Refreshment; Waiting

Bruce (still Macy) and I are sitting at an outdoor table at a cafe. It’s hot. I don’t remember us arriving here, but somehow I know that we sat down at this table only moments after It (still Bates) had departed. Her body heat was still evident on the seat of my chair when I sat down.

The cafe reminds me of that scene from Inception, in which the landscape of the surrounding city begins to explode. It feels creepy, even though nothing dream-like is happening. Yet.

Bruce is now wearing a black t-shirt. On his right upper arm is a tatoo of a single rose. Though I know that he just got it earlier today, it looks as though it has been there quite a while, as though it belongs there. His Bible, currently about the size of a hymnal or a “pew Bible,” is open on the table in front of him. Romans, chapters 7 and 8.

I am nursing a cup of black coffee. He has an ice water and a smoothie. I can smell mango, but the color of the concoction leans in the direction of pink. We’ve been silent for several minutes, enjoying the refreshment.

“It’s not red.”

He looks at me, possibly a little annoyed. “Black.” He slurps and looks away. “I like black.”

“But your Bible is not black.”

“Right.” He looks down at it, as if he had forgotten it was there. “Am I right that it’s closer to gray?”

“Maybe dark gray.”

He glances my way again, but then looks at the nothing about seven feet behind my left shoulder. “I don’t know what that means yet.”

After another half-minute of silence, he looks directly at me, his expression suggesting that he just realized something.

“What?”

“We’re waiting for someone, aren’t we?”

I hadn’t known it until he asked. “Yes, but I’m not sure who.”

“Nor I.”

“Not Godot, I’m guessing.” Am I joking?

“No.” His reply is almost a whisper. He begins studying the floor a few feet from his chair, where there is another nothing.

The transformation of the situation from refreshment to waiting creates a palpable discomfort. Luckily, it doesn’t last more than a couple of minutes more.

“Excuse me.”

Both of us look up. I shiver ever-so-slightly, realizing that I had not had any sense of the newcomer’s approach or presence before he spoke. The actor is Ron Glass, appearing as he did in Firefly, but dressed in a more contemporary and nondescript way. That hair, though.

“Shepherd Book?” I seem to have developed something of a habit of realizing after the fact that I had said something.

His face breaks into a dazzling smile. “Nope, but I can enjoy the fact that you remembered. Is this seat taken?”

I hadn’t noticed until now that our table had three (and only three) seats. Bruce made a gesture at the seat, indicating permission. “Welcome” might be a bit strong. He sits gracefully, and looks over his shoulder for the wait staff. We wait. He raises a finger to a passing waiter, then points at my coffee cup. The waiter nods, and our new companion returns his attention to us. “You’ll want to know my name. It’s actually not important, but you can call me ‘Fred.'”

Without quite meaning to, I slip into an officious tone. (Remember how that tone bugs me?) “Are you a part of the selfsystem, or are you a drone?”

“Yes.”

I look at Bruce, who shakes his head, indicating that he doesn’t think it’s important to pursue. He picks up the questioning: “Why are we here with you?”

“I believe I’m supposed to help you formulate some questions.”

“About what?”

“About recent happenings,…” He points to the rose tattoo. “about that,…” He points at the Bible. “…and that,…” He looks up at the approaching waiter, who bears his coffee. “…among other things.” As the waiter places the coffee in front of him, he reaches for one of the plastic containers of creamer.

Bruce’s eyes have narrowed, and he takes a deep breath. “You said formulate questions. Am I correct that this implies that you will not be answering them?”

As he stirs his coffee, Fred meets Bruce’s eyes, looking serene. “Correct, sir.”

I speak up again: “Who will answer them?”

Fred gives me a surprised look, then gestures at Bruce. “He will, of course.”

The waiter returns carrying a yellow legal pad, which he places on the table between Fred and Bruce. Then he produces a high-quality mechanical pencil and lays it on top of the pad. He then departs without a word.

Fred looks neither at the waiter nor at the pad, but at his coffee. “Shall we get started, then?”

Bruce’s eyes are still narrowed, but there is a hint of a grin. “Where do we start?”

The serene manner departs, and Fred’s look becomes serious. (…as a heart attack, I add mentally. I still expect the city around us to start exploding.)

Fred pauses a few seconds, then answers:

“In the middle of things, as always.”

