volume 18 of the golden west: 1999 august-december  work & days: a lifetime journal project  










A month in San Diego making gardens for Mo and Nora and living with Tom at Eliz's house looking after her dog Rue. Back in Vancouver my long-time landlord Mr Choy dies and there is a cognitive science conference at SFU. Part 2 TAing, Rowen for a month, money worries. Tom visits and we take Rowen and a computer to Read Island. Luke stays with me. Am thinking about visual perception and working at the Harbour Centre publishing lab. Start making my web worksite front page. Fire my senior supervisor. San Diego for a Christmas month. Part 3 get back into working on my book.

Mentions: Herbert's Dune, Pat Conroy, John Clare's journal,

14th August 1999

Didn't write for a month, since my journal got left behind on the phone kiosk at gate 46A in LAX. Didn't miss it, worse than that, have lost confidence - just realized I could call it that - which has never happened, though I've written dull anxious journals. The lost journal was the one started after I broke up with Tom. It had Borrego and the trip back, trying to write, coming back broke. Is it true I hardly care that it's lost, was there anything in it I miss. The photo of Rowen on the cover.

This paragraph: there's no reason it should exist. Maybe I should take it that writing should shift, or has shifted.

I am writing to see what happens, but it is as if my living doesn't feel it needs it now. That was a big sigh.

It's not that I know everything without it. It's not that I have stronger consciousness in the moment - less, maybe. I'm not sure I have the unconscious residue to be examined later, which is what it mostly was. A strong, I want to say lateral, registration that was isolated maybe, not part of the system that acts. Really it's that - I don't feel a residue. Not having that residue feels skimpier as existence. I don't think it's that the moment has more integrated in it. I feel and notice less. It scares me to say this - a thinner weaker more ordinary consciousness - I think - here the book says no I am more integrated - but, I say, everything that happened with Tom in San Diego, I feel the significance of so little. I have so little of the strong memory I used to have, isn't that a loss of consciousness? Yes it says. Is there a gain? Yes, end of nightmare. So I've traded the end of crashes for a flatter existence. Yes. That's what integration does? Yes.


Eight in the morning, sun flat through the east window, through the bedroom door, into the hall. My house has its charms of color back, the wretched grubbiness is less. The broken wall above the stairs got patched while I was away. When doors and windows are open in all directions and on different levels it is an airy high platform holding up a few good shapes in sweet colors. Yellow door, blue wall, red embroidered rug, dark green fig tree.

You phoned in the last of the evening light. You ask how was my day. I'm not used to it yet. I tell you, I'm pleased to tell you, but I still hurry my story as if you'll change your mind. You say something snapped into place, you can stay in the moment, stay with me. Then I feel, oh goodness is it true, do I have this lovely man.

Your story is about biking along the Silver Strand and seeing marine light. You sound delicious, I say, you sound happy. King Charming, who can facilitate other people's charm. What a reward for faithful work.

Now my heart's stirred up into joyful love - I don't know what to do with it.


A cog sci conference. Compare it, oh, to an experimental film conference, where there are visible and seeing souls walking around -


Two days experimenting with dressing up. Today I wore the pale green suit, which looks like silk or very light linen and is beautifully cut at the back of the waist. I wore it with the cuffs rolled over my new red Converse sneakers, black jersey without a bra and my hair down. I'm still tan and trim. I looked stunning. I knew this conference was not particularly a place to look stunning but I wanted to go for it while I can, before winter and head work put me back into podge. Yesterday I was leading up to it with my funeral clothes, the black pants and sand-colored version of the beautifully cut jacket, and the black jersey backwards, with my docs. I'm embarrassed to talk about what I wore but today I was more dressed up than I have been since the green silk Afghani coat - 1976, maybe, when I cut off my hair.

Looking stunning made me more self conscious, less approachable, only slightly more noticed, and what else - less depressed by being unimportant maybe? I don't know what to conclude. It's like walking around in a shield. It's okay. It's only glamour and is being seen as that - I mean it isn't value, which is the real thing, a good state. Though there's a way this kind of glamour is a good state. What way? It shows self pleasure and adventure, but of a pop culture kind. It says, you people are ignoring both being and seeing visible bodies, but I'm saying, I'm here and you are too.


