(1999, 1998) Hammett and Emerson

Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (1929, Vintage Crime) and Ramona Emerson, Shutter (2022, Soho Crime)

I like crime fiction and noir. In this genre, I choose my books by publisher, and in this case from three publishing ventures: Vintage Crime, Soho Crime and Europa Noir. What they publish has similar characteristics. Vintage’s books I would best describe as raw, even when they are nearly a century old, you can still feel it. Both Soho and Europa have a quality of place to them, attention to culture and history. Europa’s are in translation, Soho’s written in English. When traveling to new places, or exploring new places via books, the authors have a quality of writing that brings the surroundings to a presence. I have a few inches of Europa’s set in Italy that I read when I was in the early stages of the Adelphi Project. It was fun to read something lighter in quality and style, but of the places I was engaged with.

In 1993 I lived a few blocks off Haight Ashbury, on the bottom floor of am old victorian, my room in the front, in the bowed window. I was young and too poor for too many books, but I borrowed what I could, had reader friends, and a used book shop around the corner that was very kind to me. Two odd gentlemen moved into the flat above me, and they lived noir. Their clothes, their accents, their language, their slang, their swagger. They wanted to be in a Hammett novel. They had a stash of the small paperbacks, pulp-style, and would bring them down to me so I could read them as well. I looked more manga than noir those days, but we seemed to get on just fine, and the book exchange flowed for the year I lived there.

Reading noir or pulp or mysteries came under serious consideration with this new plan of being attentive to what I read, particularly attentive, I mean. I was indecisively reading the shelves in a used bookstore, wanting something not so serious. School reading, work reading, essay writing reading, dense with ideas and in need of attention, they don’t spirit me away for a moment or thirteen. I am not much of a watcher of things, always a reader (no TV for much of my childhood, no right to watch when we had one). My eye was caught by Agatha Christie, then Jim Thompson. Thompson was published on Vintage Crime, and along with the Hammett, also read in the spring of 1993. I turned around to the Hammett, and picked up one or two, and decided, yes, this could be read, re-read. There seems to be something of the place, of the time, I am picking back up books I read in my early 20s, just as I was preparing to leave San Francisco, tired of the death and the disarray of that time. The books are rich with place, the writing so chewy and alert, and at the same time, I can taste the past on the tip of my tongue. I bought a Thompson as well, something I remember having an impact on me, but I cannot recall the impact. That one shall come later.

Emerson I had no knowledge of, but her being Dine’ and of course being published by Soho Crime, made this one compelling. And it was. The juxtaposition of being Navajo in the book, of the different cultural beliefs and understandings, of death and ghosts and ways of bridging worlds, is very well done. I would call it a crime novel, some listings want to call it a supernatural horror, which I think does disrespect to other belief systems. And belief systems isn’t the phrase either. It’s not a set of beliefs, it is the fundamental structure of the world as it is. I’ve been trying to catch myself on this lately. Too much anthropology and perhaps a distance of attempting to not offend those who don’t believe (there it is again) in spirits or ancestors. English lacks proper words for this, I often think. There is a world, and it is as it is, structured by natural law and relationships and ancestors and reality. Referring to reality as beliefs is a judgement, however subvert it may be. The reality of Emerson’s book includes ghosts. It is what it is. This is how the world works, accept without judgement. I’d read another of her books, if I find one in the used book store. She doesn’t have the bite of Hammett, so I would not suggest reading them back to back. But she has something strong of her own, and I look forward to what she does next.

The Hammett also made me want to re-read The Thin Man, not currently in my used bookstore, but I’ve got another 1996 books to go, so plenty of time to find a copy.

(2000) Hesse’s Siddhartha

One of the things about my reading is that it tends to follow threads. It is a rare book that I find to read that is utterly random. Last June I went to Mongolia for the month, and in my travels there I spend some time with lamas, monks, and had an audience with the Rinpoche. I know far more about the history and philosophy of Vedism, Hinduism, Shaivism, tantra, and assorted other belief systems in that universe. Having come into a world where Buddhist philosophy is very present, I have been engaged in what I would call ‘Buddhist activities’ and have had a rather piecemeal engagement with philosophies, mostly vajrayana school from the Gelugpa traditions in Mongolia. Related to all this, I began studying traditional Tibetan medicine, which begins (and ends) with the four medical tantras of the Medicine Buddha, and requires an empowerment to read them. This is also entwined with Yuthok Nyingthig, and other practices that have become part of my life, as I study these topics.

When a scholar I know, of Hinduism and comparative religion decide to offer a course on the history of Buddhism the timeliness of it could not have been more perfect. I had been slowly reading as I attempted to wend my way through thousands of years of philosophy, schools and beliefs, but this was the opportunity to learn from one of the most erudite scholars I’ve experienced in my life, and be taught from a perspective that was easy for me to understand, that is Vedic to Hindu to Buddhist (with side travels to Jainism and Taoism, to name just two.)

