Nordpolen Journal: 6/11/13- a dream before setting off for points unknown

Nordpolen Journal: 6/11/13- a dream before setting off for points unknown

San Francisco, CA
June 11, 2013

Tomorrow’s the day.

At 5:30 am I’ll get up in San Francisco and drink enough coffee to make me amenable to being awake, and then I’ll take a bus to a plane to a plane to a shuttle to a shuttle to a plane to a barquentine. It will be two days later and I’ll be North of most of the world.

I have a lot of feelings today: above all, excitement… beneath that a few small worries… will there be enough coffee? Will my digestion get screwed up? Will I be sore from sitting too long? But those small worries are small.

Beneath those concerns is a vast, dark current of hope and sadness. The sadness is strange. The sadness is a voice that says, this could have been your whole life but it’s only three weeks… and the sadness says… is it worse to set off on a journey you know will wake you up, only to have to return to lethargy and sameness? The voice also says… there is so much you haven’t done and will never do.

I wonder about these voices and their insistence on preparing me for disappointment: the disappointments of a short lifespan, of the necessity to waste time, of all the lost stories that spoke and died in me, but never made it any further than an intention.

I had a dream last night: I was walking on a tour through a neighborhood I didn’t recognize. I walked with a group of people I didn’t know up the sidewalk on the right-hand side of a steep street which ran between two high cliffs. The guide was pointing out the dwellings built into the cliffsides. They were tall, with the facades of the narrow, stately Victorians I am used to here in San Francisco, but they were somehow carved out of massive trees that were wedged partway into the rock. I have drawn a terrible sketch with my terrible drawing abilities to show what I mean:


It was twilight when we were walking, and there was a hush over the group. I asked if we could go inside these houses, but the guide said “No one goes inside those dwellings. No one lives there.”

As he said this, I saw the curtains being drawn back from a window in one of the houses in an upper storey, and I knew someone was looking down from the window at me, but it was dark inside so I couldn’t see them. It was getting darker outside, and I found that the tour group had moved on without me, and I was just standing on the broken sidewalk, looking up at the houses.

A door opened in the house closest to me, and a shape came down the sidewalk. I couldn’t really “see” the shape, though it felt like a person, and I knew it was, for lack of a better word, a ghost. This being moved toward me… and I remember that some communication passed between us. We spoke, but we didn’t speak. It’s the way you know things in dreams… you speak, but not necessarily the way you do in the waking world.

And then the being swept back up the sidewalk, back up toward the house. As it passed back inside, it broke apart like a transparent fog, the particles of it seeming more like simply an existing part of the landscape that had momentarily rearranged, and were now flying back apart into the grass, the rocks, the darkness again.

And I suddenly felt, like you feel a thunderstorm approaching, or like you feel the hum of bees where you’re near a bush full of flowers… I felt that all those forsaken houses…. they were full of beings like the one who had stepped out and momentarily formed in order to speak with me. Not only that, but the houses were full of histories, full of hidden passages, full of doors leading to even more interesting places, and that I was not afraid to go in, though it would still take some courage to do so.

I like to not interpret dreams, and just let them work how they work best- like paintings and photographs and symphonies- images with emotional, non-verbal content. But in this case, I’d like to say that it’s not unusual for me to dream about talking to the dead. And these dreams are always transformative, in the sense that my inner world is now getting ready to travel with my body to places unknown.

It seems like a great way to set off for an adventure that I truly hope will give me a chance to get my internal world and my external world back into a kind of synchrony. I once said that a writer who is not writing is like a haunted house… and that is what I have been feeling like lately. Perhaps now I go by that ghost’s example, and re-shape the part of me that creates and communicates out of those little shimmering bits of my surroundings…


Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 8- the sinking lure)

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 8- the sinking lure)


