. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought


This Week in Shakes (more Hundreds)

My friend Martha Howard asked me to post my experiment with shakes. I might post others.  There’s a lot of variety among them, as you can already see from the last few posts.
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This Week in Shakes

Monday

The protein drink is a chalky substance diluted and well-enough flavored that a small store sample persuades you that you would drink it at home–only to find at home that, no matter how much attention you’d paid at the time, you can’t get the makeup to look as good or the hair to fall again the way it did at the original moment of optimism. I had committed to two tubs of vegan breakfast powder. One recalled the fleck of inhaled bugs and the other a bully pushing my face down thoroughly into tough wet dirt.

When it comes to experiments I commit my mouth. Five months of unquenchably pasty tongue prison ran out finally and I leaped to acquire seven new shake packs full of promise and percentages. Today: Vega One all-in-one nutritional shake in French Vanilla: 50% of daily intake vitamins & minerals, 15 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber & 1.5 grams of omega 3, plus antioxidants, probiotics and greens. Dairy, gluten & soy free, no sugar added, and 135 calories.  Complete daily essentials to help you thrive. Good for your body and the planet: clean . . . without compromise. The ampersand’s shortcut efficiency figures negativity baroquely.

My shake was green.  The world has not enough water for everyone, nor amounts sufficient to dilute this shake so that its flavor could be rejoined at the party after the chaos of getting in, finding the room with the coats, and moving outside for a quick smoke. Vanilla is a tart baby when you drink it from the bottle and a teasing allusion if you bite the bark. Vanilla is also the sex you slide into, the pleasant-event of that hand again there, or the feeling of feet arching. My tongue sought out but never landed.

Tuesday

The dread of another virtue-breakfast was nuked today by politics, a painful turn of need and interest towards hypervigilance. There was a Punch and Judy Show with all the thrill and erotic boredom of your average sexual antagonism. Punch called Judy a vampire, and then Judy threw her feminism hard, knocking his need to eat the brains he also finds repulsive.  The mob of tweeting lurkers verged with stakes for theory’s heart.

Disgust and love keep me very quiet. The chocolate version of yesterday’s foul mud was eleven additional calories, which will today be soundly punished for my own good.

Wednesday

Last night was spent battling the cat’s episodic loneliness and so this exhausted morning’s Vega Energizing Smoothie was an especially dreadful prospect, reminding me that the verb “to stomach” shows that bodies have not only their own ideas but radically private sovereign tongues. Vanilla Almondilla offers as its main gift what it doesn’t have: dairy, gluten & soy free, no sugar added.  In the Coke Zero era the ideal contribution of a food is its subtraction of dark consequences from pleasure.  90 calories, 10 grams of protein.  Xanthan gum is the aspartame of the health shake, which is also green.

Thursday

The iPad reads aloud in the kitchen this morning while I pull things together. Voice Dream offers a woman’s halting, nasal phonetic literalism to relay a scholarly book on comedy, preferring spectacle’s excesses to narrative’s enchainments. My naked partner enters the white room holding the ginger cat.  He wonders, is it the Russian model of narrative where y is the effect of x or the Aristotelian one of intensities, reversals, and consequences? Raw Protein Beyond Organic Protein Formula features Bob Marley Brand coffee: it is free of gluten, dairy, soy, fillers, artificial flavors, and good ones. I can’t stop laughing.

Friday

I spent the last night alone and so the morning was like a hotel morning with its shapeless offer of waking without obligation to be a particular way. The noise of a mind open to a limited formlessness makes breathing and blinking worth nothing in particular, and I considered taking a break from breakfast altogether because of the quiet. But the night’s move through finitude required some pause after I lifted my head up and laughed at how turtle that everyday stretching is. I say to myself get ahold of yourself.  The Vega Energizing Tropical Smoothie was wonderful, a wonder.

Saturday

I’m well-acquainted with the genre of the Skype dinner date with old lovers. After recipe hunting left me numb, today’s shake was my dinner protein, Vega Reparative in Berry–a revoltingly sweet attempt at Nestle’s Quick Strawberry. I reenacted to my love a scene from Domestic Violence of an old white woman telling stories on her husband, a college professor who had so abused her that she saw an angel flying round her room looking down kindly from the high white ceiling to offer advice. “I know I’m crazy,” she says softly, with her rice-paper skin like mica, pixillated, awry.

Sunday

The woman with Parkinson’s swims everyday and each day seems to diminish a little, which I sense because she always wears the same pants, of a slightly burnt orange hue. Bending stretches things out, so don’t presuppose, I tell myself, knowing that in the future a snapshot of this naked gym tableau might well portray a secret no-one could have known. We used to talk about her bad back, which we now have nostalgia for. She laughs at my Amazing Meals shake, with its grainy and delicious austerity. I dash it down as though it matters that it gets somewhere.



