The Lovers Encyclopedia: or, Notes Toward Unlimited Signs

Gilbert Quote

Notes on an Encyclopedia of Signs: or, Limited Vocabularies, Limitless Meanings

“Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers.”

“All entities move and nothing remains still”

“Everything changes and nothing remains still … and … you cannot step twice into the same stream”

-Heraclitus of Ephesus-

“No man ever steps in the same river twice.”  No man ever steps the same into a river.  I believe that everyone, from time to time, aches to express what they mean.  We have experiences and we want to communicate them, and we experience a kind of veritable torment when nothing sounds, feels, expresses what we “mean” “quite right” (or adequately, authentically, completely, correctly).

How often this happens with joy, pleasure, desire, love.  There are 26 letters in the English alphabet.  We shuffle and arrange them, add and delete, realign and recompose, punctuate and intone, mark-up, highlight, capitalize, emphasize, crescendo/decrescendo, lilt, shout, whisper the sounds and shapes we have mediated them through in this wild, often urgent attempt to forge understanding BETWEEN, comprehension, connection… MEANINGS (whole-person exchanges) betwixt ourselves and others, and world.

Our bodies have limited surfaces.  Certain numbers of organs, neurons, veins, muscles – motions, sensations, pulses, breaths, hums and groans.  We TOUCH to forge BETWEEN.  Caresses, grasps, pushes, pulls and entanglings.  WE ACHE TO GET ACROSS – adequately, authentically, comprehensively, fully.

“I love this pizza.”  “I have never seen anything like this!”  “OMG – watch that sky as it changes, explodes, implodes, whirls, colors!”  “I have never experienced love like this.”  “You are the most beautiful person I’ve ever known.”  “This is my favorite song.”  “You are incomparable.”  “You are incomparable.”  Our experiences – each – are in some very real sense… INCOMPARABLE.

And space.  And time.  Matter and energy, or material / apparently immaterial.  Emotion and sensation.  Cognition and affect.  We are ALWAYS (all of us) stepping in the river, and the river is always (all of it) flowing.  EVERY instant is our constant moving IN and WITH the constant moving of the world.

It hurts.  I look at, listen to, interact with, FEEL toward, receive from, snuggle, caress, kiss, desire, weep, converse with my current romantic partner – aching every time to express how additive, emergent, unique, INCOMPARABLE these NOW-experiences WITH her vary from, extend, surprise, fulfill, astound, affect, estrange from any other – and bewilder my ability to communicate them… because I have said “I love this pizza” a million times.  I have lost my breath at the views from a hundred mountain-tops.  I have gasped at four crashing oceans.  I have whimpered from the all-over expenditure of orgasm many times.  My fingers have disbelieved themselves and been overwhelmed by a life of plants, animals, surfaces and human fleshes.  “My favorite pie” has happened again and again and again – never the same me, never the same pie.  Down to my cells, my molecules, my quarks.

My love and I have imagined a new symbology.  Each time we ache to speak our love we will scramble new squiggles, letters, symbols, scratchings in order to designate:  THIS IS NOT LIKE BEFORE – I know I said it moments ago – BUT THIS IS SOMETHING MORE/OTHER/ PARTICULATED and specific from that.  This is NOW-LOVE, new and familiar, distinct and embodying all the particles prior.  There are not enough symbols.  Not enough sense.

Mikhail Bakhtin and any number of other thinkers, artists, poets, anthropologists (von Uexkull, Heidegger, William James, Charles Peirce, Paul Bains, Erin Manning, John Poinsot, John Deely, Paul Kockelman, Humberto Maturana, etc. etc. etc.) have attempted to unpack this strange tangle.  Poets and writers throughout history (as witnessed via Heraclitus at the start of this little assay), musicians, painters, explorers, historians – HUMANS have suffered, hurt, ached at this paradox of limitation and adequacy for expressing WHAT I MEAN / WHAT’S HAPPENING FOR ME NOW / throughout the life of our species.

