Melville: Chapter XI: Nightgown. (Moby Dick. 1851)

32636-le-rire-1901-n-357-henry-gerbault-d-ostoya-scottish-dance-hprints-com“Truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. But if, like Queequeg and me in the bed, the tip of your nose or the crown of your head be slightly chilled, why then, indeed, in the general consciousness you feel most delightfully and unmistakably warm. For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.”

Compare with Chapter 2 of Tao Te Ching (tr. J. Legge, 1891):

1. All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is.

2. So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another.

3. Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech.

4. All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement). The work is done, but how no one can see; ‘Tis this that makes the power not cease to be.

This last line reminds me of a concept I learned from James Altucher: by replacing goals with themes, you never cease to succeed. Rather than have a goal ‘to make a million dollars’, your theme is ‘to provide value to other people in such a way that is also financially beneficial to me.’

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Seneca – Letters from a Stoic (1-10)

divine retributionLetter 1 – On Saving Time

Recently we were in a bar, and he was telling me about this girl who seemed like she liked him, but wouldn’t let him ask her out, and puts him through all sorts of confusing games—they’re both PhDs working for maybe the best known company in the world and in their early 30s. My response was—doesn’t she know she’s dying? 

Why piss away your time on amusements unless you’re examining the hell out of them. Again, that’s the purpose of this blog in the first place, because too often I enjoy reading, and since I don’t think I should be spending time doing things just for the sake of relaxation, I began trying to examine them so at least I could look back and say ‘oh, right, I got something from that.’

Seneca:

“What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily? For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. Whatever years be behind us are in death’s hands.”

One of the messages of this chapter is: stop procrastinating. You’re going to die.

Reminiscent of Franklin:

“I cannot boast that I waste nothing, but I can tell you what I am wasting, and the cause and manner of the loss; I can give you the reasons why I am a poor man.”

Letter 2 – On Discursiveness in Reading

In short, a painful lesson for someone who keeps this blog, Seneca suggests—don’t read lots of different authors and works…just focus on a few, revisit them, and digest them fully.

Of course, returning to Letter 1, I procrastinate now that I’m married, and I haven’t finished a real book in many years, so perhaps it’s not really an issue for me.

Letter 4 – On the Terrors of Death

Seneca:

“It is not boyhood that still stays with us, but something worse,–boyishness. And this condition is all the more serious because we possess the authority of old age, together with the follies of boyhood, yea, even the follies of infancy. Boys fear trifles, children fear shadows, we fear both.”

Letter 5 – On the Philosopher’s Mean

Seneca:

“Inwardly, we ought to be different in all respects, but our exterior should conform to society.”

 

“We do not adapt ourselves to the present, but send our thoughts a long way ahead. And so foresight, the noblest blessing of the human race, becomes perverted. Beasts avoid the dangers which they see, and when they have escaped them are free from care; but we men torment ourselves over that which is to come as well as over that which is past. Many of our blessings bring bane to us; for memory recalls the tortures of fear, while foresight anticipates them. The present alone can make no man wretched.”

IX – On Philosophy and Friendship

“The Supreme Good calls for no practical aids from outside; it is developed at home, and arises entirely within itself.”

This is the concept that I’ve tried to follow more than any other I’ve learned, but likely not to the extent that I ought—because I try following it to a single end, and not as a continual end within itself.

X – On Living to Oneself

“’Know that thou art freed from all desires when thou hast reached such a point that thou prayest to God for nothing except what thou canst pray for openly.’ . . . ‘Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening.’”

This calls to mind our thoughts on Yom Kippur—that we find repentance for our sins easier when we’re asking God for forgiveness than when we’re asking people for forgiveness. I don’t believe divine forgiveness is easily bestowed, which I can only assume means that I rarely deserve it because I don’t know how to repent, and also because I’m not sure which things I do are good and which are bad. One year I called an old roommate and apologized on his voicemail for letting the air out of all his tires and drawing a penis and writing DICK on his car with shaving cream to discolor the paint. Even now, I feel kinda proud that I went and did that, right? I mean, there was injustice to me, and I took it upon myself to exact retribution in some unequal fashion—which I couldn’t even convince him I did—but, bottom line is, I don’t feel badly enough. And why don’t I feel badly enough? Well, perhaps because somewhere inside me I don’t believe that God punishes the wicked. But I do believe this—don’t I? That in one’s own lifetime, you’ll be punished or rewarded as you deserve. I must not truly believe this if I take it upon myself though, right?

