Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Desiree's Child

   THE TIME FOR POTS IS PAST!  Life has gotten more complicated. I'm at another café waiting for Joe, Desiree has given birth to a child without knowing it, and there's a waitress here I can barely look at.

What do I mean, living like that? I've made these stories, put my life into them. But now they've become tangled, they've come into contact with each other; I've let these stories of pots and pots of stories - which are already fragments and artifacts of myself - crash into each other thereby producing fragments of fragments of selves.

The function of a pot is temporary possession; but its future? What can that be but to crack? My life, formerly temporarily possessed in these stories: What does it look like when it's out of its pot? What is the form of its future, now that it has outgrown the forms of its past?

If what we mean has some relation to what we make, but the two aren't identical, we might start looking for what we mean from what we make. If we can live without the forms we make we can't describe that life; if we can't describe it, I've no business writing or thinking about it, and neither do you: so we're agreed that if the truth of life is that we can live without form, another truth is that we will never know it.

So I ask: what is the future of a form? And begin from what I've got. Let's take one pot, close it off, get it ready for rough treatment, rubberize it, vulcanize it, round it off, knead it, compress it, and finally let it fall towards the café table as the waitress Patrice steps onto the terrace of Micheal Richards; she turns her head in my direction swinging that smile of hers like a bat, that smile that's always on her face, a smile that exists for her face alone and not for me, a smile that in its immobility moves my gaze away to the rest of her face that so admirably completes the composition, she swings this smile like a bat launching her meteoric, metaphoric self, a pot now become a ball that is guided by her glance direct into my eyes which I unwillingly lower to the table with just enough time to slip a sheet of paper there to catch the imprint of the redirected bounce, and on this paper I read, and then say in an outburst: You are too happy, --it's too depressing.

I didn't know what I meant, but it wiped that smile off her face, and I got to thinking. Here was a problem. Waitresses, I knew from experience, only had time for simple conversations. But you can't any more speak simply of the good and happy without implicating yourself with goodness and happiness, than you can speak elaborately of the ugly without becoming ugly yourself. And being the kind of person who tells stories about pots I wasn't ready to be good and happy; rather I was inclined at that moment reading the words dictated to me on the café table, its lower region depressed by the table's flat surface, and protesting against this deformation and depression which distracts me from myself, from my state of roundness, my fully rounded philosophically ordered life. Her happiness was depressing, and now it became my life's work, the proper course of my life, to find out why (the future of a ball is in its bounce): I rose to the task and straightaway was flying in the air.

Happiness, my impulse told me, was for Patrice something like not discovering what she might do before she had the ability to do it, consisted in having a balance between knowledge of possibilities and her will or power to carry them out, see them through. This happiness of balanced, proportional, steady increase makes me anxious, being a teller of stories which arise out of imbalance, and a teller of stories because of dissatisfaction with my own imbalance. Stories being always a dramatic striving for the required will and knowledge, never about amorphous, steady growth which is personal, individual, private. -And that makes it dangerous: a pot elastically expanding with the potted (like a balloon, like a cartoon cloud with a message written within) which is sooner or later going to expand into someone else's pot.

If I was to know this waitress I must make her lose balance; that idea inspires anxiety, which makes me lose my balance, I fall…until I hit bottom, my back-side is depressed. But there's some confusion here: how did I become the ball? Wasn't the waitress the ball, batting with her smile?

What happened? What did the waitress Patrice respond to my outburst? That's not important. Instead let me ask: What do people do with each other? Or to eliminate the lewd associations, let me ask: what can two pots do with each other? Decant?

Joe has arrived. He had the habit of expressing his happiness or unhappiness to me, knowing both were nothing to me, yet my reaction was something to him: he studied me without being my understudy, he didn't measure his role in life against my role; what the form of play of my whole life might look like he wasn't interested in, and neither was I interested in the parts (or pots) of his life. Which you might think would be particularly offensive to him, since by profession he was a maker of pots. But he has difficulty putting together his life with his pots (both metaphorically and literally), and that had its good sides and bad sides. The good was that my disrespect for his life he took as advice on how to improve his art; the bad was in times like when, a few weeks ago he asked me whether I thought falling in love would improve his art. I laughed. And the next week when he announced he was in love and asked my opinion on how he should proceed, my laughter was drained to a dry smile. Difficulties flowed, followed by the usual catastrophe.

Joe sits down and is eager to tell me what's happened with this girl; I send him inside with his unhappiness for our waitress he'll know by her happiness. And here I made the re-acquaintance of a great insight about what happens when two pots get together: at the touch of their lips, laughter is born. (I believe this is the origin of the term “sympathy”, or in its spelling prior to its modern corruption, sym:pot:hee!)

Now is it possible to sympathize with someone happy? Or, less ambitiously, to sympathize with their happiness? How would this sympathy be different from mere observation, which, forget about pots, even a wall can do?

Pots can hold two separate lives open to each other, but do the lives held mingle, or do they at most spit tongues of life out at each other? I'm asking: is sympathy something that can be observed, made something out of, become the basis of a story like the one Joe was trying to get past my laughter?

