shaunterrywriter

These are my writings. Ideally, these are the most honest expressions of myself that I could give.

Gift/Curse

Like a string, like a marionette,
the point of my head, strung by some strange angel,
with some inexplicable sense of humor.
The top of my crown, the deeply-follicled, ceramic-covered-in-dough
tip, as though there were weird wings attached.

A spring beneath machine sewn-fabric
and factory-fabricated yellow spongy cushioning,
pokes into the pallid ham
that attaches something like a human arm
to something like a human thorax.
I lose feeling in the submissive shoulder,
and the other shoulder—the victorious one, arrogantly exposed,
naked in the little whispering photons that snuck
out and away from those big, long rays
from that Swiss moon so far away,
so bright in the cold night air,
accompanied by its twinkling friends,
so many of them long-dead, zillions of miles away—
levitates like a sneaky Tibetan monk,
slides back away from its dominated reflective twin.
The harmoniously bent sticks that will one day
dominate the image of my carcass,
crack and creak as the big, strong ham-shoulder
laboriously falls back down to be poked
by its own agitating spring.

My mind is like four thousand spiders’ webs,
set end-to-end, stacked, circling, weaving—
there is no beginning, no end, no middle—
just terror and meta-metacognition.
Why am I thinking about thinking about thinking about thinking about [stupid thing]?

I still feel bits of magic permeating my skin and bone.
It at once is the stuff that connects me to the rest of the universe,
that allows me to track how simultaneously large and small I am,
to feel some solace in the apparent pointlessness
of it all and
exactly that which slices into me,
like an Alabaman’s skewers at a cookout in July,
rage and emptiness and hopeless frustration.

The couple next door laugh.
I assume it’s Judge Judy or cat videos or Jim Gaffigan or something.
It’s 12am, you assholes.
I feel Catholically guilty, realizing how foolish it is,
realizing that the best thing I can do for myself is
to forgive them, to realize that there’s nothing to forgive.
I shut my eyes. My skull rotates around my brain in every direction,
like NASA trainees in an Aerotrim.

Advertisements

Peterson and Žižek: Postscript to a(n Imagined) Prelude

By now, there are about four thousand commentaries on the Peterson-Žižek debate. I’m sure that probably someone has made similar points to the ones I’ll make now, but just in case that’s not true, I figure that there are some things worth putting into the ether.

First is that the title of the debate—”Happiness: Capitalism vs. Marxism”—makes little sense. Capitalism is an economic system based on free markets, while Marxism is a critique of capitalism, and sometimes, a set of values that informs and/or follows from that critique (I’ll leave you to decide which is more true, if any). Especially in terms of anything to do with happiness, capitalism and Marxism are incommensurate as kinds of ideas. While they have a relationship insofar as Marx and his followers have tried to determine what capitalism is, where its proponents (and can we even call any system that exists today truly capitalist?) get things wrong, and what might be done about it, Marxism isn’t an economic system to be compared with capitalism. To make matters worse, happiness doesn’t have all that much to do with either, and it might have nothing at all to do with Marxism. In capitalist economics, the idea of utility is often meant to stand for happiness, but this is generally an afterthought and relegated primarily to the sphere of microeconomics (the abstract study of magically disembedded individual persons, families, firms, and so on). In Marxism, there is sometimes a focus on the miseries caused under capitalism (and under systems that are like capitalism or that have emerged since capitalism), but that’s hardly the same as the study of happiness. In some sense, then, you have to give Peterson a little bit of credit for focusing on Marx’s writing, even if he picked one of Marx’s least systematic, and least impressive, works. There’s a lot to be gained from The Communist Manifesto, but let’s be real: it’s a call to arms and not really tight philosophical writing.