Five or so years ago in the throes of The Adelphi Project (book 594), I had re-read Siddhartha for the first time since my twenties. It was beautiful as always, but a story without the wider context I was now attempting to slot ideas and events into, my bending of the moment towards seeing the world from a different perspective. The book had come up in my Buddhist History class, and I had pulled it off the shelf. I have an old hardcover copy, the feet on the cover reminiscent of the Bamiyan Buddhas, a reminder of impermanence, at the very least. (The edition I have of Siddhartha is a New Directions book, translated by Hilda Rosner.)

The middle way was more prominent to me with all the history swirling in my head, that neither asceticism or indulgence would serve. I can relate to this struggle. That he ends his life finding balance as a ferry pilot is also perhaps something that I should consider, given all the time I have spent on ferries.

One of the things that drew me to Roberto Calasso was his engagement with the Vedas and other early literature, his fascination with with the beliefs as well as the acts, the rituals, that which is left after the fire of sacrifice. It was not the reason I embarked on The Adelphi Project, but there was a resonance of connection in the fascination. In his office in Brera there were a set of shelves behind where a guest would sit, two shelves wide, all the books covered in paper so there was a similar look to the books, slightly variations of beige and a hint of green, the titles obscured. I asked about them once and he said they’d been Bobi’s books, the ‘perfect library’, all the books one needed to own for the rest of one’s life. I doubt he and Roberto had sat down to consider how many books they could read in the remainders of their lives, but the thread, it is there. Looking at my shelves and the books I have, thinking of the idea that I can only read so many more, I find I want to re-read far more than I would have thought, before such a consideration. And consideration is the word. I want to reconsider books I have previously known, those that had meaning or whose content I wish to taste again, at this phase in my life.

Roberto once told me that when they started Adelphi Edizioni they bought the remainders from a different house, I forget which or the context, though I likely wrote it in the notes I used to scribble after we met. The crux of it though was that one of the things they purchased was the rights to the Italian version of Siddhartha, which, he said, turned out to be the best selling book and fund quite a few of their future dreams.

Returning to Siddhartha, as I have returned to my serious, but non-Buddhist, meditation practices, as I consider what it is to be alive and what to read for my remaining years, seems of a piece in this moment. This, the memories of Roberto, the eightfold path, history, philosophy and the current state of the world are all held within me as considerations of how to live a life of integrity, one that, I hope, bends towards wisdom and compassion. One does not need to be Buddhist to follow these paths, or Hindu, or, in my belief, to hold any religion or belief system at all. I think one merely needs to want to be as present as possible, to live in the world, and to liberally apply care across all beings and all situations. And probably, as well, to let things go, to let them flow by and past. I do miss Roberto, of course, and can be bogged into despair when I look at the world, but finding a way to step outside of this has long been my mode of presence, and Siddhartha and the threads of memory that surface in the re-reading, and the exhilaration of scholarship and this precise moment in life can, and do, feel like just the right ‘enough’.

How many books left in this life?

Wayne and I were having a conversation about the books in our house. There are around 7000 of them and we sat looking at the poetry shelves. He asked, “how long would it take me to read them all again?” And from there we meandered along the topic of, how many in the house would we re-read, of our own, or how many of the others do we wish to read, those as yet unread.

Wayne then calculated that if he currently is reading around 100 books a year, and perhaps has 30 years of reading left, that he has another 3000 books to read. So how, he asked, to ensure that those 3000 books are the best possible books he could read.

I sometimes read more books than 100 a year, (though not while doing my PhD, now I read parts of books), and I estimate 20 more years of life. So let’s say I have 2000 more books I can read in my lifetime. (Hopefully more, though.) Which books? There is something about this exercise that seems fun, though not a normal thought process for me. I rarely consider when I die, how far off it is, and what can be done between now and then.

We could choose the 100 books to read this year, which could result in tall stacks being created around the house, to be diminished over time. I am unlikely to be able to do this. I tend to flow too much by inspiration or topics that appear.

I tend to not write in public about the books I read, though for 35 years I have kept notebooks of every book I read. I haven’t been keeping track of anything for the past five years, nor have I been writing, but something about our conversation and this moment in time makes me wonder if I would start writing about each one.

Any one want to take a bet on how long it will take me to read 2000 books? Let’s not bet on how much longer I will live.

deeper, faster, darker

Despite having been tossed in a pool at three months, back in those days when teaching babies to swim was all the rage, and having spent my childhood swimming, scuba had never really entered my view. In my early 20s a few friends were getting certified for a destination wedding, and I went along without thinking much about it. The class was easy, the pool work was fun, though I had a tendency to get rolled by my tank, the BCs at the time being made for men, and a vest for a small man did not fit snugly on a small woman.

In Belize, we did our training dives and I floated around below the surface in a state of bliss. My dive partner was fascinated with photography, and since one dives as buddies, and one doesn’t part ways, I spent a fair number of years toodling around while he tried to figure out the early equipment, take photos, and try to sort color correction.

Of the eight of us who went on that trip, two of us liked it enough to spend our week in Belize learning new skills. Deep diving, wreck diving, navigation, night diving. I spent my days studying rather than drinking. I discovered I disliked night diving, despite the bubbles going up when I breathed out, I would get disoriented and feel a sense of panic. It calmed over time, but was easy enough, unless there was a full moon, to make me night dive for pleasure.