But nobody was returning my flash and saying you're here and I am too. Rick Grush, large man with trimmed beard and knob of a ponytail, Paul Churchland's doc student who wrote about motor simulation, moved on stage as if delivering a talk was tai chi - he'd keep bringing himself back to center, feet together, hands touching each other symmetrically at his chest. His right arm would make strong forays and then he'd step into center again. This would happen over an unusually wide area of the stage. Beautiful and unusual.

Compare Schwartz or Rosenthal, neurotic little clerics of the sensation-perception distinction. Rosenthal was jerking robotically between two points. Schwartz was stroking the fuzz on his bald forehead like a nursing baby.

Yesterday Mr Choy's funeral at the funeral chapel on Dunleavy. Uniform black, people's clothes and their hair too. His widow sobbed through the service. Faint taped organ music sounded as if from behind curtains. A taped soloist singing Amazing grace and Coming home, tape presumably provided by the funeral parlour to anyone without soloist resources. The singer drew out the ends of the words on the last lines of both songs to signal that the song was about to end, a stupid effect. Why, exactly. Because apart from signaling what doesn't need to be signaled, the singer lost what intelligence there had been in her sound when she stretched it obedient to another kind of instruction. There's more I haven't got.

The minister spoke in Chinese about everlasting life, which insults the community probably accurately. The ritual that followed was from another kind of tradition. People I thought must be officials of the four tongs Mr Choy had belonged to, took hold of a wreath, in turn, waved it toward the coffin in three circling motions as if wafting flower essence toward the corpse, and then bowed three times and stepped out of the way. Wallace as oldest son delivered a eulogy in which he called his father a great man. Meantime I had a few times been able to recall Mr Choy's face as he'd stand on the porch waiting with my receipt while I came to open the door.

The last motion of the service was the realest, a shocking moment when the white funeral official stepped up and opened the top half of the coffin. It was like an Eleusinian showing of the mystery ­ there was Mr Choy's face dead, polished and compacted the way it had begun to be in his illness.

At this point everyone attending was funneled past the mystery to bow once or three times according to some rule I don't know - first the people who'd come too late to find a place in the chapel, then those standing at the back, then the pew-sitters from back to front, which left those most affected to watch everyone else step into the spot where they faced the corpse and acknowledged it as fact. That individual facing and acknowledging and then departing by a side door from the house of death is very exact, and it was perfectly completed in the way, as we left, we were received by two gatekeepers just beyond the sill and given a gift by one of them - an envelope containing, it turned out, two wrapped candies and a dollar coin. We stood about on the pavement sucking our candies, which restored us after the shock of facing what we'd faced. My solar plex was buzzing and the candy actually calmed it, but I left the coin on a fire hose connector on the Hotel Patricia wall - not to take bribes from death.


How much I don't like reading neuropsychology - monkey and rat experiments. It is laborious it seems to me to no purpose. I feel so claustrophobic down in the rat cage that I make a dash for the conclusion of the paper. The lists of authors make me feel the crush of thousands of experimenters struggling to be noticed. Conferences without end, all the dull clothes and heavy briefcases, a blind suffocated milling.

What else doesn't work. I've put my papers on the web where they look beautiful, or will with very little fixing, but they are inert and elsewhere and don't involve me in action. The poems even less, they seem nothing at all.

Whatever I do, I want success, I don't want to be isolated. Success is what gives movement. And yet I've been careful not to be successful at something that will bring irrelevant movement.

I make lists of what I want in work, lists of my gifts. It looks like I'm an executive now. I'd like to have an organization doing what I decide. But at the bottom the organization needs to be making beauty, and giving people more ability to be beauty. That's the part that I can't see.

Beauty is already made. People can only be beauty when they are what's right to be. I thought I could defend the very idea of contact ­ that was my notion of this work ­ Paul and Pat are doing that. And it does not look as if I'll have a way to get to a place in the arena where I could do what they do. In film I did work to support and build contact, but experimental film in that spirit is no more. Le Guin can go on doing it in fiction. I have had such temperament problems with film ­ doing the technical parts. I no longer think I am writing a book.