That said, I want to point out something that I haven’t seen anyone else yet say: it seems that Peterson invents the relationship between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the manifesto. When he mentioned the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, I immediately thought, No, that was Lenin. After further research, it turns out that Marx was familiar with the concept and did write some on it, but for one thing, that didn’t happen in the manifesto, and for another, the idea isn’t mostly associated with him. To be clear, one of Marx’s main criticisms of the Paris Commune—for which he had a great deal of admiration—was that they too quickly gave up some of their strategic military advantages. Marx felt that the Commune should’ve done more to solidify their security, and that, if they had, they might’ve prevailed. However, as Peterson has often liked to do, he too easily elided Marx’s conception of communism (on which his writing is scant) and the outcomes of places like the USSR. Anyone who reads Marx’s little writing on communism will recognize very quickly that the terrors of the USSR and other authoritarian states share very little (if anything) with what Marx envisaged. Instead, Marx’s writings on communism share a good deal with the Zapatistas, Rojava, some Jewish kibbutzim, and other (what, for whatever reason, happen to be) small-scale collectivist governance forms. Late in the event, when Žižek insisted on Peterson naming a single person who embodies what Peterson calls “postmodern neo-Marxism,” Peterson waffled because it makes no sense. Žižek pointed out that Foucault—one of the few people that Peterson did seem to define as his ideological foil—was also anti-Marxist (and likely for many of the same reasons that Peterson might be)! Finally, Žižek was also right to dismantle Peterson’s confusion on equality and Marxism. Marx never imagined equality as a goal. As Žižek rightly noted, Marx saw equality as an untenable bourgeois concept (could two entities ever really be equal?).

For Žižek’s part, he’s not really a Marxist, is he? Is that how we think of him? He’s very open about the fact that he prefers the thought of Hegel, Lacan, and almost definitely Kant over that of Marx. Peterson’s points aligned with many of the reasons why Žižek prefers Hegel. Žižek explained more clearly here than anywhere else I can think of why it is that he favors Hegel. This is of course to say that, again, the pretext for this debate made little sense. Peterson may be a capitalist, and Žižek may be critical of contemporary consumerist globalist trends, but Žižek’s not really a Marxist, and not really a communist, and neither of them thinks that happiness is all that important as a thing to aim for or to study. Žižek often decries what appears to us as hedonistic freedoms; he’s quick to point out that these supposed freedoms are their own kind of oppression. When we face choices, we then become like the entrepreneurs of our own lives, responsible for whatever befalls us. Partly because he comes from the formerly state socialist Yugoslavia, he likes to joke about what appear as some advantages of having one’s choices constrained. Partly, Žižek sees there being utility in having someone else to blame for our troubles. If we alone are responsible for all our choices, then it can be quite depressing when our lives don’t go well and it’s also all our fault (or at least according to the logic of contemporary industrialized societies).

The real trick of this debate and how it was set up, though, was that Peterson and Žižek share a great deal, and neither is really associated either with the economic left or the social left. Žižek’s criticisms of contemporary consumerist globalist economic practices are plenty, but as far as I know, he offers no vision of collective decision-making, greater distribution, or even increased taxes on the wealthy. One might imply from some of the things that Žižek says that he does believe in these forms of redress, but he’s a far cry from people like David Harvey, Richard Wolff, Hardt and Negri, or even his good friend Fredric Jameson, all of whom have clearer criticisms of capitalism and all of whom have offered some thoughts on what direction(s) we might ought to go. Peterson is more unabashedly in favor of capitalism. What they clearly share is some concern for the tendency on the left to focus on issues having to do with people’s identities. Each has made statements that mitigate this, but each also comes under some criticism for facilitating the perpetuation of status quo oppression. In fact, Peterson hates the whole narrative of oppression. This of course appears nonsensical and ahistorical when taken with his claims that indeed women should be allowed to vote, no one should be enslaved, no one has the right to assault with impunity, and so on. Žižek shows more awareness on this front than does Peterson, but Žižek has no qualms over contributing to narratives that might articulate to arguments for forms of oppression. This might be the equivalent of saying that Peterson’s argument is incoherent and that he doesn’t care much about the problems faced by people who look different from him and that Žižek mostly just lacks sufficient concern to keep from being misunderstood, but each is basically aware of the problems and to some degree stubbornly refuses to submit to calls to be more sensitive (although, again, to Žižek’s credit, he’s less obstinate on these points than is Peterson).

In the end, Žižek gave the same kind of complex (and “open,” as he likes to point out) arguments that he’s made lots of times for anyone paying attention, while Peterson gave a rather stale critique of The Communist Manifesto, of all things. Peterson didn’t do a good job of defining the people he constantly rails against—the supposed “postmodern neo-Marxists” (are we any closer to knowing what this weird characterization is really supposed to signify?) But, they both seemed to focus a good deal on the freedoms of individuals, and how one of the real dangers of contemporary culture is the damage done to individual persons. One wishes that Žižek at least might’ve made the point that ideology is always necessary and that there’s no separating any of us from the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and practices of the community, but maybe that’s not really Žižek’s thing exactly, either.

