Saturday, September 16, 2006

9.16.06, Revised Schedule, & On (Mis)Understanding

[the second post, rather long and rambly, appears right after paragraph three below]

I got some really good news a couple of days ago, although it has nothing to do with cancer, at least not directly. I found out that Thomas Pynchon has a new novel coming out, "biggest" of them all so far, weighing in at 1120 pages (so says Penguin and Amazon; it's already sales ranked at about #1,900-something), and called Against the Day. Don't know the plot or many details except that it's set in the decades before and through WW I, has a markedly international sweep, and I also know that I'm excited. And I think this means I will have to reschedule some things. Like dying. OK, I've never scheduled it, granted, but I figure this way I won't even be able to die before the book comes out and I get a chance to read it. Appears sometime around November 21st, I won't be able to get through it, say, till December sometime at the earliest. Then my birthday is right around the corner, so I should wait for that. The way I figure, I'm pretty much guaranteed to be "OK" until about mid-January.

Breath a sigh of relief. Read slowly. I always do, I can't help it.

Yesterday I skipped over my blog responsibilities, I admit, but this was in part because the day felt basically good and I didn't want to interrupt it with too much "cancer thinking." You know? When you've had quite enough of something on your mind and for some inexplicable reason you then find yourself in a zone, just somewhere else and able to be away from that Big Thinking Thing. . . ? Like that, you might say. I just wanted to go through the day and not necessarily evaluate myself for life fitness. That said, it was probably a 7, and today's Franky Scale seems to be shaping up about the same.

[new addition]
On (Mis)Understanding, Communication, and the Negative

Part of this post has to do with truth, or more accurately truths in the plural, and where we find them. I have another post written during The Sopranos period (I’m waiting on season 6 so I can continue that soon), that I’d like to add into this since it might be timely again now. I’d missed the moment before, but tomorrow it might be a good follow up to this. So “this” is a round-about kind of essay into where I am usually, where I go sometimes, where I write from, and what’s behind it all. It rambles, such is the form.

Part of this post and this whole blog has to do with my writing too: how it comes across, how you read it, how I come across through the writing of posts and comments. I forget sometimes that I can come across as opinionated, at times closed-minded, and to some even I might seem, that dirtiest of dirty words, “negative.” Negativity’s story should be retold, though, to be fair. This will help to explain where I’m coming from. As I see it, the Negative is not always something “bad” or “destructive” or “harmful” — it is, rather, a tool closely and inextricably linked to critique and to the possibility improvement. Whether it be improvement of a discussion, a system, an organization, or a self. Myself not excluded, of course.

It’s been a pet project of mine since before grad school, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Later I learned that “critical philosophy” is one name for it, that people like Spinoza and Nietzsche and Marx and Adorno have all been known to use this tool, this engage in this type of philosophy. For clarity, it can be contrasted quite directly with positivist philosophy (one term any dictionary of philosophy will gloss adequately). The critical or negative approach means asking hard questions and performing critiques of all claims to knowledge and truth. All positivist claims break down at some point, even in the hard sciences, knowledge is put forward and assumed, too often, to be timeless and unchangeable. Even a common sense understanding of the sciences tells us this isn’t true (e.g., Thomas Kuhn has written on this). New knowledge is produced, paradigms change, and we correct what was incorrect about our thinking (Foucault is another one). Critical or negative philosophy takes as its task to ask the question “What is wrong with, or what structures, this claim to knowledge?”

As an rule, note what Spinoza writes: “Omnis determinatio est negatio (All things are determined by negation).” From his Epistula. I think that the more we critically analyze and think through this statement, the more truth we can find in it. That is, the more accurate we’ll find it to be. Presented with any knowledge we find flaws in logic, cracks in a rhetorical edifice, etc. and only then can we work to correct them. (An aside, I took this as a point of departure for a theory of aesthetics in grad school, in my dissertation, a thing I’m still desultorily working through it in a book manuscript.)

It relates back to being understood or misunderstood, and to my coming off as harsh sometimes — in posts, comments, emails, etc. — on an interpersonal level, in that I take this as a rule for myself, and too often I forget that not everyone does so. An error I hope I’ll be forgiven for, if I’ve offended. There’s no malice intended, just a desire to get at the core of the matter. Sometimes my brain goes on through a matter more quickly than my heart. I realize, too, there are “on” times and “off” times for this, depending on the parties involved and emotional conditions. The realization isn’t always instantaneous.

