But then again. It’s the easiest thing in the world to distrust joy, all the more if you’re the sort of person who thinks of herself as hard to fool.
When Sojun used to walk around the meditation hall correcting people’s postures, he would put his hand on my shoulder to urge it downward; and I literally didn’t know how to drop my shoulder. It was a clumsy piece of armor, perpetually bunched up against a coming blow.
My cello teacher said the same thing about my inability to relax my bow arm.
If the body is a motel where the spirit puts up between wanderings, then there’s no question of loving it; a motel is either tolerated or intolerable. You expect running water, soap and towels, an Internet connection: enough to get by. It’s not as if it was made for you.
Why you would insist on something as dangerous and onerous as designating yourself a different class of human, why you would change your name, your grammar, your private chemistry, knowing you could never justify any of it when the proud man’s contumely comes knocking: I think it’s only for that scarcely imaginable hope, the possibility of a body that would not be a motel, but instead a place where the spirit might be coaxed to finally open its bags, lay out its little stash of memorabilia and call itself home.
Every Gal Her Own Beatrice
It doesn’t feel like the common nostra vita, it feels like backing yourself into a wholly idiopathic corner from which no one else is in a position to extricate you. But the hemmed-in-ness, that’s real enough. The wild beasts appear in Dante’s way, he can’t get up the slope and doesn’t see any other road.
Twice now I’ve gone to the pharmacy and been told to come back tomorrow. By the logic of folktale, on the third visit either they will do something different or I will do something different, I’m not sure which. I dreamed that the pharmacist tried to switch out my prescription for something else and got angry when I objected: didn’t I trust him to know what was best for me? Didn’t I want the newest thing on offer? I tried to answer and my voice wouldn’t stay in the same octave for two syllables running.
I used to ask myself about the psych meds, am I deforming myself in order to better accommodate the world? And then the question stopped seeming relevant. Whatever form I might have been losing didn’t seem worth holding onto.
You can put on a skirt and the skirt feels like you, but there’s no way to do the aesthetically optimal thing, which would be to disappear inside the skirt entirely so that it would float ghostlike up the street on its own, invisibly sustained. As it is you have to ride BART in your own skin and take your best guess what people are staring at.
George Eliot, Adam Bede: “I am not at all sure that the majority of the human race have not been ugly, and even among those ‘lords of their kind,’ the British, squat figures, ill-shapen nostrils, and dingy complexions are not startling exceptions. Yet there is a great deal of family love amongst us. I have a friend or two whose class of features is such that the Apollo curl on the summit of their brows would be decidedly trying; yet to my certain knowledge tender hearts have beaten for them, and their miniatures—flattering, but still not lovely—are kissed in secret by motherly lips.“
Adam Bede himself isn’t ugly though. Neither is Dinah. They’re understood not to be in the same class as Arthur or Hetty, perhaps, but the narrative lens of Adam Bede never actually turns the soft focus on Arthur or Hetty to make your heart pound.
I’ve been told more than once that there’s too much Henry James in me, too much detachment and renunciation. But Lord help us, there are certain binds where there’s no way out except by renouncing something. Dante sets out for hell because the path that has opened to him is a new way of saying “I quit.”
You can’t both/and. You choose which inheritance will be returned to sender.
Such a long way round to be in the world at all.
The body is empty, like the sky; empty is empty, the four elements are the four elements, and the five aggregates are the five aggregates wherever they are found. The female is no different from a male, so both male and female acquire the Dharma without distinction. It is nothing more than taking seriously the experience of the Buddha Way. So do not think about such differences as male and female.
—Dōgen, Raihai Tokuzui
Her situation in life was representable, she fancied, as an infinite system of second-degree equations, any of which could be worked out to either of two solutions, a male or a female. Half the world was described by the scenarios in which the discriminant was greater than zero and yielded two distinct real solutions, a difference everyone could point to and agree on; the other, more painful half consisted of scenarios where the discriminant was less than zero and yielded a pair of complex conjugates with the same real component, separated only along the imaginary axis. Amphibians between being and non-being, Leibniz had called those numbers; but even if the distinctions were confined to her imagination, she knew how much they meant to her amphibious self. Balanced on the knife-edge between these two realms were those special cases of reprieve where the discriminant evaluated to exactly zero, interposing no distance between the male and female solutions. In these moments the two conditions were one. To stand alone in a gravel riverbed under cactus-scratched cliffs, to be admitted into an arrangement of stars, a keyboard fugue, a color-field painting, a set-theoretic proof, brush calligraphy or a brush landscape reduced to calligraphic gestures, a language spoken only by the dead: all these things, which appeared from the outside to be austerities, from the inside were the most wanton and sensual experiences imaginable precisely because their indifference to the human gaze, presenting exactly the same face to everyone, granted to her that she might cancel out of her own equation and leave the object alone.