Overall, this debate was a bit disappointing, and there were two main culprits, which I’ve already named, but I’ll repeat just for clarity. The framing of the debate made no sense. If they wanted to talk about misery, capitalism, or Marx, any of those would’ve been fine. Instead, the debate topic mashed them all together (albeit with the added complication of focusing on happiness instead of misery), when neither of them has very much interest in any of those except for maybe capitalism. This just made the whole episode very sloppy and feckless. Relatedly, the second problem is that Peterson’s choice to do a close reading of The Communist Manifesto (and stuff that didn’t have much to do with the manifesto)—a text that has little academic value even to most Marxists—was a strange choice and wasn’t the way to really confront Žižek’s oeuvre.

While neither Peterson nor Žižek get me very fired up in either a positive or negative way, this debate could’ve accomplished a good deal more than it did, and that’s disappointing.

In the Clear Midwinter

 

I’m sometimes struck by how strange the world is.
Then, I realize that it’s more-or-less been so all the time.
I then feel that it’s actually that I am strange and the world that
a moment ago seemed so mysterious
is really pretty boring.

Regret
He wanted to be forgotten. He wanted to have done something important. He wanted to do his penance in silence, but he also wanted to leave something to be remembered by, to be cherished. Mostly, he just didn’t want to continue to live a life of ill repute. He wanted to know what it felt like to be respected, even if that respect wouldn’t come until long after his death. He had once thought he was smart. He’d been told he was good-looking. He was tall, but not very. Now, he was old, fat, and forgetful. He longed for a gloriful youth that had never been his. He fantasized about moving to a small, poor island somewhere, taking advantage of his worldliness and white skin. But, he’d never been able to come up with a solid plan—much less to follow through. He wouldn’t have known where to begin. His options were limited, and by this point, his life had mostly been wasted. He thought of the women in his life—both those older and those younger than he—and what he’d meant to them. He was ashamed, and to him, that seemed appropriate.

He peered through the window. Why does the old Slavic woman always stare? What is she looking for? He turned his gaze to the wallpaper—off-white, yellow, and brown—at least forty years old now. Many of its edges bent toward air, toward freedom. Small cracks and tears imposed on the paper’s orderly pattern. In places, little fragments were lost, but it had held remarkably well in that old apartment. He stared at that wallpaper and tried to imagine how luxurious it had been for the family who had lived there before him. The kids had found success and moved on while the old couple had found the place simultaneously too big and too small for them in their old age. They were comfortable somewhere else now. He sat, drinking black tea with milk, staring at that wallpaper, no longer sufficiently confident to wish for something better. All that remained were a few years waiting for something to change or for everything to end. He no longer felt so self-righteous as to believe that he really deserved what he desired. All his remaining family now estranged to some degree or another, he was alone. He was too afraid to be depressed. He knew that he was a coward.

Desperation
My head swayed to the uneven rhythms of a piano concerto I didn’t really know. The long grey bus crossed the border. My new home. Freedom. I smelled the bluebonnets. I thought that they might be swaying to the same uneven rhythm.

What I really wanted to hear was the swooshed pounding of the drums in her chest—her chest the same color as the door to my father’s old office door, the same color of coffee mixed with a bit too much milk. The tiny black hairs—like an open field over hilly flesh—invisible until your face is pressed so low against her skin that you smell the smell that only she makes. It’s sweet to me, but I only speak for me. Would she join me there where freedom was? Would her sentiments rule over her perfectly good reasons—her parents’ fears for their only daughter, the apprehensions of an unexpected affair, an unforeseeable life in an unimaginable place?

She knew a bit of Spanish, and she told me that she really did love me, but sometimes her face held thoughts that her fig-like mouth wouldn’t form. Couldn’t, perhaps. I knew she was scared. She sometimes wanted this to end, but now I had no choice. I put my faith in the joy and comfort that I knew she sometimes felt, but she was young and so unsure.

