Saturday, December 30, 2023

Six of My Favorite Experiences of 2023

Natural Bridge, Virginia

Great, bright portal,
shelf of rock,
rocks fitted in long ledges

The world heaved—
we are next to the sky

- H.D.
from The Cliff Temple

Natural Bridge State Park, Virginia
Hard to pick my favorite aspect of this incredible geological portal; from the awe-inspiring view of the giant rock arch, the shades of the rock layers inside the cave, the ecosystem created in the creek around the rock structure, etc etc. There are trees there which only grow in colder environments farther north, not normally in this region, yet which thrive around the Natural Bridge area because of its cooler air provided by the shade. A tree trunk of a cedar tree there was 1,600 years old. The archway is just so massively epic in itself, though. 

    The rock arch was a sacred site for the indigenous Monacan tribe, the place of a major battle victory over the Powhatan tribe. Thomas Jefferson, who called Natural Bridge the "most Sublime of Nature's works" acquired the rights to the land in 1774 for a small sum. As a young surveyor, George Washington is said to have surveyed the Natural Bridge site in 1750, carving his initials into nearby rocks. The site was also immortalized in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, when the giant whale is described in chapter 133: "But soon the forepart of him slowly rose from the water; for an instant his whole marbleized body formed a high arch, like Virginia's Natural Bridge..." The lore around this place is interesting, the views of the limestone tree-trunk-looking textures of the outer layer astound the eye, but the vibes felt being there under the rock arch, that was a noticeably powerful grounding and centering sensation. And yet, my favorite part might have been the shades on the inner rockface, a molten stillness that I found very pleasing to stare at.  

The Great Buddha of Kamakura, Japan

This giant bronze Buddha statue on a hillside in Kamakura, Japan was originally built around the year 1252. Being there I felt reverence and peace. Amazing to appreciate the craft of this bronze equipoised Buddha, which was once gilded and covered by a temple hall but has stood in the open air since about 1498 after storms and tsunamis. The Buddha seated in lotus position holds such a grounded harmony in his being, akin to the hills and trees adjacent to him, he's been there helping humans on the path toward nirvana thru many cycles of time, survived many destructive events. It's a sanctuary of sereneness and contemplation that I was grateful to experience firsthand. I really enjoyed the Kamakura and Zushi regions of Japan.  

El Nido, Philippines

El Nido limestone cliffs with shades of light at different hours of the day.

To see a scene from up high on a hill showing a broad seascape pocked with dozens of these tall limestone cliff islets, that was an immaculate life moment. Pure bliss. These exotic tropical Pacific isles are inviting and embracing. Looking out at this view one morning I saw a Great hornbill float over to a tree branch. I saw monkeys. Experienced the glorious simplicity of island life in El Nido, Philippines. Friendly people, fantastic fresh food. It's a wonderful place in what feels like the far edge of the world.  

Anthony Chapel, Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, AR

I found this most impressive chapel in a forest of the Ouachita Mountains in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The structure made mostly of glass and wood panels evoked the surrounding trees. The view from the altar inside looking out, embedded in lush forest looking down a hill toward a lake, makes this a place like no other. 

Prehistoric shark teeth fossils in Sherman, TX

In a small town in north Texas, you can find fossilized prehistoric shark teeth, dating back millennia when a shallow sea covered Texas and central North America, during the Cretaceous period more than 140 million years ago. Sifting thru silt and mud in a riverbed, yielding treasures of shark teeth from so long ago, was incredibly gratifying. I examine these fossilized shark teeth, trying to wrap my mind around the vast expanding scales of deep history these ancient shark* remains would be lingering from. Unfathomable spans of time, and yet the shark teeth are so damn sharp, so damn real, so obviously shark teeth, in a place where there are today definitively NO SHARKS anywhere nearby to be found, deep in the heart of north central Texas. Yet here you can find and tangibly connect with unique relics from many worlds ago. 

(*Cretaceous era sand shark Scapanorhynchus, early relative of today's goblin shark.)

Dinosaur footprint tracks in Canyon Lake, TX

This was an impromptu, spur of the moment discovery that ended up being so completely and utterly mind-blowing. So hard to believe it's real. So much evoked from these footprints, the stories astound. Dinosaur tracks, indicative of Iguanadons walking along a silty coastline during what would have been the Early Cretaceous period 100 million years ago. The large herbivores were being followed by a pursuing apex predator Acrocanthosaurus, eyeing the tracks and gripping the ground with its sharp claws while carrying over five tons of bodyweight running at speeds up to 20 mph. All of this evinced by the very obvious sets of tracks imprinted on the Glen Rose Formation rock layer exposed at a ranch in Texas hill country. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Rainouts: 2023 Baseball Journal, Part 1

QUEENS, NY---Late September, in the final week of their disappointing season, the 2023 New York Mets were involved in some extremely unusual rainstorm-related shenanigans at Citi Field. First, after their grounds crew neglected to cover up the field during a tropical storm, the waterlogged playing surface didn't dry off in time for their next game and the grounds crew couldn't manage to get the field ready to play, thus forcing them to postpone their Sept 26th series opener against the Miami Marlins on a day when it didn't even rain. Two days later, in the final game of that series, with the Mets clinging to a 1-0 lead in the 9th inning, the Marlins knocked in 2 runs to take a 2-1 lead, but the umpires suddenly stopped the game in the top of the 9th because of heavy rainfall. The two teams waited out the storm deep into the night before giving up any chance of resuming play. Miami, fighting for a playoff spot, had to go play their final series in Pittsburgh unsure of whether or not they'd be required to go back to New York after the final day of the regular season to play out the final inning of their last game against the Mets. The Marlins ended up clinching a playoff spot (thanks to a collapse by the Cubs) and the suspended game against the Mets was deemed unnecessary to finish on the field. And so, by a weird quirk in the rulebook, the events of the top of the 9th inning were erased from the record books, and the score reverted back to 1-0 Mets where it stood at the end of the 8th inning. A truly bizarre way to wrap up the Mets season with their 75th win. 


QUEENS, NY--- Late in July, I am driving thru Brooklyn into Queens to pick up my brother at JFK airport on a rainy night. The sky is thunderous and heavy winds and flash flooding are making the drive on the Belt Parkway more hectic and chaotic than usual. The 2023 Mets' hopes for playoff contention have dwindled, they're once again playing from behind, battling back in a game against the Washington Nationals at nearby Citi Field. Trailing 1-0 in the 8th inning, the Mets scratch together a run to tie the game before storm clouds move in, flashes of lightning, strong winds, and torrential rain force the game to go into a delay. I'm maneuvering thru the overcrowded insanity of an under-construction JFK airport on a rainy night. The Mets game is on the radio, in the middle of an extended delay from the storm. And then, just up the road, at the ballpark over in Flushing, while the game was still in a rain delay, the Mets officially waved the white flag on their season. News came over the radio that the Mets had agreed to trade their top relief pitcher, David Robertson, to the Marlins for prospects. When the storm eventually lets up around midnight, the game resumes, the Mets grab the lead, closing out a 2-1 win without their closer who just got traded, and my brother made it thru the crowded JFK arrivals into the car. In the following few days leading up to the trade deadline, the Mets would gut their roster, selling off all their most in-demand pieces in trades in attempt to bulk up their farm system.


