volume 16 of the golden west: 1998-99 december-april  work & days: a lifetime journal project  











Working on the what/where distinction in neuroscience. Part 1 still at Nora's in La Jolla. Just after Christmas I move into Eliz's guest house in Point Loma. Parts 2 and 3 struggle about sex, struggle about success, huge struggle with what and where and anxiety about the thesis and money. Part 4 suddenly break up with Tom when I catch him smoking dope. Part 5 ends after meeting with autistic core.

Willie Nelson, Spinoza, Oliver Sacks The man who mistook his wife for a hat, Rebecca West The fountain overflows, Huxley Island, Ondaatje The English patient, Naipaul Enigma of arrival.

Bird Rock 12th December

Take a breath. Where was I. Thursday night, crashed. He doesn't need me anymore. You're not the woman for me. I guess he crashed too. In the bleak midwinter. Moon at breaking of strength. We don't have common interests. In despair. What was that. Miasma. Physically so strange to me. Maybe the overload. I can't say it in order. Flat in bed all day yesterday. Without energy. He decided at some moment that he wanted to keep going, and was taking charge to that end. I was dazed. Something about sex, because I couldn't want it but getting it took me out of the worst. Is it some kind of a threshold? I'm still thick-headed.

Yesterday morning feeling into the body - there's that claw-cramp at the back of the neck, like being held down and resisting. The book said complete the feeling. I asked him to hold me down, and then struggled. He was nervous doing it. I was thinking it's a good idea to make him conscious he's trying to hold me down. (He didn't like the way my face looked, "ugly, swollen, kind of crazy".) It was merge chaos. The way I feel his conversation, I said, a murk, wading through slime. My zingers, criticism, attack, he said. He plays dumb I said much later. Yes he puts out a cloud of vagueness. It gives him a chance to feel out the other person. What I meant was the way he says any unconsidered slop. I correct him. I don't learn not to. Oie. What I was feeling in despair was how it's much too complicated. I sat and read my journal to be in myself for a while. You listen to your tapes. So much music, so many times. His face so extreme, like flesh gargoyles. I don't want to be dragged back into the stupid sixties. It is toxic to me. And I don't want to go on in the defensive always. I want that granular chrome music, clean. I want to stop explaining. I don't want to live in a welter. And yet I want to be close to you. I want to be close to you.

I want not to close down on the clean bare bright beautiful wholeness I've learned to be. I want to be it more. You live a different way. You live somehow immersed, you have your way. You live horizontally, emotionally. All day you find your way face to face with miscellaneous people. You feel them. It's a thing I keep to a minimum.

I like the fact of difference but I fight not to be you. It is so extreme a difference, there is so deep to learn. You like it too.

We emptied the closet, I said. You will be having thoughts. I'd like to debrief with you. Really I would like to live with you daily so we don't have to keep going through the shock. But I have to be able to work.

14th Dec, Monday

On Thursday we were squalling about noosphere. He was raving about intelligence having an agenda of its own, and how computers will take over and run with it. I was disgusted. Why are men so eager to hand off intelligence before they have remotely got to their own capabilities.

I feel and think in more and more detail the human cost of the kinks in male mentality - deep mistakes that steal from life in being unwilling to know their own circumstance. I am fighting it through intimately with Tom. Being willing to know my own circumstance will be what gets me to a grounded adversarial position - I mean not malicious but determined.

22nd December

Silence in this one lit cell in all the blank expanse of this good neighbourhood. Sealed houses. A Nazi woman provoking her dog in the alley, the tyrant guy next door, the overbearing woman in the house built to dominate. I kept thinking I should explore the streets but there was nothing to see. Good trees, the Brazilian pepper across the road, a Monterray cypress, palms. The blue eucalyptus they half butchered because of a property line. But the yards and facades only understand correctness, which is to say they are maintained without being seen, as if it has to do with agreeing to hide the fact of death. Materials shouldn't show wear. Which is why the man next door threatened to have my car towed. - But what does this correctness of common denial have to do with commanding money? Downtown the street people are alive in their dying. Money is being commanded all around them, and the people commanding it come home at night to places like this. Something to do with private lives. Street people have only one life, public/private. I don't mean to say the quality of the life in those lives is good. Is there something obvious I am not getting? Do people have to be cut off to make money? Yes, it says: losses resulting from evasions of male consciousness. These are patriarchal homes. They could be visible as male apprehension.


Then I did what I've never done here, slipped out the back gate and walked up and down streets.

It was cold. The sun was just below the horizon. Light on the tops of trees. A lot of rustle in the tallest palms. I looked at houses and yards and saw them the way I usually see them. But I loved the fact that I was walking. I haven't had the strength.