I didn’t want to go alone. What would I do? What is a life without family? And without her, I would have no one. She is my freedom in this place, and I hope that she is there.

Mourning
She sat parallel to the window, her head craned behind the glass. Her face a confused expression—wide lips turned up, splotches of carmine beneath yellow skin, thin salty streaks stretching themselves down, down. She peered out at the beautiful man—almost just a kid, really—about half her age.

She’d been overwhelmed with joy, barely able to construct a coherent thought to express to him. But he’d spoken gently, thoughtfully, generously, just as he always had. Besides his mahogany dimples and his firm physique, it was really this calmness and his big heart that had made her fall in love with him. But he couldn’t remember her. Not since she’d made the choice to protect him in the long run by hurting him just a little in the short run. She hadn’t wanted him to go back to war, and she knew he had a plan and a future. She saved him.

So, she stared at him as he peacefully walked away from her again. She smiled and she quietly cried, knowing that it had been selfish, risky, and necessary to have made the 3,000-mile trip to the sleepy wooded town. It was where he belonged, and where she did not, and she wished that it weren’t that way.

Leaving
“This is no longer a bus stop. The new bus stop is in front of the deli.” He motioned his open thumb behind him. “This is no longer a bus stop. The new bus stop is in front of the deli, okay?”

They’d removed the machines, and there wasn’t a way to pay on board, so the child rode the bus for free.

Closing Circles, pt. 2

Driving solitaire—winding highways
snow-swept pinnacles,
gripped in grey layers of wool and goosedown,
sweating, surrounded,
enveloped in ice,
mauve skies, cacao shadows cast down—
fifty-foot pines—contemplating
a tiny grandmother losing her hearing,
a helpless girl, left alone,

consequences of a battered barrier—
iron and fiberglass, tumbling, tumbling,
tumbling, flames flickering on the side of a snow-
smothered chunk of rock and ice.

Closing Circles, pt. 1

Some days, the ground
disappears beneath my feet,
and I smell pines, and
clouds caress my cheeks,
and my skin glistens in
the warmth of a generous
celestial being a billion miles away, and
everything on Earth is in
some realm that I fail to apprehend.

I no longer desire to be
apprehended. Glycerine slides in fits and
starts, over choppy terrain—a weathered
face—cutting a new path from each time
I’ve known before, identical to countless
twirls of this same universe.

Today, I Believe in God, Part Four: Vessels Adrift

Pt. 1
Pt. 2
Pt. 3

Forgive me. This is a bit dumb, but I wanted to write it down so that I can try to remember it. Bear with me. Or don’t. I mean, I don’t wanna bother anyone. Not that anyone does or should read this. Anyway…

I’ve been having this terrible feeling. It’s like these spiny, smoky phantasms have been creeping around in the background, and they took some toxic something and poured it right into my soul. I don’t know what that means. I realize that I was wrong to judge Lily, though. Maybe sometimes we judge people to protect ourselves, but that doesn’t make us right. Not that it makes us wrong, but I also don’t think that it really makes sense to judge people. Doesn’t it say way more about us than about anyone else? That’s why I feel guilty again.

I find it easy to blame people. I do it all the time. When someone does something that’s different from how I’d do it, I think that they’re immoral or stupid or unfair or unthinking or something. Of course they have their reasons and of course they’re either thinking about what they’re doing or they’re just too stressed out to think. We all know that feeling when we’re all jittery and insomniac and our skin feels like it doesn’t fit us right and it feels like we’re not supposed to be in this world right now. Well, at least, that’s how I feel. I guess other people feel it, too, but maybe not everybody. But like I was saying, when I’m uncomfortable, I blame someone for it. If someone does something and I feel hurt, I assume it’s because they shouldn’t have done what they did. It’s easy to decide with a heavy index finger that someone should be held to my standard, but that doesn’t make sense, does it. It’s harder to come to the conclusion that, for weird reasons, I feel bad, and I’d probably be better off if I figured out what that was about and if I figured out how to deal with it.

To anyone not as stupid as I am, this’ll all be obvious. Sorry.