TOKYO, Japan---Back in April, it's the middle of the night and I'm in and out of sleep in a tiny bed in a hotel in east Tokyo, keeping an eye on the TV which is broadcasting a game at rain-soaked Fenway Park in Boston, the Red Sox facing Shohei Ohtani's Angels of Anaheim. Shohei is the starting pitcher on the mound for the Angels against the Red Sox who've got their new addition from Japan, outfielder Masataka Yoshida, in the lineup facing Ohtani for the first time in an MLB game. The game was set to start at 11 AM eastern time (midnight Tokyo time) but it's pouring rain in Boston so the game is delayed. The Japanese pregame show I'm watching is not in English, but based on the charts, graphics, and stats they're displaying, I can tell these commentators know ball. They are analyzing the much-anticipated Ohtani vs Yoshida matchup. One month prior, Ohtani and Yoshida were teammates on Team Japan, leading to a thrilling WBC championship victory against Team USA. Now, Yoshida would be in the batter's box facing off against Ohtani on the mound at cold, wet Fenway Park. The analysts break down Ohtani's arsenal of pitches and Yoshida's strengths and weaknesses as a hitter.

The rain hardly let up but they started the game anyway. Top of the 1st, Ohtani comes to the plate and crushes a base hit on the first pitch he sees from Brayan Bello. Standing on first base, Ohtani puts on a jacket, but the zipper breaks on him so he immediately takes it off. In the bottom of the 1st, it's raining again and I'm nervous for Shohei who was slipping off the mound in his delivery before the grounds crew desperately tried to dry off the mound mud. Ohtani strikes out Yoshida with a 98-mph fastball in their only matchup. He pitched 2 innings before another heavy downpour caused the game to stop for a long rain delay and Ohtani's day on the mound was over. He did stay in the game as a designated hitter and I drifted into deep sleep while the Angels held on for a 5-4 win, avoiding a sweep. 

During my stay in Tokyo, I notice there's a TV channel that specifically shows the daily highlights of Japanese MLB players, from Shohei Ohtani and Masataka Yoshida to Yusei Kikuchi and Shintaro Fujinami. I'm also struck by how much anime is on TV, it's on almost every channel. One night I've got anime on TV and there's a whole bizarre sequence featuring a baseball game in a rain storm where the field gets completely flooded. 


OSAKA, Japan---Late April, I've been in Japan for a couple weeks, the Nippon Professional Baseball season is well underway but I haven't been able to attend any games yet because of logistics. Games are either sold out or too far away. Now that I'm in Osaka, the Hanshin Tigers play in a historic ballpark a short train ride out of town. So my plan is to head out to Koshien Stadium to see the Hanshin Tigers host the rival Yomiuri Giants. Only problem is there's been a steady rain all day. I've been wearing a Hanshin Tigers hat around town, eliciting comments from the locals; a bunch of Tigers fans high-five me at an okonomiyaki restaurant, a tour guide yells out "nice hat!" while guiding people thru the streets. I take the train out west near the scenic hills of Kobe. The train is filled with Tigers fans, folks just getting out of work, a kid in a Tigers hat with his grandmother. Everyone is anxious to get to the ballpark and hoping the rain lets up. It's not until we all arrive at the park, walk underneath the highway overpass and pass all the merch vendors in ponchos, that we learn the game has been canceled due to inclement weather. 

My one opportunity to see a ballgame in Japan, a rivalry matchup no less (and the Tigers would go on to win the pennant for the first time in 18 years), and the game was rained out just as I arrived at the stadium. My only consolation was that at least I got to see the stadium. Koshien Stadium will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. It's the oldest and most revered ballpark in Japan. One of the few stadiums in the country without a roof, it's also quirky because it features an all-dirt infield. I figured it was unlikely they'd be able to play the game with that infield all muddy. Rainouts are part of baseball, though, part of the experience of a baseball season. 

The outer facade of the outfield was covered in ivy which was a nice look:

Outside of Koshien Stadium, Nishinomiya, Japan.

Koshien Stadium was built in homage to the Polo Grounds in New York. The mythic status the Polo Grounds holds in the consciousness of an American baseball fan is partly due to the fact that the old ballpark no longer exists, there's no way to experience it except in grainy footage (or playing MLB: The Show). And yet in Japan there is a 100-year-old baseball mecca conceived in the same bowl-shape as the Polo Grounds. I'm committed to get back there one day to actually see a game. 

The bowl-shaped Koshien Stadium, built in 1924, inspired by the Polo Grounds.


QUEENS, NY---In the middle of May, I spent a few days in NYC hanging with family and I went to a Mets game. My first in-person baseball game of the season. Thankfully opted for the Friday game instead of the Saturday game because the latter got rained out. The Friday game ended up being the most exciting win of the Mets season and one of the best Mets games I've ever witnessed up close. Before getting to my seat, the Mets had fallen behind 3-0 to the Cleveland Guardians on a 3-run homer from Josh Naylor in the top of the 1st. Soon the Mets were down 7-0, but they chipped away. In the bottom of the 7th, Pete Alonso came to the plate with the bases loaded and the Mets trailing 7-3. He blasted a game-tying grand slam that sent the packed crowd into frenzied mayhem and Pete was so pumped he did a full celebratory twirl between the bases. The Mets fell behind again, down 9-7 going into the bottom of the 10th but once again fought back, battled through every at-bat, and won the game 10-9. Francisco Alvarez hit a homer and a game-tying RBI single. Brett Baty went deep in this game. Francisco Lindor had the walkoff hit in a huge game against his former team. It was the highest high point in a down year for the Mets. After the next day's rainout, the Mets swept a Sunday doubleheader to finish off their best week of the season. 


ARLINGTON, TX--- Mid-June, I was at the ballpark in Arlington watching Corey Seager crush line drives all over the park for the Texas Rangers in their fancy retractable roof warehouse stadium. The Rangers have a brand-new ballpark with a retractable roof yet it never rains there. The roof is to block the sun. The "old" ballpark for the Rangers remains standing right across the street, completely functional but lacking a roof to shield the field from the brutal solar rays blasting down each day for half the year.


HOUSTON, TX---Middle of June, I zip on down to Houston to watch the Mets play the Astros. Mets season falling apart. They stole a badly needed win against the Astros in the first game of the series. I was there to see Justin Verlander returning to Houston to pitch for the Mets against lefty Framber Valdez who carved his way thru the Mets lineup. Verlander was off to a shaky start on the season for Mets, lacking command, falling behind in the count nearly every at-bat. He battled but gave up a bomb to Alex Bregman and got beat by his old squad. Next afternoon, I was there at the ballpark again. The roof was once again closed, to keep it nice and cool indoors. The Mets looked sluggish as they dropped a winnable game to lose the series. After the game, perched across the street from the ballpark in a hotel room on an upper floor in a tall building, I watch as a massive storm system arrives over the city of Houston. The skies put on a cinematic lightning-and-thunder orchestra. As the torrential rains gush down, I notice Minute Maid Park has the roof open and the lights on. 

