A Thin Line Series

Please post your reflections for the ‘dialogic’ seminars of the series A Thin Line here.

Warning: Spoiler alert
If you’re not taking part in the seminar the reflections below will probably give the story away.

35 Responses to A Thin Line Series

  1. Karen Kaderavek says:

    As I listened to the dialogues between Johanna Skibsrud and the insightful members of the seminar what formed substantially for me was how elemental the Sentimentalists is. The rough carpenter’s house, the unfinished ship in the barn: earth. Being tossed about in the estuary or blown off-course by life’s detours: wind. The watery world atop the primordial submerged city; sailing above the subconscious mind, carried along by rivers of emotion that have their anchorage in forces mysteriously submerged. And the most amazing expression of fire: sparks of insight that appear as epiphanies, penetrating and cutting through the other elements. These moments – and they are brief and precious – are expressions of truth. I reflected on how such epiphanies have shaped my life and I wondered if a personal truth is universal or whether that matters. I believe there probably are universal truths but one’s own truth is sacred. Flashes of personal insight have been signposts for me; simply put, my life was one way before and then another way afterward.

  2. The Sentimentalists, the debut novel of Johanna Skibsrud, is an insightful take on the roles of memory, hope and resilience in the human condition. It floats on my reductively conceived poetry/novel spectrum incorporating the relations a novel lets you explore alongside the surgical precision of poetry. The mix at times interrupts flow as the more poetic passages can/need to be read over and over again; however, I believe this only reinforces the profundity of some of Johanna Skibsrud’s passages, they leave you reading them over and over, searching tantalisingly deeper and deeper for those moment of clarity.

    The peom that is at the end of the book has been on my mind ever since I read upon it

    Simplify Me When I’m Dead – Keith Douglas

    Remember me when I am dead
    Simplify me when I am dead.

    As the process of earth
    strip off the colour and the skin
    take the brown hair and the blue eye

    and leave me simpler than at birth,
    when hairless I came howling in
    as the moon came in the cold sky.

    Of my skeleton perhaps
    so stripped, a learned man may say
    “He was of such a type and intelligence,” no more.

    Thus when in a year collapse
    particular memories, you may
    deduce from the long pain I bore

    the opinion I held, who was my foe
    and what I left, even my appearance
    but incidents will be no guide.

    Time’s wrong way telescope will show
    a minute man the years hence
    and by distance simplified.

    Through the lens see if I seem
    substance or nothing: of the world
    deserving mention or charitable oblivion

    not by momentary spleen
    or love into decision hurled
    leisurely arrive at an opinion.

    Remember me when I am dead
    and Simplify me when I am dead.

    I read that reading your own obituary is a sure way of motivating you to do better. Chrisopher Hitchens experienced this and said about it, “there is nothing about reading about yourself in the past tense that concentrates the mind.”

    Alred Nobel woke up one morning to read his own obituary prematurely printed – and as he’d been labelled as the creator of dynamite, something more efficient at killing that anything prior – he decided to create the Nobel Prize and honour the positive impacts of people.

    An important volume of work on memory as I’ve recently discovered is Proust’s Roman-Fleuve A la recherché du temps perdu. The commentary for that will come over the next 10 years I imagine, given that I’m going to read it in French. Also on the reading list is Roland Bartes’ Camera Lucida – Ms Skibsrud mentioned that this books treatment of negative space has deeply affected her literary research.

    I saw the film Passion by Jean Luc Goddard this week. Afterwards, in a Q&A session, a popular take on the film was that it worked as a kind of anti-film which worked against classical film making or the “Hollywood Film” – incidentally used for the most part as a negative description. It was interesting to hear the discussion about the film, which delved into egalitarianism, capltalism and tackeld the relation between love and labour but the films itself I found ugly, consciously over abstract, a true intellectual – in the negative sense of the word – film and deeply dull.

    If this is an anti-film, what is an anti-novel? Is it the kind of works such as Nicole Brossard’s Purple Haze or Helene Dorion’s Days of Sand i.e. the poetic, avant-garde, abstract novel?

    I wonder how an anti-story would be received at a short story telling event. Is punch-line necessary, can poetry be mixed in, does it need resolution, does it need completeness, or could you go against all the storytelling norms and say to your audience in a clever way that you are working against them. To be honest I imagine all the best storytellers are simultaneously dissecting what a story is and it is perhaps does a disservice to the author to think otherwise.

  3. Flying head says:

    Handout #7

    Flying Head

    “In this way my mother attempted to uncover a pattern or a system to her grief, but there never did appear to be one, and the pain continued to erupt equally from the sight of an old photograph as from an untwined sock. But after each entry my mother would go on to conclude: ‘it should not happen again.’ And this conviction – that unhappiness, in herself and later in her children, should be staved off, ….”

    One word – lasting
    One sentence – families should be united in accomplishing certain objectives
    One paragraph – families should be united not by rules or habits, but by actions with some objectives similarly respected. It cannot be portrayed as fully synchronized, because even members of the same family can be very different. The point is that in their all differences they are able to find something in common and worth realizing with manifested willingness to participate in the followed work. During realization of their “projects” the family enthusiasm and determination will vary, but when one is weaker the other member of family is manifesting bigger energy etc what ….

    Stream of consciousness vein – it was much easier in the old days to maintain the integrity and strength of families as their bonds were automatically stronger while struggling together with overwhelming hunger, unfriendly environment and difficult to survive illnesses. Today these problems are less pronounced and people instead of finding more sublimated objectives are becoming distracted and not focused. Something similar happens with our teeth. More and more kids need expensive braces as according to dentists we eliminated hard/unprocessed food from our diet what weakens kids’ jaws muscles and cause the teeth disoriented growth. Something similar happens with our souls/personalities and we see more dysfunctional families where each member has different objectives as carries less about the other family members. How to activate them and unite represents today’s “be or not to be”.

  4. Flying head says:

    Handout #8

    “Somehow, though, long after we had turned away, a phantom faith remained in me, long after its object had been lost. It came in bursts, in brief hallucinatory flashes, like the intermittent blinking of a dead satellite which still rouses itself on faulty wiring as though it were a dying star. So that even in those after-years, when my father had disappeared completely beyond the line of our horizon, …..”

    One word – Faith
    One sentence – memories from childhood are deeply anchored in our memories are very important for our future life

    One paragraph – We see here a good connection between childhoods memories confronted with reflections about life from perspective of the main figure from this childhood – father. However, it was not given but needed a certain effort as persistence from his daughter. She manifested a lot of curiosity about life representing the main driving force for her “investigation”.
    Stream of consciousness vein – Very important for deeper development of human personalities is maintaining minimal changes during their childhood. They need to watch and analyze the same places as situations from different time perspectives. So, it is good that children go to the same places for vacations and when parents do not change often home. Today, with TV, Internet, computer games and cellular phones our children are overwhelmed by big flow of information. It makes more difficult for deeper reflections and building strong fundaments for our psyche. At the same time the previous model of close generations’ ties is disappearing. From my point of view it is not good, but I am not sure. Maybe there are some positive aspects in it that will be seen later.

