Healing

That was an impressive rant and descent into bloodlust.

My raison d’être is to probe, is it not?

Your job is to ask questions, and you abandoned it.

Did I? Is a rant not a howl in hell for answers so that we may destroy them?

I wouldn’t know.

Wouldn’t you?

I see your point.

And after the blood-letting, what?

If one hasn’t died, healing is all that remains.

And how does that work?

Bishop Tutu said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Yet the wound seems so large, doesn’t it, poisoned with rage and anger?

And small acts of healing are so . . . small.

Have you ever watched a child build a structure of blocks and then kick it down?

Of course.

And?

The destruction takes seconds and is viscerally thrilling. The creation takes long minutes or more, and the pleasure is nuanced.

A dilemma, yes?

We love to be thrilled.

And?

And now, for better and for worse, we have been thrilled. The blocks lay scattered. We will create again.

Only to destroy again?

And then to build again.

Round and round?

I hope you’re not discovering this pattern for the first time. The dog will have his tail.

And yet?

Yes, and yet.

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Mao or Gandhi?

Do you want to win?

I certainly don’t want to lose.

Let me reframe: Are you compelled to win?

By whom? Sorry for the question. I need clarity.

By yourself. Are you driven to win?

At times.

Reframing again: Are you perpetually driven to win? Is winning the reason for your existence? Will you do anything to win?

No. There’s a season for everything.

Is every moment a competition?

One could see it that way, I suppose.

Did I ask if you supposed? Did I ask if one could see it that way? Do you demand to win? Will you accept nothing less than victory, with every breath you take?

Sounds exhausting.

Loser!

That’s not a question.

Questions are a waste of time!

I disagree.

I will crush you!

Why? (I suppose I must start asking the questions now.)

You are weak!

We used to have such stimulating conversations. Why are you shouting?

You have contempt for the nation and its people! You are an abomination to the gods! You are a disgrace! I will crush you.

And what am I to do now? Leave? Roll over?

You will do as I say.

That’s the danger, isn’t it? When one commands there will always be those who follow, who need to follow.

Have you stopped assaulting children yet?

What? I never . . .

Perverted antipatriotic scum!

Liar.

I grind you beneath my heel.

There are limits.

Traitor! Radical!

The veneer of civilization is thin.

Coward! Enemy of the nation.

You leave me with a terrible choice.

The time for choosing is over. You chose wrong.

I haven’t chosen yet.

Mao or Gandhi?

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Computer Games

Why do you play computer games so often?

I enjoy them.

Then why this soul-searching conversation about them?

That’s good, very good. I sit for long portions of hours playing, thinking I’ve set aside only minutes. I’ve given these games time I should devote to work—should not in the puritanical sense but in the sense that the work needs to be done.

Why not simply stop?

The great addiction question. It’s not easy. I am drawn to the quickly changing bright graphics as well as to the strategic challenge.

Chess with a sensory reward?

Yes. I am a smart pigeon. I peck at the games. I think winning is the goal, but color and movement are my constant rewards. I am endlessly rewarded, endlessly victorious whether I have won or not.

Sounds like heaven. Why not indulge!?

I feel myself in a daze, a slightly uncomfortable state of mind. I come away glassy eyed, irritable, wanting more, having wasted precious time and, more important, thought and feeling.

Sounds like hell. Why not give it up!?

I repeat (endlessly): I need the motion and color. I must have them. They shine for me!

Oh really? For you alone?

It’s physiological.

Isn’t everything?

That doesn’t help.

Am I a better distraction?

Why must we always be distracted? Why do we demand distraction?

I ask the questions, right?

Yes, you are a better distraction.

From?

I don’t know. I’m distracted. Eternally, it seems. So distracted by distraction I no longer have any idea what I’m distracted from.

So you and I are a dog chasing its tail?

Dogs are good. (Deep breath.) Thank you.

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Time

They talk, painfully,

About being better.

He wishes later

He’d written a letter.

Space heals all wounds.

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Rain in October

Melancholy wakes in bone

The lucky few know

The infinite shades of gray

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An Abundance of Caution

How much caution is an abundance of caution?

Likely less than enough.

Is an abundance of caution more caution than simply caution?

Let’s see.

I was tested for COVID out of an abundance of caution.

I was tested for COVID out of caution.

Same thing.

Then why the phrase?

To imply, “I am being extraordinarily responsible,” not merely responsible. Keep in mind, of course, that if one needs to signal virtue, others clearly are not seeing it.

It appears to be important to some people to seem to be responsible in hopes that others will believe they are being responsible.

Not exactly esse quam videri, is it?

Quite the opposite. (Esse quam videri = to be rather than to seem.)

Honestly, not only is “abundance of caution” as useless as “very unique,” the usage that it demands is quite awkward.

How so?

It requires passivity. “I was tested out of (an abundance of) caution.” How much cleaner to say, “I decided to be cautious, so I took a COVID test.”

I wonder, why do we use the word cautious at all here?

