The Value of a Dollar

What doesn’t make sense to me is this weird ability to reduce everything to money. Money isn’t food. Money isn’t energy. Money isn’t even a building resource. You can’t drink it, or use it as an adhesive. It’s an abstract, always needing something physical to represent it, lest we lose touch with its narrative function. All of those other things are tangible with real practical value. I can use them, like heat shrink and solder, like wood and glass, like the gases to run my torches and the lubricant I smear on my bike chain to keep it turning smoothly on its gears. Money means nothing until we assign it value, equivalence. Money means nothing until we introduce a system to equate it to a dozen eggs and three skeins of yarn. It has only ever been symbolic. But we’re symbol using creatures. Let’s get meta: you’re reading this, aren’t you? Every word is a symbol, a stand in. This screen is not oozing propane or skeins of yarn. Perhaps it’s not so long a leap.

I maintain that it should be, though. It’s this system of false equivalence that allows us to mask the real cost of eggs, $1.59 a dozen. Where do we see the energy used in the refrigeration and lighting in the supermarket, and the fuel for transit, the raw materials to make the diesel engine of the semi-truck that brought it there, the power to run the vast egg-laying operation that sequesters its hens unhealthily, packed in too tight, and then can’t “dispose” of their shit (hint: it shouldn’t BE “disposed of” but layered in compost and given back to rich productive gardens)? And that’s only scratching the surface. All of this gets reduced to a single symbol, $, and the players in this dance are falsely reduced to helpless consumers.

That’s what it is to be a consumer, though. It’s a special state of helplessness. Our abilities to make and think are discounted over our ability to buy, to consume, to use up. We ourselves are reduced to a single symbol: $. “Sex sells,” women are $. “Men are bread winners,” men are $. I would like to submit that we are not a symbolic substitution for our “earning power,” the sum of our bank accounts, our debts, and our credit limits, but that our value stems instead from the complex connections we make in our communities, the total of our skills and learning capacity, the richness of the yarns we spin, and our ability to make, modify, and subvert the things around us. We have value in relation to one another and we have value on our own; these values are not arrived at through a substitution. The sooner we can culturally digest this, the sooner we can eliminate waste and become vaguely more human. I, for one, like being at least vaguely human.

Grief and a Pattern of Atoms

Grief is a weird little animal.  They tell you, from one side, that you’ll get over it one day, but that’s not quite true.  They tell you, from another side, that you’re working toward a “new normal,” and I guess that’s closer, but that’s still not quite true.  What’s true is that you’re plastic.  Elastic.  A mostly bendable brain-thing which is part of a slowly decaying body-thing that learns to adapt to other beings in a constantly morphing community-thing.  And changing is disruptive.  Dying is disruptive.

It’s also kind of arbitrary.  The abnormal thing is how any of this functions, why anything at all is alive.  Death, I suppose, feels reasonable then.  But if matter forms into these bizarre little structures which produce this phenomenon “consciousness,” why does that have to end? 

Analytical thought is a safe ground.  Like gools or base in a game of tag, if I’m standing in my analytic ring, I can’t be tagged by grim thoughts.  I’m off limits.  I’m free.  I can pretend I’m not grieving.  I can play hide and seek with my tears.  If I am playing children’s games, I am like a child: I will never tire, I will never falter, I will never have to give up.  I will analyze things until the grief cries out, “I give up!” and then the game will end and we’ll all have cake.  This is how it works.  This is why I go round with it.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s gone, and won’t be there for cake.  And if he can’t be there for cake, I have to get used to it.  I have to be elastic, like a rubber band.  Bounce back, bounce back.  It doesn’t work like that.

I will go over the facts again: I couldn’t call on his birthday, because he’s gone, and he’s gone so I can’t reconnect.  I am not the only one grieving, nor am I the closest one grieving.  What right have I to grieve? 

Yes, let’s sort the facts. 

“1, 2, 3, my gools!” 

Let’s play tag again.

Strong Language

Listen, I know I have a mouth on me. It’s a thing. Maybe it’s even a New England thing. But if they didn’t want me dropping f-bombs all over the place, they should have chosen phonemes that sounded less like fireworks. The “fff” of the mortar leaving its tube, the hard “k” of the report that echoes through the sky.

Yeah, you can hear it now too, can’t you? You’re welcome.

Gunpowder

Firing a gun does not make me feel powerful.  Firing a gun does not make me feel safe.  Firing a gun does not make me feel large or small or in control.  But firing a gun is loud and concussive, it requires my focus, and just after I fire, the smell of gunpowder fills the air.

Grief is a knot that lives in my chest.  I have grieved under fireworks in the past, blasts thundering through my lungs as the sparkle faded.  I have grieved under fireworks, the smell of gunpowder thick in the air, and the booming loosened the tightness between my ribs.  It finally allowed me to gasp air and cry.

So again, the smell of gun powder fills the air.  I try to ease into the trigger pull, to let the recoil be a surprise, then marvel at the new hole that appears in the paper target.  But mostly I just let each shot that I fire loosen the tightness between my ribs.  It finally allows me to breathe slowly and stop crying.

I have to think “I will be crushed to death by a bus,” or “my sister will die in a car wreck,” or “my mother will have an aneurism,” in order to be okay.  I have to think about how peculiar this condition of consciousness is in order to accept its vanishing.  I have to write it down and and leave it here for people or the process doesn’t get under way, it gets stuck, and I’d need fireworks every night.

I can’t imagine what it’s like closer to the center of this blast, to be closer to this death.  I don’t have the right to.  I want to be able to help, to soothe, but there’s fuck all anyone can do, but be there and grieve, and say things like, “it’s okay that it’s not okay.”  That’s all I know how to say.

Firing a gun does not make me feel powerful.  But it allows me to breathe.

New. Years.

It’s midnight, January 1st,
I wake to winter and the world is new.
A clean slate, a new page,
and immortal, we are unencumbered
by our bones and the bread that sustains them—

we are dying every day.

Stagger with me into the new calendar.
We’ll wake and the world will be new.
We wake, and there are bombs in Gaza.

Evening comes and my friend is mugged,
head bashed against the sidewalk.
I wander neighborhoods, white, and a man is shot
for his blackness on the BART in Oakland.
Health to you, this New Year.

Perhaps it was me,
but did the year feel newer
after Rosh Hashanah–
two weeks out, well after
you’d atoned?
It felt newer after Samhain,
seven days or so later,
when Hades claimed with 

moldy mantle
the leavings of the dumb supper.

The world felt newer,
but

we were dying then, too.