Well, for instance, let’s say the girl who lives downstairs is making the entire stairwell stink of her child’s feces. My retaliation is that I don’t mention ‘by the way—if your daughter grabs the bathroom sink, it’s going to tip, fall and crush her.’ The truth is that perhaps it’s better to just leave retribution to the divine, and then, in this situation, to paint the stairwell with ammonia on a daily basis until our eyeballs all melt.

It is so difficult to even try to be a good person. I need to try better.

Sprucing up my $38 macbook

I haven’t written in a very long time, mostly because I’ve stopped reading and watching films entirely, as I simply don’t have the time anymore. Sucks.

Meanwhile, time flies, and my new Macbook Pro is now a late-2008 model. For a while my band was using it to run the keyboards at our shows–but a drunk girl knocked it off its stand and busted it and Apple took away its warrantee and said they couldn’t fix it. Its problems are mostly limited to the USB and charging ports, but its performance suffers. My first Macbook Pro I only kept for two years before replacing it because it was no longer powerful enough–this one I’ve had for five years, but I just don’t have the resources to replace it. I’ve maxed out its RAM, I’ve emptied everything I possibly could onto external drives, and it’s still being shitty. When I checked its resale value, due to its extensive denting, etc. its worth $38 in Apple giftcards. It cost $2k+.

Next idea was to buy a hybrid SSD. This model can’t handle an actual SSD, but Seagate makes this hybrid drive that’s 1TB with an extra 8GB solid state, and it works on magic. I couldn’t get it working–it turns out because this model Mac can’t handle a 3 gigabit connection, or something like that, and you have to change a jumper setting on the drive to make that work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any jumpers that were the correct size–they poke out too much and the cable won’t plug in.

I was on the verge of just sticking a new computer on the credit card when it occurred to me that I might be able to take out the SuperDrive (DVD/CD drive) and replace it with a hard drive. Yes. There’s a few companies making kits to make this possible. I went with OWC‘s Data Doubler because their name appeared most frequently. The kit comes with magnetic screwdrivers and extensive documentation and made replacement mostly a breeze, save a couple moments of panic.

Years of building my own computers led me to distrust Western Digital and Maxtor and eventually become a great fan of Seagate–but in this case I went with Samsung and Toshiba drives because I figured that maybe it was time to move to the Asian market. I went with the Samsung SSD 840 Pro, as I’ll pay $20 for the extra reliability. 128 GB that I’m using for my OS, apps, and iTunes library file–I’m keeping the library itself on my secondary drive. For the secondary drive I’m going with a 1TB Toshiba installed where the machine’s hard drive was originally. The SSD isn’t going to run at 6 gigabit because my machine can’t handle that, but it’ll taper down to 3 gigbits instead–hopefully not less, although it sure feels like it. I haven’t run any programs to test this.

Next, in terms of installation, I reinstalled OSX by starting up my machine in recovery mode and running the reinstallation of OSX Lion on the new hard disk. I then went through its built-in process to have it automatically copy over my apps and whatever various small files I didn’t recognize and figured would keep customization the same (I didn’t want to lose my keychain or the tabs I’d last had open on Chrome, and it actually worked perfectly.) In total it took about six hours–mostly due to a four hour process of “downloading additional components” which my research shows isn’t downloading at all, but just queueing files up across one’s computer in prep for reinstallation.

Next, restarting the computer with two bootable drives led to problems–even while holding down Opt on reboot, it couldn’t detect the new one. So I pulled out my old hard drive, restarted, and although it took a few reboots and a few PRAM resets, after a good half-hour startup everything’s been smooth ever since.

I’ve installed TRIM Enabler and enabled the TRIM since the Samsung supports it and OSX doesn’t automatically enable it for drives you install yourself in this location.

I installed the new 1GB HDD, put my old HDD in an external enclosure and copied over my files, and now comes the best part…symlinks.

