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it’s synth-pop friday!

September 30th, 2011 by slewfoot

terms of endearment

September 24th, 2011 by slewfoot

Music: Rolling Stones: Some Girls (1978)

I was saying goodbye to a friend, a former teaching assistant and a current graduate student, some years my senior, in most ways wiser and with knocks harder than I can imagine. Second career. She was putting on a helmet and mounting a scooter. “Thanks Josh,” she said, referencing our working lunch meeting. “Thank you for lunch, darlin’” I said, almost automatically. I noticed, in that split second, the “darlin’” was unwittingly testing a boundary. She registered, made eye contact, then cracked a smile. “You bet, babe.” And off she scooted.

Unspoken negotiation happens daily, in gesture and mood; words spoken only index a torrent of scripts churning out behind observing eyes. That is, the speakers who are seasoned at self-monitoring scan the scripts, quickly.

I think culture shock has its advantages. I was born and raised in Georgia. Lived in DC. Moved to the Midwest. Moved to Louisiana. Then moved to Texas. Shocking every year of the way.

It’s taken me a long time, but I have finally come back around to occupying a speech orientation, a sort of idiomatic disposition, that I was reared into as a son of Georgia: relating to others with terms of endearment. Growing up, I was called “dear,” “sweetie,” “darlin’,” and all matter of cute names that are so stereotypical of being a kid from the south. When I moved away from “Dixie,” it was initially difficult adjusting to being addressed a “sir” or “mister” at the grocery store. But I acclimated, eventually. When I moved to Minnesota in my early twenties, I learned that referring to others as “sweetie” and “darlin’” could be taken as an insult. And much of the reason concerned gender relations.

Graduate school, a deepening (and I think fairly extensive) education in the history of misogyny and sexism, and a certain midwestern sense of propriety oriented my whole being toward a certain comportment, a concern with the respect and dignity of others. In Minnesota, if I wanted to call a friend by “sweetie” or “dear,” I knew that it might be heard as an assertion of superiority or patriarchical right—so I simply stopped referring to people in that language. Over the course of six years, my body acquiesced. Calling others by the southern terms of endearment simply left my vocabulary; “dude” entered my vocabulary as a sort-of substitute (for men and women with whom I was close; I think my Dixie-diction just got Cali-clobbered—in Minnesota!).

What I learned in graduate school is that calling others “sweetheart” or “darlin’” was at some level an assertion of power, drawing on a logic that stretched back decades, perhaps centuries. What seems like an innocent admission of affection is really an assertion, for example, of male superiority over women, or an assertion of male privilege, or a tacit reminder of my (assumed) power, or so on. We’re all familiar with the arguments (well, most of the folks who read this blog, anyway). What I’m trying to write about is how irresistible those habits are, how throwing out those terms of endearment are so soul-deep, so unconscious, how the gestures are learned so early that they are as much a form of dancing as they are a perpetuation of a kind of ideological perseveration (think Lacan on the agency of the letter, here).

For example: there’s another thing that I was taught as a young person that I simply cannot seem to shake: holding doors open for others behind me who are elderly or women (we’ll, frankly, I do this for just about everyone). I was taught at a very young age—before I can consciously remember—to do this. And I was taught to make sure the elderly and women exit elevators before I do. I’ve tried to break this habit, but I can’t. I still do it. Unfailingly. I can recall thinking just last week: I was standing at the front of a crowded elevator car going up to the seventh floor, and a number of young, female students were behind me, and I thought that I should let them exit before I do. I recall thinking also that maybe I should just walk out of the elevator first, because waiting represented a certain male superiority. But when the door opened, I used my arm to hold open the door and let the women out before I got out. Force of habit. Force of entrainment.

Is the force of habit also the force of hegemony? Probably.

But I also think, increasingly, the force of habit is alright, that my graduate school self is being too hard on my middle-aged self reverting to adolescent habit.

As my opening anecdote reveals, I’ve started letting myself use terms of endearment for people. No doubt that’s because I live in a state for which this is common and expected; clerks at the grocery store call me “darlin’” (usually women), and I like it. My closest friends do it (Dale calls me “babe,” Mirko calls me “buddy,” Shaun tells me “I love you, bud” at the end of every phone call, Diane calls me “sweetie”). But I’m trying to be mindful about it. I want the folks whom I call “sweetie” or “darlin’” to know that my terms of endearment are deployed carefully, with the full knowledge that there’s a complicated power structure I’m navigating when address them so, that I’m aware of this structure, and that I do it anyway. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if I call you “sweetie,” you should know that I’m not necessarily on some hegemonic autopilot, or asserting some sort of power relation, but rather that I love you.