When philosophy of the seventeenth century came along and said firmly and clearly that there was a world and then again there was us seeing the world, and the two must be separated if we were not to make mistakes about the world; that the colors of a sunset were experienced but not real, only an illusion, the product of the sun, the atmosphere, and the perceptual apparatus of our eyes; then people of our century dug up older philosophies which had together the “I” and its object, reasoning that once we were part of the object, if any suspect perception were going on it was the part of the world outside our experience (the “I” and its object) that was doing the perceiving, and it was its problem whether that perception of our experience was true or not. The makers of these revived philosophies believed that neither the “I” nor its object the sun was important in itself, only the combination, the “experience” of the setting sun. That what was important wasn't an object - the sun - which we could come to know by studying successive observations of it, but the moment at which “I” and the sun were together in what we call experience. I am warmed by the sun, the sun is in contact with me through its warmth; we - the sun and “I” - constitute one connected thing. One particular Greek said that you couldn't step into the same river twice, because neither you nor the river is the same the second time around, the river has flowed and your wet foot has picked up mud from the shore. The metaphor discourages you from trying to come to know the river by assembling successive dips, and encourages concentrating on the depth to which you could dive in it. It is against time, in favor of space.

My view of sympathy is this: maybe you can't step into the same river twice, but if from opposing shores two people step in together, that moment of immersion can be endlessly extended, repeated. Everyone has the ability to round out his sharp corners in the presence of sympathetic company, and then see himself in the eyes of this other person. And what he sees is not simply himself, but his experience: for example, being at a café with a waitress who's a pleasant problem for him, looking into the eyes of that waitress who sees him and his problem at that café - sees him deeply, her guiding smile left behind on the shore of her perception - the waitress sees him looking at her while she looks at him looking at her…there is a mirroring effect, the effect when objects come between two mirrors that are facing each other, which extends the moment infinitely, so fully in fact that finally that moment must end and give way to another.

Then consider: two people merely looking at each other create no sympathy because there is no experience, no object that has been shared and brought between the two mirrors. Two mirrors in a vacuum reflect nothing, not even themselves. This implies that happy people cannot sympathize with each other: their experience is not the repeatable, and thus communicable, one of recovering balance: it is not a stepping into the river and once in the middle of the flow recovering your balance, but rather the course of the river itself, and everyone sees a different river.

So if I write about the waitress Patrice it can't be sympathy with her happiness that inspires me, but it can be sympathy. Patrice is my subject, sympathy my inspiration. Sympathy is not communicable: it is that unique step in the river; yet it provides the private resources needed to make form, make art out of materials which remind me of my moment of sympathy. The organization of these materials is public: it follows lines of reasoning similar to an individual's attempt to regain balance. Sympathy gives to art pure energy without information. Thus art does not directly express my experience. Art begins with the objects involved in a moment of sympathy - waitress, café, customer - takes them and puts them in formal relationship to what the world at large provides for the balancing with them. Thus what the world adds is external to sympathy. The more world you can add, the better form you give your art. The deeper the experience of sympathy, the stronger will be your ability of concentration to bring more of the world in relation to the objects involved in that moment of sympathy. Yet you still have to have the ability to recognize balance when you've achieved it; one way to learn to do this is to practice balance in your life. This does not mean falling in love with girl who looks like the subject of a Van Gogh painting, as a certain girl I know does: as sympathy doesn't communicate with art, art doesn't communicate with sympathy. Then what good is art? I know what it is, but why do it? Why make things up? Why write this story?

Two pots meet, kiss, laugh, and their progeny is this ball leaving its imprint on a sheet of paper on a café table. The paper is still there on the table, but why go on writing on it? Why create form?

I want to know how to get Patrice to change her life. I've asked her. Her answer: I can't: She loves her life. What can that mean? Perhaps being, in relation to herself, in a condition of sympathy: self-communing with self, with self as the common object - another hall of mirrors but one, unlike the one a couple enters into without an object, which functions. It is a state of rest. Everyone experiences it at times in his life, times which occur after recognizing yourself in the possibilities that your past suggest lie in store for you; you drop out from that contemplation into a state of sympathy with the self you've seen. Slow, balanced growth makes these two moments almost simultaneous; Patrice's possibilities match almost evenly the power building within this infinite, resting reflection of self, so evenly she might not even be able to catch herself going over her history, contemplation of moments of sympathy in which I have earlier defined as love; she sees only a composite: restful - love.

Now I have my little moments of sympathy to collect also. I have the waitress - Patrice, the cat-girl that greets me as she pads about the neighborhood, the schoolgirl who works in the music store. I can collect these moments together into some semblance of love, sufficient to set me down into a comfortable rest in self-sympathy. But self-sympathy is not real sympathy; it isn't infinite deepness in infinitesimal time, but infinite shallowness in extended time; it provides the kind of understanding intoxication provides, which extends to knowing perfectly that you are intoxicated and no further; -- it gets boring, and you look for more experience to be made into a history. Now this rhythm can be repeated. If it is repeated too often during the day it becomes repetitive, chaotic, looses meaning in repetition because there is clearly no relationship between the moments of calm and love, no tie of meaning between them. I begin to see only the repetition, not what's repeated. So I'm required to become more ambitious with my life. I must change my personal history, make the world move faster, so when I step back into the depths of sympathy the river of objects in my life has passed on. And since the background objects are different, so is the nature of the sympathy I experience. I might now find that my restful, accustomed partner in sympathy - myself - is no longer what my ambition considers a suitable choice. Sympathy has become conditional.