I wanted to set up symlinks so that I could pretend my two hard drives are connected to each other without having to save or delete files unnecessarily from my SSD. Essentially, I want to delete the system folders Desktop, Downloads, Movies, Pictures, Public, Sites, Documents, and then recreate them not as aliases, but as symlinks, pointing to their new locations on my HDD. I had trouble doing it all from the terminal, so I split up the job like this.

1. Delete the Downloads folder. You can’t do this within OSX because it’s a system folder and it’s just not allowed. So, instead, into terminal and typing the command: sudo rm -rf ~/Downloads/

2. Now the Downloads folder is deleted, and I continued by using the potential-abandonware Symbolic Linker. It installs a Contextual Menu/Service that creates symlinks. So on HDD I create a symlink of Downloads, move the symlink file over to the SSD and now it LOOKS like the folder is back to normal. The point being that its called Downloads and when software wants to save to my normal Downloads directory, it’ll save to my HDD Downloads directory.

3. Another great benefit here is that I keep tons of shit on my desktop–so I create a symlink of my desktop, and the OS actually reads and displays my desktop off my HDD. If I’d put my “Desktop” folder in Dropbox and created a symlink of that folder, I could have a desktop that syncs across multiple machines. And that’s badass. Thanks, lifehacker.

4. As for iTunes, I wanted the SSD to load my library as fast as possible, but to store the music elsewhere. So I copied my entire music folder EXCEPT the “iTunes Music” directory onto the SSD. The “iTunes Music” directory is hanging out on the HDD, where in the Advanced Settings of iTunes I’ve redirected it to look.

Lastly, I hate all my symlink folders not looking spiffy. They’ll have the Alias arrow on them regardless, which I prefer, just so I don’t forget they’re not real directories. But I want them to have the original pretty icons from the OS. OSX icons are stored here: /System/Library/CoreServices/CoreTypes.bundle
And when you Show Package Contents, then Contents/Resources and they’re below all the folders. So, find the icon you’d like to use, and double click it to open in Preview. It shows the different sizes on the left, but they’re not just scaled versions of the same image–so that if you choose the largest, most detailed, the picture will be too small and lightly-colored to actually see when its a tiny icon. So I chose the smallest version of the icon, because it gives the most space to actual image inside the folder. It looks good tiny. Select it in Preview, and then on the main frame, click and select all and copy.

Find the directory, not the symlink, that you’d like to have the new icon. Right click > Get Info. At the top left of the Get Info window, you’ll see the icon. Click on it and it’ll highlight. Now click Cmd-V and it’ll paste the new icon. This is apparently the only way to get it there–you can’t drag, etc. and I can’t figure out how to get the whole bundle of icons in either. Sucks, but I’m not too concerned. In the meantime, the symlink now takes on the new icon, but includes the alias arrow on top of it. Perfect.

It seems like everything is working. At 10% of the cost of a new MacBook Pro, now I can actually get back to work, still limited by my RAM, but in general running things much more smoothly. Maybe with I’ll save enough time usually spent cussing that I can go back to reading.

And Love? Yom Kippur, 2012.

I fasted for over 25 hours. That means I didn’t eat anything during that time. As for drinking, including water, it was more like 30 hours, because I forgot to drink anything with my last meal. It was easy…I didn’t get a headache, and except for about ten minutes mid-evening, I didn’t even feel the slightest hungry. And that’s probably indicative of why I lost more than 20 pounds over this past summer.

My immediate concern, I know, should be “hm, maybe I’m generally not eating enough if I can go a full day without eating and not feel hungry.” What should also scare me is that before I got sick, I’d also stopped eating, with much the same thoughts as I often have now, that perhaps there’s some secret way of living in which one doesn’t need to eat, drink, or sleep, and perhaps I’m on the verge of discovering it! I did discover it, and that’s why I believe wishes really do come true…and really come with lessons attached.

If I had to spell out my philosophies on life, I’d do so through a bunch of threadbare parables from my own life. Anything worth discussion has no “point”–points are generally “thought-terminating clichés,” as expressed by Robert Jay Lifton, “the most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.”