On Potentiality, #1

I have a childhood friend who is just a tiny bit younger than me but always so much younger, her skin never showing her age, her cheek marked with a birthmark so Hawthornian it seemed impossible ever to finish looking at her, my eye caught forever in the optimism of her incompleteness.

She always had her face tilted up toward the sun. Yet she had also contracted the illness destined mainly for men in my family: they could have been a contender. Smart, hilarious, winning, full of life and potentiality, energetic-depressed rather than just depressed, eloquent, almost smooth, and unsettled, unsettled so deeply that nothing, no project, could absorb them. There was rarely a career; just jobs, while the creative energy sought out just the right outlet. People defined by having potential. People whose observational intelligence takes your breath away: they’re Dorothy Parker, write the best letters to the editor, blog with perfectly formed opinions. Quipsters, they blaze hot and then enter a fallow time, until they forget somehow that they’re there and then say something revealing their brilliance, which restarts the arc of almost sustaining its energy into something like a life, but not quite.

Our story, in short, has been the story of the potentialized. It’s never too late to have optimism, right? Thwarted potential is an endtime discourse–involving deep knowledge of the time you have wasted, the relationships you have scuttled out of fear or laziness or the blithe cruelty of being unwilling to be inconvenienced. The sickening sense of knowing that you’re what gets in your own way; and the complexities of living with it when it’s not you producing the blockage, when it’s your DNA or your bank account, your lack of the architecture of confidence or your cluelessness; your rage and sorrow: structural discrimination and exploitation; your ambivalence. The world wearing you out as it wears itself out. That model of the subject-in-potential looks at achievements and intimacies as proof that one really did deserve to have lived, after all, despite everything; that model puts the agent’s will to feel undefeated in the face of the “ego’s exhaustion” at the center of the story of optimism that represents modernity’s promise to everyone.

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George Kress, of Winder GA

The Minneapolis Airport today was stacked so deep with returning travelers that the security lines backed up across the walkway into the connecting building. I left my people at the curb in a rush with barely a kiss, though we were hours early: it was lucky, too, that I’d been anxious. In front of me an older white couple–a very large man and a smaller woman, random gray hair and a henna flip–were joking about the weather in Minnesota. I asked where they were from and we were off. It was one of those real conversations where so much gets said but it’s all in the shadow of the threat of a break should any of us stumble into the wrong tone. After the pressure to keep it going lifts it’s hard to remember what the event was, apart from the dodged bullets.

An encounter like this is an opening, but what kind? Does it eat its tail or does it matter, diluting what would otherwise be a future aversion to that kind of stranger? Once someone I met on an airplane googled me a decade later to say that he was still praying for me. Another time I got an email years later from a woman whose depression I helped lift by talking about class and loneliness and being educated out, then recommending Carolyn Steedman. On the way to Australia last year, I was adopted by an anesthesiologist from Sidney named Ian, a tiny man. He was a competitive ballroom dancer whose heart had just been broken by a golddigger, and who thought he might die from it–he’d even consulted cardiologists about it. He was traveling to competitions rather than dying–that’s what he said. He had invited me to be his guest in the Admiral’s Club because I helped him to find our gate. While there I got an email from a friend whose husband had just dumped her and she was in a heap: I reported this to him and told him I thought about love for a living, and out came the story about his broken heart and his friends not understanding how he could love this woman with all her aliveness, and I could give him that, patience with his need to be near her life drive, and with the difficulty of detaching from his optimism, compromised as its object might be. He had been a widower; she made him feel effective. Eventually she started internet dating on the sly. I always fancy that a remembered encounter might rezone the imaginary a bit. On the other hand there’s that post-adrenalin amnesia.

Minnesota led to Colorado Springs which led to Atlanta, which isn’t as good as Colorado Springs (but it was great because “the snow comes down hard and the next day it’s gone”). Snow and ice led to global warming (“they” have “agendas” to create crisis); faux global warming crisis led to faux health crises like Alzheimer’s (there were always “loonies,” what’s the big deal?). I sort of concurred, musing that the rhetoric of crisis is often used to describe long-term conditions. But I mentioned that as usual the poor would suffer from it all much worse , and talked about Jim’s cancer, the incredible labor and expense of it all, and how haunted I am at every minute imagining what would have happened if he were poor and/or alone, as surely I and so many are and will be.