On our certification for deep diving, I took the slate and did the sums, and my partner laid on his back on the ocean floor, enormous turtles watching us, and struggled with the basics. When he dropped the pencil and rolled over to find it on the floor, he burst into near-hysterical giggles when he notice I was batting it down to him. Wood floats. Narc’d he was, and not that deep. He laughed so hard his regulator popped out of his mouth, so I stuffed that back in and dragged him up, our trainer shaking her head at us. He got certified, but I always kept a leery eye on him when we got below 30 meters.

After years of avid diving, I finally coughed up the money for my own gear. A BC and dive computer, super long split fins so I could fly at depth, and warm gear, as I was always cold even after a few days of blue water diving, checking my temperature at times to be sure I’d returned to normal before heading out again. Owning my own gear made me one with the water. I could move, or not move, with perfect buoyancy, float in silence, lie on my back and feel the surge toss me about, watching the sun dapple above and the schools of fish swim by. Turtles and mantas, I found, discovered a strange floating human 20 meters down to be interesting. Sharks, once or twice, but those are other stories.

There is such a perfection to floating below. The crackling sounds, the pops, the endless noises that are part of sea life. Floating over a reef watching busy life go on, sharks being cleaned off the edge of a cliff of fast moving water, parrot fish blowing mucus sacs as sleeping bags. Startled puffers and unexpected octopuses. Diving once in Greece, not much to see just beautiful to feel, I poked my nose in an old wreck and the enormous teeth of a moray eel came at me. I almost choked on the water I inhaled, flooded my mask, and had to reset, all the while laughing so hard at my out-of-scale reaction.

In Palau we dove wrecks, hundreds of feet down, deco diving, leaving tanks on the way down so we could slowly make our way back up, stopping to avoid the bends, tick tock, longer to get up than to get down, longer to get up than spent down. One dive, we were going deep, and with our limited time to get to the wreck, we had to fly. Our guide was a very tall muscular man, he would go first, H second, so we didn’t lose him to narc’d depths, and me at the rear. Tanks dropped and suited up, we dropped in, fins nearly a third the length of my body. Off we went, angled, and far ahead I could see only the occasional glimmer of bioluminescent plankton off the edges of fins, bubbles reaching up as I passed through them, and into the dark we went, darker, and darker, faster and deeper. This speed and dark and whispers of light blossoms into bliss for me, the strength of my body, the speed with which I can move, the perfection of being perfectly weighted and in control of my abilities, racing time. We reach the ship, and it is enormous, tilted, the sounds of a metal carcass turning in the sea, the creaks of surge, and age. The screw was glorious, enormous. Military ships are hard to imagine in the same way they can be experienced when diving their wrecks.

Lion fish were in every opening, dangerous, popping in and out, warning us away. As quickly as we arrived, it was time to race back. Only 20 minutes or so to explore before we again engage all our resources, racing against time and current out of the dark, looking for the glimmer of light and tanks hung above us, noting the minutes to reach them, no back-up plans here, in and out, up an down, relying on body and skill and equipment, training and experience and our guide, and on not losing pencils in the unknown dark.

I used to write fiction.

When I was six I was an albatross who did not know how to fly. I got hurt, but the people like you, they are a damaging lot, this modern world, the brutality and lack of love applied with force then more force into the spaces where lies are told. I could tell you lies but I’d rather tell you stories.

It might be hard to tell the difference, if you don’t know how to see. Most people don’t know how to see. The world is full of lies told by those people. The rest of us, the few that remember, we tell stories and it pulls at you, and you wonder if it is a memory or a dream, or you think we are crazy and don’t deserve to live in your world of want. Because we fail to want, want enough, but the reality is that what we want are the things that you wish you could understand and your failure only brings you rage. And your rage brings danger and harm.

When I was six I ate magnets. There was always an alphabet, hanging in space. I’d sit before the refrigerator and slowly eat the magnets, over time, cautiously. The first 26 were easy, each letter with its three magnets – except the I which had two – and I’d eat work my way through a first round, and they’d hang in space, built into words and phrases. The second round would cause gravity to exert more power and they’d slip lower. By the time I was eating the final magnets, the letters had to begin to disappear. I’d hide them places. In my pockets, I’d sneak them out, empty, and bury them in the hard. I’d secret them in the bottom of trash, in a rush one or two might end up in the freezer. No one seemed to question the disappearance of letters in a house full of children.

Magnets have texture, a slightly soft solidity that is ridged on the edges. They must be chewed slowly until the core is reached, then swallowed. I can still feel their texture, I know there taste, though it has been years.  Sometimes when I walk past a childrens stores I am tempted, almost compelled, to go in and purchase a set of letters for my refrigerator. But eating magnets as an adult seems strangely wrong. It is a secret in my heart, that I still want to eat magnets, that I dream of the feel of them on my tongue and the strange zinging that sings to me.

I have an anomalous effect on compasses and gps systems. They cannot locate me in space. I like to think this is due to my steady diet of magnets as a child but it is just as likely that what we don’t realize is that these devices are placing us in time. As I live outside of standard time they are confused and I am not held.

For three years I ate magnets, deliberately, slowly, and then I found the trees, stopped eating magnets, and learned the art of invisibility.

