Sunday, August 31, 2014

Jordan Almonds

"A psychoanalysis bent on understanding people is going to be very limited. It's not about redescribing somebody such that they become like a character in a novel. It's really showing you how much your wish to know is an anxiety state—and how it might be to live as yourself not knowing much about what's going on...That's what's happening anyway actually, but it's concealed...by fantasies of knowing who we are." Adam Phillips, a psychoanalyst, interviewed in The Paris Review, Spring 2014

My grandparents, Pailadzou and Haroutoun
I want to tell you about the Jordan almonds at my Aunt Lucy's house. At Middle Eastern weddings, every guest is sent home with a little parcel of Jordan almonds wrapped in white tulle and tied with a satin ribbon. Because almonds are bittersweet, like life, they are sugared in hopes that life will be more sweet than bitter for the newlyweds. The almonds are always dispensed in odd numbers, so that the couple, as well as the almonds, remain indivisible.

          Why do I want to tell you? It doesn't matter, what matters is that I want to tell you. 


          She was really my Great Aunt Lucy, my grandmother's younger sister, who was a spinster. In Armenian the name Lucine means Of the Light. She was the homeliest sister, the runt, with sallow skin and bulging, pale blue eyes, so pale they appeared amber in the light. Her nose was too bulky for her slight frame and she had ulcers. 

          Lucy was shuttled from one sister's family to another, always a source of disharmony. She talked about the men behind their backs to the wives. The men merely sensed her contempt, they suspected its hidden depth, beneath her pathos. But the married couples fought, and they knew she was the cause.

          Her mother's last words to my grandmother were: Always take care of Lucy, promise me. 
A plaster cast of my Aunt Lottie's left hand
          Where are the almonds? It doesn't really matter about the almonds, but the more I want to tell you, the more elusive they are. Why is that? While I think about Lucy, I see her smiling at me. Raised eyebrows and a smile full of, I don't know, mischief. We were collaborators, she and I. My feelings for her were unmarked by my mother's distaste or my grandmother's pity. Lucy had a small slate and taught me the English alphabet with a piece of yellow chalk. I read my very first word with her, four letters, one syllable, sounding it out aloud. I was startled by my own utterance. Hand. I suppose I felt like a conjurer. There was power, and I possessed it.

          I speak Armenian with an Adabazartzi accent, although I've never set foot in Turkey. I'm not fluent, except sometimes just as I fall asleep. It's as if I'm overhearing my mother and grandmother conversing. Almost always about something boring and complicated, instructions of some kind. They speak softly so as not to disturb me, but if I become fully conscious of their voices, I startle and wake up.

          When my mother was dying I spoke Armenian to her sometimes. Just short phrases, like, "How are you?" or "How does this taste?" Armenian was her first language. But she didn't understand; she told me she'd forgotten. Maybe I'll forget English when I get old, revert to Armenian.

          Lucy was the only one who spoke both languages fluently, and she was the only one who never married. She wore a pen on a ribbon around her neck, the way the others wore their wedding bands. 

          That sounds a bit contrived. Am I trying too hard? Lucy wore a pen on a ribbon around her neck, period. And my mother called her a showoff. What do you think? Is it all part of the digression, and the digression is really the subject? But there's no subject because we can't ever know ourselves. Somewhere else in that interview, Adam said, "What psychoanalysis at its best does is cure you of your self-knowledge. And of your wish to know yourself in a coherent, narrative way...It's only worth knowing about the thing that makes one's life worth living."

          What if it's not pleasure that makes life worth living? What if it's just the search for meaning—not finding it—just the sense of purpose we find in exploration. What if happiness doesn't make us happy?

          I don't like Jordan almonds, but I do love sushi. 


          Lucy displayed her almonds on a commemorative dish from Niagara falls, beside the radio and a vase of plastic flowers. Jordan almonds, it turns out, are inedible, hard as a pebbles, and they taste like chalk. I know because I stole one of Lucy's frothy little wedding sachets and locked myself in her bathroom so I could try one. When she found the candies and tulle at the bottom of the waste basket, she was angry with me. She may have called me a thief. With her accent, the word came out, "Teef." I may have laughed and cried at the same time.

          I made her a valentine at school, a big, red heart I'd cut out myself. It was perfectly symmetrical and I had glued it onto a paper doily. When she taped it to her wardrobe, I was so proud that I asked her if I could have it back. She was mad, just like she was with the almonds. She called me an Indian giver and said I couldn't have it back. Shame and greed made me blush, but I didn't cry. But this isn't about valentines, right?
A mess

          Lucy died a virgin. The Armenian who owned the factory where she had worked proposed to her. She was old, but he was even older. He gave her an engagement ring and she even wore it for awhile. It was her last chance to stop being a burden and she knew it. But she gave back the ring anyway. 

          I love hamachi sushi with spring onions; I guess I prefer savory to sweet. Does that make life worth living? I don't know. I know I'm supposed to be cleaning the house right now but I keep coming back to the almonds instead. The almonds are a digression, right? Aunt Lucy's a digression. Only follow digression, digress long enough to track the hidden meaning. Maybe I've stumbled on why psychoanalysts are so humorless. There's no end to digression. All I know is my house still needs cleaning. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Singularity

Long ago, before memory, there was a single point of infinite energetic density. Because a point is that which has no parts or magnitude, we know it exists only in relationship 
to something greater. But there is nothing else: here is a point without context.

