Blog, heretical, personal

i remember that i wrote, once

I speak less now. I think less now. I laugh more and differently, cry more, listen to simpler music except when I feel lonely. I am deaf, mute; I grow blind and am losing even my ability to sense the loss.

I remember that I wrote, once. Could I again? Maybe not. I suspect that having something to say is less knowing what you will say than it is knowing how to say it.

I persist in the hope that I’ll eventually become something else, someone who could write better or more glorified things, and I await her coming. I await her coming in silence, and my silence gathers around me. My world grows smaller each day it goes unsaid. What you cannot name, you cannot see. What you see but refuse to name, you will lose.

We refer to a writer’s “body of work” but somehow disregard both the body and the work involved in language. Corpus? No, corpse, I think. What a horror to say lifeless things.

But again, what if I must speak, and all that I say is dead? I suspect this is the case, so I’ve been forced to conclude that generation of a dead child is better than its abortion. I write for the same reason all people do: to sustain my own life, to keep the dark at bay. I don’t have the luxury of considering whether or not the writing I do is itself animate or beautiful. It is. I am. That is all I offer, all I know.

But this talk forgets Christ. Today is Holy Saturday. We mourn God, await Him in silence as He conquers death with death. He is harrowing hell, inviting Adam to partake in the new covenant, and we wait. Our world is preparing for a violent expansion, and all we can do in the presence of such a miracle is wait and accept the rupture it will occasion.

I am not the source of my own value, or the guarantor of life in what I write. I am a child of God, invited with the rest to embrace Him and love and safeguard His creation. I cannot change what I am, but can only trust to God that He will help me be and become fully alive in Him.

Write, then, as you might dance: with rhythm, for yourself but with others, to the point of exhaustion, for the sake of itself and (if and as you are graced with knowledge of it) for the sake of the form. Your concern is to write as well as you can, write within the limits of your competence and understanding, to write truthfully what you see and be transfigured by love of the world and divine person in which you live and move and have your being.

T.S. Eliot: “I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting.”

The world is silent as it waits, but this silence and all can yet be full of faith and love.

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Blog, personal

blood & time

PSA: This is gross. You don’t need to read this, but I needed to write it. 

I stood up in the middle of the night once and tried to get to the bathroom in time. I didn’t. Gore ran down both my legs, dripped on the carpet, got on the bathroom floor and toilet. It was 3 a.m. and I was in pain, crying, trying to scrub my blood off and out of various surfaces. My face was flushed and it smelled almost overwhelmingly hot, metallic, animal.

When I first saw a bitch in heat, I remember being surprised by the blood, but it makes sense now. Most people say “biology” and think of the laboratory, but they should think of estrus; it has death in it, and only there can you see life in full.

Just before you begin to bleed, your body feels hot and thick, the same blood-heavy heat of a thumb that’s just been crushed but not broken. Sometimes you can’t move properly because sharp or dull or aching pain or some combination of the three makes it difficult to sit, stand, or walk. You are overfull; a possible world has been built within you and it’s heaviest on its way out.

Fish suffer, sometimes, from a condition called “dropsy”; their cell walls stop functioning properly for any number of reasons and they retain body fluid. They are uncomfortable and swim poorly, scales which used to lie flat next to each other jutting out at irregular angles like old headstones.

I always wanted to touch them: they were fatally full, an excellent opportunity to use the word “turgid,” their texture was all wrong. Their bodies were covered in doors left slightly ajar, patches of soft skin revealed by scales opening away from their body; and ironically their condition was caused by too much water. That in which they lived and moved and had their being had stayed inside and caused mayhem.

I remember a friend of mine saying it comforted him to say that the whole world was outside of him. Too much of the world stayed inside, after a while, and he committed suicide.

Menstruation reminds you that you are permeable. What you have been, you will be again, though not entirely; what you have lost will likely come back in another form. Building, bleeding, retaining and expelling: early cults of femininity focused intensely on the cyclical nature of time, and this is a deeply animal insight. We cannot tell ourselves the world is outside us; nor can we say the world is inside us. It is both, always, coming and going.

