This Latest Eclipse: A Record, Part 3

Third part of an eight-part series. Part 1Part 2Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

South we drove still, the earth gradually turning to shine the sun right into my eyes in the passenger seat. The more that I caught the sun’s rays, the more I became cognizant of how this would be the last time watching light move across the world before the sun would rise and climb and then briefly disappear at a wholly unexpected time. We were chasing an eclipse, and as an amateur I knew all the key astronomical details, but I was not looking to see the presence of the moon right in front of the sun. I was seeking an absence. A void. The very face of primeval terror.

In just one day, I would see that.

First we had to pass through hauntings. Hauntings are real, not in the sense of real-yet-ethereal spirits with their own wills, rather in the sense of sometimes a thing will occur in a place that makes it impossible to enter the place again without thinking about it, even if you were never there. This psychotopographic shroud drapes itself over the vicinity like cobwebs or mold spores. You will only enter and exit unaffected if you arrive and leave in perfect ignorance, though the right atmosphere might challenge even the purest emptiness of memory.

Haunting I.

As soon as we were back on Interstate 95, I had the haunting of returning to territory associated forever with childhood and family. While I never called the Beltway area my home except from my birth until about age five, I was not simply born in the Virginian suburbs of DC. Three out of four grandparents had once lived on the Maryland side (the fourth, too, if you made the funny mistake of calling Baltimore a “suburb”), as did an aunt and numerous family friends. Some of those people are still there. My parents both moved a great deal in their youth, but I think this constituted their “turf,” if nothing else did. They met there, married there, had children there, and divorced only after leaving there. Until the divorce, and even after, I returned annually or semi-annually for Thanksgivings, vacations, eventually funerals. I owe another visit to those remaining, but on this day I passed through as merely a spectator.

I wasn’t a wayward thirty year old returning to xir roots. I was a pilgrim crossing the Mason-Dixon and inundating myself with heat ever hotter, ever wetter. But still I knew the burgundy sound barriers of the Beltway, the glass and metal structures of defense contractors and think tanks and death machines, the signs for touchstones like Chevy Chase and Bethesda and Glen Echo and Tysons Corner, the carpets and columns of lush kudzu. And this land was not even mine; all of these familiar sights came after colonizers stole land from the Algonquians. Even the kudzu came after.

Haunting II.

Passing into Virginia, my driving playlist happened to turn up an arrangement of “Strange Fruit,” not long before we took a turn that sent me into a part of the state I’d never known, the so-called real Virginia. Virginia is quite big, at least for the East Coast, and most of it has little to do with the Beltway area. As far as most are concerned, it’s the start of the South, both geographically and culturally, and I found myself thinking that despite its relatively northern location compared to the rest of the former Confederacy, so much of it sets a precedent for those other states.

After a coffee stop in Manassas, the town itself a war battleground, all I noticed at first was farmland— horses, cows, crops— on beautiful rolling hills. Then I started counting churches, and quickly lost count. Their architectures were varied, but their denomination was almost always Baptist. I realized that our current highway, US Route 29, constituted part of the Lee Highway, named for who other than Robert E., and thus the green and gold landscape suddenly took on another hue. Around the same time, we saw our first Confederate flag pestilently mounted on the side of the road, and we started counting those. We would eventually count seventeen for the whole trip— eight, actually, but one was so enormous that it deserved to count as ten.

The Confederate flag pictured by most individuals is specifically a battle standard. In its square form it was used by Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia; in rectangular form it was used by the Confederate navy. (Eventually the design found its way onto the left corner of a white field for the Confederacy’s national flag, and there was considerable debate about how much white there was, considering connotations of surrender. I mention this only to highlight the irony of Confederate fears about something being too white.)

Haunting III.

By the time we needed lunch, we’d made it as far as Charlottesville. The fascist rally and ensuing violence there had only happened a week prior. We saw no trace of it, not particularly, and this didn’t seem strange but felt unsettling in its own way. Our best lunch option was a Popeye’s, and as we stood in line waiting to order, people around us were speaking in relative harmony and ease, just as they had probably done at the beginning of the month. Nobody talks about certain things in this country unless they are actually happening to them; and the people most directly affected are then still punished for existing, never mind opening their mouths.

Ultimately, we left Virginia as the shadows were growing long and the sun was going saffron. Nightfall in North Carolina stopped the hauntings for a little while, because I saw less to think about, only summer darkness and headlights and taillights, and I was eventually growing too tired to think at all. We didn’t rest until reaching my aunt’s residence in South Carolina. Greenville. Ground zero for our own eclipse, although we would watch it later than some other people.

D. Llywelyn Jones

To be continued in part 4.

This Latest Eclipse: A Record, Part 2

Second part of an eight-part series. Part 1Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

We reached Philadelphia a little before sunset. I had not been to this city before, not really. I drove through it once without having an opportunity to stop, whereas in this case we were going to be hosted for one night by a friend, Greg, in a house belonging to some of his family. One night was only one night, but I do qualify it as a visit.

The house sat in a row of townhouses squarely within Society Hill, and purportedly Benjamin Franklin had designed it. I’m well aware that Franklin’s name and likeness are tossed up on almost anything in that city, and I don’t care for Franklin or any of the so-called Founding Fathers, but the house was enviably gorgeous in its multicentennial age. The chance to stay in the neighborhood meant little in terms of how posh it was, though I found myself intimidated at times by others’ privilege and my own luck; I still reveled at being surrounded by one of my favorite architectural styles. And the ego of Philadelphia felt familiar to someone living in Boston. Philadelphia’s hegemonic narrative seems to pride itself on birthing order in this country, through governing bodies and pieces of paper and military regiments, while Boston’s hegemonic narrative prides itself on birthing chaos, through riots and sabotage and other semi-proletarian upsets. All embellishments, all masks for the real motives and personalities of the Founding Fathers or Sons of Liberty, but I can’t criticize the mythology of the Liberty Bell without extending the same to the Old North Church.

I said I wouldn’t make this a travelogue, and it’s already veering that way. I will try to keep such a gaze trained only on people in power.

