Among the patterns swirled into the stucco ceiling of my office appears the face of a small terrier — happy, excited to be here. In it I sense a correspondence. A cat has also taken to visiting Sarah and I on our back deck, a grey one with black stripes, dozing in a chair midday. Butterflies have come to visit as well — beautiful swallowtails, and out on the sidewalk, a “red-spotted purple” with blue stripes and orange dots on its wings. A white plastic tape dispenser on top of my file cabinet resembles a white whale. The world appears blessed with a multitude of entities and beings. And much the same is true here in the home. Sarah and I are expecting a daughter. From the two of us has come a third. Thus begins our life together as a family. With great respect and reverence, ears attuned to our many co-creating friends and neighbors, we set out on our way.
What sense might we make of the cover of Ram Dass’s spiritual cookbook, Be Here Now? Twelve satellites poised in a circle, linked to one another in orbit around a sitter, so as to announce, “YOU ARE A TOTALLY DETERMINED BEING.” What matters, the book says, are the vibrations that emanate from us. Owl eyes, islands, stars free like cotton candy. I recall the weight in my arms of my dog Daphne, a neighbor’s dog reminding me again of how it feels to live with an animal companion’s presence. Sarah and I miss that — but there are many narratives, the imagination able to enter and exit vantage points in countless parallel worlds. To write “literature,” however, say the theorists, one has to disguise one’s stake in the story one is unfolding. Shape time, seed dreams with positive vibes.
“We’re embarking on an adventure,” I sing in the style of Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott on “The Boys Are Back in Town.” My ears seek out Daphne’s sounds. Her piglet snorts. Her heavy sighs. Her presence every day, every hour. Maybe she’s a cat now, like the one that walked up and allowed me to pet it in the sun on Thursday’s autumn afternoon walk. Or maybe she’s a falcon, perched above me in a tree. My friend, recounting her recent Vancouver experience, says, “Come on, Canada — grow a pair!” I need to get myself up there to visit Urban Shaman, a shop specializing in sacred entheogens. I take note of several other of my friend’s allusions and recommendations. Canada’s “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery (though I have no interest in his libertarianism). A band called Ancient, featuring band members Zod, Ursa, and Non (though not at all something I would ever listen to). Angie Thomas’s YA novel, The Hate U Give. Édouard Levé‘s Autoportrait, from Dalkey Archive. Christian Peet’s The Nines. Sarah and I pay our respects to Daphne by Airdropping photos of her to each other’s cellphones. “Look at her!” one of us gasps. “Such a beauty,” we murmur. How wonderful it is to live with others, growing old together, evolving into witches and wizards, entering secret orders and covens, watching Pere Portabella’s Informe General (1977), with its psychedelic soundtrack by Carles Santos. I seek exhilaration through return to the land, return to a space-time free from the dictates of capitalism. When one dreams, consciousness slips free of old kings and returns to all things. We’ll do what we must, shouts the teenage Oedipus, to seize back what is ours and what rightfully belongs to all. The right to grow whatever one’s head desires. I say that, but then I sit around stewing in a mix of anger, grief, and exhaustion. It grinds my gears when neurotypicals act so sure of their arbitrary mental constructs as to demean mine. A thought has still been thought, an experience experienced, regardless of he who is the sire of the world, He who is Om. It’s been so long since I’ve eaten Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. Re-roll and try again.
Weed helps turn profound emptiness and sadness into lovers lying in bed reminiscing about old apartments, old friends and neighbors, in honor of one of the common threads running throughout the couple’s life together, their dearly departed four-legged companion. Daphne was our greatest collaboration. The one constant. The supreme embodiment of the life Sarah and I built together. The two of us never had the money to own a home or raise kids. But Daphne made up for those. Her bunny hop. Her reverse sneezes. The way she used to urge us to play with her by pushing tennis balls at us with her snout. She was a weird, wild, autonomous little being who nevertheless loved us unconditionally and, through her evolving behavior and personality, reflected back to us traces of our own. “Death is so fucked up, though,” as Sarah said on our way to a park yesterday. There’s no way of relating to death that feels appropriate. I can certainly understand how one could find comfort in the belief that consciousness persists beyond death — some part of Daphne, for instance, watching over us from above, audience to our existence. When I entertain this thought, Sarah sternly interjects, “But she’s not! She’s just dead.” But why are we Marxists so quick to condemn delusion? Since when has truth ever set us free? I’ll admit: when a copy of Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda turned up on vinyl in the bins at Goodwill yesterday, part of me was convinced that Daphne had gifted it to me to cheer me up.
