The neighbors’ fight

The neighbors’ fight this time was violent. There was lots of noise and yelling. Even banging and stomping. She could hear it through her closed door. She turned her music off.

He lived across the hall and one door down. She couldn’t sit still. He looked so large and unmanageable. He didn’t keep himself clean. Would he hit her? The girl was screaming. His girlfriend, she recognized the voice, a little mousy one, she’d been around, always squinting. Hadn’t she been gaining weight? Could be pregnant.

With her door open, it was louder. She should confront them. But out in the hall, they seemed to be quiet. Maybe just write a note. She shouldn’t get involved. Back in her room, she wrote on a card. If there’s anything I can do, and the number of a crisis center. Just put it under their door. Then they’d do whatever with it. Out of her hands.

Maybe stick it in the crack? But then what if it made him violent. She didn’t want that thought. Don’t they do everything to isolate? And he might get her worse!

Outside their door, she heard something else. She blushed and went home. Don’t even know what to think.

She saw him that week, in the basement. He had a grin, his eyes going side to side everywhere. Large purple yellow and brown bruises on the palms and bakcs of his hands, which he rubbed together and nearly ran into her, as she got her mail.

Music changes

What is it about music? It makes me feel good. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

I went to a show last night, first time I had seen live music in a while. I can see in my thoughts how my happiness unfolded: at first, it was kitschy. Older men, basically a standard five piece outfit: a drum kit, a synthesizer, guitar, bass, and the vocalist had a hand drum; only they added a guy who can play the saz and the oud, and they called it traditional music. And even I could tell the singer’s pronunciation was terrible, whether he was singing in Armenian, Turkish, or Arabic, and didn’t they even realize the differences between the traditions? The dancers on the floor in front of them, so pretentious! What did they imagine they were doing? I was, in a word, defensive. Over-critical.

But: could have been the low light, the heat, the noise, could have been the girl with the beautiful tattooed arms dancing near me, my mood changed. I started thinking: After all, well aren’t they singing traditional songs, with traditional melodies and lyrics? So what if they are using different instrumentation, if they westernize it. What’s the big deal, and where’s the gain for the purist. They had good energy, people were enjoying themselves. It was good to hear the melodies, and when they played Western rock, it was good to hear it transformed this way.

Music is all about change, and variation. Alteration and identity, their marriage and the conflict between them: isn’t that what makes a melody or a harmony. A tune is a thing that unfolds, changes over time while remaning the same; and a harmony is differences that added together make a whole.

I don’t think Oidupaa’s music is less authentically Tuvan because he uses a Russian bayan instead of an igil, e.g:

Exactly the opposite; and his singing style, which sounds like no other Tuvan’s, sounds all the more Tuvan for that reason. More to the point, don’t I admire Erkin Koray and Sezen Aksu for exactly the same kind of fusion as this group was making? Only done from the other end. Sure: it might have seemed less authentic. But things always look less real close up, exactly because they’re more real. And anyway, no one is expecting these guys to be world-class musicians. And the dancing was good, and I woke up happy and humming.


It’s good to see old friends again and see them happy.

I saw one yesterday after over a year. Time isn’t dealing them out faster than I can take them. He’s up from California for the week for some shows with his band. He looks tanner and thinner, maybe taller and maybe greyer. He’s become an electrical engineer since I saw him last, specializing in solar panels; his wife does belly-dance instruction out of their home and is branching out to clothing manufacture in the kitchen. We talked over salad, humus, and a tempeh-BLT. We talked about Armenia, Anatolian history, music, the price of wood, how to live a full life. He works outdoors and his mind is his own, he says, when he works.

I asked if he had moved from where his wife was miserable to where he would be. It’s clear he hadn’t, and in his words, I’m always able make it happen for me. The self-source of happiness.

If your sense of a person is a sense of their story, and the story is more than where they are at this point, but how they have been between points, it was a good story: it made me feel good, it was believable .

The feeling was: offstage is a safe place to be. I can keep my eye off the ball if it rolls out of my court. The future doesn’t seem dangerous, and I can trust in what’s outside my cone of vision.

He gave me several cubic feet of ripe avocados and blood oranges, and a cheerful, social energy. He left happy with the wet air and land of Portland, and the green everywhere.

We met at my new favorite place to read: a worker-owned vegetarian cafe a few blocks from my apartment. It’s become my new favorite place to read. Whether there are a lot of people or just a few, I can concentrate more effectively there than at home. There’s something relaxing about it, and something homey. We’ve given them books and a couple bookcases, there always seems to be good music, there’s never a bad mood in the place. The endless refills of my tea, the salads as big as my head.

