A useful conceptual framework

From the second story of our house the highway sounds like an ocean.  The similarity is enhanced when the sun shines brightly onto the exterior walls of the apartment building visible from the upstairs rooms on the northern side of our house.  To us the roar is constant, dissipating after we have fallen asleep, and picking up again before we are awake.

Our street runs east to west, and the rising sun illuminates the rooms on the eastern side–the spare bedroom, the dining room–and in the evening the setting sun shines into the house’s western-facing rooms–the master bedroom, the study.

Sometimes as we are finishing our final cycle of dreams, almost awake, early in the morning, the dog asleep in his bed next to ours, snoring quietly, the actual orientation of the highway and the rooms is distorted in our minds, and for a few moments before fully waking it is as though the highway near our house, parallel to our street, is rotated ninety degrees, and it is as though the sun rises over our house as it does the sea, and the roar of the highway traffic is more like the ocean than ever.  I grasp at this image, but it fades as we wake up completely, leaving the slightly flawed analogy intact.

Paid time off

We come to this same town every year to escape the clutter of daily life.  Every year we rent the same room in the same building on the main drag through town.  When we get here, after unloading my luggage from the covered bed of the truck, we go to the grocery store.  This year at the Stop-n-Save I buy three avocados, unsalted butter, pork rinds, one dozen eggs, two cans of tuna packed in olive oil, tomatoes, pre-washed romaine lettuce in a plastic container, chocolate, coffee, bananas, and a pouch of Red Man chewing tobacco.

Marcel waits calmly in the cab of the truck while I check out.  I see him address an itch by gnawing gently on his body where it itches.

We always come to this town in spring, when Marcel’s allergies act up.  In all of my pictures from our trips, year after year, Marcel’s face grows whiter, and there is always a spot on his left paw, darkened by his allergic licking.  I try to keep him from licking but still he licks it when I am unable to watch him.

I bring magazines to read, as well as books.  I bring books I feel I cannot easily make time to read at home, owing to the clutter of my daily life.  Last year I brought Middlemarch, and this year Swann’s Way.  These demanding texts are more manageable during our trips, taking advantage of my employer’s paid time off policy.

I bring my meditation cushions in a big duffel bag I use only for that purpose.  I arrange them in a corner of the bedroom.  I use a lint-roller to clean off the black buckwheat-filled cushions and plan to meditate for longer periods than I am able to at home, temporarily relieved of the clutter of my daily life.

Inevitably the clutter of my daily life re-emerges, takes new forms when refracted through the lens of my paid time off, grows from the seeds of disorder that lie in my heart.  Socks and underwear accumulate on the bedroom floor.  Olive pits and empty cans of tuna start are left on the kitchen counter.  Within the context of my paid time away from the clutter of my daily life, daily hikes provide a respite from the chaos.  Each day we hike between five and ten miles in the forest.  Black bears are not uncommon in here, and we sometimes see bear scat on our long walks.  To date we have not seen a bear in person, so to speak.  I do not bring a gun on our trips.

I sometimes mutter to myself, Just for once I’d like to see a bear out here.  Maybe then, if I experienced the big fear that would presumably arise in me as a result of seeing the bear, the little fear from the scat would dim.  Then I wouldn’t be so cut off from everything, I say out loud to myself as we are walking on a trail near town, marked with blue diamond trail markers.  Maybe then I’d notice the socks and underwear accumulating, and maybe then I’d just put them into a plastic grocery bag, saved for that purpose, that I could carry home and empty into the hamper in my bedroom, or directly into the washer.

What can one do to bridge one’s separateness from the natural world?  Going on a long hike on my paid time highlights my alienation from the natural world.  I end the hikes in the midst of an imagined dialogue with my enemies, defending an obvious rhetorical position to the people lodged stubbornly in my nervous system.  Trudging through a national forest, looking at my feet, lost in thoughts, I’m more tired than when I started, my chances of sleeping improved, but the rocks, streams, trees, and turtles remain silent and concealed.

