Posts Tagged With: old work

Time has us by the Strings

Just now, while searching through my old files, I found a letter I wrote to my ex just over 10 months ago. Since I haven’t had time between co-authoring a chapter, working on a farm, and dealing with yet ever more exciting “ex-relationship” drama, I thought I’d post it here. <But then I changed my mind at the last minute>


I. An Untimely Self

This letter was my final attempt to move my ex through logos, and it’s failure to do so–the failure to rebuild trust and intimacy with meaning–left me disillusioned more than ever with reason. At the end, I resorted to ethos, to find a common meeting ground, a simple, common, everyday activity to bond over, but every invitation was blocked. Logos and ethos could not have access to pathos so long as I had become the abject of my ex’s subjectivity. My attempts at logos and ethos were in fact a symptom of the larger problem. Both tactics pressured her to live by my time, rather than letting her be as she had become in her own time. The tactic I should have followed was kairos, an attentive, self-restrained patience.

Although what she said most often was that she needed space, what I think she really meant was time. Within the tradition of liberal humanist discourse, personhood has been defined territorially, not temporally. To say one needs to be oneself is interpreted as one needing distance from being touched, from being affected  by something outside. The subject, to have integrity, needs to be autonomous–not dependent on others–to properly perfect oneself according to one’s own image. Yet such existential independence is rarely achieved, especially when space must be shared. To let one be is not so much leaving space as it is respecting time. For who we are changes, and although change can be very painful, it must be affirmed if we are not to act violently to ourselves and others, to manifest suffering.


II. A Puppet of the Past

I cringed when I acknowledged that this letter retains relevancy in the present. Reading the letter encouraged me to reflect on my recent behaviors over the past couple months to make amends with someone I became very intimate with and likewise had to live and work with in the aftermath of intimacy. I find myself making the same mistakes,  attaching myself to the value of “I” and the possessiveness of “me.” Each time a powerful “relationship” comes to an end, I feel simultaneously devastated and empowered, for I have learned through my faults. But history teaches me that it is so easy to let faults slip through our consciousness back into the body of habits. I discover myself repeating these uncanny words.

Without losing myself, I will not become someone else. Yet, after months on the road relatively cut from my former roots in Texas and Illinois, I cling fast to my bumper during each intentional swerving maneuver to release me. Consciousness and swerving has helped clean up some “noise,” but has not established a new paradigm for my being. I sit on the side of the road lost in thought, but not of the past. My familial, fraternal,  and romantic relationships are knotted around my ego, suffocating it of creativity. The knots tie me down to people and land I am thousands of miles and hundreds of days apart from, playing me like a marionette. I’m a puppet of the past. The more force I apply to these strings, the more tangled I become; the more I act like a Man, the more of a mockery I prove myself to be.


III. Concrete Reality: Time has got us by the Strings

Must one accept our string, our knotty personas, to move beyond it? To master oneself, one must not attempt to master others, but to master kairos, to master a situation by allowing it to be and be undone. For years I have attempted to  master time, to conform the present to the fantastic future and the future to my representation of it in the present. But to live in fantastic expectation, to force things from out of the present,  only works so long as the fantasy is not traversed.

The difficulty of reality is our exposure in time, our ineffable exposure to ghosts from the past and omens of the future. Reality is that time has us, not us it. Karma is the catching-up of time when we believe we have moved beyond it. Suffering is the manifestation of reality’s disillusionment of our ideals once time has tagged us. Once tagged, we are not I, but is. And is is all there is. If we cannot accept that, we cannot accept ourselves, and so we suffer even as time has passed us by. We continue to dragged ourselves behind or run ahead of cars, and so eventually feel the friction of reality against our flesh, tearing us apart without pulling us together.

In writing this, I feel as though I’m resigning myself to fate, writing against resistance. Do I prefer life as a puppet over life as a person or has my thinking finally become just as tangled up in knots as my identity?

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Even Loved Ones are Sent to Slaughter

In the summer of 2008, I was invited on a field-trip to a small stockyard in a small town with several churches and dollar stores called Bath, NY. The stockyard is one of many in upstate New York associated with Dairylea Cooperative, the largest milk marketing cooperative in the Northeast with annual sales approaching $1 billion dollars. Dairylea’s mission: “Dairylea will be farmer-driven. We will seek to maximize net returns at the farm by preserving and enhancing milk markets”.

The following is a previously unpublished record of my field-trip to the Bath (Live/stock)Market:













A young jet black bull stared at me through the wooden pen, his eyes saturated with anxiousness and confusion. He was reluctant to move any closer toward me from the back corner of the narrow pen, but nonetheless curious about the cows in the adjacent stalls. He was the by far the healthiest and most beautiful beast in the stockyard that day. But he was just one of many dozens of beasts stalled up, unaware of their fate to pass from one master to another.