My first memories of Philadelphia are good brick buildings, parking sensibly but unexpectedly included in the middle of the street rather than simply using the sides. The streets themselves— at least downtown— are narrow, colonial relics. The house in Society Hill was warm, humid, creaky, with four stories and a basement and a lush back garden and a rooftop patio made out of raw wood. That evening everything looked pink and red and gold until the sun was asleep.

We went to dinner at a German-style beer hall on South Street. Although we’d given some thought to sampling some iconic cheesesteaks, other animal products called to us more. I shared a plate of smoked trout paste on crispbread, then a suitably enormous bratwurst, and I had a roasted mackerel dish all to myself, and finally split a dessert that I don’t remember very well because I sent it all down with a significant amount of Dunkelweizen. I couldn’t afford much food out of my own pocket afterward, but that was a fair trade for me also handling eventual hotel expenses. We walked off some of the fullness in our bellies by strolling down South Street for a little while, Greg leading the way; it was bright, crowded, and pleasantly unsanitized, in the sense that lingerie boutiques and sex shops abounded. My favorite browsing experience was at Condom Kingdom— deliberately garish, decorated as boldly as a Rainforest Cafe, overflowing with absurd erotic novelties, a far cry from the tasteful and muted atmosphere of my local Good Vibes.

Because of the heat, the beer, an unfamiliar bed, several wailing emergency response vehicles outside, and tension about completing the next leg of the trip, I slept very poorly and woke on Sunday morning with a splitting headache and the deep concern that I might not endure a ten hour drive to Greenville. But I had few realistic remedies, and I must thank our patient host. Though not a Philadelphia resident himself, Greg got us in the direction of a place suitable for a tiny breakfast and then, perhaps inadvertently, he helped my condition by taking us through the nearby park on a morning constitutional. The park was warm but not yet swampy, and it had wonderful dogs. We paused for a few minutes at a statue of George Washington, observing his likeness through three pairs of queer, leftist eyes. I discovered a dying cicada, its twitching body a brilliant, iridescent green.

My husband and I embarked on the next leg not long afterward.

D. Llywelyn Jones

To be continued in part 3.

This Latest Eclipse: A Record, Part 1

First part of an eight-part series. Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

To call this a travelogue is misleading and unwise. I did spend six days journeying through twelve states, most previously visited but barely explored. I did see things I had not seen before. I did learn about people and places hitherto unknown. But in trying to record my memories of each leg and each stop, I have found myself wary of using a certain tone, a certain positioning, given where I went and who I am. The travelogue is often— though not exclusively— a colonial undertaking, emotionally profiting off of some persons other than the writer, whether or not the writer shows any awareness of the colonial history of the locale. In many cases the travelogue proves little more than a form of navel-gazing, too, teaching the reader less about the area and more about the writer who visited.

I don’t really want to write something that falls into such territory. Rather, in some vaguely journalistic or documentarian fashion, I have hoped to transmit my witnessing of a total solar eclipse, which is a momentous celestial event that has only remained possible within a limited portion of this planet’s history; and for full experiential context I will also transmit the preceding and subsequent events. How I got there, what frame of reference I found myself in once the eclipse took place, what I observed in leaving the site. It does so happen that the eclipse happened at a time of peculiar importance, and that I bore witness in a geographic region of equal importance to that time.

With any luck, the act of travel itself will feel incidental to my overall focus. Perhaps, too, my contextual narrative will gaze less at navels, less at “others,” and more at points in history and topography that merit observation on a cosmic scale. As with the principle of relativity, I cannot completely separate the thing I’ve witnessed from my own position as the witness, but well—

Let’s begin. On the morning of Saturday the 19th of August, 2017, I sat myself down in the passenger seat of a sturdy, fairly dependable vehicle, and the man I love and live with— I will call him my husband here, but he is something more and better than that— he sat in the driver’s seat, and we left our home with the intention of reaching Greenville, South Carolina in time for the total solar eclipse projected to occur there on Monday the 21st. It spoils no great mystery to say that we made it there, of course, but after going to several other parts of the country together, this was our first time driving all the way to our destination with no assistance from other people, with our own vehicle, and with the underlying motive completely our own. Not until the past couple of years could we truly afford to spend that amount of time away from our jobs or spend the requisite money to enjoy the trip. We still absolutely do not have the luxury of doing such things whenever we want. I— oh, I’ll hazard to say we— simply knew that because we did barely have the means, we could not shirk the chance to see something extremely perfect happen to the world.

I say “extremely perfect” in a certain way. Maybe it will become clearer as I write more. I am a perfectionist, and perfection is so hard to come by that the few extremely perfect things in this world are equivalent to religious revelations. They are religious revelations in the case of the cosmos. To see the total eclipse was to go on a pilgrimage.

In order to reach the eclipse and in order to leave it, we would need to pass through and spend some time in what most people in the United States still call the South. Such phrasing shouldn’t imply there is anything about the South that is not southern, but if I invoke the South as a delineating term (or the West, for that matter), there are immediate connotations, both helpful and unhelpful. If you mention going to the South to a lot of terribly smug people outside it, or even sometimes inside it, they’re likely to come up with responses such as, “Oh, god, I’m sorry, I hope you survive.”

I cringe at such soundbytes. On the one hand, I’m virulently queer, gender non-conforming, specifically a person with breasts who also gets five o’clock shadow, and I wear lots of unsubtle attire— leather, spikes, low necklines, short hemlines, occult iconography— so in any place with a high concentration of bigotry, evangelical Christianity, and conservative sex/gender standards, no, I don’t feel as safe as I feel in places where there are more people like me. On the other hand, if I had lived in the South in bygone days, I would not have been enslaved or lynched or systematically deprived of my rights on racial grounds, and today I am still not in the highest risk group for being murdered by police, contemporary Klan members, and so forth. I appreciate hearing genuine concern for my well-being down South in light of certain factors, but usually “I hope you survive” means, “I hope you, Mx. Jones, whom I perceive as an Enlightened & Educated Non-Southerner Like Myself, can intellectually survive the stupidity of the Unenlightened & Uneducated South.”