I once misheard a lyric as “time is an ovum,” and quite liked the idea. Exitus, reditus. We are fertile, begotten to beget. That fertility is a function of our mortality. To forget either this fertility or mortality is to become a still point in a turning world, to pluck oneself from the ongoing activity of sanctification. More importantly, if we forget that this fertility and mortality bar us from self-possession, we assert ourselves against the world: “the world is outside me,” we whisper, “the world is inside me,” we think, and risk death.

God became flesh and dwelt among us, the same flesh we treat with contempt when it bleeds or ages or hungers. But though we are God’s, we are creatures, and we bleed and die with the rest: in cycles, awaiting the fullness of time.

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Blog, personal

hell is boredom (the anti-sorge)

It’s the moments nobody sees that are unbearable. It’s the hours spent doing nothing, feeling nothing; the hours you can’t tell anyone about or share with anyone because what’s to share?

I once laid on my bed for four hours and didn’t move. I felt nothing but boredom, blinding, blackening, deafening boredom. Boredom that said: loneliness is a fact and not an interesting one, sadness is for those who remain sentimentally attached to beauty, your questions have answers but it’s egoism to pursue them, etc.

Boredom is a very specific kind of anguish; rather than manifesting as a kind of attack from outside — as with grief or sometimes even shame — boredom is the body rejecting the world, or maybe (conversely) being eaten by it. It is cellular, molecular, atomizing. You begin to dismantle yourself — no, you are dismantled by yourself. The process is passive.

People overcome by boredom are abandoned houses. Their bodies and lives aren’t outrightly crumbling, perhaps, but you step too close and you feel the dull malevolence of an empty room.

These in-between moments when your personality diminishes so much that it is distilled to rawest, anguishing presence: you are, as a matter of fact, your thumb, your hunger, your annoyance at your coworker’s remark last week, your worst-controlled physical appetites. There is no sublimation here. What could be joy is eaten by flesh and boredom.

People often step in to point out that boredom is a lack of charity, telling those rotting away that they ought to love more. But boredom muffles beauty; and love, being both our response to beauty and a faculty of our will, atrophies over time. The truest solipsism (and truest hell) isn’t the absence of other things or objects, but apathy toward them. Spend enough time in this hell and you will stay there. Maybe there are things, maybe there aren’t, boredom says. Who cares?

It doesn’t seek to say anything defamatory about them or denigrate their status, as a skeptic or nihilist does; it simply dismisses the question as irrelevant. Hatred, that final stronghold of givenness, is sidestepped.

And so boredom severs you from the life of the world. There is a breach. And being thus severed, you begin to rot, like fruit fallen from a tree.

At times like this, I’ve often reflected on how much of my person is constituted by my function as an intersection of various forces: I am not more important than, or even truly distinct from, the energies and needs and meanings which surge through me. My personality is itself no more than an accretion of residues from past reactions I’ve catalyzed.

In one sense, I am most absolutely myself when severed from the world because I am all I have left; in another, I have already died, and what I have been is dwindling by the moment. The scent and color of a cut rose is more precious because you know it is fading. The flower is dead, despite appearances, and you enjoy or make a gift of a corpse.

Who among us hasn’t rotted awhile? Who hasn’t found it easier to shut the world out and fall from the tree? Where there is no beauty, there is no anguish. The temptation of boredom is that it calls us to diminish for our own sake rather than for the sake of the world. It tells us the beauty doesn’t matter; and, in light of that fact, the battle isn’t worth the risk. Nothing needs us; nothing wants us; nothing is lost for our absence.

The world is immense, forceful, impetuous, overwhelming. There is no withstanding it, either — to dwell in the world is to submit to its source and originating principle. You must see beauty and rise to its demands, diminish so that it may pass through you more perfectly. To overcome the world is to become its perfect catalyst, permeated by it and actively perfecting it.

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Blog, political

on conservative leftism

“How, exactly, are you a conservative? And why?”

Since I’ve begun to associate with (and admire) more men and women on the left than the right, this question has become more frequent and urgent. Frankly, I think it’s the wrong question to ask — and demonstrates, paradoxically, why I remain a conservative. But it belies the important assumption that identity signifies something, that it is something subject to evaluation and valuation alike, and that requires address before anything else.

Identity does not signify anything. It is what is signified by your actions, your desires, your style in the world. It is not primarily concerned with the propositional content of your conscious — note, please, that I did not say rational — and explicit beliefs, but the dense and complicated sediment of selves and loves which expresses itself through you now.