In Ocean Beach in the afternoon combing through the antique stores for Tom's household.

What is the delight of small household objects. As if they are seen with the part of the brain that easily refines and elaborates, like face perception, pet perception and plant perception. There were shelves of kinds of pottery that merge plant perception and dish perception. Superior temporal lobe.

Maryland Hotel December 26

For a couple of miles on the Enseñada toll road there were oxblood rocky escarpments with pale dots sprinkled over them all the way to the top. The dots were a kind of small silver agave rosette [or dudleyas?], always less than a foot across. It was an exquisite effect in diffused sea dusk.

We came over the mountains from Tecate - the mountains I see from Tom's bed - on old Mexican Highway 3. Tom was driving. Sometimes I was over on his side to be able to feel the happiness of his body - or whatever that serene ecstatic glow is - as we flew in curves along the summits of gentle ancient piles of crumbled rock. Hundreds of miles of those mountains, rocks, very small bushes, small trees in the gulches. Sometimes horses and a two-roomed house among shade trees. In the valleys a beautiful corduroy of olives or grapes.

There was a particular part of the road where I noticed a heavy somnolence, a thickness of the air. The Mexican sleepiness, I thought. I didn't mention it until later, so I don't know whether what Tom noticed was the same. He said he'd felt something hard to explain, like a spirit of the land, an animus under the ground. A few miles further on, when we came to coastal mesquite country, it was gone.

We were talking about it in bed before we went to sleep at the end of our Christmas Day. I was lying at his back cuddling him. Let's have a real conversation before we go to sleep, I say. I'm takin' on water fast, if you want a real conversation you'll have to hook me.

This is how it came about. I'm getting restless in this room, let's go for a drive. Mount Laguna, Tom said. No, let's go there, I was thinking - those mountains in the east that look as if they are in a different zone of time. The 94 toward Tecate. Once on the road it seemed we could have breakfast in Mexico. And once there, Tom was feeling the old pull to Enseñada. This is what you said would happen, I said. He laughed. But when the pull came back, I said go for it. Our full tank of supreme.

There's more to say but the meter will start ticking at 8. Saturday morning. Tom's at the desk in the West with his nametag on.

Point Loma 28 December

Waking at three and saying more things I want. I'd like to make life more livable for real souls. I was thinking of the woman I saw on Denman in Vancouver when I was walking with Louie one evening. She was standing next to a café window under an awning. I saw her because she was looking at us: it was because she knew Louie, but I didn't know that. I saw how real she was and smiled at her. Months later I happened to tell Louie about her. She said the woman had killed herself. And I also mean Jane Howell who died of breast cancer at fifty, and the boy at Emily Carr whose painting I saw when I was visiting Josie in the painting studio. A painting exceptionally real. She said he committed suicide.

People who are real can die because they aren't seen. I mean myself too. Those people are my constituency - the people whose realness I can recognize.

What about everybody else? The people whose realness has died or never came, or who are some form of real repulsive to me. Other people work for them. Now I'm speaking as someone I used to be.

31st December

The effort it takes to get from a vague notion to a more exact one. I'm thinking of the vague understanding I had of the what and where paths, and the way I have gradually had to know what the psychophysical experiments were, options for statistical correlations of PET data, retrograde and anterograde labeling dyes for path-tracing, the historical course of Ungerleider's papers, changes in anatomical naming practices over the last 15 years, differences in nomenclature and anatomy in monkey and human cortex.

Maryland Hotel 2nd January 1999

At six there was a band of hot yellow in the east, that shaded up through turquoise to purplish dark blue where a streak of high contrail was blazing white as a moon. When yellow was fading to pale orange there began to be birds, first a few gulls, then ferrying groups of more gulls and then smaller birds zipping across their paths.

At seven-thirty the day-haze has whited out the hills, and the birds on the billboard rim are pigeons in profile. The bit of water I can see at the west foot of the Coronado Bridge is an innocent silver blue.

3rd January

Our voyage last night into featureless vapour. We were on the Coronado ferry, standing on the upper deck. The simple planes and points of light on our side had rotated past us, fallen behind and simultaneously dissolved away. The ferry bridge was showing only a blue-green running light. There was a little ripple sounding below the dim light from the lower deck. We could see the large American flag standing vertical as a rudder. The water was flat and the motor running very smoothly. There it is, someone said in the bridge, a small blue-green light riding almost unseeable in a greenish smudge, the twin ferry on its return trip. It's a ten minute trip, we weren't nowhere very long. A gold blur on the right, that became a row of lights and then the Coronado wharf.