Being more ambitious and serious with my life, - that does not necessarily mean paying more attention to the world. I've got enough waitresses, catgirls, and schoolgirls. As Patrice turns away from the world and sees herself in her life growth, I see myself in the creations of art and literature which do not form a community I wish to enter, but are merely a better-fashioned set of mirrors. While Patrice has been living her life in even increments of growth, looking back on her growth and loving her life and moments of sympathy in it, resting between love and new growth: I'm reading. Lately, Gombrowicz' Ferdydurke; he writes about struggling against these forms, particularly against parts of life, youth or adulthood, which seem to cut you off from the other part; of the tendency for public parts of life - customs or culture - to pretend to be the whole of life; of how forms of life arise without much connection to the real world, merely by one person imitating what another makes up; about how objects and parts of bodies and misc. events can be linked into meaning simply by an individual concentrating on them: for once he's done this concentration, and asks himself why he's concentrating on something so meaningless, he has to then ask himself, in the absence of anything else more significant going on in his life, why this question and not another occupies him, and since it does it must mean something…yet it doesn't, and why does he keep thinking about it…and on to the endless repetition, chaos, and then within the chaos freedom to assemble a new string of objects, parts of bodies, phases of lives, aspects of culture. And tying all these faces of life together is the ability of incongruity to destroy them, and violence to cement them together. Incongruity destroys public, cultural forms: parts which claim to be a whole are obviously not, when confronted by other parts making that claim. Violence cements private forms by introducing a sense of reality to what with no claim to have meaning for others too obviously is artificial.

Now to get back to Patrice. There is a way to connect private forms besides violence. Love is a history of moments of sympathy. (Gombrowicz says in his memoir that he's never been in love.) But if we put in writing a collection of sympathetic moments, that is, introduce into writing a sense of reality; it seems to me it should have the power of violence. The power, say, to wipe the smile off the face of the waitress Patrice.

O.K. We know what Patrice is doing in this story, but we don't yet know where this story is going. Let's say that you don't “grow” through creating forms. Rather, you have had this power stored in your back-side while you're at a café. Now you're talking with a friend, making up a story…but you don't want to change (exchange pots): the river you step back into (collect into your reservoir) is always different. You remember the pounding you took before you had your moment of sympathy, that you are no longer a pot, but a ball. You look ahead into your future, you are rising into the air, reaching a certain zenith, then falling, but through rise and fall remaining the same ball. You can move without growing. But if that's true, why do it?

There is a world out there. It's filled with pots and people and things. My world is America, still the place described by Stendhal 150 years ago as “the land of stupid and selfish mediocrity to which one must pay court under penalty of death.” Living here requires that I make certain compromises. That is to say, lie.

You lie because the world has been gotten to already and lied to, is in fact made up of lies which we call culture, tradition, custom, belief. You lie because moments of sympathy have their limits, are only moments; they can't be forced. And since they themselves make you forceful, you can't immediately call them back until you've done something with your excess power, like lie. The world becomes your art gallery in which you lie about your moments of sympathy. If you aren't lying about them, you are lying to yourself: a moment of sympathy derives from particular circumstances. (Sympathy is conditional.) So, rather than lie to yourself, you're going to lie to the world, because you've got to do something. And since the world is organized, so should you be: it doesn't know or care about the truth, but it can recognize a bare-faced contradiction - so you must be elaborate in your living. This elaboration we call form, style, art, culture, story. And slowly with these reasons, you match your lies against the world's as a fight in the name of possibility, to discredit the claim one partial view of the world has to being the total world. For that job a lie is a better tool than truth, since truth is always partial and reveals itself to be so, and can't help looking puny confronted with the grand eloquence of a lie.

The problem is to avoid complacency in your lying. Because in this business of art and lying, everyone has been granted his professional certificate and officially qualified. Art is something easy to do, but hard to do well. But what does it mean to lie well? How and when do I lie?

I lie when I write. - I've asked Patrice if she's read my stories. No, she was going to this morning but got so many phone calls. From whom? Those she's involved in a pyramid with. What kind of pyramid is this? The Rabelaisian kind, serve me a drink and I'll concoct a beer-amid scheme? Picture this country as inhabited not by mountains and valleys, but by moving pyramids of money, the progeny of that very same pyramid that is on our country's seal. These pyramids are constantly approaching and receding, holding within them the burial chambers of culture disguised under a skin of business or social opportunities that offer a step-by-step path to the heights of success. Sometimes these edifices show themselves naked, bared of their facing stones, as a pyramid “scheme”, in which one person gives money to another to join a club in which, if enough people keep joining, his turn will come to receive money, usually the amount of his investment increased by a factor of 9; who you are doesn't matter, nor what you know: what's important is what you want (money): pure abstract stupid and selfish mediocrity, in fact.