Thursday, October 5, 2023

The Stone Vortex

Walking in a quiet cemetery in a scenic valley in search of a poet's gravestone. Silence, tranquility, the peace of souls in repose. In the midst of a road trip, I'd made a quick stop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on a summer afternoon to pay a visit to the grave of the poet H.D. aka Hilda Doolittle (Sept 10, 1886 - Sept 27, 1961), located in Nisky Hill cemetery, on East Church Street. The same street where H.D. was born and spent her childhood.

    Three months prior, back in April, I was in Asia walking along the beach on a small tropical island in the Philippines where a thick blanket of humid heat smothered the air and the lines of H.D.'s poem "Heat" became a repeated mantra:

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air—
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat—
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

     A poem like this one is an object of contemplation, an artifact to be carried around, consulted, unpacked and admired. H.D. wrote many of these perfect gems. H.D. was the premier poet of the style her lifelong friend Ezra Pound had called Imagism or Vorticism, for the concentration of compacted representation into a vortex of words. Efficient, concise, unencumbered expression carved into verse as if chiseled into stone. As Pound described it in his Vorticism declaration, "It is the picture that means a hundred poems, the music that means a hundred pictures, the most highly energized statement, the statement that has not yet SPENT itself in expression, but which is the most capable of expressing."  The point of the Image, in Pound's view, was not simply to create a picture in words, but to create an intellectual and emotional complex. A convergence of meaning and impression. For H.D. especially, the poetic image was not something inert, a verbal photograph, but something alive, a compacted energy that opens up a portal. 

    H.D.'s poems had become important to me the last couple years. There is a force in so much of her poetry that I find gives me strength. I had been reading what's widely considered her greatest work the War Trilogy last year when I posted here about shell poetics and quoted, There is a spell, for instance in every sea-shell: continuous, the sea thrust is powerless against coral. That extended ode to the sea-shell comes from "The Walls Do Not Fall" which she composed in London where she was living during the German blitz of World War II. 

    Pound's declaration about Vorticism emphasizes the Image in poetry, and it was Pound who originally suggested to Hilda Doolittle that she sign her poetry "H.D. Imagiste." He touted her work as the exemplar of Imagist expression. This was around 1912, before World War I started. Pound had met Hilda Doolittle when they were high school students and they fell in love, he eventually convinced her to meet him in London where they got engaged, before breaking it off. But they remained friends. Doolittle had also known William Carlos Williams since their high school days in Pennsylvania. It's incredible that these three giants of 20th century literature all basically grew up together. 

    H.D. led an interesting life. She was a muse for acclaimed writers like Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence, and Richard Aldington, she consulted with Sigmund Freud for years, she even starred alongside Paul Robeson in a silent-film about an interracial couple. She was in London during both World Wars. She traveled to Egypt and to Greece (both cultures were major influences on her poetry) and was living in Zurich when she died in 1961. Her cremated remains were repatriated to the US so that her final resting place could be in the Doolittle family plot in the Moravian cemetery on East Church Street where she grew up.

    And so there I was walking thru that cemetery on a quiet street in Bethlehem, PA hoping to find H.D.'s grave and hoping it was worth stopping for. It was my girlfriend's idea, she's from the south Jersey/Philly area and accompanied me on the trip. Neither of us had any idea what we were going to find, though.

    When we reached H.D.'s gravestone, there was already a couple people there paying their respects. The grave stone was decorated with sea shells, it felt like a pilgrimage site for her readers.

    Her epitaph is an excerpt from a poem she wrote in her 1929 collection, Red Roses for Bronze, the poem is actually titled "Epitaph."

So you may say,
Greek flower; Greek ecstasy
reclaims forever
one who died
following intricate song's
lost measure.

    The silence which hung in the air of the cemetery that afternoon spoke to me about life and death. I'd just learned a few days prior that an old friend I grew up with had tragically died far too young. The shock of this knowledge was fresh and the air was pregnant with meaning. It was also a day or two after my 38th birthday which, thankfully, I got to spend surrounded by my close family. With all this in the air, in my mind, with a friend's spirit having been permanently exhaled back out into the mysterious universe, I was there in the quiet cemetery surrounded by gravestones and wondering: What is the value of a human life? What are any of us worth to the universe? Why are we here? Why do we live?

Looking at the gravestones I was struck by the inevitability of our bodies and souls all one day inevitably being summarized and compacted into a stone tablet on a patch of grass someplace. The Stone Vortex. I also was struck how H.D., Hilda Doolittle, a relatively minor literary figure unknown to most people on earth, had achieved so much in her life and made such an impact that I and countless others like myself were drawn to visit her gravestone and I actually felt great pride for what she had accomplished. Her own poetry was etched in stone onto her grave and she inspired people to turn her relatively small, unassuming final resting place into a shrine. A suitable legacy, perhaps. It is in the brevity and economy of her use of words, so carefully chosen, often simple recognizable words, together coagulating into an alchemical reaction, a mystical force capable of inspiring, impacting, staying with her readers, all birthed out of a few lines. In her "War Trilogy" she wrote:

I know, I feel
the meaning that words hide;

they are anagrams, cryptograms,
little boxes, conditioned

to hatch butterflies…

    The backdrop to this cemetery scene was kinda surreal, as a little further down in the valley stood an old steel mill, its rusty interlocked tubes and chimneys granting a steampunk vibe to the setting. 

    This was the old Bethlehem Steel mill, active during the days when Hilda Doolittle was a child growing up on this street. There was a story to be discerned in looking at the graves in the Doolittle family plot. Looking at the names and the birth and death dates, later reading up on her family, one could see that the family had a daughter who died at five months old. Hilda was the only girl in a family with five brothers. One of her brothers was killed in World War I in 1918 and, very shortly after that, Hilda's father died. It seems he suffered a stroke upon the shock of learning his son had been killed.

    Another of H.D.'s poems from her collection Red Roses for Bronze, "Birds in Snow" has a bit that I think captures the essence of the scene I was encountering:

like plaques of ancient writ
our garden flags now name
the great and very-great;
our garden flags acclaim
in carven hieroglyph,
here king and kinglet lie,
here prince and lady rest,
mystical queens sleep here
and heroes that are slain.

    Her father was a professor of astronomy. When he was appointed as head of the astronomy department at University of Pennsylvania, he moved the family to a neighborhood just outside Philadelphia. At the observatory at the university, Charles Doolittle dutifully observed and studied the tiniest, most minute perturbations of the earth's spin on its axis. 

    In the swirl of my thoughts on life and death, and the story of the Doolittle family, I was remembering scenes from Terence Malick's 2011 film The Tree of Life. A son goes off to war, the family learns that he has been killed, and as the parents process their child's untimely death, the film shows a sequence beginning with the birth of the universe, the development of solar systems, our sun coming to form, the earth congealing into a round rocky orb, scenes of dinosaurs, and then a meteor blast. The unspoken message seems to be that every individual life began with the birth of the universe, and every single event that occurred afterwards, big or small, happened in such a way so as to allow for the birth and development of that individual person.