There are a few “points” I think I’ve found that confound that notion, for instance, I do try to begin each day with a meditation on a single phrase, the same phrase I’ve meditated on daily since early childhood, and daily I strive to find its meaning anew, to find what petty contrivances I’ve allowed to overpower me. For a brief moment, I come to terms with what’s important in life. And just as quickly, I lose it and fall back into idiocy.

But the concept that, if anything is my great consolation for life, I think I best spelled out in a letter I wrote to Lucy, Apr 27, 2009, “i just experienced the greatest failure of my life–and my consolation is that i did everything right, that i wouldn’t change a single thing. life seems to me to consist firstly of a baseline, and then a wave of highs and lows that will always be equal to one another, so that our capacity for pleasure and joy is equal to our capacity for pain and suffering–that we pay for everything, in some way, if only because we would collapse without the balance. but despite the enourmity of the pain, i think the closer we stay to the baseline, the more immense the gaping darkness rests between oneself and the paragon of life.”

At Yom Kippur 2006, I spent the entire day going through the motions, grew hungry and wandered out to a deli for a sandwich. My philosophy at the time was “I am my own god. I determine my own fate,” but I spent the day there to support my father. I ate that sandwich not because I was terribly hungry, but as an illustration of my philosophy. That’s not reckoning–that’s actually what I was thinking at the time. This was immediately followed up by a great big “fuck you” from the universe, which rendered me sick and expecting to die of it for nearly a year, an extended mock-execution with which I still haven’t fully come to terms.

What I lost was my faith in other people. What I gained was a relationship with god. When asked if I “believe” in god, I can answer “no…I don’t need to believe; i’ve experienced god.” It’s something I can feel, it’s something that compels me in a million little ways, it’s something I believe everyone should be aware of in themselves–by whatever name one wants to call it–it’s that “feeling in your gut” that guides you to circle the correct answer on your school exams. For me, it’s an intensely physical experience, it’s the least subtle thing in the world, it’s the reason I pursue music, it’s the reason I do or don’t do a great many things, it’s the reason behind my aesthetic approach to as much as possible. Behind it is the knowledge that if I follow the urge, I will live; if I deny it, I will suffer, and I will die a horrible death. This isn’t supposition: I’ve tested it, I’ve tested it a thousand times.

And what am I most afraid of? I’m most afraid, beyond all else, that god might abandon me, that I might fuck up, act contrary, one too many times, and then find myself without those urges anymore, without direction, without reward, and without punishment.

The following Yom Kippur I returned, much more frail than I’d been the year before. Determined to prove that I was worthy of being alive. Nauseated, my head aching and heavy, dizzy, unable to stand without propping myself up, as we reached the 24-hour mark, I remember the lights seemed to dim, and they all began floating like fireflies, and in my eyes I could see stars, and during the final repetition of the confessional, every word stabbed me and I understood them, and I cried, I understood how I was guilty for things I’d done, for things I’d not done, for things I’d never do, guilty, guilty, guilty, so I cried, and I floated into the air as the lights descended and the stars consumed the whole world.

It is best illustrated to me as in Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

…but today, that was not my experience. I could not fully connect with the words. I saw no stars. The world did not slow its course. No hunger, no fatigue, no pain…just this fear that I’ve been abandoned.

Because lately, to tell you the truth, I’ve felt blunted. Nothing strikes me with any particular strength, not joy, not sadness, not love, not hate, not ecstasy, not agony–nothing but a dense, unending autumn. It’s what I’m afraid most people feel all the time, in their constant search for novelty and amusement, and I don’t want to feel this way. I’m terrified to lose that depth of feeling on which I thrive, I’m terrified I’ve lost all passion, all capacity to love, terrified most of all that this is but a prelude.

For a moment, I know precisely what I must focus on, what it is I want to grow, and I can only hope that this bluntness I feel is a vehicle to reach this focus, a vehicle shielding me from all that’s colorful and otherwise enticing in life.