Now you can lie about yourself in such a way as to degrade yourself into the embodiment of stupid and selfish mediocrity, or you can do what I do, which is summarized by the following rule: Never lie when what you say makes the truth harder to grasp; otherwise lie your (round) head off.

Which means lying to people who can't understand the truth and to those who can understand: the former lose nothing by the lie, the latter know that there is always more than one way of saying something, and see your lie as “irony”, as reminder of this fact of different ways of describing a world in which neither what you say nor its opposite is strictly or permanently true. (You can't step into the same river twice.)

And since you're lying then to people who understand and don't understand, the only time you're not lying is in your conversation with yourself, in your mirroring moments of sympathy. Achieving this unusual effort at truth costs you energy, the energy you lost in the friction of your depression at recent landing - you need to recover that loss if you are to go on bouncing from one moment of sympathy to another, there just so happens to be this pyramid approaching with just the right shape to wedge you up into the air, exactly the push-up you require. The sharp angle of the pyramid's side carries your thoughts to your future, your fate is somewhere within the outlines of this massive shape foreshadowing objects and events, the continuation of your story - and this intuition of your fate provides the small additional source of energy needed to get on with telling lies. And you're up, the ball is in the air, you are telling a story, a story that finds for itself a place among the other stories of the pyramid, for what you are doing is important to others because they too need to lie, and they've become connoisseurs of lying. They admire the economy of your art of lying.

Economy means knowing exactly why you are lying, because any lying done without that knowledge soon becomes unconscious; which means you are lying to yourself, thus damaging your ability for sympathy. So you are economical. You take only enough from life to live. You maintain an economy of just barely sufficient health, not so much you don't know what hurts you - and by that I mean hurts your moments of sympathy. We come from sleep and return to sleep: it's honest. At will we can put anything life has to offer to rest. Until life can do the same to our restful sleep of sympathy, it will remain merely the material of dreams - stories, that is.

Here are the tricks of self-conscious, economical lying:

First, use the art object as something to distract the public. “Dogs bark at people who are strange to them,” said the author of our river story, and it's preferable that the dogs who are your contemporaries and your public bark at your art object instead of you, masquerading there behind your art as only one of the other stupid and selfish mediocre. Art is a “blind” to keep the public from confronting you with what might be called “hostile” sympathy: this making of a distorting mirror out of their eyes, so when you see yourself being seen in their eyes, looking at that distorted self you see endlessly repeated horrifies you. These people have not had the sense to treat themselves with the clarifying eye-wash of art: the art object is the object par excellence - it has no particular connection to any particular individual. It is logical, public, abstract. This allows it to be generally appreciated; its single form gets distributed among the public, reproduced in the appreciation of numerous individuals; its author soon sees only the reproduction, the chaos of repetition, and so loses all attachment to it, even to the initial objects of sympathy he began with, which never inspired the art, but inspired him to living the kind of life in which he could recognize a good lie when he tells one. This art object is made up of ideas and forms derived one from another, just as the culture of its audience is produced by one individual imitating another; your public lives in a drafty hall of reflections vulnerable to every anarchist's malicious alignment of mirrors that places side-by-side incongruities, and craves the firm logic of your art object to wrap around, warm themselves, and not incidentally darken the hall (with the dark of your lies). The public thus wants from your art exactly what you don't want. You want to remember your moments of sympathy, the public wants your lies. Another economy.

Second, forms are assertions, not arguments. They assert: life is like this: a river, a pot, a pyramid, a ball. They don't argue with other forms, or with moments of sympathy, from which they take only a seed (a particle, a ball, a beginning). Objects, however, have an argument “with” forms - or perhaps “within” forms is the place to locate the contradicting argument objects make. Objects debate the question, which is more real, a complete but fleeting object which shows itself in a moment of sympathy, or a part of life asserted (taken) by forms, which usurp the objects, extend their life over a long period of time but merge them one with another? The argument ends up in the hall of mirrors of sympathy, where object and form-maker can look each other over, raring to get at each other but unfortunately they don't have the time. Forms don't argue anything, but aware that they are besieged by the objects that they are made of argue with themselves: they are unstable. And for that reason they are useful to us in regaining our balance - acquiring the will or knowledge we need - knocking us with their wild gyrations in the direction we require. Catching the right, desperate fling of an idea, is our task: we take one involving, provoking step in, and in doing so get boosted one step up.

For this pyramid we ride is a step-pyramid, the (South) American variety. Its sides are of highly polished stone. You look into the mirror of its facings, - if distorting you interpose a blind, and get yourself kicked up a step. If clear, you can rest in a state of self-sympathy. You must know what kind of step you are on, so as to practice economy; know which events, which people call from you a work of art and lies, and which don't. You need to study forms to know when you are safe, and to know when you must act both to protect yourself and promote your rise in the world, as your intuition tells you that you should rise.

Third, there is a feeling that quickness and agility of execution in creating forms, that expertise deepens somehow the sense of sympathy we can experience. Perhaps by increasing the sense of speed we perceive in the sympathetic mirroring of self in another. Perhaps because, with each new form created, a greater height is attained by the ball, and in its moment of rest at its fall, stored in its point of sympathy is the potential for an even greater rise, and the superiority of power over the last possibilities grappled with isn't merely conceptual, but will soon be realized. Practice seems to produce its own economies.