Hence the sadness that came upon her later, in more sophisticated quarters, when she was told that her sensation of disappearance could only be a delusion or a trap, that in reality one could never cease to occupy a standpoint and that her moments of supposed nonexistence within music or mathematics were all a ruse; as if, while she was standing in that gravel riverbed, unheeded and unbodied, a second traveler had suddenly intruded his head past the overhanging hillcrest, adding another term to the equation and throwing the carefully leveled zero out of balance; as if he had fixed her with a leer and forced her back into the compromise of herself, always delimited and, what was more, now flagrantly guilty—I hope you’re ashamed of what you were doing down there.
Not to be looked at, that was the only relief to be hoped for, because she was enfolded in a body like an awful suit, everyone mistook the suit for herself and she had not been led to guess that any other suits existed. She climbed down a slope of cholla and brittlebush to a stony riverbed, where she settled between sun-warmed boulders like a snake and shrank low when steps passed on the trail above, afraid of the glance that would once again impose the body on her, trapping the filmy, unbounded portion of herself back inside a stupid shirt and pants, stupid limbs, bone and hair.
In the city she took the biggest, blackest, baggiest coat on offer and wore it around like an event horizon, trusting it to swallow any gaze that might drift her way.
Sex was a farce best not attended.
Torso of Artemis/Floyd the Barber
Du mußt dein Leben ändern
She shaved feeling it to be a parody of the truly desired operation, which would be to whittle away all extraneous matter as if she were a wax figure reducible to some other, more realized shape, which by Michelangelo’s conceit stood already latent inside her.
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.
—Blake, “Proverbs of Hell”
It had come to her early, whether instilled from without or distilled from within, that the most shameful thing in life was to be caught out expressing a desire for anything more extravagant than eggs on toast, anything that could not be fairly well immediately and invisibly granted; the fulfillment of larger desires was not possible in her world, or possible only through sacrifice and stratagem, by an arduous exchange of moves and countermoves asking more effort than she could possibly command, the first of which—to express the desire, and so advance an opening pawn—would commit her to proceed with the rest, grimly mounting one defense after another to be ground down by an opponent whose eventual triumph was already legible on the board, set in the disposition of its squares before a single piece was shifted from its ranks. Better not to play. Better to shut up that infant desire in some narrow apartment of her hidden heart.
January was humid and warm, and February fooled the forsythia: none of the townspeople had ever seen such weather.
The end of time as a shear layer moving alongside you, always one step ahead of memory. Yesterday the end of time was placid, an evenly washed sky like the surface of a lake. Today it’s warmer, with birdcalls.
Wie man wird, was man ist.
The past wears its old clothes, it won’t be resuited.
Do you go to the country?
It isn’t very far
There’s people there who will hurt you
Because of who you are
—Blur, “Coffee & TV,” 1999
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven, and he fell to the earth. There he beheld two snakes entwined, and struck them with his staff. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales.
A right-hand glove could be put on the left hand, if it could be turned around in four-dimensional space.
—Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 6.36111
The difficulties: how do you imagine the process unfolding in time, where do you set the axis of rotation, and what in fact is the nature of the glove, this familiar object you’ve been pulling onto your right hand your entire life without ever suspecting it was other than what it seemed?
Assuming the axis of rotation transfixes the object: if the glove is in fact no more than it appears, a three-dimensional object with no extension along a fourth spatial degree, then the commencement of rotation will cause it to wink instantly out of apparent existence—except, theoretically, for a widthless line segment coinciding with the axis of rotation—until the transformation completes, at which time it will wink back into existence as its own mirror image, every point in its body affording a strict bijective correspondence to its former self but the geometric relations between those points now inverted.
If, on the other hand, the familiar glove turns out to be the three-dimensional tip of a four-dimensional iceberg, an object with previously unsuspected contours extending into hidden space, then before it attains its final transformed state—newly mirrored, but in every other respect the same old article—it will pass through warpings and deformations such that it ceases to resemble a glove at all, shrinking and distending, exhibiting unforeseeable prominences and depressions, splitting into multiple bodies before fusing back into one, and generally inducing nausea and fomenting outrage among church, state, academy, press and even those many private hearths that suppose, wrongly, they’ve already seen it all.