"Till tree from tree, tree among trees, tree over tree become stone to stone, stone between stones, stone under stone for ever." 
- Finnegans Wake (p. 259)

*   *   *

I want to suggest some further reading for anyone interested, because I've been immersed in several books about H.D. and it's sprung forth far more thoughts than I could document here. I've been reading Robert Duncan's The H.D. Book which is a close study of her work. Also, the H.D. biography written by Janice S. Robinson, H.D.: The Life and Work of an American Poet, is informative. Also been reading bits of The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner. The NY Times obituary for H.D. is maybe a bit unfair at times, but also sums up her fascinating life very well.

    My interest in H.D. originally was sparked by something I read in a book by poet & critic Peter O'Leary Thick and Dazzling Darkness: Religious Poetry in a Secular Age (2018), where he talks about what happened when H.D. traveled to the Scilly Islands in order to recover from being stricken with the influenza virus during the 1918 pandemic, and where she gave birth to her daughter. O'Leary writes (on p. 16-17) that when H.D. was there she:
entered into a state of consciousness in which she felt herself merged with her surroundings and her new body. An oceanic feeling, if you will. Albert Gelphi explains that she "moved into moments of consciousness in which feelings of separateness gave way to a sense of organic wholeness: collapse gave way to coherence and alienation to participation in a cosmic scheme." H.D. herself characterized this as a state of "jelly-fish consciousness" in which an "over-mind" drooped down across her field of vision, "a cap of consciousness over my head, my forehead, affecting a little my eyes." [H.D. elaborated as] "a set of super-feelings. These feelings extend out and about us; as the long, floating tentacles of the jelly-fish reach out and about [me]. They are not of different material, extraneous, as the physical arms and legs are extraneous to the gray matter of the directing brain. These super-feelers are part of the super-mind, as the jelly-fish feelers are the jelly-fish itself, elongated in fine threads." H.D.'s oceanic feeling was so metaphorically saturated that it was pervaded with sea creatures whose motions activated an anticipatory awareness of the unison she would feel with her daughter.

    Later, O'Leary writes: "... she would merge (that Whitmanian term) with octopus and shark, powerful predators of the depths, unlocking secret doors and daring occult lore." (p. 20)

    Speaking of Whitman, I've been reading his Leaves of Grass where he writes, after a child asked him what is the grass: 
I guess the grass is itself a child . . . . the produced babe of the vegetation.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

 And later he writes: 

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death ...
All goes onward and outward . . . . and nothing collapses

Rest in Peace Michael Zazulka.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Cryptoconchoidsiphonostomata: Shell Poetics

Scaly-foot snail shell. (Stefan Bengston)

The Scaly-foot snail makes its habitat in the most treacherous region in the world---it lives along the hydrothermal vent fields deep down on the sea floor in the Indian Ocean. These subaquatic vents spew forth hydrogen sulfides, a highly-toxic poisonous gas which the Scaly-foot snail not only withstands but, using a self-produced bacteria, turns into sustenance. 

Withstanding the pressure of nearly 2 miles of ocean water weighing down, defending itself from predators, and thriving in a zone of boiling hot poison gas spewing everywhere, the Scaly-foot snail constructs a shell made out of iron. It is the only known organism to create iron sulfide biominerals for use in its exoskeleton and shell. The iron shell and scales protect a creature with the largest heart, relative to body volume, in the entire animal kingdom (4% of its body volume). Scaly-foot snails are simultaneous hermaphrodites possessing both sexual organs and, despite their high fecundity which creates many eggs, the species is now considered endangered thanks to deep-sea dredging in the Indian Ocean floor.

*   *   *

"the handwriting on his facewall, the cryptoconchoidsiphonostomata in his exprussians"
                 (Finnegans Wake 136.16)

[Cryptoconchoidsyphonostomata was the name of a stage play performed at Royal Theater in Dublin in James Joyce's day. The word literally means something like "hidden shell-like tube-mouths."]

"Putting Allspace in a Notshall." FW 455.29
"the quivers of scaly silver and their clutches of chromes"  FW 477.26


*    *   *

Faced with "the horrible dangers of war," Bernard Palissy contemplated a design for a "fortress city." He had lost all hope of finding an existing plan "in the cities built today." Vitruvius himself could be of no help in the century of the cannon. So he journeyed through "forests, mountains and valleys to see if he could find some industrious animal that had built some industrious houses." After inquiring everywhere, Palissy began to muse about "a young slug that was building its house and fortress with its own saliva." Indeed, he passed several months dreaming of a construction from within, and most of his leisure time was spent walking beside the sea, where he saw "such a variety of houses and fortresses which certain little fishes had made from their own liquor and saliva that, from now on, I began to think that he was something that might be applied to my own project." "The battles and acts of brigandry" that take place in the sea, being on a larger scale than those that take place on land, God "had conferred upon each one the diligence and skill needed to build a house that had been surveyed and constructed by means of such geometry and architecture, that Solomon, in all his wisdom could never have made anything like it."
    With regard to spiralled shells, he wrote that this shape was not at all "for mere beauty, there's much more to it than that. You must understand that there are several fish with such sharply pointed beaks that they would devour most of the above-mentioned fish if the latter's abodes were in a straight line: but when they are attacked by their enemies on the threshold, just as they are about to withdraw inside, they twist and turn in a spiral line and, in this way, the foe can do them no harm."
         - Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, p. 146-147

*   *   *

There is a spell, for instance
in every sea-shell:

continuous, the sea thrust
is powerless against coral,

bone, stone, marble
hewn from within by that craftsman,

the shell-fish:
oyster, clam, mollusc

is master-mason planning
the stone marvel:

yet that flabby, amorphous hermit
within, like the planet

senses the finite,
it limits its orbit

of being, its house,
temple, fane, shrine:

it unlocks the portals
at stated intervals:

prompted by hunger,
it opens to the tide-flow:

but infinity? no,
of nothing-too-much:

I sense my own limit,
my shell-jaws snap shut

at invasion of the limitless,
ocean-weight; infinite water

can not crack me, egg in egg-shell;
closed in, complete, immortal

full-circle, I know the pull
of the tide, the lull

as well as the moon;
the octupus-darkness

is powerless against
her cold immortality;

so I in my own way know
that the whale

can not digest me:
be firm in your own small, static, limited

orbit and the shark-jaws
of outer circumstance

will spit you forth:
be indigestible, hard, ungiving,

so that, living within,
you beget, self-out-of-self,

that pearl-of-great-price.


    - H.D.
    p. 8-9, Trilogy (1944)

Saturday, October 29, 2022

A Post-Mortem for the 2022 New York Mets

Jacob deGrom looking off into an uncertain future.

With baseball engaged in its final series before the 2022 season ends, I feel compelled to collect my thoughts on the Mets season now with this being the third consecutive full MLB season in which the NL pennant went to a Mets rival from the NL East. In other words, since 2019 every NL East team has won the pennant except the Mets and the Marlins. 