It was beautiful and interesting and so visual it can't be said, especially the wharf that juts out beyond the ferry landing, a parking lot with powerful lights on high poles. Something about the constant change of shape of that flat lit polygon and the related shifting points of the eight stars floating above it. A simple powerful logic visible on a stage above the water. Shades of greyish gold.

Can I say I felt all that. I felt something at the time - just, this is wonderful. Then later I felt it was what I wanted to think about. But if I hadn't written this paragraph I would never have known even this much. And if I had known it at the time I would have been able to know much more about the actual change of shape of the polygon and its relation to the way the lights lined up and the way the stage dissolved at its ends.

10th January

Here I sit frightened at heart. I'm up against it. I don't know how to go on. The day looks long and empty and lonely. There won't be any love in it. There won't be any touch or sweetness. It is Sunday but I won't take pleasure in sea, sky, air or any other thing. I am utterly barren. I'm trembling in the lovelessness of my way of work. I don't want to enter these hours. I will come out of them empty. I don't want the day this will be. I will work, I will come to the end of my ability to work, and then there will be nothing, because the work takes without giving. Day after day it is eating me without giving me life or means or human company. Nothing ever comes of my writing. I have lived this life for ten years and it isn't over yet. I want to die. I want to lie down and pass out. I want to give it up and stand free, but that has been unthinkable, so I want to die in my cage.

There are small birds in the bit-leafed oak. The dogs are crying.

11th January

When I had written what I wrote yesterday I was sitting with pain trying whether I could shift it by naming it. Are you lonely, are you frightened, and so on. That went on for a while. Are you crying to god? YES, a gasp of a sigh. I meant (sigh) a feeling of reaching from the top of the head, up, up. So I held the reach and begged for help. Pain at the heart and what felt like (or I imagined as) a thin pointed shape three or four feet high reaching upward from the top of my head.

Pain did dissolve some. I set out to drive to UCSD in a small anguish of fear but when I'd eaten a torta and begun to find the special issues of Cerebral Cortex on both object vision and the parietal, I found I was very well. Worked with wonderful concentration until five and came down the hill at Scripps to bands of flamingo and gold above the sunset point.

13th January

About sex - I woke this morning thinking I've named the anger and dependent thwartedness but I haven't dealt with them. I was saying to you, Let's undo the Irish back bedrooms and the minimal Mennonites and walk into a land where we are gods of sex with electric bodies and no fear. Let's bring our bravest wishes as gifts to that land. Let's bring our weaknesses to be undone there. Let's do whatever will get us really hot. Let's bring every unfaithful desire and every best remembered fuck. Let's feed and exercise ourselves to the end of joy there. Let's be willing to deal with whatever monsters are in the way. Let's entirely stop being afraid of ourselves. Let's take Viagra if we have to, or other drugs -

Or else let's be as if nuns and priests and really give it up. But let's not be what our ancestors were, giving it the least that will quiet the dogs - 


16th January

I dreamed I was with a lover I'd had deep hard times with and we were caught at the end of the line. There was a powerful flood of water that had cut us off. We were looking around thinking we would likely have to die. Should we just jump into the current and get it over with? My lover was like an old cowpoke, at a little distance from me, old woman as much as old man. While we hesitated in our plan, we saw there was another way. On the other side the water was less deep and less powerful. It was flowing smoothly over a drop we could probably survive. And then not much further on it reached a fence and presumably a shore. We'll risk it on that side and we might make it.

I plunge in first, am swept over, and reach the shore easily. The woman with the child comes right behind me and she reaches shore too. We find a community of women who have food and everything we need.

I stand on shore and see my lover has come over the brink and is standing in the darkness in water up to his chest. I rush into the water calling to him. I want him to know the shore is near. I see he is liking to be where he is, still lost, still in the adventure. He speaks to me politely. I'm full of remorse that he has made himself unreal for me. He is following me to shore but he has given up the lovely real aloneness I saw him in.

18th January

An overcast Monday 2 PM sitting in bed with the light on still, reading The fountain overflows for the fourth time, or fifth, knowing I'm wasting a work day on a binge, reading interested in many tones of my own life stirred by her (now I see is) egotistically indulgent as well as wonderfully vivid book.

I remember Andy who had it in a box of books when my life at 52 Burghley Road was coming apart. She wrote about the flute solo in Orpheus and Euridice and I thought of Robert McLean walking in his tree planter boots and beautiful Scottish body in Northern Alberta under the poplars stripped to posts by caterpillars. A windy September day at La Glace - the yellow, grey, blue, and driven white. What I have that's as wonderful as a London childhood with a father who is a writer and a mother who's a musician - children who read Shakespeare and not the Reader's Digest. "It was my father and mother who existed. I could see them as two springs, bursting from a stony cliff, and rushing down a mountainside in torrent, and joining to flow through the world as a great river." Do I remember thinking of my parents with devotion? No. There was a world and they weren't in it. None of their forebears had ever been in it, as far as I knew. I intended to go into the world and find the better way to live, but what can I say was given to us? The congregational singing in church, the encyclopedia they bought.