But is it the hegemonic speaking through me? Perhaps. At some level. I guess at this point I’m willing to take the risk, darlin’. And that I think the nature of the risk is more endearing than oppressive.

This is the sort of “over-thinking” that academics are made-fun of for, that my own family teases me about. Still, it’s an interesting, everyday gesture that bespeaks an intellectual journey few of those who have not had an education in feminism and gender studies think about. But if I call you “darlin’,” rest assured I have thought about the implications (I think?). And, I hope, you realize I’ve taken risk—the risk that I know all that and still want to risk it, that you are my equal, and that you are truly dear to me.

But: This is why I only will use such terms of endearment with those who are dear to me and know me—because I suppose that they know where it’s coming from. And at some level I think I assume those for whom I use such terms of endearment would tell me that they find it offensive if they actually find it offensive. In which case, I guess, I would just call them “dude”—regardless of gender, or, well, religious conviction.

it’s synth-pop friday!

September 23rd, 2011 by slewfoot

five things I dislike about shopping at central market

September 20th, 2011 by slewfoot

Music: Tori Amos: Night of Hunters (2011)

My favorite grocery store in Aus-Vegas is Central Market, a less-expensive port of Whole Foods, and less pretentious too. They also carry lobster, which Whole Foods refuses to do because they believe boiling crustaceans causes sentient pain. Central Market is a little more expensive than the average grocery store, and a lot more expensive than Wal-Mart. But, they have good employee relations (and benefits), and in general the customer service is really great (the same is true of Whole Foods). Still, as Eeyore is my patron saint, I managed to find some things worthy of complaint, most of which have to do with the people who shop there:

1. The lady who steps out in front of my car when I am trying to park: I’m about to turn into a space when a sunglassed young woman looks up, sees me coming, and decides nevertheless to walk in front of me, causing me to slam on my brakes. But instead of scuttling to get out of the way, she elects to “text” on her phone in this jaywalkish moment, slowing her pace substantially. She cost me an extra ten seconds. Lady: you deserve to get hit the next time you do that.

2. The older woman dressed in all black who cuts in front of me to price her produce: I’m walking toward the scale one has to use the produce department to print off a price label, based on the weight of your produce. I’m about three feet away when a blond woman plops in front of me to weigh her produce. This is fine, she didn’t see me. As I stand behind her waiting patiently, another woman, elderly and dressed in all black, approaches the opposite side of the woman weighing and looks at me. Then, when the first woman is done the lady dressed in black plops down a big ol’ bag of green peppers. She doesn’t say “sorry” or “excuse me.” Just because you are older than me doesn’t mean you don’t need to observe common courtesy. Grrr.

3. The cheese sample hogs: So, one of the rare delights of shopping at Central Market is that they are always doling out food samples. The best are always in the cheese department. There’s a bar, and on it sits a sample tray, and as a matter of sequence, when shopping at Central Market, one always has to make a pass through the cheese section for that free sample. Today two women were sampling as I neared. I went off to another section to fetch something, and then came back. They were still sampling. They kept sampling. Like I watched them take three samples each. You know, I think you’re only supposed to take one sample, people. Then move and let others sample. Grrr.

4. The lack of pork rinds: Almost every grocery store in town sells pork rinds. Pork rinds are eaten by Texans. So is salsa. Central Market has a whole aisle just for salsa and tortilla chips. Seriously. Whole Foods doesn’t have pork rinds, I reckon, because these are presumably unhealthy (no more unhealthy as the marbled meat they sell, or the margarine, and so on). But Central Market: why can’t you have pork rinds? Some recipes call for crumbled pork rinds for texture. I dislike that you do not have pork rinds, Central Market, as I suspect it is really about “class.” Only lower-income people eat pork rinds, and you presume you are above this, Central Market? Boo.

5. The jock who has an intense conversation with girlfriend on his cell phone while checking-out: Dude, neither me, nor the clerk, care about your relationship troubles, and your public airing of them significantly slows down the process. It’s difficult to swipe your card and punch your PIN when Ginger is accusing you of insensitivity. She’s right, you know.

it’s synth-pop friday!

