Episodes 2

“The depth and complexity of human memory is staggeringly rich.”

Douglas Hofstadter, I Am A Strange Loop (2007), “Of Selves and Symbols,” p. 86

Picked back up again from Sunday, April 26, 2020.

Photo: A visit to @Bag, the plastic Kroger tree-snagged flotilla installation in Ypsilanti, Mich.

The time when I woke up refreshed and hopeful on the last June Sunday morning during Year One of pandemic. The time when…and then I read a FB post from an uncle lauding Trump, a badly re-shared (copied/pasted?) Twitter spitshot–aren’t they all?–about heritage and about second amendment and about slighting iffy Joe. The time when seeing that just so happened to coincide with Trump’s being in the news for retweeting a video of clashing seniors in Florida, golf cart-riding white folks shouting “white power” (fascists, maybe? certainly not anti-fascists), the President characterizing them as “good people,” and that this is not a deal-breaker for family members, ooh, balling a hard fist it’s telling. The time when the work of interacting at that site of worldviews splitting wide fork, taking notice of uncles-led sides-drawing, focusing again on what really counts among relational accountabilities.

The time when minutes after taking a Zyrtec generic pollenguarding allergy pill I could not remember whether I had taken one today or was that yesterday. Did I? The time when, upon visiting Michigan to return Is. to her mom’s, they were setting up for a garage sale and there was an enormous second edition Webster’s dictionary and all I had to do was look at it with bibliophilic eyes and ask where did that come from before everyone said “thought you’d want it.” The time when getting a new-old dictionary felt like antiquing except that this dictionary might really get some use. The time when upon reaching the condo, what converges are slightly different dispositions on housekeeping, mine being a preference for tidiness and simplicity, but knowing too that’s then my work, to make it so. Swept and wiped counters and, coarse-side sponge to poly shell, shined the tub and enclosure. The time when I didn’t really think twice about it but sent Ph. a text to let him know I was going to eat the snacks in the cupboard only for him to respond that he meant to but hadn’t gotten groceries, thinking I was being sarcastic maybe, and then I followed again to SMS no really, I owe you, because I’m truly eating these opened bags of chips and also that kind of melted to a giant, rock solid caramel cluster container of cashew and candies, a refrigerated glob that took some handiwork and possibly tools to get out of the jar and into a bowl. The time when it also clicked that yeah, I do tend to have issues with finishing food, always finishing, never wasting, that we’re all still five years-old sometimes and hearing synaptically echoed and haunting the charged scolds of parents, living that compounded static out for a good part of our lives. At least a few years, sometimes more.

The time when the president of the condo association that was megalomaniacal–also pricey!–in its legalistic onslaught emailed again with a personal swat about tone and courtesy, about how and why to be gentler with making requests about plants that were by our [unnamed] landscaping company weed-whipped beyond recognition, about how we really should be more generous with loyal hard-working companies we hire and pay to do good work, even when they do shitty work, oh, and you cannot have the name of the landscaping company so as to post a review, but they will plant a replacement hosta, only weeks later to find out that instead of planting it they just ding-dong-dashed that hosta, leaving it on the porch, never finding its way to the soil and now it’s gone, vanished-gone, never-seen gone. The time when by responding, no worries, we’re all good here, I was read back a finger-wag about how by saying I never saw the plant I was implicitly calling the landscaper (still unnamed) a liar and about how ghastly and gruesome was my position. The time when shew are people going through some stuff and handing off their snarls and with vitriol slashing through deep suspicions about others. The time when the only things left to work with are clearing, forgiveness, and compassion, let’s make a path for you to go forward along another day and that tempest in you, keep its fire, fine, but channel it where rage will not shred what endangered goodness still orbits. The time when the hosta taken down in late May was scarred but okay, finding sunshine and still trying its best in late June. The time when its growing back grew back.

Photo. Sideyard, Ypsilanti condo, brownstone with cedar fencing stained to match, mosses and plants, algae-glazed left-behinds for returning to whenever.