You are your history. I mean this in no cheap, materialistic, determinist sense. History is not a collection of past-objects, a totality of discrete events and relationships without ambiguity. (The ambiguity of memory and the resultant heterogeneity of self/selves easily refutes anyone who would attempt such a meaning.)

You are simultaneously rupture and continuity: you remember and re-interpret in your present, but in no way does this make past selves irrelevant to your present self. They are the text upon which you feverishly scrawl marginalia. Your explicit beliefs and disbeliefs are footnotes, glosses — and some of them radically alter the meaning of the text.

So my answer to the question, “why do you call yourself a conservative?” is simple. I am one. It is my origin. I could call myself anything, including “leftist,” but that would simply muddle the issue. I believe, moreover, that this is precisely the essence of conservatism: to look at the past — be it your own, that of your society, that of history — with gratitude.

This precludes revolution because it refuses absolute rejection. We do not need revolt, but healing. History is not a catalogue of errors, but injuries. What came before is at times monstrous, but it is ours and we must tend to it as it dies. We must also ensure that what comes after it has the means to forgive itself and us for its origins, as its own vices will inevitably be a gloss on its predecessor.

Conservatism has the capacity both to repent and recall with charity. Forgiveness is a critical aspect of both these processes, otherwise repentance would remain self-condemnation and recollection would be colored by either sentiment or brutality.

American conservatism has much of which it must repent, modernity chief among them. Some see no need and thereby designate themselves part of a more historically recent “conservatism,” a wing of the modern American right-left order. Others try to reject it (integralists); still more, to kill it outright (reactionaries). The American left is more experienced with illiberalism, though generally as a mode of radical critique. Illiberalism, as far as it is a rejection of modern — specifically, capitalist — politico-economic organization, has long been associated with the American left and survived quite happily there in various iterations.

Address yourself directly to a sin, however, and you will find that it responds positively to the attention. It stays, rots, and seeps into the body, informs you in more complex and insidious ways than if you had continued in vice without any attempts to extricate yourself. Healing occurs when you are converted, when you turn away from the evil and allow yourself to be healed.

The passivity is important here. It is a recognition of history. We must receive our history before we can articulate or form it. Our vision of man is deeply flawed. Our vision of the politio-economic order which he rightly inhabits is accordingly harmful. But it is what we are given. The bulk of our experiences within it are mundane, suffused with humanity invisible to the roving theoretical eye. Our identities do not comprise a life; rather, the opposite.

Radical and centrist politics alike deny this because they accept an anthropology which inherently politicizes the person. A politic of personhood recognizes dignity and identity as necessarily prior to politics. Political organization is an outgrowth of some vision of personal dignity and ought to be subordinate to the good of the person as such. (These visions compete and often lose sight of the person, the You, which animates and irrigates all politics.)

I do not call myself a leftist because what I see in leftism — an eye for non-transactional and humane interactions, an illiberal economics — is not inherently radical. To make myself a weapon by radicalizing would intellectually immobilize me in an important sense. I would be tending to a dying parent with bitterness, awaiting their death, unable to learn from the stories they mumble or smile at the relics of their history scattered around the house they used to occupy because I have dedicated myself to opposition.

Forgiving your origins allows you to return to them freely, to interpret them with love, and to bring what is most cherished forward into another inevitably flawed world, to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

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Blog, personal, poetical

fracture

It was clawing at my face, but I couldn’t move and it wasn’t really there.

It was dark in my room. An unbearable pressurized blackness permeated me. I felt it grasp at my face, attempt to lift it — no. Wake up, wake up now. It clawed at my neck now, tearing and lifting, knowing I was close to consciousness.

Finally I awoke, gasping and shaking, able to move. The room was completely still and quiet. I said Hail Marys until I calmed myself and fell back asleep.

During sleep, the body is paralyzed when the brain is most active. Rapid Eye Movement sleep is the period of vivid dreams and the sleeper neutralizes their own body in order to prevent them from acting out their subconscious drama. If you wake up before an REM cycle is complete, you are semi-conscious and remain paralyzed. Elements of the dream state carry into the waking state and so you float between worlds, unable to move or scream, aware of this fact but unable also to cause yourself to wake. So you wait and you hope you wake before the dream does you any damage.