September 16th, 2011 by slewfoot

Cut Copy – Blink And You’ll Miss A Revolution from Cut Copy on Vimeo.

anniversarial ramble

September 11th, 2011 by slewfoot

Music: Wilco: The Whole Love (2011)

When one gets to the dissertation stage in graduate school, life becomes gradually, almost imperceptibly, solitary. About half-way into writing hundreds of pages one looks up to see the days stretching behind her in a monotonous—even comforting—routine: get up and make coffee; review the pages written yesterday in front of the morning shoes news; read something to jump-start thinking; be at the computer by 10:00 a.m.; break for brunch; back to the computer screen; stop writing; print; proofread; make dinner or get out to see a friend. Rinse. Repeat.

At some point in the process you realize you are alone, that writing really cannot go any other way; you have to push through, and be perspicacious enough (namely, about your own tendencies) to schedule social things so that your absorption in your writing does not become totalizing. The absorption of mania, in whatever form, is often productive; the cost, however, is a certain withdrawal from the world.

September 11, 2001 was a routine day like any other. Since high school I had watched the Today show, drinking coffee as I readied for school. Dissertating mandated a regression to the same morning ritual of my younger youth, since there was comfort in routine. Tuesday. The nondescript day, a purgatory of the week’s punctuation in which something must get done, because the excuse of Friday fun was three days away. The cats were perched on the radiator, as usual, and it had already turned a chill in Minnesota. A black-and-white throw blanket my grandmother made me for Christmas was draped across my lap. She was inspired, I think, by my kitchen curtains, which she saw a picture of once and remarked that she liked (I said one day I would have a kitchen with a black and white checkered floor). I was grazing through Richard Kearney’s The Wake of Imagination to get the brain working, take notes with a red Pilot pen and an eight-inch, clear plastic ruler. The whirr and buzz of television news faded into and out of consciousness as Kearney traced the passage of the imagination from creation to reflection; Katie Couric and Matt Lauer coupled me to hard news at the top of each hour for ten minutes. Sip. Coffee. Sip. Kearney. Sip. Sip. Refill.

“. . . and I’m cold for my father/ frozen underground/ jesus, I wouldn’t bother / he belongs to me now . . . .”

Televisual occupancy is an odd thing, the charge of what Raymond Williams called “flow” carries the sound of other bodies breathing through small speakers on each side into your space, as if to convince one’s brain, at some level, you are with others while working alone. A coffee shop in your living room. A book in your lap. Two pets addicted to the radiator. Sip. Coffee. Sip. Kearney. “And it appears, we’re getting reports that, a small plane has mistakenly flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.”

What? Coffee. Sip. No one seemed alarmed, just confused. The speculation from Lauer was that it was a hobby plane, eyes fooled by the ground-level perspective of something so high. Live footage. Smoke trickles, then billows, out of the building. All cameras were pointed to the World Trade Center, and so when the second plane hit, many of us watching television saw it. At least, I remember seeing it, though memory is choosey (eating watermelon in the alley, she recalled discarding the husk). Memory is choosey and perhaps it’s just as likely I remembered seeing it because of the instant replays played relentlessly over the next week. Coffee. Sip. Kearney could wait.

The phone rang. It was my friend David Beard. “Are you watching television?” he asked. I was, I said. David and I had an essay in review about the shift of television news toward “real time” coverage, in 2001 still then yet a novelty. Around-the-clock coverage of unfolding events was expensive and not as routine as it is today. Our essay located the push toward “real time” coverage with the Columbine High School Massacre in 1999, when all the major television networks interrupted regular programming to cover the event. Drawing on the theories of Paul Virilio, we argued this kind of coverage would become routine (we were right, two graduate students whom few wanted to listen to, but we were right). We tried to think through how real-time could be economically viable for media corporations, since it flies in the face of the then dominant business model of selling advertising tied to programming. We argued the economic advantage was in engendering melancholia, a suspended state of wonder and horror that amplifies a sense of lack in the spectator. That heightened sense of lack could then, of course, be used to encourage consumption. Columbine. Real time. The sense of need engendered by trauma.

“Our essay is going to get published now,” I remember saying (it was, see “On the Apocalyptic Columbine”). But we didn’t just talk about how validating the news-coverage was to our “theory.” We also just talked about our feelings, what was going on, what it meant. I don’t remember how long our conversation lasted, I just remember long pauses on the phone as we watched our televisions.

The towers collapsed.