Back to the philosophical aspect, I’m hitting very basic points, so I beg the indulgence of some of you who know this too well already. : ) Knowledge is contingent, context based, determined in large part by other knowledge and experience possessed by a subject / person. Each particular situation colors a given knowledge. So we always have to analyze the context in order to understand the rightness or less rightness of a concept, idea, theory, or strategy. In communication we have to work through the contingency, or rather, through a thousand little contingencies. Truism. Still, sometimes a tall order.

Again, why rehash all this? Because I assume all it before I write anything, before I approach any situation. It’s why I’m always skeptical, or if you like, critical. It’s a positive (salutary) approach, in my view. It might come out in the form of critiques of multi-level marketing, new age-ism, religion, or alternative treatments to a disease like cancer. It might also come out in disguised form in the basics of how I try to deal with the latter every day. So, while I want all the help in the world, on the one hand, on the other, I tend toward radical skepticism and often plunge when I’m thinking it through. The critical edge is not an attempt to push anyone away, to break down the community that’s been established here.

Another aspect of what I think and go through every day, aside from the physical realities, is an intense psychological battle. How good do I feel? Or bad? Why? Am I getting better? Or, how much worse? Isn’t the clock still ticking away toward that last ding? If I feel better, is that a safe feeling, or should I lay low and be quiet about it? Will I jinx it? A former poet laureate of Utah (they have them!) died fairly recently of pancreatic cancer, and there was a news article where he told of how he feared going to bed at night because he didn’t know if it was the last time, if he’d die in his sleep. Fortunately, that’s not a fear I have, though it is an indication of what the mind can do.

There are a million such questions. They take time to work through, or to avoid, as the mood dictates. Normally I like to face them, a facing that can produce tone shifts or mood swings in the blog, which I know some of you notice. Some even worry. It might keep me from taking calls at certain times also. That kind of thing. People have been wonderful to me through this and I thank everyone for that. I can’t say it enough. Yet with all the help in the world there are still times of profound shock, disbelief, frustration, and sadness. There is a feeling where I’m preparing to miss something: life itself. Even though I don’t believe there will be a mind “on the other side” to do the “missing,” it’s hard to avoid living in moments and wondering “Will this one be repeated? Is this the last time?”

Thursday, September 14, 2006

9.14.06, Cont'd Disconnection and Upcoming NCPB


[Background music tonight: Monk’s later years work under the 2001 title Thelonious Monk: The Columbia Years, ’62-68. I’m going to give it a few good listens and see if there’s anything to some of the critiques some people have made about his later work being too tame. Too, there’s a historical angle, too, in that it jives with music, culture, politics, etc. that was around when I was born—something I’m trying to work into a sketch of the historical moment into which I was born. 1968.]

To respond on Disconnection. (The hot chocolate was at Vivace, btw, never had it at Bauhaus.) The emotional states or states of being I feel alienated from—a very apt term because I do feel I’ve been a life-laborer and now my time-work has been put in and someone else is getting the profit and/or utility from it, but if life is a metaphor for capitalism, who are the capitalists? Hmm—those states seem to be the so-called normal ones for most people. I’ve always felt like a nonconformist inside; not to claim I’ve always or simply unthinkingly been one, but rather that I think there’s an inherent value of thinking like one. At least. So in a sense my alienation isn’t new. It is, however, extreme these days.

Seeing the daily routines people have can be horrifying at times. And thinking of death so much more presently than ever before exacerbates this for me. Whether it’s materialistic attachment, ambition for ambition’s sake or for power’s sake, or all the fronting. Trivial matters also occupy so much of people’s lives, simple priorities. Now when I’m “out there” watching or dealing with people, I just feel like I see more. It all sounds trite to put it into words, but the experience is real and all I can say is that nothing in the world looks like it used to. Work, for example, is just that. Work. And I spent a hell of a lot of time “working,” and sadly doing a lot of work I thought I should be doing. When that normative superego of Work takes over, for me, the pleasure of it gets lost. Worries over superiors, evaluations, the power of the masses or “customers,” all of these become tyrannical. Seeing all this more clearly is in large part what disconnects me. (Feel like I’m spinning my wheels here, trying to get this out…)

As for the wanting of conversations to end, of mouthing certain words and thinking others or simply waiting waiting waiting for it all to end, this is clearly something I’ve felt too. Part of good old fashioned misanthropy, on the one hand. (Which, B. you should get a lot of in anthro now…no?) On the other, it’s another testament to the fact that we do live in a camera obscura world, just like Uncle Karl says.