I don’t see any harm in temporary alleviation of suffering, even if it comes via dream. For the latter open up vistas, abstractions of geometric space, into which minds may wander. The private language of the autopilot black hole. Sarah and I arrived at a realization along our walk. A new sense of the potential life we might live, were it not for debt. A new sense of the stakes of what might be. The challenge now will be to find a way to demand from reality the future we want, and to do so quickly, as clocks are ticking.
We’re struggling, we’re grieving. Shit’s rough, y’all. This is what some call a “limit-experience,” an experience that, for theorists like Bataille, Blanchot, and Foucault, breaks the subject off from itself, exposing it to that which consciousness refuses or excludes. We can think of it as a testing of the limits of ordered reality. The latter is abolished and, as Peter Berger would say, “something terrifyingly other shines through.” Imagine it as the parting of a previously invisible set of curtains where once there was a wall. Relinquishing the words we have, we rediscover words we’ve lost. Sarah and I ended up having to put down our dog Daphne yesterday. Kidney failure, liver failure. Euthanizing her was the only way to ease her pain. Our final night together was excruciating, every few moments punctuated by a sigh or the peristaltic rumbling of an upset stomach. I would lie with my eyes closed watching a comet cross an inner night sky, when suddenly the dream’s plug would pull loose from me, and I’d be lying awake in the dead of night, listening to her whimpering, her labored breathing. How is she but a pile of ashes now, this companion of mine who loved and was loved?
A colleague and I headed out into the woods for a brief weekend retreat, our shelter a cross between a tiny house and a cabin, loaned to us by a friend of a friend. But when I woke early yesterday morning, I learned that my dog — my companion of nearly 15 years — had fallen ill. Receiving a text from my wife about Daphne’s condition, I packed my things and rushed home, the world on the horizon reduced to a pure gray ambiguity as I stared intently at the road ahead. Eberhard Schoener’s Trance-Formation soundtracked my grief.
When the fog cleared, I witnessed a wake of turkey vultures picking at the remains of a young deer, the latter’s removal from the world of the living no doubt a consequence of some passing motorist. The destruction of alternative lifeways and nonhuman modes of being is an ineradicable component of capitalist reality. Look around: this system is cancerous. Unable to tolerate and coexist with radical difference. As I approached home, some algorithmic power operating through Spotify tried to console me by churning out 801’s cover of “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
“It is not dying,” Eno assures us, “it is not dying.” By mid-afternoon, Daphne’s condition had stabilized — but even now, as I write this, she lacks her usual appetite and seems confused and lethargic. It breaks my heart to see her this way, lying on her side, her face white, her tube-shaped dachshund body covered in lipomas and skin tags. She has a meeting with her vet scheduled for later today. My fear, though, is that he’ll say she’s in pain — in which case, we’ll have to put her down. All I can do in the meantime, I suppose, is kiss her neck, rub her belly, calm her, comfort her as best I can. I try to comfort myself by imagining episodes of We Bare Bears as conversations between the dog equivalent of Superego, Ego, and Id taking place within Daphne’s psyche. She and other wildlife dream the animal equivalent of proletarian revolution. Humor is the only way we can save ourselves from Seasonal Affective Disorder’s black pit of despair. So sayeth Broad City. It, too, spits up phrases suited to the tinfoil light of my condition. “Seratonin rising, dopamine flowing.” Ilana turns to Abbi and, making light of her proneness to depression, snarls, “So I get sick sometimes and need medicine — who cares?” The trouble is, I think of Daphne as being somehow a part of me — a link between me and my past — and I don’t want that part of me to die. Death is for me the destruction of all sense and meaning. How will I bear this loss?