Writing the dissertation was a solitary feat. But as a witness to televised terror, I was not alone. David was on the phone. I will never forget that moment, with one of my best friends’ voice, seeing something apparently unreal made realer and realer as the day progressed. The telephone figures prominently in my memories of that day, ten years ago.

As days became weeks, months, and years, I became particularly interested in how Nine-eleven evolved into a node in the popular imaginary, how various discourses mobilized popular affect and political policy around a shared sense of trauma. My research trajectory changed, decidedly, toward understanding the relationship between human affect and the political, broadly construed. Looking over my scholarly production this past decade, I can see how influential Nine-eleven has been to my thinking: from Bush II’s orchestration of a decade-long death machine, to the “death-match” politics of contemporary statecraft (the Tea Party would not have been possible without the permissibility of public righteousness rooted in collective trauma). One thing I noticed about the media coverage of Nine-eleven was the repeated use of recorded voices, panicked phone calls to emergency personnel, especially. On behalf of the “families of victims,” The New York Times fought the city government to publically release the phone calls of victims trapped in the towers (they eventually won), and this because, the paper argued, the families needed to hear the recorded voices of their loved ones to properly mourn. Each anniversary, the memorial ceremony has featured the “reading of names”—almost 3,000 of them. In other words, it was the collective mourning responses to Nine-eleven that pushed me toward my present interest in human speech as an object, as a privileged point of focus, as this strange meeting place of language and the body, the spot where feeling gives way to meaning. I’m writing a book about it.

Today on the tenth anniversary I have been listening to NPR all day. I’ve been listening to people telling stories, relaying memories, of recalling that day and what it was like. When I woke and turned on the radio this morning, I was treated to the sound of our president reading a Pslam, which for some irrational reason angered me instantly. I’ve been thinking through this anger today: why did I get so aroused?

In part, I think I got angry because of the collapse of mourning Nine-eleven into politics (as if, of course, the two can be kept pure). So much awfulness was introduced into our lives as a result of a trauma-envy made possible by that day: a war waged via deception, another waged (however justly) as a result of that deception, airport security theatre, thousands dead to avenge the dead. And for what? A a parade of illusions, a collection of abstractions and resolute projections. The critique here, of course, has been “done to death,” too.

My friend Rosa wrote something poignant today: “don’t let all the remembering, no matter how important it is—and it is important—seduce you into forgetting to remember how to think.” How soon we forget that Nine-eleven marked a new battle in the so-called culture wars. Higher education was accused, almost immediately, of brainwashing students in “liberalism” and the move was on to silence critique or the frequent (and true) suggestion that U.S. foreign relations and policy was in some sense responsible for the attack. I vividly recall a “teach-in” in which John Mowitt, a graduate teacher I very much admired, led a discussion about the new attacks on the academy. It’s a long argument to make (and I’m too tired to unfurl it here), but, much of the assault on higher education today coming from the Right is drawing on the collective trauma of that day to bully-up “reforms” and “accountability measures.” I recognize such a statement sounds a bit conspiratorial in the key of Michael Moore, but I do think there is some truth to it. Challenges to the academy are presently made in the name of recession, but Nine-eleven lurks there in the heart, because the teaching of critical thinking has more common cause with “the terrorists” than our mandate as educators. To be critical of the status quo is to be “against America.” Of course. Coffee. Sip.

I was in a rented living room sipping coffee and preparing to write my dissertation when the attacks on Nine-eleven happened. My friend phoned to share a sense of shock. It’s no mystery, then, that Nine-eleven is yoked to academic pursuit in my head. Nine-eleven represents, to me, why the personal and the professional cannot be separated; motive doesn’t discriminate its outlets. And this is why, I reckon, I smell the political machinations underneath apparently earnest attempts to mourn and memorialize, that I sense grief is being used towards murderous ends. The ritual of memorialization too easily lends itself to mass catastrophe precisely because there is nothing inauthentic about the experience and rememory of pain.

I recoil with disgust from the thought that my sense of togetherness in shared trauma, the human community made real by a shared shock, can be swerved so easily into a blind acquisition. But this is what Nine-eleven has become: an affective invocation toward the non-critical acceptance of reactive evil. I’m heartened by the recollections and stories of people who witnessed, first hand, the massive catastrophe of these attacks. I just resent someone using that heartening toward killing other people “in the name of.” This has been a strange, ambivalent day. How to feel community while resisting a mobilization to war? How to be one without excluding the Other? Without using the Other to orchestrate a heartening toward the Same?

