The ’45: Considering Complexities – On Plasticity of Identity

floyd merrell diagram

On Plasticity: Being Ourselves, Able to be Ourselves

 

My birthday recurred.  Post-40 in a thriving family of 6, there are not many days deemed “special” that end up being about oneself as the father, caretaker, partner, provider, no matter how small the scope of the surround.  Soccer games and music lessons; feeding times and laundering; all keep going on – birthday or no.  The exhaustion continuous activity and felt responsibility breeds seems to increase in proportion to the numbers signifying one’s years upon earth.

But there are flourishes and touchings – like small miracles – proffered patience, generosity and deference gifted one’s way as the children mature.  I received momentously considered and thoughtfully creative presents and offerings from my brood, including the effort of travel (a 5-hour drive for a 3-hour meal), some self-deferrals of wants and demands for a day, shared and repurposed objects and much love and affection.

In the midst of which my brother-in-law texted: “And what have YOU done for YOU today?”

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Isn’t nearly everything we do for ourselves in some way? I thought.  Caring for those we love, providing for their needs and responding to their living feeds our hope that we might be valuable partners and parents.  Enabling others’ satisfactions or play, achievements or events provides a goodness and gladness to our sense of identity.  WHAT DO I (or would I) WANT?  [If things revolved around ME? – What would I select for MYSELF, my TIME, my ACTIVITIES, were my surround and environment conducive, supportive, adaptive and compliant – attuned to MY wishes and feelings, desires and preferences – as its Center and Hub?]

This engendered heavy pause.  Followed by weeping.  Since my youth I’ve pleased people.  Especially those I crave being pleasing to.  Ever considering: if I find them, serve them, fuel them, tend to their whims and their moods and their wants and don’t fail them – they’ll have NO REASON not to accept and acknowledge me, enjoy and delight in me…perhaps even come to NEED and to LOVE me!

Still most of these persons have come and then gone – not needing an enthusiastic audience-of-me, my support systems or enthralled amour, cooking skills, cab driving, housekeeping, therapeutic attunement, nursing or cock…so much as an “Other,” I suppose.  An other alike with mixed needs, wants and cares, fears, doubts and preferences…uncertainties.

WHAT WOULD I WANT?

Being malleable, self-deprecating, at-your-service and adaptive in order to eventuate my longed-for (but not fully realized) purposes of belonging, chosenness, appreciation, acceptance and love, predisposed me to the Phenomena of Plasticity.

That organisms jostle and interact, adjust, emerge, revise and alter in accord with their environments and one another toward an imagined maximum survivability came as no surprise to me.

That my brain and body bend and twist, reconfigure and rework themselves toward perceived pleasures, building likewise to avoid potentially death-dealing pains, forms an accurate metaphor of my experience.

Do this, try to be that, retrain the brain, assimilate languages, nuances, behaviors and tastes, become parent and scholar, musician and lover, friend and coworker to an enormous variety of persons, places, and things (or situations).

Sounds desirable!  After all, we’re fascinated and entangled in networks and viruses, Renaissance-personages and extensive applications and sites – world seems participatory, fluid, collaborative and self-responsive – play-doh, silly putty, plastics, rubber and earth.  Water, air, flesh and fire.  Living would seem to be a plastic rather than static affair – examine a corpse! (and observed long enough, even then we’re not done and prove pliable and transforming).

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Yet for me came a hitch as I pondered all this.  A lifetime spent adapting, responding and recursiving change for results that never quite arrive in a reality where even those chances will cease…

WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR YOURSELF?

When the question is put to me:  “What is it, right now, you prefer?” it turns out, among many acknowledgedly diverse and contradictorily complex cognitive-affective responses – I USUALLY KNOW WHAT I’D PREFER.  Very few options taste best to me in any given moment, and their range and scope are slim!

And then there’s the fact that I feel great admiration towards those who speak their mind and express their desires in a direct manner!  They still may compromise and adapt, but both adults and children who proclaim what they feel and want, prefer or need, ever impress me.  I (on the other hand) tend to try constantly to guess and anticipate what those around me prefer or desire before asking into my own – as if to say – if there’s room or time after all of you…I’d sure like to…but by then I’m too tired.

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So how plastic are we?  How multiple, really?  Since age 7 or 8, 12 or 15, my core desires have been pretty consistent:  Read.  Write.  Love.  Sex.  Explore.  Make.  At any given moment, regardless of conditions or surround, regardless of the options even, my litany of WHAT I WOULD DO FOR MYSELF usually boils down to this brief list.  In addition to which, I usually have a good idea of who, where, what, when, and sometimes how I’d go about each of the same – if conditions, environment and possibilities were dependent on ME.

I’ve definite tastes and predilections, ways I like to feel in what venues, activity-biases and condition proclivities (even though those nearest me often say they’d never know it by my choices).

