Sunday, April 09, 2006


My apologies for being absent here for the past few days - I've been visiting my Mom and step-dad in Las Vegas. At some point I must have decided that I would take a break from the internet as well as the humidity. It was surprisingly easy to not blog, not check e-mail, and not read the NY Times online. I hope no one was too annoyed seeing Edgar Meyer's face unchanged here all week.

Of course, I didn't cease media consumption altogether, so I will probably have lots of things to talk and think about here in coming days. Here's something from a radio interview with poet Jorie Graham, on the subject of absence. It's sort of heady stuff - after a while all that talk of absence and presence can start to sound like New Age gobbledygook from "What the Bleep do We Know?!" But sometimes we do need to be reminded to inhabit our own flesh, with all the contradictory stuff we contain. And who wants to read a blog by an uninhabited person?

Michael Silverblatt: ...the poet has been absent from school for the first time in her life, and can hear in bed the moment of her name being called, not being there, and the teacher saying "absent," and she realizes that a human is perhaps the only thing that can be "absent".

Jorie Graham: Well, it's strangely self-evident when you think of it, but I remember as a child looking at a tree outside my window and realizing that the tree flowed to the outer limits of itself, and could not be absent or withdraw from its ultimate outward boundary at any moment. It was completely present. I felt that about everything else on the planet except for the humans. One can look in the face of a loved one, of their own mother, of a person who is caring for one, and one can see them thinking about something else, one can see them withdraw. One can feel oneself withdraw from the feelings that one is having and go into what we call an 'inwardness.' In that particular poem, the theological sensation of being completely present at the borders of one's being is what the child understands is a work, it's a practice. It's not something which is a given.

Just because one has a body doesn't mean that one is inhabiting it. Just because one is of the flesh doesn't mean one is incarnate. To be incarnate is to have - without, again, having any religious significance here, it's just a good metaphor - to be incarnate is to be inhabiting, via all of your emotions, the whole palette of emotions, your body at a given moment. So that above all else what full presence gives one is a capacity for not only complex feeling, but contradictory and paradoxical feeling. So that one of the things that it allows one is to feel glad and sad at the same time in an event. And realize that the body does not choose....

As Whitman says, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself - I contain multitudes." We contain paradoxical emotions and being present allows one to move to a place where one has opposing feelings about the same things and then one has to choose on an ethical basis which ones to prioritize. But not to feel that only one of them is the appropriate emotion and not to feel that only one of them is the one that should be the current through which one acts.

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