Incredibly, by most measures the Mets in 2022 had their second-best season ever. Yet those results represented the lower end of this team's range of outcomes. These Mets won 101 games, eclipsed by only the legendary 1986 Mets (one of the best teams ever) who won 108 games. Buck Showalter's Mets squad finished 40 games over .500 in his first year as manager. Buck seemed to help shift the franchise toward a more respectable vibe than recent vintage. This was a polished all-around ballclub led by a deep lineup full of hitters with different styles from the power of Pete Alonso to patient bats like Brandon Nimmo and Mark Canha to the throwback contact skills of 2022 NL batting champion Jeff McNeil. Francisco Lindor had the best season of any Mets shortstop ever, Starling Marte added a jolt to the lineup with his power-speed combo. The starting rotation consistently shoved, the bullpen had fewer meltdowns than any Mets team I can remember thanks mostly to a Cy Young-level historically dominant year from Edwin Diaz closing games. 

The 2022 Mets held onto first place for the vast majority of the season, they always seemed to fight back after a loss, and they kept pace with the scorching hot Braves as summer turned to fall. Yet by the end the story of these Mets soured with the Braves barely edging them out in the final week much like they did in 2021 when the Mets led the division for almost five months until collapsing. This year the Mets' collapse was milder, more gradual, more complicated. Hardly a collapse, more of an increasingly uninspired, perhaps exhausted tread that tripped and tumbled til the Mets were fighting for their lives in a do-or-die game against the Padres and complaining about Joe Musgrove's shiny ears (reminiscent of the '86 Mets flipping out over Mike Scott scuffing the ball when he dominated in the 1986 NLCS). Thus an otherwise great Mets season ends up fitting into a narrative pattern alongside their last few years of agonizing almosts and embarrassing ineptitude.

In 2021 the Mets were in first place with six weeks left in the season and then imploded so badly they ended up in 3rd place, 11.5 games behind the division-winning Braves. Even in the 2020 Covid-shortened season the Mets just barely missed out on the postseason despite a larger than normal playoff pool. The 2019 Mets season was memorable for several superstars putting up big numbers and lots of dramatic wins only to fall just barely short of the playoffs due to several egregious meltdowns from the bullpen. 

The 2022 Mets were paradoxical in that they hardly suffered any meltdowns. They were a winning team every month, they played well both at home and on the road. Their "collapse" happened in September when they had a .577 winning percentage. Problem was they were being chased by a red-hot Atlanta team and needed to be perfect in the final weeks playing against the weakest schedule in baseball. They had so many opportunities to clinch a division title and first round bye in the postseason but couldn't seal the deal. Even after missing that chance, they still had repeated opportunities to end on a high note, instead they went 1-5 across six season-defining games to end their season (3 vs the Braves in Atlanta, 3 vs the Padres in NY) with all their top guys healthy. 

Now that the Phillies have snatched the 2022 NL pennant, what's weird in retrospect is that the Mets won 14 of 19 against the Phils this year. They no-hit the Phillies, dominated them, had an epic 7-run comeback in the 9th inning in a game in Philly. And that dominance of the NL pennant winner does not matter. Why? Because the Mets only won 9 of their 19 games against the Braves and that divisional matchup is essentially what determined the final outcome of their whole season. The Mets vs the Braves meant everything in 2022. This was because MLB for the first time in modern history did not have the game 163 tiebreaker to decide division winners, so the head-to-head results meant everything. To have the NL East come down to a tie atop the division in the first season with no game 163 was horrible optics for MLB. Fans were robbed of that opportunity. And yet the Braves' winning the NL east by the smallest of margins was a Pyrrhic victory anyway, since they immediately got knocked out in the first round by the Phillies. 

The postseason chaos on the NL side caused a lot of philosophical contemplation among baseball fans about what playoff baseball is supposed to be exactly. The system in the era of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's unpopular rule changes seems to have rattled the coherence and meaning of baseball games and outcomes, impacting fans' ability to take the regular season results all that seriously despite baseball having the longest regular season in pro sports. So many teams engage in tanking and a handful of others so steadily stand among the elite that the playoff contenders are practically set in stone before the season begins. It's just a matter of whether they can keep their best players healthy over a six-month slog playing against many teams that have no playoff hopes. In the final weeks when the Mets had a playoff spot clinched but were playing against the Cubs, A's, Nationals, Pirates, I just kept hoping they'd make it thru those games without any major injuries. 

The Mets were fine. Besides the final two weeks, this was the least stressful season for Mets fans to follow that I can ever remember. The 2015 and 2016 Mets made the playoffs and were super exciting teams but both relied on late season surges to make up for a rough start, and both teams had weaknesses that often kept their games at nail-bitingly close margins. The 2006 Mets were a dominant team but they were mostly reliant on a powerful lineup and deep bullpen whereas the rotation was always a little bit shaky. The 2022 Mets hardly had any major weaknesses. 

They got to choose between Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom to start game 1 of the playoffs and chose Scherzer (probably should've kept with deGrom as their #1 but I won't go into that). Their world-class closer Diaz was healthy, the bullpen was actually pretty solid overall, it felt like there were far fewer late inning meltdowns than ever. The hitters were relatively healthy although all were probably dinged up like Starling Marte who played the final series with a broken finger. The Mets set the MLB record for being hit by pitches and had several close calls with guys getting hit in the face including their two biggest offensive stars Alonso and Lindor who both took heaters to the face during the season, yet both stayed in the lineup all year and into the playoffs. They didn't suffer any of their typical back-of-the-rotation erosions or Jerad Eickhoff-ian sinkholes, instead they regularly ran out a deep pitching staff. 

The one frustrating thing about the 2022 Mets is they stacked up the team in every area except the catching position which has been their biggest weakness and a source of frustration for years now. This weakness has been evident for a while, we all knew it was a problem going into the season, they failed to address it in the offseason or at the trade deadline and it arguably ended up costing them. The fate of the most recent Mets team could conceivably be rooted in their failures to sign an elite catcher back before the 2019 season. At that point, the Mets needed to sign free agent All Star catcher Yasmani Grandal but he signed with Milwaukee instead and had a huge year with them. The following winter the Mets were expected to make a big run at trying to sign All Star catcher J.T. Realmuto but they botched it and he signed with the rival Phillies instead. Losing out on Realmuto was devastating because there was a pretty steep dropoff after Grandal and Realmuto to the rest of the available catchers not only in 2019 but looking ahead. The Mets instead signed James McCann, typically a backup catcher, to a four-year deal worth $40 million.