Charlie was six or so when I met her. She has an internal compass that drives everything we do. She has a sixth sense, and a seventh, and an eighth. Maybe she was five, she is very small but so very old. It’s hard to tell. She is an ancient being in a tiny body. It sounds dreadfully cliché but perhaps there is something to these clichés. I prefer to avoid them, but in this case there is nothing I can do. I’ve never asked Charlie what she is looking for as there seems no reason to intrude. I am sure I will know when she finds it. Or perhaps she isn’t looking and that is my adult sensibility applied to this creature that has dragged me across six thousand miles of ocean and island. She looks at me with her green eyes which make clear how little I know. She isn’t disappointed, just a bit sad. Her blue eyes are far more excitable. I think it is the blue eyes which will find what she wants, and her green eyes which believe its too late and whatever she is looking for no longer exists. I can’t live without either set and I am always apprehensive when we reach a new shore, until I see her eyes, and I know who I am living with. I never know for how long. She comes and goes from her two selves in a rhythm I can find no pattern in. Her green eyes tell me I should know. Her blue eyes love me anyway.

When her eyes are blue I love her most. Until her eyes are green and I wonder how I could ever have loved that blue eyed child more than I love this green eyed one.


Do you remember when there was a website that had the URL ‘isittuesday’ dot com, and it responded yes or no, depending. It didn’t seem to lie. And somehow, Tuesday was a thing. And here we are, Tuesday.

The one thing I’ve learned from my first year of my PhD is that I’d rather be writing.

After my second masters degree, I shredded all the papers in the paperwork folder that I might ever need to apply to more school. Transcripts, proof of degree, test scores, mensa paperwork (that was sibling rivalry), and all the rest. I kept the folder and on a scrap of paper, in my jagged handwriting, I wrote: Don’t do it.

Yet, here I am. Given that I go to school every decade, it is hard to know objectively if it is better or worse than the previous time. Last time I did an MBA at Columbia, was married to an abusive fuck, and had cancer. Oh and my blood family melted down in ways I still cannot fathom. But really, all that is another story. I mean only to say, it is hard to tell if it was school that sucked.

So it is Tuesday, and twice a month on Tuesday, I show up for school, in that there are meetings and seminars and other people. And my general plan is to get out the other side of the day. Last week while in Ballinskelligs I read books on trauma and stress, they were besides each other at the airport and it seemed a good idea at the time (hash tag don’t do it could have a bigger role in my life), but what I realized is that I pour a lot of stress in my body on a daily basis by choosing to not choose.

I was up around five am most days, watched the sun rise across a hill and along the ocean and the backyard of this cottage on the edge of the world light up bit by bit, and one bunny (of interchangeable sizes, there really must have been three) would hop by for a snack, and I would be calm. The storm would rage, and I would be calm. The sea would toss itself out of the cove and up over a cliff and slam salt into the windows with a click clack and zero visibility, and I would be calm.

One afternoon following a need to stuff myself back into my body I cracked the sauna to 100F and melted my head, then put my bathing suit on and walked into the yard in the rain and laid on the very cold ground next to the bloodstone and sang songs of green and red and orange and blue. The bunnies did not return for two days after that, and I missed them, but it was weekend, and perhaps they tread further afield on those days.

F put her hands on my chest and told me to lean in, and scream as loud as I could. It was raining and sunny and we stood on a hill at the end of the yard. I leaned in, and up, and opened my mouth to scream, and nothing came out. Nothing again. Nothing again, a squeak, a few tears. We swapped sides, so I could see, or was it feel, what it would be to scream. She opened her mouth, leaned into my arms, and poured out some sound and I panicked and my arms lost all strength and she almost toppled on top of me as I burst into tears and who the hell knows what was torn down and voided and bled out in the stream. I asked her to do it again, to yell in my face, to see if I could hold strength. She was leery, and rightfully so. We did not leave until I could do it. Hold hard. I screamed too. I’ve never screamed in my life, before this. No, really, barely raised my voice, and never so close to another human.

Walking home from Tuesday school, de-souled, de-natured, in a city I do not care for, rain dripping and dreaming of writing my heart, not stilted academic posturing, I wanted so much to scream, to scream like I did at the edge of the island, to let out all the things I don’t want to name, to stomp in a puddle, be barefoot in the earth, to be as free and loud and present as I want. On a Tuesday. In any form, tearing off clothes, feeling alive and present and anything.

I turned the corner, not screaming, squeaking, quietly, squelching and suffering, and to my life, dead animals in tanks, Damien Hirst’s hellscapes of disrespect. Who does such a thing to creatures? Tromp tromp through the rain, on the cobbles, into the council block and up and up to my silencing of myself and blinking cranes and a dream of ways of being, of freedoms, of words and worlds and languages and days not Tuesday. Days of Tuesday. Days of days, who cares what day, all days are magic days, all days have earth and toes and rabbits and singing at any level and screaming and joy and rocks and blood and life. This place takes the life from Tuesdays and I have no choice but to sing it back in, as best i can, crooked lungs and dented spaces. I can sing you a Tuesday that will explode in your eyes and leave gunpowder in your mouth and you will wonder why you’ve not eaten this before, not quite like this. Eat, I beg you, it’s Tuesday, you are running out of time.


