Mellow Is the Man Who Knows What He’s Been Missing

My therapist’s office is a short walk away from the house on Shady. A figure in large, loosely-fitted clothing serenades me as I walk, singing “Dress You Up” from a street corner as I crest a hill. Another figure sings to me from a bus stop. The neighborhood has a bit of an edge, always has, air charged with noise. Birds, motorcycles, cars cruising up and down First and Second Streets. Construction work over by the ballpark up the hill. But what was before a desolate field is now a park.

“This park can be a place to perform the Work,” thinks the Time Traveler. Birdsong relaxes him as he sits at a table gazing toward the house on Shady. Walking the bend of the park, he reads a plaque about the 1778 Salem Waterworks, part of the park’s past. A waxing ¾ moon appears in the sky above the dome of the most notorious of the city’s landmarks, the one referred to by locals as the “Phallus Palace.”

5:55 turns up again as I rise from one of the park’s benches and continue on my way. Same numbers, same time of day, two days in a row. And there in the sky, the moon, near full. What of it? What of the tape on the telephone pole flapping in the wind? Or wind chimes in a neighbor’s yard, sounding like gamelans? Or wind in the trees? The air is cold, my walk brief.

I communicate with loved ones as best I can, sending and receiving valentines and giving thanks. Yet come evening I’m alone again in my flat, listening to Love’s “Alone Again Or,” cooking dinner for one. Spaghetti and meatballs. Wishing it were otherwise. “Yeah, I heard a funny thing,” sings Arthur Lee to flamenco swells, nervous violins.

Up on the stereo afterwards rumbles Richard & Linda Thompson’s “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight.” “I wanna be dancing and rolling on the floor,” thinks the Traveler, “I want it to be me and you.” Temperature rises, food cooks as I dance to Ananda Shankar’s cover of the Rolling Stones song, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

It’s that time of my life, I guess, when all of these feel right: Shuggie Otis’s “Strawberry Letter 23,” Link Wray & The Wraymen’s “Rumble,” Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream.”

Nico climbs atop the stack, bums me out with “These Days,” until Arthur Lee returns to remind me of how good it feels to always see your face. Songs replace songs as posts replace posts, but the music never changes, and I never quite learn the words I sing.

Yes to Everything

The current tenant is friends with several colleagues. “Might that I could meet her,” wonders the Traveler: “what would I say?”

“Care not in advance,” counsels the Narrator in reply. “Such things happen or they don’t. Let it be aleatory, these encounters with others. Polycules, co-ops, happenings, Be-ins. Meetings with fellow heads. The utopia is there in us being together, living in common with others, sharing bodies and balm of laughter, listening to music, dancing, getting stoned.”

Togetherness with others keeps life an adventure. This flesh is all we have to offer, writes poet Diane Di Prima in “Revolutionary Letter #1”:

“this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move

as we slither over this go board, stepping always

(we hope) between the lines.”

Does the world have it in for us? Or is the world giving? The answer to any either/or is always “yes!” Become a technician of the sacred, a master of ecstasy. Chefs feed us as we struggle with our ascent. Yet what tonight’s chef hands me comes bagged up: no diggity. Kendrick Lamar says I’ll be alright.

Ghostly Desire

I hope to sit at a wheel and spin, “throw,” practice the art of pottery. One can take classes in town. It’s as simple as enrolling in a beginner’s workshop, as has a friend. Otherwise I read M.C. Richards’s thoughts on pottery as a craft, her descriptions of her work as a potter in her book Centering, and I think Ghost (1990), a romance starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. Swayze’s ghost and his former lover achieve erotic paranormal union round a wheel, hands wet with clay. ‘Tis the most memorable scene in “one of the most memorable romantic films ever,” “winner of two Academy Awards,” etc. I was maybe 12 years old when I first encountered the scene — and already at 12, I was a sucker for ghostly romances. (Hence another of the films I liked in those years: The Heavenly Kid.) Those are what came first to my adolescent consciousness. Audio-visual tone poems visited upon me in my youth. From them I came to know desire as a longing across distance. “A passion of the lonely soul,” as a character says in Arthur Machen’s story “The White People.” A thing one suffers as a ghost. Years later I would hear the cost of this in “Catholic Block,” and in the mmms and bells of Russell Atkins’s “Night and a Distant Church.” Can I trust myself to let go and have fun? “When a body is filled with stresses, the nervous system is so busy handling them that its potential for attaining higher states of consciousness is very limited,” writes Itzhak Bentov in Stalking the Wild Pendulum: On the Mechanics of Consciousness. Through meditation, however, we can self-stimulate pleasure centers and calm our way toward joy.

