Wednesday, July 26, 2006

7.26.06, The Overwhelming Question

26 July 2006, Pile of Shit Award -
Goes to the Washington State Supreme Court for upholding the so-called “’Defense of Marriage Act” today. Very large pile.

[N.B. The following is just sit-up-and-write material from late, late last night. Not really intended for the blog, which means it might come across as another heavy or at least brutally honest entry. Just so you know. --And a P.S. My chemo regimen is the same as it has been, the last post was only about a changed attitude, not treatment. -Mr. J]

"The Overwhelming Question"

It’s the middle of the night, once again. This time and I are becoming very familiar, reacquainted you might say, since for years these were often the hours when I would work fiendishly or I would cut loose and prepare myself to work more later. To work more, soon as possible. That’s all my life was about, not about the release and the cutting loose — do not be mistaken. It was all about work, hundreds of hours during the weeks. I was always living for the future, for some time other than the Present or the Now. We discussed this, Hala and Joaqin and I at Salty’s for dinner Sunday. Mostly it picked up with Joaqin while Hala was away from the table, then it returned on the ride home, as I was starting to fade as seems to be my wont these days after even a little social interaction. Three of us talking, it fascinated me to see one of us so driven and to see how that drive can battle for if not occlude the possibility of a space where being is present. There is no new age connotation here, this is simply about living more now. Eradicate the jargon from the mind. Though it could be termed half-Hegelian. Fascinating, too, to see another one of us, more aligned with this thinking than I’ve been before. So it was like sitting in between two handmade mirrors, my image appears in both but in different versions, different times, different possibles according to the mirror maker.

These hours and I, it turns out, are forming a new and hapless bond. Unwanted really, but unavoidable too. There don’t even seem to be pharmacological remedies for this, it’s insomniac tendencies which I had already developed fully in my adult life — and in my earlier years, my twenties, how I naively wished for that, for being unable to sleep because “I could get so much done, write all the books, read everything, be so productive!” — Ha! my blindness — now these tendencies come back from their physiological base and it’s not so much a haunting as a “Well, here we are again, what’s best to do?” Good question. What is best to do and what is to be done in this circumstance?

It happens that I feel fatigued or tired at the end of the day, though I’ve become more immune to the fatigue of chemotherapy just like the cancer in my body is becoming immune to it fucking too, and then I’ll snap off the bedside lamp, slide the books aside and hope sleep comes. I wait, a conscious waiting, which is the whole problem. Thoughts race or simply move languidly rather, like a day that’s too hot, a day in the life of the poor with no AC in the car, none in the house, no where to go to be relieved. It’s that heat of pace at which my mind begins to revolve and wonder what the three months will be like. What will I really get done? What do I really want to get done? Does any of it matter? Do my survivors care? Do they say so now and then they will forget? Granted, I have great supporters and loved ones, but let’s not kid ourselves, everyone will be forgotten, why not me too. Of course I will, and it’s healthy that I should. The megalomaniacal thoughts that say anything otherwise are just that, little phantasies of the self that some of us need, some of us have needed to continue on in a life where the only meaning we “get” is what we “make.” Thus poetry.

Don’t kid yourself on this point either. Of course it’s not just verse and lineated lines of economically executed language — no, it’s the creations of the self, it’s the systems and theories, the critique, the art, the work or piece whatever genre, without the bonds of genre. It could be a house, an addition. A sketch. Even a poem perhaps. But only the making means shit, only the making will last, if even that does. That, too, explains my profession. I don’t do poetry in any traditional sense, though I do know how and speak it when I have too; I do making, I do human creativity and expression, and I’m concerned with the why and how it might improve this world. Otherwise, it’s just not worth the time it takes to express it, hear it, or see it. The personal is political, you’re god damn right it is. The rest are poseurs.

I don’t want to import more meaning into what’s happening to me than is due, into the fact that I’m dying now, quickly in terms relative to most people I know. Still, what I’ve said above is one way to describe what I’m doing now. Forget the pain, or “you’ll have to loan me pain,” but that is not the point. The myriad symptoms, the private shame-ridden moments, the invisible weakness, the lows, that’s bullshit. What’s left even for myself might be affected and colored and symptomatized in reverse, by all that, but what I have left is some kind of making. Every day is performance art. And that is not a line to bring a grin to anyone’s lips; nor is it one to bring a smirk. If that’s happened then you’ve misunderstood. What’s at stake here is the Real Thing, it’s For Keeps. Not to absolve myself from fuck-up’s, denial, laziness, and the rest of what isn’t laudable. It is merely to say that every good bit of energy is turned into something that will last, somehow. It is also used therapeutically to keep myself going with some sense of style — I’ve never been picky, only concerned, perhaps overly, with style. (The truth will out. These are the remnants and growths of my coming of age during the Mod revival of the late 70s and early 80s; not so much the Punk, although that did have a lot to do with fertilizing the ground for my future politics.) This brings us to this moment, in the now familiar wee hours, into reflections on what is worth doing and why.