On a different note, I wanted to follow up on the pain management issue. I’ve decided to go through with the NCPB (the neurolytic celiac plexus block) procedure, and have it scheduled currently for early October. I might switch this up to late September but we’ll see. This means I get one more hose shoved down my throat and they inject absolute alcohol into the celiac plexus. Then it dies. The theory, in three out of four cases, is that when it dies, most of the pain in that area dies. Fingers crossed, I move ahead.

Also, I’m moving into a new place come October. Very close to my old place so the neighborhood routines can continue, even though I’m much less of a bon vivant than before. It means more space and numerous other good things. More on this as it comes. For today that’s enough from me, in my little disconnected world.

Franky Scale today was pretty good, let’s say 7; though I spent half the day at school (thus “work”) and there’s an odd physical feeling about being “out and about” that I haven’t fully adjusted to. I’m realizing again, too, that it might be good to get myself doing this more regularly because the values of the distraction seem valuable.

A P.S. The comments the other day in the post "Writing Your Own Eulogy," and this might be a hairsplitting point, but this title was only metaphor. Though I am working on a memoir, I'm not trying to write my own eulogy. There's a lot tied up with eulogies, and eulogies are for the living, so when it's time for that it will be somebody else's job. Not mine.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

9.13.06 Disconnect and Float

Disconnection. If one were to ask what I’ve been experiencing emotionally for the past week or so, this would be my answer. Many have asked, in fact. There is no etiology, no set of identifiable experiences that have culminated in this. It’s just a destination I myself have only realized after, apparently, arriving here. It’s disconnection from all kinds of things: people, past, place, certain emotions, states of being, time-oriented thinking, routines. I don’t know, it feels like it might even be from words, too, in some respect. At this moment, even the words feel strange in my mouth, at my finger tips. New, unfamiliar, foreign. Though I can’t say whether it was from genuine hankering or an unconscious desire to act it all out, I even ordered hot chocolate in the café today instead of coffee. Little and symbolic.

Floating. What I’ve been feeling in the streets, when I’m in public, in a crowd, a line at the store or café, in the bank. It goes along with what I already described above, as if it were the physical accompaniment. From very early on after my diagnosis I felt some degree of disconnect in the streets. I kept seeing people doing their everyday things and it would strike me as totally absurd. How important a certain small occurrence was, the over-earnestness of a certain person, spurts of anger, exuberance to the point of being obnoxious, fronting of every kind, the telling of tall tales, putting the make on someone — every thing I saw looked transparent. If not, then insignificant. Very Buddhist.

Disconnection. Floating. Transparency. Almost from the start I felt the latter, but the floating has been more recent, as if my being is slowly desubstantializing. Where is it going? No, scratch that — sounds too metaphysical or transcendent. But losing one’s solidity is legit, isn’t it? Have you never walked down the street and felt like a specter? Like you look the same, move in the same way, probably even sound the same but you’re one step out or aside. It’s all going on at some different speed. Again I’m kind of stuck describing, just that out there something seems amiss.

So the disconnection is nearly like paranoia, it is a state of intensity where “my thinking,” at least, is different. Or is it really? I won’t go into all the permutations of this. Those who have ears.

Physically I’ve been recouping from the last four weeks of toxic infusions, the pills, all the pharmacological love. In the respect the scale should go a little higher, but as the baser needs are met we become increasingly able to point out everything else that seems out of joint, right? Still, I feel better now as the drugs start to leave my system. So there is a little less on my body and a little more on my mind.

Franky Scale = 6.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

9.12.06 Not a Jip

Don't feel jipped, those of you who follow the blog regularly. Today just wasn't very writerly. Though if I had any intuition I might predict insomnia and much gets written in the wee sleepless hours. Just, also, that today's Franky Scale was about a 5, never quite got on an even keel. Most of the day was spent between a couple of DVDs I promised to watch on nutritional supplements (related question below), and reading Bertrand Russell's autobiography and then part of Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateuas: Capitalism & Schosophrenia. (A day spent with those two means, perhaps, either "ooh, bad sign" or contrariwise "he must be feeling sassy." I won't tell.)