There are wide swaths of Klan territory outside the South. There are cities with ugly, terrible white supremacist pasts across the United States, including my home city of Boston. I knew Christian fundamentalists when I was growing up in New Hampshire. I experience anti-queer, anti-trans violence and ignorance anywhere that I go. Almost every stretch of land in the United States is occupied by settlers who violently stole it from indigenous peoples and who continue to steal from and enact atrocities upon those very real, very alive populations. The South strikes me as having a certain flavor to its racism and its overall patterns of discrimination, and I can’t speak to how some arbitrary example of a black person ought to feel in the South versus anywhere else, but I believe that for me personally to visit the South I am not diving into some uniquely intense grotto of evil. It is simply a unique region on any level.

And because it is a region with particular significance to the history of white supremacism, it seemed like strange timing to venture there only a week after an exceptionally horrific flareup of fascist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. It seemed even stranger that the day we set off, a fascist rally had also been planned in Boston itself. If we could have realistically left any later, I know I would have attended the counter-event; I take some consolation from the fact that I’ve already participated in plenty of similar events for related purposes, and you just can’t do them all. There’s my activist virtue signaling out of the way. We set out on the morning of the 19th. Our first stop on the way to Greenville would be a city slightly less than halfway between: Philadelphia.

D. Llywelyn Jones

To be continued in part 2.

All lakes lead to Avallach…

I haven’t provided an update about my writing activity since the winter, I realized, so here is some overdue news. Well, not news— I have no scheduled publications at the moment— but at least some information, because developments have occurred. I’m very gratified that my reasons for not posting much on this blog are largely that I’ve been hard at work. If you’ve been wondering about my next big project, today I’m lifting back the veil just a shade.

First, with regard to finished work, unfortunately, the situation with Frankenstein has reached a standstill. I had really hoped to manage a public reading and a full production in 2018, the 200-year anniversary of the original novel’s first edition, but the prospective director had to back out (which I say with no animosity, as she’s a lovely person). By the time that I decided to try pitching the script to local theatre companies on my own, the most obvious choices were no longer taking submissions for their next season. I should have known better, but there’s not much I can do about it now. Therefore, given that I also have other projects, I think Frankenstein must sadly sit on the back burner for at least another six months until I can submit it somewhere again.

Likewise, “O Fortuna” has retained “???” status, but I have my fingers crossed for some good news on that front. And while all of that makes it sound like nothing’s happened, something big (for me) has very much happened.

That is to say: last month I officially broke ground on my next novel, Armes Prydein. I may only keep that as the working title, but it’s rather likely to stick. The language will be English; the words in the title are Welsh, however, and a quick Wikipedia search will tell you what I’m referencing.

I’m going to try and post semi-regular updates about my progress without giving away too much immediately, but so far, here is what I shall say about this future beast of a book. Starting this past autumn, I spent approximately six months eating, drinking, breathing, and dreaming research about the island of Britain from the 5th to 6th century CE. Now I cannot call myself an academic expert on the subject, but I finally had a grounding to create a full cast of characters, rough plotline, and setting details for 1/3 of this novel’s content. I might still require the next 6-8 weeks to finish planning the whole thing as thoroughly as I’d like to before I truly dive in; however, before the end of April I had successfully written the opening paragraphs.

Now, as for why I say 1/3 of this novel’s content and not all of it, Armes Prydein is what can only be called an Arthur tale— it will be “my” Arthuriad— but as has become my way, there will be several stories connected to each other. I am classifying one story as mythic-historical fiction, another as alternate-history sociopolitical drama, and another as dystopian cyberpunk. A few characters will exist between all of them, but mostly the connections are thematic and structural. I toyed with the idea telling each story as its own novel and making a trilogy, but ultimately chose to keep things interlaced the way I know they need to be. Potentially a publisher could split the novel into three parts if that made a gargantuan, multi-genre, literary chimera more palatable, but if so I will create potential split points within each story’s plot.

We will see what happens. Ultimately, I would be shocked if I didn’t spend at least five years on this, and it will exponentially surpass the length of Tiresias. Particularly given that this will be only my second novel, I know it’s very ambitious. I decided to go ahead because a) if it’s going to take me so long to do it, I’d rather start it while I’m young; b) I am going to receive some collaborative assistance from my secret-talent husband, though he has not yet told me whether he would like a co-credit or ghostwriter status; and c) of all the projects on my plate, this is the one I have been hoping to write for the longest time. It’s extraordinarily important to me as a Welsh person, an occult practitioner, a linguist, a leftist, and a mythologist. It is, if you will, the novel that I will not be satisfied until I complete before my death. Everything else I accomplish should prove the frosting on the proverbial cake.

I know it would be a wise plan to produce some shorter writing here and there while I labor on Armes Prydein, and I will attempt it periodically, especially if I need to rest my brain from some segments that I expect to find emotionally challenging. However, I would like the estimated five years to not double to ten, so the novel will remain my priority.

Onward; this is what I’ve been living for.

D. Llywelyn Jones

Rhythms

I took a photo when we made our first coq au vin, not because it was a gourmet dish but because properly it’s a humble dish, even with the wine.

When I last wrote, I was preoccupied by the disruption of rhythms. The death and perversion of seasons, the probably disruption of life on earth. At the time I knew I sounded humorless at best, bombastic at worst, at least to anyone whose feelings weren’t so bleak. In retrospect I abide by every thought, even every word, but all the same, those were only the paths where my mind walked on that particular day, because it was a day meant for such meditations. Since then, life has wound onward for me the same as it’s done for everyone else, and the seasons are not over yet. I don’t pretend to be an expert on resistance, a word I would rather not use because it’s disturbingly insufficient; but from what experience I do have with struggle, in many senses, I can say one component of surviving dark times is to not meditate too frequently.

All of which might be a long way to observe that I should stop berating myself when I don’t write here very often. A lot of what goes here constitutes meditation. I like entertaining the notion of myself as an essayist, and I’ve gladly spent plenty of time on essays in the past, but since the end of January I’ve done many things that I have to do more. Of course, usually when I say I have to do other things, I mean that regretfully. This time, I don’t, and it’s freeing to realize that.