I don’t believe I will be conscious after death, I don’t believe, sorry to say, that I will see any of you whom I love, I don’t believe a “new” body is waiting for me. I won’t see your children grow. For what purpose would any of that be true, if not to comfort the living in their fear? Enough of that. Without those beliefs, those leaps of faith that unconditionally require the suspension of one’s critical faculties, you are left with yourself, your loved ones, and what you can or might do. Let us say that hypothetical one of you wonders why I’m up at night. Again, it isn’t fear. Can you believe me? I’m not worried about the fears of death traditionally conceived. The process of dying, as in Epicurus’ fourth fear that I’ve explained elsewhere, that does bring me pause sometimes because (1) I hate to be too reliant on others and don’t want to inconvenience people, (2) because physical pain is truly distracting and disallows other activity, and (3) because I do not want to take up time or space in this world when I am worthless and cannot offer anything any longer. To “live” as a vegetable is bullshit, a curse worse that what Dante ever saw, worse than the self-righteously blinded and religiously deluded could ever imagine for their enemies. Their neighbors, remember?

With that said, I come back around to doing and to how much unknowable time there is for me to do. So far I’ve been able to so something, who knows how important; but through the blog, for example, and through my regular meetings with friends I’ve seen genuine concern and heard that something worthwhile is in the offing. I hope people who’ve had their vision occluded by a few unfortunate name-brand experiences or school names will realize that if there’s anything good coming out of my existence right now, it’s not from being a professor, from having a Ph.D., formal schooling, or any of that. It might more accurately be said to come in spite of all that. Having a keen eye on the world, feeling experiences with an open sensitivity, if at times with too much sensitivity, caring about people (not all, I’m neither saint nor altruist), having the good or ill fortune to be placed in some odd experiences, and also at times having the stones to walk head first into others. Those, I think, make something good of a life.

This is all unplanned, like my death, there is no outline to guide me through this piece, there is no map despite my fondness for maps, literal and metaphorical. (I picked up a great copy of a newish translation of Dante’s Inferno recently, translated as Hell, and it was not the quality of the words I wanted, it was the maps and diagrams. It’s laid out graphically, not scenes of torture, not Blakean drawings of the mystic, but nearly architectural sketches of what is where, what one might expect in the space of experience. (It explains in part why one of my only published essays deals with "cartographies of utopia.") This is extemporaneous. What do you make of that? I too don’t know. It’s an anti-eulogy. It’s an anti-systematic handbook. If so, then for what? It’s simply what I have. All I have.

In the poesis, then, what is it that feels good? What kind of making brings you pleasure in addition to warding off the unpleasure that naturally comes to us all? In doing what are you lost? Truly, beautifully lost? Where are those doings? And now, too late, I only start to see how crucial it is to find them. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of questions put to me since my diagnosis, and more accurately my prognosis, was made public, many of them have been posted on Do Not Go Gentle, many discussed there. Most elsewhere. Many are repeats, many, candidly speaking, are uninsightful — but how many of us know just what to say or ask? I don’t begrudge any of them really. Some just seem to have cut to the heart of the things: what will you do that matters? And why do those things? No doubt I’ll have a pretty good sense of this in about three months or so, when the clock really steps up its pace, when my timeline starts to deviate radically from most all of yours. Then I’ll know something more concretely. Pause for thought.

One thing of which I’m sure, it’s not distraction. Travel is fine, fun is fine, shopping fine, responsible debauchery too. There is an amazing book to be written on Distraction Theory, I haven’t gotten to it though I have notes everywhere, it hasn’t been written, but it’s out there in the future. I do know, however, that distraction is almost an insult to dying consciously, dare I use the cliché, of dying with dignity. Again, I see nothing wrong with travel, fun, debauchery, but they are not it. Not for me, and I’m not sure that I can offer any further explanation of why, they just miss the point, by definition.