To Lucy, Apr 30, 2009:
“Love is a complicated subject for me. . . . I don’t like the smell or taste of fish–I enjoy good sushi, and sometimes a good tuna steak, but otherwise it all nauseates me. I went to this Vietnamese restaurant and ordered what I always do, and the sauce they bring out with it is delicious, a little sweet, a little fruity and peppery, and this time the waiter realized I had only ordered vegetarian foods, and he asked if I wanted the peanut sauce instead. I said I wanted the normal sauce. ‘So…the fishsauce?’ I insisted on the normal sauce. So he brought out the fish sauce. And it was the normal sauce. And I tasted it, and now I tasted the fish in it. The sauce I loved so well, it was only in my imagination now, and nothing will bring it back, because I know that I was mistaken in my tastes. I don’t know if I wish I’d never had it now, because now I miss it. And love?”

love and silence, my first reaction to Lady Chatterley.

Perhaps it’s no secret that I think very, very slowly, and have immense trouble understanding when other people speak. Not always–not when I am on autopilot, when I have another mission, when that mission is to tear somebody apart, or to be the life of the party, it’s at those times when it’s far more critical for me to push myself aside and let that other part master me, when I know that beyond all else it’s important to be witty, or to be cruel, or to be perfect. When I emerge from these moments they’re all dreams, and when I look back on them I see them as if they took place underwater, everything is blurry, I remember very few specifics, I become drunk on myself and my thoughts and my power, and others remind me quite frequently of things I’ve said or done that I haven’t any recollection of–thank god they’re generally wonderful, and I wish I could be so wonderful when I’m being myself–though I once had three conversations with a guy when I was in such states, and when he introduced himself to me when I was thoughtful, I had no idea who he was. It’s all a bit horrifying, really. I have suspicions that this is all due to keeping closed-captioning on the television for nearly a decade for no reason except that I enjoyed reading my television shows.

Some of the most important moments of my life, though, I’ve had to give up, because I could not understand what was being said to me, because I have such difficulty understanding English behind any sort of accent except the American no-accent characteristic of Philadelphia. If I was in bed with Humphrey Bogart, I’d have no idea what terms of endearment he’d be calling me, because I can’t understand what he says. And it becomes embarrassing very quickly, to continue saying “I’m sorry…what?” because, well, I have two ears, and if one is pressed against your tummy, you probably suspect that my other one is still working. I could perhaps claim that they’re like my eyes, that one ear can recognizes something is there, but two ears perceive the depth of it. But then I’d always have to keep one ear against your tummy so that I could keep up the lie, the lie being that I can’t understand what you say to me when it’s most precious to me that I understand. I hope someday I understand, that someday your voice becomes one with mine, though right now all that’s been burned into my memory is the exact words on your voicemail, on the edge of exasperation, a picture of polite curtness, “you know what to do” it says, when the truth is, I don’t know what to do, not anymore. Everyone was scolding me for not leaving messages when I called, so I began leaving messages, “hi it’s me. bye.” and everyone was twice as annoyed. “You know what to do.” No, I don’t. And I won’t, there’s no chance that I ever will again, unless you tell me to leave my name, my number, a brief message, and the time that I called, or unless you answer. And the truth is, I’m very self-conscious on answering machines, when I hear people leaving messages I sometimes write down precisely the formula they use, I try to understand it, I find these pieces of paper in pockets, boxes, shoes, and still.

“So,” I am asked, “did you find anything interesting at work today?”
“Yes.”
“What did you find?”
“An old lady, born in the 20’s, who signed her name with a heart as the dot over her letter i.”
“Yes? And what else?”
“A man who misspelled the abbreviation for October.”
“How did he spell it?”
“O-T-C.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, that’s all.”

I’ve been dried up, dried and shriveled like a dried salami. “Do you know what a dried salami is?” I am asked.
“I can guess, Grandpa.”
“Let me tell you. You’d go to the butcher, and they sell salamis, and some of them they take them and–”
“Dry them. Yes.”
“They hang them up, and a few months later, they’re dried, all shriveled up. If you eat one, it has a different consistency than a regular salami.”
“Yes, I think we passed one around at a party once, Scott’s grandmother gave something to him, I think a dried salami.”
“They’re more expensive than a regular salami.”
“I can imagine.”
“Because it takes more work to make them.”
“Yep.”
“So if you go looking for a dried salami, expect to pay more for one.”
“Right.”
“And when you speak to the butcher, make sure you specify precisely, a dried salami, not a regular salami, or he’ll give you a regular salami, and you’ll be able to tell instantly, because it’ll be too big to be a dried salami, and it won’t be wrinkled, and a dried salami is darker than a regular salami.”
“Like when you hit puberty your penis is supposed to get darker?”
“What?”
“I’ll make sure to specify. To the butcher.”

