Gadgetry and Addictophilia

Folks: I’ve committed, and not for the first or last time, the cardinal sin of Bloggery: This  “entry” is too flippin lengthy, the Ulysses of my e-career thus far—and it is this long because it has been fermenting and evolving for a week.  If you’re game to “take your mind for a walk” (thanks, Keith), then take your sweet time with what follows, ignore what you will, bite it into your own pieces.  Rent a Mother Sparrow who will digest and regurgitate it for you if you wish to spare yourself a hefty read.  Or: plunge in.  I’ll try to do better at making the entries a manageable size (though this is not, now as ever, my forte…).  I broke what follows into sections but . . . sections have a way of adding up (aw, mathematics, you’re so cute!).  Fine: consider it form that mimics reality.  For (my) life feels like a gigantic unwieldy jelly bean right now, and so I pass this on to you, an equally unwieldy jelly bean, and trust your arms, and trust your arms, and trust your arms.  Love, S

Gadgetry or god-getry

When I wake in pre-light Paris, Prakriti (the inescapable matter-ness of matter) is already doing the funky chicken under the gaze of the famed Botero portrait, a Madame who appears to be afflicted with a surrealist’s Elephantitis and fixes her drsti over J and I in repose.  An angular dog’s face peeks from her snowy elbow like a punctuation mark.  I know its lucid gaze for what it is: it has pooped in her muff, and she doesn’t yet know.   She’s the opposite of a dream-catcher: she’s a dream pitcher, and her dog’s a little enabler.

If I am in love with my Mac (I’m a quick sell), of my thin iPod touch I am quite in fear—and fear makes me keep my distance.  The only thing I’ve successfully programmed it to do is to wake me up.  It is iKind about the chore.  At five a.m. I know a worldly artifact is co-conspirator in my plot to catch dawn crowning: a dumb comfort, but so often our machines are not on our team.  Among the sound-scapes a person can rise to– ducks quacking, really? nothing I’d rather not—I find “church bells.”  Holiest of holy, ask not for whom the bell tolls.  To the tune of dings and dongs, the divine throat is cleared of the night’s profane detritus, again & then again, then nothing.  In the quiet of the subsequent not-saying, the iPod asks: Snooze, oui?  And I ask the bells: What’s that you wanted to tell me?

Day four-million-and-seven of a ten-day silent Vipassana retreat at Wat Suan Mokh in Thailand: Dhammavidu, the British monk, tells us, through narrowed eyes—as if activating memory required looking down a thin tube of one’s life through which the October sun was glaring back—that when he first arrived at this monastery, more or less a lost cause, he was given the daily chore of ringing the 4 a.m. meditation bell.  Maybe he had even asked that this be his assignment.  Every morning, he beat that bell with all his human strength, muscularly ascertaining the price of emptiness. Bon marche, bon marche. Seeing the vanitas under the vanity ain’t cheap.  “I don’t have enough of silver”—is the literal translation of the phrase that means “I can’t afford it” in French.  What can we afford to see, is the question.

Exhibit A: the marinated aubergine on Rue Cler, for which the proprietors humbly ask a shattering thirty-one Euros per kilo, whatever a kilo is (don’t worry, fellow Americans, you needn’t pretend to know!).   Said keepers of the Veg-empire audaciously stand over their tray of treasures, dead eggplant shimmering in its oil bath, and look at you as if there is a decision to be made—C’est normal! Dhammavidu looks at us as if there is a decision to be made (this was years ago).  What is the price of emptiness?  Somewhere between a rebated iPod and a marinated nightshade.

When I reach to turn off the alarm, Earth as viewed from “space” (as in, outer) briefly winks at me from the screen.  Am I on earth now, or still a long, long way away?  The radical disorientation that I scoffingly thought Europe wouldn’t provide—we’re not in the jungle, after all, and there is a Starbucks down the road—it is providing in spades.  The digitalized planet is suspended in its blue & white outfit du jour, of a size that could be easily straddled by even a medium-heft NYC cockroach.  This is a lesson in slipperiness of (all) perspective.  When I went to sleep, I naively assumed gravity to be a reliably compulsive work-aholic.  Now I find that I’m somewhere where consciousness isn’t quite, and the earth has run away into the sanctuary of my newest e-gadget, which is far far sexier than I.  Like any smart thing subject to the laws of nature, it takes refuge in the iPod’s protective elusiveness.  In fact, the iPod is so slick that to press its non-button-buttons is comparable to trying to iron an ice cube.  It requires the lightest touch to respond.  I cannot wait for humans to be programmed to be this subtle.  Or: I can wait a long time.   I try to touch my mat that subtly.  It grunts.  It’s not biodegradable, the way my attitude problem is.