Part 8: the sinking lure: [Playlist: Ellie Goulding: Lights Instrumental]


the anglerfish sinks

her lure winks off                      on

 a lightning bug
wil o wisp
yellow sea star

to a pinhole flash
and nothings-out

quiet floods
into the would-be time

for mercy to wink
and leap for sidelong dreams                 a near-escape

                               but form is skin-tight want
insisting thought
clench down to bread and blood:

so slow and painful to be things

given arms or legs or wings
worse still
re   membered

 as a burnt-out light might
toss a phantom flare
toward the thought of night

 absence is thing-shaped
and the more disfigured
the more distinctly felt

what was  what was  what was  what
was      still describing to the missing limb

 a clenching fist

O Reader! I had you in my mind
to share the life of our common body
not bounded by finite skin      

believed we two as sorcerers
might cast ourselves into other worlds
as winged spells          and thereby make        in borrowed form                             

a home of dark winds
no frightening place to those whose
feathers           each a glistering facet

might catch the many beams like a lighthouse crystal
returning through the veil
one focused light

but the guides are lost
and any acrobatic
sleight of mind            is stripped

                                    the phone rings and
a voice breaks

a falling father body crashes through

the knowing mind          a grown child asking y y y y
all times and all selves come slamming home

when the split sides of the air collapse
in thunder

holy stranger                    ghostly Z who rises
from the juncture

featherless        mindless
bodiless            X

in this no place

no light to see light crushed

            by fire into dust and bits of bone
packed into a named and numbered box

            paid for at the appropriate office

            and carried to the passenger seat of the car
buckled in for the

 tremble of final air
squeezed out in a thread of breath

so fine a mist

into a

            fiery particle

a light visible only to you
the stranger       the reader
who gently insists

the pages of years
still left to smoulder
a music in our flame of living

emptiness and cold ignite
between doorway and threshold

into a black, bird-shaped light
burning above a dark new country

read part 9

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a meandering and eccentric history of arctic exploration: part 2

a meandering and eccentric history of arctic exploration: part 2

San Francisco, California
November 10, 2012
216 days until the Arctic Circle journey

A person I love very much asked me the other day, “Why do you care so much about ships? About sailing? About a history you have no direct relationship to?” And I answered… “I don’t know. But when I was a kid, my mother used to say she thought I was the reincarnation of JMW Turner, an 18th century Romantic painter known for his depictions of shipwrecks, storms, fog, and light. Reputedly, he went so far as to tie himself to the mast of a ship in order to experience the elements of a storm at sea.”

Of course, this admission, spoken to said loved one while riding public transportation late at night, was met with a facial expression which prompted me to go on to mention, somewhat defensively, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, the work of psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, who spent many years in India meticulously documenting cases of spontaneous recall of former lives by children. The continued facial expression of my loved one prompted me then to admit… “Look… truthfully? The jury’s out. I have a hard time believing anything that I don’t experience directly… but my mind is open.. and I have definitely experienced some thingsthat lead me to believe these things are possible, even make sense. But I’ve learned to keep them to myself unless I want people to stare at me with that same look you are giving me right now.”

Of course, then he leaned over and said, “Sorry… I missed everything you just said. I can’t hear anything because of the people yelling behind me on the bus.”

Which is sort of how things work, right? We are all trying to figure shit out, trying to let each other know what we see, what we feel… lobbing these little gifts of hope at each other, pointing out the window to say, hey, look at that magic thing!! Only to have our best efforts at grasping the meaning of it all be drowned out by drunk people on the bus. And  to be fair, we each take our turn at being the loud drunk.

So why do I feel this incredible affinity toward the sea, toward exploration, and this deep, curious undertow toward navigating the oceans?  The truth is, I don’t know. I just know that when I dream… in my deepest dreams… I dream of ships.

So I was going to continue from where we left off in (Part 1), wherein I started to tack my way toward who it was who first started to explore the arctic, with the various tools of nautical navigation that were developed to allow people to cross the open ocean. I mean, it’s hard enough to hug the coastline and hope that the fog does not come in, or that a wind doesn’t blow you out to sea.  In fact, one year my family rented a boat to go out on Lake Shasta to watch the total eclipse of the moon. Everything was great until… well… there was a total eclipse of the moon! No lights on the shore, no moon to illuminate the shoreline. Total darkness stretched in every direction, except for the stars. That’s the last time anyone laughed at the amateur astronomer among us!