  5. Flying head says:

    Comments on The Sentimentalist
    Flying Head

    I find/see Johanna Skibsurd’s novel “The Sentamentalists” as a big and very unusual fishing net with differently sized holes that make it possible to catch anything from a whale to the tiniest fish. Nobody reasonable would use it for professional harvesting fish. However the author applies her novel as a net for catching human “souls” characterized by an extreme variety in sizes of their internal surfaces when similarly weighing about 3 pounds. She uses a wide spectrum of different techniques in her prose. It looks chaotic, but allows her to attract a wider spectrum of readers. Even if they will find something small resonating with their experience or perception of human life it represents a big success. The ability to force hardened and extremely defocused modern man to deeper reflections is difficult to achieve. Anyway, if somebody writes something very true and directly from their heart it will always easily resonate with other people. That was achieved the author.

    I liked very much the author’s depth in the provided flash pictures of her childhood/adolescence vacations in the same places, ghosts, relation with sister and parents, history of boat, interactions with grandparents and other old people. It was interesting to notice that the author totally ignored a signalized topic about her problems with former boyfriend with him she was living six years. She also did not analyze the marriage problems of her parents. I am sure that 99% of other young authors would exploit the last two topics. We get used to this approach (as hearing the word “love” in 90% of songs) providing many spectacular descriptions of “human surface trips” and not much about “life journeys”. In other words, the author is fully aware about deeper value of human generations’ “vertical” interactions during their growth, in comparison to their horizontal relations in their adult lives.

  6. Toledo says:

    Comments on The Sentimentalist
    Toledo
    8 April 2011

    One of the revolving themes, notably in the first half of the book, is around sadness. I especially like the passage that describes sadness not as about anything in particular but as “smells or shapes or colours that call up a certain moment, or a feeling, just a whiff of one, that you can’t quite place. Just something that fills you with a weird longing, all of a sudden. Like you’re homesick. Only not for any place that you’ve been to. And the smell, it doesn’t remind you of anything that you’ve ever smelled before. And the colour or the shape is not one you can connect to a recallable landscape.” As if sadness is an integral part of the human condition, and has an important role to play. That it is a motivator that drives one to become more complete and at home with the world.

    There are numerous references throughout the book to the fragility of life. To dreams that fail to materialize, and to realities that lack foundation. That one is blown by the wind, not by choice, to “small estuaries” which comprise one’s world. That soldiers in war and families trying to relate to themselves lack completeness, and are instead disjointed: minds from bodies, body parts from body parts, the past from its remembrance, parents from children, things from owners and the self from the world it inhabits. It is as if there are many, many parts and no whole, at least not one that we understand. The most reassuring thing in this story is simply Napoleon expressing words of love and kindness to the members of his family.

  7. After reading The Sentimentalists – Ghost of Storytime
    The Sentimentalists is beautiful book which focuses on the tension between the fullness and the emptiness of memory. The writing style seems to complement this tension in a poetic and metaphorical way, for example;
    The war incident is cloudy, “and then Owen….Owen drifting…Owen falling, continuing to fall”,
    And,
    Memories are written, “Establishing an event at the moment of its occurrence as though it were already deeply in the past”.
    And,
    The burning of the Hooch is distant and quick, the description doesn’t go past; “.They set the village on fire”.
    Nothing is fully clear, nothing is fully resolved, things get re-worked or buried, the boat is put away, and Casablanca is flooded. I enjoyed the flooding metaphor; it’s quite a convenient and strong image though.
    The fading of memories, the reducing of memories to a few words or actions:”remember me when I am dead and simplify me when I am dead”; her father did crosswords; Henry did maths problems, her mother made a journal to uncover a pattern or system to her grief.
    Douglas’s poem seems to arise from a fierce, forensic curiosity, an impatience with sentimentality, a desire to see things uncluttered and unclouded by preconceptions. I’m not sure this is the same desire as in the book, but the choice of poem is great, such a powerful couplet to begin and end a poem with.
    There is some humour. “That there they had been, marching along, together, all of them with the very worst feet in the world.”
    The ghost them could have been developed much further – taking the book firmly in magical realism.
    Clunky sentences: I don’t know how to quantify this but her is an example of a passage I found difficult to read:
    “As though we inhabited separate and remote corners of his illimitable and still-coveted prairie. As though all things had been leveled; emptied off. As though – if indeed we had thought to send them out – our shouts would have rung nearly soundlessly in our own ears, swallowed up by the unconquerable landscape between us, so long by then left untried.”

  8. Toledo says:

    Handout #8
    Toledo
    8 April 2011

    “Somehow, though, long after we had turned away, a phantom faith remained in me, long after its object had been lost. It came in bursts, in brief hallucinatory flashes, like the intermittent blinking of a dead satellite which still rouses itself on faulty wiring as though it were a dying star. So that even in those after-years, when my father had disappeared completely beyond the line of our horizon, it seemed as though, on fine days, I could see him still – a faint outline, a trace of himself – buoyed by the stubbornness of my memory, walking tentatively along the endless and otherwise uninhabited waters of my childhood.”
Johanna Skibsrud

    Word:
    Loss

    Sentence:
    Those we have loved remain with us.

    Paragraph:
    Once someone has had an impact on us, no matter how welcome or harmful, we cannot shake them. If even we remove them physically, they remain in our thoughts. They demand a response. Perhaps we don’t need to give them up. Perhaps we just learn how to live with them.

    Stream:
    I suppose the question to raise, when confronted with a powerful ghost, like the one described here that resides in the writer’s heart, is if the ghost consumes me, continues to hold court and to command emotions, or if instead the ghost is a member of MY court. I have known several people with failed fathers. Men who had grand ideas and who held out so much promise, and who in one way or another abandoned their families. I really would like to ask each of them about the impact their fathers have had on them. Why did they not let this memory destroy them? Why are they so forgiving?

  9. Toledo says:

    Handout #7
    Toledo
    8 April 2011

    “In this way my mother attempted to uncover a pattern or a system to her grief, but there never did appear to be one, and the pain continued to erupt equally from the sight of an old photograph as from an untwined sock. But after each entry my mother would go on to conclude: ‘it should not happen again.’ And this conviction – that unhappiness, in herself and later in her children, should be staved off, then eliminated entirely – originated from the same source within her that assured her that the progress that my father was making on his boat, and that my mother was making on my father, and that my father’s words were making on her heart, would be measurable and lasting things, upon which each of us could build.”
Johanna Skibsrud

    Word:
    Hope

    Sentence:
    Words of love and hope are so powerfully gripping, even if self-deceptive at times.

    Paragraph:
    The words of love and hope that held her mother captive for so many years are what hold all of us who love and hope. But there is a blurry line that separates love from desperation. It is so easy to put one foot over that line and not to realize. It is so easy to live in both realities and not to see the self-deception of all players.

    Stream:
    Her mother’s attempt to uncover a system of her grief is so reminiscent of people in psychotherapy who are trying to understand themselves and their personal history. Some learn so much, while others seem to get no-where. This makes me think of Hannah Arendt who said that we really cannot know ourselves, so there is no point in dedicating too much effort to that end. She also said that so long as we are thinking we are not acting. The act of thinking is by definition impractical. There comes a time when thinking and ideas stop and a decision is made. The mother in this case just could not leave her comforting world of ideas, and so she could never come to a decision on how to deal with her dysfunctional life.

  10. Turbulence says:

    Writings on Handout #8 – April 7/2011 – Turbulence

    Poem:

    When always the rickety dams are full to bursting…

    Don’t plague a plan –
    take back your skittish belief –
    review how the taut can add up
    but not always.

    We love the child in the empty
    yard beyond all imperatives.
    Staying that way, however, you
    lose survival skills.

    Under heavy rain, lost direction; below
    the caught loss, desire page-less.
    There is a story in here, doesn’t add
    up – no – it pleads.