15th September

The tiny person in her motorized cart: she's the size of a doll or an eighteen-month-old, perched on a high shelf of the machine that is relative to her the size of a Narboni or a large forklift. She wears a tiny dress with her tiny thin legs poking out from under the hem. Her hair is permed. She's a young woman. I once heard her speak, a voice thinner and higher than any child's. She's a student, I don't know in what department.

What about her. Curiosity I can't satisfy by asking. What is it like to be so far from human alikeness. She is not a dwarf; she is much smaller than that. She will likely never read or see an account of anyone like herself.

How can a body so unable to defend itself set up order in a brain made for other conditions? How can a person so inept be intelligent? Is she a sort of demonstration of body/mind separability? Does she think on the basis of structure hard-wired into a brain that is insignificantly different from other peoples'?

In email a piece about G factor, a biological factor, highest-order common factor, found by correlation analysis. Highly correlated with intelligence are: working memory, reaction times, perceptual speed, heritability, evoked potentials, conduction velocity, glucose metabolic rate. Seems to say intelligence is a cellular quality - which would make it visible in the whole of a body.

16th September

This day turned all the way around. There was meeting Bjorn's wife Michael in the department. But then what there really was, was the teaching, two hours full strength standing and delivering. I'm very easy in it. Strong, strong. On the way home shopped to bring back a big box of food for me and Rowen. Ro was here with Jim. They found the sound at the back of the computer, Ro had worked his two hours after I went to school. He looked nice in the black fleece Benetton top I got 'im. I'm done for the week. He started Dune and likes it. Tom is coming. Ate steak and mashed potatoes and Greek salad, which Rowen liked. I'm feeding him. But here was the best. Sharif phoned. I said, Have you talked to Luke? He said, Fifteen minutes ago. I said, Rowen, phone Luke. He invited him to come play Worms Armageddon. I want to talk to him, I call from my room. Then there he is, oh Luke. It's like stepping suddenly into real love. There's nothing like it. There's no one like that. It's mutual. He is mutual. Warm mind native to me, more kin than any kin I have. I tell him about Erin coming to scam me for money and then weeks later at the door asking whether my offer of a ride to rehab is still good. "I said, What about right now. - Did you know about him being addicted to crack?" There is a choking sound and then a silence. Luke is crying. He lets me hear him crying. I flood full of love that he is feeling for his friend.

20th September

"Ellie's starting to spin," he says to himself. "You spin too. You're spinning when you get manic." "I get manic to cover my one deep spin."

I was in the tub talking in the dark, Rowen round the corner reading Dune in the kitchen. The plumped half moon just right of south. I said "Can you see it?" He [in San Diego] moved to the foot end of his bed. Stretched the phone cord. We triangulated. I said "It's higher in the sky where you are." I liked something I didn't have time to think through, the moon's reflection on the water moving over my groin. A triangle with a little bounce on my end.

23rd September

I had wonderful teaching today, two sessions. I stood and played with them around the story of the woman with a transporter copy. Boys in the back row started talking. The quiet Chinese man talked. The girls in the front row talked. They were starting to see how people were meaning different things by a term like 'the same.' The less articulate students were talking. I was keeping it fast and digging always for principle. We laid out the suggested criteria for identity and saw how they handled my three invented cases. People stayed overtime. I liked best the opening up of the distrustful back row: the withheld back row. The science fiction story was a friend to their loneliness. The front row girls are already supported by my ease in authority. They step right up. There was that very clear forward girl in 0.15. In 0.16 it was the hesitant boy who looks like Ken Olin. Action, what I've been starved for.

16 October

Teaching, I've felt compact and forceful sometimes. Speaking from my pleasure. Passing on the real news. I tell them to read Neurophilosophy and I draw the sequence of jumping shrew, macaque, human brain on the board. Poor Adam Barkman with his tight hollow cheeks, hanging onto CS Lewis, ridiculed for his faith, as he understands it. Order can't come from chaos, it has to come from reason, he pleads. Definite punchy Kalyna jumping to an A this paper. The impertinent girl in 0.10, Helen Frost. Rob Boss sneering and twitching, all confused about whether he's smart or dumb, so sweetly hapless in his skinless contempt. I won't say what he said to me. I got even, then forgave him, then made him my pet in the next tutorial. I love power. I love it because it gives me action. I got Rob Boss to really smile and show his drawing of a tesseract. I mean he was less isolated, and I, and he, did it. I was less isolated because I could talk more interestingly to his realness. He didn't have a pen for the science paragraph. I lent him mine, "Here's a man who isn't well prepared." You don't know the half of it, he muttered. "You don't tell that to your teachers," said Christina Fullerton from the row in front of him, not turning to say it.