There’s the cone of attention again: the security about what is beyond its boundaries.

Morning story

She had been on her feet forever. And she was so tired and everything was against her. Doing the least things she had to lift her own lead weight. Her head hurt. Standing behind the counter, brewing coffee, was torture. She would trade one foot against the other, shifting, leaning. Couple customers, it wasn’t seven. Quiet, thank god.

A man came in with a gust of leaves; and the door thudded shut. He sat at the counter. Hands on either side of his cap he started talking.

It was some confused story. A new housemate, there was general conversation about drugs, it was her first week, and she said well sex is my drug. That was weird, and then she’s gone for days, and where did she work, was she talking about quitting when she moved in, not sure.

But today, a bang had woke him up, he thought it was a gun or fight or what, and he got out of bed and down the hall and it was her door slamming, the windows were open, it stank of nail polish, and her floor was covered with pairs of jeans. And the wind and the rain outside, and she was nowhere.

That had been an hour before, and he couldn’t get back to sleep. He propped the door and left.

He shut up and drank his coffee. No food, then left, and no tip. She shifted from foot to foot, curling her toes in pain whenever she stopped moving.

Shakespeare and dogma

I spoke recently with a friend about Shakespeare, and I realized how far my view of him had changed. In some ways, I still feel the same: I don’t care for the language. It seems somehow overstuffed, inorganic, and too deliberately full of ambiguities; maybe even too full of life, or overstimulated. I don’t know that I would be too interested in defending this point: but it’s the way I feel. Maybe call it taste and leave me to it. So much is constant.

But then I also didn’t get the characters. I couldn’t understand how they changed, what pressures were on them. It was all over my head. But now somehow they’ve exploded into life for me. It’s a little like learning how to open a pop-up book right, so the shapes all stand out in their proper relation. I just didn’t see the depth that was there before, the several simultaneous motions of the unfolding.

I don’t know how to characterize what the difference is. I remember pretending to like him, and I remember feeling that I couldn’t quite get a purchase on him. I felt the plays to be flat without knowing quite what I was missing. It’s funny: I’ve become more dogmatic, in my views on human nature and political realities; or I’ve gotten more of a hold on these things, I’m more opinionated: so I can read him better in these areas. I can understand the pressures on his characters, how they change and how they interact.

Time fetish

I can feel a change coming in my life. Of course I know that it is coming, since I set it in motion; but there are indicators that confirm it for me. I touch on them and their texture reassures me.

There is a certain character to my encounters these days. I get in touch with old friends, I revisit old familiar places I haven’t been in years, I try drinks I had put aside long ago, I see old roommates again. And in each of these circumstances, there is a kind of summing-up; chapters get closed, stories are resolved, the past is put in its new place and its parts shuffle into their new arrangements. The conversations tend toward the historical, or the philosophical. They also seem larger than themselves, and they somehow come from behind themselves.

The people I’m meeting, the encounters I’m having, stand like gatekeepers at a portal. They are ordinary encounters at ordinary times in others’ lives; but for me they seem to reflect the glow that comes from the open hallway behind them. They are different in that light. Their shadows go far back, the shine on them projects forward. They take on a fetish character, they represent a divinity that I begin to see in them.

Fetishization has come to mean pay unreasonable attention to, or rank something inappropriately: there’s a background standard of rationality the fetishizer offends against. I think the usage derives from Marx; but he used it to mean: to give powers to something that doesn’t have them, to make the thing a divinity. However there is a truth to the divinity of the fetish, that he would not deny.

In the social world, powers are transferable to things. Money is a god, it does create and destroy. Clothes, houses, other objects: they can confer status. The fetishes that are made of these things do gain powers. You make a thing a fetish, and the fetish is the dwelling place of the god, simply because you say it is. The fetish is the object or the time or the festival or the place in which god reveals some of his presence; and he reveals it to you and you perceive it.

This time is the dwelling place of the god, the god resides in this time, he gives the events in this time to partake in his character; because the god is absolute openness and absolute possibility. This is the time of portals and the openings in walls that had been only the outer edges of the shape of your life, this time has the god in it; it shows forth part of the god, a possibility from his realm of all-possible, sent as emissary to the actual world, existing in the transient moment, temporarily making actual the possibility as possibility.

Or: instead it’s like you check your necessities before you go out the door. Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch, your fingers touch on them and make sure they are there to rely on; you double-check on the things you are used to, the things you’ll carry on your way; you touch a memory and remind yourself of its texture, you close certain doors to shallow halls as you climb the stairs into the radiant, deeper one.

