Tag Archives: philosophy

Sonoran Desert in the Springtime

This year there are no carpets of golden poppies or sunflowers, there are no giant swaths of color splashed across the Tucson desert, and part of me is disappointed of course. I love glorious abandon.

This is one of the years that requires a closer eye, a delight in the subtle, the ground-hugging, the tiny. I love that too. The desert is still full of flowers, they riot across the stones in perfect blooms the size of a fingernail.

Eriastrim Diffusum or Miniature Woolystar

Monoptilon bellioides, also known as Mojave Desert Star. I think. There’s something about seeing what is usually unseen. there were a couple of phacelias, though I remember years when they have filled the grasses alongside the washes in deep gorgeous blues unfurling.

The flowers have definitely seen better years, and the same goes for the prickly pear. While you’re looking for what is always missed, seeking out the small beauties and the things that are hidden, you also find these guys

The only thing that seemed to be blooming as normal were the mallows.

And when you look up the desert is still wide open, beautiful

You can’t even tell that tiny flowers blanket the hills, and that lizards crouch frozen in the mottled shade of bushes.

Dad and I found this off the beaten trail, beneath a mesquite tree where a small arroyo split into two

It could be a shrine, a joke, a memory. Plastic flowers in the desert almost always commemorate death, marking graves or the sites of accidents where flesh failed and souls left bodies. In the desert death is as present as life, they twine around each other, you see it and traces of it everywhere. Scattered bones, skin, remnants of bodies.

I love life even more beside death. Beauty hidden in an arid landscape and draped around cacti skeletons, or exploding after a good winter of rain in a riotous celebration of color. High arching skies and heat. The smell of creosote and dust. This I understand. I love. I leave it for the world of people and there is so much I don’t understand, though I love there too. I walk through the desert in sandals fearlessly, it is my place. It is a beautiful dangerous place, but I know where the danger lies. The human world? I walk through that in sandals too, but never fearlessly. It hurts much more.

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Late night meanderings far too early…

I ran into someone last night I’ve known for years, since he was a kid and he’s practically family. Now, luckily, the distant kind. He’s still the same. He was drunk, and showed me how he’d just been stabbed several times, and told me three different gangs would have my back if anyone messed with me. He was still hustling and still saying he was sorry. He was sorry all the time, and I believed it for a long time until I realized it was just to ease people into doing things for him. Because he always needed something from you. That hasn’t changed seems like.

I still remember once he was really drunk and who knows what else, and crying his eyes out and confessed to doing all of these truly horrible things that had truly fucked people over. And I sat there horrified, realizing for the first time that in reality he was just sorry for himself, and for the fact that none of these people (including me) liked him anymore. The real damage and impact of his actions on others hadn’t entered his mind at all, nor any conception of making up for what he had done, or doing things differently. Such a strange mixture of utter self absorption and the need to be liked by others, while using them for all he could get. And lies, all the time. Last night he told me I used to annoy him when he was coked out and he was sorry about that too because he really did love me. Made me want to cry really.

It’s funny timing I suppose, I’ve been realizing that someone else I know is almost entirely the same. Apart from being much more clever, well educated, and able to quote feminist theorists to prove his sensitivity. And also apart from the coke and gang affiliations, though funnily enough both share similar stories about the glory days of past violence. He also says he’s sorry all the time to get you to do things, and is better at backing it up with reasoned arguments and assurances. Though not by much, being a smooth talker comes with the hustle. Both of them are generous with what they have, the problem is that they always need so much more. The second doesn’t drink so there was no chance of such brutal honesty, it’s a bit more devastating, though, to fall for it all a second time. I suppose if you come from the ghetto this hustling without conscience will generally get you killed, and if you’re from a good family it means you excel at your profession.

The thing is, you never know what the word sorry means to someone else until you actually know them well. And giving people the benefit of the doubt and believing the best of them can make you a victim. And I don’t know quite what to do with that. I don’t mind being cynical about the world and how it works, but I’ll be damned if two sociopaths can make me cynical about all the people in it. Maybe just because that would be too easy. You so often see what you want to see, good or bad. But I would like to see what is actually there. And believe in spite of everything that there is much of both.

And me? I’ve been bending my own rules to protect myself. I don’t hold with lies, but turns out not telling the whole truth is almost as bad and hurtful. In a world like this, with people like this, trust and all it is built on is so fragile. When my own trust has been betrayed it has been utterly devastating, and to be in turn someone who breaks trust is equally so. So it’s been a rough few weeks, and the past two days especially.