Ironically, the 2022 Mets' best catcher Tomás Nido actually had one of the top defensive seasons of any catcher in MLB this year. He might win a Gold Glove. Only problem was his bat was so bad it hurt the team's chances---as a hitter Nido actually had the Mets' lowest Win Probability Added, a metric that reflects game situation, meaning he was at the plate in pivotal moments and failed to get the job done. And the less said about their other catcher James McCann, the better. Overall in 2022, encompassing offensive and defensive value (including pitch-framing stats), the Mets' performance from all of their catchers amounted to 1.2 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs. J.T. Realmuto playing for the Phillies had the best season of his career with 6.5 wins above replacement. The vast difference between Realmuto and the Mets' catching corps is evident in every season since the Mets lost out on signing him. Perhaps more painfully, the Mets did have a catcher of some promise named Travis d'Arnaud who helped lead them to the 2015 NL pennant, but the previous ownership regime rage cut d'Arnaud early in 2019 after he got off to a rough start returning from injury, and d'Arnaud regained his form, went on to win a World Series for the Braves and has regularly tormented his old team since. The Mets ranked 26th in MLB in OPS from the catching position in 2022, the Braves ranked 1st, the Phillies ranked 3rd.

The Mets developed the top catching prospect in MLB this year, the 20-year-old Francisco Álvarez, but kept holding back from calling him up to the big league team until a moment of desperation before their final series in Atlanta. Álvarez looked overmatched in that series. After that he only got a few at-bats playing in front of the home crowd, but he impressed in limited time, blasting a home run and a double. It shouldn't be overlooked that the Mets had such a potent bat sitting in the minors while the big league club had a gaping offensive hole at the catching and DH positions. Had the Mets given some of Nido, Darin Ruf, or James McCann's September at-bats to Francisco Álvarez instead, maybe this season would've had a different result. 

And so the Mets add another gut-wrenching disappointment to their deep history of such collapses, especially in the 21st century. Observe the results since then:

2000: won NL pennant, lost winnable WS game 1 and lost Subway Series 4-1
2001-2005: missed playoffs for five straight years
2006: won NL East title, season ends with gut-wrenching loss in NLCS game 7
2007-08: two historically bad end-of-season collapses to miss playoffs
2009-2014: missed playoffs for six straight years
2015: magical run to win NL pennant, lost winnable WS game 1 and lost Series 4-1
2016: won Wild Card spot, lost winnable wild card 1-game playoff at home
2017-2021: missed playoffs for five straight years
2022: won 101 games, made playoffs, Wild Card loss in first round at home

Although it did feel like the Mets could've done better in the first round against the Padres had they been more willing to take their starters out of the game at the first sign of trouble (a clearly gassed Scherzer was left in the game too long in game 1, same with Chris Bassitt in game 3), by then the offense had gone into a slump and their fate was sealed. They had succumbed to the usual Mets shit.

Now that fans have had time to process the disappointing end to an incredible season, I think what we are all hoping for now is that the Mets don't follow up their successes with another extended drought. They've had a pattern. After their 2000 NL pennant, they sucked for a good while. Their 2006 division title seemed the first of many, but was followed by eight seasons of ineptitude and embarrassment. The aftermath of the 2015-16 contending teams was similar. The core of the 2022 Mets has so much promise, but will inevitably look different next year.

Adding to the disappointment of their late season failure is that much of the team will now disperse because so many guys will become free agents this offseason. It's completely up in the air whether the Mets will re-sign franchise stalwarts like Jacob deGrom, Edwin Diaz, or Brandon Nimmo, let alone solid contributors like Taijuan Walker, Seth Lugo, Trevor May, Chris Bassitt, or Carlos Carrasco. The Mets might look very different next year. They'll have to completely rebuild their relief pitching since almost all of those guys will be on their way out, which will be tough to do after a season when, for once, they had a very good bullpen. It will be an interesting offseason to watch what mega-billionaire owner Steve Cohen decides to do. Not only are lots of key players becoming free agents, but crappy players like McCann and Ruf have guaranteed contracts next year that the Mets really need to figure out how to buy their way out of. Having watched an NL East rival go all the way to the World Series yet again, it's possible Steve Cohen gets mad and just dumps piles of money into the team for a turbo-boost. Regardless, the 2022 season has taught us that regular season success offers no guarantees for the short series playoffs. This was the best Mets team I've ever watched in my life and their season ended in a snap. 

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Several Short Videos of the Sea from my iPhone

Back in the landlocked capital of Texas in Austin at the height of summer, I'm missing the ocean. Scanning through several videos of the sea taken recently from my phone. 

New York Harbor from the Staten Island Ferry with accompanying coastguard gunboat.

A Staten Island Beach in the wintertime.

In Dublin, Ireland looking out at the Irish Sea from atop the Martello Tower Joyce museum in Sandycove.

The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, western coast of Ireland.

The Burren in County Clare, western coast of Ireland.

View from Vico and Sorrento, Dalkey, county Dublin, Ireland.

The Giant's Causeway and the rough Atlantic Ocean in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.


The pristine sparkling blue Mediterranean outside of Marseille in Côte d'Azur, France. 

Me swimming in the Mediterranean at a beach in Cannes, Côte d'Azur, France. 

Off the coast of Massachusetts, Vineyard Ferry cruising along Atlantic Ocean.

The boat ride from Dalkey Island, Ireland.

"There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rolls; the drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor" (Melville, Moby-Dick, p. 160)

"the blending cadence of waves with thoughts"  (Moby-Dick, p. 163)

"Melville thought the names of all fine authors were fictitious because they stood for the ubiquitous and magic spirit of all Beauty. Keats asked to have HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME WAS WRIT IN WATER carved on his gravestone." 
    (Susan Howe, The Quarry, p. 192)

"The beginning of man was salt sea, and the perpetual reverberation of that great ancient fact, constantly renewed in the unfolding of life in every human individual, is the important single fact about Melville. Pelagic." 

[Pelagic (adj.): relating to or living in open sea]
    (from Charles Olson, Call Me Ishmael, quoted in Susan Howe, The Quarry, p. 192) 

"Looking at the waves scudding outwards and getting lost on the horizon, [Heisenberg] could not help but recall the words of his mentor, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who had once told him that a part of eternity lies in reach of those capable of staring, unblinking, at the sea's deranging expanses." 
(Benjamin Labatut, When We Cease to Understand the World, p. 96)


Saturday, July 2, 2022

ReBuilding and Re: Recent Roamings

"The Hut"
by Fanny Howe

Up the hill is a hut made of sound
where two windows rhyme
and the tiles stay on
because they are nailed to a dream.
The dreamer wonders: Can this be mine?

The floor is solid and straight
and is amber from sap.
The walls don't leak or let out heat
from gray embers in the grate.

This is the original home
at the heart of brutalist design.
No storm can slam its shape apart.
No thief can carry it off.
It dwells in ashen buildings where the present sleeps.

*   *   *

This blog has been dormant for a while. I'm going to try to bring some life back to it. In my last post here, more than six months ago, I talked about having gone on a self-driven path of deconstructing my life and embarking out into the unknown for a while. For seven months I lived a nomadic existence, traveling around many countries and cities, staying as a guest in various friends' houses, hotels, Airbnbs, and an extended stay with family in Staten Island and Brooklyn. The trip sprung from, among other things, a yearning to plunge into the unfamiliar, test my luck, and experience the world after so many months in lockdown during the pandemic. In the aftermath of that extended nomadic period, I tallied up these numbers: in the lockdown year 2020 I slept in three different beds all year (the bed at my house and a couple places I stayed at during a roadtrip to Colorado) whereas in the last calendar year now I slept in more than 40 different beds in at least fifteen different cities in six countries.