Sometimes men do this. Sometimes women do it. Sometimes non-binary people do it. White people, black people, Asians, etc. But, I don’t think that people are wrong when they point out that straight, white, cisgender men tend to act violent and entitled. It feels unfair. I hate it. I feel the disgust in someone’s shoulders or the way they avoid looking at me or how they say as few words as necessary if I say something or ask a question. It makes me feel alone. But that’s also unfair of me. I think everyone’s emotionally insecure and all that. I mean, I’m those things—all those things: male, white, straight, violent, entitled. I’m sorry. I don’t ever wanna hurt anyone. Maybe we all are those things, but for some reason, we seem to breed these men to act this way, and so I guess that’s part of why I act this way. Hopefully, I’m not too bad.

I’m back at school. It felt like I’d be in Europe forever (I managed to get outside Europe a little bit, but that’s not the point), but I’m back in reality now. It’s so weird and complicated. Sometimes, people don’t trust me and it makes me feel bad, but people probably look down at, and dismiss, people for being different from how I am more often than people look down at me, so I guess I shouldn’t blame people. I mean, I don’t know what anyone’s going through. If I lived everything that someone else did, why would I think that I’d make a different choice from them?

So, why did I treat Lily this way? Well, I guess it’s because, really, I’m in love with her. I mean, there are a lot of songs about love and movies about love and even books about love. So many. So many! But, I’ve felt some love before, and I don’t know if it felt like a book or a movie. Sometimes, pretty close, but how do you write a feeling? How do you show a feeling? I can’t reach into you and put a feeling there and you can’t, either. What I noticed about Lily is that I did the thing I always do. I did this violence. I strangled and suffocated and killed the lifeforce in our relationship. I’m not saying that she was perfect. You’ll remember my complaints about Lily, but weren’t they so petty? Why was I mad? I was mad because I love her. If I could point out what, to me, appear something like imperfections, then maybe it’s not all my fault. I think that secretly (to others, but more importantly, to myself), I tend to blame myself for everything. Not exactly. I just have this eyeless little bug that sits in the back of my brain and it just slowly gnaws and drools back there, and all it does is constantly convinces me that I might be judged and I might be blamed and I might be wrong. In the end, it’s like I’m not good enough for anything. But, I was good enough for Lily. That’s why she was with me, you know? She chose to be with me. She made her choice, and for her, it was right. I decided that I wasn’t good enough for her. Sometimes, she was confusing and sometimes she was unfair. But, you know, everyone is those things sometimes. It’s not her fault. It’s not my fault. Sometimes, it’s okay to let someone be a bit childish. She can be pretty childish, but that’s just my opinion. Maybe I’m doing it again. I mean, it’s not even any of my business. The thing is that I want to be with her and I always wanted to be with her, but I was stubborn and proud because I was scared. I felt alone and I felt guilty for just existing. I felt that she would definitely leave me. I made her decision for her without even realizing. I feel a bit stupid for it, but that doesn’t help.

No one’s perfect. Lily’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. But also, everyone and everything just are. Maybe that makes them perfect. I often think about this YouTube video I watched of some British guy from the seventies. I think he basically says that everyone’s already perfect always. That sounds weird, but when I think about it, it feels right. We sometimes do things that aren’t helpful or that are inconvenient or whatever. We’re all neurotic, sometimes. We all get distracted. I let my doubts distract me. I need to love myself. I was unfair to Lily and I kept her from having the relationship that she wanted to have with me.

I keep writing about God. For a second, I wanted to do something dumb, like I’d ask for God to intercede or I’d say that we’re all God together or something like that. Maybe that’s all true. I dunno. Do I believe in God? People ask me this more often than you might think. I think about it. I ask myself. If there’s a God maybe God shows herself most clearly in the spaces between two people, especially when they feel that indescribable vulnerability that we call “love.” I want God to be like that, and when God is like that, it’s really that God is giving us the gift of allowing us to give to each other. I want to give to Lily, but maybe I fucked it up and maybe it’s never coming back. There was something so warm between us. I really think that we do respect each other and admire each other. I really think that we both want what’s best for us. Maybe she’s mad at me, too. Maybe she’s frustrated and maybe she feels betrayed. She wouldn’t be wrong to feel that way, would she? Maybe she feels a bit insecure and a bit guilty. Our relationship didn’t work, and it’s always sad to sit along the shore and watch a vessel slowly char and wave around and topple over as the ashes and the fumes spread around, eventually dispersing until there’s nothing recognizable left. To me, that’s what it felt like between Lily and me. What happened to the transcendent, beautiful gift that we occupied together? Where is that thing? It’s never coming back, but I’d like to build a better boat if I could. I watch her from a distance, I cry, I wish, I pray. I feel guilt, I mourn. I hope and I hang my head.