Maybe the Phenomenon of Plasticity hypothesis runneling its now-scientific way through the cosmos and further than cells is a living CAPACITY but not necessarily a QUALITY?  Accident not essence?  Perhaps plasticity suits the powers-that-be, our politico-socio-cultural nowthen (STEM disciplines, Markets, Politics & Capital, Networks & Technologies) that would love for us adapt and adjust, go-along and “flow” as if its “natural,” “observable” and “scientific fact”?  (At the moment).

I’m not disputing it’s COOL – our abilities to change and flex, evolve and habituate, refashion and conform – and indeed it’s often necessary for our survival – but there’s a gap, hesitation, incompleteness to the story.  It doesn’t “FIT” to experience, or only partially so.  Something’s being assumed underneath.

And what is that?  Why have I preferred preferring others to my own, yet not ceased having my own all these years?

How would I be if I believed ALL were equally plastic?  That it wasn’t my job to adjust to everyone, remake to everything around me, instead insisting upon their/its relative capacity to reshape and orient to me as well?

WHAT WOULD I WANT if I could “be myself” (express my consistent biases and longings, behaviors and thought-trajectories, mood-palette and drives) in environments in which I was enabled/able to be/do so?  A surround that exercised the capacity of plasticity in relation to ME?

NOT EITHER/OR

Granted, some do, (those that stick around or don’t realize a choice) and in varying degrees, but I seldomly bank on that and announce or convey myself…usually I hedge against abandonment or rejection – fear of pains winning out over hopes of pleasure.

That’s “natural” too, the disciplines say – but there are so many counter-examples: ones who openly state their “I would prefer not tos” or “I would prefers…”  What have they got on me in this plasticized universe?

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There’s expression:  I prefer finding questions.  Ferreting unknowns.

FOR myself – there, I’ve done it.  At least once today.

09.22.2015

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The Loving(?) [dis]Organization of Fire

for lispector

“and it came, with its long passageways without end”

-Clarice Lispector, Soulstorm

and then again, the words, the words they came, presently, fluently, astonishingly as miracles, your body, the languid haunches – temptations, always – your breasts – these letters, formed in the hands…you, you, you, all of you, and I want/ed, I want, I am wanting to grapple, devour and subsume, consume (no, never!) you, but utterly – to the end – to everything – a swallow and fire and drowning and drought – to eviscerate, desiccate, absorb – to thorough you. I want to thorough.  I want to you, thoroughly.  Yes, that is what.  That is the who what am I?  The always when and every how – I want you thoroughly, but not you as realized by or digested in or taken or given or experienced thoroughly (without remainder) but rather

What I am saying (without remainder) What I mean is, what I am saying, shouting, quite silently shrieving, shrieking, screeing, WHAT I CRAVE REVEALING ENTIRELY BY RAVAGING TO END…

I WANT TO YOU.

And I want you to want to me, as mad, as madly, as terribly and

I am ravenous now, each instant and you for starving for me (I’d like that – have me)

but yes and I am having taking giving receiving AND YOU.

I do not understand.

It maddens, controls,

frees.

And this is what I mean.

In hopes that I was born for this…

for Hallie

The Living Dead: a Reflection

“Dad, are you living or dead..ing?” son asks at dinner (aged 9).

Characteristic pause…”Well, both,” I reply.

sad skeleton

How could it be otherwise?  I’ve stayed the course, exercised my body, prepared a meal, feeling fine, alone, aware…and comes the call:  “Living or dead..ing?”  Parental response – stop.  [Why is he asking?  What is he thinking?  How is he feeling?  Bodily signs?   Follow the language – “living or dead…dead..ing…dying.”  What is called for here?]  He thinks the living dead a lot,  so I respond directly:  “Well, both, and how could it be otherwise?  I couldn’t very well be dying if I wasn’t alive, no?  And the process of dying is constructed of living, yes?  So it’s all in one moment I s’pose.”

We move on.

But I don’t.  Not so much.  It’s a good question.

It reminds me why I’m a philosopher, a poet.  Why we tend toward the same, differently.  We watch for the shared, the communal in our experience, anywhere.  We work the same queries.  In a living ruled by science, by probabilities and hypothetical cause, by vague notions of what-might-happen-next given conditions and dynamically complex systems…philosophers, poets and artists tend to seek out what’s certain – what is nevertheless the case: we feel, we think, we live, we die, a world is there – the details change with the order of the day.  Or night.  The language or discipline.  The methods or culture, practice or beliefs.  Depending on the questions.  Who’s asking and how.

We happen – become – and unhappen.

Because my dad, almost 80, evinces this.  Because I’ll be half-90 in 48 hours.  What I asked for is called Cosmic Pessimism, which says something.  I happen…vary…and stop happening that way.  How that occurs, what and who and when and why change nearly as quickly as we do.  Should I say, what we think or believe occurs?  Rationalization of experience.