I once had someone tell me they thought I should have been named Meta, but its far less funny now that a company of horror has renamed itself as such.

I spent last weekend admiring the millions of forms that cacti take, at the largest cacti nursery on Sicily. 20 hectares of beauty. The forms and structures, the repetition, the solutions for damage, amazing creatures. Tray after tray of seedlings, babies, toddlers, all the way to the ancients. The sun was relentlessly hot, Siracusa burned, though we tried to quench it with granita and mastic, late nights, and excellent conversations. The sea wending along fortified walls, broken and abandoned buildings, the water system built by Greeks thousands of years ago, the world slipping between time and place.

40C is too hot for me, though perhaps in my life time I shall not have a choice on this. My body burns, inside and out. The sun on my skin is a disaster, and I never feel quite free enough or quite safe enough to live a rambling nocturnal existence. If I did, perhaps I would. There is a sultriness to the hot nights and the need to strip down to just a loose dress that flaps in the wind. Like children, perhaps for the first time since I was a child, in the dusty heat of a late afternoon we pulled out the hose to cool us, howling sharply at the chill, standing mostly naked on ancient brick, shaking like puppies and evaporating in the heat, barefoot on the earth. Barefoot on the earth. I am reminded it has been a very long time since I was coated in dust and sea salt and the visceral desire of, well, anything. Yet here I am, here I was, for less than 48 hours, soaking in the ways that life has teeth.

I wrap myself in cotton wool and layer on the thick dentist’s radiation apron as I re-approach the life I am living in London. Cozy, numb, overdressed, awkward in shape and movement, unhealthy in sentiment, picking my way through old streets of desiccated grime. My mind travels, my body sleeps.

It has been two years since I damaged my leg in a way that limits my movement, that causes daily pain, that sometimes, I think, is reminding me I am aging and sometimes, I think ,it is telling me to run faster and harder. The personification of a body part as an external being may be odd and likely, in the opinion of the woman who pokes me with needles, a bad idea. For a while I called the knee, the center of the troubles, ground zero of immobility, Marx. I tried to convince Marx to move out, going so far as to tug his small winged body out of my knee and carefully deliver him to a grandfather tree in a forest. Sometimes this seems to have worked, sometimes now I see a large white owl fly past–in London, and wonder what precisely is going on.

Marcello uses the word peculiar, which I shall add to my collection. London has added a few, dodgy I like quite a bit. Literally (the word), I despise. Also cheeky. W is a fan of fortnight, and I particularly like the word trousers. The word and the sentiment, which seems rather different from the US English meaning of pants. Something with a bit more swish to one’s walk, wearing trousers. I am not currently wearing trousers, but just the act of writing of them, I wish to put some on and sashay about the house. New words are like small wet stones, they feed my thirst, but do not solve the problem.

Do we have poetry? This is a good question. The soft pleasure of Ólafur Arnalds seems to suggest that this is a necessity for life, but the cotton wool and lack of trousers and the cocoon don’t seem to think that poetry will emerge. But how can we not have poetry when the wind is poetry and the clouds, the sky, the sea. How can I have anything but the sense of sublime bliss when edged up to the wilds and seeking the words that sing in the air, capturing them for just one small moment before letting them back to be free. Self-replicating language of love and place, of pleasure and movement and joy.

I am reminded I best escape this cement block that feels so little wiggle, so little wave-like motion of place, as though history is so heavy upon it, the lower levels cannot move, and the upper are overly observant, and even the words wish to sleep until later days or better days or days they cannot name.

I can remember the words and the beauty and the pleasure. I can travel in my mind to such places and I can suck on the stones of peculiar and trousers and dodgy and lick the ancient dust off ancient walls to inhale the sentiments still stuck in the pocks. I can wait this out, the stagnancy, because I am not alive without these ways of being, and I am not dead, so surely they await me, and I am soon to arrive, fluid and unbroken, to eat the past and dream the future, to write the motion and the skies, to sing the wind, to explode into a thousand tiny shards of everything.

Walking on water

I am currently in a PhD program, exploring how language creates geographic and geologic space. How this can happen in shared conversation, with shared sound and vibration, with beings of all sorts, not just humans. This involves non-standard realities and ways of understanding how one can research the unseen and the known. I shy away from saying ‘believed’ because, well why? To know is to know, to believe is to be doubted.

Early when I started — last fall — a friend recommended I read Orsi, on presence. Orsi is a religious scholar. This lead me to Pasulka and Woodbine, others in the religious scholar realm who write about belief in the unseen, or unagreed upon. One thing said friend, Stephen Prothero, recommended upon suggesting these readings, is that I have an opinion, rather than write as though I am objective. Woodbine goes all in on this, and it is interesting to read a scholar who does indeed believe that the woman he is writing about experiences Jesus in her trance states, and is willing to say so. Presence, in Orsi, has to do in the simplest with the body of christ being in the wafer, being the wafer, not simply a figure of speech, and the ways in which saints are in their statues. Pasulka studies those who believe in UFOs, and while she has many an interesting experience, she does not say what she believes. There are other UFO specialists I have read, scholars, such as Vallée, and Kripal, who say that there is a real phenomenon but cannot say if it is a UFO. They do not deny that things occur, they are wise enough to not attempt to explain them in a language that may not be adequate to hold them, or our minds, which are not fully capable of a perception we can translate into words.