Ah well, I suppose this is one of the great human questions…the nature of humanity itself really. I have far too much love for people (and kittens and flowers and old buildings and wine and good writing and etc) to be properly cynical, but every day less trust than before. And I wish there were a political framework that could deal with this microlevel and give me a vision of life after capitalism I could believe in. You can see what’s so pursuasive about religion, sometimes I wish I could belive in that stuff. I read Camus instead. And try to be moral. And try again when I fail. And make fun of myself and everything else that’s fucked up while doing so, because honestly, what else can you do?

Downtown Los Angeles at night

I suppose this could be the title of a number of posts…

It’s the end of January. The night was cool but not cold, I rolled up the sleeves of my sweatshirt and felt the air sweet against my naked skin. The streets between Mals bar and home are my streets. Along Olive I rode through the darkness, glad I didn’t go home with the car salesman. I turned on Pico, passed the corner where I always used to find Mark, before we lost the Morrison, before he lost his home, before he died.  He’s been on my mind a lot, his county issue wheelchair sits empty at Saje now, right by the back door. I see it and think of him, feel a little of the despair and loss and…I don’t even know what you feel about someone you love who died an alcoholic on the streets. And I passed the Morrison and it’s still boarded up, Hope has never been well lit there. Hope. I don’t want to hope any more, I want to see my way to winning.

I headed towards the convention center, all brightly lit, welcoming people with degrees like mine to network and shmooze and score business deals. It offers shit jobs and shit treatment to all those I work with, stand beside. I belong to neither world, though I look to be part of one, and have chosen to stand in the other. For my job, I became part of the first for a couple of days earlier this year. It made me feel split into two people, uncomfortable in my skin as I walked down carpeted corridors and flashed my badge and talked books. And wished I were chatting to the janitors instead. I felt traitorous. And lonely. I wanted to know someone who understands these things.

Down Figueroa I passed the Staples Center and the new L.A. Live, it is like another city. The other day I was biking down Olympic and suddenly didn’t recognize where I was. I can’t tell you how strange it is to feel that way about a section of street you have worked off and on for 8 years. The Baker Building is gone, all of the families I knew there gone. A skyscraping hotel rises to the left unfinished beneath its giant crane. The cold clean unwelcoming space of LA Live bristles alongside it, over 200 families used to live there in 1998. They tore the buildings down to turn the land into parking lots. And now they have created something that Narnia’s Ice Queen might have built. Though she probably didn’t know enough about surveillance cameras. It’s yet another of LA’s quasi-public spaces, easily controlled for the right kind of people, easily managed with its up-scale chains that represent conspicuous consumption without taste or orginality. Figueroa was crawling with cop cars as the great searchlights proclaimed it the place to be against the night sky. Superficial glitz and implicit violence dominate this city.

I biked through downtown, Orishas on my i-pod, every traffic light against me. Office buildings towered into the sky, their patchwork of lights replacing the stars. The spatial inequalities of this city, the pain and displacement, the contrast between ultimate wealth and ultimate poverty, all of these things carved into my heart. I like biking through the darkness, even though it hurts. It is time and space to think, a way of experiencing LA like no other, a physical release of stress and memory. And it is nice to come home at the end of it. To write.

Life with children

I like to experience it from time to time. I had forgotten that there are monsters in every envelope! Cow monsters no less, to escape them you have to race down the hall, jump onto the futon and hide underneath the quilt. You also have to be wearing something on your head, anything will do, a dishtowel, a 3 year old’s winnie the pooh shirt, a very tiny flowered hat. Dishtowels and tiny hats are quite difficult to keep on your head, especially while flinging a quilt over the two of you, but the shirt stays on quite satisfactorily.

It also makes you realize how grand it is to be an adult! You can eat whatever you want whenever you want it. You can go wherever you want. You can reach things on the top shelf. You don’t have to go to bed until you’re good and ready. If you really want to play with toys, legos being my own particular favourite though Didin’s batman action figure is also cool, you just have to find a kid. And then you can talk about politics, life and art in the evening over wine, so life is much more complete.  Life, really, is quite good as an adult. Especially if you’re able to take naps. And so I have some sympathy with temper tantrums and bids for independence, though it appears to me that children are entirely capable of great tyranny, and exercise this capacity, er, tyrannically.

