Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts


On Writer's Block — A Journal & Rant

Cover of John Steinbeck's Book "Journal of a Novel"
In this book, Journal of a Novel, 
Steinbeck talks about how he overcame writer's 
block to write his epic novel East of Eden.
John Steinbeck famously stalled starting East of Eden by carving a wooden pencil box for his personally carved pencils. He couldn't begin writing a great novel without having both decent pencils and a handsome box to his crafted artist tools.
     I am not that bad, but I think every writer worth his salt battles with writer's block.
     The problem is not WHAT to write but HOW to write what you want to write. The writer is not usually void of ideas, but once settled on one idea, there comes the conundrum of infinite ways to approach the topic. What's the title? Do I write in the first person? Who is my audience - middle age blue-bloods, or pimply adolescents? Do I use accents or write in plain English prose?

Then, there is the security factor. Do I think the piece is gonna be good or not? Will people read this?
     Then, when the work has started, and your pen is moving at a well-clipped pace, eventually, at some point, there comes a stall. The great lull, I call it. Or just boredom. I think this is why most Master theses and Doctoral dissertations go unfinished.
     "It seemed like a good idea," the grad student laments. What's left: piles of research, jotted notes, emails to directors, and an unfinished manuscript.
Connecting thought to idea to word
to sentence to a paragraph . . . can be daunting.

Sometimes, it is the ending that gets ya. 
     Virginia Woolf famously dreaded ending her novels because it felt like a death. I can relate to the visceral, human connection to a work in progress. The writer feeds his work, his blood, tears, ambition, and time. Ink. Pencil graphite. To finish the opus seems too much like divorce - or even worse, death.
     Woolf finished Between the Acts and sometime later stepped into the stream behind her house, heavy stones sewn into the lining of her blouse.
     Now, I don't think I am that bad. But, I can relate to Woolf's decision. Perhaps she was tired of dying. She had written through many deaths.

I can relate to John Steinbeck, better. 
     It wasn't that he felt like he couldn't create an epic American Genesis, but the task was so monumental maybe he thought he would get bored or give up. Woolf killed herself, by contrast, not because she completed a great piece of work but just because it was completed.
     Once the publisher tidies up the manuscript, the text is no longer yours. Once I press submit, it is as if the narrative births itself and leaves the cage of the author.
     One way I helped alleviate writer's block was to start actively contributing to my blog. Writing a blog entry is a way to floss my writer's teeth. To write and publish automatically is a way to remind myself I can create something that is not monumental but, at the same time, hopefully not trite. I try to aim for funny, pertinent - or just plain good, dammit.

When I am really feeling it, I go to Twitter and microblog. 
     Wow. What a catharsis. I am energized that Roger Ebert feels the same way. He recently wrote a blog piece on why he tweets. I think he writes his blog and tweets a helluva lot because it lubricates his gears so he can step up to the plate for the big stuff.
     Now, you may say, all this is the same thing as carving that wondrous wooden box to put your pencils because you don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of writing. There's a blog post about this, by the way.

But, I instead write something every day rather than nothing.
     So, here's my something.
     Maybe, you can relate? Lemme know, dammit. Why do you write? When do you not write?


Reflection: Another Year Goes Away and a New Year Begins

My friend and I lit a candle at St. Thomas Church in Manhattan.
Sometimes life is like a circle. I could go on and give examples - and I will - but I feel like E.B. White did it best in an essay he wrote about circus performers.
      It’s been a while since I closely read the essay but I remember its thesis poignantly. Time is like a circle. White focuses his writing on one performer specifically who takes command of the circus ring. He notices she is in counterbalance to another performer, older, who is also in the ring. White imagines the younger performer is at the crest of her career, illuminating and graceful yet the other performer is also she - less graceful and aging. That’s what I remember. White manages to place an idea of recurrence - of repeating and twinning that resonates with me even now. Perhaps it’s because it’s the beginning of a new year - 2019 and I just recently celebrated a birthday. In a year from now, I’ll celebrate forty years on earth. I’ve been out of school long enough to miss it and I’ve been working just long enough to see myself getting better at what I do - but I can see my older, aged twin on the other side of the circle. He waves at me but I can’t figure out if he’s happy or not.  If I zoom in too much on the daily details of my life it’s all a bunch of minutiae - picking up the trash, sipping a cup of coffee, placing dirty clothes in the hamper. And if I zoom out a bit more - like in that book - where each page is a zoom-out or zoom in of the universe - I see bigger picture things like how much time I spent teaching or how much time I spent writing. And if I zoom out even further I see myself as a generation among generations, and further out too I’m a speck - not even significant. Yet this is what amazes me about human beings. We are persistent in our urgency to slam into the earth some smattering of meaning. And it feels worth it when I’m introspective and desperate when I’m barraged by life’s demands - yet it’s a life. At the start again. So - happy New Year.
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific -


What If Life Were Like the City Builder Simulation Video Game Cities Skylines?