Among the duties that do still distract me, I’ve simultaneously made great strides in the research for my current fiction project, and I’ve been committing myself to other activities of equal personal value. The latter have received my attention for anywhere from months to a couple of years, and results so far include the fact that I’m more connected with the kinds of people and art that matter to me, and most of all, the fact that I’m more connected with the earth.

Rhythms. I have always needed them, so it’s come as no shock that as I finally come to consider myself a real adult I might simultaneously come to recognize the impulse that pushes humans out into the wild. Wild does not mean aimlessness or lack of structure. It refers to authenticity, and in its best moments the term manages not to ironically romanticize itself. Here I should reference Thoreau, or Tolstoy, but at this point I would feel cheap. There aren’t enough stories about women who become witches in the woods. Not the kinds of stories that everyone knows, and when they do, the stories aren’t good enough.

I am hoping to do something that isn’t like the dreams of 19th century colonists and counts. I wonder if it’s closer to the dreams of today’s urban farmers and privileged homesteaders, the people who disconnect from the current systems of production because they have both the awareness and the ability. On most days I can’t help laughing at that archetype of the Brooklynite with the rooftop chicken coop and the indoor greenhouse for homegrown kale, but my real concern lies in how such individuals continue to support exploitative industries (often by starting their own, having as much capital as they do) or blithely further gentrification. Likewise, it discomforts me to discover people “living off the land” as if for subsistence while understanding none of the challenges faced by people who have no choice but to live that way. But I simultaneously believe in the raw impulse, because it’s what keeps giving me purpose.

By no means am I dropping everything in my life to garden and hunt as a recluse. It’s more important to live by a code than to live wildly. Of course, I increasingly suspect that the more wildly I can live, the better I will be at living by my code; but such commitment requires readiness, or it’s no good. I’m still not ready.

So I’m starting just with rhythms. Marking the stations of the sun, with greater devotion than I’ve ever shown. Following the moon. Worship. A kind of worship. Cooking. Keeping a house, not because of rules governing my body, but because it gives me pride to do so.

I can’t imagine these thoughts being altogether easy to follow or terribly interesting. But I have tried for several hours to write here, and this is what I’ve come up with. I’m not going to worry about it. This is just where I am. Rhythms.

D. Llywelyn Jones

How long will it stay?

Last night, January 19th, 2017, I wondered this as I walked through western Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Memorial Drive, in a neighborhood where somewhat posh residential houses open up into some sudden strips of concrete retail, the filthy river and the glittering Boston skyline just in view. It is not a beautiful place. It is also only ugly to the extent that most architectural products of this age are ugly: morally, even if not aesthetically. Not that I always separate the two. In any case, I wondered how long all the human-made structures that I saw would stay. The electronics store, the gas station, the stoplight, the skyscraper.

One answer is, “It will stay until somebody tears it down and builds something else.” The more geological, morbid option, which I intend to reflect upon today, assumes the likelihood of non-interference by humans, meaning that the human species would be extinct by the time that these stone, metal, and other components began to naturally erode and collapse into nothingness.

I am not asking this question because I expect people will read and take action. As it happens, I am only a fledgling in the countless sums of voices who, possessing some vital belief, have tried to be heard by more than their immediate circle; I am even only a fledgling in the countless sums of voices whose vital beliefs constitute a truth, a prophecy, a desperate plea. Instead, I am writing this because it is the stupid, ridiculous human instinct to record, whether some extraterrestrial archaeologist should ever stumble upon the (digital) evidence and be capable of decoding it, or whether we say only to the absolute, perfect void that we were here. Not many will see what I say here right now. It does not matter. My words are meant for anyone, everyone, but equally for no one— the prospect of no one.

In light of such, I will not worry about whether my words are pretentious. I often find that when I write for an audience, I try to mitigate my mind’s natural gravitas with lighter-hearted phrasing, witticisms, self-deprecation, and so forth. The pretentious quality that I discern or fear others discerning— this arises when I have retreated far into my own stream of consciousness, thinking only of the thing I’m trying to say, relying on a lexicon and psychological environment that derived from reading old literature when I was quite young. But this is what I must rely upon now. I need this writing to be as authentic as possible, not because it ought to be my last, but because it is the first thing I have written in full acknowledgment of what I largely expect constitutes the final descent of my species.

How long will it stay?

. . . .

In my childhood, I remember learning about some grotesque crimes against humanity. They were explained in books and television programs and statements by adults, usually quite sanitized. It was at least enough for me to grasp the simplest facts of what happened, why things were so terrible. Chief examples would be the history of African slavery in the United States, or the Holocaust. At the time I didn’t think either of these things had much to do with me. For a long time I didn’t understand that I had an ongoing role to play as a person with pale skin, European ancestry, and a background of what could be called cultural whiteness. I also didn’t understand that I would come to belong to several demographics targeted in the Holocaust itself, even though I was not Jewish; nor did I know that a slim branch of never-met family members had been, in fact, German Jews. Even in my ignorance, I still knew such past events, and the people who perpetuated them, merited my horror. I had no trouble summoning empathy. No, the real trouble lay in how I imagined some curtain to have been drawn between the events of my own time and the events of people older than me, elderly people, dead people, forgotten people. I lived in a world where certain US residents were called ornery for having human needs now that they weren’t literal plantation slaves anymore (contemporary observation: for the most part). I lived in a world where Nazis were cartoonish, silly men who got outwitted by clever GIs and punched by dashing archaeologists. I don’t miss that time of my development.

What I do miss was the mood surrounding another thing I kept learning about, which was the natural world. My planet, the Earth. I attended preschool, kindergarten, and primary school from about 1990 to 1998, and in this time the capitalist “green revolution” had not yet superseded a different sort of environmentalism. Many of the ideas were the same, of course. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Save the rainforest. Protect endangered species. Don’t waste water. Don’t create pollution. Don’t harm the ozone layer. Don’t contribute to the greenhouse effect, the source of global warming. In the early 1990s, however, this felt different in the sense that, at least in my own education, we were taught these principles to contribute to a glorious, wonderful cause that would help preserve life on this planet— a cause that was winning. We weren’t past any climate tipping points. We hadn’t caused as much damage as we eventually would. We needed to worry, but we also needed to hope and celebrate. It was going to be all right.