    The child such a smart test of us –
    the child alive in himself.
    & then comes the suggestion disbranching,
    the child, baffled, asking again.

    Don’t torch plans –
    they’re myth & legend –
    inner & outer when
    you’re paying attention.

    Meanwhile the child has
    her own way of honestly pretending –
    her own multi-directional
    stepping out/climbing…

  11. Turbulence says:

    Writings on Handout #8 – April 7/2011 – Turbulence

    “Somehow, though, long after we had turned away, a phantom faith remained in me, long after its object had been lost. It came in bursts, in brief hallucinatory flashes, like the intermittent blinking of a dead satellite which still rouses itself on faulty wiring as though it were a dying star. So that even in those after-years, when my father had disappeared completely beyond the line of our horizon, it seemed as though, on fine days, I could see him still – a faint outline, a trace of himself – buoyed by the stubbornness of my memory, walking tentatively along the endless and otherwise uninhabited waters of my childhood.”
    Johanna Skibsrud

    First word: tincture

    One Sentence: Interesting that the waters of the narrator’s childhood are otherwise uninhabited, the trace of the father a kind of orienting experience diluted therein, one that impacts specifically on fine days, suggesting desire for the father is ongoing, even as the longing for fine days is ongoing…

    One Paragraph: The people who fascinated that go missing in our lives like ghosts in the machine – they’re very often family figures, particularly parental figures, those who loomed large when we were young, small, confused, seeking. The seeking may continue together with a desire to dispel what has confused, the latter mostly easier said than done. A phantom faith winding in & out of realization that is more felt than articulated – trying to articulate the felt & the thought of can hold you hostage to the past, yet yield important insight if experiential grasping via tracing of dreaming words comes to pass. This passage strikes me as a lovely instance of such a coming to pass – fictional instance, yes, yet perhaps the poetic & the fictitious are the main ways via which we come to realizations of importance, on the threshold of almost losing ourselves time & time again…

    Stream of Consciousness: Fathers as faint outlines on a day in a life – grand turning toward what has evaded you yet still remains present in the subtlest of ways – I walk the river misted over on a bright April morning remembering my father, 18 years dead now, in a way I haven’t remembered for some time – specifically, how he seemed to have shaped me in so many ways even from a distance, how my memory of him is stuck in a few key incarnations on the timeline of my life, how I respected him almost offhandedly & never really needed to tell him, though I wonder now if I should have said – parental tinctures in the long grown child’s sense of being-in-the-world, of being-with-others, of being-with-self – such a splay of ideals of the parent, such resurgences of criticisms of the parent at the least expected of times – my father always doing his best as far as I can remember, & importantly, in contradistinction to my difficult mother, supportive of his children in connection with whatever direction/directions they elected to pursue – my father divorced from my mother when I was 5 & yet weekly, physically & emotionally, available – when he died I couldn’t be there, sent him a note with pictures to the hospital where he lived the last few weeks of his life – hallucinatory flashes of him? Oh many, the most precious perhaps from the mid teen years when I moved in with him & interacted with him daily for roughly 4 years – my father more like an uncle than a father during that time, a lot because he had never really taken on the role of authority figure & didn’t at that time either – yes in my teen years, but also when I was 3 or 4 & I would work to make him laugh, sensing unconsciously the bad air between the parents, & feeling such love for him even when he was sad, particularly when I could see him go from glum to clown, seemingly in connection with my antics – a trace of my father always in the back of my mind, in my belief in humanity, in my own flawed humanity…

  12. Turbulence says:

    Writngs on Handout #7 – earplugged – April 7/2011 – Turbulence

    “In this way my mother attempted to uncover a pattern or a system to her grief, but there never did appear to be one, and the pain continued to erupt equally from the sight of an old photograph as from an untwined sock. But after each entry my mother would go on to conclude: ‘it should not happen again.’ And this conviction – that unhappiness, in herself and later in her children, should be staved off, then eliminated entirely – originated from the same source within her that assured her that the progress that my father was making on his boat, and that my mother was making on my father, and that my father’s words were making on her heart, would be measurable and lasting things, upon which each of us could build.”
    Johanna Skibsrud

    First word: struggle

    One sentence: Attempts to balance conflicting ruminations in a troubled life has one despairing then hoping in powerful tandem, the things wished for, concrete & abstract both, scrabbling the psyche as it hunkers down in the morass of the problematic that keeps satisfaction at arm’s length (if not much much further away), nevertheless recurrently re-sparking the impetus to arrive at living & liveable solutions.

    One paragraph: The opening sentence of this passage, with its powerful mention of the lack of system to grief, the eruption of pain equally from “the sight of an old photograph as from an untwined sock” – this sentence does a stellar job of describing how grief can be at issue in a life, & does so with wonderfully suggestive imagery as well as experiential astuteness. Oh that untwined sock conjuring pangs of loss, of incompleteness; the old photograph painfully reminding of past & present both: I get the impression that the narrator’s mother carries a heavy weight in her heart that has her floundering re reality in spite of her convictions – yes, that is poignantly obvious. I am anxious to get to the second half of the book, where I expect some sort of context of mitigating circumstances might emerge re the father’s situation that has so impacted the lives of father, mother, narrator & sister all…

    Stream of consciousness: Pain in process, resolute cobbling together of parts of a life, experiences that manhandle cyclically, time not on one’s side all the time, love reduced to nostalgia for love, the world spinning you into the open in a memory field, happiness difficult to name in time to keep it from slipping away, things not in your control coming to control you – the story I’m reading is kind of like a fog with keen realizations emerging fragmented through the character-driven narrative that has a kind of intimate relationship with the questions it directly as well as indirectly & repeatedly poses – questions about completion, patterning, despair, hope, process, product, helplessness, conviction, memory, faith, love, pain, recognition, closure. The passage at issue has an open-ended feel about it, even though a dark cloud of expectation re any kind of satisfying closure hovers over it. How does the lasting of ostensibly good things comfort – I guess by being something you can count on – I feel this is the passage that really gives me an insight into the mother, about whom not all that much has been said in the first half of the book. ‘It should not happen again’ indeed – & yet it often does, often does…

  13. Writings on Handout #8 (earplugged) – Ghost of Storytime

    “Somehow, though, long after…..”

    First word: Infinity

    First sentence: An arctic twilight which lasts the whole day

    First paragraph: the persistence of memory, re-experiencing childhood, re-jigging and re-organising memories, a constant shaking of ideas which lights the night sky, keeping memories alive and keeps lost family members present.

    Stream-of-Consciousness: This is a very beautiful way of describing the persistence of memory. Imagery of the horizon, hallucinatory flashes and the super choice of the word buoyed – something which fits perfectly with the ever present imagery of the submerged Casablanca. The last 2 lines are intriguing, “walking tentatively along the endless and otherwise uninhabited waters of my childhood.” I sense there is the idea the memory of the narrator’s father is the only thing persisting, pivotal to her story. I’m not sure, I need to think about it some more, it doesn’t make full sense to me.

  14. Writings on Handout #7 (earplugged) – Ghost of Storytime
    “In this way my mother…”

    First word: hope

    First sentence: clinging on to hope and final bursts of resilience

    First paragraph: Sadness stemming from a place where hope comes from. They become confused, in orbit around each other, they feed each other, they block each other, it’s the chaos and the order, the rational and the irrational. Hope can fool the soul, it can blind the spirit, but it has no limits, there is always hope, it’s a lasting thing when everything has gone, it’s the emergence than never fades, it may morph but it never disappears.