The Little Grinder That Wouldn’t

Yeah, I know: I’m in the cushy world of croissants and yet I’m fixated on procuring and ingesting these little nuisance seeds, lice-combs for your Colon.  Lin, or flax—I’m a slave of these slick critters, for in recent years they have become an indispensible  breakfast item with fruit. To eat le ground flax—how to explain?  It is tantamount to discovering Emily Dickinson’s complete opus just when you were starting to imagine yourself the first person that ever loved infinity but also wanted to be a recluse in a thick-walled attic.  Phew: you’re not the only sentient being who prefers trafficking with Eternity to the company of other humans in the multifunctional world…

There is un hacher—a grinder—in the kitchen cabinet on a high shelf which requires a step-ladder for access.  This should have been my first clue that something was amiss: no one puts an appliance that works agreeably on a shelf which demands both concentration and physical aptitude to reach.  There is a drawer full of instruction manuals for the hapless renter meant to facilitate the use of the various gadgetry with which our apartment is stocked.  Armed with the appropriate manual, I approach the Taj Mahal of Cuisinarts, which is actually called “Robot.”  It is multi-tierred, multi-function, multi-gasmic.  All I want it to do is grind the seeds of my heart.  It allows for everything one could want to do to food, theoretically: grinding, massaging, chopping, and pureeing.  Theoretically, I say, because—lo!—none of those things will happen.  Nothing does: great, my grinder is a jaded nihilist.  The thin veil of frustration which Richard Freeman delightfully explains cloaks all of reality in this world of samsara has congealed into a velvet curtain.  But who wants to hear about the travails of domesticity when everywhere in the world people are thinking quasi-interesting things?

The grinder just doesn’t want to do my bidding.  It’s French.  We can’t engage in dialectic about this.  It is a shabby Aristotelean (all ends in things) and I am a shabby Platonist (this world mimics a world of ideal forms).  I understand immediately the addict’s daily dilemma.  I think of myself as a person who has the will to give up anything (OK, except love.  But I could give up semi-colons).  But it seems if I detect the vaguest scent of possible fulfillment of my strange wants—is it my fault that I’ve passed a number of “bio” stores whoring their flaxen goods at me?– I’ll walk the loneliest highway unforgivable distances (I think that is a Johnny cash song) to find flax seeds and then the grinder that makes them digestible– unless you’re a goat, who can handle them without the grinder, J points out.  Which I guess I’m not.

And yet: I am a sorry, sorry victim of Hachers of Paris.  Multifunction is the proud boast of the all the appliances in our home, which would be a great quality if they worked in the first place.  I want to get Luddite on the ensemble of inert equipment: Guys, What about that archaic virtue of keeping things simple? What about commitment to duty, or a more Puritanical life-style? (The discourse of the early colonists in North America is on my mind, it’s true).  For my brain also purports to be thus—oui, multifunction!   This multi-functionality/higher-order thinking is one supporting factor in our claim to stand at the apex of all conscious critters.  But the impressionistic white and gray matter (and the uncharted black holes sprinkled thereabout) actually does much better overall when not exploiting its inner Option Buffet, but orienting itself towards a single task and executing it.   Practicing yoga tries to model this: you fix the gaze; you concentrate on the in-breath, then the out-breath, in ceaseless linkings.  It’s orderly, it’s so simple it’s hard, and it has the effect of grinding your limiting patterns into smithereens.

The problem with practice is that eventually you’re done and the mundane fangs of attending circumstances are still out to getcha. When you leave your sweet mat, the lil-grinder-that-wouldn’t is still poised Frenchly in the kitchen, ready to rouse the inner wrath that no compassion practice can assuage.   This wrath comes understandably from the expectation a grinder will grind.  The grinder refuseth.  Attraction and aversion?  Who can tell the difference!  And that is the point.

To wax and wane and shut off the valve

To wax compulsive isn’t a challenge for me in this lifetime: I’ve practiced yoga in a bathroom a turtle would snub as claustrophobic.  Surely to keep up any habit that is mildly insane does require a certain percentage of this tendency to repeat.  So, needing what I need—where is flax on Maslow’s pyramid?—I decide to go rustic when a grinder doesn’t present itself affordably at the local shops.  Our nearby market street, Rue Cler, boasts not just fromage and Co., but a relatively pleasant kitchen shop: despite the assurances of the shopkeeper who speaks at least sufficiently peu anglais to lie, his Bodum mortal and pestle doesn’t have any power against the cohesive fortitude of my bio flax seeds.  It’s like trying to crush marbles with a toothpick: they worm out of the way of the pestle.  The pestle pestles along like a piss-pot.  How ever did they do this in ancient times? I ask J, my resident polymath.  They died of want.  I’m sure of it.  While watching the goats feast.