That sentiment could have distorted the truth, or it could have been tragically misplaced optimism. I still long for that sense of heroism. It is very gone now. It has been replaced by a sunkenness in my guts, a tightness in my throat. A hollowness, a sorrow, floating on top of a simmering fear that has also dwelt with me since I was extremely young. I speak of the fear of apocalypse.

Raised with an atheist outlook, which I preserve in a highly augmented and problematized form today, I dreaded no Day of Judgment or various equivalents. Briefly, when I learned about the very idea of Hell, I had some nightmare about it, but this didn’t concern me. The most religious fear I felt was when I first read about Ragnarök, when the Fenris wolf is prophesied to eat the Sun. That story, though in truth more complicated than a pure, final, “everything dies” tale, hit closest to the fears that did consume me. Each time that I learned of various Earth-destroying cosmic events that could or would eventually occur, I went paralytic with terror. Asteroid or comet impacts; the planet being consumed by the expanding Sun; the universe as we know it ending with heat death, collapse, or who knows what. I couldn’t bear to think about black holes, even though the Earth is not likely to ever fall into one. The mere prospect of such annihilation petrified me. I felt keenly betrayed by the notion that life should come into existence, that sentient forms of it should evolve, only to have no ultimate chance. We would have billions and billions of years, alone or not alone, but we were slated to perish by the laws of physics.

It did not seem fair at all. It seemed as appallingly unfair as the idea that I could be born, enjoy living, accomplish things, collect spectacular memories, and yet ultimately die with no hereafter to welcome me. On long car rides with my family, when night fell I would stare out the window at the stars, and I would cry childishly but in silence at this impossible, absurd tragedy. The stars were the symbol of things enduring despite all odds, and yet even they would have to lose their fire.

. . . .

Here are some of my vital beliefs.

That humans are relatively hairless chimpanzees that have evolved a general tendency toward an erect bipedal gait, opposable thumbs, and fully developed linguistic faculties, although there are variations across the gene pool.

That we chimpanzees occupy some temperament midway between the common chimp and the bonobo, between the warring killers and the fucking hedonists.

That it is against universal wisdom and morals for humans to detach ourselves from the Earth by pretending we are better than other animals, or pretending we are not tool users, or pretending we are not omnivores, or pretending we are not naturally and inextricably violent.

That it is also against such wisdom and morals for us to detach ourselves from the Earth by pretending our absolute self-interest will have no consequence for life as we know it, or pretending that satisfying instrumentality requires engaging in exploitation, or pretending we need no standards for how to behave toward one another and the rest of life, or pretending we are not also naturally and inextricably peaceful.

That extinctions must happen if a species has lost its place in the cycle of things.

That extinctions must be fought if such a loss is due to a wider imbalance that threatens the whole ecosystem, particularly if the species’ absence would cause further destabilization.

That life in its broadest sense is good, and should be preserved, even while preserving so many evils within it. Even while preserving the more intrinsic forms of death and violence.

That a socioeconomic order predicated upon eternal expansion and profit will always serve as a destabilizing force, threatening all ecosystems, threatening all participants, threatening itself, making itself the greatest and worst joke that our witty species has ever played.

That there are few things humans have ever built which could be called unnatural, but that in terms of causing non-intrinsic forms of death and violence, capitalism might be called the greatest unnaturalism, the greatest virus, the meta-virus, the meta-death that is far worse than ordinary death.

That we are exquisitely close to running out of time.

. . . .

I am an emotional writer. When I write something that has hurt inside me for a long while, I weep as I scrawl or type. Somehow, I have not wept yet today. Today I am sad but also perplexed, puzzling. Weighing. Fighting the last vestiges of denial. I do not know if my tears belong with denial or with acceptance. When I know, maybe they will spill.

. . . .

By this point, anyone reading this when it’s published or with the relevant background knowledge could see that I have written this on the day that a particular man was officially inaugurated as the President of the United States. He is a despicable, infuriating, repugnant wretch.

But I am not writing simply because I had such boundless hope before he achieved his power and now, only now, is it dashed. For me it is not like that. That would be pathetically, embarrassingly naïve. Over the past several years of shared political struggle and my own private struggles, following various news stories about the latest undesired climate change milestone, the latest labor abuse, and so forth, I have already grown fairly convinced that the species is digging its own grave, and possibly the graves of everything else on this spinning rock.

I will provide two long quotes from a very important essay that I first read some day not long after it was published. One:

We are living in a mass extinction event. This is not a theory. Over half the species on earth will be extinct by 2050. Let me repeat that fact: over half the species on earth will be extinct by 2050. We are on track to kill off 75% of life in no longer than 300 years, assuming we make it that far. This is the fastest and largest extinction event in history, including that of the dinosaurs. If we understand the example of the wolves, we can see that these are not discrete losses, they represent the unravelling of the entire warp and weft of life. In The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, she reports the extinction rate in the tropics is now 10,000 times the background rate.

… Seawater so acidic that the shells of molluscs are dissolving. Oceans overfished to the extent that they resemble deserts, seabeds ploughed to destruction, micro-particles of indigestible plastic poisioning bird life and turtles, reefs bleached, plankton populations which are the building blocks of all ocean life disappearing. Ocean acidification is predicted to double by 2050. Ocean acidification triples by 2100. The death of the seas is inevitable. Of freshwater I will say that the draining of aquifers is ongoing, that fracking threatens the water table and that wars over water are going to rage in the coming years.

… The Earth itself is exhausted, soil degradation endemic, washed with its nitrogen fertilisers into our already poisoned seas. The living Earth is fragile, it takes a hundred years to form a centimetre of topsoil. Farmland is a limited resource and eroding fast. Industrial pollution has destroyed 20% of the farmland in China – I am not sure that you, or I, can grasp quite how much land that is. Globally 38% of farmland is now classified as degraded. Human population continues to grow, as our ability to feed it, and our infrastructures, buckle. Insect populations will soon not be able to pollinate the crops. It is not just the bees, with climate change animals and insects are being born out of sync with their food sources. As I have said before, the wheel of the year has been broken.

