“Girls and young women return from the market. Some have serious and regular eyebrows and walk looking sternly from under them, slim and glum–angels with basketfuls of vegetables and meat. Sometimes they stop in front of shops and look at their reflections in the shop window. Then they walk away turning their heads, casting a proud and mustering eye on the backs of their shoes.” – Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (trans. Wieniewska)
“Everyone is stuck within himself, within the day to which he wakes up, the hour which belongs to him, or the moment. Somewhere in the semidarkness of a kitchen coffee is brewing, the cook is not there, the dirty glare of a flame dances on the floor. Time deceived by silence flows backward for a while, retreats, and in those uncounted moments night returns and swells the undulating fur of a cat.” – Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (trans. Wieniewska)
“We all know that time, this undisciplined element, holds itself within bounds but precariously, thanks to unceasing cultivation, meticulous care, and a continuous regulation and correction of its excesses. Free of this vigilance, it immediately begins to do tricks, run wild, play irresponsible practical jokes, and indulge in crazy clowning.” – Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (trans. Wieniewska)
Colorado is one of the places where God kissed Mother Earth. Susanne and I spent the past few days there, in and around the Conejos River valley.
When we arrived at our lodge, the first thing management wanted us to know was that a bear had been through the compound the night before, thoroughly inspecting the trash cans. The District Wildlife Manager had been by later that morning and had left a supply of circulars to be circulated, “Be Bear Aware.” We have bears near where we live, so we already generally were. One of the things the circular instructed one to do “if bears are present” is to “remove all bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders.” Lodge management had taken down the hummingbird feeders not long before we arrived. The hummingbirds were pissed off. They were diving down on the chains from which the newly-removed feeders had been hanging, and were flying about with the angry buzz they put in their wingbeats when they are upset. They’re fiercely territorial animals, as anyone who’s ever been buzz-bombed by one can attest.
We didn’t get to see the bear, it didn’t come back around while we were there. We saw deer, which is not hard to do in Colorado. They were mule deer, so common they might be considered the four-legged finch of the Rockies. There were also plenty of GEICO squirrels, playing Truth-or-Dare with passing vehicles. And free range cattle, there were those, at one point a herd of them being driven down the road by two mounted drovers (“cowboys,” yes) and an Australian sheepdog.
There was a train, the Cumbres & Toltec, which pulls carloads of tourists through the mountains along a narrow-gauge track that a century and more ago was the way to get around up there. The train is pulled by one of the little engines that could, chugging along, slightly sulfurous black smoke pouring from its funnel. Susanne and I rode it, taking the parlour car, which is the last car on the train, far removed from the smokestack. We were served Danishes, fruits, and rum cake, while the car attendant was quick to evict anyone from the car who hadn’t secured parlour-car passage. No, the attendant did not throw the miscreants under the railcars, simply shooed them back to the cattle-car where they belonged. Several of the Republican guests in the parlour car complained, having preferred to see the interlopers tossed from the train and made to walk back down the mountain to the station, but the Democrats, who always outnumber the Republicans though at times are slothful and inattentive, would have none of it and proposed that everyone on the train be allowed into the parlour car. “Let them eat rum cake,” the Democrats said, “a crumb apiece for everyone,” to which the Republicans struck up a chant of, “Nanny-staters! Nanny-staters!”, until the car attendant got everyone settled down and back in their proper and duly-purchased places.
Susanne and I spent the next day along the banks of the Conejos, sitting under the trees while the waters rushed by. Downstream a little ways, a fly-fisherman cast and cast again. Susanne had her pencils and her sketchbook, and she sketched. I had a copy of the manuscript I’ve been working on, and on it I did work. Robins and crows and other birds were about. Mosquitoes sought meals, and many died for their efforts. Hummingbirds remained angry and went elsewhere.
“Conejos” means “rabbits,” but we didn’t see any of those.
“Parenting is hard. As any one who has gone through the process and had enough leisure (and still functioning brain cells) to reflect on it knows, a lot of it is a crapshoot. Things go wrong that you have no control over, and, on occasion, things also go right, and you have no control over those, either. The experience is scary and exhilarating and often humiliating, not because you’re disappointed in your kids, necessarily, but because you’re disappointed in yourself.” — Elizabeth Kolbert, “America’s Top Parent”
“Suffering that is limitless, suffering that is stubbornly enclosed within the circle of its own mania, suffering to the point of distraction, of self-mutilation, becomes in the end unbearable for the helpless witnesses of misfortune.” – Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (trans. Wieniewska)
“Autumn is a great touring show, poetically deceptive, an enormous purple-skinned onion disclosing ever new panoramas under each of its skins. No center can ever be reached. Behind each wing that is moved and stored away new and radiant scenes open up, true and alive for a moment, until you realize that they are made of cardboard. All perspectives are painted, all the panoramas made of board, and only the smell is authentic, the smell of wilting scenery, of theatrical dressing rooms, redolent of greasepaint and scent. And at dusk there is disorder and chaos in the wings, a pileup of discarded costumes, among which you can wade endlessly as if through yellowed fallen leaves. There is great confusion: everybody is pulling at the curtain ropes, and the sky, a great autumnal sky, hangs in tatters and is filled with the screeching of pulleys. And there is an atmosphere of feverish haste, of belated carnival, a ballroom about to empty in the small hours, a panic of masked people who cannot find their real clothes.” – Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (trans. Wieniewska)
As a house that is solidly built ultimately falls into decay, so too are people subject to age and death. The night that has passed does not return, and the bountiful river flows on. The passing days and nights quickly consume the lifetimes of every living thing, just as in the summer the rays of the sun dry up the water in a pool.