Without Why

There is one person seated in the sanctuary, on the far right side, halfway toward the front. Immediately after I say “Of course!”, she stands and briefly looks at us. It is It (played by Kathy Bates, from about the time of Misery). After giving us a look, she quickly moves toward the front and ducks out a door on the right side.

It’s Bruce who speaks. “Well, I’m not sure what all I expected to find in here, but I certainly didn’t expect her.”

“Where I go, she’s already been.”

He glances at me with an enigmatic grin. “Oh yes, I forgot.” He moves to the left, and begins to take in the stained glass windows. The images there are fuzzy and indistinct, I assume because I don’t remember them clearly at all. One of them is Jesus praying, I think, but I’m not sure which one.

I move up the center aisle toward the front of the sanctuary. The pews and carpeting have a smell that I remember. When I near the communion rail, I notice the baptismal font standing a bit to the right. It strikes me as both familiar and strange. When I reach the front and come nearer to the font, something on the floor catches my eye.

“Bruce, come up here. I think you’ll want to see this.”

He turns from his examination of the fourth stained glass window (were there four?) and walks to the front to join me. “What is it?”

I wait for him to join me without answering. Following my gaze, he sees it. There on the floor, about a foot from the base of the font, is a single red rose.

For an indeterminate amount of time, neither of us moves or speaks.

Finally, Bruce steps forward, stoops, and carefully picks up the rose. He holds it gently, staring at it intently. I wait, knowing there is nothing for me to say yet.

It is at least a full minute before he finally speaks. “I was baptized with this. Sprinkled, with water from the font.”

“I thought so.” Long pause. “Do you know why it’s here now? Or why we are here now?” It’s not that I have no inkling at all of the answers, but it seems right that they be asked aloud.

“Well, we were supposed to find it now, clearly.” Painfully obvious, but I remain quiet. He holds the rose higher and rotates it, examining the stem as if the answers are inscribed on it somewhere, somehow. “My guess is that I’m supposed to… What? Incorporate it in some way?”

“Like the shard?”

He looks at me, for the first time since he first saw the rose. “Yes, I think so. But I doubt that it will be as painful. Physically, at least.” His gaze returns to the flower, which suddenly (and impossibly) seems to brighten, to become much more red.

Bruce smiles. “The rose is without why.” I know (but don’t have to say) that his reference is to Angelius Silesius, via Heidegger.

“This baptism was the first of two.” I had not expected to say it, but there it was.

“Yes, I know. But I don’t think incorporating this will amount to a simple renunciation of the second baptism.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, we’ve been learning for a while now that my fundamentalism, which was the water that was poured over my head in the second event, is never going to go away. Somehow, it must remain.” He takes another step, up to the font. “Would you remove this lid for me, please?”

I wonder at first if the lid of the font will be heavy, but I find that it is as light as it would be if it were Styrofoam. But it is clearly wood. I hold the lid and step back slightly.

There is water in the font (of course). Bruce gently places the rose down so that the stem is in the water, with the flower resting beside the basin.

What happens next is disconcerting enough that I nearly drop the lid. Bruce speaks, but he speaks in two voices at once. This should make it difficult to hear what either voice is saying, but I can hear and understand both of them clearly. Looking at his face, I can see that his lips are forming both sets of words at the same time.

“In the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.”

“In the name of the Over-I,
and of the I,
and of the It.”

Room(s) of Requirement

Now we are standing just inside the doors. The space we have entered is what was called the Conversation Room on the old blog, modeled on the living room of our childhood home. This is impossible, of course; but here it is. It was here where I first spoke to Bruce (then simply known as “Bible Guy”), after his release from isolation from the rest of my selfsystem. We’ve come a long way, it seems. And now we’re back home.

I’m still played by Gellar. Bruce is now played by William H. Macy (as he was back then), but he looks older and has longer hair. To say that I am rather freaked out by all of this is an understatement.

He breaks the tense silence. “So… Here we are again. Why here?”

Through the right hand door at the far (South) end of the room steps Tom Waits. Excuse me, someone who is played by Tom Waits. He is smiling as he walks toward us. “Welcome!”

Waits has played roles here before, but it seems different this time. His appearance is somehow clearer, more vivid. He is wearing a clerical collar, but has a lit cigarette in his mouth. “I’m not really very important in this particular scenario. I’m just supposed to make sure you know that where you are really going is in there.” He points back toward the door through which he entered.