The time when sitting side-yard at the two-storey Michigan brownstone in Lakeview Estates, wobbly chair because the pavers were some years ago pulled up and reset by an amateur (who possibly had not filled out the proper modification forms, though to the amateur’s defense, what exactly was modified in the crooked reset?), their mossy grout restored now, their wabi sabi angles somehow a more honest accounting for time and resourcefulness than would’ve been any more groomed or polished magazine cover sideyardscape don’t trip. The time when the surrounds was still only missing a laughing Buddha statue because that one’s in Virginia and also because the local nursery didn’t order poured form figures this season due to the pandemic. The time when first it was requisite masks for the good of public health and then added to that were the concrete inconveniences of no poured form yard decor and between government and Coronavirus so many precious white-fingers-clutched liberties tottered, they cried. Jesus wept; Buddha laughed. The time when the plants were more than enough in the sideyard, a fenced, angular parcel becoming, three lavender plants thriving over there, three sage varieties thriving over in the V corner, plus a giant anise, another small lavender, a cluster of long grass, a recently transplanted greenstem forsythia, what PictureThis app quickly computes for me as a species of Easter tree, also known as Chinese gold bell, Greenish-flowered forsythia, dwarf cutleaf forsythia, golden bells, and whose botanical name is forsythia viridissima, can you imagine having that name?–a plant from neighbor K, and then there are ferns, double-escaped onions (one getaway from the market, another from the refrigerator), stonecrops (graveyard moss), a giant hosta whose leaves gulp for water and sunshine, and two spearmints–also a chipmunk, skiddish but not too skiddish to dig soil near the lavender plants–also a table and small storage bin covered with algal film and a little bit of bird shit, a lounge chair, a very modest and weathered patio set, a wagon tucked in here by Ph., I’m guessing, but room enough for coffee and a laptop in the shade where there’s birdsong and a power tool intermittently screaming change to straight lines and sawdust from across the street.

Episodes

“The depth and complexity of human memory is staggeringly rich.”

Douglas Hofstadter, I Am A Strange Loop (2007), “Of Selves and Symbols,” p. 86
Photo: The time when two experimental cracker doughs were spread on silicone sheets laid atop wire racks for sliding into a dehydrator.

The time when I woke up tired on the last April Sunday morning during Year One of pandemic. The time I yawned over coffee and oatmeal ritual and plucked yesterday’s dried honeydew, apple spirals, and bananas soaked in lemon juice from silicone sheets to make room for something else. The time when I attempted two cracker doughs, one based on lentil sprouts and the other based on mung bean sprouts. The time when the waft of cracker doughs constituted with sprouts more than with any other ingredients and the smell’s description, what word could it be but “disappointment.” The time when there were other ingredients mixed in like oatmeal, onion powder, dill, salt, shredded coconut (lentil batch) and like white pepper, black pepper, salt, lemon juice, popcorn, and mustard (mung batch). The time when flax and chia were in both experimental doughs but those ingredients were mostly for nutrients and texture, bonding and composition and flavor, not scent.

The time when the other three trays rounding out the dehydrator–as the crackers baked (call it “dried”)–where cantaloupe and I wondered if the cantaloupe, cheap as it was for being $1.88 per unit at Kroger last Monday, was any good. The time when the cantaloupe’s hydration–its juiciness–was all wrong when cut open but then I sliced it into narrow strips and loaded it onto trays anyway. The time when the compromise on cantaloupe quality pertained only to one of the discounted cantaloupes but to the other one, actions being louder than words, you said, you’re garbage. The time when I tossed the second cantaloupe. The time when the experimental cracker doughs and cantaloupe slices dried (call it “baked”) into the afternoon. The time when I set a timer for one hour and just before the hour was up I used the pizza wheel to score the approximately square shapes of eventually crackers knowing too I could have used a butter knife. The time when as I rolled the pizza cutting tool, not having had lunch yet, what would I have?, thoughts drifted to the oddness of a world blue, more than 50,000 people dead of Coronavirus in the U.S. this month and the president’s expressions of sorrow, pain, remorse, heartache were imperceptible, or, if we’re going to be charitable, they read to me as insincere, performed, dutifully noted. The time when thousands of people died in a month and the flags stood at full mast. The time when so few people on TV seemed upset, when after scoring cracker lines, there was a moment of wondering at a heart’s generalizable capacity to know or worry or anticipate the sorrow of others.