I don't consider myself a gamer. However, like many kids who grew up in the 1990s, I did have a major hankering for the Nintendo and Super Nintendo. There was one point in my childhood that I almost edged onto sociopathy when I used my best friend at the time just to go to his house to play video games. I think his parents eventually caught on when they realized that Lance had gone out to play and I was left in his bedroom stomping on those pesky Goomba characters that are Mario's constant annoyance.

I stopped playing Mario and advanced onto city builder games.

One game did stick with me after my Nintendo phase wore off (by the time I was in Sixth or Seventh grade). I started to play Sim City and - at some point - I discovered a game that my brother had installed on his computer - A-Train. My interest in city builders was born. It's not a big surprise that I fell into city builder type of games. I had (and still have) a fond affection for Matchbox cars. And I always liked playing around with maps; and, my older brother liked maps too; I think at one point he and I - in one of our rare bonding moments - worked on a super map of an imaginary city in which we pasted a bunch of white-colored posters together with tape and mapped out our city in number two pencil. It was epic. I think we had a city that was composed of at least twelve or thirteen pieces of poster-sized paper.  
La Grange! Oh, how I loved making this city.
I have played all of the Sim City games. But it wasn't until Cities Skylines came out in 2015 that I really saw the potential of a city builder. What a game. What I like the most about City Skylines is that the gameplay is more dynamic than Sim City. First of all, a player has a much larger cityscape to play with, and the city feels integrated even across multiple districts and distances. One train station built in the northwestern part of the map can affect what happens in the city center. 

And I am always amazed by the simulation. There is a cause and effect reality to Cities Skylines - and most city builders - that make it playable. It almost kind of feels like real life. 

A story of my own Cities Skylines City: La Grange

There is one city I built in Cities Skylines that I am proud of and still play it from time to time. It is a coastal city. I called it La Grange. I have a crappy Mac Mini that is not designed for serious gameplay, so I have to play the game at the lowest graphical level - and I usually try to aim for a city that does not have more than 130,000 people. Of course, I use mods. That's probably the second-best part about Cities Skylines (the first best part is naming everything like you are Adam and Eve in the Garden) - you can access a treasure trove of user-created buildings, roads, and tweaks to the vanilla game. I particularly like using the multiple track enabler mod so I can have subway systems with double, triple, and quadruple tracks. The automatic bulldoze mod is a must because who wants to manually raze every abandoned building; the same goes for the automatic emptying mod (although it is just easier to not have cemeteries and landfills in your city).
Look at those cims scurry to catch the bus!
The third thing I like about Cities Skylines is that it is essentially a traffic simulator game. Everything and everyone has to move around your city. Tiny tweaks in the gameplay can drastically change your cims' movement (N.B.,  In Sim City citizens, are called sims, but if you are playing City Skylines they're called cims. Get it?). For example, I recently moved a bus stop at a bustling intersection and all of a sudden there was a sudden, mass movement of people in the game briskly walking to the next stop.

Traffic is a nightmare - I still can't alleviate the congestion at my airport.
It took me a long time to build a good city. The trick is making a decent transit infrastructure to move cims around the city; that includes subway and bus connections, as well as an integrated interstate highway system. The game has a monorail system that is fun to use, but cims do not like to use it. Trams are great as a replacement for buses that use a heavily traveled route. Cable cars, ferries, and hot air balloons are also an option.

Building a city with districts that have enacted policies unique to their district - no heavy traffic or recycling initiatives - can really change the make-up of gameplay as well.

What if life were like a city builder game?

1. Everyone would go to work, go home, and go to ONE park or commercial zone.
2. Your car would disappear into thin air at random times.
3. The bulldozer would be God. Essentially.
4. It would be like that movie The Truman Show. But with more bulldozers and cims.
The game is connected to loads of assets
you can download for free - many of them made by creative modders.
The developers of this game, Colossal Order, keep coming out with new iterations of the game. The newest one is Park Life - which I really like because it allows you to make a more interactive park system in a city. As with most city builder games, zoning is essential. There are residential, commercial, industrial, and office zones. Zones build up around the road network - but as the city grows and the zones max out along the street grid, there are often pockets of green space that now I can populate with micro parks and whatnot. 

It's funny. My post is becoming an advertisement for a video game. Who knew my blog would boast of such things! I want to wrap up by saying the toys and games we played with as kids do somehow find their way into adult life. I don't have posters scribbled in graphite, but I have a saved game that I love to load up every now and again. So, every city tells a story. I don't play this game every day. I play it as a way to zone out and to relax. It is one activity that I can do where I can empty out work-related stress and just focus on planning my little city of La Grange. I think I need to upgrade my Mac - though - if I want to simulate more cims!

Check out the cityscape of La Grange. Can you spot the arcology?
Another view of La Grange with the city sewer system in the foreground.

It's fun to follow individual cims to see where they go.
Become a hero and put out fires that periodically pop up.
This one looks ominous. Like a throwback to the fires that rained down from Mount Vesuvius back in the day.

I'm obsessed with creating zoos and parks.