Imagine then, what it took to outfit a seagoing canoe with provisions, and head deliberately toward the open ocean, where the only reference points are the sun and moon and stars, the flight paths of birds, the wind, currents, and clouds? This is exactly what the Polynesians did over nearly six million square miles of the central Pacific Ocean.

I realized as I began to write this second post, that I am taking a lot of knowledge for granted– actually, starting the story in the middle. I’m assuming we all know how to navigate, that we all understand the basics behind how we get from one place to another, how we “find our way.”

But as I put forth in part one, not everyone does navigate the same way. Some go by street names, some orient by cardinal directions, others know landmarks- a diner, a gas station, a firehouse, a silo- the 21st century default navigation tool is a map– but more specifically, a map that depicts roads. Modern maps are not for ships, or people on horseback… they are for cars. Bikes and pedestrians can half-ass their way using a modern map, but anyone who has accidentally started up a freeway ramp on your bike will know that the king of labeled reality nowadays is still the combustion engine.

And labeled reality is the key word here. Before we can follow the wake of those who first explored the arctic, we’ve got to talk about how we label reality. Making maps is probably one of the earliest and most universal forms of communication we have… and we are taught to think of maps as tools that are objective depictions of how to get from here to there, and what you might see along the way, or find once you arrive.  But we do not all see the same way. We have been taught to “read” road maps or globes or atlases, and in that learning, we come to take them as a full depiction of what truly exists, when they are really a specific version of it, influenced by the maker, and what he or she thinks the user wants to know.

Take this map of Paris (circa 2012), hand-drawn by a young New Yorker, for a young New Yorker, and showing, coincidentally, where to find Chinese food:

This map reveals a little bit about where to find Chinese food in Paris, but it reveals a lot more about the world view, aesthetics, desires, and biases of the map creator.

Similarly, take the Hunt-Lenox map from about 1510, one of the oldest known globes, which shows a bunch of islands and galleons the size of New Hampshire floating around where we now understand North America to be… oh, and on the far right, just below the equator: hic sunt dracones, Latin for “here be dragons.”

It’s arguable that the map from 1510 could be considered deeply inaccurate if what you are after is Chinese food… or North America. But it does illustrate a point about the nature of history that I wanted to bring up before I start blundering my way through names and dates about who was first to find Iceland or who planted their ice pick furthest North.

All maps- and history is nothing more than a verbal map- depend upon the biases, knowledge, integrity, intent, and desires of the mapmaker, or the recorder of the history. That said, we can agree on general facts, and even better, we can revel in the breathtakingly different experiences that come out of the pursuit of that understanding.

Also, remember… the new does not replace the old… it just builds a nest amongst the ruins. Take this map of where not to look for Chinese food in Paris:

You should really check out the cartography history of the catacombs. Click this image to explore!
Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 7- the dangling yarn)

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 7- the dangling yarn)

Part 7: the dangling yarn. Playlist: [Playlist: Glitch Mob, A Dream Within a Dream]

tell the day we’re nowhere bound
by way of what was lost between
cross-threaded time like some machine
that eats its end to grow its tale;

with one last day to chase that sound
to gaze behind the weary night
to feel my wings like phantom sight
to fly to die to flash to sail;

tell the night we’re winding down
on one last shore a wreck to find;
tell the wind we’re lost behind
the warp the woof  the weft the veil

and breathed it in          and screamed it out
and burst apart             and still you cling
and so you rise             and now you sky
and sea                         and light

and turn and flap
and flick and fly
and cry and bite

and gasp

and twist and thrash with claws and beak
what prize is this, what drowning gift
I’ve hooked upon our sounding line
and rescued from the nick of death

or has it baited  us      to call us back
to arid dreams             themselves a sea
this bird as birdlike as our sailless hulk
was once upon a breeze          a ship

a young-old man with blazing hair
cradles the snarl of rope and flesh
fixes     in his fog-smoke eye
the two dark answers blinking back

a nearly drowned and naked bird
with ragged holes where wings should be?
what sorry work was made of thee
what crude and grim interpretation
of subtler songs as shift and slip

just as gruff voice                      and grizzled beard
mismatch his freckled young man’s face
itself at odds with the scar that winds
a white territory-border that divides
a blinded eye from one that sees

and stares and glares
and squints      and swears
and hears the poet’s
murdering gears!         authoress!