    Stream-of-Consciousness: The book has a sense of purpose, of journey, of process: Being blown in the estuary; asking and describing, to ourselves, in the quiet parts of our minds; an imaginary path that once in a while traverses truth; here aiming towards the elimination of sadness, the “unhappiness…should be staved off, and then eliminated entirely”. This seems to be the only one that has a final goal, a product in mind, rather than an imaginary journey where direction is an illusion. Maybe it comes towards the end of hope, when you lose motivation for process, when you wish there were a goal, an end, and a highest point, something symbolic of completeness. But no, the rock rolls to the bottom of the mountain, and you Sisyphus, have to pick it up again.

  15. Stream-of-Consciousness after reading up to page 106 of The Sentimentalists – Ghost of Storytime

    Interesting read. With some super imagery, especially the idea of taking a boat ride over the house you used to live in or to protect your house with a dam. It seems to border on the magical realism. It just happens to be real.

    There was an exhibit at the CCA that included newspaper articles and letters regarding the flooding of part of the St Lawrence River, the personal story from the exhibit didn’t hit me so strongly, and I don’t remember too much about it. What was stronger at that exhibit came from the videos of the migration of Newfoundlanders from isolated coastal communities to towns, some of which floated and pulled with tug boats their homes across the sea.

    Looking on Google earth you can almost convince yourself that you can see the submerged highway that ran along the northern bank of the St Lawrence. I did manage to find some photos also.

    The geography of the book is a little confusing at times; being turned around at the Canadian border when Helene and the narrator were children I didn’t really understand what they were trying to do geographically. That irritated me a little. Maybe this book is too North American. I couldn’t find Casablanca on a map either.

    The timing of the story keeps changing and sometimes I wondered how old the narrator is. She could be eight or thirty, people could be dead, they might not be, people might live here, and they might not. It’s as if the narrator’s father’s thoughts that “people should stay eight years old forever” became true.

    Nostalgia as something to describe must be difficult, the blueprints, the boat resonated in his lungs, the confusing nature of nostalgia, the sense of being it gives you, putting things into a “more private and less complicated system” (pg91), the sense of place, but not necessarily place of understanding. Hybrid identities, grandmother ghosts, submerged identities, sailing above memories, fishing over past memories, transitioning through memories, persona nostalgia, group nostalgia, centers of ownership and self.

    The description on page 93/94 of being blown off course towards different estuaries as a metaphor for finding one’s way through struck me as a profound observation. A few times whilst reading I thought of the Alchemist’s theme that what you are looking for is at home.

  16. Turbulence says:

    After reading the first 106 pages of “The Sentimentalists” – reflection April 4rth – Turbulence

    “It’s funny to think about. The way the whole world is disappearing like that. That every moment we get closer, until – and inevitably – there comes that one instant, that impetus, whatever it will be, by which we are one day blown, finally, from our own furthest extremity. Like leaves from a thin branch at the end of a tree.”
    Johanna Skibsrud

    “The Sentimentalists” is vitally invested in culling the experience of time & of memory for insights re how we digest life, question its dramatic spills & splays, look inward as well as outward over & over again shifting subjective positioning. The narrator’s reflections on the past, & in the first hundred pages which I’ve read, a great deal on the past of Henry – the narrator’s reflections are studded with allusions to the strangeness of understanding how things work as well as to the myriad baggage we carry forward day by day. The final image of leaves blown from a thin branch in the cited text has something ghostly about it, suggesting the way consciousness is ephemeral as well as fragile, changing, flickering. Not only consciousness of course – also the world entire with its bits & pieces & phantom wholeness, its way of appearing & disappearing & falling apart & settling in unforeseeable gusts. The first half of the book is rather precisely dreamlike in the sense that memory is the articulate main player, precisely hinging one realization to the next, the hinging done more in a spatial then a linear manner, the concrete repeatedly floating just out of reach of being grasped, the images murmuring past & present both. I adore the way the text in the book rewards rereads, even as I work to take its significance in…

    Ingress

    Shapes you drink in, the weeping willow of the arts.
    Animals run off in all directions; landscape dogpaddles
    between stones in a graveyard.

    This is not all for naught, though it might as well be
    when all there is of a morning is a taut grey bell, tongue-less.

    Your shadow in this photograph
    collects short stories from among
    the many wild worlds
    taking issue with the Self.

    Tired Van Gogh whore, Dali devil.
    Now we are pictures too hectic for screening.

    I’ve wanted to go further, wanted to go away.
    The sound of rain on a tin roof
    surely shouldn’t be out of place.

    The next window that lets light in
    I will allow to rehearse me – take down the old photo album,
    remember for more than the sake of remembering
    how it’s been with us.

  17. Turbulence says:

    Writings on Handout #6 – reactions, earplugged April 2nd, 2011 – Turbulence

    “The house my father left behind in Fargo, North Dakota, was never really a house at all. Always, instead, it was an idea of itself. A carpenter’s house. A work in progress. So that even after we moved him north to Casablanca, and his Fargo home was dragged away – the lot sold to a family from Billings, Montana – my father was always saddened & surprised if the place was remembered irreverently, as if it had been a separate and incidental thing; distinct from the rest of our lives. In this way, he remained, until the end, a house carpenter. If only in the way that he looked at things. As if all objects existed in blueprint; in different stages of design or repair.”
    Johanna Skibscrud

    One word: bricolage

    One sentence: Early evening the father slips into something psychologically comfortable, a memory of where he felt a kind of moving belonging, the tools he’d trusted yielding identity via his usage of them, love trickling believably between weight of place & weight of participation, a building in selective fashion telling more than any opportunity for confession ever had or would have…

    One paragraph: “A work in progress” can exist as a possibility as much as a realization, & this is what makes it so seductive for some people – that is, never ending can be always proceeding with desire & heartfelt intention. No need to argue that completion is the goal, except if you are one of those souls who live for the imagining, the suggestive in the picture always rather tantalizing. Bricolage – it’s what Claude Levi-Strauss related to the type of thinking people who are considered “primitive” by European cultures are ever so non-primitively doing. Artists of living & media both tend to tally what they do in such a manner, or so I think. The beauty in the process is as important, ultimately, as the actualization: I know this is only slightly true in some cases, yet I understand & identify with the mindset that believes this.

    Stream of consciousness: Beauty & the beast, a correlation of thinking with sensing – love in the shadows, truth behind Chinese screens – we go on & on & stop on a sudden simultaneously judging & accepting. In the world of the savage, fine fine details; under the weeping willow, collage of subtly active. I will build myself a homage to engrossing emotional tapestry. Out by the road, a path that curves invisibly inward – I will talk this way & admit I find it stimulating to do so. There is something in my throat, as I take in the view, that wants to get out regardless of where – something intangible dependent on the tangible – something like the way the sky dictates a horizon come summer or spring, winter or explosive autumn…

  18. Turbulence says:

    Handout #5 – Reflections – (earplugged) Turbulence – April 1rst, 2011

    “When I was younger, and we had come to Henry’s house alone in those solitary summers of my father’s disappearance, I had imagined that the past really existed, semi-submerged, in Henry’s backyard. Wouldn’t that be enough for anyone? I’d thought. To explain that certain sadness, which I identified sometimes in him. A sadness that would make you, when you saw it, want to pull the edges of your own life up around you, and stay there, carefully, inside.”
    Johanna Skibsrud

    One word: Double-jeopardy

    One sentence: How difficult to take the sadness of others you care about in one way or another head-on, love & all those reticent holding back moments spotting your universe with the hopelessness of never giving out/giving in…