What I like in West is the fullness she gives the children's sense of each other, passing mentions of season and day, everyone's social acuteness, everyone's interests, the spread of curiosity. I don't like the supernatural spicing or whatever her thing is about Richard and Rosamund. She harps on the inferiorities of ordinary people in a way I understand because it gets even for their persecution, although long after the case has been closed.

Where am I now, I want to know. I had the beginning of an art and not the clarity to make a life with it. Why am I calling it clarity. Because what kept undoing me was confusion in sex and attachment. I didn't have the freedom of mind to go from one thing to another, the way Lis Rhodes or Philip Hoffman did.

I'm still drunk, I'm still not attending, I'm still jumping into the cauldron, still pages of roiling, such energy turning no wheels at all. This is frightening to say. Dear journal the lifelong fantasy you are, that speaking to you is something not nothing. But maybe say it this way: I was given a smashing blow to my brain when it was forming, and I've lived as well as I can. I'm sorry I've been too disabled to make much. I wonder what would happen if I saw myself with justice.

24th January

I woke in the dark with the kind of thought I have only before I speak - I mean when I'm barely speaking. I saw a small swath of very small plants and took it as something about scale, that what I'm working on has to do with scales of resolution. When I went on and thought about the state of mind before speaking, I felt it as a kind of whole - it was simplicity but I can't say it - I thought of the broad smooth head of a whale. It had that broad round smoothness all participating in feeling what's around it in a broad smooth seamless way - seemless, I wrote, because it's nothing but presence.

14 February

You're not a good man. You've tried to be good so you can have a good woman, but the good Tom is conventional, obedient, timid, sexless, tasteless and stunningly right-thinking. The bad Tom can speak a line of prose with zing, but he's arrogant, violent, racist, tyrannical, spoilt rotten, and needs me completely under his control. When he makes a plan I must have none of my own. When he drives I must be happy. As to fucking, it is his way or no way. He has been too spoilt to learn competence. And then he is so afraid to feel his incompetence he cannot bear to be taken off his habitual trail. There are a hundred taboos, things we can't do, things we can't think about, things I mustn't say, ways I mustn't look at him or touch him. I must be happy with him but I must not do what will make me so.

As always you are locked in homo-aggression with some shadow man at work. It's where your passion is. How many of them have there been since I've known you.

As for sex, you are the high school jock who's let himself get sucked off by girls he despises and so has never grown up to learn to touch a woman.

What am I doing with this spoilt boy and his zombie right-think puppet. What have I done to deserve him. I know the answer. I tried to save my dad so I'd be safe to love him, so I could be the love I am, so I could be safe to be the unsafe and crooked love I am. What follows now I do not know.

15 February

I feel the stern angel pronouncing in me. What it is saying is true but the impulse is wrong.

The devil is animal masculinity. Some not all men through no fault of their own are chemical bezerkers. Those men are sentenced to a lifetime of struggling not to be themselves. My father was a man like that. There were many evils he wanted to commit and didn't. He was a very bad man who succeeded in being much less bad than he was. He wants that acknowledged. I'm seeing that the nonsense of the religion I grew up with had not much to do with me but very much to do with helping bad men contain themselves. That's why there is a crucified man in it. In Kosovo the warrior men have jumped down off their crosses.

Tom has been saying I don't give him credit for restraining his beast. Then I'm thinking, jeez - thank you for not beating me, killing Jorge, getting fourteen-year-olds pregnant, shooting Mexicans, dealing drugs. I'm impressed.

And then for him it's as if he's struggled for nothing. Because I don't believe in the badness he is I jeer at his achievement. It means I don't see him. To see him I would have to see that he is a bad man trying to be fit to be loved. - Depends what you mean, it says: a warrior man who is not licensing his badness.

I haven't believed in the strength of the animal male in him. It's visible but I've been oblivious. The question is, can I love that?

If I had plainly seen my father's nature I could have loved him. If I had loved him I would have plainly seen it. I didn't see my father. I didn't see what his existence was for him. That's my immaturity as a woman. Trying to fix Tom is a way of not acknowledging what he is. I don't want to know my father fights with the devil. I don't want to feel unsafe. Evil Epp. Other people knew it.

