42 Isn’t Always an Answer

42 years ago today my grandmother Mary Trosko died. She was 56.

It’s odd to have such specific memories and to have the effects stay with me: so many things about that day were just a little bit “off” before I got the news.

A neighborhood girl, Cynthia Baines, said to me, “Mary died,” before anyone else told me. It wasn’t real, of course. She was not authority on anything real to a six-year-old. Only family had such sway.

But then our family car came driving down Vaughn Street. But my mother wasn’t driving, my Aunt Toots was: off. My mother was in the passenger seat and I had never seen the two of them in a car together alone: off. It was a Friday but I wasn’t at school: off. It felt like winter: off.

My mother was crying. You could always tell when she was crying. Her face and nose get very red; my Aunt was stoic: off.

Three months later my great-grandmother, my grandmother’s mother, would die.

Summer 1970 was a Before-And-After Season. My first.

Not the last.

An Arbitrary Limit

And now God speaks in stranger ways, as if the merely-strange
were not already the cause of great ruin among the people

The Speaker becomes the speech and God becomes the Stranger
and we in our ruin must opt for the void or the voice

The quixotic or the quotidian: Two orbits of no overlap
never a chance for commingling. John is not polarized
in his heart of hearts to Mary in her soul of souls

Impossible since the stampede of Strangeness broke in two
the single rod across which the ends had been declared.

John in the hothouse of nurture
Mary in farming fields of requirement
where hard lessons are dug up like root vegetables

as she drums up constant fear of an early frost
John examines his hands and cannot remember callouses of long ago

“Fun” & Loathing

15-July-2011 00:05~00:55. Fifteen days prior was 18, so this must be 16, as it follows every year, as it has since 18 was two and 16 was the Elevens and the clock struck midnight, then 12:05, and then I finally fell unconscious, dozed off after several hours—was it really almost 6 hours, or has remembering rewritten that into a much larger number?—6 hours hitting the button every 15 minutes on the home pump to deliver that extra bolus of morphine.

Schedule 3 Narcotics are a Very Important Thing in the eyes of the law, puritanical tight asses that who want us to Just Say No to anything that might bring pleasure or even relief (which really, is just an edge-case form of pleasure, if you consider it when measured against Hell Fire), unless you get off on violence. Violence is great. Violence is purifying. Ask the Crusades. Just don’t ask any non-Christians. Their violence might as well be pleasure.

Or a Schedule 3 Narcotic.

Because way back, all the way back in 1995, there existed the technology to codify and thus enforce the prescriptions of an MD into the electronics of the home pump mechanism itself: it was Allen’s home pump carrying morphine to the already-non-responsive corpus that had used to be the seat and center of the soul of the man I’d loved, but he was no longer in it, and by a day at least: that would be 24 hours on the devices which measured such things dutifully even after I had already long since lost the knack for quotidian anythings.

Death makes everything mundane, and It makes nothing else unimportant. It makes everything besides the upcoming End quaint, and does nothing but lay bare Its Own Essence: that Death Itself deserves no capitalization after all for its own event, because death is nothing.

And by that I do not mean to walk you down a primrose path only to push you off a cliff where the path abruptly ends: the Void.

Unlike so many self important (and yet shockingly simultaneously self loathing) men I have known, I am never cruel.

I have let others see my frustration in the repeated aloneness I feel when I invite potential mates up to the curtain of mystery/knowledge/intimacy/thing-requiring-attention-span-longer-than-required-for-what-passes-for-“fun”, but that’s my trip, not a full spread of transitive verbs intended for the ones who disappointed me.

This is not to say that there aren’t those who come gunning for me, the ones who may find this very marking of the 16 year interval between now and the death of Allen Howland to be morbid or obsessive or any of those words that people bandy about when they’re actually out of their depth so they just throw sheets of meaning down over a concept and hope they get full coverage and prevent daylight from getting through. No-daylight is tantamount to Rightness.