    One paragraph: This passage suggests that the young speaker in the vacuum that the missing father left identifies a kind of emotionally important substitute in Henry, all the while not forgetting the father, rather commingling the two as a result of a kind of governing loneliness. To pull the edges of your life up around you & to stay there “carefully” – “carefully” being key – this suggests more than I can uncover strongly given that I’ve very little re context thus far to aid me re interpretting with exacting pith. Of course even with what I have at the moment I can get without much problem the problematic of the father, how the young girl can only indirectly put a finger on the problem of the father, partly because of her age, partly because of what the father has ostensibly let her know re his situation in the world the two of them inhabit. I am at the moment in the position of the young daughter, knowing ever so little re the facts that inform the world shared ever so stingily with the father. Double-jeopardy: damned if you transgress the world of your elders, damned if you don’t. Stay carefully inside indeed…

    Stream of consciousness: The underground as a metaphoric place where the past exists – how true that is if the underground in question is the lived of life, & the ground where it ferments/foments is the unconscious leaning into the rooted underbelly, also into the windy raising of the acute, the sudden, the obscure, the irascible. Many ways to the road of uncovering, all of them difficult, hazy, shimmering, pockmarked, wicked, forgivably strange – & there goes 1 2 3 scrabbling recipes of emotional health, here comes familial lack of faith calling under injured breath for hope to strive, to survive – an interest, a pledge, a weathering – we lift our noses to the sky, segment our scattered willingness to continue, love our notions of memory that have gutsy endurance – we return to the point of no return & discover we could have if only we had the strength to believe authentically…

    Poem:

    Rumplestilskin Anticipates

    My name suits the stray drift
    of a door to door beggar
    unsure until the last moment
    of his own wistful agenda as
    faces slam shut.

    If gold was worth
    the time I’ve spent on it
    I’d be a glowing
    patriarch by now –
    three feats
    taller.

    Soon I’ll be raising
    an infant who has
    fey eyes already;
    wants to pinch his queenly mama
    into double jeopardy
    to keep the tale going.

    I know, I know –
    my jerkin sorely binds & there’s
    a pebble in my boot –
    my time has
    & has not come.

    But tomorrow
    when the desperate promise
    is flinchingly fulfilled

    I’ll hand out jars of fireflies,
    stomp ashes till they’re embers,
    set the baby cooing on
    unadulterated straw.

    Next up:
    rainy ambition or shady godhead
    loosely re-invented…

  19. Turbulence says:

    Handout #4 – reactions (earplugged) April 1rst 2011 – Turbulence

    “After the meal, we were quiet. My father smoked a cigarette or two. Inclined lightly toward the window by the kitchen table, which he had opened. As he exhaled, he seemed to become emptier – as if he pushed the smoke from his body just a little too hard.”
    Johanna Skibsrud

    One Word: nicotine

    One Sentence: To exhale cigarette smoke just a touch too hard from one’s body out a window after supper suggests a desire to release, to surrender to an undemanding pleasure, to float forgetfully…

    One Paragraph: “Fulfilled” often means about the same thing as “filled full” – emptied is as emptied must be in the shadow of ending, patience of a sigh. Thinking on the smokers in my family I am opened memorably into fresh air rendered blue. I am a smoker, last year I quit tobacco, I now drag on something non combustible which releases vapour, at the same time delivering a synthetic shot of nicotine, my house smoke-free, my shot a few thousand less poison-ness, compromising chemicals. I understand breathing out a little too hard has something to do with engaging the outside on the back of feeling darkness inside, letting go worry in a manner that calls upon a deep exhalation to center the self. Is growing emptier for moments at a time always negative? Life includes much that is difficult to handle, emptying can be a way of alleviating stress, clearing the head, giving one’s self a break, if only fleetingly…

    Stream of consciousness: All our different crutches – sweets, alcohol, illegal drugs, greasy burgers, soap operas, promiscuous sexual acting out, caffeine, video games, obsessive physical working out, social media sites, & of course nicotine – etc, etc, etc, etc – heaven forbid anything is done in excess, anything that interferes with what we necessarily need to do in our lives – show up at a job, look after nuclear as well as extended family members, lend a generous ear to friends & family & strangers even, volunteer at a mission or an animal shelter, take a street kid to a diner for bacon & eggs, study the ways you can reduce your carbon footprint & then follow through, educate yourself to vote responsibly, carry out the ethic that is sound yet difficult – all the murky black & white within striking distance as you exhale wobbly – the family meal reveals ever so much without necessarily meaning to to each & every member at the table – beware of what you leave out re exposing yourself, & let us hope the complicated still works out, if only by crossing over from the light side to the dark…

    Poem

    “Ivy”

    Light the rifts of freedom
    not acknowledged as freedom,
    the way weather is sensation as opposed
    to brand, the airy nature of simply
    ticking.

    Seated on front stoops, on
    rusty fire escapes taking
    in the wet dark, the silence
    of birds signed off, the single
    star that strokes us, flickering.

    I dab a finger in water,
    hold it up out the car window while you drive –
    I feel the brush of breezes, nowhere
    do I feel the ghostly sense
    of zillions of shells
    of prior time cresting –

    rather, ivy over a ramshackle house
    hidden in the night until
    we pull up in the driveway, shine
    the car lights on the leafy side wall,
    get dizzy because so much has happened
    & we’ve almost no space left
    inside ourselves
    to cleanly acknowledge…

  20. Toledo says:

    1 April 2011
    Toledo

    Handout #6 – 3rd evening reading

    “The house my father left behind in Fargo…”

    Word:
    Dreamer

    Sentence:
    There are doers and there are thinkers.

    Paragraph:
    It is difficult for those who primarily are thinkers and dreamers to cross the boundary into the world of doers and workers. It is unnatural for them to accomplish anything concrete. As this passage illustrates so well, these individuals do not see how their inability to finish anything they’ve started affects those around them.

    Stream:
    The last sentence, “As if all objects existed in blueprint; in different stages of design or repair,” comes off to me more positively than it was probably intended. What a wonderful creative gift to see the world that way. It means that what such a person sees in everything is possibility. The irony of the father in question is that his occupation is one that ought to span the divide between designer and labourer. And it is so unfortunate that as a parent he could not recognize his lack of consideration for his family, who desired a solid and complete home in which to grow up. I have known other men like this. They drive their loved ones nuts. To a certain extent I am one of them. This passage really has helped me to see this aspect of myself in relation to those closest to me.

  21. Writings on Handout #6 (earplugged) – Ghost of Storytime
    “The house my father…..”

    First Work: Process

    First Sentence: Where is Casablanca? That confused me.

    First Paragraph: Something’s feel central to your sense of self, with connections and links which you may hold important but others may not realise or recognise. Others didn’t make a bond with the carpentry house but her father did.

    Stream-of-Consciousness: A love for process, meaning by doing, all objects on a transition trajectory somewhere. I imagine lots of people (older men mainly) have sheds that are full of odds and ends which are to be formed into some great idea. Of course they never get there, the aim keeps getting redefined, redefined to extend purpose, redefine to add motivation and excitement.

    That was short, I’ll have to write more……

  22. Writings on Handout #5 (earplugged) – Ghost of Storytime

    “When I was younger….”

    First word: Safety

    First sentence: Are these psychological triggers buried in the garden?

    First paragraph: Identifying the sources of suffering, sharing commonalities in difficult memories with other people. The same triggers, laid-out in the garden in the same pattern.

