Being The Beginning Sunday January 23, 2011
1 The Exchange Sunday January 30, 2011
2 bildende Kraft
3 Gossamer Wings
5 Odd Shoes
7 A Love Supreme
8 The Three Cornered Light
10 The Watchman
11 The Upright Way
13 The Cave of Montesinos
16 The Perfect Square
18 The Uncontainable
19 The Ear of Malchus
20 Mauvais Pas
21 Sinan Qua Non
27 The Vanishing Point
28 The Cat Walks
29 The Approximate Likeness of Being
Becalming Unscientific Postscript
The Mistral (It., maestrale) are the cold, northerly winds blowing down the Rhone valley
and called as such for their force. (It., maestro, master)
“Mention (Hud) one of 'Ad's (own) brethren:
Behold, he warned his people about the winding Sand-tracts:
but there have been warners before him and after him…”
surat al-ahqãf (The Sand Dunes); 46, v. 21
“The scent of these arm-pits is aroma finer than prayer,
This head is more than churches or bibles or creeds.”
Leaves of Grass
There is a gentle whirring of the disc reader, a slight pause and then the disc icon appears. Flanagan double-clicks on the icon, with difficulty, as his finger does not want to co-operate. There is a further short delay and then a contents box opens, pulses, and the screen changes to display a folder within the box. Like looking at his heart trace while on the treadmill the previous day, he realises. A sinus rhythm, the specialist had reassured, normality in the signals. There is one folder within the box: The Arm-pit Diary. Flanagan looks at the name and twitches his nose. A personal diary, like being itself, he had long ago agreed with Eco, is a multi-laned highway in which you may travel in any direction but always towards eventual dead-ends; “amorphous stuff”, eluding determination.
Thinking of determination, Flanagan wonders whether Diaries actually warrant names, like cats or dogs, or imaginary friends. What if it were his own, what would he name it? The question distracts him from proceeding any further and he stares at the screen. At the periphery he sees that the Chapman file from yesterday is still saved to the desktop and wonders why? But he knows! With all that has happened, and is yet to happen, he has exhibited a terrible urgency to tidy up his affairs and going through the old computer files, one by one, was part of that process. Chapman was one of yesterday’s tasks and should have been deleted. He must have missed it, or got tired. Flanagan doesn’t want to fall behind in his schedule and is annoyed with himself: a patterned failing. He double-clicks the Chapman file and waits.
It is an old file, from three years previously, containing reference material he had gathered to help track down a manuscript sent by Ralph Waldo Emerson in the mid-1800s to an English publisher called John Chapman. The commission, he remembers, had come his way from Justine, the wife of an extremely rich Turkish businessman; a collector of Americana – a collection which included Justine, his Kentucky-bred, Yale-educated, arm-decorating lawyer-wife. Not being his field of expertise, Flanagan had little enthusiasm for the commission, but needed the money and promised to help. Justine had pestered, and pestered him, as if finding that particular manuscript was the only thing in the world that would make her husband happy or satisfy him.
God she was beautiful, Flanagan remembers, with the perfect body, hair and smile of a collectable. ‘What a sad smile you have!’ he had observed, at their very first meeting. And a short time later, asked of her, ‘How does a collectable move beyond the avarice of the collector?’ ‘Are you any different Jaffa,’ she had replied. ‘Is not the freedom you offer an even greater cupidity?’ A fragile, beautiful woman frozen in a vacuum of emotion, Justine had transferred her fixation; offered herself in a moment of romantic fantasy and then had lain there, eyes shut, crying from the necessity of it.
Flanagan takes a deep breath. He had started, he noted looking at the first page of the file, as he always did, with an explanation of a word and coincidences, trying to give himself a focus, a purpose. Chapman: the old English for a barterer. The name, he suddenly decides, is as good as any for a diary: an exchange between the inner and outer self. He moves his finger over the mouse-pad again, closes the Chapman file and places it in the trash. He then returns to the Arm-pit file, opens it, waits and then click-adjusts the zoom, to 150 per cent enlargement. Easier on the eye, he thinks, if not on the soul. A date and time appears in a muted header at the top of the page but she has still typed the date and its title, in big block capitals. He scrolls quickly down. Only a dozen or so entries, all in January, most of them long. Not ever having kept a diary, beyond his brief notes concerning appointments, at first glance it’s not what Flanagan imagined. He had, for some reason, presumed one-line locations, perhaps two-line gossip or three-line observations, and some occasional underlined insights; all random, discontinuous, freely associated; all possibly dangerous; all possibly full of shite. But not this, he realises. “There are things that cannot be done (or said)” he remembers Eco wrote in Kant and the Platypus.