The gist of it:  our bodies and vocabularies are VERY limited in relation to the never-ending changing and flood and flow of our relation to the world and others.  26 letters and 20 digits, a circumscribable surface of skin, a rate of cognition, a dictionary of emotions… never the same human stepping in never the same river.  This is where Bakhtin, et. al. assist us.  What language we’ve agreed on, what musical forms and sounds, what movements we are capable of, what gestures, groans, inflections, pressures of touch, coos and growls, whispers and howls – YES they are woefully limited to represent the vast variations of each NOW experience – with THIS person, THIS landscape, THIS particular food, THIS hearing of a song, THIS sunset, THIS ocean, THIS child, THIS reading – we repeat and repeat and repeat (in a kind of repulsive ad nauseum).  We proclaim our love as powerfully as we know how… and find we wrote the same thing to another person in a letter 15 years ago.  We massage and wriggle and lick and devour in lovemaking in a way we mean to be so particular to THIS passion, THIS relation, THIS other – and it mimics our gripping and caressing and kissing and intercourse of many other times, other passions, other relations, other others.  It hurts.

Bakhtin et. al. indicate that the MEANING is limitless.  That in order to communicate, each BETWEEN must be understood in the Heraclitean sense – WE ARE NOT IDENTICAL to ourselves – ever – and THIS EXPERIENCE being had is NOT IDENTICAL to any other – ever – our means of expression, our vocabularies for communication, our bodily capacities and emotive apparatus ARE LIMITED… but the meanings we create interacting with the world are not.  The MEANINGS ONLY OCCUR BETWEEN and AS we (ever-unique and different) participate, interact, engage one another and world (ever-unique and changing) … To comprehend the sometimes repulsive, apparently restrictive and woefully repetitive MEANS OF EXPRESSION we have and its FELT INADEQUACY to the new, unique, differentiated EXPERIENCE WE ACHE TO EXPRESS – would rely on the mutual understanding that EACH EXPRESSION WITH  COMPOSES NEW MEANING.

Our efforts, compulsions, desires, tastes, affections, pleasures, joys, hurts – EXPERIENCE – IS AUTHENTIC and GENUINELY NEW and DIFFERENT every moment – the means we have of COMMUNICATING, EXPRESSING, CONNECTING these experiences IS LIMITED and REPETITIVE – but we need not doubt the LIMITLESS CAPACITY FOR MEANING SOMETHING FRESH, AUTHENTIC, GENUINE, TRUE that each of those repeated words, phrases, emotions, gestures, interactions have… because…

“Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers.”

“All entities move and nothing remains still”

“Everything changes and nothing remains still … and … you cannot step twice into the same stream”

-Heraclitus of Ephesus-

We are a species of limited vocabularies, a constrained encyclopedia…

in a world of limitless meanings

let us trust one another.

-for Hallie



Another “aside” – writings that happen in the meantimes…


I consider myself ‘straight as an arrow’  that swerves like a boomerang.  In other words, I ruminate clear sensations, desires, opinions – consider, and then revise.  It all comes back to me.

When I was a child, I thought as a child, behaved as a child…but now…now that…well, I’ve put away the childish things.  Now I’m just a fucked-up adult.  It’s hard for me to tell from what’s coming or going.

She’s cumming.  Now she’s going.

I saw a coyote the other day.  I was driving in the country, speeding along a gravel road.  A grey coyote, large, apparently healthy, came streaming through the corn or wheat or soybeans pacing my van like a dog.  These things surprise me.  And  happen.

Now she’s going.

Like a coyote I set out to pace her, run alongside, track and trace her.  She’s cumming, I’m breakneck, I’m hungry, I’ve got her, I’m with her, we’re “in” as it were…

She’s going.

I run straight and fast and hard and she knows it.  I’m honest.  I can’t tell truth from lies.  She loses me, I parallel, and now we’re neck-and-neck, side-by-side, and sprinting, I’ve got her, she’s stretching, I’m on her, she’s spreading, I’m ravenous, she’s daunting, I fear, I crave, on point, in flight, the Caravan has nothing on me.

If I were a sailor.  An aardvark.  A policeman.  I am none of these.  But I love her, she outpaces me, I can’t catch, and she looks back, and she’s cumming, and now going.

I wish.

And that would be how it would end, with my wishing, her being, my envisioning and inventing and conspiring, but there’s more.  And the coyote, and the rabbit, and the hawk and howling wind.  And the mountain and the river and the ocean and breezy glade.  And there’s life – yes, there’s that, and we’re here, or somewhere, and everything rushes, and to be honest I don’t know deception from reality, my perceptions and illusions are the same, but I dream.  And a coyote, and a boy.  And a human and a male.  And she’s a lady and a wolf, a rodent and a scream, and we tossle and we fight, and devour and delight, and it’s all a simple game – a complex, coordinated, disjunctive weather of dance that never quite syncs up, and that’s okay, because the coyote thrives in run, and the owl lives for the hunt…the mouse delights in escape, and the thought its incompletion…

And I straight as an arrow, swerving like a boomerang.