Big questions. Perhaps pretentious, at least on some level (so why blog about it at all, right?).

These are the kind of big questions I started asking myself as a teenager. In my AP English class my senior year in high school I opted to read Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel Nausea for a final report. I was taken by the character of the “Self-Taught Man,” a person whom the protagonist meets, a smart fellow who spends his days in the library. The Self-Taught man confesses a principled love of humanity, but this love is abstract. Through this figure, of course, Sartre critiques the figure of the fascist. Roquentin challenges the Self-Taught Man or “Autodidact” to name a specific person for whom he has love, and he cannot. His love is abstract, and in that abstraction the Self-Taught Man can excuse atrocity (it is implied) toward the greater good. The reading of names in Nine-eleven memorials is an attempt to prevent this sort of abstraction. As is the day-long story-telling on NPR. How to keep this level of specificity? How to locate the affective tie without grouping feeling into some higher level of a love of country and the wars it wages on congeries of particular lives who sip coffee and talk on the phone and have dinners with friends who want nothing more than to get by and raise their children?

Why is peace an impossible thing between creatures who have the capacity to feel each other’s pain? That’s a naïve question, I know. But on this ambivalent anniversary, I never want to lose the childish bewilderment that motivates the question. “Why?” I would ask my parents. “Because I said so” was too often the answer. “Because I said so” is the problem of humanity, too often voiced as “because God says so.” And after Nine-eleven we have to ask, who is God, anyway? Abstract nouns are deadly.

it’s WTF friday!

September 9th, 2011 by slewfoot

Aw, boys and girls: All Leather does it again. NSFW, or perhaps sobriety:

perryprecious on the precipice

September 6th, 2011 by slewfoot

Music: The Horrors: Primary Colours (2009)

While Aus-Vegas braces itself at the center of a ring of (wild) fire, Gov. Good Hair is prepping for his appearance tomorrow evening in the republican showcase. Fifty fires sprung up around metro Austin just in time for Perry to play the good governor managing a crisis (and, frankly, he’s doing a good job here, saying what needs to be said), as if to deliver a savior on a wave of goodwill—water, you see, is in short supply—into the arms of a party divided. Polls have Perry way ahead of the Romster, and a good performance Wednesday night may just seal the deal.

The joke around these parts is that Perry is “like George W. Bush, but without the brains.” On the surface the joke is fairly funny, given that many regarded Bush as a not-so-bright guy. The fact is, however, that Bush is a bright guy, on average as smart as most presidents (from standardized test and IQ scores released in the press, to the way he ran his campaigns and fared in presidential debates, and so on). I think the attribution of stupidity to Bush had more to do with his stubbornness and his speech (he has a pronunciation problem, if ya didn’t notice). As Politico posed, the question of the moment is really this: Is Perry dumb?

The conclusion of most political journalists—especially those embedded in Texas—is a resounding “no,” when we agree there are many types of intelligence. Perry is not a wonk, is not a details guy, and in general only knows what he needs to know. What story after story here in the local papers detail is Perry’s profound political savvy: he’s not book smart, but he’s smart enough to surround himself with advisors who are, and then to do and say exactly what they tell him—sort of (it’s that “sort of” that is interesting). Of course, Cheney would have us believe with his recent tell-all this is what Bush II was as well (and he was the puppet master), but I don’t quite believe it. Call it nostalgia for Bush if you want, but, Perry is the real deal, the automaton of an affective resolve with shots crafted and talking points molded by a team of talented ideologues. The thing is, what folks find so convincing about Perry—attitude, bravado, seemingly off the cuff zingers—is also the “tragic flaw” that, I hope, will impede his momentum.

As many have observed, Perry is not big on debates and unscripted, ad-libbing sessions. He’s not terribly good on his feet; he’s good if he has a script, but pushed on an issue unprepared, he suffers from Porky Pig syndrome. For example, check out his response to local Lefty journalist Evan Smith when pushed on the program of abstinence for so-called “sex education”:

Now, to be fair, abstaining from sexual intercourse does, in fact, prevent pregnancy. I’ll grant the governor that. But faced with the fact we’re third in the nation for unwanted pregnancies among youth, he struggles here with a good, reasoned response to Smith’s questions other than an affective display of conviction.