          Before separation—before the idea of it can be conceived, before anything—there is loneliness. Totality is unimaginably lonely, so terribly complete that separation is conceived, as a salve.

          Longing for companionship, the whole must divide itself. With the mightiest effort of
consciousness the whole splits, explodes into an infinity of parts and particles. An explosion of unimagined diversity.

          But now, like the singularity, each part of the whole knows only itself, longs, in its perceived isolation, for union with something greater than itself.

          In the way an amnesiac might experience homesickness, the yearning for separation and reunion emanate from one source, animating everything.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Schadenfreude

Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova, "Solo for Two"
Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading them to experience the same emotions as those around them. Emotional contagion is well established in laboratory experiments, in which people transfer positive and negative moods and emotions to others.~"Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks," Adam Kramer, et al.
Our beliefs about what we are and what we can be precisely determine what we can be.~Tony Robbins
Let your smile be your umbrella.~Bing Crosby
Ever since I decided to write something cheerful, I've been fighting the urge to binge drink Sapporo beer, protest Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their own land—then protest the other protesters because this genocide has been going on for 50 years already, so what the fuck, motherfuckers?—also to use the compound word 'motherfucker' in every possible sentence, and to sulk. 

          I've been picking fights under the guise of standing up for myself, making up stories to explain why I'm uneasy, why others should censor themselves so I don't have to. Curt, my first love, writes to me from Southeast Asia, 8,000 miles away, and I'm displeased. Poor, sensitive Charlotte. Curt describes getting a massage in a curtained cubicle in a shopping mall, beside a Starbucks. He's tired from all that shopping so Curt pays 400 pesos, about six bucks, for a one-hour massage. The girl asks him to remove all his clothing and she watches as he does this. She asks him to lie on his stomach. He tells me how good her hands feel on him, how sensual. She asks him to turn over and, of course, he's hard. She's 20, he writes, with big lips and a willing smile. I've cleaned up his version a little. Yes, okay, a lot.

          I am not cheerful; I'm a sullen, angry motherfucker.



I start telling him the fantasy I had the night before—to put us on more equal footing, I think, as if perhaps I hope to ease the shame of remaining untouched. Even to me, my words sound prudish and absurd. I hit the Reply key anyway and go to bed.

          I dream I'm dressing for a wedding I've been to before—the wedding of a friend that took place a few years ago. For the real wedding, I wore clothes that felt unnatural and stiff. I'm always embarrassed when I have to dress up. Here I wear a beautiful, sweeping gown that looks weightless and fragile, like it's made of gold leaf, with a snug, black velvet bodice. But it's strapless and if I can't find something to cover my big bare shoulders and swelling arm fat, I will miss the wedding. Getting dressed beside me is my date to the wedding, and I'm surprised to see it's Curt, who is totally unaware of me. But there are two Curts—they're knotting each other's ties—and I can't decide which Curt is mine. If I don't sort that out, I'll definitely miss the wedding.  



The next day Curt asks polite questions about my stupid fantasy and I'm even less cheerful.

          In an effort to cheer the fuck up, I try to explain myself to Curt although, as I said, I suspect I'm just making things up to justify my black mood. But what if my lies are actually the truth I've been avoiding? 

          It's true. I do want Curt to be reverent and kneel at the altar of First Love, the same way I do. He can pay for three blow jobs a day for all I care, just don't tell me about it. Be different with me. I want to be passionately in love and, because I'm not and don't expect to be again, the next best thing is memory. It turns out it's like visiting a grave, though. Here lies First Love. Still, I want Curt to admit our graveyard isn't the best setting for a blow job with a stranger.

          Curt replies. After delivering a scathing monologue on the judgmental and hypocritical attitudes of the west, Curt apologizes for his insensitivity to my feelings. Weirdly, I know he's being sincere. It's even possible he has understood me quite well. Although he probably just thinks I need to get laid. A dense fog is lifting and in the new emotional landscape that's starting to take shape I see nothing familiar.

          I read a new poem by Dani Kopoulos in the Summer issue of Sufi Journal, and write down the lines

all the complexities
of our oneness and separation 
are made simple
and beautiful
by impermanence.

let that haunt you
and you'll know what to do.

          I watch a new TV program called "Married." In it, a middle-aged couple goes on vacation hoping to rekindle their romance. They've just met the couple from the next room; she has a belly-button piercing and perky tits, and her boyfriend looks like a body builder. Once inside their room, as the married couple start to touch each other, they hear the couple next door fucking like animals. Meanwhile, our married couple is struggling; every position they try is uncomfortable; at one point her head stops bobbing under the sheets and she whines, "If I go on any longer I'm gonna get lockjaw." He mounts her proudly but slips out after a couple of thrusts and can't make himself rise again. Then she falls asleep while he lies awake in the dark and listens to their neighbors pounding and moaning. 

          That makes me cheerful.