… The air and fire are perhaps what should give us most concern. We thought we had more time. That man-made climate change would be tackled. It has not, and it will not be, as Government and Corporate interests are one and the same, namely infinite growth. This is where you should feel the knot of fear in your stomach. The CO2 emissions that are wreaking havoc now are the result of what we burned forty years ago. Since then we have engaged in an orgy of denial and consumption. There is no tech-fix in the Anthropocene, the age of manmade climate change. Nothing has been done.

What mainstream scientists are not telling you is that the impact we are having is creating self-reinforcing feedback loops. Essentially they focus on a single domino when we have an entire array triggered and falling. Methane release from thawing Arctic Tundra is particularly worrying. We are facing NTE: Near Term Extinction.

… Estimates for the time that this process will take, the process of extinction, range from fifty to three hundred years.

Two:

If you prefer reassurances you can ask the New Agers about their ‘global awakening product’ or believe the green wash of the venture capitalists who will seek to cash-in on the death of the biosphere with equally implausible schemes and vapourware tech-fixes. The governments and scientists will continue to lie to you to prevent the panic that disrupts shopping as usual; however, the cracks in the official narrative are beginning to show. Most will choose to keep mainlining what Dmitri Orlov calls hopium from the sock puppets squawking out of the idiot box. However, I predict the next generation are going to be angrier and their witchcraft more radical than you or I could dream. They will realise that there is nothing to lose, rather than this generation which seems concerned only about the size of their pension pots – not the fact that they have cost us all the earth.

… Extinction is a difficult realisation. After you have worked through the denial, you are going to need to cry in order that you can offer up the sacred lament. The five steps of the grieving process are well known, delineated by psychiatrist Kübler-Ross; they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. Everyone here will be somewhere on this scale and it is important for you to understanding this process as you come to terms with these facts.

The essay is entitled “Rewilding Witchcraft”, by Peter Grey, and if you are able to still view that link and read it, I hope that you will, whoever you are. It means more to those of us who are witches, myself included, and I do not agree with every single sentence; it almost feels worth remarking here that Kübler-Ross’ theory has been fairly questioned and reconfigured these days. But I read these words in 2014 or 2015 and I knew they were bitterly correct, for the most part.

No matter who is in charge of the United States’ government or any government, so long as we remain committed to the intertwined monstrosity that is Capital & State, the environmental movement will not succeed. Nor shall basic human rights struggles succeed. Although it is a fallacy to speak of animal rights in the same way one speaks of human rights, it is folly to place a division between environmental and socioeconomic revolution. The same forces that destroy human lives are the forces that destroy ecosystems and the very planet’s habitability for life. It is imperative, it is utterly— utterly, utterly, UTTERLY FUCKING UTTERLY— imperative that a critical mass of individuals turn away from Capital (or State) and stop hoping State (or Capital) will save them. They cycle together. Each forms the other. They are a twin ouroboros, without being the beautiful kind.

But I did think for a time that while the result of revolutionary struggle would be the toss of a coin, a chance that in those fifty to three hundred years from now— let’s put a clear date upon that, let’s look ahead to 2317— something momentous would have happened that began to save us. Until recently I thought that while we were already tipping down some horrible slope into the abyss, we might have the resources and tools to find our way to the other side and climb up the slender ladder.

When the presidential election took place two months ago, some of those resources began to slip out of our hands, and the ladder began to splinter and crack. It does not feel like the toss of a coin. Now it is the roll of a die, and the die is weighted, and our odds are no better than one in six. We can perhaps survive, still, and the rest of life with us, but we now must recognize the strong, severe probability that nothing will endure, and after the last life has been extinguished in a few centuries or millennia, the Earth will exist as a quiet lump of carbon with a poisonous atmosphere and some strange, gradually disintegrating artifacts from its multi-million year experiment with self-replicating entities. The best case scenario, so-called, might be that we meet no such fate, but only after enduring unfathomable tolls to human life and the extinction of at least as many species as predicted. There are a range of outcomes in between.

If such an outlook seems needlessly fatalistic— Trump, it’s only a name, I can say his name— my counterargument is that it probably isn’t fatalistic enough. If it were, I would have given into my socioeconomically cultivated suicidal impulses today, or well before today.

Let me put it this way.

Yes, Trump is a single, disgusting vermin. Yes, his regime is only so many vermin. Yes, contrary to the narcissism of many who live in this country, what happens here does not always have an overwhelming effect on what happens beyond our borders. And yes, the historical record indicates that all fascists lose power eventually (usually, and very importantly, by violence, not by nonviolence). I agree with these statements so heartily that I wish very much as if I could have gone through this Friday as if it were any other day— one more day of the Earth’s riches growing stained and toxic. A calamitous event, the inauguration, but only a drop in the poisoned pool of many other calamities. This thought has its appeal not only when thinking in geological terms but also in revolutionary terms, for we should not require the existence of an immensely powerful fascist leader in order for us to take action against Capital & State. And a fragment of my mind continues to think this way. It is an important fragment, well worth heeding in other respects.

Unfortunately, we must also consider certain pragmatic issues beyond how a Trump-like figure in any country would produce a serious existential threat to marginalized members of its populace, even with people like me included. Even if we are witnessing the endgame of the US Empire, this collapse comes when the specific footholds of the empire remain exceptionally capable of influencing the fate of the environment and the fate of homo sapiens. Compared to some people, I am not tremendously concerned about nuclear warfare. If anything, Trump’s purported coziness with Putin would be a boon in avoiding nuclear war unless various other aspects of societal collapse tipped some dominoes that we have not yet foreseen losing balance. (I also could not give a single shit-smeared damn about how much Putin influenced this election, but that is a topic for another day, except to add that I find Putin about as odious as Trump on the whole.) Rather, my already mentioned ecological concerns drive the sense of meta-death today.