Yeah, right.

Fun is a good thing, but only when it spoils nothing better.
—The Sense of Beauty, MIT Press, 1988, p. 155

All this is also not to say that those who have heard this quote from Santayana (and apologies to the memory of the man for the long shadow that bumper sticker aphorism has cast over his far more nuanced, involved works) and scoff at it don’t stop at the scoffing, but expend energy in order to justify “fun” as the storied Better Thing. And then go ahead and resent me for tacitly having required that expenditure.

This is how voluntary ghettoes are formed and maintained: Shut out dissent first, then watch as your ability to cope with conflict atrophies considerably—and swiftly. But then you then have to also shut out heterogeneity of thought and opinion, not because they cause conflict (they don’t), but rather because heterogeneity/variety is a potential, indirect source of conflict.

Eventually you have to pare vocabulary, too, because words require judgment even in speaking them, and having already judged, you put something out there subject to interpretation of meaning, because words are blunt, barely-aimable objects after all. So in paring vocabulary, but still needing to communicate, you go for proto-linguistic vocalizations and dress them up as “fun” or “identifying traits”.

A “woof” here, and a “grrr” there and you’re off to the races, meeting someone new, taking him home or back to your tent, “funning” the “fun” out out of him. Or letting him “fun” the living “fun” out of you. Consequence-, meaning- and chance-of-conflict- free.

Chock full of “fun” and absolutely no opportunity for a shot at anything better.

And so, while deaths themselves truly are nothing, their effects on those who remain to mourn and to remember and to continue are truly profound, and what people forget is that those ripples caused by a given event are not restricted to surface phenomena: the waves radiate in all directions, and travel to depths unseen even more swiftly than they disrupt calm surfaces in that beautiful concentric imagery we all know so well.

Here I am 16 years later, and of course it’s not to say that there haven’t been my own something-wonderfuls. And it’s not to say, again, of course that there haven’t been horrors in my life as well. But the horrors were nearly all a result of the wonderfuls having been suborned by “fun” at the near total expense of all of the Somethings Better that we had going on.

And in the worst times, unsurprisingly, there were plenty of people gunning for me, plenty of less-than-people avoiding conflicts by explaining things away, paring vocabularies, reducing conflict by avoiding conflict by avoiding confrontation by avoiding truths by avoiding conversation by avoiding one of us, all on the descent vector towards woofs and grrs, and all along the way, “fun” was on the ascent towards the top of the priorities list.

For everyone else.

As for my priorities, in health and then in sickness, priorities remained intact: love, intimacy, care, sharing, fun, respect. All in proper order, all withstood it all.

Before and, even for a short while after, the non-event of his death 16 years ago today.

The Pineapple Fields

30-June-1993. To prepare the day, She walked out into the evening through Her Pineapple Fields, a large bowl under Her arm and, reaching in and casting out, She threw the stars by handfuls into the violet dome of twilight sky.

Her labors were for me: She had sown in Her skies a greeting only for me, I imagined, and I had been late for it, not arriving until well after dark almost past the witching time.

Being late for your own beginning is not the best first impression to make, but then again when you’re on your way Home, you’re in time-running-backwards and you set your own double-naughts on that clock and the last grains to run out of the sandglass will fall onto Ocean Beach only when you are there at the surf’s lip to release them yourself.

Having arrived far too near to the double-naughts on the Pacific Daylight’s clock to my liking—sixteen and a half hours after I put my hands on ten-and-two-o’clock and started my third and final day of driving with no AC and only Wyoming’s, Nevada’s and California’s Central Valley radio stations for company—even the calendar was nigh on hitting its own witching time to roll itself into July.

I did arrive, of course.

3986655147 b57b48e3ff (click on the photo for much larger size)

And the Sky! And Stars! Our Dome of Sky, a cosmic bowl turned upside down and lit from everywhere and nowhere. The Stars freshly sown that still seem to tempt us all to climb the hills, some tiny part of each of us fancying that once at the top, if we just reeeeeeach up high enough….