Given the republican “debates” I have seen thus far, I’m not so sure there will be such pointed questions to Perry and the other candidates. And what troubles me is that it would seem for a good many potential voters, affective displays of conviction may be all they need. This election may come down to voting as a form of grunting.

Many years ago, deep into a fascination with Huey Long and demagoguery, I wrote many (unpublished) pages about a robot of the former governor in Louisiana’s Old State Capitol building. I was trying to think-through why state officials would want a robot of Long saying folksy things to visitors and concluded it played into a strange “death wish” at the center of Louisiana culture. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve spent any time in that state. I came up with a concept I termed the “political uncanny,” the idea that the politician was, in fact, an automaton parroting this or that rhetoric for power, that the government was a grandiose machine that ran itself. The illusion of the political is that people were calling the shots, when really, if you are down with Foucault’s understanding of governmentality, people are more or less articulations of the machine (that is, even politicians misunderstand power). This underlying fantasy of the political that emerges in the modern era finds expression in the animatronic politician, first pioneered by Walt Disney World (which featured robotic presidents in the 60s) and then in cinema with The Manchurian Candidate. Animatronic presidents are not hard to come by; we have one of LBJ here at UT in the presidential library that registers a “ten” on the creepy-meter (he only tells jokes).

It’s not a fully developed idea, but I think with Rick Perry we have a serious manifestation of the political uncanny. While I would not evacuate the man of his humanity, he does nevertheless parrot more than he pops off an original thought—and this is precisely the “sort of” I find interesting. When Perry makes his most egregious gaffs, such as calling Bernanke “treasonous,” that’s not calculated; he’s giving voice to something moving through him, almost as if he’s possessed with a kind of prophetic voice, as if he cannot help himself. Conviction guides him, but what comes out of his mouth is often inspired. And this is the thing about the political uncanny, as I am thinking of it: its appeal is subtly nihilistic. It’s dark. The appeal of Perry concerns both the “on message” dedication and the flights off the script that are something like a strong stare into the abyss. The risk-taking absurdities, of accusing a respected government official of treason, of seceding from the Union, of staying the course like Nemo, into the heart of Cthulu.

Obama has been a disappointment, and probably for reasons most of us cannot possibly fathom. But one thing Obama has not been is robotic. That he disappoints us probably should give us pause; it means he’s thinking. Perhaps not in a way we would wish. He’s thrown just about everyone left of center “under the bus” at this point and almost entirely alienated his base. It’s not looking good. But I know Obama is not a nihilist, and I’m going to vote for him again, because I worry about the alternative (robotics).

Perry is polling well because he is riding anger. That is his appeal, and its seat is nihilism, and he’ll parrot whatever he is advised to as long as it gives focus to anger. And what really, really makes me fearful is the things he’s choosing to target.

For the debates on Wednesday, I’m going to be listening for questions about two things particular to Perry’s political strategeries: (1) his assault on higher education; and (2) his affiliation with the New Apostalic Reformation, which was behind his much ballyhooed “day of prayer” media event. In Texas, higher education has become more politicized than any state in which I’ve ever lived, now a target for “reform” (which means, a target for corporatization). And as for the New Apostalics, well, if you think Mormonism is a strange religion, you just wait. I urge those of you unfamiliar with this religious movement to read up and take note.

Perry is very, very scary.

of barks and turds

September 3rd, 2011 by slewfoot

Music: Martyn Bates & Troum: To A Child Dancing in the Wind (2006)

I had already given myself over to imperfection long ago, but walking into the house I knew the newly vacuumed carpet offered up a turd because of the slight waft of a certain, well-known olfactory signature. After a long day of engaging the collective mind (and after a happy hour in which a colleague at a different school exclaimed how she longed for that kind of engagement in her workplace), I opened the door to home longing for an impossible clean. It’s the same longing that I prepare for when I travel, cleaning the house rigorously before I fly off, so that when I come home there is some semblance of the hotel I was in.

In the back of my mind I knew the sink over there, in the kitchen, was piled with dirty dishes, but I knew I couldn’t see them unless I went left into the kitchen, and I could avoid that path and walk straight up to the bedroom on the right for a change of clothes. Between me and the comfort of pajamas, still, was evidence of my failure to potty train a creature a fraction of my weight (in pounds and bad ideas). A singular crescent of brown-dried excrement in an otherwise almost-magazine-worthy living space (the magazine would be an alternative rag, of course, not Elle Decour) would be a reminder, as all excreta are, of the necessity of tolerance, or responsibility. “I’ll get it later,” I thought to myself, as I tore off my bowtie and launched upstairs to escape the hidden but uncomfortable truth-fashion of swamp-butt.