As I began, in the construct of the PhD, to explore how we can travel to other places and build worlds through trance state, in trance state, I returned to the many lineages of thought in the history of humans as to how this happens. This is not the correct phrasing. There are many ways to go about this, and a rich history of those who have, who does it, in what position in community, in different forms, tools, modes and so on. As I have worked to understand this breadth of knowledge, I am also learning to use a specific set of these tools myself, to see how I can use language and sound to create, and how it is, perhaps, specific to the place I am sitting at an exact moment, versus a general sense of earth-ness, separate from the here and now.

Many paths seems to have brought me here, decades of yoga asana, a long term sound meditation practice with a northern Shaivist, a love of language, and of nature and the spaces of expansion one finds when alone for extended periods of time. When deep in long meditation practice at two different times in my life, I pulled back because I wanted to go to so deep. Into the cave, into the desert, into the forest, into the interiority that expands to all ends of consciousness, and perhaps beyond. As a child, I used to travel, as I called it. Walk worlds, at night, under the guidance of an older man, who explained the ways to do it, to be safe, and how to make sure I could return. What to make of such things? In my monotheistic science-based upbringing, one could be sure I did not mention this. Yet I have extraordinary and visceral memories of things that would not be considered possible, of ways of moving and flying, of weaving worlds through song.

Yesterday I had a question and I went off to ask it to the netherworld. One aspect of this is why I am writing today, as I sit here this morning in the quiet of my London flat, far from earth and sea, and listening to a podcast (The Emerald) about the long, long history of human trance states, so lost in the past few hundred years, by most humans, for reasons I won’t expound on, but you could go listen to Josh, he is enjoyable. Yesterday, I sat on the narrow bottom bunk in a cabin on a lake in a place that looked tundra like in its flatness and vegetation. The bunk had a beautiful had sewn quilt in dark rich colours. Across from me, on a rickety wooden chair, sat the person I was speaking to, though we were not using words, but rather thoughts. In answer to my questions, she nodded to the east wall, which was now glowing yellow and had a brighter light in a center slit, which I understood was a portal I was to pass through. And so I did.

I found myself on a sea, enormous, expansive, the pale blue grey of the far north, the clouds reflective, and on edges, reflective trees, but no visible trees they were reflecting from. I looked in all directions and the water, flat and calm, continued across the space. I looked down, having a moment of wondering if I were standing on a secret plexiglass box under the water, faking the ability to walk on water, only to realize that I was slighting above the water, standing on it with a gap between me and it, almost as though I was a maglev water walker. I leaned down, tilted forward as a shape, rather than bent as a human, and put my hand in the water. It was cool, cold, even, exquisite. I stood there for a bit, looking in all directions, and feeling ease and calm.

I have spent enough time on ferries, in the northern seas, long nights of dark with wind and diesel hum, that I can drop into the bliss state that these inspire very quickly. Whatever it is that I seek in those places, standing here on this sea, I realize that this, this sea, the ferries, the ways I travel, these are all liminal states of such beauty and easy, that I feel home when I am there, I lose the grasping sense of being choked, when only in the 3d/real world. I don’t want to loiter though, as there is more to ask, and I dip my head in the sea, then am back on the bunk, continuing.

It feels strange, at times, to have all this practice in my body, in memory packets, in the way that clouds can form over the river that runs inside me, at a diagonal from my left shoulder to my right hip. On a good day, I can look to the pale blues and the darker ones of depth and see upon its still surface the reflection of light and clouds, and now that I hold this within me, and that should I wish, I could dive below the surface and explore other worlds.

It feels strange, at times, to try to explain these things in an academic manner, to think about how the academy wants western knowledge as its sources, not embodied felt knowledge or ancestral knowledge or the gods or plants or stones speaking in and through one.

I do not get answers, I get suggestions, visions of possibilities, ways of seeing, ways of feeling. The expansiveness of the liminality suggested I share this with others, that I find a way to write into existence what it is like to live across space the way I do, when things are at their best. That I let you know how that perfect chill water feels if you dangle your finger tips, moving slowly, unclear if it is you or the water who ebbs and flows.

In some way, this is my former life, my ferries, the Adelphi Project, and my current explorations all rolled in to one, enormous, tearful beautiful space, within and without, that wishes to speak to you, if you wish to listen.

Art Dispatch 0

Mark, several years ago, asked me to write paragraphs describing art I had seen. This becomes a very interesting exercise in a world so used to the visual. To take the time to describe the angle of rock, the colour, the pressure of the stylus, the depth of language embedded across the many-panelled skirt.There is the physical description of what I see, with my particular eyes, and the interpretation of what I see, with my particular history and culture. I would add a third, which would be what I see with my hands or my body or my ears, seeing not requiring eyes, in my world.