Having said this, he nonchalantly proceeds to walk between Bruce and me, exiting through the large archway that has replaced the doors through which we entered, and then disappearing to the left, into what I remember as “the den.” His smoke hangs in the air briefly as we look at each other.

Bruce looks puzzled, but I am sure of one thing. I point at the South door. “As he said, in there is where we are really going.”

Now he looks scared, and he seems to want to say something, After a moment, he turns and walks slowly toward the door. I follow.

The door is open, but what is beyond is not visible until we pass through. He goes first. Just before I enter, I hear him gasp and loudly whisper.: “Of course!” I see it now, and feel some sort of leap; was it in my stomach, or my heart?

We are now at the rear of the sanctuary of the Methodist Episcopal Church in which I was [we were] baptized.

I repeat Bruce’s whispered response. “Of course!”

The Size of Things

“It’s a church!”

I don’t even realize I’ve said it until Bruce looks around at me. He is a few feet ahead of me, examining the sign in the front of the building. It’s variable lettering reads “EVERYONE IS WELCOME.”

He crosses his eyes and tilts his head mockingly. “DUH!!” I ignore this.

“It’s an EPISCOPAL Church!”

“Does that surprise you?”

“I know it probably shouldn’t.” I look up at the imposing architecture. “But yeah, it kind of does. Are you sure this is where we’ve been headed all this time?”

“As sure as I get about anything. I’m also reasonably sure that you are sure of it.”

“I’m not sure if I can tell lately what I’m sure of.” Now I’m looking at the oversized wooden doors. “Yeah, I guess I’m pretty sure of it too. Do we go in?”

Bruce’s face is very serious now. “Yes, definitely. That I am even more sure of.” Then he suddenly looks puzzled, and lays his hand on his sport coat, feeling something inside.

“What’s wrong?”

The puzzled look fades into some combination of excitement and fear. “My Bible.”

“What? Is it gone?”

“No.” He looks at the door, and then back at me. “It’s gotten bigger.”

Bruce Alrighty

Walking again. Didn’t Nietzsche have something to say about thoughts being better if one is walking? I’m played by Sarah Michelle Geller (again). I’m not sure why I can’t shake that yet, or whether I should shake it. Walking beside me is Bruce. When I last saw him, in 2013, he was played by Christopher Walken, but now he is played by Anthony Head (in Rupert Giles persona. I don’t know how long we’ve been walking.

Image result for buffy and giles

I sigh. “Did it really have to be the Giles vibe?”

“Would you have preferred Dr. Frank-N-Furter?”

“Hmm… I guess not.”

“This is not what we’re supposed to be talking about, you know.”

I glance over at him with a grimace. “There’s that ‘should.’ I knew that would come up soon. I didn’t think I missed it, but maybe I did at some level. Do you know what we should be talking about?”

Eyebrows. “I assumed that you knew.”

“Not exactly. I was yelled at a while back by a dimly remembered 6th grade teacher, and I’ve known since then I was supposed to (‘should’ again) stay on the blog thing. But the fragments are scattered, and my sense of continuity isn’t worth much at the moment.”

We walk in silence for a while. Eventually, I speak up again. “I guess I want to know about you, now. Do you still have your Bible?”

He pats his blazer to indicate an inner pocket. “Still here, though it’s gotten disconcertingly small.”

“And the shard?”

He absently indicates his chest with his thumb. “Still in here.  The scar is not going to go away.”

Image result for small bible“You don’t just represent the fundamentalist anymore, do you?”

“Well, yes…”  He’s avoiding my eyes now.  “…and no.”

I have to meditate for a while before pressing it any more.  The scenery changes as we walk.  It’s important that it changes, not how it does.  I didn’t tell you about the scenery before, and I’m not sure if I remember it now.

He picks up again before I do.  “The ‘yes’ part is not too mysterious.  The shard is in my heart because that’s its home.”

“And the ‘no’ part?”

Now he glances over and meets my gaze.  “That’s more mysterious, but it can be said, at least.”  He falls silent.

After a couple of minutes, I can’t resist making that rolling motion with my hand.  “And?”

He keeps looking ahead now.  “The heart.”  Pause.

“Yeah?”

“It’s not just mine.”  Several steps, then softer.  “And I’m not just me, of course.”

A five or six minute silence.

I look over at him again.  “I don’t know where we’re going.”