Success!

And that perfect gem would be ours to—to what? I still believe that no one of us would ever keep a Star thus captured. It would be enough (enough! Was there ever a more inadequate concept?) to have touched the Star! the Sky! for even that Moment. We wouldn’t even tell the story to anyone, but not for lack of believability: You San Franciscans out there would never dismiss such a story entirely, if at all.

MoonPhaseIn eighteen years, I still see the look in my fellow denizens’ eyes that they have stories, too. Stories, and Stories. Like this. And like nothing you’ve ever heard before. And all of them are true.

Because they happened Here. And Here is nowhere else on Earth.

So yes, back up that Star would go, arm casting out, throwing it into that impossible violet, impossible dome of sky, to let it find its own place among its Sisters.

As we all have done in our twinkling, shining City.

So many nights since then I’ve looked up, and out, and within, and seen the same twinkling, shining magic. So many perfect nights, too, like that long ago perfect night—well, almost perfect: The Moon, ever willful, would end up requiring a few more days for perfect fullness. So San Francisco, earthbound, has her limits after all—just don’t tell her that.

Eighteen years now and I still haven’t told her. Who would believe a story like that?

The Golden Age Of Wireless

Some folks say that there’s no better place to start than at the beginning, and still others claim that an ending is nothing but a beginning in disguise. Flip that around and an end is but a herald of—or the prelude to—a beginning.

So I’ll start at the tail end of my own beginning:

These latterdays give no comfort, and yet there’s going to be something happening. There always seems to be. And that’s a great place to start, isn’t it?

RKO“Latterdays” is as good a term as any to describe the holding pattern that has been the personal side of my life of the past couple of years, and if you think this kind of candor rankles even just a little bit, then you don’t remember our Golden Age of Blogging.

It’s not that everyone’s quit the game; even I haven’t completely quit, unless the definition has a minimum contribution frequency.

Which, honestly, it does, or I wouldn’t be here, now trying to beat the dead rocking horse into a winning argument (points for the literary reference—anyone? Bueller? Bueller?).

They say a place is just a place, that it’s the people you miss. That’s been true of every place I’ve ever been, ever lived save San Francisco and The Netherlands. While San Francisco is a special case, which I’ll get to, The Netherlands is an extraordinary case, which is a topic for another day, another plane of existence, really—yes, really.

What’s been so difficult about understanding whatever unhappiness and outright misery that has crossed my path in San Francisco stems from this atomic nature of the City: any reductionist approach fails; functional decomposition results in, well, compost. Truth suffers in the onslaught of too much analysis.

In my trip to Pittsburgh over Thanksgiving—my first visit there in just over fifteen years, which is five years longer than I actually lived their entirely! Impossible!—I spent time with my best friends there, Dale and his wife, and with Lisa and her husband. And we made a trip to Columbus, Ohio, to see The Toll, the band phenomenological singularity I have written about many a time here. They played again for the first time in nearly 20 years.

It was certainly a trip that invoked plenty of my past, our pasts. How could it not? But invoking the past to inform and contrast the present is not nostalgia. Thank Christ-on-a-mill-hunky.

No, instead it was present perfect tense—and another story for another day. Soon.

In a way, those things that were formerly complex, inhabited, separable things, Memory had fused into atomic and indivisible—like San Francisco has always been.

I spent the time from just after Thanksgiving through after the New Year at my folks’ house with my entire family.

This time away from here, this time with my family, this time restoring Pittsburgh and restoring my besties—Dale, Browyn, Lisa, Bim, Brad, Greg, Rick, Brett—all without wasting time reliving irretrievable pasts, had loosened the ground under my feet: my being back in San Francisco was not pleasant.

In fact, it was downright miserable. I was Home, for sure, but the magical quality of the City felt merely otherworldly, a poor imitation.