How I Learned to Love Solitude and Why I Am No Longer a Benedictine Monk

I am going through old papers, tossing out papers, and boxing up books so I can move out of my apartment on April first.
Saint Joseph Abbey is a Benedictine community of monks in South Louisiana
Saint Joseph Abbey Church in St. Benedict, Louisiana
I realized I could not find any photographs of me as Brother Bede. I used to be a Benedictine monk. But the traces of that life are quickly receding.

Leaving a Monastery 
When I left Saint Joseph Abbey - a Benedictine monastery in Saint Benedict, Louisiana - I was twenty-eight years old (and six months). In my life as a monk, I was Brother Bede. I baked bread once or twice a week with my fellow monks, I went to daily prayers, ate with my community at the common table, worked in our college library - and I was a graduate student at the local university. That was nine years ago (and eight months, roughly).

As a monk, you are told: "To work is to pray." So I grew up in this dispensation. We were told that we were monks first. Our work was just something we did as part of our religious identity. If I was baking bread, or if I was studying Latin, I was merely living out my life of prayer and work. I was a monk. So don't complain.

The Life of the Monk
Life in the monastery followed a trajectory. And there were different stages of my life there. Depending on how you count the years, I was first a seminary student - I was called a scholastic. Then I was a postulant, then a novice, then a monk in temporary vows, then a monk in solemn vows - all for a total of ten years. 

I had just graduated from high school when I joined the seminary. It's crazy to think that was twenty years ago. In May, I am going to Louisiana to celebrate my high school reunion. But I probably won't visit the abbey where I gave ten years of my life - formative years (if you want to put it that way.)

I fantasize that when I tell people I was a monk, they think I lived in a stone hut, spoke to no one and ate bone stew and hard bread. The truth is my life as a monk was at the same time innocuous and magical. Life follows a scheduled rhythm in a monastery. Vigils, Morning prayers, Mass, Evening prayers, and Compline. Monks were assigned jobs. And for the most part, we went through our day praying, eating together, and performing our tasks.

Why did I Join?
People often ask me why I joined a monastery. What was going through my head? And then they ask me why I left the monastery. And people seem to be pretty curious about the whole process. For me - I wanted to be a priest or a monk from an early age. I can remember pretending to celebrate Mass with Ritz style crackers while my brothers complained (they'd rather play other games). When I was in High School, I was very much into Catholicism - and I made it pretty well known that I wanted to join the seminary when I graduated.

Read more about why I became celibate after the jump . . .


Halloween Costume (circa late 1990s)

Greig dressed as a scary D.C. lobbyist OR tricky Dick
Halloween Shenanigans
I don't dress up for Halloween anymore. The last time was a few years ago - I was a wizard.

However, I found this darling picture of me from back in the day - I was dressed up as either a crooked political lobbyist from the bowels of some Washington, D.C. think tank or I am just basically your standard Richard Nixon - except I look pretty ragged.

Peace out, dudes! And happy All Hallows Eve!


Photo: Sixth Grade Photographic Portrait

Greig in Sixth-Grade, circa 1992
I'll probably regret posting this picture of me taken on a Sixth Grade field trip to the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, Louisiana.


Recollections: College Visitations back in 1998

At Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana circa 1998
Throwback to that time in High School when I visited Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, on a college visit.
I visited Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, when I was a Senior in High School. Mom drove me. We spoke to the professors in the Liberal Arts department, and I asked them questions about their philosophy program.

I did not enroll in the school - I ended up becoming a seminary student at Saint Joseph Seminary in Saint Benedict, Louisiana.

However, Centenary symbolizes the trajectory I could have taken if I had chosen to stake out my own way as a college student on my own terms.


Recollection: Catholic Confirmation at Mary Queen of Peace Church (c. 1990s)

Me, Archbishop Philip Hannan, and Georgette Pintado (Nanan)
Throwback post to 1997 - a Catholic Confirmation ceremony at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Mandeville, Louisiana.
In the Catholic tradition, young people get confirmed. It's the standard rite of passage for Catholic youth. You take some classes. You go on a field trip. You take on the name of a saint and you choose a sponsor to help support you in your Catholicity. At sixteen years old, I was confirmed at Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mandeville, Louisiana. The pastor was Father Ronnie Calkins - a really nice guy who I later knew better when I joined the Seminary. But that's another story.


Throwback Thursday: Flour Babies

Back in the mid-nineties - hell, it probably still happens - our public middle school in Saint Tammany Parish Louisiana conducted a program meant to curb teenage pregnancy.
The program was called Flour Babies. Every kid in our Seventh Grade class bought a six-pound bag of flour from the grocery store, we dressed it up to look like a boy or a girl and propped a head on it. I guess we gave it a name.

We carried the flour baby with us everywhere we went. We took it to class, brought it home with us, and made sure we didn't leave it behind.

Leaving behind your flour baby was tantamount to committing childhood neglect - I think kids who left it on the bus or in homeroom had to endure after school suspension. Or maybe they were told, "Don't have kids."

Here are two photos from my flour baby days:
I hold onto my flour baby like it's my own dear baby, baby.
Younger brother and Mom pose with the flour baby.
Did you have a flour baby growing up? I'd love to hear about it.