At that point the conversation became more possible. Health care in Atlanta is in crisis for the poor: recently only one hospital was left to take care of the uninsured, and almost went out of business. It’s losing 11 million dollars a month. The state stepped in, now there’s equal opportunity immiseration for the institutions. The wife suggests that meanwhile, the poor keep not buying insurance. Me: well, why blame the poor for not buying insurance they can’t afford? Why should the rich live longer than the poor? She says, “Exactly.” He says “That’s the way it’s always been,” but before I could jump in to say that the endurance of injustice isn’t a good argument for it, he said: “I went to two tours in ‘Nam and I tell my kids, don’t talk to me about the poor till you’ve lived with them, lived on a half a cup of rice and some beans for three days.” I have to admit that he seemed to grow taller to me as he told this story–but we were turning a corner, and I was bending to get my bags too.

We talk about global misery, Asia and the Southern Hemispheres. He moves onto politics. “I tell my friends, get used to it, Hillary’s going to be the next president, Madam President, and that’s the way it should be because look at the difference between Bill and Bush, when Bill was in office we all made money and Bush is bankrupting us all.” He said, “the way I see it, the middle class pays for everything. With a Republican, we give all our money to the rich; with a Democrat, we give all our money to the poor. And a rich man never opened a door for me.” I laughed in delight and said I’d tell that to my students when I was trying to teach them about class, and later he gave me his card so I could quote him by name: George Kress, of Winder GA.

At some point, because this is all a blur, I asked if he had a problem with Hillary (since I do, politically) and he said, I don’t have a problem with women taking charge, and his wife grins, play pushes at him, and says, that’s right you don’t, because you took care of your brothers and sisters and you learned some things, and I said, what did you learn? “My father died when I was 14,” he said. His father cut aluminum sheet for walls and roofs and put George to work when he was six years old: “six years old with cut legs and crawling into places the men couldn’t go, it’s not right.” And “I told my children what do you want, to be down there sweating or using your heads?” And his wife says, “We have five college graduates.” I said, so you didn’t build the business for your kids to take over? George: “Hell, no!”



Faceless book

Today I introduced Facebook to someone older than me and had a long conversation about what the point of networking amongst “friends” is. The person was so skeptical because to her stranger and distance-shaped intimacies are diminished forms of real intimacy. To her, real intimacy is a relation that requires the fortitude and porousness of a serious, emotionally-laden, accretion of mutual experience. Her intimacies are spaces of permission not only for recognition but for the right to be seriously inconvenient, to demand, and to need. It presumes face to faceness, but even more profoundly, flesh to fleshness. But on Facebook one can always skim, or not log in.

My version of this distinction is different of course, and sees more overlap than difference among types of attachment. The stretched-out intimacies are important and really matter, but they are more shaped by the phantasmatic dimension of recognition and reciprocity–it is easier to hide inattention, disagreement, disparity, aversion. On the other hand it’s easier to focus on what’s great in that genre of intimacy and to let the other stuff not matter. There’s less likely collateral damage in mediated or stranger intimacies. While the more conventional kinds of intimacy foreground the immediate and the demanding, are more atmospheric and singular, enable others’ memories to have the ethical density of knowledge about one that is truer than what one carries around, and involve many more opportunities for losing one’s bearings. The latter takes off from a Cavellian thought about love–love as returning to the scene of coordinating lives, synchronizing being–but synchrony can be spread more capaciously and meaningfully amongst a variety of attachments. Still, I think all kinds of emotional dependency and sustenance can flourish amongst people who only meet each other at one or a few points on the grid of the field of their life.

Thinking about yesterday’s reciprocity entry, I said to her that one point of Facebook is to inhabit the social as a place of play, of having a light impact, of being ordinary, of being acknowledged, of echoing and noodling, where the bar for reciprocity is so low that anyone could perform it by clicking. It’s a place where clicking is a sign that someone has paid attention and where dropping a line can build toward making a life. You know someone has imagined you today, checked in. You’re not an isolate. Trying to accommodate to my positive explanation, she said, I guess it’s like when churches organize prayer circles for impaired strangers, sending out love into the spirit world–it can’t hurt, but is it deep? Me: people value different evidence of having had an impact and of mattering to the world they’re imagining belonging to, and who can say what’s deep from outside of the transference? But I realized that I may be incoherent about this, and of course this problem, of figuring out how to talk about ways of being that are simultaneously openings and defenses, is central to this project. When people talk about modes of belonging they talk about desire but less so about defense.

I sense that Facebook is about calibrating the difficulty of knowing the importance of the ordinary event. People are trying there to eventalize the mood, the inclination, the thing that just happened–the episodic nature of existence. So and so is in a mood right now. So and so likes this kind of thing right now; and just went here and there. This is how they felt about it. It’s not in the idiom of the great encounter or the great passion, it’s the lightness and play of the poke. There’s always a potential but not a demand for more.

Here is how so and so has shown up to life. Can you show up too, for a sec?

How can the “episodic now” become an event? Little mediated worlds produced by kinetic reciprocity enable accretion to become event without the drama of a disturbance. The disturbance is the exception. And that’s what makes stranger intimacy a relief from the other kind, which tips you over.