“Neither do I.”  He doesn’t seem bothered by this.

So we keep walking.

 

 

Nothing Doing

Re-blogging this from my old, formerly “secret” blog.  It was originally posted on May 11, 2012.

===================================

Nothing Doing
(or I Should Be Glad Of Another Death)

 

At some sorry times a paralysis crawls
Out across the tarmac of my day
With no sufficient reason (pace Leibniz)
And no sense of the shrill urgent mundane
Clearly without why and
Frustrating as hell

Sure, one queries medicinal regimes
Or blames the food, the drink, the exercise
Neglected. Nothing can account for it.

Nothing;” if ever there were a pregnant word
Haunting the door of a clinic of dark purpose
Agonizingly wanting its abortion
Rather than the wait, the weight, the wait.
Cut it loose! Flush it from my gut!

But this dark clinic, closed and quiet, darker
Than its normal merely moral darkness,
Gives no answer to my wimpy whinings.

Nothing dwells there.  Nothing answers me.
And Nothing says that I must wait some more.
It’s hardly any Biblical cityscape
To which the slouching Nothing now draws near.

I must wait.
I must
Weight

“Held out into it,”
As Heidegger would have it

(Nothing)

 

Zeno’s Basement

How did I get here?  I can’t stop asking, that’s how.  It seems as though there should be a point when one is done asking, but I haven’t found it.

I’m in the elevator again, staring at the panel of buttons.  The button for floor 2, the one I just left, is lit.  The elevator waits patiently for me to press another button.

I found only a few things on the second floor, which makes sense given how difficult it seems to be for me to commit to a belief, to take something as true with no further questions.

But here is the disturbing thing:  Floor two is where I found the fundamental gestures of my Christianity.  The “sinner’s prayer” in high school.  The several crisis points in life where I said “yes” again, when it came down to what seemed the bottom.  It isn’t supposed to be that way.  It’s supposed to be on floor one, isn’t it?

But I haven’t been to floor one yet.  Taking a deep breath, I press the button.

The elevator descends, quietly and obediently.  The doors open on floor one.

A paneled foyer.  A terrazzo floor.  A counter, only about four feet from the elevator.  I step out.  The counter is occupied by a single person, young and androgynous.  I’ll go with ‘she.’  She looks up at me and smiles warmly.  “May I help you?”

“I want to know what’s on this floor.”

Her smile fades only slightly, as befits a serious answer.  “Sir, you should know that I can provide what will be answers of a sort, but you are at a level where language almost always fails.”

I’d heard something similar before, but I ask anyway: “Fails?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fails how?”

“It misses.  It fails to track whatever it is that language tracks, even more than at the levels above this one.  And I think you are aware that it fails to some extent even above this.  And this failure applies to the answer I am currently providing as well.”  Her face becomes fully serious.  “I’m very sorry for any inconvenience, sir.”

I pause to digest this a moment.  She appears to be as patient as the elevator.  I turn to glance back at the elevator, which remains open.  There are both up and down arrows above it, and the down arrow is lit.

I turn back to the receptionist.  “This is the bottom floor, isn’t it?”

“No sir, it is not.  That answer actually does not fail too grievously.”

I’m now in one of those states where several tracks of questioning present themselves with equal urgency.  I choose one.  “What is on this level?”

“What is on this level cannot be counted or inventoried in any stable way.  But I think there is an answer that would be most helpful to you right now, if you are willing to trust my admittedly fallible judgment.”

I nod.

“What you usually call ‘belief in God.’  Insofar as that is something that can be somewhere, it is on this level.”

The pit of my stomach begins to complain.  “Is it also found below this level?”

“The least misleading answer to that question would be ‘no.’”  She looks slightly sad.

So many more questions, but my stomach takes over.  I turn abruptly and go back into the elevator.  As soon as I enter, the doors slide shut.

I look at the button panel.  When last I was here, the button for floor one was the bottom numbered button, just above the buttons for opening and closing the doors.  Now, underneath it, there is a button labeled “0.5”  I am not surprised by this.  I press it, and the elevator descends again.

When the doors open, I am surprised.  I seem to be on floor one again.  The receptionist looks up at me and smiles.  I find that I am afraid to leave the elevator, so I speak to her from where I stand. “You again.”

A puzzled look.  “Again, sir?  I have not seen you here before.”

Of course.