17 October

I left the gallery and went to the garden, picked apples off the ground in pleasure of color everywhere, sky, earth, fancy forms of leaf and blade wrinkling and rumpling on all sides. Breath paintings overhead, I mean breath as emanation on the spot, painting as pulls and pushes using that finely breathed-out material. Clouds in the west were going a pink internally related to the sky's acidic greeny blue. I was looking around at the bare crab apple, the wild apple behind it hung with red things the starlings attack, the quince distinguishing itself yonder as a green canopy hung with yellow balls like a drawing of a fruit tree. Crows passing one by one, notches in their wings where they have lost feathers. I was looking at it all thinking my body works with this garden to make beauty ­ the making of always more exquisite color.

The way the skill of that carving sends me into the street seeing the world valued.

19th October

The upper pane in the hall window is war glass, or maybe older, and throwing onto the far wall of my room ­ it is sunset, almost 6 - a woolly panel of light fading very quickly, curly and clumpy with a depth like sheepskin. Mysterious that a transparent sheet can show itself to have so much effective invisible structure. It is fading from bottom to top as the sun sinks below a roofline. The fading bottom edge isn't sharp because structure in the section of the pane that's still lit is throwing light fur fuzz into the dark end.

Now there's just a corner very concentrated and bright. Below is a pane of glow laid onto the blue wall. - Ah, the corner slipped away. The subtlety of the blue in the room anytime. (This room is exquisite, said Luke last night.) It's a blue with air in it. Why's that - maybe the white behind it floats in front of it? Something like that.

What is that floating in qualities of times - falling asleep reading an academic paper this afternoon, I was slipping into an air so fresh, young and particular it was as if a memory registered in a sense modality I never notice as such. As if that's what's meant by 'spirit,' because it's always qualities of air that is more than air, something that pervades a perceiving person as their inner atmosphere. The quality of consciousness as if it were a fluid. If I could feel another person would it be like that? Is it the first motion of dreaming, that sets a dream going by making a being for it? Is it a kind of trawling that intercepts other people? Is there a part of the brain doing it? (No.) Is it the state of health of the whole brain? (Yes.) A dynamic state? (Yes.) A condition of sensing not a kind of sensing. But I can compare ­ I say, this is how I was at another time. No, I can't compare - but I can recognize. I can't remember it later, but I can remember recognizing it.

28th October

This teaching week over. My crisis with Adam Barkman passed. He didn't arrive to talk to Martin. Instead I found his rewrite on the table when I arrived. I have been liking to look at him, I should say loving to look at him. He seems to have a white light around his head. I see him on the far side of the lecture hall wearing his glasses, writing notes, loving philosophy, looking serious the way no one else does. When I make a point he's there grasping it, visibly catching it with his face, nodding it in with his wide pale forehead. He's twenty years old, small and young, so finished a man, but a man of another century, white stockings, buckled shoes, the light of reason, an eagerness, I mean a love. I was listening to Mozart reading his clearer rewrite, suddenly feeling what it is like to be a human being who believes he will live after he dies ­ believes it so he has a light around his head.

It isn't true that Adam is hanging by his fingernails. He made me consider him. We were walking toward the steps down to the buses, and he said, You used to believe didn't you. He stated it. I wanted to reward his directness. I said, You mean because people who used to believe fight more (something not exactly that). He said, Yes, people who have lost their faith. I stopped in my tracks, so he had to stop too. This is important: I didn't lose my faith, I found it. He had his dad waiting in the car and did not just then want to know what faith I had found. I heard myself saying that I do believe in something but it is nothing to do with arguments. It hates arguments. I talk to it, it tells me what to do, how to think.