Greig Wakes Up After Reading the Last Chapter of The Sound and the Fury

Greig Roselli Signed Selfie
Discovering filters late in the game, I am all agog.

Do you ever wake up with an intense dream that fills your morning with a rather bizarre metaphysical tone about it? I know - I studied philosophy - so I am not sure if I am alone - but I have a hunch that most of us have had this experience - if not once - then quite possibly a hundred times, even more. 

It goes like this. It is a particular kind of dream. I wake up and I am seized by a memory from my childhood. I am in the backseat of the car on the way to swimming practice. Or I am a kindergartner turned around in my chair looking at mom in the back of the classroom. Or I am being stung by honeybees on a Summer vacation to Pass Christian, Mississippi.

The memory has a connection to the dream but it is not the content. The memory springs from the dream. The dream is often abstract. A silhouette of a man. An empty room that needs to be swept. I wake up and I am seized by the memory. What follows next is melancholy. I become so sad because the memories seem so far away from the current moment. Who was that person sitting in the back seat of the car? I can remember myself in the car but I cannot occupy the self of that person - of that other individual who is me but because either it was so long ago I cannot rewind the moment - or that I have become so different from that kid on his way to swimming practice that I can only archive the memory rather than inhabit it.

What follows the memory is a sharp intonation of mortality. I realize that I will die and I am again saddened by the passage of time. I know. It sounds morose. And it is cliché to say - "We're going to die." But I think when you feel your mortality in the morning after you wake up from this kind of memory sensation it heightens the feeling. It is more intense.

What follows is I think about how I am alive right now with many other people who are alive who share my timeline. People who were born at the same time as me; also, those people who were already alive and I have merely joined in - late for the party. Or, those who have recently joined us here on earth to have cake.

It's like the whole human race is a collection of dim lights that go on and off slowly - seen from above it would look like a slow-motion version of an air traffic controller's control board. As each light brims into existence, its light glows slowly to a fierce yellow then dissipates. But other lights are also coming in and out of existence. Once the light is gone it is gone forever. And there is not much variation - except the duration - because one light may brighten longer than another. 

It's probably because I have spent the weekend reading Faulkner. Like at the end of The Sound and the Fury, Luster takes Benjy on a furious ride around the Compton plantation on the family's horse and buggy - but very fast and in the direction Benjy is not used to taking. When Luster goes left - instead of right - Benjy groans and moans - roars! - and there is a horrific sense of the order of the world turned over. Of course, order is restored in the end and the world becomes "serene again as cornice and façade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place."

It's like how at school kids always sit in the same place at lunch. Or how a broken clock can send a sharp sense of anxiety even in the most sensible of person. Or the feeling of dread when someone walks across the street and is almost hit by a careening bicycle. Composure is rattled. Like my morning awakenings. But with time everything regains composure and I am once again enveloped in the rhythm of the turning world.


Jesus Did Say "This Too Shall Pass" But He Wasn't Talking about Estimated Taxes

I stop myself. Before I even begin typing. The thoughts in my head may not be appropriate even for a stream of consciousness rant.

Ranting on the Internet, even if it is a like-I-am-in-my-therapist's-office-just-free-associating kind of rant, is rarely beneficial to humanity.

Yet. Here I am. Ranting. Here's one rant I am sure you heard: estimated taxes suck. Rewrites are a pain in the ass. Staten Island needs a rail connection to Brooklyn. It's colder than a witch's tit. Oh. Here's a good one: the rent is too goddamn high. I also wanted to rant about how I worked so hard to write a blog post for one of my freelancing gigs, only for the editor to send me back to the drawing board. Well, almost to the drawing board. She accepted most of the piece but eliminated huge chunks and asked for a rewrite. It's a lesson in humility. 

So. I did rant. But I tried to save myself by saying I am humbled now. I think folks detest rants because they're jealous. They want to rant too. But they don't. So they rant that you ranted. And it sucks. But I ranted by saying that I wasn't going to rant. It's excusable. But estimated taxes really do suck. I think if I were more attentional to minor details it would not bother me as much. It does not help that I have been a slave to a grouchy academic who needs me to ferret out sources for his upcoming book.

This too shall pass. I think Jesus said that.

I guess I should warn you that there is an ulterior motive as to why I am writing this blog post this today.

First, I have to get my mind set on writing. Tomorrow is Thursday. Work awaits. And it feels like I may never reach the end of my labors. I wonder how Virginia Woolf felt when she was struggling with a sentence?

Second, it really pains me that I have started to think more about estimated taxes than what novel I want to read.

Third, someone was correct when she said "no rest for the weary."

I put a period after the last sentence, looked up, and saw a cardinal perched on the window sill. A cardinal. I rarely see cardinals in my neighborhood. Also, the Staten Island Ferry chugs along on its determined route. And somewhere some bloke is estimating his quarterly taxes.