I swallow and moisten my lips with my tongue.  “What is on this floor?”

She brightens a bit at being able to provide something akin to help.  “I’m sure you’ve already been provided with the disclaimer about language on the floors above.  On this level, it is best to say that it is not a matter of ‘what.’  It is only a matter of it still, in some sense, being ‘you.’”

I stare for several seconds into her patient eyes.

I’m eventually able to choose another question.  “Is this the lowest level at which it is, in some sense, me?”

Though her expression does not change discernably, her face seems to darken.  “Yes and no.”

“That doesn’t seem very helpful.”

“I know, sir.  But it is as true as I can manage.”

Still standing in the elevator, I look over at the button panel.  With dread but little surprise, I see that the bottom button is now labeled “0.25”.

I look at the receptionist again.  “There is no limit on the decimal places, right?

She looks down at her hands, as if answering is painful for her.  “That is correct, sir.”

This/Here/Now

“You never stop wanting it to be simple, do you?”  George is looking at me with those eyes that are both constrained and wild.  There is accusation floating in front of them, making them waver as if from the heat of some desert.  George is played by someone who looks a little like Sean Connery, but with rather bushy sideburns, and his accent is German rather than Scottish.

Alan Tudyk“I don’t want IT to be simple, because I know it’s not!”  I need to be someone, so you can think of me as being played by Alan Tudyk today.  “I just want to get the point through a heuristic strainer and into a blog post.”

Now it’s derision.  “Blog posts!”  Snort, eye roll.  “I spend my entire career harping on how knowledge can only be in the finished system, and you want a blog post!”

“I think you know how well that point has played since you were writing.”

Deep sigh.  “Indeed.  I should be grateful that anyone pays any attention anymore.”  Longish pause.  “Okay, let’s try it.”  I notice the slight grimace; he never likes it when he says something that sounds like Nietzsche.

The Object is on the table between us.  Or so it seems.  I reach out and point, bringing my index finger almost, but not quite into contact with it.  I speak loudly, slowly, and deliberately.  “THIS.  HERE.  NOW.”

hegelGeorge’s face has softened into an I’m-the-teacher sort of serenity.  “Your utterance is supposed to be helpful because…?”

“Because it’s supposed to be certain no matter what else…  happens.  No matter what else IS.  I can indicate The Object, I can MEAN it, whether it’s physical or mental.  I can mean it even if it doesn’t exist, whatever that means.  I can INDICATE it clearly, unambigously.”

George nods.  “And when, exactly, is NOW?”

“It’s at the time when I point.”

“The time when you point is not present.”

“It was present at the time I did it.”

“A present presence that is recoverable how?”

My turn to nod, solemnly.  “Only in relation to other presents; this one, for example.”

“And any of those other presents…?”

“Same deal.  There’s no now without an enending cascade of thens.”

George nods again, and takes a deep breath.  “Enough on that for your blog post.”  We allow an electric silence.

After a while, he speaks again.  “Where is HERE?”

Though I know where we’re going, my voice is slightly shaky.  “It’s where I point.”

“And when you pointed, I was supposed to know what you were pointing to.  That you were pointing to a whole thing and not one or some of its parts, that you were not pointing to its color, that you were not pointing to its surface as opposed to its depth, that I was supposed to follow the line of your finger away from your body and not toward it, yadda yadda yadda.”  I’ve never heard George sound so hasty (in Treebeard’s sense).

“You’re really getting into the spirit of this blog post thing.”

His smile looks pained.  “Spirit in English, there.  Not Geist.”

“OK, so there is no HERE without an infinite array of THEREs, like the endless hallway created by facing mirrors.”

“Sure, that’ll do for your purposes.”  Another silence descends and waits, as a child waits at the window for the next flash of lightning.

It’s longer this time before George continues.  “And THIS?”

I’m afraid I might be stealing his thunder, but here goes.  “It’s nothing but a NOT-THAT.”

George has been staring into space, and now makes deep eye contact.  “Nothing but…”

“Are you Heidegger now?”

Snort.  “Or is Heidegger me?”

“His way of thinking IS yours at this point, is it not?  If there’s anything like a ‘bottom’ to what a THIS is, it’s how it turns up in my world.  I can make it present-like-an-object by saying ‘THIS,’ but that presence never stops leaning on its being a THAT in relation to all of the other possible THISes.”