While bouncing across so many places and living out of a suitcase for so long, I got into thinking about the feeling of and the meaning of home. Found myself thinking often about Gaston Bachelard's book, The Poetics of Space. Bachelard wrote, "A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability." (p. 38) Some houses grant illusions or proofs of stability better than others. I stayed in a few dumps and at least one badly insulated space during a couple weeks of frigid temps. I stayed in a sprawling mansion in Ireland where I didn't feel comfortable because of an unwelcoming host, I also stayed in a repurposed 19th-century military barracks in Ireland, a Martello Tower made of stone that felt extremely comfortable because of the generosity of the hosts. I stayed in a garage attic apartment in Texas where time stood still and I stayed in a barn in Texas where the metal-roof resonated from a heavy hail storm. The constant moving from one place to the next felt like a recapitulation of earlier departures from shells in my life---leaving my parents' house at age 21 to move to the other side of the country, years later leaving southern California to come to Austin where I'd never been before but have now resided for 11 years. Each time felt like a crab leaving its shell to seek out a better one (my sun sign is Cancer the crab). 

"The atmosphere is nailed together.

Limb marking threshold.

Each element struggles to 
make threat subservient
to shelter."

- from "Doorway" by Elizabeth Robinson

"I dreamed of a nest in which the trees repulsed death" 
- from Bachelard, Poetics of Space (p. 123)

During the height of winter I was living back at my parents' house in Staten Island by myself (they'd gone to Florida to escape the cold). With the recent memories of so many different homes and rooms in various places, I was centered back there at the home where I grew up and had first conceived of the concept of home. Bachelard in The Poetics of Space says, "In short, the house we were born in has engraved within us the hierarchy of the various functions of inhabiting." (p. 36) As much as I despise being in Staten Island, my old house still feels like home. The city is so crowded, the people are so angry, it seemed every time I went out someplace I had a hostile altercation with somebody, but the old house still feels like home and it feeds some inner craving for peace of mind when I'm there. 

Here's Bachelard again:
"The house we were born in is more than an embodiment of home, it is also an embodiment of dreams. Each one of its nooks and corners was a resting-place for daydreaming. And often the resting-place particularized the daydream. Our habits of a particular daydream were acquired there." (p. 37)

I've always been a homebody and my personal growth has involved breaking out of those habits to go far out into the unknown and find my way, find how I can build a new center of peace in the unfamiliar. As a kid I must have spent lots of time in the nooks and corners of my house daydreaming, but I could never have imagined the adventures that would ensue. Roadtrips spanning the width of the North American continent, piloting boats along the waters of the Mediterranean in the South of France, expeditions along the rocky coastline of Ireland, bike rides speeding through the alleyways of Barcelona, panoramic views from the hills of Lisbon, late nights partying in the village squares of Antwerp, connecting with the sky gods while perched atop the Pyramid of the Sun looking down the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacán far out in the desert outside Mexico City. 

When I was a kid I loathed having to go on family trips out to New Jersey to visit my grandma because the open spaces and relatively rural vibes of Jersey made me uneasy. I needed NYC's clusterfuck of intersections and delis and pizzerias on every block. That's what made me comfortable. Now I once again live in the middle of Texas where the city center is equidistant to me as farmlands with cows, my neighbor's yard has a friendly goat, and too much time spent in the crowded and cranky NYC boroughs drives me nuts. 

Rebecca Solnit in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost writes: "Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch, even as a psychological metamorphosis." (p. 80) This was the process I went through as a young adult. And again years later, after I'd established a home over several years living in Austin which no longer felt satisfying, I underwent the same process again. Burned it all down to start over from scratch. Ashes make great fertilizer. The past year has been full of big changes and very little stability, it has not been easy but it has definitely been enriching. Again quoting Solnit, "he ceased to be lost not by returning but by turning into something else." (p. 71)

Spending such extended time staying within the hospitality industry (hotels and Airbnbs etc) you start to gain a deeper appreciation for little things that make a place feel like home and how a place becomes a home over time. Living transiently also affords one a chance to cut things down to basics, carrying around only what you need. Most of my belongings including my entire library, all my art, and most of my clothes were locked up in storage the whole time. I had a consolidated wardrobe, compact but versatile enough for different climates. I mainly carried around only the books with the highest ratio of insight and lexical originality-per-page, which I had decided are these two: Finnegans Wake by James Joyce and the epic poem ARK by Ronald Johnson. Those came with me everywhere. 

During my time in Europe I also read two nonfiction books by Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, The End of Civilization on the immediate developments that led to WW2 and also his most recent book Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act, about the secret history of US military involvement with biological and chemical warfare. Both were timely and highly informative reads, and Baker's prose style is so easily digestible. The newer book Baseless felt like a sequel to Human Smoke, though at least with Baseless Baker regularly breaks up the revelations of dark and deeply upsetting information with simple and grounding stories about his dogs and domestic life. On the other hand, the cold facts and details of mass killings of Jews by the Nazis in Human Smoke seared my brain to a degree that I am forever horrified by it. I had to hide Human Smoke when I wasn't reading it because just looking at that book put a bad feeling in my gut.

This material was fresh in my mind as I rode around on trains and planes across Europe, looking at the scenery and thinking about the purpose of life, how flimsy and fragile it seems, how long the land outlasts us, how we should soak it all in and enjoy life while we can. Ultimately I thought of how sick and fucked up so much of mankind has always been with twisted ideology and racist hate. The same struggles for power, wars against tyrants, recur in cycles over centuries. How the endurance of hope persists despite it all. How we are all just looking for a place to call home, a shell within which we can grow and feel at peace. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Sacrifice

"Had to sacrifice all to earn favor" 
            - Ka, "Eye of a Needle"

One night back in March of this year, I was struck by a vision about sacrifice. I was laying in a hammock in my backyard, looking up at the stars. Soaking in the pleasures and privileges of my existence, appreciating my comforts yet realizing that I was not at all satisfied with my life, I was aching for something new. 