I wrote this about blame, but it’s really about guilt. I want to change my name. Joey is dead. I want to have no name. Everyday I’m a different person, but I want to have this familiar soul beside me. No one could be for me what she is, and I don’t want anyone to be something else for me. I just want to learn to forgive myself and to show her that I can be patient and that I can give her the kind of love we all deserve. We’re all broken a little bit, and I just want to secrete for her the little bit of glue that can help to hold her together when she’s mad at me because she’s mad at herself because she’s mad at her dad from when she was eight or whatever. I mean, who knows how these things work? I just want to be good to myself and to be good to her. I want to work with her and to come up with strategies for how we can be good to each other.

But, I guess that can’t be. Not right now. I have to accept that and it’s so hard. I’m back at school and it’s hard to focus. I just want to talk to her about all of this. For hours and hours. I want to know why she’s mad at me. I want to tell her why I’m mad at myself. I want to hear what I did wrong. I want us to talk about what we can do to behave differently. I’m just going around in circles now. I just wish that things were different.

Anhalter Bahnhof

 

This is a story that I (with some help) translated into German. First is the German version; after that, you will find the English version. I hope that you enjoy it. Any suggestion(s) for a better translation would be greatly appreciated.

German version:

Ihr Gesicht war wie ein verlassenes Zimmer, ihr Fleisch wie eine vergilbte Tapete, sie saß da und starrte durch das abgedunkelte Fenster, als hörte sie die fallenden Blätter. Auf dem sterbenden Gesicht schräg abfallende Linien, als würden sie von der Schwerkraft nach unten gezogen und sich in tieferen Furchen bündeln, wie auf einer Landkarte.

Wie viele heiße und kalte Kriege hatte sie durchgemacht? Und das Ende von all dem war der Höhepunkt ihrer verzweifelten Resignation.

Als der Eiserne Vorhang fiel, konnten das Feuerwerk und das Neonlicht die Trompeten und die Siegesmärsche nicht übertönen. Männer in schwarzen Anzügen schrien utopische Reden, aber ihr Leben blieb still. Ihre Füße waren kalt und ihre Hände waren schwielig. 1990 kaufte sie eine französische Spitzendecke für den Küchentisch. Sie kostete sieben D-Mark beim Discounter und ersetzte die ausgedünnte sowjetische Tischdecke.

Später in diesem Jahr wurde ihr Ehemann krank, aber er war schnell wieder gesund. Er war sowieso kurz vor dem Ruhestand. Die Kinder zogen aus—zuerst eins, dann das andere—und der Küchentisch war halb voll, aber die Luft war weit weniger laut. Sie hatte den Mann nie wirklich kennen gelernt, neben dem sie saß, den sie ernährt, geliebt, oder mit dem sie geschlafen hatte. Sie war zu beschäftigt gewesen—immer in Bewegung, immer sich um die anderen kümmern, immer hinterherputzen—um zu erfahren, für wen sie selbst sich hielt. Jetzt, wo der Küchentisch drei Plätze zu viel hatte, wagte sie nicht danach zu fragen. Sie sah fern, um so zu tun, als ob sie beschäftigt ist. Sie aß sogar manchmal auf der alten Chartreuse-Couch, weil niemand es jemals erfahren würde und sie nicht länger stolz genug war, sich darum zu scheren. Sie überging/ignorierte die Frage in statischem Zustand. Sie konnte sich selbst nicht eingestehen, dass die Antwort, die sie fürchtete, “niemand” war.

Sie hörte die Glocke, und die Stimme des Mannes über den Lautsprecher sagte: “Anhalter Bahnhof.” Sie umklammerte ihre Tasche und freute sich auf die Blaubeeren, die um diese Jahreszeit wachsen, und ihre Schuhe klackerten auf dem Bahnsteig.