The last moments of any dream while paralyzed are never pleasant, given the paralysis. But when your subconscious is trying to kill you and has the ability to anaesthetize you while it goes about its work, it’s risky business indeed.

As a child, my seizures were standard and relatively innocuous. They scared my parents but left me in peace. Sleep paralysis and lucid dreams crept in later. I can’t say whether the terrors in the insomnia came first, but the fact is that I am weary and unable to sleep and that I can no longer forget my nightmares. Exhaustion is better than death, after all, but I can only beat the clock for so long.

“Temporal lobe epilepsy” is what most scientists like to call mystical visions nowadays. It involves the psychic experience without the physical one, so is more useful in explaining the experience of epileptic ecstasy. Some report visions of God, a feeling of sudden and complete oneness and meaning. Others are lost to a sudden infinite blackness, death without dying.

The most important fact is that there is a fracture in you, somewhere, and that your soul has leaked out. The experience is itself an abyss. You see neither angels nor demons until they arrive. What arrived was, for me, a child — both.

I was in a collapsing two-story cabin with a hysterical little girl. Evil things were coming alive as the little girl became weaker. It was always this way. My brother stood outside, knowing that consciousness and collapse were immanent. He always made it outside on time.

I ran up the stairs to get my bag. To the right, walking sleepily down the hallway like a frat boy with a hangover, was a leprous head with two slim legs. Christ, how do I come up with this stuff. I dodged left to the bedroom.

An obese naked corpse in the bathroom had just begun to stir. I could see it through the door on the opposite side of the bedroom, its frame lit by the diffuse orange light that filled the cabin. 30 seconds left.

“Sarah,” my brother screamed, “get the fuck out here! You’re waking up!”

I grabbed the bag, important for reasons intelligible in the dream but utterly non-evident upon waking. I hope I’m waking up, I thought. I can’t take much more of this.

I ran through the door, closing it behind me so that I couldn’t see the monstrous thing now shambling toward me — it had left the bathroom now, bare and blue and bloated — and turned to leave. The decaying head was beginning to pick its way down the stairs on its little legs with childlike imbalance and determination.

I started down, slung my bag across my back, nearly knocked the head over. Bridget ran up to me at the base of the stairs.

She was perfect. She was the child I wish I had been, slender and charming and vulnerable. A child worth loving.

“Look at the dolls!” she shrieked. “Look at the dolls!”

I looked. Her dolls, too, were awakening. The eyes of one fluttered; another already wore a leer, fixed on her. It leaned forward and toppled off its shelf.

She looked up at me, hugging my thighs, blue eyes reddened and face streaked with tears. 15 seconds left. I stroked her hair as we stood by the doorway, my brother waiting on the walk. She buried her face in my leg and began to cry, big rending sobs that seemed too big for her tiny body.

“Bridget,” I said, eyeing the doll which was dragging itself down the hallway toward us, “I have to leave. I’m waking up.”

She became suddenly still. She turned her face up to me and smiled, revealing a dark mouth with filed teeth.

“You’re mine,” it said.

5 seconds. The cabin was collapsing. I struggled to free myself. If I could only cross the threshold, I could wake. Its hands began to change — darker, stronger, fingers gnarled and wise. It was growing into me, tapping me like mistletoe. Not again. I slammed my fist into its face — still Bridget’s, one of the last aspects to change. Her nose broke with a muffled crunch. It wailed and one hand flew up to the wound. 2 seconds.

I leapt over the threshold, dragging it with me. I had partially passed into consciousness, paralyzed and accompanied by my pet demon.

I expect I’ll spend the rest of my life watching my cabin collapse and its perverse residents shamble forth to feed on Bridget. She is innocent of her possession and of her creation; I, of neither. I relive her death and postpone my own each night, waking with a gasp to myself, whom I did not create and cannot comfort.

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Blog, heretical, personal

how it feels to be a museum exhibit

Since moving to Asheville, I have repeatedly been pointed out as “the Christian.” How quaint, they think. How backward. She’s from Mississippi and believes in God! What an authentic cultural relic. (But really, I hope she updates soon. She seems intelligent enough to do so.)