    Stream-of-consciousness: Identifying sources of sadness and protecting yourself from them; using parts of your life to block parts of your memory; clouding death with nostalgia, clouding illness with childhood trips to the zoo, clouding social breakdowns with Dickens’ Great expectations and clouding civil war with Pan’s labyrinth. The imagery of manipulating your life by picturing it as a sheet which can be pulled around you is quite beautiful.
    There is a sense that you can heal or protect yourself emotionally by pinpointing causes for sadness, much like in a Freudian vein. Not much else came to mind.

  23. Writings on Handout #4 (earplugged) – Ghost of Storytime

    “After the meal, we were quiet. My father smoked a cigarette or two. Inclined lightly toward the window by the kitchen table, which he had opened. As he exhaled, he seemed to become emptier – as if he pushed the smoke from his body just a little too hard.”

    First word: Draining

    First sentence: Breath that contains a piece of spirit

    First paragraph: The boundary of material and spirit; crossing the boundary with thinking eyes and tightened cheek muscles, emergence phenomena being disconnected from where they emerged from; a separation of neurons and minds. Why would the mind exist without the neurons? Why are the emergent dynamics treated as if they came from somewhere else? Fish swim in schools, some in close clusters which organically bulge and grow and twist and break. This emerges from the fish having simple rules that they follow, correlating their movements with their nearest neighbours for example, which multiplied produces a chaotic yet beautiful emergent phenomena. If you remove the fish you surely remove the phenomena, the emergence doesn’t persist. In the same way if must be that is you remove the neurons you remove the energy, mind, soul, spirit or any of the other penniless words of the English language.

    Stream-of-Consciousness: We get to a stage where we think literature is saying something meaningful about something which is irrational. It seems it just adds more irrationality. We don’t understand this so let’s try and understand it in a poetic language where there aren’t any rules. It’s a beautiful phrase but it doesn’t get us anywhere. I’m struggling with the whole rational, irrational dichotomy which I keep making. It doesn’t help either. This is a stream-of-consciousness rambling, maybe I’ll try and write something more, precise, rational, and irrational or some combination.

  24. Toledo says:

    Handout #5 … 3rd morning

    31 March 2011
    Toledo

    “When I was younger, and we had come to Henry’s house alone in those solitary summers of my father’s disappearance, I had imagined that the past really existed, semi-submerged, in Henry’s backyard. Wouldn’t that be enough for anyone? I’d thought. To explain that certain sadness, which I identified sometimes in him. A sadness that would make you, when you saw it, want to pull the edges of your own life up around you, and stay there, carefully, inside.” Johanna Skibsrud

    Word:
    Grief

    Sentence:
    Some people carry so much sadness on their faces that it is difficult to look at them, so no-one does.

    Paragraph:
    What is the source of so much sadness and grief? The question reminds me of when I was single and people would ask, why? My reply, if I knew the answer to that I would not still be single. The passage digs at this question, why is Henry so sad? Would it be too bold to say, if Henry really understood completely his sadness he could free himself of it? I do not know if the understanding of ourselves necessarily leads to a journey out of sadness or relief from bachelorhood, but I suspect that it can’t hurt.

    Stream:
    The kind of despair depicted in this passage is frightening whenever one comes face to face with it in another person. It feels contagious. Metaphorically speaking, if one does not keep a safe distance and wash one’s hands, a bad cold might ensue. A few decades ago when I was in therapy, my shrink would from time to time take a breath, stare up at the window, and exhale, as if to cleanse her soul of my despair.

    The narrator in this passage longs to know the source of Henry’s sadness. Such understanding can make empathy so much easier. When my grandfather was diagnosed with a debilitating cancer, he was immediately forgiven for recent poor work performance. When my mother-in-law was diagnosed with a brain disease, we could all more easily accept her strange and counter-productive behavior. When told that someone has just lost a loved one, it becomes clear why they are grieving. But what of when the source of unwanted behavior is not known or understood? What then? That is when our love, and our ability to express it, is really put to the test.

  25. Toledo says:

    Handout #4

    “After the meal, we were quiet. My father smoked a cigarette or two. Inclined lightly toward the window by the kitchen table, which he had opened. As he exhaled, he seemed to become emptier – as if he pushed the smoke from his body just a little too hard.”

    Word:
    “Exhail”

    Sentence:
    I know that behavior well: pushing the air out in a deliberate sigh as if to say that being, far from unbearably light, is heavy.

    Paragraph:
    This reading, the paragraph turned out differently. The ritual cigarette after a meal becomes a meditation. The leaning toward the open window would suggest a desire for escape into open air. Pushing the smoke out of the lungs and out the window would be a way to send troubles away. To become “emptier”, for the burden to be lightened.

    Stream:
    As much of an anti-smoking Nazi as I may be, I have to acknowledge its best benefit. Foremost, it seems that burdens, if only for the moment, leave with the exhaling of smoke.

    The passage recalls the movie Smoke. It poses the question, “What is the weight of the smoke from a cigar?” The answer is, “The weight of the cigar.” Smoke, in this film and perhaps in this passage, is a metaphor for the past, the weight of which one cannot escape.

  26. Toledo says:

    30 March 2011

    Handout #3

    “When my father said, “Where did the time go, god-dammit?” I thought of it as if it was really a place that it got to. A place that looked a lot like the palace in Fargo, or the inside of my father’s boat, which remains, now, the original image in my mind for the realization that time can somehow just slip away.”
Johanna Skibsrud

    Word:
    Slippery

    Sentence:
    The worst realization is when we see that so much time has been wasted.

    Paragraph:
    Wow, it is so true that certain places and contexts become for us the great sucking sound of precious time being siphoned. What a feeling of dread that is: the thought, in those situations, that existence has suddenly morphed into something pointless.

    Stream:
    When I was a child, time seemed to last forever. Summers were endless, until of course the final week. How is it now that, not for lack of experiences and new faces, a decade can fly by in an instant?

    An old woman I am close to has spent recent years slowing down. Little has happened. Nothing has been initiated. She has a progressive incurable condition which is causing limbs and organs to malfunction, some to the point of uselessness. She has accomplished little in her 76 years. Yet she remains in good spirits. She laughs easily and often. Nurses, doctors and orderlies are quickly endeared to her. I do not think that she considers the slippage of time the way I do. She does not consider missed opportunities and unmet goals as do my peers. Those of us who want it all from life are perhaps the most conscious of the melting away of time. Like a magnificent snow fortress waiting for spring.

  27. Toledo says:

    Handout 2:

    “Now, though, I find it difficult to believe that anything is ever buried in the way that I had once supposed. I believe instead that everything remains. At the very limit; the exact surface of things. So that in the end it is not so much what has been subtracted from a life that really matters, but the distances, instead, between the things which remain.”
Johanna Skibsrud

    Word:
    Residual

    Sentence:
    “Distance:” what a wonderful word to describe the space between objects of the past and present.

    Paragraph:
    It amazes me those who conjure their personal past, from last week, or decades ago, as if it happened yesterday. They relive every trauma and triumph at the snap of a finger. And it amazes me more those who recall the past, no matter how recent or significant, with detachment. Both extremes, I suppose, have measured “distance” quite differently.

    Stream:
    I worked for several years with a very happy man from Lithuania. I once asked him about his daily gladness. He said that life for him is only the future. He was not attached to the past, so he said, so that he was in a way liberated, free to great each new day as something unto itself. But I did not completely believe him. He seemed to me to cherish so much of his many lives. He had more rich history in 50 years than several of his peers combined. I think his handling of the past was a striking example of the “distances, instead, between the things which remain.”