Distraction is the activity that averts your eyes from seeing what is really happening. There might be no outside of ideology, but distraction is the indulgence in ideology. (e.g., Think fascism.) Just as faith, in my view, is the escape from critical thinking. Certain dispositions require these, so be it, it’s not something we have much control of: it’s what highlights the crucial difference between Jung and Freud. The former believes too much in a voluntarist psychology, he must explain the psyche and twist it so as to leave a possible space for the I to act freely; the latter knows the determinist web we find ourselves caught in, if we're lucky we find ourselves. Marx saw it with political economy and history, faults aside. Boils on his backside keeping him from sitting to finish Capital. Nietzsche saw it with society’s morals and values, faults and all. Arms wrapped around a beaten horse in madness.

So that is the base, the substructure if you will, for how to think of doing. In the doing the key aspect I keep seeing is a degree of choice within the circumstances I find myself in. That is, what will I do with what I have? What will I be able to do? What are my desires and where do they mesh with the doing? It’s still hard to believe that Old Man Eliot could write this, at age 24: “To have squeezed the universe into a ball / To roll it toward some overwhelming question,” and then, in fact, earlier in the poem, the question itself. In short, “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” That is the overwhelming question. How to begin? How should I presume? Yes. Yes. Worse and more overwhelming still, however, is to ask and only to ask and to leave it at that, and that is Prufrock’s curse.

. . . The curse of J. Alfred Prufrock.

7 comments:

[disenchanted princess] said...

dearest -

perhaps ironically, but this was almost refreshing to read.

it hints at a shift, a re-direction of efforts. beyond posing simply questions, ever questions, unanswerable questions, there is the thread of strategy, stated desire, and a weird brand of acceptance.

however, i will argue that the undertone of cynicism, insofar as it relates to what becomes of your memory, what you leave behind, is not fair. to state that you will be forgotten (and that it’s healthy) is being a bit peremptory. small point to debate, but important for me to state. maybe a conversation better had over coffee . . .

Frarella said...

Senor Jones,

As hard as it is for me to read, it's overwhelming albeit harsh to read such honest and prolific words. As you fight on - I am so fucking proud of you. As proud as the the day you got dissed. As proud as I was when we framed up your first houseat slarry's. You may not see CC grow up but she will always know you - always hear of you - always see your picture and always know Mr. Jones! You will never be forgotten. You have touched so many lives and have so many friends. I awoke this morning too early - the first thought I had was "fucking cancer" the second thought was - you can waste a hard on. ILY Mr. East Coast Jones

tossing salads said...

thank you frarella and princess. he will not be forgotten. how could someone like mr. jones be forgotten? that insightful soul. and it one of the first things i think of also frarella, fucking cancer. and then i go off to work and see it in my face all fucking day long!!! what a fucking waste. a poem for mr. jones -

cows

sometimes when you couldnt sleep it off
youd go outside and sing to the cows
and theyd sing back, moon, moon
i could hear you all night from my room,
a bull in stall, blowing across
the top of the bottle. i can hear you now,
here, in this room, as i have, poem
after peom. as just a moment ago, almost
dawn, you came breaking back into the house.
my fathers house, my room. you couldnt
sleep it off. you went out into the dark,
got lost, almost. i hear the cows.
and the moons still up, the doomed moon.
and all this time ive stayed awake with you.
stanley plumly

i love you scott. that you for your insight and strength and perserverance. i will not forget. just as i can not and will not ever forget dan the man. stay strong please

david said...

'll
have to start rewriting everything, from the very first high school poem -- "i, moribund," if you can believe that title, lower case and all-- to the ones from last summer in London, down the Tubes where the bombs went. Or just expunge. Or keep reading day to day, and just letting it sink in, do its work, Scott's work, mine at the moment being to read, let it sink in, get up in the morning, come on over to where I place this machine, dial up this hard task you have taken on, the writing, the record. If I remember, didn't this start because there were just too many people to call up one by one and relay the news, so a blog to keep us posted? Latest news. Franky Scale. Woody. This is serious shit. This gives new meaning to the term, serious shit. All of us here as close as we can be, gathered at our various keyboards and screens, with you.

Slarry said...

Thank you Mr. Fraella and T.S. and Ms. Princess:
Mostly, Mr. Spot-- thank you for your raw honesty, your ability to remain brave and stong, even as you face your own mortality.
You will NEVER be forgotten-- always remembered with the highest respect, honor and the most loved.
Everything you do, everything you write-- in your every gesture, thoughts and choices, everything you are, has penetrated my heart, soul and mind. You are a part of me-- a part of my soul and heart-- and so you will live on FOREVER. And not just for me-- but for everyone whose life you have touched and changed for the better.