Image Source:  tomcopelandblog


A Room Of One's Own: Dispatch From My Room (As I Work From Home and Decided to Submit A Blog Entry)

A Room Of My Own (And Virginia's too!) © 2014

When I try to find beauty

At the beginning of September, the heat of Summer begins to dissipate in New York. But Summer leaves behind swabs of humidity, still clinging on as I impatiently wait for Autumn. To give context, I’ve been spending a lot of time alone. I’m an extrovert. So it’s an unusual feeling. I plan to spend September mostly alone, for my work is solitary, and it depends on me monetizing my solitude. I’ve lived in the same apartment for quite a long time, but lately, I have come to know my room. It’s probably because I spend more time in my room than I ever did before, and I will admit that is the prosaic reason. To quell my loneliness, I open my eyes, and light upon something beautiful. There are many rooms in one room. The room you wake up to in the morning, in the half-light, where the room is an exit from the dream you've just had, but can't quite remember. Or the room, as it appears when you first enter it, different from the room you sat in all day writing. For the room you share with another person, but you don't notice the room, or the opposite, where all you notice is the space filling up, but words cannot express how you feel. It’s loneliness. But you don’t say it that way because people cannot handle loneliness.


From Adjunct Teacher to Typewriter

image source: videotron
Not having a job changes you.
You have to think differently when you're finding ways to carve out a life through words. For a long time, I wrote so that I could discover myself. Once I discovered myself, I wrote so that I could discover other people. Then my writing became something I did when I was not teaching. Now that I am not teaching, it is as if I have been catapulted back to that original locus of creativity.

You have to think differently to make money as a writer. You can't think, OK, I make this much money a month, and I need to budget accordingly. No, you have to think, how much do I have to work this month? It's a paradigm shift for me. I feel both exhilarated and terrified.

The first time I made money as a writer was when I was twenty-seven years old. I won one hundred dollars in a poetry contest. I never cashed the cheque. I lost it in a gay bar in New Orleans.


On Looking Back at My First Blog Post

Portrait of an Articulated Skeleton on a Bentwood Chair
Yes, this is confessional.
Forgetting that what I post on a blog is read by people, today someone (a student, no less) found my blog online and read my first post. It is an obscurely written poem about Prague and Dvořák. I do like the first line of the poem, "Dvořák strums his fingers on the dashboard, a melodic lilt to the tune of lips," but the rest of the poem is arduous.


Teacher Rant: Uncanny Moment Grading Papers (Or, Why it is Unsettling Reading Final Exam Essays)

The Pitiful Job of Grading Papers
It's slightly unsettling to grade students' final exams and to read their answers to the essay questions. Some of the students have their own voice and I can tell they understand the question through their own mastery of the concepts. Stellar work, I say, and then there are the students who just don't get the question correct; but, what gets me every time is reading a student's answer that has an uncanny resemblance to my lecture vocabulary and style. It's creepy. I can tell they understand the concepts but they're using my style of delivering the answer. It's not exactly copying. Nor is it their own words  well, sorta  it's their own rehashing of what they remember I said in class. Rather impressive. 
Grading Papers Reminds Me Of How I Wrote Student
I am sure I wrote like that when I was an undergraduate. We really hung onto what are profs said. I really don't remember anything my teachers said about philosophy. I remember the slips of the tongue and non-sequiturs. "Nouns and verbs and *^&*," said one prof answering a kid's query about what the paper should contain. A sensible answer, I thought. Or one teacher in college told us we could choose any color we wanted to write on the board as long as we used its name as if it were a liquor. Green chalk was Chartreuse. That's all I remember. I drink the stuff with relish (and when I have the dough). It's divine.
image credit: johnkutensky  


Things I Probably Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas)

Things I Probably Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas) is a book of 13 essays about my journey from New Orleans to NYC. Most of the essays were originally written for this blog, Stones of Erasmus, which I then took out, mishmashed, and turned it into a story about my journey from New Orleans to New York, mixed in with anecdotes about things I shouldn't have said in subway cars, yeshivas, Catholic high schools, my college classroom -- you get the gist. Check it out. I made it into a Kindle Book Here.

Ersatz Existential Daily Post

Today I poured a cup of coffee into a plastic, reusable cup. I sighed. As the world sighs. I sat at my Formica dining room table, listening to the sound of faint music from the bottom floor rising up like a tribal beat, a haunting sound, then quiet. My cup dry. My cup doth not runneth over. The refrigerator hums. I sit in my pea-green apartment and I am one with the universe. It's the best thing going for I must have some sense of transcendence. Right? It bothers me that I must be so existential in the morning. Damn coffee cup. Damn emptiness. I eschew you. Spit you out. There. That's better. Good day, mates.


"Who AM I?" And Do We Ever Change (Also A Brief Reflection On "Is Being Together Possible?")