Whether you stay at home or depart to another place, your lifetime grows shorter. Death walks with us as we walk and sits with us as we sit. Having traveled a very long distance with us, death returns along with us as we return.
When wrinkles have appeared on the face and the hair has turned grey, how can a man having decayed with age come back to his original splendour? People are delighted when the sun has risen and also when the day ends. But they are not able to perceive the waning in their lifetimes.
Seeing the onset of a season, people rejoice, as though it has come anew. But the succession of the seasons devours life. As pieces of driftwood floating on the ocean come together for a time, so wives, children, kinsmen, wealth and property come together for a while and then depart from us. Their parting is indeed inevitable. Here, no living being can escape its destiny, its birth and death. As a caravan is passing by on a road, one standing at the wayside says, I will follow behind you.
— Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhyakanda Sarga 105
“Who knows the length of time when night lowers the curtain on what is happening in its depth? That short interval is enough, however, to shift the scenery, to liquidate the great enterprise of the night and all its dark fantastic pomp. You wake up frightened, with the feeling of having overslept, and you see on the horizon the bright streak of dawn and the black, solidifying mass of the earth.” – Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (trans. Wieniewska)
This week I’m posting “Saved” to the Stories menu of this blog. It’s a story I wrote in the late 90s and was never quite happy with. I wrote it in first-person and sent it out, it got rejected, that’s okay, I rewrote it in third-person. I sent it out in third-person, it got rejected, but I didn’t mind, I wasn’t happy with it, I rewrote it in second-person. I sent it out, I still wasn’t happy with it, I hadn’t heard back yet, but that’s all right, I rewrote it again, in fourth-person for all I know.
Then I heard back. Gulf Coast had it and wanted to publish it, would I be so kind as to send a copy on 3.5″ floppy? Shit! Where was the version I sent them? Was I even sure which version it was? Could I ask them? Shit-shit-shit…. I dug deep into my backups, into the backups of my backups, cross-matched the file date-stamp with the database entry tracking my submissions, and sent them what I was pretty sure was the correct version. It was, and they published it in early 2002.
“A night in July! The secret fluid of dusk, the living, watchful, and mobile matter of darkness, ceaselessly shaping something out of chaos and immediately rejecting every shape. Black timber out of which caves, vaults, nooks, and niches along the path of a sleepy wanderer are constructed. Like an insistent talker, the night accompanies a lonely pilgrim, shutting him within the circle of its apparitions, indefatigable in invention and in fantasies, evoking for him starry distances, white Milky Ways, the labyrinths of successive Colosseums and Forums.” – Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (trans. Wieniewska)
“A night in July! What can be likened to it? How can one describe it? Shall I compare it to the core of an enormous black rose, covering us with the dreams of hundreds of velvety petals? The night winds blow open its fluffy center, and in its scented depth we can see the stars looking down on us.” – Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (trans. Wieniewska)
“Ordinary books are like meteors. Each of them has only one moment, a moment when it soars screaming like the phoenix, all its pages aflame. For that single moment we love them ever after, although they soon turn to ashes. With bitter resignation we sometimes wander late at night through the extinct pages that tell their stone-dead messages like wooden rosary beads.” – Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (trans. Wieniewska)
“The CDOs manufactured in 2006 and 2007 were in large part a direct manifestation of their ingredients–pools of tainted assets precariously situated atop a wave of home-price appreciation. As investors became addicted to the higher yields of investment-grade CDOs, their rose-colored glasses focused on the AAA rating rather than the pool of shoddy subprime mortgages they were really buying. The rating agencies put too much faith in their formulas, conveniently forgetting that a model is only as good as its inputs. Since there was little historical data on subprime or CDO performance, especially during times of economic distress, the inputs were essentially pulled from thin air, adjusted by the underwriters to maximize their AAA allotment. ‘Diversification’ was the magic word that could justify the inclusion of anything remotely resembling a legitimate fixed-income asset, as Wall Street and the rating agencies claimed that even the lowest quality bonds would not all default at the same time.