Points of a Journey

Thank goodness (again) for Friday Fictioneers – fostering the insistence and reprieve of manageable creative work when I’m finding it ever so hard to pull away from endless research.  I always mean to set aside a little time, or “get to it” at a break – and just write awhile…but days have a way of eluding me.  So thank you Rochelle et. al. for the weekly prompt and community that kindly obligates us to create, at least a few paragraphs, 100 words (I borrowed 9 from Doug).  A healthy distraction.

copyright-Rich Voza

            The beginning is filled with arrivals/departures, dogfights of fly-bys and paradise islands.  Ecstasy and remorse, all seeped in the past and aimed toward a future, took place in realms  in-between.  Between a rock and hard place, between the cities we called home, between obligations and accidents, here and there, me and you.

In the long middle we developed mistrust and fostered desire.  Building on distance with dependencies and betrayals.  Which flies faster – a sparrow?  Depends which side the wings are on.  We flew and we crashed.  We survived.

Bringing us to the end, the point at which we always arrive, together.

N Filbert 2013

Fiction in Families – 9

the collective to now:



“There was something tragic in fighting the borders, the heroism of shortcomings, the panic of passion.”

-Bruno Schulz/Jonathan Safran Foer-

Remembering first site: where met, what seen, who did, said and how.

We can go there, recreationally, anew.

Tangly garden, the smell of food, moisty air and a she and a him wandering through florid trellises on barely trails.  Something begins.

An arrival, a vision, a breath.


They eat and speak, jostling giggles, tangling knees.  They are happy with anticipation to realize.

Eye-movements and alcohol, presenting.  Blending to flavor their mouths for the meeting.  And further still, past introduction – names and facts and telephones – for months of hours.

Even sleeping through nights, receivers awake in their slumber.  But face-to-face invented an optimal – expression exceeding – verbal/aural toward visually kinetic.

Hand to dancing leg, uplifted and exposed, a slight flirtation interlocking and embrace.  The sky was leaking bliss and they without umbrellas, faces opened and upraised to be forward.


The rented room, hesitant jumble.  Limbs like ganglia on music, flailing and pulsing and alternating rhythms.  On such a scale.  Spiraling themes, and everything improvised.


Which became the uncanny and announcements to friends.  “That’s a lot of baggage,” they replied to excitement, calculating spouses, careers, digiting the children and distant thousands of miles.  Let alone all the dangling remainders.


And yet they persist.  Airfare and phonelines, sitters and several states.  Unable to locate square roots, figuring unresolvable answers to nonlinear equations.


Seemingly insoluble.  They worked at the problems, nearly convinced of their theories.  Hypotheses and tangents matched excuses unrestrained.  A mountain hollow downpoured with rain.  Something fell, an infidelity to measures.  And again, wrapped in a mail bomb of message.  Risk was reported.  Purporting fear.


The letters flew over the lines, bodies mired in their pasts.  Something was bound up to break.  And fracturing, she did.


Such Great Heights

Such Great Heights: On Loving

“I wonder at vocalism’s ability to rephrase or reenact meaning and goodness even without the wished-for love.  Can a trace become the thing it traces, secure as ever, real as ever – a chosen set of echo-fragments? … The still eye reflects a neutral ‘you’ that is me; and yet secret.  Who can hold such mirroring cheap?  It’s a vital aspect of marriage and of deep friendship.”

-Susan Howe-

            These are things she told me:

She tells me she just needs to be held.  Held and heard.  And validated.  That I understand how she feels, that I empathize.  No need to agree with her or her feelings, no need to fix anything.  Just pay attention (“be with me” she calls it), say some things back kind of like echoes so she can hear that I’m listening, knows I’ve “got” it, and nod and affirm.  Saying things like “I hear how hard that is for you,” or “I can see this makes you angry” and the like.  A safe place, a sounding board, a kind of mirroring…a world-the-size-of-arms or bodies in which it’s okay to be in process, to have your stuff, to be inaccurate, and be.

I tell her I just want to be loved for who I am, not what I do or how I perform, whether I make someone feel better or not, whether I’m useful or succeed, get stronger, am sensitive, smart or good-looking.  I’m fine with being any of those things, but they will always feel like side-effects or attributes, things taken up from time to time, situation-contextually.  I really want to be loved for who I am also, or otherwise, the self I do not know, am unaware of, except that it’s always changing.  I’m wanting value as a being, I suppose, that it’s simply good enough, and matters, that I am.  That someone would choose that.