Looking Back At March 31, 1997

Pencils in My Pocket
I spent last Saturday reading my journal from 1997. Look at what I wrote on March 31, 1997.
It’s proof that I have not changed. At all. I will be sixty and still wondering about my place in the cosmos (and hopefully with a better HMO):

How do I fit in the grand scheme of the cosmos? I am seventeen, medium height, medium weight, hazel eyes, brown hair, mild complexion, have acne, am Catholic, attend a public high school, love to read and participate in other cultural activities, learn about historical events, visit art museums and view fine films. That’s me in a nutshell (into clichés tonight). I am an independent person and don’t care for much intervention. I get the most joy out of completing tasks by myself, not because I like doing it by myself. I don’t get my joy for performing and doing things for others, when I act I please myself. It is fun to see people laugh at my jokes or comment or something. I do, but frankly I don’t do it for them. People who know me well may think I am cold-hearted, I don’t think so. I love people and love seeing people happy. I desire the best for anyone I know; I am talking about the core of my being, what gives me most enjoyment: people or myself? The answer must be myself. I’d rather ride my bike alone or walk my dog alone. I’d rather cook a meal or read a book alone. I’d rather tour a museum alone or view the stars by myself. But I do love sharing my experiences. I am not shy when it comes to depositing my knowledge. The gift of teaching resides in me. That is what God gave me. I never grow tired of friendships and good conversation. I would get lonesome being by myself too long. I would want to escape and experience something else …. I have more to offer the world than wash dishes, get braces, being obedient, etc. I am impatient, but am hanging on the vine.
  I am not sure I agree with my seventeen-year-old self that teaching is depositing knowledge but I will forgive him because he had not read yet Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I no longer have acne and I am not sure where I stand on Catholicism but the gist of what I wrote that night in March of 1997 still rings true in 2013. Is this the same for everyone? Even if you don’t have access to a journal entry you wrote 16 years ago it is still interesting to reflect on how much we change. It's interesting I wrote that entry during my Senior year of high school. So it makes sense I would be thinking about what I want out of life. Now after having finished college and two graduate degree programs, as well as some years of teaching - and don't forget my six years as a Benedictine monk - I still think of what this seventeen-year-old boy was thinking: who the hell am I?
I think I am thinking about this more than ever because I feel this persistent push to be something, to do something, but at the same time I have this other feeling inside of me that I am (and have been) doing it all along - I just hadn’t noticed. It’s like I spend so much time thinking about what I will be or will do that I have forgotten what I did, what I have seen and heard. My seventeen-year-old self is telling my thirty-three-year-old self “to please myself” and continue to take pleasure out of art, novels, friends and all that jazz.
It sounds like what I am saying is that if I am ever going to find someone else to share my life with they also have to know their joy. We come together and share what joys we know. When I first read this entry I thought, *&^%, I will be alone for the rest of my life. But I read it again and it struck me, something I did not notice the first time I read this scrap of paper from the past. It’s so human to want to please yourself and to think of the future but at the same, I sense a longing to share that something with someone else and to know their joy. Is that what they call interdependence? It's when I say “I love sharing my experiences.” That’s the art of being together. That’s what I crave and I think it is what a lot of human beings crave. I love how at the end I say I am impatient and holding on the vine. That’s very Greig Roselli.


On Writing: Late Night Post On Practice Makes Perfect

On writing, and why practice makes perfect.
A joy wall we made at school.

Developmental argument: Practice makes perfect. I look at stuff I wrote when I was thirteen and think, "who was that?"
My friend Glenn and I ate lunch in the 
museum café and then saw the exhibit Lifelike.
Retrospect argument: I look at the stuff I wrote yesterday and think, "ain't perfect but better."
Words I tell myself: Experience contributes to the adage practice makes perfect.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Or maybe writing is simply creating several versions of oneself.
Psychopathology of Everyday Life: It is spooky to find something in a discarded notebook with your name inscribed at the top but the contents are alien to your very sense of being.


On Repulsion: A Word Essay

In the following essay, I muse on the meaning of the word repulsion.

On Drinking A Glass of Rancid Milk

Photo by Michu Đăng Quang on Unsplash
I inadvertently poured myself a glass of rancid milk one morning. I didn’t notice the expiration date on the carton. It was too late, though. I had taken a sip. I immediately spit out the contents onto the kitchen table. The milk had begun to curdle. I was instantaneously repulsed. A feeling of aversion to the milk quickly overcame me. I got up and quickly attempted to vigorously rinse my mouth out with water. When I had rid my palette of the fetid milk molecules, I immediately threw the carton away into the trash can. I think my exact words were, “gross, this is disgusting” and wiped the table off with a soft, warm cloth rinsed in soap.
     I ate my cereal dry that morning. And I begin to think, in those early morning hours, about what actually causes an act of repulsion like I had just experienced. The word “repulse,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, comes from the Latin verb repeller which we get the English word “repel” which literally means “to drive or beat back.” At first the word, simply meant the original military sense of the word, to drive back an army, or to block an attack from an assailant. Only by the 19th century did the word come to be associated with a sudden change in feeling or disgust. In current usage, the word has become synonymous with the word “aversion.” Although, “repulse” still retains its original etymology when used in physics to describe the mechanics of engines and the nuclear force atomic particles impose on one another. 