The pain is back in George’s smile.  “Heidegger’s sense of what’s going on when you refer to ‘all of the other possible THISes’ is so freaking different from mine.”  Deep sigh.  “But yeah, that’s the gist.”

I can’t help smiling at this point.  “Wow.  We have a gist rather than Geist.”

His face softens.  He never could wholly resist a pun.  “And now you still need to say the last thing.”

I look at him blankly for a second, then I realize what he’s talking about.  “That this is not silly subjectivism.  We don’t just turn the pointing into ‘however it seems to me.’  I’m not a spectator apart from things; I am among the things, ambiguously a thing myself.”

George nods.  “Very Merleau-Pontienne, but it’ll do as well.”  He gestures at The Object.  “It speaks to us in many voices, not one.  But still it speaks.  And we struggle, learning how to listen.”

A long, companionable silence.

“Thanks, George.”  I stand to leave.

He stands to show me out.  “You are very welcome.  Come back anytime.  You know that whenever you come back, HERE will be different.  So will you and I.”

“That was the big point I had in mind today, I think.  ‘I’ am not the same.”

“And yet it will still be you and me.  We are the same.  Same enough, so to speak.”

“I will come back.  I always do.”

“We all do.”

The Return of the Son of A Certain Style of Being?

“WAKE UP, STUPID!!!”

What I feel is a hand slapping my face, and leaving a pain that is itself bright red, quite apart from the color one might see on the cheek.

But there’s dripping, and my shirt is wet.  It’s water.  Someone has thrown water in my face.  Why did I think it was a slap?

I open my eyes, and it’s one of my sixth grade teachers.  He has a mustache that almost covers his mouth, and when he speaks (if he’s not yelling), it sometimes comes out a bit mushy.  He has bushy eyebrows too.  Am I remembering that part right?  Probably not.  Who knows?  Let’s say his name is Cole.

He’s holding a wooden pointer in one hand.  For a second, it’s the pointer that he had hit me in the face with.  Then I see the small pitcher in his other hand (his left), the size pitcher I’ve seen used for baptism by pouring in Mennonite churches, only this one is stainless steel rather than ceramic.  Now it’s the water again.  The water came from that.

“Are you gonna frickin’ wake up now?”  Not yelling, so a bit mushy.

“I’m awake.”  I thought my voice would be croaky, but it’s clear and pretty strong.  “How long have I been asleep?”

“Hell if I know.  I was just told to wake you up.  I thought I was done with you years ago, and now I have to wake you the hell up.”  He’s smiling now, but it looks like he’s in pain.  I remember that this is how he smiled when he was my teacher.

“Why you?”

“Why any of this make-believy bullshit?”  The smile is gone, but not the pain.  “You’re supposed to pick up on this stupid blog thing again, because you’re supposed to be thinking.  And you don’t get as far with your thinking if you aren’t writing.  That, along with how to wipe my own ass, is all that I know.”

I don’t remember Cole as being vulgar.  But somehow it fits.  It fits with sixth grade, which I remember the way one might remember an acid trip.  (Not that I’ve ever actually been on one of those myself.)

“Writing.  On the blog.  Not just to myself.”

“Yup.  Don’t ask me why.  I really don’t know anything more.  I gotta go listen to my Beatles records now, so you’d better be all the way awake.”

“Why would you HAVE to go listen to Beatles records?”

The pained smile again.  “That’s a device to reinforce my identity for you, since you’re not clear on my appearance.”  Right.  He played Beatles records in class for us, and discussed their meaning, including the drug references.

I don’t have any response to offer, so I just nod.  Cole turns and walks away.

As he leaves, he simply walks out of the light that we’ve been in the whole time.  It’s like a large spotlight glow on an otherwise dark stage.  But the spotlight isn’t coming from anywhere in particular.  I look around and think about where I might be.  Sixth grade.  That’s why it was Cole.  But the important thing is that it was right before middle school.  Before the middle.

“Before the middle” is the associative payoff here.  I’m supposed to do something with that.

As soon as I realize that, there is a loud click somewhere above, and the spotlight goes dark.

You Know That Old Saying

Dramatis personae: my self (today presented as only two).  The actors: Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy era), with hair tied back in a bun, wearing glasses and business attire, holding a notepad in such a way that she looks like a stereotypical therapist; John Lithgow (Third Rock era).  Lithgow plays the POV, or ‘narrator’ or (if you like) ‘the real me’ (“can you see?”).  Setting: a park bench in some sort of ‘public’ space.  We are outside, and it is very cold, but neither of us gives any indication that we notice.

