Archive for June, 2015

Routine and culture politics

June 21, 2015

Going back over some of the things I wrote a year and a half ago, when I was talking to myself more than I should, I found a passage about pets that was strange, but salvageable.

There are bad moments that resolve, well worse than a moment long but they resolve, towards a realization that you expect much kindness of the world.

It dawned on you there was a detail you were missing, in your “why I can’t take it any more” recap of what has given you this particular headache that forces your attention onto the unriddled world of which everyone wants meaning.

Though with pets it’s really just stress, confusion, blundering shoves from fidgeting, blind with trust.

Lear was mistaken about something, however great his plight, to speak of bitches and hearths so furiously. Maybe that hateful spasm was just the hard edge of fear. But maybe it’s useless to explain anger away.

They shudder in my dark moods. But “abject terror”? Not on their part, never.

I don’t envy them the mutism, the limited understanding of words itself. Not exactly. But it doesn’t look that scary in its own right when you imagine a life of that kind.

You only really fear being refused the lack of understanding, cross-examined when you can’t talk. I wonder if that’s what they fear – it’s unclear how much they understand. Unclear for most of us among ourselves, too.

The best furniture gathers dog hair in the upholstery’s color bound, gear fitting weave. Indigo, red and apple pollen gold. Teased, shreds eaten, the good big parts were neat but now all loosened and pawed.

What’s real about life is a little bit cold. The limits of comfort are everywhere in evidence.

“I do not like a fabric in which the seams and stitches show, just as in a handsome body we must not be able to count the bones and veins.” Montaigne. “The eloquence that diverts us to itself is unfair to the content.”

Our pets are cocooned in the life-giving consolations of our routines. We neglect them out of frustration with the confines of habit and our dissatisfaction with the familiar, but their solid expectations remain. The section before this one was a rant on the subject.

Routine. It’s the daughter of invention, and a bit negligent. If it didn’t happen for you by accident, it hasn’t happened yet, but everyone else in that cozy built environment is sure it’s your fault somehow. …

It’s easy to be a critic when your responsibilities don’t seem urgent or unmet somehow, but when you can barely do enough for someone you love, the big picture is less a map of human error begging to be set straight than an eerie wilderness, devoid of safety nets, where birds fill the air with a conversation in which your survival doesn’t figure at all.


When I reread what I wanted to say before, I have to reject most of it as childish. I’ve learned a great deal in my first year of real financial independence. I wouldn’t go back if I could now. But I can see I still have a lot to learn.

Those same little details about human behavior that seemed so intractable, so difficult to forgive, take on new meaning when you’re negotiating for bare necessities. Then humans are magical beings, resourceful and pliable – words are all you have, and the sheer plasticity of meaning is your currency, not the truth.

Every stranger is a sphinx guarding a treasure horde, and the deeply fungible nature of value is what you unriddle to gain a foothold in those wildly unequal,  but ruggedly democratic social networks that manage the built environment encircled by degraded wilderness and open roads.

Viggo Mortensen’s The Road is like an anthem to me now. The great fear is other people. But with other people, it just depends. In the end, you can’t do it on your own.