Fourth, perhaps the greater variety of stories, of forms, of beliefs created, the greater are the variety and complexity of the moments of sympathy experienced. That if, with Diderot, I call my beliefs those thoughts I return to most frequently, then originality destroys belief. Thus the more original and creative one is, the less imposing is the object created by that originality. Facility with forms frees you from forms. Agility with possibility gives you power, including that of recognizing the form of a moment of sympathy when it approaches, and perhaps of inciting such moments.

For you are now at your zenith: the top of the pyramid has slipped under you, and there you are, a ball in the air: you've made your art, told your lies: Now what happens? The mirage that you have collaborated in producing, that we've sometimes have been calling the world and others a pyramid, is receding; without its support you feel weighed down by what you've created with its help; - and you begin to fall. You were once supported by an imposing edifice of art and money, now you are a poor ruin of your former self, divested of form. Art is a tool for making better art, a tool for making tools - it's no good to you now, without material to work on. But you feel good, the tension of weight-against-support is gone, something is happening here that is similar to the experience of sympathy, something expansive, infinite. Your art object has been given to the world, it has become a pyramid mountain among other mountains forming the valley you are falling into, and the sight of your mountain is visible to all, to everyone each on his own precarious, temporary peak, each temporarily understanding what it means to be propped up on a form; and you see your form, in those imagined eyes, endlessly repeated, and suddenly you don't see the form anymore, but see only repetition, endless repetition of the same thing - and you lose interest, the possibilities-seen-through of your art have broken free from you, you are sinking; you leisurely set your eyes on the valley floor. You imagine yourself to be one of the mountains, one of the pyramids, but a ruined one, one of those glorious monuments which in their decay allow you to imagine what they once were; giving you a sense of possibility that contemplation of an intact building never gave you. You imagine yourself within the “V” shaped space between the mountainous pyramids in this river-cut valley, imagine yourself as an inverted pyramid of the completed possibilities you are giving up, level by level, upper-most levels becoming narrower and narrower as your art objects are worn off you, until you are lowering over the river on the valley floor and have become a single, stone-hard (river washed, river smoothed) compressed ball - and shed of possibilities you are approaching pure power and impact on the floor (or café table, as the case may be) and, if you have practiced economy and luck is with you, you are about to find yourself inside that valley (or around your café table) in a condition of sympathy. On your ride down you have become more and more like an object, a ball on its own path, and have been more and more content to concentrate on the objects you see below you, be they the mere pebbles that flowers in a field are. You are protected from hostile sympathy by the flying detritus of your forms: you have time to safely and calmly look over your companions bouncing in phase with you in this world of stupid and selfish mediocrity, select, judge, shed a few forms in the way of those you've chosen to probe for the suitability of their sympathy.

You think about your future, about how what you've committed to fixed form allows others who will follow you to this absurd valley to not investigate the possibilities you did, not tell your lies, not make your mistakes; you've increased their ability to imagine the possible, given them one more form that does not have to be investigated. The more forms made, the more there are revealed to be made, a pyramid scheme that runs off into the future. But this one you can participate in, this future is necessary to you. It allows you to live more realistically in the present, since looking towards the future your back is towards your contemporaries whose distortions you don't reflect. The future is so important to you that you insist on leaving a record of the forms you make, to prove to yourself that you believe in that future.

Because if there is a market for your stories, your art, your lying, - and you've found this to be true - this does not mean there is a value to the story of your life: the story of your moments of sympathy, and the lying you did between them. There is no market for this story in your own time, for the good reason that it is not properly finished. Its “ending”, your present, is always amateurishly done. You sit in the public's lap like an unwieldy object: The public wants the forms it is used to, those that assert; you are an argument. The public fights you, and wins: an assertion in the drafty hall of mirrors of public culture will blow away the simplest, airtight argument which never gets the chance to begin between the endlessly repeated re-assertions of its opponent.

But besides, even if finished the story of your life is honest, if its really your story: that breaks all the rules of the economy of the art of lying. I'm going to get to an example of this from my own life in a moment, but first, let me say that you believe in the future because that is the only place you can imagine where you could safely tell your story. And the reason you could do it would be that at that time the story would not be true of you, should you still be around. The river has flowed, the sympathies you describe stay rooted in and true only of the past. Your truth is the future's lie. And everyone benefits, starting now, when as you fall towards the valley you begin to imagine your whole life, measured against other whole lives that might be lived in the future, you begin to look over the people below you, select them not only on the basis of their suitability for a single isolated moment of sympathy, but on how that moment might fit in the pattern of your whole life; you connect your past experiences of sympathy together as you make these calculation; sympathy lays ahead, but first something happens: This history of moments of sympathy, this gathering of time before time comes to a standstill, this punctuation of our fall to power is what I've before described as love, if in the history you see your individuality, your story, in another person's eyes; and called intuition of fate if you imagine threaded at the end of your history the future and your place in it. But while love occurs as compression of power prior to sympathy, intuition of fate occurs after moments of sympathy and you, bouncing again off into the world of forms, find in it a reason to go on with your story.