“And only now she became aware of the small, bud-like reticence and tenderness of the penis, and a little cry of wonder and poignancy escaped her again, her woman’s heart crying out over the tender frailty of that which had been the power.”
Ch. XII

And it’s this that finally melts her after confessing that she could never love him, finding him clownish in his dirty brown corduroys, a buffoon to turn his back to her as he zipped up his pants, so self-assured in his ignorance, so ugly in his broad common-speak. And she suddenly melts in his arms and comes to love him, first his body, perhaps only his body.

But it’s the language, the language, the language, the language, he knows how to speak a good English, once a bright young man who progressed beyond his place in society, moved upwards through the military, learned to speak in the language of the ruling class, and then, he lapses into his horrid common-speak, that I cannot even fully decode, and he does so at the worst moments, when his clothes are off, when she is wrapped in him.

‘”Goodnight,” she said.
“Goodnight, your Ladyship,” his voice.
She stopped and looked back into the wet dark. She could just see the bulk of him. “Why did you say that?” she said.
“Nay,” he replied. “Goodnight, then, run!”
She plunged on in the dark-grey tangible night.
-Ch. X’

I reread this part of the conversation a few times and decided that she gave pause over his use of the term “your Ladyship”–after making love, shouldn’t she be addressed differently? Perhaps it’s at that moment she feels somehow as if he is the hired man only performing his role of pleasing those who hire him. Later she gives him reason to suspect that she’s using him in an effort to become pregnant, and he gives perhaps his longest speech thus far:

“Well,” he said at last. “It’s as your Ladyship likes. If you get the baby, [your husband’s] welcome to it. I shan’t have lost anything. On the contrary, I’ve had a very nice experience, very nice indeed! . . . If you’ve made use of me, it’s not the first time I’ve been made use of; and I don’t suppose it’s ever been as pleasant as this time; though of course, one can’t feel tremendously dignified about it.” . . .
“But I didn’t make use of you,” she said pleading.
“At your Ladyship’s service,” he replied.

But I think there’s something more to her pause: I don’t think she’s regarding the term “your Ladyship” and what their apparent relationship is based on that so much as the difference between his language of love and his proper speech. He collapses into his broad accent when he is naked, and that’s how and when he is most honest, speaking in punctuation, and when she loves him, she gives no notice, though there’s no indication of whether she understands or not, as she never answers his broad accent directly, only conversing verbally with his proper English, and otherwise answering physically or emotionally.

So, she tells him she cannot love him. And then they make love. And she wants him again. And so, for a third time, they make love, and here begins the conversation that began all these thoughts of mine:

And afterwards she was utterly still, utterly unknowing, she was not aware for how long. And he was still with her, in an unfathomable silence along with her. And of this, they would never speak.

When awareness of the outside began to come back, she clung to his breast, murmuring ‘My love! My love!’ And he held her silently. And she curled on his breast, perfect.

But his silence was fathomless. His hands held her like flowers, so still aid strange. ‘Where are you?’ she whispered to him. ‘Where are you? Speak to me! Say something to me!’

He kissed her softly, murmuring: ‘Ay, my lass!’

But she did not know what he meant, she did not know where he was. In his silence he seemed lost to her.

‘You love me, don’t you?’ she murmured.

‘Ay, tha knows!’ he said.

‘But tell me!’ she pleaded.

‘Ay! Ay! ’asn’t ter felt it?’ he said dimly, but softly and surely. And she clung close to him, closer. He was so much more peaceful in love than she was, and she wanted him to reassure her.

‘You do love me!’ she whispered, assertive. And his hands stroked her softly, as if she were a flower, without the quiver of desire, but with delicate nearness. And still there haunted her a restless necessity to get a grip on love.

‘Say you’ll always love me!’ she pleaded.

‘Ay!’ he said, abstractedly. And she felt her questions driving him away from her.