English version:

Her face like an abandoned room, her flesh like old yellow wallpaper, she sat peering through the blackened window like someone listening to the falling leaves. The oblique lines on her dying face abruptly turned to meet gravity, bunching into deeper divides, like a topographical map. How many hot and cold wars had she been through? And, the end of all that was the climax of her desperate resignation.

When the Iron Curtain fell, the fireworks and neon couldn’t drown out the trumpets and the victory marches. Men in black suits screamed utopic speeches, but her life remained still. Her feet were cold and her hands were calloused. In 1990, she bought a French lace cover for the kitchen table. Costing seven Deutschmarks at the discount megamarket, it replaced the thinned Soviet tablecloth.

Later that year, her husband got sick but he soon recovered. He was near retirement, anyway. The kids vacated–first one, then the other–and the kitchen table was half-full but the air was far less noisy than that. She had never really know the man she sat next to, fed, made love to, or parented with. She had been too busy–always moving, always caring for, always cleaning after–to learn who she thought she was. So, now that the kitchen table had three too many places, she didn’t dare to ask. She watched TV to tell herself that she was doing something. She even let herself eat on the old chartreuse couch, sometimes, because no one would ever know and she was no longer proud enough to care. She drowned the question in static. She couldn’t tell herself that the answer she feared was “no one.”

She heard the bell and the man’s voice over the loudspeaker said, “Anhalter Bahnhof.” She clutched her bag, looking forward to the blueberries that grow this time of year, and her feet clicked on the platform.

Today, I Believe in God, Part Three: Die Anhalter Bahnhof Mannschaft

Pt. 1
Pt. 2

I step into the traincar at Anhalter Bahnhof. It’s the prettiest metro station in Berlin. A woman is yelling and laughing. At first, I figure it might just be the dramatic peak of a story between friends. People can be loud with they’re friends when they’re relating stories, but this lady keeps going.

She’s pretty. She’s young, in good shape. She’s blonde, but not in the cheap, shitty way like you see on TV or in magazines. Dirty blonde, maybe. She looks like a real person, and she seems like she could be kind, but I guess it’s easier to look real when you’re a bit disheveled and greasy. She’s mockingly half-crying now.

She keeps screaming and wailing about Deutschland, something, something, but I’m not figuring it out exactly. But then, she throws a bit of “Korea!” into her rant and the thing becomes clearer. Asians sit on the bus. They mostly laugh at her, but she gesticulates toward them“Korea! Korea!”and she asks them questions.

I want to yell at this woman but I don’t exactly make out what it is that she’s saying.

south Korea 2
Germany 0

The other day, this US (not “American”Americans are all the people living in the American continent[s]) ex-pat guy was telling me how Germany has gone so far out of their way to deal with their Nazi past. He talked about how Germans can’t get “HH” or “88” on their license plates, about all these memorials, about a bit of German guilt, and so on, but then, he also told me about how they have a new political party called the AfD, and that they’re basically just racist against Middle Easterners. Bill Maher and other proto-fascists like to point out that being anti-Islamic isn’t racist because it’s not the race that they have the problem with. In the 1930s, I read that Hitler and other anti-Semites used to blame the Jews for capitalism, for communism, for cosmopolitanism, for inflation, and for anything else. I guess those people didn’t have a problem with Jews’ race, either. Anyway, when Bill Maher says that they should pull out all the “Mohammeds” from the line at the airport and search them, I don’t suppose that Bill thinks that they should pull out all the white Muslims from Eastern Europe or the Asian ones from Kazakhstan or Indonesia. Is it the religion that he really has the problem with?

Anyway, for all the German guilt over the Holocaust, it’s weird that so many of them are racist against Middle Easterners. It’s also weird that German culture is still associated with order, blind rule-following, fetishization of technology, religious bigotry, and extreme nationalism. What would happen in this country today if they suddenly faced extreme inflation or some other terrible economic disaster? Who’s to say?, I guess.

Somehow, this blonde lady seems so opposite to the lady from the train in Serbia. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know either of them. I don’t even know what the blonde lady was saying. It made me so mad, but maybe I got madder than I needed to. I guess one never needs to get mad. Racism makes me angry. It’s fashionable to get angry at racism. That’s a weird thing. If you don’t get angry when people are racist, then people get mad at you for not getting angry. But, most people are racist. Most of the people who get most angry at the not-outwardly-angry-at-the-ractists are quite racist.