At that point, I had accumulated everything I could have ever wanted in life---I owned a house on a nice big piece of property, with a canopy provided by a dozen oak trees, the property peppered with colorful flowers and paddle cactus plants, succulents, and a big vegetable garden. The backyard was renovated, spacious, peaceful, comfortable. Inside the house I had a library full of books, walls covered with art, comfy couches to sit and read on, a fireplace to sit next to with my dog, and a desk to do my writing. I had a big, playful puppy, a pittie-German shepherd mix who always kept me feeling safe, whose energy always brought me joy. And I had a woman who I'd been with for many years, been to hell and back with. I had all of that and yet I felt completely unsatisfied with this life, felt myself becoming obsessed with a new craving for adventure and exploring the unknown. I was feeling like the creative energies in my life had become dulled and dormant. Felt like my life and whatever youth I had left, was slipping away day by day. I'd been depressed for a while after three of my friends passed away unexpectedly during the pandemic lockdown. Then that night in March, I started thinking about Tarkovsky's 1986 movie The Sacrifice

I had seen The Sacrifice a couple years prior when a friend, who's a devoted scholar of Tarkovsky, brought me to a screening at the Austin Film Society. I remember being totally awed by the film's visionary qualities, impacted by the scenes of the house rattling from warplanes overhead, the scenes of stillness and nature and especially the famous scene of the burning house. But after seeing the film I didn't have much of any appreciation for what it meant, what it was conveying. That is, until that night back in March when I was overwhelmed with thoughts about the meaning and importance of sacrifice. I started replaying scenes from the film in my head and I read synopses online and I realized that the main character was stricken by a feeling that the world was out of joint, that he needed to sacrifice everything he loved in order to restore peace. I started dwelling on the meaning of sacrifice---as in, a sacrifice to God or to the gods or to the universe, in order to earn favor and fortune and restore creative energies. To bring balance to the universe. The more I dwelled on it, the more it made literal sense to me. The notion of sacrificing what you love, renouncing possessions, giving up what makes you feel secure and comfortable in order to, in some symbolic way, feed the creative fires of the universe---this mythical, primitive idea suddenly made sense to me on a deeply personal level. The meaning of sacrifice felt real. 

That night I realized the only way I could fix my aching depression and dissatisfaction with life was to dismantle and demolish the life I had built, to sacrifice it all and plunge into the unknown with the faith that things would all work out for the better, that the creative energies of my universe would be restored by my sacrifice and guide me to a new, more fulfilling life. This was a terrifying realization because it meant I would need to give up everything that made me feel secure and comfortable. I would have to endure the suffering of separation from what I had become attached to, which was a feeling of security. For ten years I'd been living in tiny apartments until finally I'd been able to buy a nice big house, then over several years we invested so much work and energy into the house to make it comfortable. Then we added the big puppy dog into the mix and the house became his home too. And now I had reached the realization with certainty that I needed to give all that up to go seek happiness in the unknown. I knew then that to restore balance in my life I needed to sacrifice everything that made me feel secure to instead go off alone, in Joyce's phrase "wandering among the snares of the world." I had to destroy the life I had built so I could eventually rebuild my life in a better way. 

*   *   *

"As soon as I emerged from a self-made prison
My own ambitions made way for the decision of a lifetime, of a lifetime
It ain't sit right with me that I might die
No, I can't go, I got work to do
The never-ending life cycle, how a circle do
This is personal
This is personal"
              - Navy Blue, "Light"

During the peak of the pandemic lockdown, some of my friends died unexpectedly. I wrote about this earlier this year. Adding to the pain of those sudden losses was being unable to process their deaths properly with any sort of wake or gathering to memorialize them. The shock of those deaths made an impact on me that eventually changed my life. I found it especially difficult to process the death of my old friend and coworker Scott who was the same age as me and had been in good health, only to be found dead in his apartment one night in late October 2020. After that I began to develop a craving to get out and see the world, to go try and fulfill my dreams and dream big, to no longer defer any of my ambitions into the future but to try and live life now since it had become abundantly clear to me that I could die at any moment. Scott was a deep philosophical thinker, a passionate mind with a love for literature. We often talked about life and death, he loved getting into heavy discussions. Feeling a bit of guilt over his sudden death, I also developed an ambition to live big and embark on exciting adventures in his honor. He (along with many other friends of mine) had insisted for years that I go visit Ireland because of my love of James Joyce's art and because Scott had been there once before and felt it was a special place. So, when I was at the beginning of my recent overseas adventure and found myself getting drunk on whiskey while hanging inside a stone tower built in 1804 on the coast of Dublin, I was toasting to Scott and communing with his spirit. 

A recent NYRB article about Dostoyevsky discusses how the Russian novelist was sentenced to a Siberian prison camp as a political prisoner and while he was there, was the victim of a "mock execution." He and the other prisoners were condemned to death, given their last rites, taken outside to face a firing squad, and at the very last possible moment the execution was called off. Some of his fellow prisoners went insane in reaction to this and never recovered while Dostoyevsky went on to compose some of the most profound novels ever written. One of his biographers posits that the experience of the mock execution left Dostoyevsky "with a completely different view of time and ethics, which Frank calls 'eschatological [apocalyptic] apprehension.' Dostoevsky concluded, he says, that 'every instant takes on a supreme value,' and 'each moment of the present is when a decisive choice has to be made.'" Although I did not experience anything nearly as harrowing as Dostoyevsky, the death of some people close to me left me with a similar feeling about the importance of each instant. I became increasingly uneasy about wasting time. I felt whatever youth I had left was being wasted in the exceedingly comfortable yet quiet existence I was living at my nice house with my ex-girlfriend and my dog. I was consumed by an urgent need to get out and experience the world. 

So I made the decision to give up everything I had, to downsize my existence, donate or sell off most of my things and place all my books into storage, pack up a couple suitcases and go off into the world. Originally I planned to drive around the United States visiting everyone I know in different states, but once I was out of the house and away from my dog I found it too painful to be anywhere near my old place, so I decided to go faraway and flew overseas to Ireland. There I was blessed to meet a Brazilian girl, a lawyer and a deep, passionate thinker who I connected with on a level that made it seem like she'd known me for a long time. Eventually she brought me to meet some of her extended family in the South of France and it became one of the most incredible adventures of my life. When I was dismantling my previous existence, moving out of the house and putting all my stuff into storage, I felt a strong sense all of that, even though it was painful and difficult, was just a preparation for a future more exciting than anything I'd previously conceived of. Months later, when I was zooming around the Mediterranean Sea in a boat with Brazilians, diving off the boat into pristine waters off the coast of a small town near Marseilles, floating in the sea, drinking lots of champagne, staying in a penthouse in Cannes, visiting the Picasso Museum in a 14th century castle in Antibes, driving through the mountains of southern France, drinking the best wine in the world and eating like a king at a restaurant in a small French town on some Anthony Bourdain shit, I knew then that my earlier visions and realizations about sacrifice were meaningful and important. I knew that my premonitions about taking a daring leap into the unknown had manifested, my determination had paid off. My new future was being constructed and it was indeed more incredible than anything I'd ever imagined. 

While the process has already been rewarding, none of this has been easy. I'm having to figure things out week to week. As I write this, my latest European adventure has recently concluded, I went to six countries in a span of eight weeks and had enough amazing experiences to write about and talk about for the rest of my life. But now I'm back in Staten Island, NY, staying at the house I grew up in, sleeping in the same bedroom I was in since I was an infant. Maybe in some way I'm connecting with my inner child and healing some old wounds. Above all I'm trying to recompose myself and plot a new future while continuing to heal from past loss. I know the pandemic era has been difficult for many people and that my deconstructing of my life to build something new is part of a larger pattern in which many people are quitting their jobs or getting divorced and going off into something new. For anyone who's suffering, I hope you can feel inspired to hold on and to be brave and to grasp at your dreams.