This craven scum and his nauseating alliance of capitalists, military officers, Bible-thumpers, and Randians— they do not only seek to kill art and beauty, they do not only seek to exterminate those of us on the margins as if we were so many freaks crawling in the way of their vision (we are, O let us continue to be, O please). The United States’ industry, both internally and in its trade dealings, has a disproportionately large impact on the planet’s climate, the quality of the planet’s resources, and the necessary species diversity both within and beyond our borders. The darkest seat of Capital sits here, whatever may happen with State, for at least a few more decades, by my reckoning. And the newly inaugurated scum are actively working to ruin our final, desperate chance to make the national changes that we so badly need in order to still enter the abyss and climb back out when the centuries have passed.

I do not really think they see it that way. It is fatal stupidity of the highest, most cataclysmic order, nothing more.

If enough other countries besides this one can do double, triple the work that they already ought to be doing, perhaps this country’s failure to cooperate will not matter. But I doubt this.

. . . .

I know that others besides me have written essays on this same subject. Not only the one that I mentioned, either. There are a great deal. I do notice, however, a tendency in other essays to either close with sudden strange platitudes about what we can still accomplish, how we can take solace, etc., or close with no propositions for any solutions. Neither variety is guaranteed to carry a liberal slant, but sometimes that element shines through, malignantly twee. “We still have each other.” “Love is the only thing that will see us through.” “As awful as this is, I don’t know what to do about it.” “I’m just done. If you have any suggestions, let me know.”

I would like to not close any such fashion. First, I would like to quote two individuals who, though white and male, sometimes said some good things.

… it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.
— Samuel Beckett

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.
— Bertolt Brecht

I cannot presume who has or does not have anybody. I cannot presume anything about love, a construct as much as a fool’s hope, a destroyer as much as a creator. Instead, it is extremely likely that we will perish, we as ourselves now or we as our species later, and those who perish may perish quite alone and without any love left.

If we do wish for any solace, any solution, these things will come only from reflecting, often, upon exactly how much we stand to lose, and the increasingly inevitable fact that we will lose every single part of it. Certain natural, logical conclusions from directing one’s thought to such ozymandian waste, and those conclusions will form a large portion of my future writing, here and elsewhere.

What I will say in short form just now is that continued collaboration with Capital & State will drive all the nails in our coffin; it will be the end, the absolute and total end. The last shred of a future can only be seized by divesting ourselves, carefully yet efficiently, of that ouroboros. You— you, if you did read all of this— must inoculate yourself against that virus. You must acquaint yourself with revolutionary thought. I must further acquaint myself with it, and I must make plans to do more than I have done, and I must follow through. If you continue to collaborate with the thing destroying us, I have nothing else that I can say except that you are part of the problem.

You, personally, are helping to select us for extinction. I, personally, may not be doing enough. No; I am not, not yet, perhaps ever. It is terrifying to consider that even with the most obvious choice before us, not enough of us will make it, or make it to the extent that it must be made.

How long will it stay?

D. Llywelyn Jones

Poem: first hymn of the new liturgy

the mist was drifting
and the light was gold
and the strings were cutting
the mist was drifting
and we walked slow
over brick and under glass
the mist was drifting
and the leaves were gold
and the feet were tapping
the mist was drifting
over this, the city
in the minutes till sunset.

i had barely lived to see the ending
born and bled and looked ahead at the ending
in the mist on the city by the sea
it was a magic hour
seizing me in my few decades.

out the window, grey
and all the world grey
wet grey
and sinking.

D. Llywelyn Jones

I have never recognized my own face

The author in July 2013, and the author today.

The author in July 2013, and the author today.

I don’t have prosopagnosia, otherwise known as face blindness. Recognizing other people’s faces has never challenged me. In fact, I tend to remember and recognize others’ faces rather well, just as I also learn names fast. There is, however, one face that I can rarely look at and say, “Oh, I know who that is.” This face is my own.

The revelation never struck me until this summer, when I was taking a full inventory of my various psychological oddities in preparation for a new phase of therapy. Amidst a host of other questions I asked myself, I wanted to get to the root of why I am someone who can’t stop staring in mirrors and, yes, taking selfies. What I have concluded is that I can functionally identify my own face, my own person, when viewing a reflection, a photograph, or a film/video recording— but that is only because, since time immemorial, all evidence has pointed to those images being of yours truly. In the meantime I have always felt dissociated from that image, not in the sense of body dysmorphia but in the sense of literally feeling as if the person reflected or recorded is not really me. My inner self-image is not of somebody real.

Sometimes this does lead to vanity, or giving off the impression of vanity. In my constant quest to connect with the person I look like, I ceaselessly examine my favorite features to affirm to myself, “Yes, this is me, I like how this part looks,” and I stare in disappointment at other features as I try to process the fact that no matter how much I don’t like how x looks, it is actually me as well. And I loathe having any photo or recording taken of me that I don’t control from start to finish. When I look at a recording someone else has taken, or even a photo taken from a bad angle, I don’t just hate it because it fails to adequately flatter me; I hate it because it frustrates me by making me stare at it while I perform mental gymnastics to accept the fact that it is me. Half of my Instagram account, as my friends know, is selfies, and I have this habit because it helps me practice acceptance of my appearance, plus it gives me a chance to get photos of myself that come closer to the version of myself that I see when I close my eyes.

I don’t think this is unusual for someone who was both raised in a body-negative society and came to identify as trans over time. But I do think it’s important to distinguish that at the end of the day, I really don’t consider myself ugly. I have a fairly realistic understanding of how much fat is on my bones, too, and I’m confident that I have no features that look bigger or smaller to me than other people would imagine. And when I’m just feeling my body, feeling my body’s place in space, I don’t experience any of the dysphoria I used to.

My confusion and even anguish are just tied to the fact that my mind’s eye is not in agreement with the sensory information I get, when it comes to my looks. This, I suspect, is the strange thing— the thing that makes it less typical for my upbringing and demographics. But maybe it’s really there for a lot of people like me. I don’t know.