I never did send him these descriptions, but I would take polaroids and try to formulate the phrases that would describe the square image in my hand. I can imagine a visual game of telephone, can you draw what I have described? Could you pick it out from a line-up? Would we be as poor at this as we are picking out a person from a police line-up? Is describing in this way a skill lost to the visual era we live in?

My PhD program is ‘practice-based’ if I wish it. Instead of producing only the massive word based document that is a dissertation, one can produce as well art of whatever form is warranted. The written words and the practice must weave together, these are not two parallel lines, but one narrative which is ideally greater than the sum of its parts. In my program, now and before, there have been artists who have a practice and come to do their PhD. There are emerging artists come to combine their philosophy with their practice. And there is me. What am I?

One of the post-docs, an artists who did her PhD here as well, made a comment that if you aren’t practicing, it is not a practice. Interesting to ponder. What makes an artist, then, is a question. As a writer, this is also an interesting question. “I write.” Yes, ok. But are you a writer? Hard to say. I would never say I am an artist, but why is an interesting question.

In 2017 I had my first ‘visiting artists and scholars’ residency at the American Academy in Rome. At the time I was living in New York City. Two interesting things happened in Rome. First, no one questioned whether or not I was an artist. I talked about what I was working on and what I was interested in, and the accepted at face value that I was who I said I was. This had never happened to me before and it was a strange experience. Second, I was there as a visiting artist though I would have said visiting scholar was more applicable. At the time I was working on The Adelphi Project, and even though it did have a visual output — enormous chalkboard walls created and photographed, as well as collage and other visual artifacts of knowledge, it felt philosophical and scholarly to me. I remember sitting at dinner one night with the classicist Mary Beard and the intellectual historian Hussein Fancy (is work is fantastic, I recommend reading him). I was explaining that I could not appear at the Academy as a scholar because I did not have a PhD, and the concept of ‘independent scholar’ was not acceptable, to which they were both agog and kept saying, but clearly you are a scholar, to which I shrugged. Yet here again, was no doubt that I was a thing, yes, I said thing, something, someone who could be classified as artist or scholar or both, without doubt in the minds of the people I was speaking with.

Words, research, theory, these bits are not hard for me, after a life time of training, the ritual of them is part of who I am. As Flora noted in her comment about practice, and as I pondered it, I did realise that unless I am engaged in something definable as art, as loose as that may be, that aspect of my program will atrophy and it will not be an option for me. My answer to this was to engage in the practice of practice. I decided that for the remainder of 2022 I would dedicate Thursday to this, in whatever form was suitable. Reading about, viewing, experiencing, writing, creating. One day a week, dedicated to being present, physically, in the world of art.

I spoke to Mark about this and his response was that I already had a practice, and an art. That the walls that I create, full of ideas and connections, the way in which I see the world, created in space, the photos that come from them, is a practice, and one that is so very compelling. I thought about this. When I was working on Adelphi and would take a photo a day, sometimes I would post them, so people could wander around inside my head with me. I’ve never thought of them as more than the way in which I map the four or five dimensions of space and thought and language. Of how I restructure the world, visually, so that I can experience and live it — mostly inside my head, in a way that it is not currently formed.

My studio in Long Island City had a Vera Wang black gown in it. Sometimes in the mornings I would get to the studio, put on the dress leaving the back unzipped as there was something about the precarity and the flow that was pleasing, something slightly broken that made it better. It had a long train, and undertrain, and I would put on my ballet slippers and put on assorted Malian guitar musicians, and dance. The first hour of working through what would be done that day was often explored through the physicality of a half worn gown, the metal strings of a guitar, and the sun slowly rising.

In Los Angeles, shortly before moving to London, I pulled out a different gown one day, on a day when work wasn’t flowing well. I hung it on the wall and photographed it, then put it on, and flowed around. It was gunmetal silk with woven leather straps, toga style in design, always precarious, and lacked the glory of the weighted Wang, but it’s light simplicity still held some promise of otherworldliness. It was late, that night, and this isn’t a dress to dance wildly in, so as an experiment, not particularly successful, except in the reminder that part of the way in which my walls get created is with physical abandon, motion, fluidity and grace.

Art days, London. Dispatches and discursions. Intent. As I grow wiser, I begin to think that intent is the most important aspect of anything I do, without intention, I don’t do. Even if the intention is curiosity, if the intention is failure, finding it shifts the ways I work and the ways I find. This is not my Thursday art day output today, merely a preamble to what I hope will be more output of what this brings, more discussion, more missing the point or not seeing what others see or not understanding. More weight, I suppose, is what I am trying to say. Something I can hold in my hand, metaphorical or not, to feel what it is, the rub my fingers along the textures, to see with my hands not my eyes, to speak with my body not my mouth.

A Musing

I was struck this morning, walking from the flat to the library, via a book store, a Greek restaurant, past the British Museum, and with a small side-trip to the London Review Bookshop to peer inside and see if they had chocolate guinness cake, in case I needed it later, by the lack of shared words in my life.

My flat is in King’s Cross and with the current heat wave in London and the apparent disregard for filth, it smells terrible, the streets are covered with sticky liquids, actual shit, trash, and other undefinable things I don’t believe I want to be able to define. The filth, though, surprises me. It feels like a disregard for those around oneself, to throw chicken bones, trash, empties, and all manners of plastic in to a street, in the expectation, or perhaps not, that some other person might tidy it up.