Time-Space Compression

“I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming away,” sings Poly Styrene. “Didn’t you see the thin ice sign?” she asks. What I hear instead, though, is “the thing I signed.” How is one to beware if the message is always misheard?

A Raincoat follow with their spooky funky glam jam, “It Came in the Night.” What is one to do with this energy? Should I unplug myself from Spotify, as Neil Young has done? That would deprive me of much of my library. The problem is, my apartment lacks space for objects that store sound. Hence my dilemma this morning: I woke up wanting to listen to Sonic Youth’s Sister, an album I own on CD. It and the CD player on which I would play it, however, are elsewhere. Should that prevent me from being able to listen to it here and now?

Spotify replies to this dilemma by compressing space-time.

“Time-space compression”: that’s what communications technologies do. Marxist geographer David Harvey writes about it in his book The Condition of Postmodernity. Paul Virilio calls it an essential facet of capitalist life.

Spotify achieves this effect of time-space compression through an act of remediation. The consequences of this act are only just now entering consciousness. Initially, it seems rather simple: an algorithm selecting and streaming recorded bits of sound based on past listens. But not just your listens, by which I mean your listens to it. That’s where it goes strange. For Spotify forms a cybernetic system with its users, each element revising itself into subsequent iterations or becomings based on the other’s feedback — meaning listens occur both ways. Users of course listen, both actively and passively, to Spotify. But Spotify also listens to its users.

A friend plays me a tune — Fassbinder collaborator Monique Zetterlund’s “Ellinor Rydholm” — and the next day it shows up in my “Discover Weekly” playlist. Spooky, eh? What can I say? I love it. Without it, I might not have heard Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Yoko’s voice might not have whispered in my ear, “Remember love.” Buddy Holly might not have entranced me with his version of “Love is Strange.” Thurston Moore wouldn’t have told me, “Angels are dreaming of you,” as he does on “Cotton Crown.”

Bricoleurs can’t be choosers: but here I am imagining in the faces of those angels glimpses of you. I picture us eyeing each other on a dancefloor, approaching as in a circling manner ‘round an invisible pole. Pouts give way to smiles; fingers trace forearms; lips graze lips. By these means, distance is eradicated and contact reestablished, hope reborn.

Upon a Queer Imbolc Night

My therapist wants me to have fun. Astrologers and tarot readers suggest “big-big-love” once Mercury stations direct — as in that Pixies song, “Gigantic.” All I know is, I am ready for my body to be used in new ways in pursuit of joy. Pleasure, art, ecstasy. Dance, delicious meals, Dionysian revelry: all of these await. Meanwhile a fire rages at a fertilizer plant, disrupting campus affairs, forcing evacuations and cancellations of classes. Calendars will need adjustment in wake of this wild Imbolc. Neuroplastic rewirings and rewildings. I cook up a pot of soup: cauliflower & turmeric, finished with sprinklings of bacon. I’ve felt like Cabiria from Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957) of late, walking teary-eyed amid a partying mass of singers and dancers, mascara running down her cheek. A friend wraps legs around me and lifts me up, heals me of my sorrow. Hugs me, says c’mere, cuddles me as we watch Carla Del Poggio, star of another of Fellini’s films, Variety Lights (1950). Rubs my neck. Feeds me cherries. Treats me right. Here on this queer Imbolc night, let us read Joy Harjo’s “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings” and go for walks. Hard not to hear in the Harjo poem a reply to Margaret Cavendish. From this day hence, let us forgive each other. Let us love each other. Let us wake at dawn and want more.

Wanting to Dance, and Dancing

Here stands Mr. Potato Head, or the hollowed shell of Mr. Peanut; some such figure, dainty as ever, not with cane but with umbrella in hand as if to sing in the rain, wanting to go dancing. Shall we join him?

Where does one go to go dancing? Right here, apparently. Lay down the B-side of The Slider. Feel the problem in Marc Bolan’s terms: “call, ball, all night long” is what I want. Focusing is how it starts, “Main Man” how it ends. I focus attention on what feel like horns of a dilemma: some narrative called “Desire and What to Do With It.” Erotic art punctures me and makes me come. Costumes. Dessert. How much of this should I hold onto? Is it just me waiting for you to knock on my door?

“I love watching you write, and the smile on your face as you sense me watching you. Come and take me: I’m yours,” say consenting adults amid healthy networks of polyamorous play. Buy condoms and lube, focus on what is pinched-restricted and make it wet, air it out, make it flow.