In fact, while other trans people’s mileage may vary, I have concluded lately that a portion of my lifelong gender challenges has been that no adherence to any standard gender presentation can help me recognize myself better. The photos at the top of this post are respectively from three summers ago and this summer. When I took the first photo, I still identified as a binary trans man, albeit with some genderqueer leanings, and I was about eight to nine months from a total collapse of my effort to maintain such a gender. In the second photo, you can see a nonbinary, fey leather-femme, who has dyed xir hair bright red and is now embodying a much more iconoclastic imag than before. I know that these are both me. I do not feel that they are both me. The second photo comes a lot closer to the mark, but not because it is more recent— just because it is me doing a better job at making myself look like something I can recognize.

I don’t know if I will ever do a completely adequate job. There are some things I will never be able to change. My face is just all wrong, even though I think it’s reasonably attractive now. Beyond my face, I’m so much shorter in reality than I am in my head, it’s somewhat absurd. I feel as if I probably stand about 5’7″ or higher, and I absolutely don’t. By some laws I am a dwarf (and I’ll take that word over little person, by the by). Maybe I should start wearing six-inch heels. I don’t know.

There is no special point to this piece. It is an observation, an explanation of something about myself, and probably not much else. I will probably write similar pieces over the coming months, if I find the energy and time. In the meantime, whether you like my selfies, don’t like them, or didn’t know I took them all the time, now you have the story behind them.

D. Llywelyn Jones

A play, and a story

I feel somewhat stupid for not doing a proper blog announcement about this at some point: earlier this year, my adaptation of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus achieved what I will call its performance-ready form. I think I shied away from formally declaring anything because in my opinion (and in others’) the script would benefit from a public staged reading before a full production. I also have been dithering on whom to approach as a potential local producer, although an interested director does exist. Nonetheless, I do think of the play as “done”— ready for action. Immense thanks are due to my beta readers, as well as to Lucas Commons-Miller, J. Deschene, and Ally Matteodo of the Boston theatre scene for serving in a multiplicity of roles during last December’s private reading. When I figure out how to really move forward, I will be better about updating here.

Worth noting as well, I suppose: while it is now in beta, I completed my first sci fi short story, “O Fortuna,” earlier this summer. I consider this a personal success because it has been a long time since I truly finished a short story, and while some bodies would classify it more as a novelette, the fact remains that it is not a full novel, and yours truly the master of verbosity managed to tell a concise tale. I also suspect this is the first sci fi story of any kind that I’ve written without just a two-paragraph beginning. When it is out of beta, I’ll be querying magazines, or whatever else seems like a good possibility.

Until next time.

D. Llywelyn Jones

Edit: Oh, right. I also joined Medium. Follow here, if you’re a Medium person. I consider myself fairly useless at Medium so far, but if I figure out something to do with it, I will.

Poem: What it is I wear

It masquerades,
stolen word for a creature
that cannot name itself,
for an entity
that existed before there was life as we know it
will continue to exist when life as we know it
has perished.
Phonetics evoke more than etymology—
it is no tribes,
no tongues,
no buildings.

It does wear black,
it does paint its face,
it does garb itself in certain patterns
and certain cuts.
It does smoke and it does drink.
It does bedeck its bony places
in silver and leather, gems and lace,
silk and velvet and latex alike,
and it does bedeck its fleshy places with ink.
There are songs that it knows,
there are songs that it readily learns.
These are not the meaning,
not the cause.

It does belong to the young,
and to the unchallenged,
and to the first time struggle,
and to hormones fertilizing follicles and erections.
It does belong to the aesthetes.
It is a dalliance.
And then it belongs to the old
aging alongside or returning to it
like to a childhood home.
It belongs to the seasoned,
to the lifelong fighter,
to the bitterness of time.
It belongs to the activist.
It is a commitment.

It survives without humanoid embodiment,
without earthly music,
without reasons,
without memories.

Dry leaves. Grubs that strip the skull.
A rip and a shriek.
Standing alone on a barren mount.
The tightness in the throat
before salt spills from the eyes.
The last waltz. Pleas and refusals.
Eulogy. Memento. That half-cooked heart.
Drowning (always, of course, drowning).
Faint snaps and clicks
over a deeper thud.
Extinction and forsaken hope.
What words are cried through the rain.
Tombs, and sleep gained only after sobs.
Night, not as idol but as compulsion.
Sliding denials. Smudged reflections.
The home that was burned
and the forest razed.
Ash mistaken for snow. Tubes sprouting from skin.
Subterranean transit. Doors closing.

“Fuck,”
every instance of that perfect word,
“fuck.” And yes, bleeding, and yes, pain,
the sort of pain conjured by slicing metal.
Prostration before whatever force drove the first hands
to bring the first paint
to the first cave wall.
(The oldest known cave dwelling holds a bear skull in it, an altar to decay created thirty millennia past.)
A legend, a cult. Nightmares of fire from the sky. Writhing.
Covering ears against the horns of the wild hunt,
only to uncover them.
Bodies without wills and wills without bodies,
only to mock the foolishness
of all who imagine bodies and wills are distinct.
Pomegranate. Cold. Crawling through mud.
The walk to the executioner.
Rust and tarnish.
Screaming as the deer is skinned.
Bastards birthed and gods ingested. Hordes.
The night wind drying sweat from the neon-bathed face,
as the body leans against the brick wall
and finds breath after deafening rhythms.
Shots of vodka, bottles of rum.
Mutilation. Yes, what they call the devil.
Collapsing at ill news.
Electronics under skin,
electronics surrounding skin.
The shuttle at the loom. The rising chorus.
Gunfire and thunderclaps.
When the fabric tears.
Hunting in the snow.
The sinuous body caught in the tryst.

Candlelight. Bells. Chimes. Vigils and silence.

Kindled stars over grey seas.
Must walk to the beat funneled to your ears.
Pennyroyal. A hand pulls the cord.
That woman stands at the dulcimer, quick-fingered.
Final cries and exultations. Moons and milk.
A rush and a murmur. Lying in stupor.
Madness and steadfastness.
They’re gone; they’re gone.
Conjuring. Hymns. The bar is closed.

Those black figures grind themselves over the sidewalks,
fueled by such tokens.
They loiter and linger like crows
with a stolen word
for their world,
lurkers for something’s loyal opposition.

DLJ