At church, when I was little, my Sunday school teacher told us that to be in Hell is to be forever separated from God’s love.  In trying to move closer to God’s love, since then, amidst the clutter of my daily life, I feel I have been only further ensnared in what I sometimes imagine as the Chinese finger trap of solipsism.

During my paid time off, I bring my dog to suicide country, where despair claims the men and women in large numbers, having separated the souls of the men and women from God’s love and taken them with it to be devoured in Hell, the way a lone coyote baits a house dog into chasing the coyote back to the waiting and hungry pack.

I get up on the last day of my paid time off and take Marcel for one last walk, watching for coyotes.  I do not bring a gun on our trips.

Fragment: personal_grief.csv

I got all my personal data as a CSV so I could understand my grief.

I developed a sensible grief metric and submitted the metric to a variety of innovative but well-established statistical analysis and data visualization techniques.

The file containing my personal grief data was too large to be stored locally and so I configured a remote database to store my grief data using new and affordable cloud-based technologies.

I visualized my grief for my parents and siblings in a series of charts that I embedded in an e-mail.

can’t get last one to load, my dad replied.

I sent it again but at a lower resolution so the file size would be reduced.  I felt that this chart contained important information pertaining to my personal grief which is why I’d saved it at such a high resolution at first.  I was happy to re-send the smaller file, even though I really wanted my dad to have the high resolution version as well.

I put them all in the family’s directory on the cloud computer technology I had learned to use and set a reminder on my calendar to print them all out at the library before we all met at my parents’ house for lunch the following Sunday.

I made enough copies for everyone and passed them out, after church but before the ballgames started.


Fragment: Translation of Bahnwärter Thiel

I’ve recently begun working on a translation of one of my favorite stories, “Bahnwärter Thiel” by Gerhard Hauptmann.  

Every Sunday you could find Thiel the rail signalman sitting in church, except for the days when he either had to work or was sick in bed.  But over the course of ten years he’d only been sick twice:  the first time was when a large piece of coal fell out of the coal car of a passing train and tossed him down the embankment with a shattered leg; the second was when a bottle of wine came flying out of the window of a train as it sped past and hit him square in the chest.  Apart from these two mishaps, as long as he didn’t have to work, nothing had ever managed to keep him from going to church.

Fragment: Bird

What happened was I shot a bird.  I was pretending and my fantasies were varied.  I was leading a reconnaissance mission and had basically a whole other unit coming for support to outflank the enemy.  I heard movement and crouched down and with my pellet rifle I shot the bird but I didn’t mean to hit him.  I shot him and he went off, wounded.  I didn’t want to tell daddy but I knew I had to.  He’d find out about the bird one way or another.  He’d go out tagging trees and see its body lying there dead. Or one of his friends would go out there to build a deer stand and he’d see the dead bird and bring it back to the house and hold it up by its feet and look at my dad and we’d all be standing in the carport and my dad would look at me and say, “Wonder how that bird got hurt?”  So it was best to just tell him as soon as he got home.

Fragment: Miserable because of a scandal

Pretty much everyone was miserable after the scandal.  Several of our friends’ lives were ruined and it was far from over.  The mushroom cloud had not yet resolved itself, so to speak.

David said he wanted to come up from Providence so we could talk about it in person while drinking.  He came and we talked about the arcane symbolism of the legal documents.  David’s girlfriend came too but she went and stayed with her sister, who lives in the same town as me.  We sat in a bar in my town drinking Budweiser and talking quietly about the scandal.  David said the thing still wasn’t done unfolding.  “The mushroom cloud still hasn’t resolved itself, if that makes sense.”

Some people sitting near us in the bar were on a date and they were discussing astrology.  The woman was interested in astrology while the man pretended to be.  She did not consider herself an astrologer, she said.  The man said maybe the word is astrologist.  She told him how the big dipper had changed over the years.  How it used to look one way but now it looks another way.  We rode our bikes home but you can’t see any constellations or Zodiac signs in the town where I live.