Reflecting On An Autonomic Biological Response
Photo by Katie McNabb on Unsplash
I knew the elementals of biology enough to know that at the moment my taste buds encountered the sensation of “foul” my autonomic nervous system sent a message to the muscles in my mouth to eradicate any trace of the tainted milk. There was no thought in this process. It was a complete and instant reaction. I thought about how I had learned in my college biology course about the autonomic nervous system. I think the professor used the example of a hot stove. If a person touches a hot stove, the brain automatically sends a message to your arm to recoil. The cerebral cortex never gets a chance to cogitate on this event. The step that says, “Oh, my hand is resting on the surface of this hot stove. I had better stop and take away my hand so that I can prevent any further melting of my dermis.” No, there is none of that! Thankfully, the autonomic nervous systems bypass any chance to meditate on the process of one’s hand being burned! Only afterward, when all signs of danger have been eliminated does the brain allow the mind to think about what has just transpired. And I am immensely grateful.
Not that I want to think through the process of repulsion as I am swallowing a dose of bad milk, but I could not help thinking about repulsion and its origins. There is the actual, physical repulsion, the sudden and unthought act of spitting out the milk and then there is an aversion, the sudden and intense change in feeling or attitude when you realize the milk is spoiled. Then, you feel repugnance and distaste.

Variations on Repulsion: Repugnance and Distaste     
Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash
Does this repugnance in feeling come from a fear of being tainted? Like the aversion Gregor Samsa’s family tries to suppress when they discover he has turned into a dung beetle overnight in Kafka’s Metamorphosis; Gregor tries to drink a bowl of sweet milk that his sister places before him, but he cannot drink it even though as a human sweet milk was his favorite drink.
     There is an internal — or it could be learned — mechanism inside of us that reacts strongly to anything we deem — whether correctly or not — to be tainted and polluted. Have you ever known anyone who could stomach a Pasolini film without wincing at least once? Mary Douglass, the British anthropologist who studied the cultural definitions of pollution and what we consider to be safe or not, wrote in her book Purity and Danger, “Pollution dangers strike when form has been attacked” (130). Pollution — or dirt — is a deciding cultural factor that humans worry about; dirt makes us anxious — especially if we feel dirty or polluted or made to feel that way, for it threatens our sense of form and, as Douglass puts it, our “unity of experience.”When it is a four month old carton of milk, Mary Douglass makes sense. I consider the milk dangerous to drink. It disrupts my obvious need for form and order in the universe! I can certainly understand the reason why my body would want to get rid of spoiled milk. Or why I would automatically tear my hand away if it brushed against a scalding hot surface. A cat would act similarly with a bowl of curdled milk. Except the cat is probably a little more wary of anything placed before it for breakfast and would probably smell the contents of the bowl before lapping it up. The cat is a more experienced scientist than I am. But once examined, the cat would more than likely turn her nose up to the milk and look at its owner with smug contempt until a fresher, more bacteria-free version was provided.
     My thoughts on repulsion though did not linger long with the carton of spoiled milk. I began to think of what else makes us repulsed. Yes, the list of rotten food is endless: rotten apples, bad bananas, maggot-infested luncheon meat, and ugh — moldy cheese (except, of course, blue cheese, the acquired taste of which rests in fact on its rottenness). But what about other things that turn our stomachs?
Photo by Anudariya Munkhbayar on Unsplash
     I thought about the day I had been walking in the forest with a friend. We had been hiking along the perimeter of the forest where it meets a sizable horse farm. As we weaved in and out of the forest and the unfenced farm, we came across the rotting carcass of a horse. It had been most likely shot and discarded into an unlandscaped corner of the property for any number of reasons. Maybe it had broken a leg or it had contracted a disease that its owners did not want to spread to the other horses. For whatever reason, the horse’s body lay exposed. The entire inside of its belly was seared open and infested with maggots. I could not tell what was its heart or what was the stomach. The entire belly was a transmogrified mess. At first, I did not notice the smell. In a matter of seconds, though, the smell hit me and I had felt that feeling of repulsion and aversion like I had experienced with the milk.

     But, I was also fascinated by the dead horse. Flies by the hundreds hovered above. The flies were busy taking off and landing on the mushy contents of this horse’s insides. Mating and making babies, they went on with their happy lives, making do with what they could — which was an abundance in this case — with the booty of this dead horse. Over time, the tissues and the organs would rot away, slowly but surely, leaving only the skeletal outline of the horse’s body. When the last morsel of meat had finally sloughed off into the soft, mealy soil, the bones would then whiten and harden. Then, crack and crumble. Back into the earth, the clods would go, and I could quote William Cullen Bryant’s poem, “Thanatopsis” here: “Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim / Thy growth, to be resolv'd to earth again.” In a few months the floor of the forest would look like something had been there, where the horse’s “pale form was laid,” which was once alive, but now reclaimed.