I am trotted out and prodded for the cause of my beliefs. Are you traumatized? Are you ignorant? Have you just not been out of the Bible Belt long enough? Maybe you haven’t read anything by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Perhaps you don’t realize that there are a plurality of messianic narratives, or that you can’t actually prove God exists, or perhaps — ah, here we are, this must be the thing — you haven’t considered why evil exists or how prayer seems ineffectual or that there’s no truly ahistorical means of discerning morality. Pleasure is the one persistent good. What on earth do you mean, you agree that the body is good but argue that wanton sex is bad? It’s just a human thing. Surely you know that. Just humans. Ha ha, isn’t it lovely that nothing means anything. Let’s go make vacuous art and ineffectually (but conspicuously) protest Trump.

Most of my interlocutors are genuine, wonderful people with substantial and well-considered reasons for being areligious. But the fact that the reigning secular dogmas could have so effectively postured as adogmatic is astounding. They think they have found revolution and liberation where there is only platitude, half-meaning, and therapy sessions.

The Christian understands the madman because the madman sees the world for what it is, though perhaps his response is poorly calibrated: pregnant with meaning, inscrutable, rapturous, ecstatic. The Catholic is so enamored of the World, in fact, that he consumes the Word which entered it.

The secularist shares nothing with either because there is no meaning save pleasure, efficiency, preference. The only insanity is not to respond to one’s own appetites. The only perversity is worship.

To be frank, it’s boring. What an utterly uninteresting world to inhabit. All conversations about art are reduced to the enthusiastic exchange of platitudes, incommensurable because grounded in esoteric preference. Sex is a slightly mystical, erotic stand-in for eating a big cheeseburger. Health is good because it prolongs life and life is good because, well, nobody wants to die, right? (But life is only good if you were born to a family that wanted and could afford you, if you persist in a state of productivity and happy consumption. Remember this.) Environmentalism is the new religion. Save the world, save yourself by means of its various concrete practices, talk rapturously about the evils and goods of human behavior. Have pets, not children, because my God aren’t children obnoxious. And expensive! Couldn’t spend $25,000 renovating a van to drive around the Western states taking photographs of my aesthetically pleasing life if I had a child.

I am becoming more Nietzschean, I think, as a result of being surrounded by people who have read Nietzsche and misunderstood him. I long for someone truly mad because perhaps they will speak to me as a soul might speak to another.

Part of me wishes we were at least more interesting in our depravity — but perhaps truly interesting degradation is itself a fruit of religion.

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Blog, personal

from Jackson, Wyoming

Two days ago, I watched snow settle onto golden aspen leaves, melt, and drop in its new form onto the window pane. I was inside Glacier National Park. The bunkhouse was quiet for the first time since we moved in. I was already mourning the end of the season, the end of a self. Once I saw Jessi put her book down and get up, suddenly, to wipe tears from her face.

Yesterday morning, I drove a dump truck into the sunrise while hung over and sore. Jessi followed me in Moses, my Subaru, as we wound our way through the Rocky Mountain crags and pines and streams, dusted by one of the season’s first snows. We were headed south to Jackson, Wyoming. It was cold and absurd. We both laughed to ourselves as we drove.

Last night I slept on a cot. I still smelled like sweat and beer from a party the night before. The room smelled like urine, but only faintly. The entire house was covered with unidentifiable but suspect substances — some sticky, some slick, some dry and dark and obviously very old, some manifesting themselves primarily (and more or less aggressively) as an odor. Jessi slept poorly on a mattress nearby, after taking great pains to make sure she would not ever touch its surface. She smelled more like beer than I did.

This morning, I sit in a bagel shop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I am clean. I am quiet, too. There are too many people around to be loud. Being surrounded by so much noise makes it difficult to know what you ought to say, and when. Every choice seems like the chance to go wrong, and it is, but living in the backcountry makes you sensitive to this opportunity to err: you are less capable of muffling the petty anxieties which attend the many minute decisions you must make.

But I am here. We are here. And it is good.

I’m beginning to suspect my writing will be suspended — save journal entries and letters — until I gain a bit more distance from this lifestyle. So long as I move, I find it difficult to write. It is a time of gathering, and until I have gathered the necessary materials, I am loath to assemble or organize them.

If home is a way of traveling, I have found it. I am incomplete and, at long last, happy to be so. I wish you all the same.

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