The way I'm Adam. The papers I wrote for Tietz on Kant. I couldn't do it his way. I did it mine. It is still happening with Phil. I'm not working on his topic this time. He isn't going to back me. It means I won't get an academic job. He has no clue what I'm good for. In his opinion I don't make it into the boat. He has no interest in helping me publish or anything else. He thinks he should be getting drafts he could give me 'input' on. He frowns and looks stern.

And oh what am I good for - am I good teacher? My students get into me. The Chinese girls so delicately conscious they speak in sentences full of hesitation. Alice Fong working two jobs because there are four girls in her family says her grades aren't good this term. She's the far side of girl, very slight, fair-faced, a small pointed oval very symmetrical, none of her motions reaching out of the envelope of her quiet and lovely self.

19 November

Took the 20 Victoria to Commercial. On the bus was a young man with coarse thick hair, curly and uncombed, in a ponytail held by an elastic. I was considering him, thinking He's French-Canadian, yes, when he reached his hand to the back of his head and took down a mouse. It crouched on his lap while he stripped off his elastic, bunched up his hair, re-elasticked it, and set the mouse on the back of his neck. It climbed into the nest of hair above his elastic. An old Chinese pair were gawking in the seat across from him. I said he was like a magician producing a mouse from his hair. He said he found it yesterday on the steps of the First United Church.

26th November

I've written a beautiful Dear John letter.

My meeting yesterday with the graduate associate dean or whatever he is, a young man with wide blue eyes who, when the meeting was over, pressed my hand between both of his, a practice I suspect has been instrumental in getting him where he is. I came in and sat on my chair with a feeling of being planted with a column straight down my spine. Backbone. I was doing the right thing and knew how to do it. I knew how to pitch it. He knew what he was doing too. It was a meeting alive with subtext, very competent.

There was a moment yesterday when I stepped out of an elevator and ran into Phil just rushing to the stairs. We had a split second looking at each other. He'd been alone in some worry and I saw his real anguish before I smiled automatically and the lines of his mouth jerked up. I carried away that look and its jerk into hiding, feeling, I know this man, I have a connection with this man, how can I dump him.

28th November

It's a little after seven, very quiet. The sky is a felted wad of fibrous water, blue-ish grey. I can hear gulls and crows. This room is the only lit room in the neighbourhood. The heater fan starts and stops. I'm hesitating before I jump, but I know I'm going to. Now I'm not afraid, just stalling. I want to stay myself a little longer. As if. I have six months ahead, that are going to change my life. When I come out of them at the end of May I'll have a book.

Okay, take a breath.

Perceiving, imagining, representing: space and the brain.

It's not a theory, it's not a framework, it's a way of imagining theoretically.

There are two wings in it, one of them asks what we now know about how we by means of the body/brain live space. The other applies that knowledge to how we think spatially about mind.

Spinoza said mind and extended substance are the same things under different descriptions and was banished to the margins of a tradition that has described mind as unextended, a description always structured by spatial metaphor.

I want to ask how brain thinks space and use what I find to ask how brain thinks mind.

I want to clean up an area of thought.

What kind of book do I want to write. A meditation on first philosophy. I want to say: these are some of the difficulties we've had when we think about mind. Here is how we can work around them. This is a demonstration at the same time as it is an explanation. A beautiful transition is being made, but it is being made by a series of overlapping shifts. It is a transition in a manner of speaking. An old metaphor is being used to try to think in the new way, and it is holding us up, but if we try to speak without it we are misunderstood, and indeed we misunderstand ourselves too, the way Dennett misunderstands himself when he says (various things).

A critical interest in perception and our way of thinking it. First philosophy has to be philosophy of perception. Science was founded on a willingness to leave the evidence of the senses. There was a misunderstanding of implications. Descartes was wanting to keep something for childish trust. It is as if he pulled the world of childish trust back into the womb with him, an inside. I should talk about how marked that philosophy is by the prenatal. An inside from which they can't know the outside. It's the structure by means of which we think. For them, mind is unextended. First philosophy is philosophy of origins.

We can talk about subjectivity without talking about it in terms of interiority. We can be thoroughly born. We can learn how to say that when we dream perceive or think, the structures by which we do so are inside our bodies, but what it's like to do so isn't properly spoken of as either inside or outside us. It requires a different vocabulary, but that doesn't mean it is unextended, either.