And our story of the ball is at an end.

But I go on, the future of a ball is in its bounce, and compare the story I've just made of Joe and Patrice to what it feels like talking to Joe and Patrice - and I have to laugh. Art is a tool for making art: how did I ever think I was going to change Patrice's life, which is not art and doesn't have time for art? A story is not real, and when its finished, for artists it's not even possible anymore. And though sympathy is real, any story that defines it isn't. Who's fooling who?

And if you don't know who's fooling who, maybe it's better not to be either party. Before the day of my outburst, Patrice had asked me what I was writing. Maybe about her, was my answer. Wait until I knew her better, she advised. No, I argued, better to write about her knowing nothing about her but her name, and produced the below piece of foolishness not even about her name (or the name of anyone else I knew).


Say J.
You can but begin the name you say
Before the initial's round turned back
Scorns the syllables it holds in sway
And its mark undercuts with a hack
Faint answer to the question of who,
Raises instead that of how true
The named over her life does reign.
Yet one word answers both name and fame
If question we once initiate:
Say J.
And say why your name isn't Janice
(Whose bliss 'tis never to exist),

She never answered that question. Instead, she said in response to my “you're too happy; - it's too depressing” outburst: Just for that, I'm going to be twice as happy the rest of the day! And she would be. Once I'd called her happiness into question, it was inevitable. I brought a quantity of happiness to her mind, saying that she should take it away. Patrice, seeing that quantity, imagined adding it to what happiness she already had. Once imagined, it became possible: all it took was imitation of the self she already was in her imagination. Such is the way of personal growth.

There are two ways of looking at the possibilities life has to offer. One is to place them in the future, possessing them in your imagination along with the thought: not yet. The other is to take possession of them now, by means of the thought: as if. The first leads to art, the second madness.

And so I come, as promised, to a true story of my life. Being a story told, yet true and unfinished, it's a bit of both art and madness. This is the story of Desiree's Child.

It had been six months since I saw Desiree off at the airport here in Los Angeles. The plane was headed for London, Desiree ultimately for Sweden. I'd received no letters or calls from her, though that was expected and normal. Neither had I written or called, since the only address I had for her was her mother's in Helsingborg (Sweden), and her mother had no phone and intercepted my letters, considering me a misalliance for her daughter who had got me to marry her by asking me to. That moot marriage gave me the idea for the telegram I sent at the beginning of January to Helsingborg to let Desiree know I'd moved: (addressed to Mrs. Desiree P---- Miller, c/o Mary-Anne P-----) CONTACT REGARDING BEQUEST: TRUSTEE CASE #1297 MILLER ESTATE AT (my new L.A. address). A month later I got a telegram from Helsingborg: I DO NOT UNDERSTAND YOUR TELEGRAM. WHAT REQUEST? WRITE SOON BEFORE MY VACATION MARCH 1. LOVE, DESIREE. Since she wasn't thinking and included no address, I telegrammed my phone number, and since I wasn't thinking, signed it with my name, which was a mistake, made out of exuberance at hearing from Desiree when I only expected to hear from her mother. The night after the next at 4 a.m. my telephone rang and a Swedish accented operator confirmed my identity as the addressee and then read me this message: NO MORE CALLS OR TELEGRAMS. FIANCE TAKING CARE OF ME. WENT TO EURIDICAL (sic) ADVISER. SAID BEQUEST, NOT REQUEST. DON'T NEED YOUR WILL. - DESIREE.

I had the operator re-read this massage, asked her if she knew what “euridical” meant (she didn't), and, now wide awake, asked what kind of service this was I was the recipient of. In Sweden, I was told, you can send telephone messages, telegrams deliver over the telephone lines. Then is the sender still at the other end, I asked? The operator was in Stockholm, the called in Helsingborg, perhaps at one of the combined telephone - post - telegraph offices that the government runs.

I explained to the operator that the sender of the message was impersonating her daughter, and asked if she could hear the voice of the caller. No, but she could question the operator in Helsingborg if I held on. A couple of minutes later the operator was back on the line. Yes, the voice was that of an old woman; they had told her they would not accept her message. The operator apologized for the trouble, and we said goodbye, both having been interested and entertained by the incident. Three hours later the phone rang again. Another message: MY FIANCE HELPING AND CHECKING WITH ATTORNEY. I DON'T NEED BEQUEST OR WILL TAKE ALSO THE CALIFORNIA FORMALITIES FIXED AND I WILL NOT TALK. IS OF NO USE. - DESI.

It was clear now what had happened. Desiree's mother had passed on my telegram thinking it was part of a divorce court proceeding. When she received my obviously personal communication, she knew it wasn't, went to someone with the telegram, who reconstructed it to its originally intended form. I had succeeded with it by virtue of the transmission error alone, since the idea of bequest had met with such vigorous interference.

Now even though I knew these telegrams were impostures, they hurt. That is the power of the “as if”. Desiree writes grammatical English, never signs her name Desi, though sometimes Dezi, but certainly wouldn't use the diminutive with such a peremptory, dismissive message.