    The other thought that come to mind is a bit cynical. This passage applies well to a lucid individual with enough of a life to call a history. But how well does it bode for lost civilizations and Alzheimer patients?

  28. Turbulence says:

    Writings on Handout #3 Turbulence – March 30 2011

    “When my father said, “Where did the time go, god-dammit?” I thought of it as if it was really a place that it got to. A place that looked a lot like the palace in Fargo, or the inside of my father’s boat, which remains, now, the original image in my mind for the realization that time can somehow just slip away.”
    Johanna Skibsrud

    One word: Reality

    One sentence: Coming up against the recurrent reality of time slipping away colours everything, from hope to blank despair, driven desire to apathetic loss, gracious healing to insensitive dismissal…

    One paragraph: The place time got to – what a funny idea, that there actually is a place where time retires, or at least has a cemetery plot. I feel time like a weight that can paralyze, not sure why, only sure that sifting through the past is a precarious endeavour in my case, so much so that I figure it’s probably such for the majority. I’ve often felt time slipping away, wondered about how loaded down by the past the average person is, thought about how cultural differences may make the experience of time lost different, culled a garden of emotional hope thinking on the ones I love, often “in spite of”. When time starts slipping away – & it does so regularly – when there is this kind of slippage I salute the find of gentle weariness, wait for energy to come back, wait…

    Stream of Consciousness: Slip sliding along, coming to surface reactions, spilling dark despair – time & how meagre our interpersonal expectations of authentic exchange – where does that thought come from – I lift my hand into the cold March wind, pretend I’m able to healingly wave to everyone who needs such a wave – come hither, hither come – I walk the river’s edge musing on the distressingly destructive act – walk & walk & walk, the day coming into focus along side the hours passing – oh & what’s holy, how does the secular nourish, what is the song chorus playing right now somewhere inside me that refuses me landing space? Where does the time go indeed – I’m flipping through small memories that I can’t put in order with any sense of belief – the last memory I am twisting in the wind I think I picked up at some point when I wasn’t really paying attention – so what’s it doing here now, hogging all my space? I look into the computer screen like into a lit up midnight – throw away all thoughts of harming, commune with what feels deserving…

  29. Turbulence says:

    Writings on Handout #2 – reactions, earplugged March 29th, 2011 –Turbulence

    “Now, though, I find it difficult to believe that anything is ever buried in the way that I had once supposed. I believe instead that everything remains. At the very limit; the exact surface of things. So that in the end it is not so much what has been subtracted from a life that really matters, but the distances, instead, between the things which remain.”
    Johanna Skibsrud

    One word: gaps.

    One sentence: How we deal with the gaps in a personal timeline brings to fruition so much living by slippery fiction, the what & who & where & when scrabbling comedy & tragedy alike, the loss of precise memory in spots adding up to a fragmented kind of legend of being-in-the-world…

    One paragraph: “the exact surface of things” – how can that be, there is something almost mystical being suggested here. My idea of what remains is more akin to splayed fragments as opposed to any exact surface of things – fragments that offer ideation of events in a life, sometimes vaguely, sometimes clearly. I’d be the first to agree that what has been subtracted from a life is less important ultimately than those difficult distances between the things which remain, just not sure of what the author intends here when she speaks of distances – i.e. is it about how said distances affect, or maybe how they confuse? I would love to be privy to the exact surface of things, find that is not a part of my reality. The lived comes & goes, not always in a way I can recognize – fused, rather, through everything, often enough devoid of the kind of intentionality that would have me recognizing as opposed to making up Socratic days in a life…

    Stream of consciousness: The distances between the things which remain – I’m addicted to scratching at memory surfaces, eking out a sense of self as often from reflections about the past as on what happens in the present immediate. Every thought, every feeling is already passed when we reflect upon them, maybe a little like the dead stars whose light we see in the present tense even though it comes from light years away – to be in the moment is to be rather unconscious, yes? & yet we strive for that, when it works out the experiences we have feel intense. Passion for fiddling our harsher memories out, like whittling a stick down to a fragile core – happy memories – oh how many & yet not enough to keep us eager/safe enduringly – what I’ve buried I often dig up again – love, self, the other, fictions, catastrophes, helplessness – what I’ve buried I consistently try to appropriate with wholeness in mind, be what’s buried treasure or detritus, be what’s buried inspirational or false-bottomed, be what’s buried rainbow hued or sullied black & white – somehow can’t not ask after all of it….

  30. Writings on Handout #3 (earplugged) – Ghost of Storytime

    “When my father said….”

    First word: Spatial

    First sentence: Time goes and slips; both spatial words

    First paragraph: Fargo I think is the film. I’ve never seen it. Somehow there was the sense that time was packaged away after it passed, put in bins, stored, perhaps hiding, but never findable. The question where does the time ‘go’ is already misleading as the answer will reflect the form of the questions. Time goes to….here…..Time goes to….there.

    Stream-of-Consciousness: Time as a spatial dimension is all down to Einstein. The English language was not prepared for this paradigm shift. Mathematics was the only tool that could handle it. This poverty in the English language is being explored by the narrator, but at the same time it opens up a space (no pun intended) which can be filled with memories, connections, nostalgia, films; the literary dimension (no pun intended). Again the Rational-Irrational dissonance theme reappears. Or perhaps the irrational or literary provides the cement that holds the rational bricks together. Or vice versa, whatever you like.

  31. Writings on Handout #2 (earplugged) – Ghost of Storytime

    “Now, though, I find it difficult….”

    First word: Interface

    First sentence: Does this really mean anything?

    First paragraph: Does ‘remain’ mean not buried, keeps on being used, or doesn’t decompose, keeps its dimensions underground? The second half is easier to interpret if your replace thing for person for example. It’s not who dies or what we have lost that is the principle focus but how close to each other we are after they’ve gone.

    Stream-of-Consciousness: We could say that they thought that memories were buried, that when someone goes that it cuts off memories, nostalgias, emotions, an out of sight out of mind theme. This time there is a realisation that nothing truly goes; in fact it all remains in some form, and what remains should strengthen your relationship with everything else that remains, learning form experience. I probably am trying to understand this is in too literal a way. If this is the correct interpretation the writer has gone to quite a bit of work to hide that. In the middle of the passage is a puzzling phrase “At the very limit; the exact surface of things”. This throws me off. Something material could be said to have an exact surface. Something abstract like a person really wouldn’t. Is this talking about the material world or the emergent world? Does this relate to the presence of people in one’s mind who have died or a cultural persistence or a collective unconscious? All experience is somehow worked into a sense of self and a sense of belonging and the loss of someone isn’t going to remove something, it will actually add to your experience and mould the meaning you have created to understand your place in the world.

  32. Flying head says:

    Handout #1 – reactions, ear plugged March 30, 2011
    “It really did seem impossible that the trip would end. Cleanly, I mean, completely. The way we expect things to end when they do. When a story is told, and the past tense is used.”

    One word: “End”

    One sentence: “It is about passing time”

    One paragraph: “We often experience a sudden end in more intense situations in which we are actively involved/participate. Among such situations we can include trips – especially key journeys involving our big preparations as expectations”.