‘Or undone,’ he says aloud. What had Rio planned for this, he wonders and then wonders again as to why she had stopped so soon? Should he intrude? Did he have a right to intrude? Did Mac have the right to have forced that intrusion? His eye catches the horsehair tassels just visible through a gap in the parcel wrapping. He resists the urge to start at the last entry, and returns to the beginning:
Sorry to land you with this but every heterosexual female should have a gay man in her life with whom to have a good bitch. I’ve given you the gig!
First thoughts for the New Year: I don’t do resolutions … or guilt for that matter, but I’ll try to keep this diary, and also stick to the fitness and diet regime I started last November. Mac has called it my ‘Hot-an-trot Plan’ referring to the hot yoga and running components and my big butt. The diet, I think, I hope, is a marginal need, a few pounds here and there, but necessary for a sense of well-being. And the diary? A formula for thinking about something else… anything else, except eating!
The staff in the Library, decided that for Christmas we would all give each other book’s as presents, books that each of us as individuals thought would be appropriate for this particular time in the other person’s life. Phyllis Andrew gave me Erin Pizzy’s Food for Sluts in which food, the microwave, and even the fridge become the focus of Pizzy’s “seething rage”, her isolation, her attempts to understand, her love and loathing of food . . . perhaps even her love and loathing of life. A definite resonance in that for me! Going through a crisis? Write a cookbook! Want to provoke a crisis? Try following the instructions!
Mac gave me Walt Whitman’s, Leaves of Grass. American ‘be-longing’ he called it. Blame him for me writing to you!
Never thought about food much before, at least not in the erotic sense, but recently the new diet has precipitated a weirdly enhanced sense of smell. It doesn’t dominate – what does in my life? – but does impact intensely every now and then and is always, nearly always, linked to a sense of déjà vu. You know how you see those adds where somebody cooks an egg on a sun-baked car bonnet. Well… last night I dreamt about food being cooked by the body’s own heat, just after making love. Real food marinated in the juices of passion, eaten there and then. The dream evolved with a food exploration of the dream-lovers chest and then the small of his back, a sexual sushi counter complimented by aperitifs from the hollows his ear, by champagne bubbling from his mouth and nostrils, by wine from a cupped upturned palm, and by cognac from his puckered navel. In the dream I could smell each sensation, each vapour, each fleeting image. The orgasm was sooo intense.
Why? I wonder. I’m as fussy about the scent of cleanliness as the next person and stale sweat is the most potent antidote I know. But in those moments, those very immediate and selfish post-coital moments when all other senses are satisfied, it is my nose that cries out for more and it is in the aroma of a man’s armpit and its testosterone haze of salinity that drives me wild. I like to bury my head there, like a rutting animal, and inhale deeply, bringing me to a high, sometimes to orgasm again; a private intense orgasm, which is not for sharing.
Dearest Walt, I truly understand what you meant when you wrote, "The scent of these arm-pits is aroma finer than prayer" . . . Last time I tried keeping a diary though was 17 years ago, during those long months spent hiding out with Jack in Eleuthera; chasing by day the bonefish of Cat and chasing at night rum after rum. I wanted to be Rosita Forbes, near whose house at Unicorn Cay Jack has his: to be free in the forest of forgetfulness, roaming wild on forbidden roads to Samarkand and beyond. The diary didn’t survive the energy required for dreaming.
Went out with Mac and some of the others from the Library on New Year’s Eve. Too much to drink: me and a thousand others. Danced the night away and behaved myself . . . just. Never got to bed though. Was talked into doing a charity swim in the sea, …without a wet suit! Bloody cold and I haven’t recovered: laid low but alas, not New Year laid. And for the usual obvious reasons: Séamus’ availability.
He, the putative (s)layer, was away until yesterday skiing with his family … his wife, ‘she who shall remain nameless’, perhaps did. Prefer not to think about that. He telephoned once or twice to wish me Happy New Year from the top of some mountain or other. Said he misses me, needs me…wants to do things to me. He promised more time together in the coming year. Yeah, Yeah… I’ll believe that when it happens. Anyway going up to our secret place in the hills tomorrow to meet him. Rampant sex on the cards I hope! Delayed my period by starting another packet of the pill back-to-back in anticipation. The things we gals have to do… eh! To get our way … to fuck with abandon. Not that Séamus would even ask or wonder about that side of things… he just assumes … and resumes when he wants.
Thinking about his aroma all the time, now. . .
Flanagan looks up, wondering whether he should continue. ‘Shit,’ he says aloud, cursing Mac for forcing this intrusion, this judgement. He remembed arguing with Mac about the nature of reflective judgement, and what Eco had written about the platypus. Eco had pointed out that when the platypus was first discovered, Kant was already going senile, and that, by the time it was decided that the platypus was an egg-laying mammal, Kant had already been dead for 80 years. Eco had argued that if Kant had ever been able to venture his opinion abiut the nature of a platypus, that opinion would have been shaped by reflective judgement, and would have determined that because the platypus had bildende Kraft, a capacity to begin, it had a capacity to be. It had its own place in the scheme of things.
Just like Rio’s diary!
Flanagan’s nose twitched and he thought of Alanna in Istanbul. Oh so beautiful Alanna! She too had liked the smell of a man’s armpit after making love. “The last real smell of a modern man” she had called it. And “The last anything of modern man, who has all but lost his wild grace” she had then emphasised for his benefit. The words haunt him and he thinks of the Chapman file again. John Chapman, the physician and publisher-owner of The Westminster Review in the 1800s who was a serial collector of mistresses not to mention his association and possible affair with George Eliot – Marian Cross nee Evans – his editorial partner. Flanagan moves the mouse and opening the trash cache recovers the file and opens it. In scrolling down he sees what he calls his ‘coincidence notes’; these ones were about other men called Chapman and thinks even more highly of the use of the name for a diary of his own. He had highlighted John Chapman a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed, the nursery-man of lore exchanging seedlings for hospitality and a chance to preach. And the other John Chapman, author of Memories and Milestones, thumping with single-handed indignation – having burnt one hand so badly, in despair at striking an admirer of his future wife, it necessitated amputation – in 1912 on the anniversary of a Negro lynching in Coatesville, Pennsylvania to an audience of two. ‘Diaries are also indignant,’ he whispers.
This particular concept suddenly bothers him. Flanagan wonders how much indignation is ever needed to do what must be done. He gets up from the table, crosses the room to the CD rack. Finding what the sleeve he is looking for he extracts the disc and places it in the player. The song is haunting and he remembers yet another Chapman: Mark, the killer of John Lennon and of Double Fantasy, the album Chapman had Lennon sign for him earlier in the day, before returning in the evening to wait with a gun in his hand and a copy of J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye in his pocket. He wonders about the multiplication of fantasy and sings along with his own emphasis to the song, ‘I-magine all the people . . .’
Returning to the computer Flanagan looks again at the two underlined passages, and smiles. Neither would, of course, or did, help him track down the manuscript he was after but this was his way. He remained a collector and the ‘observations’ were a brief reward on that journey. Like many more, now forgotten, they were part of what he is …was, purloined moments of insight and reflection; siphoned indulgences to his own being. And yet in the past week he had moved many of these files to the trash, exhaling that lifetime of indulgence. He then scrolls down to another entry: John Chapman, the publisher, had also kept a diary and in it he had described some of his feelings for Eliot. Two lines of that diary had caught Flanagan’s attention and he had recorded them: “I dwelt also on the incomprehensible mystery and witchery of beauty. My words jarred upon her and put an end to her enjoyment.”
Rio had reacted in that way, Flanagan thinks. ‘I “jarred” you Rio’, he says aloud. His eyes drift upwards to where her diary waits, its title and content muted on the screen’s background, and then back again to his, own words. Coincidence holds little mystery, or mystique, for him anymore, he realises. He knows is an illusionist who has suddenly lost that magic, that sense of amazement and become disillusioned. He sees where he had flagged the same Westminster Review’s savaging under Chapman’s editorship – in a display of hypocritical prudery – of the poetry of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in 1860. Chapman had declared “a naked savage has often a wild grace of movement that a civilised man can hardly possess, but certainly not display”. Alanna had demanded a wild grace, he remembers.
Flanagan puts his hand to his throat and feels along its length, wondering why there is no pain, just difficulty. In contrast to Rio and Alanna, in his dreaming, in his breathing, he is now both afraid of food and movement. But not for very much longer, he reminds himself.