I sent some exploratory letters to Helingborg, on the chance that Desiree was living with her mother and might beat her some time to the mail. I tried special delivery, restricted delivery, certified, regular mail. The letters greeted “the women of the family P----”, asked in the first line in parenthesis “Are you there, Desiree's mother?”, or were laid out in this form:

TO DESIREE: CALL (my phone number) LATE NIGHT LA TIME COLLECT, OR WRITE (my address)


I had in fact called the local police and explained the situation to the receptionist, who promised to go by the mother's house and knock on her door. (No one answered, I was told, when I checked back.) A couple more weeks went by; a total of 10 letters sent; it seemed Desiree wasn't there. I had the phone number of the mother's next door neighbor, a character out of another story, but hadn't found him at home when I'd tried. A Sunday morning in the middle of February I found him in. He remembered me, asked where I was calling from, and told me he hadn't seen Desiree in a year. I gave him a brief update on Desiree and me, left him my phone number should Desiree show up or he find her by some inquires he promised to make.

So Desiree was not at her mother's but in Helsingborg (the telegram was headed from there) or at least in Sweden, since she expected to be quickly informed should I write to her mother's address. I had two weeks to get her mother to let her know I was trying to reach her.

I was explaining the problem to Joe one morning, when a solution came to me. Joe and I arranged to meet at a café in Westwood, and on the drive there I composed a letter which Joe copied down in his handwriting after he had stopped shaking from laughter and could hold a pen in his hand.

Mrs. Desiree P--- Miller
Care of Mary-Anne P---
Helsingborg, Sweden 
February, 16 1987 
Dear Desiree,  
Although we agree when we took in your baby that we would never contact you in Sweden, there is an emergency. First let me assure you, your little girl is doing fine. We are looking forward to celebrating her first birthday. The problem is that the estate Mr. Rex Miller set up for her support has just about exhausted the amount of the bequest made last year. And you know that I and my wife, retired and with a limited income, cannot afford to raise your child on our own resources, however much we love her- and we love her very much.  
Mr. Miller tells us that he has during the past weeks tried to reach you numerous times. He is going to Paris in early March, where he has been offered a job in publishing. His income there will be considerably less than previous, but the move is good for his career, and after all, he has to think of himself sometimes. He has been very generous so far about your child, for whom, although she was born while you two were married, he has no legal responsibility, since he is not the father.  
Could you possibly get the actual father agree to pay child support? Or, which would be infinitely better, can you now yourself take care of your daughter? We'd be sorry to lose her, but we always believed that someday you would change your mind and want to raise her yourself. God Bless,  
Please write soon.
Yours truly,
Joe P----

Two days later the document was sent facsimile transmission to Sweden, and the original sent by special delivery two days after that. Nothing happened. March 1 was approaching. I sent a telegram to Sweden: BECAUSE TELEGRAMS STOLEN ARRIVING HELSINGBORG BEFORE MARCH. I didn't bother to sign my name. Ten days later I got an express letter from Desiree's mother in which she claims Desiree is not in Helsingborg, that Desireee only wants from me a divorce, and blatantly declares she will not allow me to contact Desiree, nor will she see me herself if I come there. A week passes. I send a second letter.

March 2, 1987 
Mrs. Mary Anne P----, 
This letter is directed to you and not to Desiree, and I am writing it and not my husband, for the same reason: it seems both your daughter and my husband are too soft to take proper action on an affair of this importance.  
When Mr. Miller told us that Desiree might not get our letter, we were reluctant to believe a mother could be so insensitive to the need privacy a daughter has, and found it especially difficult to believe that Desiree would allow her mother to continue her interference with her correspondence over a long period of time, which Mr. Miller claimed had in fact been happening, Desiree being such a headstrong girl.  
But when Mr. Miller showed us the letter he received from you the day before yesterday, in which you admit to taking Desiree's mail, we could no longer have any doubt. You should be ashamed of yourself, a woman of your age. We had thought of as one alternative, should Desiree not be able to raise any money, that her little girl might be best raised by the Grandmother in the little town of Helsingborg, far away from the overcrowding and noise of Los Angeles. Obviously that is out of the question now. It did however give us the idea of contacting the adoption authorities in Sweden, as having a Swedish mother the child is a Swedish citizen. Perhaps they still could find a family in Helsingborg who would want to adopt her, and then under supervised conditions you could occasionally see your granddaughter, if the regulations in your country allow that.  
But that is all in the future. Right now you must realize that this is a decision Desiree has to make on her own; that she is a 24 year old woman with a little girl of her own now. She might now want to raise her baby herself, and it would be terrible for the child to be given to yet another foster family only to then finally be taken into the care of her real mother. How can you live with yourself while you know you may be wrecking the life of a poor little girl who is of your own blood? What will the authorities in Sweden think about it when they find out the reason the child's mother can't be found? They certainly will not be well disposed then allow you to visit your granddaughter.  
I know how hard it is to let your children grow up and go out on their own. My 5 sons and daughters are all grown and thriving, and live scattered across the U.S. and it isn't often I see them anymore. But if I see less of my family, there are more of them to see for I have grandchildren - just as you do.  
Please forgive my typewriting, it isn't often I have to write an important letter. And please, leave Mr. Miller alone. Your letter and telegram showed us are shamefully dishonest. And you have gotten Mr. Miller so angry with them that he says that he will now spend every penny that he makes preventing a divorce being granted here, although he was just about to fill out the forms, to get it taken care of before he left the country because he doesn't know how long it will be before he returns. I am trying to get him to change his mind, because as you yourself said in your letter, the marriage was from the beginning craziness and in no one's interest, and should Desiree's girl have to be adopted, and it is beginning to look that way, the marriage might interfere with the processing of the papers.  
Desiree is so nice a girl, I had imagined her family so wonderfully. I'm sorry that my dream wasn't true; My husband now makes fun of me, that I had spoken of some day before we died going to Sweden as beautiful as Desiree and her daughter.  
So - please don't write. Neither me nor my husband want to hear from you. All we ask is that you let Desiree know that her baby needs her.  
Ester P-----