Reminds me of this, of the action of writing.

I still can’t do it “live.”  Can’t inscribe it as a “post” or a “tweet” or a “message.”  I’ve got to get some static.  IN-scribe is a physical act of scratching, digging, carving in clay.  ON-scribing is more what we do – laying down ink, pounding down letters, playing with light.  Writing with materials like paper and ink relatively makes something stay put for awhile.  So we can revise.  Perhaps that’s all Rilke meant – give yourself the opportunity to edit, erase, respond to your action before you present it.  Is revision revivification?  Stay something, pause.  Apply yourself to your living and choose an occurrence.  Does this wrinkle the union of living and dying?

At work I’m struggling with teaching the methods of multi-disciplinary research.  How to template a strategy of awareness to potentially everything?  We’re living and dying and attempting to know, understand, RATIONALIZE something about that.  Literally ANYthing applies, or may nourish, correct, influence or direct that essential inquiry (and DOES!).  How does one know where to look?  How does one know how to live it?  How does one know what one needs?  To synthesize rationalizations from multiple fields and methods and practices.  To compare all the answers or theories or thoughts?  To differentiate results and observations coming from various humans and schools and materials and tools and contexts and set-ups and the myriad messiness of living/dying organisms in relations beyond our control?

“You must revise your life” (Rainer Maria Rilke).

Revising your dying.  Is it possible to live moments in such a way that they outstrip the correlative dying?  To live more than die?  Once in awhile?  I think we have experiences, moments, in which we feel more alive than in others.  “Are you living or dead…ing” he asks.  Well, waking into a maze to traverse every day – cleaning and feeding and playing the roles (father, lover, employee, friend, son, writer, scholar, blogger, house-owner, house-keeper, cook, playmate, librarian, instructor, male, man, person, reader, and so on), shopping and feeding and listening and nourishing and working and running to tire – feels a bit more like “dead…ing.”  But there are moments!  Times.  “Events,” we call them (I guess).  Twistings and turnings and something like gathered occurrences, Being + Well-Being, Whitehead might say.  A more spectacular death I suppose.  Perhaps elevated experiences of living just heighten the jouissance of death?

I don’t know.

We happen – become/unbecome – and unhappen.

The marks left from that – our inscriptions, palimpsests and paths.  Veined.  Seared-in.  Scored.  In some cases, welded – some cases cancelled, erased, blotted out.  Living-dead…ing.  Vice versa?

To edit, revise, pause – is it possible?  What did he mean?  What might it mean?    Curving back doesn’t alter the time.  Going over is still going forth.  We wend and wind and whirl and reveal we are living and dying.

One Way to Stop

            Setting his tumbler down after a sweet, refreshing sip that burns and broils his gut, he gazes off the porch through Autumn morning.  “Quit it,” he thinks, whispers silently harshly, inside his insistent brain.

“Stop smoking, stop drinking, stop thinking too much.  It’s ruined,” repeating, “in ruins.  You ruin.”

His hazy survey settles onto a sign always visible where he wonders, worries, and writes.

blog photo

            Well aware that it’s one way.

But it doesn’t stop.

Watching his father deteriorate.  Among 7.3 billion (and counting) other inescapable dyings.  Kills himself surely by living.  Unidirectional and certain – that end.  The End.

Living’s a one-way to death whatever one chooses.  There’s no stopping that.  Perhaps the street sign motors this daily train of thought with each morning cigarette.  And love and forgetting; his children; conjured wishes, hopes and purposes blare redly to STOP! again, again,

and now his mind – himself against himself (against himself) screeing: “Quit it.  Stop.  Stop dying.  Stop killing yourself. Stop ruin!”

But it’s one way.  He knows it never stops.

Wind and Bone

found in Liu Hsieh, Chamberlain for the Surrogate Secretary in the Easter Palace, in his book The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, represented here by Eliot Weinberger…

Weinberger - Elemental Thing

“The twenty-eighth of the fifty chapters in his book is called “WIND BONE,” wind and bone, and is the most mysterious.  To express emotions one must begin with WIND; to organize the words, one must have BONE.  He whose bone structure is well-exercised will be well-versed in rhetoric; he who is deep of wind will articulate well his feelings.  It would seem that WIND is sentiment and ideas, and BONE is language, but Liu also says that to be thin in ideas and fat in words, confused and disorganized, is a sign of the lack of BONE.  And yet when ideas are incomplete, lifeless and without vitality, it is also a sign of the lack of WIND.  What is WIND and what is BONE have never been conclusively determined by generations of Chinese critics, but what is certain, according to Liu Hsieh, is that the perfect combination or balance of WIND and BONE, the metaphor for the ideal poem, is a bird.”

–Eliot Weinberger, An Elemental Thing

birdsinflight