Like, I met this lady who’s in school right now in DC, and she knew all the things to say. She knew all the lingo, she knew all the contemporary issues, but she’s never even had a friend who wasn’t white! She’s going to grad school in the fall, and she’s in these anti-racist clubs, but she wears expensive clothes, goes on expensive vacations all over the world, and her parents pay for her school. She doesn’t care about poor people or consumerism or sacrifice or anything like that. I think that she’s basically a capitalist. One time, I was talking about how I think we need to get away from consumerist culture, that we need to have real democracy, and we have to remake our institutions and do things very differently. She said that she gets annoyed when people talk like that because they just don’t sound realistic. I don’t know how we’re supposed to have equal rights between genders or races or anything else under the current paradigm, and I don’t know what’s realistic about continuing to expand production and consumption until there’s no earth left, but whatever.

I wonder if that lady from Serbia will email me. I guess probably not. It turns out that Berlin is not a place for me. I’ve come to realize that the German obsession with rules has something to do with individualism. If everyone’s simply responsible for abiding society’s rules, then no one owes any responsibility to anyone else. No one has to care for anyone else, no one has to think of themselves as part of a community or anything like that.

I told someone that I thought that a lot of Berliners dress really dorky. She started yelling at me, saying that I was ridiculous and that I wasn’t fashionable. Berliners can be pretty edgy. I meet a lot of sarcastic, science-obsessed, polyamorous atheists who wear all black and have facial piercings and dyed hair. I wonder how many of them vigorously support die deutsche Fußballnationalmannschaft. I wonder how many of them wanted to yell at Koreans after the match. Maybe I’m being too hard on them. There’s certainly something ironic about me being violent toward them in my thoughts like this. I should work on that, I guess.

Pt. 4

Algeciras

13 Arab men and I stood around in an almost-circle. At the opening of the crescent stood a Spanish woman with hair dyed orange, wearing a navy suit, white dress shirt, and a blue lanyard around her neck. The ends of her mouth curled upward, and she absent-mindedly fidgeted. Every couple minutes, she would stop take a phone call, and she’d have news. The other men spoke Arabic among themselves during these breaks before we’d again begin asking very direct questions. Eventually, she said, “Lo siento” and “Solo diez minutos,” before she ploughed off.

The men stood there, continuing to bitch and moan. During our interrogation, the sun had rediscovered its place in the sky. The modernist buildings facing us glowed different shades of golden brown—the color of a pie crust that you’re supposed to pull from the oven.

The seagulls flew in elliptical patterns, scattered and disorderly. They might’ve seemed angry, but I figured they were just seagulls after all. Dark clouds blocked the tops of the mountains that seemed only a few meters away. I guess it’ll rain. The mountain revealed brown-gray layers of sediment between trees and grass—a cake of mud and pine needles. I stared at the mountains for a few minutes.

Eventually, the men behind me again caught my attention after one of them began to speak more loudly. My head rotated over my shoulder, and the cranes and machines in the background hovered as though shocked into paralysis—mechanical monsters waiting for work that would likely never come. It feels a little creepy to associate shipping containers with the salty sea—not just because of the deaths of all the jobs but also because the sea seems so pure and the shipping yards seem so dirty and cheap.

A finch landed in front of me and began picking at some flesh from an orange that looked like it’d exploded on the grey brick walkway. I then thought I , too, was hungry. She said “diez minutosdiez minutos ago. But, the bus was so late that I was already gonna have to catch a different barco, so it didn’t make much difference.

Santa Sangre

Part One

I waited until night. I floated across the sky
and stared into the Milky Way.
The same responses and solutions lie
in the Universe’s foamy, silky Christmas lights—strung
for my spectatorship—
as bugs and bits that slide inside my blood and bone.

Part Two

It’s not disinterest that the wise one seeks—it’s discernment.
“Learn to love what constitutes you in the way that only you are constituted.
Love your fate but love it faithfully; be faithful in temporality.
Learn to lack attachment—to things, to people, to ideas, to feelings
—if, in any moment, anything fails to make you who you, faithfully, must be.
You owe yourself. You owe your fate.
This is the God that hides in you—a virus of love,
whispering to lymph and limb—and to this God be true.”

%d bloggers like this: