“On skin hunger, possibly buying a typewriter, if the plastic companies ever let up on me and maybe even if they don;t if i can get one cheap, and trauma (“Part 1,” to put it ambitiously and with true hubris, and therefore likely a fragment, and further evidence of my mind’s deteriorating executive function)”



Like many of us who live alone, a great deal of my own pain during this epidemic and the more or less mandated dehumanization of our worlds, the loss of even the simplest and most casual human intimacy and closeness, has come from what I call “skin hunger.”


I am also living internet free at my writing desk right now, and i can’t even look up whether someone else coined that term or i made it up myself.


I don’t think it matters, really. but there’s that curiosity nonetheless.


I wrote a genre novel once: sold out, in my view, then, and now, while I was writing Lizzie’s War. LW took four years to write, and between the family therapy (self-administrated, supplemented by the self-medication with alcohol in near lethal doses: i had a therapist and a prescribing psychiatrist at that time, both marvelous, beautiful women who eventually stopped charging me, and ultimately fired me for my neurotic excess and psychotic unreliability, but that’s another fucking story, or two, or three, all long, as all stories truly told are, once you start actually telling what they mean) and how the shit actually went down, and why from more than one angle


but i digress. this is my fucking blog. my sentences here are my own business. so—


— between the psychological realities of my birth family grinding me into what fine flour of insight i could manage with my primitive equipment (the mental/emotional equivalent of the native american tribes pounding acorns or grain with rocks, on rocks, into something cookable, of varying textures, my texture here fairly chunky but ultimately edible, with good editing) (Lizzie’s War being blessed with not one but two gifted, involved, courageous editors: my beloved agent Laurie Fox and my Best Fucking Editor Ever Renee Sedliar, then of HarperSF, which would eventually be called HarperOne, i think, but that corporate shuffling, the buying and selling, of companies and logos and brands, is so nauseating and has such a toxic impact on all things actually writerly that i risk a rant even trying to get the name right at a given moment)—


they fucking fired Renee before we even got properly rolling, to my vast grief and real loss in many ways including simple prose crispness, for instance. Who fires an editor that great? People with great regrets about how The Business Compels Them to do Things That Don’t Like to People They Truly Admire and often even know are The Best at the shit, But—


so fuck Them too, and their owners—


still fucking digressing, fractaling, this uncracked egg is my brain at no point in time, but at least the madness was contained in a shell at birth and requiring nurturing, this cracked sizzling sprawl in the pan at high heat is my brain on in bitterness of experience—


between the psychological work, is what i’m getting at, and the need for Actual Historical Research in classic read-a-ton-of-real-books and wait-for-them-to-be-digested in a longer period than was ever imaginable bearing, by the invisible weirdnesses and uncoerceable timings of the deep brain into some dreamlike detail, never mine, just a half-chewed partially digested bit of scavenged meaning passing through my system like roughage or beer or a stolen hot dog or a lover’s tears caused by me, the system, me the flawed self taking in the world and giving back waste products like the ungrateful wretch i am—


this sustained self-loathing may be a recurrent theme: note to self: so what?—


no offense, dear reader, you’ve walked into a Yeats dialogue between the soul and self, contemporary version, updated to include domestic abuse—


but i digress, exponentially—


a crowd gathers, watching fascinated as the sentence appears to dissolve irretrievably into its elements of primal rage and grief and the sheer scatter of mania—


i told myself this sit-at-the-keyboard shit was over, but without internet it’s this or wander the streets until i am arrested—


between the psychology and the history, I say again, twinned helix processes requiring real time of a substantial nature to integrate, i naturally enough found myself, during that protracted “writing” of Lizzie’s War, without, uh, income. I had quit housecleaning, and my knees and back and irish washerwoman’s hands recoiled at the thought of going back to that. It was maybe 2002, 2003. So i decided, “what the hell, I’ll whip out a fucking detective novel. I love detective novels. The working title of the genre novel to be whipped out like a whore (can i say whore? should i say sex worker, and add some paragraphs about it one way or another, inviting dialogue on another fucking Issue of Our Time in the Great Battle to Subject living Language to Some Muderous Ideological Correctness or Another?—


like a desperate person prostituting himself for cash, i say, like a man selling his integrity for money, i mean, whipping out a blanket in a park to expose his capacity for decent prose to a system hungry for somewhat less decent prose and often satisfied and with a good plot twist amid sex and violence, i determined to write a fucking serial killer book with a twist, that it was a woman who was the killer, and she committed her crimes through a search for love, seeing the possibility in men, the tiny ember of love buried beneath the smothering heap of inflammable personal and societal crap, and allowing herself to hope, until, definitively disappointed at last by each lame ass man in turn, she would arrange their demises in the name of Love Furious at the Failure of Love in a Lame Ass Man, Which All Men Turn Out to be in the End—


and the working title of that thing— which proved to require as much or more craft as any damn writing, but had the virtues of pace, plot, and a certain fuck-it-this-is truly-meaningless-if-not-actually-degrading attitude on my part— was “Skin Hunger.” The woman had skin hunger, like me now, and always, Leonard Cohen’s “crazy for love, and not coming on” in the tower of song, except that i was coming on way too often and still am: the longing for a loving touch. My heroine (no anti, she was me, killing myself) killed when that touch proved to be inedible plastic imitation of food for the real true consuming hunger her skin and soul felt.


Jesus fooking kreest, this is why my lone heroic romantic writer at his garret keyboard pounding at the keyboard and piling up crumpled pages on the floor in every fucking movie with a writer in it, in the extended montage scene to inspiring music in which the Great Work is laboriously composed, until the screenplay says (23 years later . . .. or whatever number of years fits the plot) went on strike. this solo writing shit is humanly ridiculous. It is grueling, sisyphean labor. and fuck camus, sisyphus is not happy, he’s just trying to stay off the streets. that rock is his best effort at doing something harmless, given the need to do. And Camus, as he knew well, solved nothing: The only real philosophical questions is still suicide. I was astounded, honestly, to learn that he was not driving the car he died in. That’s some amazing faith on his part, to leave it all to the poor driving of a friend.


anyway, enough, too much, actually. more to come, unless i’m manage to die before that shit. through a friend’s poor driving or failing to cross the local train tracks “quickly enough.”


p.s. The novel was eventually published as Love in All the Wrong Places, after multiple credible readers said that Skin Hunger sounded like either a cannibal novel or a very bad cookboook (for cannibals). And yet i find the concept useful to this day, crazy for love as i am, craving shamelessly and in utter humiliation for a simple warm touch from any fond being—dogs licking my face these days is bliss, birds shitting on me is welcomed— and trying so desperately and inadequately to not come on, to allow reality to actually starve me to death properly and fitly, as it seems determined to do.


(tim got this far.)


Partyana’s over

“And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him, he said, ‘Let all men be sailors then, until the sea shall free them.’ But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open . . .” You can’t teach, you can’t preach, you can’t communicate, the abhorrence of the world that we usually, and mistakenly, and terribly misleadingly, call “renunciation.” When Job said, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of my ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes,” this is not a particularly stark example of the mythical act of will we ignorantly call renunciation. This is knowledge and vision. Job has seen enough. The party is over. To try to “teach” the abhorrence of samsara in that moment is to miss the point worse than entirely; to attempt to “cultivate” or “practice” that abhorrence, ditto. You can teach, and cultivate, and practice self-discipline, temperance, moderation, balance, simple hygiene and simple common sense. But that is not what the people we think were originally teaching “renunciation” are talking about. They are talking about something that only comes with drowning. You don’t renounce your breath, or oxygen, when you drown. You do everything possible to keep breathing. But at some point, there is simply not another breath to take. Everywhere you look, there is nothing breathable; every effort you make, there is no air for your lungs. You don’t teach that; you can’t; and you shouldn’t try. That’s nirodha. Nirodha, drowning, cessation, doesn’t mean you’ve renounced the party. It means the party’s over.

Sutrayana, Tantrayana, Partyana

the scene is a party scene. (rule one: no pooping the party, a.k.a., first do no harm). the party is, in sanskrit, dukkha. This may be considered a radical translation, but think of how geometers felt when riemann postulated the alternative geometry based on a different reading of how many parallel lines may be drawn to any given line. it is taken as scientific theory now that the universe’s geometry is probably non-euclidean. this is a different geometry/topology of buddhism, based on a non-euclidean translation of the word “dukkha.” the rest follows from that.


samsara, then, the first truth of buddhism, is a party: samsara dukkha. and samsara and nirvana are one. The bodhisattva vow is to party until the party’s over, for all sentient beings. That is why it is so important for the buddhas to wake up, and stay awake. If everyone is asleep, there is no party to speak of; even “slumber parties” are not about slumber, but about staying up all night having fun.


“Now this, monks, is the noble truth of dukkha:” (Dharmacakrapravartana Sūtra, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, in the Pali Canon; I have gone with sanskrit):

first truth of buddhism, in fresh translation: samsara is a party. samsara dukkha

second truth: the cause of the party is the desire to have fun together. ayam dukkha-samudayo

third truth: at some point, the party will be over. ayam dukkha-nirodha

fourth truth: until the party’s over, here are eight guidelines for first doing no harm, while having the most fun possible on the party path (partyana, in the sanskrit). ayam dukkha-nirodha-gamini patipada

Listening to Job

To really listen to Job, to be with him on that dung heap, has proven as difficult for readers and interpreters of the story through the centuries since it was written. Nahum Glatzer, in The Dimensions of Job, his study of the spectrum of readings of Job up until modernity, notes that, “with some notable exceptions,” “premodern” Jewish interpreters made Job into a model Jew, as Christian exegetes made him a model Christian— and even, through the honoring of Job in the Koran, Islamic expositors made him a model Muslim. All these, Glanzer says— again with the occasional exception— “avoided a direct confrontation with the text of the book, in order not to be exposed (or not to expose the pious reader) to the bluntness of the hero’s speeches and the shattering self-revelation of God in His answer to Job. The heritage of faith and the belief in a benevolent, providential deity were too strong to admit a position so greatly at variance with these accepted basic religious attitudes. . . . By concentrating on the story of the patient, saintly Job, the reader could absorb the shock of the drama of the impatient, rebellious  hero; he could interpret the latter in the light of the former.”

The vast majority of exegetical commentary on Job, in short, consisted of variations on the theme of Job’s comforters.

“Then Job answered, again, and yet again, and said, ‘I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all. Shall vain words have an end? (16:1-2)” . . . “Will ye speak wickedly for God? And talk deceitfully for Him?” (13:7)

The key point is that what Glatzer calls “the belief in a benevolent, providential deity” manifestly fails in the case of Job. “Remember, I pray thee,” Eliphaz, the first of Job’s friends, says (4:7), “Who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the righteous ever cut off?” In Psalm 37, where the promise that the meek shall inherit the earth is made, the Psalmist says, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” It does not take Ivan Karamazov to see that this is simply not so. The innocent perish every day, and the righteous are all too often cut off, and forsaken, while the wicked thrive; a large percentage of the rest of the Psalms actively lament this.  Job’s seed is not begging bread, true, because they are already dead. The only way to make the argument from righteousness always rewarded on earth work, is to set the standards for righteousness so high that no human being qualifies. But this would undermine the entire thrust of the basic accepted religious attitudes, the pastoral responsibility of the shepherds to urge righteousness and its rewards upon the flock. To actually hear what Job is saying here is to risk considering, to the point of debilitating despair, that sufficient righteousness is impossible to any human being. The story’s basic premise, after all, the place where we began, is that there was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. And what has come upon that man is precisely what the Lord has always promised to the wicked. If Job’s best shot at living a righteous life has brought this divine judgment upon him, then . . . But here the comforters’ must stop. Because to go any further, to cease the effort to figure out what mote in Job’s eye has brought this all upon him, and start considering the condition of their own eyes . . . Better, much better, in the pure unconscious fashion of necessary hypocrites in responsible positions through the ages, to be blind enough to continue leading the blind, than to see where that consideration that they are no less vulnerable than Job, which begins right here on the dung heap, leads. “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me,” Job says (9:20). “If I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life. This is one thing, therefore I said it, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked.” This can only be unhearably bad news, a deep motivation to deafness, indeed, for those who must believe that being perfect will save them.

It doesn’t matter how much of a sinner Job is, or how righteous: that is only for God in his incomprehensible Justice and Mercy to judge and to forgive. What matters, for Job, is that he was given the gift of life by God, did the best he could in the light of God’s word to live according to God’s mitzvot, and God has blighted his life, killed his children, alienated his wife and friends, and reduced him to a seething mass of suffering flesh sitting on a heap of shit. His suffering is such that he is genuinely eager only to return the gift of life that God gave him.

This is crucial: Job does not want to live any more. The rest doesn’t matter. God made him, and Job has been brought by God to the point where he honestly and deeply wishes God hadn’t. The reason for his suffering doesn’t matter in the least, at this point; but Job knows that it is disproportionate. He could never have sinned enough to warrant this suffering. It is on God: his creature knows that God’s Creation has failed in him. He would rather die than accept another moment of this incomprehensibly perverse bait-and-switch thing that God looked upon in all his creative glory and pronounced good. Job knows that it is not good enough. All he wants is the nothingness from before God’s beginning of the light and the dark, the heavens and the earth. he wants the grave, as a laborer wants rest. No one can possibly understand this unless they have reached the same point. Jeremiah understands (cf Jer 20:14). Elijah. David, in any number of his Psalms. Moses. And, yes, Jesus. We can no longer take God’s word on it, when he looks upon what he has made and says it is good. We know different. We want out. We don’t want to suffer another moment of this goodness. God has promised that the day of the wicked is coming. But strangely enough, the day for the righteous is already here, in precisely the same form. It is, as promised, a day of darkness, and not of light.

Pick up your cross, and follow me, Jesus said. We have done that as best we could, and we have prayed with him to have the cup taken away, if it be Your will. But Thy will be done. And here we are, nailed beside him like the penitent thief, at the heart of the darkness. From the slight elevation of the cross, we can see perfectly well that the darkness covers the whole land in impenetrable black suffering, and we can hear now that all creation groans and travails together in this pain. The grave alone looks good from here.

It is entirely possible that because of my own sins I deserve to die like this. But not the guy beside me. And not my mother, and all the other beloved dead; and not, simply to begin somewhere obvious to all, beyond any personal comprehension, six million servants of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and the great cloud of witnesses through the ages.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the man beside us cries out, faithful even now, beginning to pray the twenty-second Psalm of David. But really, it’s too late for a good answer. He could tell us why, and we still would want only to have this agony end. It is too much agony for anyone. Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? Or thy faithfulness in destruction? And the righteous man beside us cries out in a loud voice, and gives up the ghost; and we envy him only for how quickly he died.

The Uncertainty Principle

“In quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle (also known as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle) is any of a variety of mathematical inequalities asserting a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, known as complementary variables, such as position x and momentum p, can be known. Introduced first in 1927, by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, it states that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa.”


a kind of Uncertainty Principle in relationship: your desire may be to determine as accurately as instruments allow the position of a particle; mine, to determine its velocity or direction. Your accuracy, according to Heisenberg, inevitably blurs mine; your experimental result achieved is mine thwarted, and vice versa. Of course, it’s just one experiment. But even to begin to recognize such situations in the dynamics of relationship involves a vast human sophistication, and to recognize them mutually takes a human sophistication exponentially more vast and deep. To coordinate the research somehow in a mutually satisfactory way would be love, or at least one position of love, love with a somewhat indeterminable mass, velocity, and direction.


Some relationships are super-conducting super-collider particle accelerators par excellence: two people whose mutual arena of collisions is somehow perfectly constructed to yield either an exceptionally clear reading on some particularity of love, or exceptionally painful chaos of state-of-the-art experimental results of no immediate use or value except to disprove current hypotheses, also called despair at the impossibility of relationship.

Relationships Are Impossible, 2

A crux: an offer of rapport, a communication genuinely trying to offer the opportunity to reply, in a cultural/personally-colored language so alien somehow that in itself the language constitutes a break in rapport to the other person, who, registering the break in rapport, also in genuine desire to facilitate communication, completes the death spiral of the exchange. No one broke rapport, at any point, no one wanted to; but rapport, for both, is broken, badly. One person’s good manners is another person’s insult; one person’s graciousness is another person’s crudity; one person’s signal of good will is another person’s communication of aggression. One person’s nuance is another person’s quibbling; one person’s frankness is another person’s bull in a china shop; what is simple to one person is simplistic to another. Can this marriage be saved?

Game Theory

a move in the one-up game: rather than trying tit-for-tat at a perceived one-up, from a perceived position of one-down go two-down by embracing the “one-up” whole-heartedly: double down on the bet, not as a bluff but in genuine concession that you’ve likely already lost. This may expose a bluff, the other person may actually have the cards and you do in fact lose the hand, but you will learn something useful one way or another about the cards everyone was holding and how they played them. It’s just money, after all. It’s just a game. If it’s not interesting, no one would have been playing in the first place; if it doesn’t keep being interesting, there no sense continuing to play.

Truth in the wild

We tend to think of truth as an object, to be found and named once at for all, and thereafter, generally, put to use. But what if truth is more like a wild animal? if it must be sought out in its natural habitat, an endeavor requiring skills, subtlety, knowledge, patience? And if it is like a wild animal, how much do we really learn, hunting it only to shoot it? Or hunting it to capture it and cage it, to put it on display for our convenient viewing. What if truth, to be truly understood, really requires us to see it live, and wild, to approach it on its own terms and under its real conditions? This would require an education, a preparation, a commitment infinitely more complex, deeper, broader. What is the difference between Jane Goodall’s knowledge of chimps and the knowledge of someone at a zoo on a Saturday afternoon? Even if the guy at the zoo has read Goodall’s books, the qualitative difference in knowledge is incalculable. And Jane Goodall, more than anyone else, knows how much she has yet to learn about chimpanzees. And this is for an animal relatively amenable to human presence. There are truths you could spend an entire life seeking in the wild, and only glimpse once.

Heart Crushing

the Biblical promise of a new covenant, rooted in the gift of a new and living heart: but this can’t happen until the old heart fails. And not just fails: the failures of our present hearts are written large around us every day in the devastation and horror of our world: no, we must know that failure of heart, as a fundamental reality, and must realize that we are helpless to remake that failed heart on our own. As long as we keep trying to make the heart of stone do, the heart of flesh cannot be given to us. But the breaking and shattering and grinding of the heart of stone to dust, which is the mercy of God, is a terrible thing. The only thing worse than the process that brings us to a broken and a contrite (in the Hebrew, literally, a “crushed”) heart, is the attempt to keep living the walking death we can manage with that heart of stone, amid rubble and dust.

A Gedankenexperimente

the delineation of (irreconcilable, at some level: communal, interpersonal, sexual, spiritual) differences, the different ships we are on, the lonely ships we will go down with.

A Gedankenexperiment: imagine two measuring devices, akin to very sophisticated lie detectors, in a mutual feedback loop. Hooked up to two people, the devices are calibrated to register “mutual value,” “mutual recognition of harm,” and “irreconcilable evaluation of value/harm.” It is the irreconcilable difference results that are most interesting, of course: the unsettled zone of possible creativity, where a mutual solution of mutual value may be possible, and also the zone of possible, genuine, discovery of irreconcilability, genuine difference, where one person’s value registers as a harm to the other person, and vice versa, in which case a backing-off to a point of doing no harm is called for. No one in this scenario is willing to do harm; that is one reason the value/harmometer is so sophisticated, from one point of view: it is a state of the art instrument precisely for avoiding doing harm, like a heart monitor with an alarm, a mutual dukkha meter with an emergency shut-off mechanism. No two-by-fours, no violations, coercions, insults, power moves, winners and losers: the best use of the value/harmometer is in a very precise determination of the distance for right balance between mutual value shared and mutual harm avoided. It is the old commune ideal of getting as close as people can get, and of graceful distancing when the feedback is that it is too close: an empirical, trial-and-error discovery of the quality and quantity of distance in mutual equilibrium. Gestalt-O-Rama was a kind of early-generation, state-of-the-art pioneer iteration of a value/harmometer, a potent tool, at best, despite occasionally being used like a bulldozer blade for brain surgery, like kleenex for construction work, and like reading tax law out loud for stand-up comedy. (Note: Reading tax law out loud for stand-up comedy could actually work, in context; it’s all in the timing, tone, and body language, at that point.)

The preciousness of the surprise of being able to share something with someone (without harm to anyone) that we believed we would have to “take to our grave” unspoken and unshared, to avoid doing harm.

the genre of the Notes: like fiction, truly intended to maximize the expression of “truth,” without doing harm. A critical mass of art, saying first: “no need to take this personally.” Every examined pain reveals itself as a composite pain; the tapestry of dukkha at any given point is woven of many threads of history, interpretation, projection, confabulation, sources real and imagined, and real and imagined outcomes. Every thread of grief, followed deeply enough, discovers all griefs.

There is no room in these depths of self-examination-in-dukkha for blame or guilt, superiority or inferiority, manipulation, spin, victor or victim. And we reach these depths, if we are honest. However bleak we may find them, one fruit of such depths is genuine humility and compassion. The arrogant little shit cannot survive these depths; no one can be one-up here, nor one-down. All anyone can want here, at the depth of knowledge where all of our helpless suffering is revealed to be inescapably mutual, entwined, systemic, and even self-induced, is for the suffering to stop; and all anyone can do here is her/his best, to stop causing suffering, to the extent that the state of the art of her/his skillful means makes possible. (Certain Jains wear masks, to avoid breathing in (and so killing) gnats; the next step, trying to save even gnats from harm, would seem to be to stop breathing entirely.) (Personally speaking, I don’t need to worry about gnats to have a gentle lean toward ceasing to breathe.) (Also, technically speaking, I think the ball is in the court of the gnats here, karma-wise: if you don’t want to get breathed in, get the fuck out of my face. But of course I was raised a barbarian Catholic, feeding on slaughtered fish every Friday, and the body and blood of the lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, on Sundays.) (This is full circle on the nature of suffering as inescapably mutual, entwined, systemic, and even self-induced: the ironic original sin of being born Catholic, a sin cemented by the baptism that is supposed to take it away.)