The time when grey springtime afternoons were swiftly swallowed up by a new blog entry and some reading and a walk to campus to scan a few chapters into PDFs needed for rounding out the promotion packet. The time when, how long would it take for the crackers to be really, really crisp? The time when I skimped on yoga and did (modified) push-ups and situps instead and had a granola bar for a snack. The time when handwriting with greater swellforce than before started to matter and I downloaded iFontMaker and for $7.99 or the price of more than four iffy cantaloupes. The time when I installed iFontMaker and set mind to scrawl a handwriting character set spontaneously as if a rapid prototype blinked from so many years of muscle memory and sinew memory and bone memory and fingernail memory and lunula memory and cuticles and interstice…so many memories, more than translate but the attempt is still okay and the font better than expected so here’s to hoping the crackers will be, too.

Not Just Any

Family photograph at the holidays, maybe 1984.
Family photograph at the holidays, maybe 1984.

Overnight, planted digitally from the Pacific northwest by my aunt, not just any photo but this one, my dad’s family at Sheboygan, Wisc., holiday, my grandfather, Arvin, notably a WWII veteran, front-right, my parents to the right, brother just behind me, genuine smiles in a moment I can’t quite remember until I see this, but where is memory, anyway?, because then it is there in front of you, kermit frog-eyeing a collapsed cookie monster, an early 1980s Jim Henson haircut, almost but not quite matching shirts, and especially my great-grandmother, Meta, her hand at my back bringing me closer. #relations

Have Some Soup

A friend whose dad died not too long ago just the other day statused about how the loss of a parent ((((stuns)))) you with new base time, increments reset. If it had a sound, it would be the kind of droning low-tonal yawp-hum that would make clockfaces crack, gears melt, springs and innerworkings wrench and bend, digital and analog both, no matter. How long has it been since they died? How many week-months? How many day-years? Nevermind BCE, nevermind Christ’s West.

Apropos for a Monday, today makes twenty-one years since my mom died. It’s nothing to cake about. Seven-thousand-and-some days. 183,960 hours. An e-annotation+8 in seconds. Googling these figures, I learnt too there’s a country song about this duree, “Twenty One Years Is A Mighty Long Time,” but I didn’t listen to it. The Earth flips axes (re-begin your geocoding, GISers!), but you can figure out how to walk it right-side up, footfalls alternating, gravity adequate again. Even if it takes a defiant while. There are mysteries without shits to give about them. Like, I don’t know why I mark deathday this year. Who even cares! Mother’s Day was okay. Some years you really feel it on a birthday or Mother’s Day. Some years, deathday. Probably because of the moon. Wounds long-healing have good days, good hours, bad days, bad hours. For twenty-one years and probably for longer than that.

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Snowdrops or Photo of Snowdrops

White snowdrop flowers
February’s Snowdrop

Upshot mid-February. Maybe Valentine’s Day or the day after, but before the 16th. Snowdrops or snowbells or crocus. Is the plural for crocus, crocuses? Doesn’t matter if they’re snowdrops. I’m sure they’re snowdrops. Well, almost sure. Surer is that Michigan’s regreening is mistimed this time. The snowdrops keep to themselves, don’t express a whole lot, or not anything I can hear where I stand when I pass by them front door in-going and out-going. But then this one photo jogs a memory about how last season’s tomatoes wilded into an unmanageable mess yielding more on vine rot than wedges of lightly salted gushes tomatoseed and sunshine. It’s something. Cannot say yet whether it’s the snowdrops or their photo or the tomatoes long since turned over in the side yard that share the quiet wisdrom, not quite lesson and not quite imperative, do better with gardening this year.

Butterfly Zag

Monarch Butterfly, El Rosario Sanctuary, Michoacàn-Mèxico.