The next day we went to some galleries. We saw a bunch of paintings that were just blue paint on rectangular canvases.  David’s girlfriend’s sister asked if I liked the art.  I had no idea how the art made me feel.  She said the paintings really glowed.  She said the paintings all had what seemed like very specific dimensions.  She said it was funny that they were like that.  It did not occur to me that the dimensions were funny.  She said, in conclusion, that the paintings were all blue, and that blue is a good color.  No way was I going to disagree.

I lived in Germany once, for a year, several years ago.  While I was there I took a German course and we took a field trip to an art museum in Stuttgart.  We were asked to pick a work of art and write a short essay about it.  I picked a painting called “Monochrome Blue” by Yves Klein.  Es hat viele verschiedene Bedeutungen, I wrote.  I thought this was funny.

I thought about that when David’s girlfriend’s sister walked away.  I wondered why none of these blue paintings ever made me feel a single fucking thing.

Fragment: Correspondence

My therapist wanted to give me a new face.  She called and said a nearby doctor had an extra face and now was the time if I wanted it.  I went to her office and she performed the in-patient procedure.  Afterwards I looked in the mirror and it looked nothing like me.  My face had Italian features.  Dark curly thick hair, narrow eyes, big nose and lips.  I suddenly realized I did not want this face but she had worked so hard and was smiling as she held the mirror so I said, “Dr. Chernotov it looks amazing.”

Fragment: Mirage

Hello friends I want to bring your attention to a exciting new business adventure in the Kannapolis Mooresville region.  We are a business that specialize in custom made and crafted furniture for concealing weapons and other valuables such as bracelets.  Want to have your handgun available in case of a home invasion but don’t want children or guests to accidentally discharge the weapon or damage with oily hands well look no further here is a insuspicious shelf for hiding such small arms as handguns and submachine guns that can be conveniently disguised as a regular shelf.  Our customers demand excellence which is why we will shortly introduce larger shelves for hiding longer firearms for example the tactical shelf can easily conceal a pump-action shotgun and a AR-15 with extra accessories like a muzzle brake in case of multiple invaders.  We hope you will take a moment to examine our services and tactical products and come check out our studio we wish you a happy 4th of July and god bless our troops!!1!

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Fragment: Testimonial

I was staying in a hotel so I didn’t have hardly anything for supper, just a energy bar and a can of tuna with pork rinds I bought over at the gas station.  I had to go borrow a can opener from the lady at the front desk and she was just the nicest black lady and she had some kinda accent, like maybe Caribbean.  She’d had some trouble with guests runnin off with the corkscrew so I looked her square in the eye and gave her my warmest gaze and said I will bring this can opener right back, and I could tell she felt that that look came with the Lord’s imprimatur and I didn’t look at a woman that way unless I meant it and she said OK sir, not a ounce of care in her voice.  Anyway it’s hard to walk righteous on the road, least on this road it is.  I see them men lookin at me on the highway, guys on Harleys or Suzukis, guys buyin almonds at the rest stops gripping quarters in their sinewed fingers and yeah I feel sinful urges and yeah I think darkly of them but you know what, I don’t need that to be happy and I don’t need that for my life to feel full.  I come out of the Virginia Welcome Center with a full heart and a wakeful soul and I figure the Lord’ll cut me a little slack if I wanna roll down the window and use up a little extra gas and smell them horse farms and sing a alternative rock song.

Fragment: Collaborative enterprise

A still-developing epistolary between by Emin Orhan and me.  We take turns writing vignettes about fictitious versions of each other.