Desiree is by now off on her vacation, but why let go of a good idea? I sent a copy of the second letter 2 days later, getting as before a stranger at the post office to address the envelope. This communication was followed by Christmas card (Caution! Cogitation) supposedly sent by me to one Jeffrey, son of the P----- family and friend of Desiree, on which he had written between the crossed out lines of my message a message of his own. My message to Jeffrey: MERRY CHRISTMAS AND ALL THAT. THANKS FOR CONVINCING YOUR PARENTS TO ALLOW DESIREE'S GIRL TO GET THAT TEST, I KNOW IT WASN'T EASY. (IF IT IS POSITIVE DESIREE WILL HAVE TO BE TESTED.) BY THE WAY, DID YOU GET YOURSELF TESTED WHILE YOU WERE THERE? WISH YOUR MOTHER AND FATHER HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR ME, AND DON'T SEND ME ANY BABIES FOR CHRISTMAS! Jeffrey's message to Desiree between these lines, handwritten by a friend of mine, read: I KNOW MOM AND POP HAVE BEEN GIVING YOU A HARD TIME ABOUT YOUR KID. BUT YOU'VE GOT TO BE FREE! YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE, YOU ALWAYS CAN HAVE MORE CHILDREN. AND YOUR GIRL IS NOT GOING ANYWHERE, AT LEAST NOT UNTIL SHE CAN WALK BETTER! P.S. GOT THE CARD FROM MILLER!

Still no response. That was bad. With this kind of project one had to succeed if it was to have any meaning. If I didn't get the response, I couldn't imagine at all reliably what was going on at the other end, this there was no drama.

At Michel Richards Joe asks me if I've heard anything from Sweden; he also is disappointed. But I've been playing around with an idea, the final blow; but for this I might need his company. Desiree's mother, pretending to be someone else, had told me that Desiree was dead to me. Dare I say the same to her? Symmetry was my policy. She impersonated, I impersonate. But our positions were unequal. Even if I didn't believe her, she had kept me from her daughter. So if I'm to equalize our positions, I have to make the content of the symmetrical form I take from her stronger.

Joe agrees, accompanies me to the Western Union office as moral (sympathetic) support, stands by while I face the clerk there who gasps after reading the first line of the telegram.

“You can't speak elaborately of the ugly without implicating yourself in it,” so let me simply say that Desiree knows she doesn't have a daughter; her mother only “knows” about her granddaughter because she stole my letters; Let me simply say: symmetry.

Ten days later Joe came home one night and found in his mailbox an unstamped envelope addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Joe P------, with the "Mrs." crossed out. The return address was the Swedish Consulate in Los Angeles. The note inside read: KINDLY CONTACT THE SWEDISH CONSULATE GENERAL REGARDING DESIREE P---'s DAUGHTER. Joe called me; I told him I'd handle the consulate.

The next morning I called the Vice Consul, and identified myself.

This is Joe P----. I got a letter from you about (pause to read) Desiree (pause to attempt a pronunciation of this foreign name) P----'s daughter, which I don't really understand. (pause; then a Swedish accented, middle-aged woman's voice):

- I knew something was wrong when I heard you…Do your parents live in Los Angeles?
- Yes.
- Is your father's name also Joe?
- Yes. But what is this about? I don't think I even know any Swedes. (pause)
- Oh (exclamation of relief; I've passed security, she can reveal state secrets): we received this letter from Sweden from a woman asking for information about her granddaughter. She's out of contact with her daughter who is traveling and has a daughter here that a Mr. Miller arranged to place with foster parents, a retired couple, Mr. and Mrs. P----. Do you know a Mr. Miller?
- No. (pause) I have a sister, but she's not Swedish. (pause). No, it's impossible. What does this fellow say?
- I haven't found him yet.
- Maybe it's just a joke.
- No, it's too involved for that…

…says the Vice Consul to the devious master-mind. Patrice (if you're there), turn your eyes away; there's some ugliness, (incompleteness, madness) in my life, but that's O.K.; there are those who don't love their lives because they believe love is only part of life; those for whom sympathy, even with themselves, is always conditional.

“Is this love-hate or what?” Desiree said to me as she stepped once more into my apartment and loosed her hold on her suitcase which hits the floor with a



P.S. The reason you make forms is to answer the question why you make forms.

Further Reading:
Declaration / Woman Of My Dreams