It’s what you’re used to

She asked him to move in. They’d known each other a week. She was bored at home, tied to the kid; he had debts and no job. It seemed like the best solution. Someone would be home, she could go play.

But then he got boring. He didn’t want a job. Or he said he did, but he wouldn’t make a resume, he wouldn’t make phone calls. He’d sit at home playing world of warcraft.

She guessed his passwords to snoop on him. But then she didn’t know how, and when she asked at work about it, they asked her why.

She gave one ultimatum, then another. She didn’t like being the bad guy, so she couldn’t follow through; but it felt good to draw a line. If the kid hadn’t liked him, maybe.

But then: it turned out his mother needed a property manager. Typical: getting bailed out by Mom. She offered him the job. But shouldn’t I get it; I have references, I’m responsible. It would be perfect: I could watch the kid myself.

He was happy to have her off his back while she worked on his mom. Who was also pliable. She was happy for her son.

Then they moved, she quit her job, and no more threats. He didn’t want to change. Why should he listen to her? Empty words are dangerous.

They broke up. But she couldn’t make him leave: he got along so well with her kid! The two of them were soulmates.

Psychology and humiliation

I’m suspicious of psychology. Particularly the kind that does controlled experiments. I don’t know what triggered this thought today, whether I saw something in the news or, I don’t know. Here’s the thought: What are the real motives for the psychological experiments I read about? Is it only disinterested curiosity?

Or is there some other reason people want to blindfold others, or give them electric shocks, or instruct them to give others electric shocks, or make them look at violent pornography with electrodes on while people watch and take notes on their reactions. It’s as if they have no knowledge of psychology, these psychologists: do they think people feel and react normally, in such an unequal power relatinoship? Nobody likes being powerless, nobody is going to be like themselves, in that kind of situation.

Who knows, maybe it’s just science. The pursuit of knowledge, disinterested in itself, allows us to have the satisfaction of humiliating people who knows. Or maybe it’s a problem with journalists, these are the experiments they write about. The interesting ones are the ones which feature humiliation, and all the innocuous ones never make the paper. But I don’t know, and I haven’t found out.

There’s a particular study I heard described on a podcast, and I keep returning to it in my mind. The whole situation seems to encapsulate my distaste for this kind of psychology. The study tries to isolate people’s self-image, or their honesty with themselves.

The subjects are asked whether they would say: that they experience particular satisfaction after taking a dump; that they often imagine raping people, or about being raped; whether they think about having sex with their parents, or siblings; and other, similar questions. The common denominator is that these are not things people admit to, in public. Only people who are honest with themselves will admit these things.

Then the respondants are ranked according to how many shameful things they admit to. And those who admit more are called more honest with themselves. These two groups are tracked: and it turns out those who are more honest with themselves are less successful in a variety of ways: they earn less and are more depressed than the others, the ones who lie to themselves. The dishonest ones just do better in life. To succeed, you have to just lie to yourself, or be arrogant, or have an inflated sense of self-worth; and the deck of life is stacked against people who have an accurate self-image.

But there’s a blind spot here, think about it: Why should we call those who are more likely to admit shameful things about themselves to a stranger, why should those people be called honest? Not that they are dishonest; no, not necessarily: but the study doesn’t test honesty, or self-image accuracy, it tests how likely its subjects are to admit shameful things about themselves to a stranger.

But these are not the same thing. We all know people who are unable to admit good things about themselves, good qualities that are obvious to those who know them. These people are also being dishonest in a way, and even dishonest with themselves, their self-image is not accurate; but these people might be called honest, in this study. Additionally: isn’t it a symptom of depression to believe shameful things about yourself, dwell on them, and bring them to others’ attention in inappropriate fora? – it’s no wonder that people who behave in this way will find themselves being less successful than others. It is difficult to work with someone who tells you shameful things about themself. It’s distracting.

The creators of the experiment described its origin on the podcast where I heard about it. It was like this: They were in a bar, late at night, they took a napkin and began writing down all the shameful things, things people whould not want to admit about themselves, and as they got drunker and drunker the things got worse and worse. The scene is all to clear to me: as they drank more and more, their desire to humiliate others became stronger and hid itself more effectively behind the weakened desire to answer the question.

I don’t know if I’m being fair, or if what I’m describing is accurate or representative. But it’s the impression I have of the science. A science is a big place, lots of things happen in it. My own ignorance is plenty wide, there’s room for a great deal inside of it.

