screamed like the Great Not, tore up the Now Sky, bloody as fuck, and would not be comforted.


An Unmemorable Fancy

“Our brains are flesh but we live a long time, so that we cannot possibly remember everything we want to, and by dint of long struggling with this problem we have hit upon the expedient of our sacred books. We write our sacred books ourselves, and we know it, but then comes the fall of civilizations and the chilling of stars, and the long wandering and starting again from the lungfish to the lemur to the man, and we re-discover them and re-read them written in the terrifying letters that burn into our brains, and thus, remember. But something is lost here too. So as the great years passed we realized that we pick up the sacred books where we left off, and change a little bit of them each time round the merry-go-round. And this too was good, but not the best, because even better was to try different versions of the same sacred book — I think they call it the genome? — and returning after the great cold and the great fire to see which version survived incorrupted, and which corrupted, and which had suffered that fate for which few have words but which I will call right here, right now corrupted and yet improved upon. But Her Will Be Done, am I right? ” said the Hat-Her.

“It was the very Best Butter.” said the Marchen Herr looking at his chronometer sadly. Outside the stars were blue, then red, then blue again, then black.

“If you had this all to live again would you live it differently.” asked the Herr.

“I always do.” said the Hatter.


The End is Wedged in the Beginning

This is a story I heard from my friend Andrew’s mother whose name is Joyce:

I used to, when I was a young girl, love stories where the end is wedged in the beginning. Example, the writer describes a painting that a sailor sees on the first page, and we realize at the end when his ship goes down that the whole story, the ship, the ocean, the biological engine of the ship’s end hidden therein, were all prefigured in the description of the painting.

Second example: a cursed town whose story is described as being like a pig-tail (viz: spiral) ends after a hundred years when the story of the town which is the very book that you the reader are reading is decoded and the last line of the book describes the destruction of town by hurricane and here “describes” is meant literally — the book we are reading both uses writing to bring the town into being and then to usher it out, like a hopeful actor at an audition.

But, Joyce, continued as an old — you’re not old, Joyce! — i am — woman — I realized I am less interested in clever ways ends can be hidden in beginnings and more in the wedging. In you might say, the hiding. Because where does that come from, the hiding? The wedging? What mysterious alphabet gives us the letters to write “beginning” and “ending”? Or, to speak a little less enigmatically, isn’t it much less important that there are letters when decoding a message, than to know which direction to read it in?

Forward, backwards, or boustrophedonic?

And isn’t even more important than those two aforementioned things,viz: the meanings of the letters – abcde etc. — and what order to read them in, to know that there is such a thing as an order? That there is a beginning, a middle, and an end?

At any rate that is the story, as it was told to me by the woman whose name was Joyce, whose child is Andrew, whose friend is me.


Two Conceptions of Time

This one is about aphids, sucking the sweet juice from the stem of the chrystanthemums. They consume so much juice that they excrete sugar: honeydew.

“We are those aphids.” said Master Lee as he passed through the garden. “We fight each other for who is high on the chyrsanthemum bush and who is low. The one who is high on the chrysanthemum bush drinks much sap, lays many eggs, has many sons. The one who is low on the bush drinks less sap, lays few or no eggs. When he is gone his life leaves no trace. Like a dream.”

“But the other aphid the one who lives high on the bush, he leaves no trace either. “

“You amaze me.” said Master Hong.

“But I do not convince?” asked Master Lee.

“You do not convince.”


“The archetype of plant and aphid, producer and consumer, lives high above the aphids and the chrysanthemum bush. High above this world, and one could also say, to vary the mode of speaking, closer to the source. And high above that, is the Tendency of Things. And it is the Tendency of Things that determines that there should be archetypes and aphids and what will flow forth, and what will return. And one could say that this is the chrystanthemum bush, and you and I, as we endeavor to think through it, to process its sugar, and secrete our own honeydew, are aphids.”

“Did I not say as much? asked Master Lee.

“You did not. Or rather, you did not, until I explained your saying to yourself.”

“I am amazed.” said Master Lee.

“But you are not convinced? asked Master Hong.

“I am not.”

“Tell.” said Master Hong.

“There are two conceptions of time. According to one, it all happens at once: you, me, our disagreement, the aphids, the chrysanthemum bush with its white flowers, their spheres of fleshy petals, the archetypes, the Highest, and the Highest of the Highest. And according to the other it does not. First there is the the knowledge, then the thinking of it, then the speaking, then the mistakes, you and me walking in the garden, the sun setting, the sky becoming blue then white, then grey, then purple, then black.”

“Two men, each with one conception of time?” he asked.

“Not at all. One man breathes in while the other breathes out, perhaps?”


“They call them ant cows. You might as well call the ones who make milk for our morning coffee human aphids.”

It was cold. Master Lee tightened the cloak around his shoulders and hurried to the dwelling. Master Hong ran his fingers up and down the stems.