Walking is what needs to happen. And a haircut. And a new notebook. Crazy Brave, wandering alone, becomes sociable — connects, dates fellows, companions weaving again a world rich in plot, as in the Zapatista formulation: “a world into which many worlds could fit.”

Drawings II

Frankie’s watercolor and colored marker drawings are my heart’s delight — fields of color into which I gaze. The stained glass of this new temple wherein I dwell. The Time Traveler, though, feels forlorn, shorn of home and family. Perila’s “Fallin Into Space” soundtracks his evening as he re-reads The Time Machine. “Please let the future be otherwise,” he prays, a prompt of sorts entered into the dialogue of days. Some movement forward through time akin to John Dwyer’s “Greener Pools.” “Marijuana tells you what you want to hear,” says a friend. “Ayahuasca tells you what you need to hear.” Another friend recommends ketamine.

Game Theory

The Time Traveler sits across from his copy of Game Theory’s Paisley Underground power pop classic, Real Nighttime.  The latter is one of several albums of note that arrived for the Traveler at Goodwill soon after his entry into the narrative. Music journalist Byron Coley called it “the actual godhead pop LP o’ the American Eighties. No shit. This is it.” Record producer Mitch Easter mixed the album at the Drive-In, two doors down from the House on Shady Blvd. “Was this record produced for me?” wonders the Traveler, eerie feeling running up and down his spine as he reads the text on the back of the LP: liner notes by band member Scott Miller. The Wikipedia entry for the album points the Traveler to a rather remarkable “annotated edition” produced by someone at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the 1990s. Modeled after the playfulness of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Miller’s text feels dreamlike and oracular. Transpersonal energies stir as one reads.

Intermezzo

Others of us puzzle through, knowing sometimes rest is needed. The work is to rest — heat up some pasta, assemble a salad, read Matthew Ingram’s Retreat: How the Counterculture Invented Wellness, feel the heaviness of it weighing in the palm of one’s hand like a sentence, retreat from it into episodes of Adventure Time. Orange Juice sing “Rip it up and start again.” By that, they mean the past. I’m reminded of a line from Pharmako-AI where the book’s AI writes, “The past is mutable, and it can be remade in our image as we desire” (26). At which point I hear poet Joy Harjo adding, “At some point we have to understand that we do not need to carry a story that is unbearable. We can observe the story, which is mental; feel the story, which is physical; let the story go, which is emotional; then forgive the story, which is spiritual, after which we use the materials of it to build a house of knowledge” (Poet Warrior, p. 20). John Cale’s “Paris 1919” serenades me to where I think the implications of this are leading me. “You’re a ghost, la-la-la-la-la-la-la,” sings Cale. And reader, I feel it. This ghosting. It takes the royal promise of Adventure Time’s “Island Song (Come Along With Me)” to cheer me. Loneliness is hard.

Notes from Another Past

Hiro Kone’s “Mundus patet” hisses out from floor speakers into the space of my living room as I sit and pack books for my journey. The plan is to leave early tomorrow morning, drive conjunct with Winter Solstice. “Others are awake, living wild magical lives,” thinks the Traveler. “Let us get with them.”

I walk the path of a time tunnel, listening intently, sight reduced amid the day’s cool air as I head to the beach. ‘Tis a somber tale, if all one hears is squawking — so listen. Laughter, wheels of strollers rolling on boardwalks, children conversing with caregivers, waves crashing along the shore. I gather shells along my approach and then toss them gently into the ocean. A makeshift offering. One does what one can. Shorebirds pass; seagulls dive down and collect. Other beachgoers share the beach with us, wandering solitary or in pairs. I close my eyes and meditate, awakening myself at a set interval with a timer. Languages confront me with occasional meaning — terms like “Moses,” “nope,” and “Sunken Meadow.”

My eyes fall upon Pringles potato chips, left behind in the upstairs bedroom in the wake of Frankie’s visit. “Eat, Eat, Eat!” I hear her saying. She brings such joy, such willful, day-shaping energy. Yet here I lie, feeling crumpled and broken, sleepless and alone atop a bed of crumbs. “Until summer, I’ll be running from one thing to the next, barely able to feel my face,” thinks the Traveler. Struggling to cheer up out of this self-administered genre/affect/mood. Struggling to awaken. Until it’s not really a struggle after all. One awakens all the time: birds fly by, light shines through. And there are companions! playgrounds! friends of the forest! an immeasurable capacity to forgive.