Monarchs are “tough and powerful, as butterflies go.” They fly over Lake Superior without resting; in fact, observers there have discovered a curious thing. Instead of flying directly south, the monarchs crossing high over the water take an inexplicable turn towards the east. Then when they reach an invisible point, they all veer south again. Each successive swarm repeats this mysterious dogleg movement, year after year. Entomologists actually think that the butterflies might be “remembering” the position of a long-gone, looming glacier. In another book I read that geologists think that Lake Superior marks the site of the highest mountain that ever existed on this continent. I don’t know. I’d like to see it. Or I’d like to be it, to feel when to turn. At night on land migrating monarchs slumber on certain trees, hung in festoons with wings folded together, thick on the trees and shaggy as bearskin. (Dillard, p. 258, 1974)

Before shelving Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, one of the small handful of books (at focus’s edge) I finished on this research leave, I flipped back to a couple of dog-ears to see if there were passages I wanted to keep, post, circulate, remember later. Remember when a blog was a good location to stash miscellaneous passages? In this one, mostly about monarchs and their migration, I must have taken as wonderful (i.e., wonderful enough to warrant folding the corner of the paper) the swarm’s seasonal navigation as it maybe? does it? draws on some faint memoria, a directional inheritance, passed along grid cells from every butterfly mother and every next one before her. Fascinating and strange to think of a group veer, much less over the open expanse of a great lake in summertime.

But of course reading the passage again–no same two ways through it twice–its emphasis on the veer, on turning, stand out. This, the sort of turn spotting that is more akin to following the turns taken by ancestors, those redirects inherited, a quietly encoded rule for monarchs next. So it’s a curious aside that extends turns–more than the multimodal turn, the archival turn, the digital turn, and so on–to that which is only remembered, ancient monuments, a mountain or a glacier. Turning, bending around figments; the butterflies know, but how would we regard such knowing? How would we judge it if we, too, were prone to such predictable and long-established path-following as this?

Dr. Everythingllbealright

How do you think Dr. Everything Will B Alright signed his prescriptions?

It’s not a serious question. No. Just an aside to what I’ve been thinking and feeling since we learned that pop icon Prince died four days ago, April 21. Much too much has been said about Prince online in the immediate aftermath. “Too much,” well, by that I sound a little bit judgmental, I suppose, but I really only mean it as too much for me. Had to look away from you, Facebook, umbrella my eyes from a Purple Fucking Downpour. Too much for me. So chose instead some quiet and solitude, a quieter reflection, a few chosen tracks, and some deliberation about what are still-vibrating sound experiences.

There are only a few slivers of sound, words and phrases and riffs, that come readily, earworming quicker than any other parasites. It’s 1984. I’m ten. I have a fancy Walkman. Purple Rain soundtrack, though I hadn’t seen the movie. Sitting on a big boulder at the south edge of the lawn behind the M-20 house, a boulder big enough to require climbing but invisible from the house, curtained from view by two rows of hearty pines. White pines? And that soundtrack was a portal, a getaway to some kind of elsewhere. The doves cry lyric, “why do they scream at each other,” of course it resonated and expressed not normalcy, exactly, but a variation of whatever adolescent frustrations and messes, whatever family tangles–other people are dealing with some shit, too.

That’s the gist of Prince’s influence and the measure of his loss, for me, personally. Prince’s (as distinct from David Bowie) filled with a spiritual-sexual-everyday searching the ambient surrounds of my most private and interior adolescence. Purple Rain was in my ears, looping the same way through highs and lows, yearnings and letdowns, more. What more than what’s playing through the sponge-covered earphones wired plugged into a Walkman, what more than those sounds accompanies you through such an intensely transformative phase as ages10-13? Prince’s music was there for it, often and reliably. And so it is with his death that the world seems farther away, somehow, from that fading moment, thinner, too, in its comparable supports, although maybe that’s not quite right, either, considering the persistent artifact, tracks that play on and on and on and on and on, associative and memorial, as poignant today as they were 32 years ago. With the death of a pop icon, through the leveled too high volume of everyone expressing attachments and sadness, there’s strange refreshing of something awkward and obvious but also easy to forget, neglect: the searching, uncertain, and intensive adolescence is still in this world. In me, possibly in you, probably in everyone who still has some growing up to do.