    Stream of consciousness vein: “In my first impression after seven readings of these three intense sentences I saw their interpretation in the most popular now form – a short Youtube’s film episode.
    Let us imagine groups of young men smoking, drinking and talking outside of a fancy disco club. While watching them, we notice a fast escalation in their “dialogs” that become louder and quickly convert into gesticulations switching soon after into a very dynamic fist fight. In its apogee there are recorded flashed reflections from moving few knives followed by some loud gun shots. Almost immediately after it we notice an extremely intensive silence with one or two slowly moving men on the background. They do not talk, just slowly turn around their heads when the others lay motionless on the ground. The action is finished and the following seconds seem to last long minutes. We will watch this scene two times from two different cameras; one filming this scene from high above and the second recording the same event from a street level in hands of a skillfully moving cameraman what makes an impression of being seen by one of the surviving it man.
    In this way we have a chance to see a dynamic pictorial interpretation of the mentioned “past tense” in a kind of the action liked by contemporary people and in two different perspectives. As a bonus the audience will also notice that the speed of this action influences their ability of experiencing significant changes in their time’s scale perception. Yes, it happens, but according to certain commonly known rules this shift in the time scale becomes significant when the movement reaches higher values comparable to the speed of light.

    Can we reach for time to time such high speeds in our ordinary lives? Can we reach it without literal: fast moving our bodies, whistling gun bullets, “pumping” so fast voltage into human bodies by tasers, or burning by laser guns? – instead just by thinking equally fast or deep inside about something important in our heavy (without any moving parts) 3 pound minds?

    Flying Head

  33. Writings on Handout #1 (earplugged) – Ghost of Storytime

    “It really did seem impossible that the trip would end. Cleanly, I mean, completely. The way we expect things to end when they do. When a story is told, and the past tense is used.” Johanna Skibsrud

    First Word: Dense

    First Sentence: Sounds like last week’s comments relating to migration and that it was always ongoing.

    First Paragraph: A story has certain completeness, a trip or narrative needs a certain resolution, a clean or complete end before it can be told as a story. What constitutes the story? Stories can continue without resolution (everyone’s life for example) but there are periods of clarity, crescendo, boredom, changes in the speed of passing hours that all need to be told. Is resolution needed? Is story/narrative confused with anecdote/punch-line? Does a story have to have a point?

    Stream-of-consciousness: There are certain moments where you feel like you are completing a journey, leading up to turning point, emotions and states-of-mind will change; a resolution is due. At some point your deny the journey is going to end, deny that there is something past it, that meaning afterwards is undefined, denying that the moment of clarity, bliss will end and you will have to wake up the next day and start the next story. There’s a craving for creation and resolution. It’s all artificial; the story could end NOW, as this is being read. It could finish at 2pm, it could finish whenever. Story or narrative and the fashion for it might just be over rational, over reductive, put in place for peace of mind. Healing may come through learning about our family’s story, but is this resolution or is healing in the process of finding out. Maybe there is no such thing as resolution. It’s just that we crave it and construct it none the less.

  34. Toledo says:

    Handout #1: “It really did seem impossible….”

    Word: Lingering

    Sentence: Yes, the trip that seems like a prison, though one is supposed to be exulting in the freedom of the open road.

    Paragraph: There is a pattern between this passage and the first passage about grandmother’s ghost: things that will not go away. Except this passage is more aggressive: a present that will not go away.

    Stream: This passage serves for me as a metaphor for times that cannot pass to quickly. How many times have I tried to console someone who is living through hardship, “This time too will pass.” But to them of course it seems as though it never will go on forever. Nevertheless, sometimes the past does not go away. Sometimes it remains present. I was thinking about war yesterday. When I was a young boy in the 1960s growing up in a prosperous blue collar neighborhood, World War II was still present. We talked about it as if it had just happened. As a young man visiting the deep hollers of West Virginia, I found that the American Civil War was still very much present. Fallen soldiers from a person’s lineage could be talked about as if they had just defended the homeland and paid the ultimate price last week. And then I think of my country today fighting two wars that few talk about in the course of daily life in spite of thousands of losses, and hundreds of thousands risking death bravely. To spend any time dwelling on what our countrymen are doing on the other side of the world would be too much unpleasantry in the course of daily life. World War II was more present two decades later than two of today’s wars are in their own time. How can this be? Time it would seem is quite malleable, but I suspect that as individuals we do not have much control over what shape it will take.

  35. Turbulence says:

    Writings on Handout #1 – reactions, earplugged March 29th, 2011 –Turbulence

    “It really did seem impossible that the trip would end. Cleanly, I mean, completely. The way we expect things to end when they do. When a story is told, and the past tense is used.”
    Johanna Skibsrud

    One word: Integral

    One Sentence: So many of our significant stories continue to unfold & influence emerging present long after we’ve ostensibly relegated them to the past, only speaking of them any longer in the past tense, only relating to them as poignant or not so poignant memories we long to either remember or forget…

    One Paragraph: When is the past truly over – how to understand the spatial of experience in contradistinction to the linear? Something that has happened years before can remain part of the equation re the psyche, whether consciously or unconsciously, for better or worse – & worse again. Taking trips concretely, taking trips down memory lane, taking a trip via leafing through an album of photographs, taking a trip courtesy of hearing some song that transports you on a sudden back to the times you used to hear it long ago. Travel & trips in so many guises, movements from point A to point B – even from point N to point G – backwards & forwards, all that emotional baggage accompanying. I take it the trip referred to here refers to actual geographical travelling. Nevertheless, there are undertones suggesting the psychological “truth” about voyaging – to wit, the difficulty of managing the fragments of a situation of being in motion, whether literally or metaphorically – the problem of arriving at a sense of event as truly complete, integrated, finished, with the incapacity to do so making “moving on” difficult.

    Stream of Consciousness: Using the past tense, flutter of mental/emotional choreography – there goes the moment that meant everything, here comes lining up memorial ducks all in a greasy row – trips to France, vacation heaven, historicity climbing mountains in the Swiss Alps – how & who goes there now? The story you yearn to tell, are too embarrassed to articulate clearly – little scribbles of words caught up in silent analysing, burning clean through bad omens nicked by dread-filled memory – I like travel, the way what goes on can remain indelibly thrown into relief over & over again in the context of all those budding, less dramatic futures – trip to the grocery store, trip to the riverside carrying sac with apple & sandwich, bottle of quenching spring water – tripping on hallucinations – do youth ever try that these days? The Doors of
    Perception scrubbed squeaky clean & yet not quite, not quite – impossible conclusions that are neatly wound tight longed for – apple of my eye, that boyfriend I road the train with across Canada from west to east – the trip you never got over, groped on a roof top in India where you’d gone to sleep – you punched back hard – oh wait, that wasn’t you, a young woman you met, rather, her connection to dharma fascinating – stories told, bread broken together in a clearing in a foreign wood – trips rendered dateless, a curling like limbs like smoke like hair, your diaries staples for a patterning meal when there is dearth of excitement to come – using the past tense bravely, provocatively, the time & times & time again surfacing even as you thirst for closure…

    Poem:

    Tripwire

    My altitude, my love for you –
    how thick the way I can’t think
    beyond the moon smiling down on us
    when it’s a pleasant evening.

    Many instances of wear & tear
    can’t be loosened with a kiss –
    can’t be the calling loon from last summer
    beautiful with nowhere to go.

    Do you see how I like to twist?
    As next morning comes slumming
    in a topsy-turvy message asking all,
    the next affectionate equation keeps us
    humming.

    You, heartbreaking, know as little as me.
    If I didn’t have the nerve to tell you
    I get the feeling nothing would help.
    This way, the next rut in the road is always
    negotiable.

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