he barks

t’was you who nearly killed the bird
that made the breeze to blow
who stripped our sails and stopped the wind
who chewed off  wings and swallowed word
and snuffed the growing of the world

his words carry, bell-like           bending
round the mast

and aether-dragging
downward through the knotholed decks

a cry dopplering to groan          and all that’s massy

with his dropping pitch
yields up its phase

gone see-through          while
the things of sound and air
exchange their ghostly lightness

for a standing wave

which slaps and rolls into the lungs and hearts
of all the dreamers within reach

and rattles guts and tuning forks their bones

and draws us up                       up                                                                    to answer

by scruff, or snout, or belly
whether live or dead
dreamt or dreamer

both and neither

including me

dragged full-bodied
from the cubbyhole of never never mind
to feel the hot-nosed press against my legs
hooves and toes            callus-padded claws
trampling my feet

awash in the crowded waft
of badger mean

and mousy meek and
mutty cringe and
mantis strange               and all of equal brute and wit

until the woodwork sags beneath
a brindled crew of dark and light

all staring up into my face

all half-starved for
naught but an age of
phantom cat’s paws batting at
our stays          while we drift unmoored

the deep end of dream
that’s where I am

she thinks

she thinks
wait     wait

yes       the point of view has changed
the lines no longer yours
to weave and splice                                           .

no no   I’ve seen the spiders
spinning meaning as they go
I just report
I just   

read from left to right or up to down
cast  spells        borrow others’ works
steal the sun and claim to have invented light?

no  no
follow the dream
follow the birds that showed me the gate                   

                                                                                    birds. birds? there were two

one was blind and made of song

                                                                                    a black flame

            the other
she followed the lure

no        girl       no

called thought and memory from their fog
then let them fly apart

we would not be speaking now
if you hadn’t stolen through the wall

told time a new dream
unanchored death from his wreck

stripped thought of flight
and put the flame of memory out

hang no albatross around my neck!
how can I kill immortal birds?

these are merely words            and
I tell waking time by

looking where she points her hands
like any other mortal who keeps watch

                                    but in dream

                                    we are merely open sails
that catch        and      ride                                                     
and so reveal
her movement

                        which neither starts nor ends
but is with storm         with cloud                  

                                                with force                               


of salve or speed                                                                     in breeze or gale
in draft or squall                                                                     lingers or appears
punishes by tempest                or                                                         devastates

with endless calm                                 

or mutters dry leaves              in not-quite-words
then shrieks  in the eaves       

                                                                                                and you               eavesdrop

stories insist
as does sleep               hell, I’m dreaming now!

your voice is just another tale  demanding
listen!              translate!

botched. garbled

only partly heard         through shifting walls!

those muffled gifts
in astral language
so crystalline in the grasp of dream
common into mud in the grip of word

and what makes it back into the wake
must still survive a silent roar
electric thoughts connected
fingertip to fingertip               mind to mind
voices pass

                        through tables             walls               my bones
a pseudonoise that circumscribes

a maelstrom of sameness
one shrieking pitch      that equalizes
decapitation         hunger             sex       lost babies
I cannot find my bearings
in a wind that blows all pitches at once
from all directions                 

            my sail is ink
where I invent nothing  and sail nowhere
when anyone can tap
a glowing word on a screen
and transport to another world
awake              without a dream

dream is nothing
symbols in a book          at worst
a simple cipher for the little darknesses we fear
a puppet stage on which we practice dying
or at best

fly        escape             forget               become unreal
so tell me

how can I steal anything of value
from a lie

girl, girl when will you learn
there is no practice        only life

and dream is not escape or lie

have you ever tried to stay awake?
until delirium removes the sense

and dream invades                                                                  it is true            death is real

you will die

the only thing immortal is the tale
and tale is wind

you are             the sail              the bird
and word is all       the wind is

cast the nets!