I will keep thinking and believing that I will see and know you forever.
Not a religious thought--- something I have always felt. That is supposed to bring me some comfort, right now it doesn't do much. I want you here--- to linger and live on forever and now.
I carry you and your heart with me. I always will.
Just as I will always be grateful that I am your sister, you are my brother, but I would love and adore you anyway. Not just because of our familial connection. How could one not be drawn to you??

I love you my brother-- and one of my favorite memories of you also includes Frankly. You two built our home. It still stands and represents that you two love us, despite my inability to paint a straight line. Fun and wonderous times.

So I will continue to choose that you will be with Dan and Chapin, playing the Sax, making music, dancing, in a big room filled with rare books and running free in the red rocks just south of here...
With all of you keeping a close eye on me.

Keep fighting Scott--
Much love and gratitude,

SHeri

ms. T. said...

It was a few days back when you talked about fear, when I first thought of posting this but then your latest post seemed much more related… Of course, your post was mostly about creation, making, and poetry but the reference to forgetting is what strikes your readers the most.

The fear that comes to me most is the fear of naturalness of loss. What scares me the most is the divergence of lives as soon as you were diagnosed. As I sit down panicked about work, tenure, etc, I remember of the disruption in your life. Esp. since all of this panicking and stress were a big chunk of what kept your life and mine (as well as those of others’) so close, so similar, so intimate. Similarly, when I fall in a new honey jar of sex, complicated physical intimacy and desire, when I find my eye following someone beautiful… Your diagnosis has pulled you in another realm and I am where I was, sleeping with life as he demands my forgetting the disruption in your life. I am scared because I need to schedule my visits to Seattle based on my work, financial, and time constraints, while your life is planned around a whole different set of concerns.

There is always the anger at the socio-economic structure of capitalist U.S. that leaves no space for disruption in the “normalcy.” There is also the heterosexual family-value crazed world where the only form of recognized intimacy is that with a sexual and reproductive nature. I get angry when I compare our situation with those who have accepted a socially acceptable model of intimacy, those who are married. Can your supporters and loved ones all take leaves? Anger is a good feeling since it empowers me, but, unfortunately, is not where the fear really comes from. The fear is a fear of oneself and one’s ability to stay on the life’s side and leaving you alone.

I remember the feeling I had in 97, when I was denied reentry to US after a weekend trip to Toronto. Suddenly, my term was disrupted while my friends were continuing their courses, turning in HWs, and taking exams. I was sitting in a motel in Windsor, grading the HW set for the class I was TAing. I remember the feeling that I might never be let back in and wondered how soon I will be forgotten. I knew I would not be forgotten (much too loud and obnixous), but I wondered how soon my absence would be a part of the "normalcy"…

Ever since your second diagnosis - right after I hung up the phone with G - I have been constantly thinking about all of this (and now your recent posting makes me bold in writing it all down). It’s the juxtaposition of our continued “normalcy” and your spending multiple hours in a chemo-session. This is so much more than being stuck behind a border, of course, but I am addicted to extrapolation (what scientists do, I guess). I constantly ask myself if I would have liked friends to move to Windsor to accompany me in limbo? Would I have wanted them to move back to Religion Land if I had been denied a visa forever? Or wouldn’t all of these have been too much disruption in my new sense of “normalcy”? At any rate, the making, the poetry, and the contemplation creates a new norm, a deep one, not so gentle form of normalcy: Soothing and strengthening at the same time… Wouldn’t remaining in the flow of the other side be a distraction? An unhealthy dose of procrastination? I don’t seem to remember what I would have liked back then… But I remember how disgusting the nights were… sucks to be sleepless in Windsor, leave alone in Seattle. It seems always easier to sleep while others go through their “day time normalcy” than their nights’. Maybe this is where you really build your new normalcy around making, poetry, creation, and style. This is the new style, byproduct of your new self and your old one.

Much love,

-T

tracy said...

Dear Mr. Jones,
You have no idea of how many lives you are touching and have touched in the past. No matter how long we have in this experience it is never long enough. 30 or 130 it is never long enough. It is of the utmost importance for all of us to fight for each and every experience, make it ours and allow it to be shared with others. YOU ARE DOING THIS.
You have taught me more both inside and outside of class than you will ever know.
Tracy