(Swamp-butt is a local coinage for the damp trousers that are an inevitable consequence of the Texas climate in August and September. It’s a kind of open secret that if you are living here you will sweat, and the sweat will be wicked, and that your wicking is probably on display but everyone pretends not to notice its sight or smell. Austin is a metaphor for sweat.)

Yes, there is a dog turd in the living room, but as any dog owner (or owned) person knows, poop comes with the territory; being the recipient of unconditional love has its price. And if I had a guest in my tow, this might be embarrassing, but dry and comfortable clothes take priority in the audience of the Self, tired and waiting it out for bed—because, really, who goes to bed by nine? (Oh, right: my mother). To coin a phrase: the turd, like heaven, can wait.

As it has for some hours, until I started thinking about allegories for a reluctant adulthood, and the memory I had repressed—that there was a turd in the living room—came to mind, and I started writing this. A confession: two paragraphs ago I secured a paper towel and removed and dispatched of this reminder of mortality [note: originally the word I wrote here was “morality,” and there are no mistakes in the interior]. Now I sit on the patio, smoking “just a cigar,” and the dog sits at my back on the bench. When we first met and I agreed to take him in, I would become enraged at the sight of his many “gifts,” which he deposits sneakily, like some foul counter-Santa, but after some years I’ve developed a strange ambivalence, a strange ambivalence charitably read as tolerance, but perhaps better labeled as laziness. Sometimes—ok, many times—I reason that if I let the dejeta ripen, it will harden, and make it easier to remove.

But, he is a dog, after all. A dog that was abused in some former life; I’ve only been able fashion some glimmer of his former life (and we humans want our history). It involves, I think, life spent in a crate and a man who did unpleasant things with a belt. It’s an educated guess (I’ve done pet rescue for almost a decade). When I pull out a belt in some disrobing ritual, he cowers. If only he could talk.

But he does not talk. He barks. Sometimes, he barks a lot (ergo, the nick-name, “Sir-Barks-A-Lot”). And as best as I can discern, these barks translate thusly: “Look at me! I can bark! And I can bark now without some man lashing me with a belt!”

Sometimes he will set off barking, and the barking begets the impulse to bark anon (and on and on), and we will be in the patio, and he will want to be let inside, and he will run laps around the living room barking at no thing in particular; he’s just barking to bark, because he can, because the barks beget barks, because the barks almost seem to be in response to a previous bark, and because I’ll let him, closing the door, thinking of the Rolling Stones (Get Yer Ya Yas Out). And wishing I could do that too.

It’s the difference, really, between the Beatles and the Stones. One lives comfortably as the next-door neighbor. The other, in the street, loud and living and taking punk to the bank (or the cops). Love-ins? No. Stand-outs. Ruff ruff. Street shouting man. And all that jazz.

But what would the neighbors think? We share walls. I cannot bark. So, you know, I sing and whistle, musiking noise and crafting a melody.

An emerging scholar today spoke of interruption, that the subjectivity of the maternal was crafted by (or brought into being by) the impossible refusal of the parent who hears a cry. Levinas, presumably. (Not “the call,” mind you, but “the cry,” the hailing that demands an unthinking reply of recognition.) Phatic responsivity, if you will. The maternal cannot refuse the demand, when the maternal is located beyond the self-consciousness of volition, to some hard-wired place, presumably.

How frightening to think of Selfhood in such a way, and yet, how liberating and in some sense true. Barking to bark, for bark’s sake. And then, of course, there’s poop on the living room carpet. Excess, deposited. Deal with it. Deal it. Deal. That’s what dogs do (in both senses). And that’s what people do—at least, that’s what they do when acting out in groups.

Of groups and poop: a certain willed blindness, for the intoxication of knowing what to do. A clean house bereft of the evidence of pets is a house that is not lived-in, only staged.

The garden out here droops as I contemplate sleeping and walking into a house that reminds me of struggle, and not only my own. As I picked up the poop I was reminded of my fortune, that the discomfort of my living is that of poop on a carpet, and that I’m not worrying about bombshells landing in the pepper plants. It is a luxury that worrying over a rescued dog is my chief discomfort. I guess that I’m grateful that I’m not in Syria.

it’s synth-pop friday!

September 2nd, 2011 by slewfoot