he shouts
stumbling aft toward the hatch
to the watching crew he says 

find her!

and presses flat against the helm
as nose and tooth        dive madly in a ball of fur
through scupperholes into the bilge

or labor sloth-by-sloth into the yards
while one dog, overwhelmed
goes dervishing around the deck

the ship goes quiet      as all the rest
answer and depart to crawl and trawl
and home                    and scent and sense  and search

all but a hawk that lights upon the starboard rail
and a soft gray toad emerging from the binnacle

will you also help?

he asks
but the hawk has already plunged
into the greening waves

and the toad climbs skyward into secret crevices
that vein the air in silver fire

cradling the weightless bird
he locks his damaged eye on mine

you, poet…
come below

read part 8

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i dreamt i was a polar bear burrito

i dreamt i was a polar bear burrito

San Francisco
September 6, 2012
279 days until the Arctic Circle expedition

focal area of arctic ice meltI dreamt I was a polar bear burrito.

As in, I was seeing the world from the perspective of a polar bear. I was very  hungry and there was a delicious smell, a hot, living, promising smell. I followed the smell to a smallish, bluish lump, which I then ate. Then, as often happens in my dreams, I was both the bear and the bluish lump, which was in fact a person asleep in a sleeping bag, and i was that person. I was both the polar bear and me asleep in the sleeping bag, inside the bear. These are the impossible insights of dreams.

When I woke up, I started to think about polar bears. What is my polar bear gestalt?

There is the polar bear of the Coca Cola advertisements of the 1990’s, the affable, rotund cartoon swilling sugary liquid alongside cavorting penguins at an idyllic pole where it is always Christmas. The idealism is sickly-sweet and hard to take, and it’s difficult to forgive the basic geographical impossibility of penguins (Antarctic) being anywhere near polar bears (Arctic) except perhaps in a zoo. Or in dreams. Or in a fantasy where a natural predator has become a slothful, sentimental tool.

The next image that popped into my head was that of Iorek Byrnison.

He is one of the heroes of Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy. This is him in his battle gear. He’s both savage and kindhearted, and like most characters in books, he is not an actual polar bear, but a Polar Bear: a cipher constructed of fears and wishes. He’s indomitable strength, tempered by a human sense of honor and chivalry. He’s more powerful than pain, as he can’t not fight to the death. he’s a dream bear, and a story bear. He is how we bear (oh yes, pun intended) to deal with how merciless actual survival can be. That’s the beauty of characters in stories- they can force the world to be a place where things make sense, and where fairness and safety can be won, and even sustained.

With that alarming synchronicity that often accompanies dreams, I saw this article today on the BBC: Arctic ice melting at ‘amazing’ speed, scientists find

In it, the Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) says:

“…we must adjust our understanding of the system and we must adjust our science and we must adjust our feelings for the nature around us.”

This is the moment where the dream and the day collide: if an animal, a real animal in danger of becoming extinct within the next 50 years is dreamt of as this:

but actually looks like this:

then it is time for the dream to change.

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 1- a magic circle)

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 1- a magic circle)

Part 1: a magic circle.  [Playlist: Opiou: King Prawn]


you will naturally go on

in a spinning foreign language nevertheless bone-deeply understood by all:

to begin:                       put the needle on the record

that anything is separate from anything else is a necessary illusion of distance:

time is harnessed by singing a long line               into a thumbprint-tight spiral

voices set free by rotation and a diamond

what witchcraft what relics:

the future is rife with ciphers                  wil o’ wisp light on broken code

how you are you and I am a nearby groove

oscillating off into analog           into a dry ice fog

from the eye of the gyre     we are playback phases of the same tune

offset by πr2                  thirty three and a third               so that every few turns we sing in stereo

then decay into rounds

every few hours the moon slams up                   the sun skanks down

you will mosh                            then pogo

asking what kind of fidelity a future holds

that’s re-engineered  to reel out from center

how when you let go                 the stylus will proceed on it’s own

across the format war

broadcasting the noise in your fingerprints                      the skin fragment hiss

that bump of light that should always rewaken us

when the tone arm lifts and swings back to silence


read part 2

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