“However, that is exactly what happened. The trillion-dollar CDO market, built atop a single assumption, crumbled to ruins when house prices did the impossible: they first stopped rising and then they fell. In the end, who was hurt worst when the CDO market crashed had less to do with what they were doing than with when they were doing it. The best predictor of banks’ write-downs was not the quality of their CDOs, but instead the amount of CDOs they issued in 2007, for very few of those CDOs would ever leave the balance sheets of their creators. The CDO market was a game of musical chairs and the winners were those who sat down early on. The losers were those that lived by the philosophy of Citigroup’s ex-CEO, Charles Prince, that, ‘as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.’ Unfortunately, certain players in the CDO market, including Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Bear Stearns, Countrywide, S&P, and Moody’s, were having too much fun to notice when the music ended, never pausing from their CDO craze for long enough to see the warning signs develop.
“Once the conveyor belt stopped, it turned out that the hot potato, which had so efficiently been passed along the chain from mortgage broker to Wall Street and beyond, had been leaving pieces of itself along the way. Once investors no longer wanted to buy CDOs, Wall Street Banks were left holding the excess of unsold CDOs and yet-to-be-securitized CDO assets. And once Wall Street CDOs no longer wanted to buy subprime mortgages, mortgage originators were left holding a huge number of mortgage loans they knew had little chance of ever being repaid. And once mortgage companies no longer wanted to originate risky mortgages, homebuyers were left holding the subprime mortgages they had planned to refinance. And once homebuyers began to default on their mortgages in mass [sic], it became clear that the credit rating agencies had made a colossal mistake, and Moody’s, Fitch, and S&P were left holding the burden of a shattered reputation in a business built on the necessity of trust.” — Anna Katherine Barnett-Hart, “The Story of the CDO Market Meltdown: An Empirical Analysis” (emphases in the original)
“There’s a difference between an old-fashioned financial panic and what had happened on Wall Street in 2008. In an old-fashioned panic, perception creates its own reality: Someone shouts ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater and the audience crushes each other to death in its rush for the exits. On Wall Street in 2008 the reality finally overwhelmed perceptions: A crowded theater burned down with a lot of people still in their seats. Every major firm on Wall Street was either bankrupt or fatally intertwined with a bankrupt system.” — Michael Lewis, The Big Short
Just about every weekend since I started this blog four months ago I have posted a copy of one of my published stories. Posting my previously published work is at the center of what this blog is about, though I have posted and will post again pieces previously unpublished.
The other and almost-daily posts I make to the site are to keep the place from getting stagnant. They’re mostly quotes from whatever I’m reading, which are far more interesting than what I’m doing, except for the interesting parts of what I do, which I best not be writing about in public.
There are only about a half-dozen previously published stories left in my inventory. This week I’m posting the oldest, “My Friend!” This piece took over fifteen years to go from first draft to the draft that got published, in March of 2009, by Gloom Cupboard. It’s essentially a celebration of language.
You know what a “blue moon” is, and if you don’t, you can look it up, but you don’t have to because I’ll tell you right here and right now–a conjunctive spatio-temporal indicator, by the way, which is both fixed and flexible in, not only the virtual world of the internet, but the virtual world of what passes as reality, which always passes quickly and rather subjectively–anyway, I’ll tell you so you don’t have to wander off and look it up and maybe never return, because, who knows? Stuff happens. The phone rings. There’s a knock on the door. The plane crashes. The child is born.
The “blue moon” is the second full moon in a calendar month. This month does not have that. What it has is two new moons in one calendar month–one on or about today, the 1st of July, and one on or about the 30th. I hereby dub such a celestial occurrence a “red moon.” Pop corks, pour out, and enjoy.
“With stagnant wages and booming consumption, the cash-strapped American masses had a virtually unlimited demand for loans but an uncertain ability to repay them. All they had going for them, from the point of view of Wall Street financial engineers, was that their financial fates could be misconstrued as uncorrelated. By assuming that one pile of subprime mortgage loans wasn’t exposed to the same forces as another–that a subprime mortgage bond with loans heavily concentrated in Florida wasn’t very much like a subprime mortgage bond more concentrated in California–the engineers created the illusion of security.” — Michael Lewis, The Big Short
“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.” — Tolstoy (from The Big Short, by Michael Lewis)
“My subject had taken me up, drawn me on, and absorbed me into itself. It was necessary for me, it seemed, to write the book I had been thinking much of, even if it were destined to fall dead from the press, and I had no inclination or interest to write any other.” — John Lothrop Motley (quoted in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVI, Book II, Ch. 18)
“Animals! the object of insatiable interest, examples of the riddle of life, created, as it were, to reveal the human being to man himself, displaying his richness and complexity in a thousand kaleidoscopic possibilities, each of them brought to some curious end, to some characteristic exuberance.” — Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles (trans. Wieniewska)