The “therapist” speaks first.  “You say that you’re disappointed.  Can you be any more specific?”

“I’m not sure if I can.  It seems like a series of specific disappointments if I think very hard about it.  But I think I’m lacking perspective right now.  More often, it feels like a general disappointment in anything that one might SAY.  It’s like a disappointment in how impossible SAYING seems to be right now.”

“The lack of perspective is why we’re having this conversation, of course.  When you use that word, ‘SAYING,’ are you implying a distinction between saying and just thinking?”

“No, that’s part of the problem.  Thinking IS a kind of saying, as far as I can tell.  And before you ask, I’ll clarify that I take saying to be a kind of DOING.  So I’m not simply distinguishing saying from doing, either.”

“Huh.  So…  Is there anything that is not saying?”

[several seconds of silence]

“Of course there is.  Here’s another disappointment:  It can’t be said, and that’s so maddeningly cliché!.  I’d like this to go somewhere, and that goes nowhere.”

“’Nowhere’ seems too strong, I suspect, but…”   My interlocutor places a finger against her cheek, pondering.  I lose track of how much time passes before she speaks again.  “This is about what you usually think of as ‘belief,’ right?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Specifically religious belief?”‘

“I don’t think there’s such a specific thing as religion.  And yet I do.  I’m unsure whether or not I believe in ‘belief.’  And yet I clearly do.  When someone actually suggests that what we call ‘religion’ has NOTHING to do with belief, I know that this just has to be wrong.  That is, I know it in my gut or my heart or wherever, not in my head.”

“Ah.  One of your disappointments is about who suggested this to you most recently, correct?”

I nod.  “Having done a quick read of Bruno Latour’s book, Rejoicing, Or the Torments of Religious Speech,[1] my strong impression is that this is his message there. As is always the case when I’m first reading something, I’m far from confident that I understand well what I’m reading.  But he seems to be so freaking MODERN in his insistence that religious speech ‘conveys no information.’  And this, after all his provocative insistence on hybrids, and on us ‘never having been modern.’”

“Why would you be especially disappointed that Latour writes this way?”

“Because he otherwise seems to understand so well how stupid it is to see the notion of something being ‘socially constructed’ as entailing that it is ‘just pretend’ (as I’ve put it elsewhere).”

“So you’re afraid that Latour’s book is treating religion as ‘just pretend’?”

“That’s well put.  I’m afraid.  It’s not so much that I’m convinced or persuaded.  I’m afraid.”

“This is clearly not a fear about exactly what Latour is saying.  It is a fear that you might be….  Let’s see, how to put it?”

Another longish silence before I speak again. “I think perhaps it’s a fear that I have to give a finalized account of what ‘saying’ is, in order to be able to say anything.”

She smiles.  “But you also know – in your gut, as you said before – that this can’t be right?”

I nod again.  “That’s what I would say today, if it were possible for me to say anything.”

Her smile tightens a bit.  “You clearly are saying it, you know.  Even the possibility that you might eventually unsay it does not change this.”

I sigh again.  “You’re right, of course.  But today that’s not enough.”

Now her look is serious, but not harsh.  “That it is not enough is why we will go on, no?”

“I suppose so.”

I notice that we are both weeping, and (for now) nothing more is said.


[1] Polity, 2013.

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Some Kind of Way Out of (t)Here

For about two years now, I’ve kept a separate blog, entitled “A Certain Style of Being.”  I maintained it “anonymously” (under the name Craig Alter) though a fair number of my family and friends knew that the blog was mine.  (It has long been listed here under “Other Blogs I Know,”)  I have considered it an experiment in thinking about the multiplicity of selfhood.  The “anonymity,” though it has been (and probably will still be) misunderstood in unfortunate ways by some, was mainly a device for freeing something(s) up in my own writing and thinking.

Today I added a final post to that blog, and will no longer post there.  If anything further develops, it will happen here or via some avenue of more “official” publication.  I don’t have an explanation right now for its “end,” in any sense of that word.

I do not expect you to read it unless for some reason you are truly interested.  The same caveat applies there which is given here:  Views expressed are not necessarily even my own, let alone those of any organization or group with which I am associated.

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