I (by Emin)

There were around 40 people in the room immersed with all their being in a bewildering, dizzying variety of rhythmic bodily activities: some up and down, up and down and then up and down again, some right and left, right and left and then right and left again, and some more complex: up and down, right and left, and then up and down again. Some of these activities necessitated the rhythmic movements of certain parts of the body only (two arms, or one arm, the opposite leg and the head for example). Some required wholesale rotations and distortions of the body. The whole room looked like an elaborate clockwork set in motion by some invisible yet infinitely powerful force. What was that force, wondered Alex, content with being part of something harmonious, as if vibrating mechanically in a limpid sea of celestial rhythmicity. He thought about his dog. The faintest shadow of a smile could be discerned in his clean-shaven face by an astute observer with an eagle’s eyes. Everybody in the room was extremely serious, staring fixedly with stony gazes of ice and granite at a steel horizon invisible, incomprehensible to finite, primitive minds of dust and mud, even as they continued in their rhythmic activities. It was as if the skipping of a single movement, a single extra breath between two ups (or between an up and a down for that matter) would disrupt the proper functioning of all the delicate laws of this fragile universe, tinker with the moral compass of the human race, or cause a genocide in some remote, godforsaken part of the world whose name Alex was sure ended with ‘stan’ or ‘ia’ or simply with ‘land’. His contorted face took the curious shape of a fantastic, long-extinct beast from a long-gone age, while he struggled with his rhythmic exercises. He realized that he was sweating profusely as he tried to remember the name of the girl he had met the other day at that very spot. Laura? Laurel? Lauren? Jackie?

II (by Alex)

In the few minutes before he had to open the doors to greet his early, regular customers, Emin sat down at his desk and drew a deep breath.  He looked at a poster tacked to the wall by the door.  It was a photograph of a small kitten, hanging from a tree limb.  “Hang in there”, it said.  “Friday’s coming.”  Laurel had hung the poster there in an effort to “liven the place up”.  Emin logged onto Facebook.  Today was Kevin’s birthday.  “Hope its a good one buddy”, Alex had written on Kevin’s wall.  Emin considered Liking Alex’s comment, but thought the hostility of the gesture may be too transparent.  He clicked to Alex’s profile, and saw a recent post outlining Alex’s weightlifting progress.  He Liked it.  This would be read as playfully sarcastic, and would be forgotten within minutes as Birthdays, Events, and Shared articles accumulated over his digital gesture like sand covering the husk of an unremarkable sea animal.

Mrs. Hinson and Duke Ellington were waiting outside the door.  Even though it was only 8:56 and Happy Tails Dog Boarding did not open until 9:00, Emin unlocked the door.  As the door opened, a tinny recording of “Who let the dogs out?” piped from a speaker affixed to the door jamb.
“Duke Ellington has already had a very big morning”, Mrs. Hinson explained, smiling.  “He took two poopies while Marty and I had coffee!”
“Oh”, said Emin.
As Mrs. Hinson left, Emin opened a spreadsheet on his desktop called “DukeEllingtonLogBook”.  Any nasal discharge?  There was none.  Any apparent eye irritation?  There was none.  On a scale of 1-10, how would you describe DUKE ELLINGTON’s mood?  Emin gave him a 7.  Is there anything you would like to add about DUKE ELLINGTON?  Nothing comes to mind.
The usual mix of terriers, golden retrievers, viszlas, weimaraners, and other suburban dog brands filled the outdoor play area.  Emin watched them play impassively.  By now he could barely recall the circumstances that had led him into the canine day and overnight care business.  Vague sound bytes made their way back to his consciousness.  Pseudo-scientific liberal dogma…, chirped a radio talk show host.   Funding eliminated as Republicans take the Senate….
Dogs came to him and retreated and returned again.  They cocked their heads at him. Two labradors began to sniff each other’s rear ends, circling faster and faster, like a dervish.  The shadow of a thought formed in Emin’s mind.  Posteriors.  Something about the situation made the word seem funny.  The dogs sampled from each other’s posteriors.  Emin could not contextualize the sentence, but it stayed with him all day.
Emin wiped off his glasses with the tail of his denim shirt and, without needing to look for confirmation, picked up the Easy Poop ‘N Pak and headed towards the far corner of the play area, where the dogs had just been.