Like Parlor Tricks subbing for Divinity.

And the trouble will loose ground? A long winter of endless rain in San Francisco yields a seeming intractible morass.

I’m notorious for forgetting first principles, especially when I need them the most. Like depending on friends. Like seeing opportunity in change or circumstance or fortune and remembering that the opportunity is almost always orthogonal to the circumstances and fortunes.

Worse, it took me nearly two months to remember that writing was the first of the first principles that always got me out of whatever mental morass I found myself in.

And so we’re back to what essentially is starting again, or starting over. Same location, same blog, but the habit of writing is gone and so I was put back in the mind of what it was like when I first started.

And of course it was names that came first: Cucalambe, my blog daddy! and Vincey, aka Nunsequitur; Crashipoo; Dog Poet; We, Like Sheep; Sore Afraid; Teddy.

I could blame the one-two knockout punch of Facebook/Twitter which KO’d extended thought/writing (which I suppose I just did) but there’s no reason for the either-or here. It’s not like I even do much tweeting any more.

GoldenWirelessTowerFacebook, for its imbalance of too much reading and not enough writing—the very reason I said fuck-off to eschewed the egalitarian nature of LiveJournal (Ell-Jay! ew.) which encouraged gang group participation in each. and. every. post. you. make., does wick away a lot of energy which used to be spent on output instead of input. It’s a sheer numbers game there, though: you wade through the sum total output of all your friends and that takes time and there’s only one of you.

So it was one of these Old Timers (forgive me, Eric. I speak only of your soul, of course) who helped me by both listening and by having the temerity to speak his mind.

I say temerity because it truly is an extreme act these days to be candid. I don’t mean the kind of Facebook confession that passes for candor, the bitchy–vampy–campy, the tedious–mundane–boring, the quotidian–mom-a-day–school-a-day stuff. I mean honest, can’t-reel-it-back-in opinion. I asked, he replied.

I know, crazy.

I’m sure it had everything to do with who he is, and everything to do with our having known (and blog-known) each other over many years, and our having common knowledge that permitted this to happen. In any case, I’m truly glad for it.

It helped. Talking to someone who’s known you for a long time.

Long enough that he knew you before your world went pear shaped and all the bad stuff happened. Before the demon dogs and the fractured existence and the shattering pain and the fallout and the falling into.

And who knows you again, after.

But from a certain perspective that’s both over there and right here.

Which is how I’d been feeling in my own life since its main narrative went from solo to duo to the Full Dante more than half a decade ago up until frightfully recently.

But I’m still Here. And here. For now.

And I’m back.

And so is your God of Biscuits.

Weekly Tweets: 2011-02-13

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Weekly Tweets: 2011-02-06

  • Yesterday's Android 3.0 demo showed virtual 3D page-turning in its eBook reader app. Due in Android 4.0: long document names. #
  • Just append "InBed" @dschimpf: Naming things is the hardest part of programming. I've been staring at this half-named variable for 10 min. #
  • @bbum sorry about the fallout with the family member, but on behalf of myself and other gay folks…thanks for your vocal support. in reply to bbum #
  • Lame @gruber: if [no simult] voice-data is a deal-breaker, how come [no] complaints from 94 million existing Verizon customers? #
  • Hi, I write the Coquette column for _The Daily_ #worstpickuplines #
  • I'm a Republican. #worstpickuplines #
  • My penis has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R…. #worstpickuplines #
  • Yes, I'm a teabagger. What? No, it has nothing to do with my scrotum. #worstpickuplines #
  • no idea. just wishful thinking. :( @thatSTEVE: @godofbiscuits @ryan jeff .. do know when the 71" is shipping? #
  • @wilshipley well, it contains urea salt, which is a molecule, several times the size of a single K+ or Na+ ion. Still can't filter it, tho. in reply to wilshipley #
  • @ryan when are you getting the vizio (and/or other) 21:9 TVs in for review????? :) in reply to ryan #

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