There are other things in the backdrop of this addiction story, but because addiction tends to foreground itself, these things are relegated to décor status. Such as: J is relieved that the French still let their children play in dirt—parks here distinctly lack grass.  We are both relieved that the Eiffel tower is ubiquitously spottable in our neighborhood.  There it be! The Seine licking—almost licking—its Western wall.  And yet the Famed Edifice still ends up laughing behind our backs, now you see me now you don’t, as we follow the various zig-zag paths in the Champ de Mars trying to walk in a straight line (and you can’t exactly take refuge in the “there are no straight lines” argument: we live in the relative world, which is relatively inconvenient).  Who knew a building could be so stealthily immature?  This “field” is where the military once did their exercises, step-aerobics and the like in public view, and now it is where tourists can take Hilarious photos of themselves which give the special effect that the individual is the sole support beam responsible for the Eiffel tower not falling down.  O thank you thank you, you modern Atlas!  These accomplices of uprightness, defenders against gravity’s appetite.  We walk and walk and walk.  We walk two more feet and have to look at the map again, which is missing streets, to the order of a few squared.  What can the body not work through.

At night, I watch a clip of David Swenson doing second series Astanga, while he breathfully narrates a story linking the postures—the horse jumps over the fence and lands on the cow’s face! The story is of the variety I would tell to my nose-picking K-2 class, for they usually opened their practice with eka-finger-upa-da-nose-asana.  I come to the only conclusion possible: yoga looks weird.  And it does, because it is.  It hallmarks you as a being devoted to the paranormal.  Flaxum esperamus.  As in: by the side of normal, as in, normal is over there, looking in its locker at its schedule, in its football jersey, very “X Y Z” and you’re standing by the recycling bin, looking through normal’s reject pile, and taking what you need to get by.

Twisting yourself into shapes most people never imagined (or cared to imagine) that a body could achieve is only half the paranormalness of it.  The other half is the realization that the long tunnel with the blazing sun on the other end of it is where your home is—“is”, O Bill Clinton, meaning “is”—and you’re going to have to squint, and open your nostrils, and open your lungs, and open your daring, if you hope to have even the faintest taste of it on your tongue when you pass on from this form. What some people call heaven I envision as the land where flax seed grinders are compulsory in all respectable retail venues (Yeah: I’m not just beating the dead horse, I’m palpating it, treating it like Play-Dough).

But anyway heaven

The only thing that can really pull me from the riff on flax is a riff on mortality.  If, upon passing and forging the River Styx, you hope to have the coin guaranteeing your way home on the floor of your mouth, it’s not going to be the greening penny you kept from your birth year, or even the stashed gold that might redeem us all when the “real” fiscal disaster nullifies all our iPodery & Progressiveness, etc.   Your fremulum won’t be cozied up with any kind of “real” money meant to buy your way anywhere.

I suspect we’ll need that elusive “something else”, the coinage of what was too bright to ever really see directly (shit, another split infinitive!) in the first place, requiring sunglasses to hood even your ambitious third eye.  One can traipse all about the planet wondering where one truly fits—that place where you’ll at last discover a sense of absolute belongingness.  But other places on the planet, people are still people, the perennial disappointment and the perennial amusement.  So the gateway to home, ultimate home, yet undiscovered but intuited, might be the opportunity opened by the exhale, rather than any physical token which would require your beloved survivors to sew your lips shut.    Charon, with his oar poised, doesn’t accept EZ passes, but he does like ease and common sense.

Flax seeds and the achievement thereof can’t be as enchanting as this dish I’m served every day: Being Alive.  As I look into it, the enchantment of being alive is very much about noticing and even worshipping (don’t gag on that word) the paranormal nesting inside the normal, or the normal as always a bit more than itself.  The egregious Eggplant, like a prime piece of Real Estate in downtown Manhattan, knows that it takes up more space in worth than its form can seemingly justify.  We take up more space, bodies that bleed and love and bleed and love, than our form seems to justify, these small, easily disappointed, easily inflamed, easily needy creatures.  And we should pay attention to the implications of that spaciousness, because it is ours too, and it is both simple and multifunctional, and it has far fewer needs than those that preoccupy our so easily discomfited physicalities.  I’m just sayin…

A brief notice on love-making…Mom and Dad, keep reading, this is metaphorical, not actual!