So, has anyone heard of "glyconutrients" and if so what do you know? (Besides the giver of the DVD; but thank you for thinking of me.) A related question: the health-renewing properties of aloe vera?

More later, but the immediate saddening aspect, and one that decreases the credibility of such a company as produced the DVDs and sells the glyconutrients, is that it's an MLM, multi-level marketing company. They never mention the company name and keep a lot of information hidden throughout their presentation. I don't get that approach, like people won't notice...?

OK, I'm for more food and then rest. And while I eat I'm going to watch either Caddyshack, Animal House, or LA Story. So there.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9.11.06, Writing Your Own Eulogy

Franky Scale today rides in about a 6. I've been warring with my GI functions, one of those too-much-information pieces of news that highlights how real this whole fucking mess is. So TMI, so be it. It's what I live with here.

I've been working desultorily on my memoir, and though I haven't sat to plan out this blog, it's what I want to talk about. I recall things. Stories come to mind. Long lost feelings and events I thought were lost. Little stories of my own and others making that I work with, I have all this to try and roll into a ball. My question to the universe. Or rather, it's all shaping up into the grand narrative of my life. To think, I'm involved with a diachronic tale of life about someone, myself, who other critics at least might throw into the postmodern box and throw away the key. A grand narrative to explain it all.

Or, I'm writing my own eulogy. That's also how I see it. I've been given all the time in the world (there's a bad pun for you!) and as many pages as I can crank out. My audience is forced to sit there and hear it, or so I imagine. I've been reading some pieces of narrative I've gathered along the way. There is the classic letter of excommunication from the Mormon church, the recent letter of rejection from my father, there are emails and comments from friends and family. I have boxes with letters and adolescent memories. I have a story of my birth that was recently sent to me by my birth mother. That was is unique.

It's not the content or the story itself, it's more the fact of it, of looking at it and reading through this simply told tale and thinking "Is this what happens when you die? You collect the stories you and others have and then try to piece them all together? You try to dovetail it all into some sense?" Nah. I don't care much if it makes sense. The birth story itself is actually just one puzzle piece that holds just as much weight as the stories of my birth with which I was raised, despite the difference in perspective and even in factual content.

So that's how the memoir opens for now. I was born into conflict, conflicting stories of where I came from, who I am, how mundane or miraculous was my birth. You choose. One version is highly religious, spiritual, even mythical in its proportions; the other is straightforward and matter-of-fact. I don't mind this conflict, in fact, I relish it. It's as if I were given a trope from which to begin the grand narrative, a device by which I start to tell this long story that takes themes of conflict and paradox and (cosmic) irony and expands them out from a basic difference in "take" on how I came to be. Or how I almost didn't come to be. It's just about right. Remember, there are no counterfactuals.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

9.10.06, A Political Interruption

While what I'm suggesting might not be a revolution, big banners, tear gas, thrown stones, I do hope everyone is paying the very closest attention today and tomorrow. We need to think hard and critically listen, to see through the cock-n-bull political stories that will be fed to the public as anniversary gifts of 9-11. I can't not write this hearing what I am in the news.

We will see the mendacious forces of an illegitimate administration — its Bushes, Cheneys, Rices, Rumsfelds, and Roves — take full and cynical advantage of a five-year old world tragedy. Not merely a US event. They will spin the tragedy of thousands and thousands of people in the US, and tens of thousands, if not hundreds, in other countries, to their own domestic political advantage. The US constitution paralyzed, the Geneva Convention gutted, any sensible conception of human rights and international law mocked through hypocritical and selective manipulation. But Bush and his friends will talk of Iraq, and Iran don't forget, of Nazi Germany, of fascism (the form of political state of affairs which the Bush administration most closely resembles [if you honestly doubt or don't know it, look up "Fascism" in the Int'l Encyclopedia of Social & Behaioral Sciences]), and so on ad nauseum. So disgusting I could spit.

I just know that this morning it begins, on the Sunday morning TV circuit. What kind of nightmare administration do we live under? What kind of legacy are we passively perpetuating? Today and tomorrow, I can't help but think, will embody the twisted highlight of a sickening logic to their political power run amok. A ethically lascivious peep-show, the anti-reality hour for oligarchs, soldiers of fortune, and neo-fascists who will stand in a circle watching, their feet continually shifting on the sticky floor.

And you can see it for FREE, just turn on the tube.