It is less bad than Los Angeles in one way though, it does actually rain here. I remember living in Little Ethiopia in LA, one steamy hot summer (eight months of that year), and watching a tomato slice not rot, just become desiccated and stuck. I moved away before it did. Nothing washed away, no one washed the sidewalks, as they did in other cities I’ve lived in, NY, Boston. London could use a good power storm, but we may have to wait until the heat wave breaks, and by then, the stench may have floated up to my top floor flat.

But while my mind watches the filth as I walk to avoid stepping in it, this is not the musing I was having this morning. This morning I was pondering how much I miss writing … somewhere. When Tumblr was still tumbling, so many of my friends wrote, shared, and pondered. It hasn’t really been the same since it shifted policies and crashed out of the center of the world. With the algorithms of Instagram, it too is an invalid place for the joys of writing, because I cannot make it show me the people I want to see. Some how it just chooses a few people of the many. Sometime it tells me I’ve seen all the posts, and I know this cannot be true. The words or missing. Or we’ve all gone mute.

The isolation of the pandemic left me with all my words, to myself. I did not write almost the entire time, I barely spoke, I didn’t read. As a human who usually does write all the time, in retrospect, this is all a bit strange. So many things unsaid, unshared, unexposed. It’s not that I want to tell you how my day was, or that I haven’t managed to finish a book, or that I don’t know what to eat for dinner. (These are things I seem to say these days, which often make me think I have become a shell of my former self.)

To return to the ramble that resulted in these musings, my route to my library cubbyhole today took me first to the Waterstones on Gower to buy Tom Jeffreys book, The White Birch. Somewhere in the beginning or near beginning of pandemic time, we’d exchange some emails about me writing a ferry story for his magazine, while he was off to train across Siberia, and we’d be in touch later. This was probably slightly pre-pandemic, when I was living in Rome for a bit, and drowning, to be honest, in indecision and self-generated complexity. The emails and possibilities fell apart, but my desire to read his book was simply stuffed in an internal storage box of the mind. Every now and then since arriving in London in January, I have peered in shops for the book but not seen it. The post he made, of its photo, is three minutes from the cubby, and so I stopped to buy it.

Looping across Montague by the back entrance of the British Museum, in search of water after the Senate House cafe appeared mysteriously empty of all goods today, the line was surprisingly long for the backside. But also, it is destined to be hot today, and all that marble does stay cool. Failure to attain water so, unwisely perhaps, I traveled south to the LRB Bookshop, to see what shop on that street would sell me water and to investigate the cake holdings of the day. At the first table I am stopped by a Jarman collection, introduction by Tilda Swinton. I pick it up, I read the first bits, and then on to more musing. Where does art happen, she asks. But for me, where does writing happen? I write and walk, quite a bit. The words tumble and move, relocate, wrestle, play musical chairs, and sometimes, if I am greatly inspired by a particular set of words, I pull out one of these damned small devices and put them in it. Mostly I just let them dance because, it seems, I have no where to put those words, no Tumblr, no blog (yes, I know), no publishing desires, of the moment. No newsletter, no desire for twitter, no love of the photo bits or the algos on Insta. So what now? These words?

They do, in fact, go in files in my computer, now and again. I started keeping two journals on arrival in London, one a project journal (for my PhD), and one in a file called Evalicious, which is all the deep and dark, the dreams, fantasies, frustrations and amusements of my life. I have started keeping a third one which is called Glump, into which semi-essays get written, but with no desired output. Or maybe I do desire output, but you’d have to check Evalicious for that.

My musings this morning, about all these words, the conversations I am not having, the friends I haven’t seen in years, the dislocation that comes from not having places to share words– and not the rushed words of a text message, or a quick comment on some media, but the kinds that can take hours, to share or to make, whichever. Sometimes I catch glimpses of people’s lives, like in Kevin’s Lily conversations, which are just beautiful, but which require me to open Facebook to read and I rarely remember to do that either. All these places are ads and ‘sponsored’ and full of noise, or hate. I’ve never had a dinner party where every third comment is some one yelling out BUY THIS, or where someone melts down into a stream of jibberish and the irreality of truth and the absence of trust are larger than the humans themselves.

Words. I love words. I bought a dictionary the other evening, and it was so delicious I posted pictures on instagram and twitter, sent screen shots to friends, and laughed aloud sitting on the floor, not only at the words and definitions, but the juxtapositions, the worldview, and the promise that it was ‘self-pronouncing’ and from 1932. So I self-pronounced, in American English, British English, and with assorted other accents, rolling the words around in my mouth savouring them, and remembering how good it feels as well, to suck on small stones from a clean cool river in the height of a hot summer.

Suck rocks, I recall, seems to have been an insult from my childhood, now that I think of it, but clearly, not from someone who had ever done such a thing as a lazy summer child, before they were watched all the time, and had rules in the summer. And what now? Perhaps I shall watch my words, and seek a river, not just this one that flows within, but something crisp and clean, with stones to lick and light to ponder, and I shall share my words with that river, and await a future with different spaces.