Get down on hands and knees before light can knock some sense into you, on a synthetic mat, and kiss the meditation bell in your mind, and praise all dysfunctional gadgetry and the autonomic addiction to sustenance which keeps us complicatedly embodied.  As the day comes in, slow and grey and tamasic, the Madame and her dog watch you suspiciously, even through the shut door of the bedroom.  The dog can smell you’re a vegetarian Americaine who occasionally eats fish.   The hacher rests peacefully on its shelf, disdaining the human race and its paltry desires, doing nothing as befits the ideal work-week.  The candle, being a candle and therefore impartial, offers just the right amount of light to verify existence while the iPod, done with its 15-second long service to humankind, shuts itself off.   And if you believe it was an addicts distraction that got me here, chasing words to avoid the ache of need, you are right, and I shut myself off.   But not without a kiss to you, for coming this far, and to all of us, for coming this far.

A History of Being Wrong

The preceding entry has become a lie by virtue of discovery of a new shop.  This turn of events mimics unintentionally the history of science, which involves a continuous chain of one fable caving into the authority of another paradigm with all the resistance of a brie brick.  Whatever sense of triumph I might have achieved at weaning myself from the Big Flax Tit will not have a chance to be aired, this time round.

That weaning wasn’t ever the point and it was also the point entirely.  The thing you want to have (flax) when not having it (did France had a fatwah on grinders?) becomes an object of derision: with this one insight, eighth grade (and ever onward) male-female politics are poignantly clarified for me.  A giant merde to all things that purport to grind! was my sanguine attitude following a crop of disappointments.  And now, blessed be the grinder that giveth, I say.  My new German friend—efficiency, efficiency!– is at ease on the countertop, though I had to shove its electric cord into the wall with a force that would have made Ben Franklin put down his worn kite in the lightning-sizzled meadow and take note.  Wow, she’s going to fry herself at the outlet, all in the name of satisfaction.  Death by fire, they say, and death by ice: equally nice.  Destruction will suffice (Rick, I’m testing to see if you got this far—if so, post the poem!).

The truth is that rhapsodizing is necessary when your last barricade against utter dissolution is a verbal one.  For the last few days, what stood between me and an addict’s despair was these words, which both conjured a shape or consoled for its absence.  It is like the body pillow: in times sans lover, one can hug a body pillow, knowing perfectly well that downy stuffing is differs entirely from human epidermis, but not caring.  The fakery provides all the comfort the real thing could offer, plus generic fibbing practice, which never is wasted in this world which is largely forwarded by Fibs and fiblets.  All to say: when you’re going down, lay a net.  The white spaces between lexical units are not so wide a body can fit through.  You’re safe from the abyss while you are making things up about how you’re safe from the abyss.

I smashed my head so hard on our dresser that my crown chakra opened and only a package of petite peas in the freezer saved me from imminent soul-departure.  I cried, because that’s what one does, which was likely the point of the accident in the first place.  I stood in the bedroom crowned with frozen vegetables with my soul ready to do its best whale-spout imitation and make a break for it.  And I do not, anyway, understand the choices we make, and how we ascertain what is important in this life.  We feel it, J says.

The girls and I do a spritely, idiotic jig down the grand staircase (Recreational Arts or, in this case, Rep-Wrecking Arts) of their Bosquiat apartment building—yes, it was my idea.  A Frenchwoman, exasperated at our stupid American folly, throws open her front door and with her vacuum still running, tells us off.  Something something something something. Un probleme? I say, not sure about my articles, but having faith in my ability to look innocently deferential.  She nods vigorously, and midway through her adamant lecture, bursts into laughter.  She doesn’t mean to, I can tell, but the girls behind me are hysterical with giggles while her jugular grows burnished and I’m almost incontinent (almost thirty years old and still…) and between the four of us, she has the uncontestable vocabulary monopoly.  I nod vigorously, nods of the “whatever you say is right” variety that I would never, not for all the monopoly money in the bank, concede to an annoyed New Yorker in the same circumstances.  The girls are now so pleased they are redoubled with laughter.  Their father says, later, well, what are stairs for? The vacuum is still running a few floors up—her threshold has been tainted with feckless Joy Americaine.  And yes, stupid Joy is a problem.  But so is meaninglessness, or rather, letting meaninglessness persuade you that nothing is to be sought, and nothing to be delighted in.  Sartre may have written his seminal Nausea in France or maybe not—maybe he even wrote it mired in this very building, though I would bet an ignorant Euro against it, or at least a slice of Aubergine.  But there is nothing nauseating about a body, weary of ascertaining what is foreign and what familiar, bending to the best medicine biology ever came up with, and in the kind of temporary bliss absurdity can engender, turning its surly face towards a sun that only it is privy to, and privy to, and privy to.


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One Response to “Gadgetry and Addictophilia”

  1. rick benjamin Says:

    ah, this is a lovely read, sara &, yes, i read every word. so,

    Some say the world will end in fire
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice:
    I think I know enough of hate
    to say that for destruction
    Ice is also great,
    & would suffice.

    line breaks are off– so sorry Mr. Frost.



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