24th February

The psychological literature is just nonsense. Lesion studies are opaque as porridge, single-cell studies almost so. What I am able to use is certain minds who put together a grand vision. It seems to me all those minds fit together - I'm able to fit them together. I cannot be responsible to the smaller minds because I can't make sense of what they say.

What have I wanted to know, what have I found? What were and are my real questions, what have I learned about them? What did I find? I assembled a community for the questions, sorted a community, learned how to read a community.

Examples of questions - the sorts of questions that are fuel. Dreaming wide landscapes or kinds of motion. Music, the spatial feeling of electronic music. Landscape. Gardens and houses. Writing, the spatial feel of linguistic registers. Intellectual organizing using table surfaces. Stories about math geniuses who use landscape. Being stoned, actual altered sense of distance, very heightened sense of perspective motion, the jerkiness of clouds. Bringing up different color in the field. Meaning of house dreams, levels. Trapline. PLACE.

25 February

Coming up to speed - solar plex starting to stream - I noticed this morning when I woke in the dark - what I had taken for anxiety is preparation.

Imagining space: cognitive theory and working intuition.

I want it to be well written. Lucid and objective, not egotistic. Light. The lightest cleanest voice I've found.

I want it to set together what I've found in these ten years, which worked from the intuitions I built in the twenty years before. I want to be an artist in its company. I'm writing it for other artists and to be ready to go on.

It will name the questions that aren't answered.

Should there be a fictional effect in the examples? Should the examples, set together, make up a picture of an artist's real life? Should there be an entirely fictional story in the examples? And write something about examples.


How am I. Stunned. We came this far and now suddenly no farther. It was not my fault. I didn't run away. I was valiant and faithful. I didn't cut corners. I worked through everything that came. I watched and prayed. I kept coming through.

12th March

This morning I'm crying about not getting the postdoc. I'm looking at these piles and piles of folders knowing I've done good work, deep work, but I'm probably not going to get to stand with it in the forum. Nothing has changed economically because of it. I could come out of it living hand to mouth, as before. So I have lost my platform in my work too - I've lost the feeling that it will succeed. I will pour my days and strain my heart to write whatever this will be, and nothing nothing nothing will come of it.

The kind of day this has been. I was working by 5 but at seven was trying to call Louie in sharp pain about not getting the postdoc and being overwhelmed in the piles of folders. By midday lying flat in bed as if with a stake through the heart, pinned down. I was focusing in it, asking to know what it was, and faded out long enough to see a sapling or branch dashed to the ground. I'm dashed down, I said. Sighed. Briefly the pain wasn't there and I felt as if I were a king with a crown - energy in peaks over my head, not very distinct, and a feeling of being a man. I wondered whether the work would make me a man, whether I'd have to give up looking like a woman and be ponderous and thick.

In the afternoon, when I'd come from shopping downtown, again pain more intense than it has been so far, very motionless, like being crucified. I lay there and stayed with it, noticed how it shut down at the solar when I heard Eliz outside, and thought I must often have done that, because solar pain can be hidden but heart pain is naked. I am wondering why it is so intense today, but that's the way I am. It's chemical, isn't it. In the first two weeks it's as if my body still acts as if it's connected.

My eyes are fuzzing, I notice. They have been so amazingly good. I'm worried that my body will give up if I don't have a man. In the past two days that faint wish to die that says, walk into the ocean, have a car accident.

March 14

When I'm blocked at the solar it always means I'm lying. When I feel at the heart I'm telling the truth.


What I dreamed - among many other things - that I came into a little piece of ground where I was going to talk about what I knew - it was marked out into a rectangular floor with a border of cut blocks of stone. I said it was the temple of the ruined child, I mean I didn't know what I was going to call it until I said it. The abandoned child, the - what was the third term? It was like bereft but not. - The betrayed child.

I was talking to a crowd of people like people I've spoken to in the herb garden. A woman with short dark hair, quite a tall athletic woman, walked to the top of the rectangle and put a gift into the earth where the head of the space, or altar, would be. I understood that she knew already what the space was about.

Every sentence of my talk came to me as I spoke and informed me too. I said the process of working with the ruined child goes like this. The child doesn't know it is ruined. It says, I'm fine. But there is always an edge in its relations with other people. Something isn't right. The way the work starts is when someone else picks a moment, usually one that comes up by means of a dream, and helps you find your true feeling in relation to that moment. That can go on for years. The second phase is when you begin to work by yourself to do that. As I spoke this sentence I saw Joyce was standing beside me.

I had woken in the night with a burning bar across the solar. Tried different things. What dissolved it was when I said, as the child, When are you coming for me - please come for me -

When I read the sentence that says I saw Joyce was standing beside me, my eyes fill.