“Your Head Will Pop Off”

Feedlied across this snapshot of John Feathers’ vast collection of maps, city guides (mostly from Los Angeles), and pamphlets–an innocuous archive or impressive case of cartographic hoarding, I don’t know. The archive, its unusual ordinariness, its scale, its discovery, all of this is interesting, or passingly so for map enthusiasts, the sharpest thumbtack of this piece for my thinking is from the video, the note near the end about the memorial function of maps, their capacity for temporal-affective relocation, their dormant-until-brightly-lit teleportation function: when-where, an interlacing of spacetime. After the pragmatic, what do maps want more than this?

I Remember, I Remember

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the YouTube embeds are ephemeral. Iframe evaporati. Fleeting, all the new things. I’m posting it anyway, in spite of (possibly because of) its impermanence.

In Full Bloom

Somewhere along the way, even though I did not mean to, I lost track of how many Mother’s Days have piled up too-many-one, too-many-two, too-many-thirteen since June 1997, the month and year my mom died. I could run the numbers wicked-quickly through the tenth year or so, not that anyone ever asked, “So how many years has it been for you, without your mom?” There are years when reminiscences (reminen-siezes?) laced with grief dulls the which-year math and other years when the exact count blazes brightplain again. This time the year-count is a Mother’s Day whatever. Someone abacus-else can bother with it.

Ruth Margalit’s “The Unmothered” made its deserved rounds yesterday. I grabbed the link and dropped it into Pocket, retrieved it this morning and read on my phone through no-really-my-eyes-are-tearing-from-allergies while the morning’s water heated toward boiling. The article offers a reflection on Mother’s Days for the unmothered, those whose mothers have died, those who experience faint and sometimes gripping pangs of absence through this tribute-holiday’s memory work. Read the article if you want to. Or put it in Pocket for later. Either way.

These are among the gem passages–a small bouquet of excerpts I want to press into the blog the way my grandmother used to press violets into the binding-folds of thick books for preserving. They’ll save here, so I (or you and I, anyone) can re-read them around this time next year or the year after that:

Trust me, I’m too aware of the fact that my mother is gone to wish her here in any serious way on Mother’s Day. But does the holiday have to be in May, when the lilacs are in full bloom? When a gentle breeze stirs–the kind of breeze that reminds me of days when she would recline on a deck chair on our Jerusalem porch, head tilted back, urging me to “sit a while”?

They say time heals. It’s true that the pain wears off, slightly, around the edge, like a knife in need of whetting. But here’s what they’re missing: It gets harder to explain to myself why I haven’t seen her. A month can make sense. (I took a trip; she was busy with work.) Even six months is excusable. (I moved; she’s on sabbatical.) But how to make sense of more than three years worth of distance? How to comprehend that time will only drive my mother and me farther and farther apart?

Yes, I remember thinking. Yes, yes, yes. This wasn’t delayed grief, after all. It was simply this: grief keeps odd hours, the most painful moment at the most abstract moment. Strangely, I began to think of Barthes (whose relationship with his mother famously bordered on the Oedipal) as my grief buddy. Largely preferring books to people around that time, I discovered that he wasn’t the only one.

I started to italicize, add emphases-mine, and then ended up italicizing the mother-loaded hell out of these few lines, so back-tracked and thought better of it. An almost of italicizing, done and reversed back to nothing special. All of it equally special.

And this is all just to say–as if I have anything left, much less grand-culminating and insightful to say about this Mother’s Day or “The Unmothered,” that these sentiments operate with unpredictable, potent acuity over a life. I suppose I might have been dreaming just such an idea when this photo from April 1975, me not quite a year old and lost in The Big Nap, when this photo of her–so impressively alive, happy, and mothering as to make it unthinkable that it would ever be otherwise–was click! taken.