A couple stalls down was a small heifer with an udder so swollen it nearly touched the dirt floor. She too was quite the beauty, though noticeably underfed. Unlike the black dehorned bull, her eyes displayed grief and unnerving anxiety. Quite possibly she had just been separated from her calf not more than an hour ago. As I pondered her familial fate, I was called by Dan, a cruelty investigator, to follow him into the back where the small animal market was soon to commence. Perhaps I’d see this mother’s child.

Walking to the small room in which the animals were corralled into I witnessed a woman electric prodding her calves into a large wooden pen adjacent to he corral. She had at least six males, many of whom may end up being sold as veal. Dan had told me occasionally a big buyer would come to purchase animals for slaughter. For the most part, however, the people there were small, local dairy farmers—the kind many food activists like to support over industrial dairy which comes from anonymous and environmental devastating sources. A veal calf entered the small space, cautiously creeping toward a possible exit, but no exit existed. He wouldn’t move any further while the auctioneer rolled numbers off his tongue, so an older man-presumably his current master—slapped him in the face to get him moving into the center.

The farmers stood and sat in the three tiers, gazing down at the animals as they entered. Adorned with leather boots, flannel and button down shirts, jeans, and either baseball caps or straw hats, they were the genuine image of the rough-and-tumble farmers one might imagine. Modest and dirty folk, the men had very short hair and were typically lean—though, this included a not-so-modest beer gut—and fitted with wrinkly tan leather skin. The women were more varied, but tended to be on the overweight side, some severely so. Some couples brought their children and even their mutts. The children, all boys, dressed like their parents and displayed a great deal of interest in the animals, even a drive to participate in the market. The young boys exemplified an impressive deal of self-confidence and the older boys had nearly fully adopted the disinterested and unreflective disposition of their parents.

During this visit I noticed a machine that scrolled digitally through numbers to the left of the auctioneer. My first guess was that it regulated gas, lighting or temperature. It was not until I read the ironic text on the machine did I realize that it was displaying the weight of the soon-to-be auctioned calf in the corral. The text read:




Enter calf. He must have been born not more than a couple days ago. His umbilical cord, now a shriveled wire, dangled from his belly. His eyes seemed as though they’d pop out of the socket as he stared with extreme intensity at the rest of the room. He stumbled around, having not yet learned to walk properly. In the space were two men who held shepherd canes. One was Terri, a droopy-eyed middle-aged man with a bushy blonde ‘stache in overalls and a John Deer hat, who immediately whacked the calf on the back upon getting up. The other was a severely obese man in his twenties acting in bored indifference, bumping the calf around as he tried to escape through a small opening, before he too tapped the two-foot tall, orphaned infant with the side of his cane. The calf was sold for under $15. Now came the spent sows, who after having birthed several litters of piglets, likely confined in gestation and farrowing crates, were not healthy enough to produce any substantial profit to keep in production. I was quite horrified to find that all her life was worth to these men and women was $6.

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i don’t know

i don’t know

I don’t know what a chicken thinks. I just don’t know.

I don’t know what goes through a her mind when the beak she used to eat with is clipped off, what she’s feeling when she sees her beak tumbling down into a pile of eighty-six more. I don’t know.

The only thing I think I know is that I will never understand all, let alone any, of it. 9 billion animals go through this every year and I can’t even grasp what it is like for a chicken as her beak is seared off . It seems like it would hurt, but I’m a human, not a chicken. Even so, I don’t know if that CAN’T hurt. And even if I did, so what? I can’t imagine how that chicken went through her whole day. I can’t imagine one day! Not even a typical one out of the 365 days a year when all she does is force herself to keep on going, to keep standing on an uneven surface in an extremely cramped cage? Hell, I can’t even imagine imagining what she must think and feel for three hundred of those twenty-four hour cycles, nor what hundreds of millions of chickens in this country are likewise experiencing in this country at the same time. I don’t know what ONE goddam chicken feels for ONE fucking instant of her entire fucking life when she receives something as simple as her fucking chicken feed.

I really can’t imagine. If you can, tell me. I’d really like to know, because I don’t even know where my meat comes from, let alone what animal I am eating. I don’t know what kind of conditions they were in, if the cow that I am eating now had a broken leg, suffered arthritis in her neck, was given steroids that could kill me, was strapped up to a milking machine for nine hours straight, or had her cut throat and accidentally went on living for several minutes while she swung upside down. I don’t know if the people there took good care of the animals, or bad care, or beat them with shovels, or used a red hot iron to brand them on their face, and then just laugh—-or worst yet, walk away without even a care, or even worse—-without a thought.
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