I know I’ve benefited tremendously from therapy. But the kind of relationship I had with my therapist, where we worked together as equals, discussed things and agreed, like two human beings working on a problem, seems miles apart from the scenarios seen in science news reporting about psychology, which seem to have a serious sadistic, faux-objective, humilation obsession.


I haven’t been control of myself for a few days. I’m nervous, jumpy, and clingy.

There’s a woman at our office who works in the mailroom; she’s deaf, and a funny thing, she always walks very softly, with an exaggerated, silent-movie tiptoe. I almost expect her to be putting a finger to her lips, wearing white gloves. Her face is made up thickly, like tv makeup, except seen in person; which alters it. And she’s deaf, so I wonder why she takes such care not to make any noise, on the thick concrete floor with silencing rugs, wearing sneakers. Nobody, wearing no matter what, makes noise on them. Of course she wouldn’t have any way of knowing that.

My feelings are unpredictable, but they’re always the same; only the intensities and durations and occasions aren’t. I wonder if it isn’t just statistical noise. Not statistical noise, but meaningless co-occurrence of random, unrelated feeling pips. They come, they go, and each irrelevantly to the other, they make a cloud of feelings, uniformly distributed, except occasionally, and for no reason at all, you’ll have a rush on one feeling or another, and you get crests and troughs without any underlying cause. There’s no reason I should feel worse since Tuesday, apart from being unable to sleep, and not being able to understand what’s going on around me from prolonged sleeplessness: but that’s another symptom, like the choking throat, the difficulty breathing, the irritability, the elevated heart rate, trouble in swallowing, and general panic.

There’s a novel I am reading, it’s about a bunch of young Americans, nearly adults, not too much going on in their lives, they get to know one another, talk, date, drink, and strangely, the book is written all in this atmosphere of total wow. It’s effectively communicated. I get this wide-awake, wow, open feeling from it. But wow over what? What is going on in it? I can’t see much in it.

I suppose there is one issue, in that the main character is trying to keep his family and friends apart, and can’t. The two worlds collide. But what stands out to me is all the rich stuff he seems to be surrounded with, all the money that his friends and their families evidently have, and how much useless, expensive stuff there is in all their houses. I just find it really difficult to get over that. I’m not sure if the author wants me to, whether that’s part of the picture he’s getting across. Certainly it’s in the picture, but how does he mean me to look at it?

It just seems like second nature to him, all these big houses with multiple rooms and fancy furniture, and country residences, he doesn’t really dwell on them, they’re just there, everywhere. And I can’t seem to ignore it. To the point where it’s hard for me to see what, exactly, the characters’ problems are. Except the one who drinks too much and doesn’t like his job. Okay, those are problems. But everyone else?

And then compared to the glee with which the Russian novel I picked up yesterday described the poverty of its main character, and the quickness and completeness and tidiness that it was in and done. The spring in the mattress, the cramped room, the burnt-out lamp. And then the story moved on.

And why can’t I move on from my anxiety, I don’t know. It was worst today as I went into the main front hall of our building during lunch, with the live piano player, and the clean tiles, the smooth escalators and elevators, the clean, well-fed people, thousands of cubic feet of climate-controlled air; there’s something terrifying and hideous in that scene. I fled to the back stairs, bare concrete with old white-painted, windowless walls, the steps steeper than they are deep, and wide enough for three abreast, and the comforting flicker of the flourescent light; and all alone with only my own echo.

Closed doors

They could hear the crowd noise change. The musician did a test strum, approached the microphone. The auditorium had been about half full when they had left; better than expected. They evaded the dressing rooms, they found the empty room with the snack table.

There was a couch, and they fell on it together, one hand grabbing at her waist. She pushed it away, I have nothing to clean the, do you want to get all bloody? Her soft smile condescended. She put her cold hand against his belly.

He was flushed and stiff. His neck tendons stood out, fearfully. A rattle from the doorknob and they moved; and they were just the two of them, sitting apart, doing whatever. The musician’s student came in. She looked once and sat between them. She was just resting, taking deep breaths.

He took a newspaper from the floor. She caught his eye behind the student’s back, and smiled tenderly at him. She went to pour out water, How’s it sound out there? He’s playing great, it just got stuffy.

Got to leave the room, can get another drink nearby. He’d seen the place out the window. And then he could take a bus to the city center, and leave town right then. That was a plan.

He recalled how she had laughed, gaily, at some pun of the musician’s; and suddenly could see them at his age, ten years ago: they aren’t superior. Oh, I know them, I knew them all along.