Hmm. “I took a COVID test.” Or even, “I got myself tested.”

Why?

Because at the supermarket yesterday some fool decided to walk the wrong way down aisles and keep no distance while coughing and sneezing into his hands before picking up items from a shelf, examining them, and returning them.

Oh my.

Actually, I’m certain any listener would know why I got tested, even in the absence of such a compelling and disgusting narrative. We get tested to see if we have the virus and then determine the best course of action.

Perhaps we should stop signaling caution and start signaling action. “I ran five miles to the clinic in freezing rain, wild dogs snapping at my heels, to get tested. I wore a mask the entire way, even though it is uncomfortable to wear a mask while running. You can too!” I rather like the sound of that.

You’re imagining this on a bumper sticker?

A very long one. They’re the best.

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Building the Body List

The first serialization of Body in the Pond reached a modest circle of friends and colleagues. The number of recipients tripled in round two, and the readership became international. I don’t—or didn’t—know many of the second-round readers. Now friends and colleagues of theirs have signed on. Traffic to this site from China has become regular, if modest.

I work on the list for round three with intention. I still aim to conduct this very old-school performance art for and with an international audience, but I am also building a list of teachers in private schools. For obvious reason.

This has led to a study of the public faces those schools present on their websites. What do they tell us?

First, they have public safety plans in place for the Era of Covid. As private schools are the environment of the well-to-do, they have the resources to protect their privileged charges. I don’t use privileged pejoratively. It is a fact of their status. One always hopes that the privileged will use their status in service to a greater good.

Second, girls dominate the webpages. Girls learning, achieving, striving, leading. Except for the schools that are exclusively male—a very small subset—they want you to send them your girls so that they can prepare them to lead the world.

Third, most of the faculty are women, even at boys’ schools.

Fourth, very few present a vision for turning boys into men. There is scant old-school talk about building character in boys.

Fifth, young people of diverse ethnicities, hues, and dress appear in all photographs. One doesn’t know if the pictures present the daily lived experience at the schools or the schools’ desire to appear virtuous. But the intent is clear: a diverse population is a good population.

Sixth, they all have lovely campuses of old brick buildings and sweeping lawns. The physical vision remains very old-school English.

What does this tell us about the state of the world? That here in the West, at least, the women will soon lead. What a relief. That we don’t quite know what to do with boys anymore. That privilege is alive and well and will take care of itself and that it seeks to enlarge its gene pool. That they should begin raising sheep to keep those wide lawns beautiful without resort to fossil fuels.

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Nostalgia

You seem buried. Under what?

Heat. Inertia. The shrinking of the social world. The loss of contact. The weight of distance.

But you were never a social being, were you?

Nor was I a hermit. We’re all on the spectrum, as they say.

Didn’t you once crave solitude?

And I shall crave it again. But I miss what I once dismissed, or took in small doses. I held the social world at bay. It threatened to invade.

But, as Cavafy warned, you don’t know what to do now that the barbarians are no longer at the gates, do you?

You’re quite good at disguising statements as questions. And interjecting the great poet of nostalgia to keep me off guard. But yes, now that the social world has disappeared, I miss it. I always wanted it to be there, in the next room. I liked hearing the sounds of other people’s conversations. The tinkling of glasses. The scraping of chairs being pulled back from tables. A guitar. I could visit when I needed, and the possibility sustained me more often than the visits themselves.

What will save you?

Autumn, perhaps, when loss feels like a gift rather than a burden.

You have mentioned the belief in the season before. Are you starting to repeat yourself?

A thirty man never stops needing water.

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A Bit of New

New words from In the Ground, on their page.

List for the third serialization of Body in the Pond is being forged. Thank you dear reader from France for joining in advance.

Anyone – sign on to the third round via email at unfetteredlit-at-gmail.com.

Thank you dear visitors for the site traffic from China. Bit of a mystery. Always like a mystery.

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Angst Report 200830

What news from the front?

We are wretched with heat, disease, and discord. We cast rage and blame from our trenches and shout our withered slogans. We discharge our weapons and show our teeth.

And then?

Again.

How long will this last?

As long as we can maintain. All are righteous. None will stand down while the other stands.

Yet none can stand forever, can they?

We refuse, deny, and defy. We have become the struggle. We always have. We always will. The struggle lives forever.

But you will not. Are you exhausted?

Beyond.

And can there be no turn, no shift, no change that moves your foot from the rutted path?

. . . You’re drifting . . . Hello?

Maybe autumn. Wars have paused so that the armies may harvest.

You are not a farmer. What will you harvest?

Maybe memory. By the window, in the cool air, and rain on the glass. There is music.

Memory of what?

It’s there beyond my fingertips, receding quickly down the wrong end of a telescope. Maybe we aren’t meant to know what we almost know and always turn from, to spite ourselves.

But you feel it nearer as the season turns?

The heat relents. Something calls. The air feels clearer. I smell the scent of fallen apples. I cannot turn myself. The earth must turn me.

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