‘Mustn’t we get up?’ he said at last.

‘No!’ she said.

But she could feel his consciousness straying, listening to the noises outside.

‘It’ll be nearly dark,’ he said. And she heard the pressure of circumstances in his voice. She kissed him, with a woman’s grief at yielding up her hour.

He rose, and turned up the lantern, then began to pull on his clothes, quickly disappearing inside them. Then he stood there, above her, fastening his breeches and looking down at her with dark, wide-eyes, his face a little flushed and his hair ruffled, curiously warm and still and beautiful in the dim light of the lantern, so beautiful, she would never tell him how beautiful. It made her want to cling fast to him, to hold him, for there was a warm, half-sleepy remoteness in his beauty that made her want to cry out and clutch him, to have him. She would never have him. So she lay on the blanket with curved, soft naked haunches, and he had no idea what she was thinking, but to him too she was beautiful, the soft, marvellous thing he could go into, beyond everything.

‘I love thee that I can go into thee,’ he said.

‘Do you like me?’ she said, her heart beating.

‘It heals it all up, that I can go into thee. I love thee that tha opened to me. I love thee that I came into thee like that.’

He bent down and kissed her soft flank, rubbed his cheek against it, then covered it up.

‘And will you never leave me?’ she said.

‘Dunna ask them things,’ he said.

‘But you do believe I love you?’ she said.

‘Tha loved me just now, wider than iver tha thout tha would. But who knows what’ll ’appen, once tha starts thinkin’ about it!’

‘No, don’t say those things! —’

And he’s absolutely correct. How intelligent Connie is, how sharp and thoughtful, how passionate and able to love, and yet able to play games, to “give him the slip” as he puts it, to say what she feels at one moment, that he takes as truth, and change her mind the next, and then shudder at the way he reacts by closing himself up emotionally, that no matter how she feels he treats her the same, with the same touch, the same temper, whether he is being loved or used, and in love he gives her this language, his truthful language, but also in pain, so long as she is touching him, as it were, to the quick.

I heard an interview with Chinese author Yiyun Li, who said that she had only ever written creatively in English, and so when she created Chinese characters, they spoke to her in English only, and that she would have to give them old Chinese proverbs to speak in, to give us some sense of them as real people. We seem to delegate this or that language to demarcate segments of our lives, and there’s this language of love, that perhaps is the same as the language of pain and of joy, though I’ve heard Céline exclaim “oh shit!” and I myself have said “merde!” at such comparable moments.

And I end the call without leaving a message, and wonder if I’ll ever find my head surfacing from the water again.

So, I am there, longing to my very depths for answers, and I cannot understand a word, and I wonder if I too speak complete nonsense, when I grow intoxicated and begin pronouncing every single letter with infinite gravity, and I am too ashamed to request that you speak to me in Philadelphian English, embarrassed too by my own accent, and when I want to plead, all I can do is cling, physically, emotionally, uncertain above all, hopeful, and trying desperately to be secure in silence.

Whatever you focus on will grow; or, whatever you fight with, you keep.

Whatever you focus on will grow; or, whatever you fight with, you keep. My day could easily be ruined, but with this laughter, just a few seconds of distraction and separation from the event, I lose anything resembling anger. Should it be that the only time I’m focused and centered with all my being is when I am angry?

1. We were making crepes for dinner, and S. was mixing milk and eggs and flour in a blender, but the bottom was not screwed on tight, so when she lifted it the bottom fell off and all the mixture spilled over the counter and floor and walls and cabinets, everywhere. I was across the room, and S’s mouth fell open and she just stood there with wide eyes as she watched everything pouring out–and C. immediately jumped up and began dancing and singing “oops! oops! oops! oops!”

2. I was running across the kitchen with a piece of moldy fruit and I accidentally kicked a chair–I may have broken my little toe, it hurts many months later still–and I hopped on one foot out the door, with C. hopping behind me singing “ouch! ouch! ouch!”

3. We got back to my car after a night out, and there was an egg splattered across the side of it. I poured water on it to try to rinse it off–but it didn’t budge. C laughed and laughed “you know why I’m laughing–because you couldn’t get it off with water!”