     Bryant’s poem gives the rotting corpse a transcendence, though, that I am not really interested in here. I want to get back to the repulsion and the aversion. I want to get back to that visceral moment of immanence. The horse is dead. It no longer exists. When you see a dead horse rotting away in a forest you do not think of the transcendent wish of returning back to the earth whence you came. In the sight of a rotting corpse, it is hard to imagine the horse prancing down a wooded lane without horseshoes in some kind of horse heaven. So, I try to push away any of those transcendent notions. I have to go back to the moment my stomach churned inside of me at the sight of the dead body of the horse. Have you ever read Clarice Lispector’s novel The Passion According to G.H.? It is a kind of inverted Metamorphosis. There is a part in the book where the character G.H. is studying the dead carcass of a squished cockroach. She goes into detail the intricacies of its crushed exoskeleton and the white ooze emitting from its hollowed-out cavity. I want to revisit that lurch of disgust at the gut of me that day. The horrible thought — at a moment like that — unmediated by transcendental spirituality — where you realize without too much cogitation that your body will rot away and fester like the horse’s now rotting flesh. We really don’t like to think about our body in this way, that it will rot away and mold into a greasy stew. And smell bad. 
     We like to think of ourselves as living forever. And as Douglas suggests, we don’t like it when order — in our most basic, cultural assumption of what order is — is ruptured. And even when we do feel this ontological rupture, we quickly marshal the resources to reassure ourselves. If I look in the mirror before I brush my teeth and feel the contours of my face I can feel the skeletal form of my jaw and cheekbones beneath my flesh. And if I pull out my mouth a bit, and peer into the mirror I can see quite clearly the outlines of my jaws beneath the pinkness of my gums. There it is. That is what will rot. No matter how many times I brush these teeth. Or rinse this mouth or remember to wash behind my ears, the rot still remains. I cannot stave off death. Of course, I quickly dismiss this thought and brush my teeth anyway, but if I remember again — say at 3:00 in the morning, when I wake up with a start (and I know you too have experienced this) because of an unsettling dream, I have this sudden, invincible thought, “I am going to die.” It is just a thought. But the certainty of it shocks me. Especially at 3:00 in the morning when I cannot marshall my usual arguments and deferrals. It is just there, hanging in the air.
     The next morning I hardly remember that I had woken up with the thought that I am going to die. It would be too much. I have too much to do. I have to work, eat, feed my family, and do some exercise. I have about sixty more years of life. It would go against my better interest to ponder on the exigency of my own existence. So I keep all that stuff at bay. I defer it to a primitive and locked storage place of my mind. I keep myself steadily repulsed. I imperviously maintain the order and unity of my set of experiences and call them “me.” 
     This is why I spit out the milk so effectively when it is spoiled. This is why I avoid looking at my infected scrape on my knee that I failed to apply topical anti-bacteria cream. This is why I am repulsed at any slight intimation of death or decay. Because I must keep my mortality at bay. I am repulsed at anything that reminds me that I am going to die.

Historical Narratives of Clean and Unclean
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     When the Nazis herded hundreds of Jews from the Ghettos into cattle cars to ship them to concentration camps some people protested, “But I am a German! You can’t do this to me!” But no one would listen. Because it didn’t really matter. Even if he was German, a line had been drawn, and the line was irreversible. If you were considered a non-Aryan — which included, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and any group the Reich outlawed as undesirable — you and your family were thrown into the cattle car with barely enough room to sit, forced to suffer and stew in urine and tears. 
     If you were Aryan you were clean; you did not have to be sent away to the death camps. It would be a fearful thing, a repulsive thought, to have to be thrown into the cattle car with the rest of the tainted, marked ones. So, if you were not one of them, you stepped away from the crowd. Or if you were not Aryan, and you knew a way to avoid being carted off — you most definitely fought ways to keep yourself from being discovered. If you were not marked as tainted by the Nazis, it was in your better interest to stand away and not notice what was going on than to acknowledge the abject horror of what the Nazis called “the Final Solution.”
The Nobel Prize-winning novelist J.M. Coetzee writes about the consequences of the German nation's refusal to acknowledge the grim reality of the “Final Solution.” He imagines a fictional author giving a lecture on animal rights to a group of academics in his novel Elizabeth Costello. Elizabeth, the novel’s title character, makes the startling claim that the Germans, living near the Treblinka death camp, were willfully ignorant of the slaughter of millions of human beings. The village of Treblinka was not very far from the concentration camp. How could the residents of the town not know something horrible was happening at the work camp? Did they not notice the arrival of trains filled with prisoners? Could they not smell the putrid smoke of burning flesh that must have blanketed their town, especially when the winds were right. They could have acted, but they went on with their lives, acting otherwise. This willed ignorance, this inability to act, argues Elizabeth, is a mark of the German people's inability to see the Jews as human beings. They saw them as cattle. They saw them as deserving nothing that is not given to a cow. For don't we, in western society, use the cow for food, for skins, for milk? The Germans, according to Elizabeth Costello, were not able to see the Jews as nothing more than providers of soap, as providers of gold  and this marked the Germans  tainted them Costello says  because the Treblinka death camps were merely what we would call today, a factory farm. 
     Of course, they would be repulsed if they had to watch the horrific spectacle of the gas chamber. They removed themselves from the atrocity. And would be repulsed if they had to set foot inside Treblinka's grounds (unless they had to) because it would remind them of what they were doing to millions of human beings.