allow me to exhale [a sport and a pastime, ctd.]

“touch is all”

there are days when i walk around happy to be untouched by anything other than air and the heat of the sun and rain, because it gives me the illusion of not only being untouched, but untouchable – invulnerable as the mountain in the distance.  the wind ruffles the hair on the back of my head, the little sensitive hollow beneath the cranial bump on the back of my skull.

and then there are other days when i walk around touching everything as i pass.  i knock softly against light poles or street signs to hear how or if they sing.  i cup the trunks of trees as i walk past them, very briefly, bark against my skin for a moment and then i let go.  or leaves, or pine needles, or the concrete of buildings and railings.  sometimes i do this out of joy, exulting in the fact that i and the world are incarnate.  other times it is because i want to see if it is still possible for me to touch anything, or anything to touch me; when the fact that i am untouched is more than the fact of absence; when it is an active moment-by-moment loss that i am trying to undo.

and at the same time i feel like my face carries the clumsy handprints of anyone who has ever touched me, visible to the world, indelible in the same way my own fingerprints were on clay in art class – the more i tried to smooth them away, the more proof i left of my inability to disguise my interference.  my nose is squished slightly wide by the touch of an ancestor whose name i do not even know, merely the anecdote of her nationality.  i have freckles and a chicken pox scar and the faint marks of acne long ago.  but i feel like there are so many more marks left on me, exposed like underwear, the evidence that i have been touched and then that the touch has been removed.

i carry a stone in my pocket that i acquired recently from deception pass.

(“She selects one roughly the size and shape of a pig’s skull.”)

it is smooth from a thousand years of touch, and now i am making it smoother by holding it in my palm as i walk.

there was a passage from ‘a sport and a pastime’ that i wanted to copy here, i read it just today and now going over the pages again and again i cannot find it.  i feel like i am always losing things, taking for granted that they are just where i left them, confident that i will remember.  the upsetting of that certainty is more disquieting sometimes than losing the thing itself.

“Solitude.  One knows instinctively it has benefits that must be more deeply satisfying than those of other conditions, but still it is difficult.  And besides, how is one to distinguish between conditions which are valuable, which despite their hatefulness give us strength or impel us to great things and other we would be far better free of?  Which are precious and which are not?  Why is it so hard to be happy alone?  Why is it impossible? …

I have not gone deep enough, that’s the thing.  In solitude one must penetrate, one must endure.  The icy beginning is where it is worst.  One must pass all that.  One must go forward all the way, through bitterness, through righteous feelings, advancing upon it like a holy city, sensing the true joy.  I try to summon it to me, to make it appear.  I am certain it is there, but it does not come easily.  Of course not.  One must waver.  One must struggle.  Beliefs are meant to cleave us to the bone.”


‘a sport and a pastime,’ james salter

“Certain things I remember exactly as they were.  They are merely discolored a bit by time, like coins in the pocket of a forgotten suit.  Most of the details, though, have long since been transformed or rearranged to bring others of them forward.  Some, in fact, are obviously counterfeit; they are no less important.  One alters the past from the future.  But there is a real significance to the pattern which finally appears, which resists all further change.  In fact, there is the danger that if I continue to try, the whole concert of events will begin to fall apart in my hands like old newspaper, I can’t bear to think of that.  The myriad past, it enters us and disappears.  Except that within it, somewhere, like diamonds, exist the fragments that refuse to be consumed.  Sifting through, if one dares, and collecting them, one discovers the true design.”

“I see myself as an agent provocateur or as a double agent, first on one side – that of truth – and then on the other, but between these, in the reversals, the sudden defections, one can easily forget allegiance entirely and feel only the deep, the profound joy of being beyond all codes, of being completely independent, criminal is the word.  I can merely say that some things I saw myself, some I discovered, for after all, the mutilation, the delay of as little as a single word can reveal the existence of something worthy to be hidden, and I became obsessed with discovery, like the great detectives.  I read every scrap of paper.  I noted every detail.”

james salter (what a lovely name!) loves the color blue, the purity of ice.  he was an american writing in english and his style has a little bit of hemingway and a sense of something foreign that i’ve read in translation – camus? hesse?  such clean prose, so delicately structured in every brief sentence that you forget the structure is there, even as it makes the entirety possible – the architecture of a snowflake.

look at me getting maudlin.  anyway, very much enjoying this book.

‘precarious life,’ judith butler

Perhaps, rather, one mourns when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one will be changed, possibly for ever.  Perhaps mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation (perhaps one should say submitting to a transformation) the full result of which one cannot know in advance.  There is losing, as we know, but there is also the transformative effect of loss, and this latter cannot be charted or planned.  One can try to choose it, but it may be that this experience of transformation deconstitutes choice at some level.  I do not think, for instance, that one can invoke the Protestant ethic when it comes to loss.  One cannot say, “Oh, I’ll go through loss this way, and that will be the result, and I’ll apply myself to the task, and I’ll endeavor to achieve the resolution of grief that is before me.”  I think one is hit by waves, and that one starts out the day with an aim, a project, a plan, and finds oneself foiled.  One finds oneself fallen.  One is exhausted but does not know why.  Something is larger than one’s own deliberate plan, one’s own project, one’s knowing and choosing.

the entire piece is quite good.  funny how i had just been thinking about this very topic.

edit: it goes on:

Something takes hold of you: where does it come from?  What sense does it make?  What claims us at such moments, such that we are not the masters of ourselves?  To what are we tied? And by what are we seized?  Freud reminded us that when we lose someone, we do not always know what it is in that person that has been lost.  So when one loses, one is also faced with something enigmatic: something is hiding in the loss, something is lost within the recesses of loss.  If mourning involves knowing what one has lost (and melancholia originally meant, to a certain extent, not knowing), then mourning would be maintained by its enigmatic dimension, by the experience of not knowing incited by losing what we cannot fully fathom.

ghosts are unfinished business.  incomplete information.