Ramadan had started and I decided to find the nearest Egyptian/Arab deli. My expectations were humble. I just wanted to get my hands on a few cans of fava beans (ful) and dried dates. Over the years ful has become a fixture of my suhoor around midnight or as late/early as dawn to guarantee my energy levels wouldn’t plummet over the course of the fasting day. The dates are to break my fast on as is traditional.
“The hope of reason lies in the emancipation from our own fear of despair.” … It is not despair that is the agent of imprisonment, not despair that keeps us, (or reason), in a state of unfreedom in need of emancipation; but rather fear. The problem is not despair, but our being afraid to feel despair. In other words, it is not pessimism that is a challenge to the liberating effects of rational hope, but our fearful dismissal of it. It is optimism itself that keeps us from achieving what optimism hopes for. Optimism is its own worst enemy; it is self-destructive … Kierkegaard suggests [we] give in to despair … Any life that isn’t fundamentally lived in submission to God is a life lived in despair anyway, whether it is lived in pursuit of aesthetic enjoyment, or in pursuit of fundamental ethical commitments. The problem is that both sorts of life unavoidably must involve various kinds of mechanisms for covering over despair, of distracting us from it. But such mechanisms cannot succeed forever, and in fact the mechanisms usually only serve to make things worse. So the advice is just to cut to the chase, to choose hopelessness. Despair is the necessary step to God, so being openly in despair is better than trying to fool yourself that you’re actually not; and in this sense despair takes you closer to God and to genuine hope.
— from “Hope & Despair: Philosophical considerations for uncertain times” by Michael Stevenson
Before going to sleep I walk down to the river for a swim. With my nostrils slightly above water, I watch the ducks moving among the water lilies. The lips of invisible fish blow circles into the surface on the other side. Cut grass and cold dew stick to my bare feet as I walk back. I wash them away, kiss my boys goodnight and climb into bed to read and to dream.
If I wake up before the others, I push my bike out of the garage and cycle to the morning sea, three miles away. It’s a gulf, to be honest, but we still call it the sea, the Baltic Sea, a tiny inner pocket of the Atlantic Ocean — where it hides what’s dearest, I imagine. There’s almost no salt in the Baltic Sea, they say, but my tongue still tastes it on my lips and my skin when I leave gravity behind with my clothes on the shore and surrender my body to the waves. When I’m dressed again, I explore the white sand with my fingertips and put a couple of stranded splinters, tiny dark brown pieces of driftwood, in my pocket, stamp souvenirs from my own little journeys traversing same paths every day. I am a sea librarian now.
These are the times that sell men’s souls.
–THE BOOK OF DERIVATIVES®
In the beginning, a mother let go of a young girl’s hand.
–THE BOOK OF DERIVATIVES®
Let’s start with a few things we can all agree on.
We can agree that Vaughan does not know Marsha and Marsha does not know Vaughan and that neither of them knows Eric, who does not know them either.
And we can agree that, though Vaughan would probably recognize Marsha, particularly if she were wearing the fuzzy sweater and knit cap she had on in the video, Marsha would not recognize Vaughan, though she has probably heard of him, and neither of them would recognize Eric (who would not recognize Vaughan, but like Vaughan and for the same reasons, would probably recognize Marsha), though, if Vaughan checked his website’s logs, he would find Eric’s metadata and could follow Eric’s digital fingerprints around online, but it would be a one-sided relationship because Eric doesn’t have access to any of Vaughan’s info.
We can also stipulate (and I’m sure they would all agree on this) that aside from being involved in this matter in different ways, there’s pretty much nothing they have in common. Marsha’s an art historian and single mother from Tulsa who now lives in Southern California. Vaughan’s an IT guy based in Memphis who travels 220 miles there and back each weekend to attend his hometown high school’s football games. Eric works for the Post Office in Dayton – which his old college friends consider a piss-poor place for a guy with a theology degree to wind up – and spends most of his nights reading eschatology or philosophy or wasting time online as a low-risk day trader.
And verily We had empowered them with that wherewith We have not empowered you, and had assigned them ears and eyes and hearts—Quran, xlvi, 26
My instructions are to deliver the corpse to Nastassja Kinsky. We are to meet at nine tomorrow morning in the lobby of the Cecil Hotel, just off the seashore in downtown Alexandria. The corpse is a lightweight microelectronic bolt that looks like a miniature coffin; Nastassja Kinsky is an agent of the Plant. If I revealed what the Plant is, I would die.
There is no way for me to measure how much time this day was coming, but it seems to have been destined to arrive to me since always. There are no means left to escape it, and I recognise that even if I had them, I would only be postponing what will never go away, and I accept the need to face it. There is nothing but my conscience and my self now left to live with. It is time to take account – this once and always. However as I start to take account I find it difficult to know where to begin, if not the fact of my forgetting what it was that I would like to come to terms with. For perhaps it is this very lack of memory that I need to take account of. Not the memory of my deeds – although those deeds may be remembered in the course of my account to cause me many hours of shame and wishful thinking – but the memory of the reason I was given this existence, my forgetting of which cause has been the cause of my regrettable behaviours.
I was roaming around Eastside industrial with my notebook, waiting for Lily to get off work, when a sudden squall forced me into a crowded, steamy coffee joint. And who should be sitting at the window drawing in her notebook but my old friend Daisy.
We had been part-timers teaching at the now defunct Failing school and played on the co-ed slow-pitch softball team. Part-time meant we taught summer terms, too, while the full-timers went on vacation. But that was fine because she was an artist and I was a poet. After a few years the scene went to seed and we drifted off and found real jobs.
I got a coffee and sat down with Daisy. She had a book by the Iranian writer Marjane Satrapi (who now lives in Paris). “It’s a comic book,” I said, picking it up and thumbing through it. “Sort of,” Daisy said, smiling.