She’d like to be appreciated for all of her efforts.  All the pains she endures, compromises she makes, limitations she accepts in order to account for me, for my “neuroses” (read “personality”).  ‘d like to hear a heartfelt “thank you” now and then for her services and sensitivities, considerations and workings toward dialogue, care and attention.  She’d like to be recognized, feel wanted, feel loved and craved and adored.

I’d like to be loved with my spaces and misgivings.  From a distance, and the distance loved too – the whole globe of me – my fears, paranoias and worries.  My anxious body.  Jealous narratives, fantastic brain.  As an entity – yes – as a system or sphere, to be chosen, sought out and let be, even celebrated as this odd, unique and difficult human, just like all the others, but different too, in exactly the same ways we all of us are.  A curious realm of unknowns and effects.  Would like that cloud of debris I refer to as “me” to trigger charges in her, of desire, of respect, of wonder and intimate knowledge.  A paradox really.  To be known as unknown, loved dissimilarly, absolutely, and so on.  Misplaced desires, but there all the same.  I ask her to love indeterminacy and confusion.

She asks to be free of her past – not its effects but its definitions.  That we encounter it together – our childhoods and children, our spouses and griefs, our risks and our failures, fulfillments and joys – not compared with the present, competitively, but engaged, encouraged, absorbed.  That not everything “not-me” be a threat, not her job and its clients, her acquaintances, family and friends, past lovers our journeys, events – that they be welcomed and included as ours now – memories, sources, realities we bring to a NOW.  Not as distractions, escapes, private holdings.  That we invite each other whole and unprocessed.  That we be a process for each.  That I be here now with, see her moving toward me, being here, not fragment and dissect her into her pasts and the world.

I tell her I’d like to be ultimate, her be-all, end-all, preference and ideal.  Chaos and all, that this mass of me be some divinity-like, awe-inspiring wonder of an incomparable glory she adore and pursue.  I want to feel special, holy, set apart, unbelievably brilliant and beautiful – in short, spectacular – in all my grungy messy remedial ways and blundering battles.  That it truly stun her how amazing I am all muddied up and crazy, insecure and inconsistent, incompatible and at serious odds with myself – that I be wonderful to her.

She told me she’d like it to be real.  To be purposive and true.  That we be brave and open, vulnerable and strong.  Flexible and protective, guarded and unafraid.  That we feel life securely and take great risks, be certain and unsure.  That we trust and be trustworthy in every metamorphoses we move through.  Tenderly powerful, gently fierce, insistent and forgiving, patiently intense.  That we strive for balance, a balance I guess like nuclear fusion – unaccountable energies in a strangely held rest.

I said it all sounds good, sounds like love to me, and impossible.  Which is fine as I’ve started as a failure, but heroic, and she’s a god arose from ashes.  Hell, she’s died and lived again.  We latch on, strap in and unwind.  We are here.  Here we go.  These terrible chasms and such great heights.

These are things I tell myself.

N Filbert 2012

(couldn’t help but think of this – click for tunes)

Incidental Courage in the Crevices

I’ve taken someone’s advice and picked up David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary – what a potent little delight!  Immediately slid into place with Alain de Botton’s On Love and Macedonio Fernandez’ The Museum of Eterna’s Novel; Jesse Ball’s The Curfew and The Way Through Doors.  Also moved me back to Daniel Handler’s Adverbs and (so-far) wonderful Why We Broke Up.  In the process, feeling forever stunted as a “writer,” I cracked A. Alvarez’ The Writer’s Voice yesterday to these jewels:

“For freelance writers like myself who belong to an endangered species which, as long ago as 1949 Cyril Connolly was already calling ‘the last known herd in existence of that mysterious animal the man of letters,’ writing is less a compulsion than a misfortune, like a doomed love affair.  We write because we fell in love with language when we were young and impressionable, just as musicians fall in love with sound, and thereafter are doomed to explore this fatal attraction in as many ways as we can…fifty years of writing for a living have taught me that there is only one thing the four disciplines have in common: in order to write well you must first learn how to listen.  And that, in turn, is something writers have in common with their readers.  Reading well means opening your ears to the presence behind the words and knowing which notes are true and which are false.  It is as much an art as writing well and almost as hard to acquire.”