Didin has a number of toys procured in Bangladesh, my favourite so far is the Chinese “My Family Doctor.” On the front of the box it states “Lovely and Fun toys, these are what you want!” also “specification, colours and contents may vary from illustrations.” They were right, many of the pictures on the front of the box bore no relation to the contents. But the back is the winner, it says

Lovely and fun toys
selling well all
over the world
the best welcome
the children
gifts for

Ha! That’s it. Beautiful. Like Goleta in the rain. We walked down to the beach this morning, stood on the low cliffs looking out over the ocean, there were two herons and a line of pelicans skimming the top of the water and my heart expanded to fill the horizon, breathing with the ebb and flow of the incoming tide. It was empty and wild and beautiful.

Louise Bourgeois retrospective at MOCA

Go see it, it’s brilliant.

And I know great art when I see it (though I also know that’s a bit time-worn as phrases go). But she truly is great. Generally speaking I don’t go much for the art of the so desperately personal, but her work is incredibly moving and provocative and it hits you in your stomach where you carry your most visceral of emotions…for decades it has circled and circled around themes of the body, love, family, sex, a traumatic childhood of male patronage and infidelity…it repeats shapes in different forms that skate a continuous line between masculine and feminine, beauty and horror, being and becoming…it comprises an astonishing number of mediums that are all exquisitely carried out: sculpture in wood and plaster and latex and stone, collages with fabric and bits and pieces of everything including orange peels, sewn figures with gaping holes, installations, paintings and drawings, the written word.

They are a strange mix of the tender and the repulsive, sometimes beautiful, always provoking, and so many with a strange edge of terror and violence that trickles down your spine. We both love spirals, and she says of them that they are attempts to control chaos and also freedom, and asks whether you find yourself in the vortex or on the periphery? She says she hates men obsessing over their penis…that it is not the appendage she dislikes, but what it is attached to. I love wit, and her art has both wit and raw emotion in an uneasy balance that gives it power.

No pictures can do the pieces justice at all, for her more than most people I think. But my favourites were the personages and the installations, particularly the red rooms. The personages look like this (This picture from the New York Times)

There were others that were blocks stacked one upon the other…I found them eerie and beautiful and they made me think.

The red rooms, on the other, scared the hell out of me. Here is what the parent’s room looks like, hard to know where the terror comes from I know, even when you’re standing in front of it. Perhaps that is why I like it so much

They are surrounded by a sort of a spiral made by doors, I won’t even begin on the symbolism of that! You can only peek into it, and the parent’s room you can really only see through the mirror, and it is red…and it should be peaceful with a couple of toys on the chest at the foot of the bed, but there is a looming shadow over the pillows and I don’t know, but it was terrifying. The way The Shining was terrifying. The children’s room was overtly terrifying with entwined sculptures of limbs cut off at the elbow, you stare at it through a window in one of the doors, children have no privacy.

I liked the spider as well…nothing represents horror better than a giant spider with long spindly legs ending in rather dangerous looking points, and yet they are oddly protective, maternal…

Go see it if you’re in LA.

There has been a police helicopter circling near my house for two hours now. I hate them. If I were an artist I’d be obsessed with helicopters…such brilliant technology that we use primarily to hunt and to kill.

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The absurdity of mass repression

Documentary after documentary. It is how I have been spending the tail end of my nights lately, after long days of work and time with friends. Some we have published, some are submissions for us to consider publishing, a few I throw in as reminders of what is already out there.

They are all of struggle, so at some point every night I have sat here with tears pouring down my face. Sometimes they are indefinable tears. I don’t know why masses of working people in the streets and facing down riot police always make me cry, but they always do. Perhaps for the hope they give me where there is so little hope left. Too often they are tears of sadness, for those who have been injured, tortured, killed. The worst was Black and Gold, where there is a mother grieving for her son shot by the police. I have heard that grief before, it is hoarse and raw and rending, it shatters everything in you to hear it. It flays you to bear witness and be able to do nothing. It takes me back remorselessly to the burial ground and the huge machine already covering the coffin and tamping the ground even as the mariachis still played. Maria almost screaming, if she had had any voice left. I cannot understand how this can be the world that we have created.

And I cannot understand how these things continue. Chicago, Alabama, Buenos Aires, Oaxaca, Burma, Greece…these are just a fraction of the confrontations where governments have turned on their own people.  Intellectually, of course, I understand the intertwining of government and capital, the need to retain power at all costs, the strength and cunning of propaganda combined with media silence. But fundamentally, everything in me revolts at its very possibility. Everything revolts at the idea that a government that turns its army and security forces onto thousands of its own people could retain the slightest shred of legitimacy. With anyone.

What is a government for, and why does it exist?

How can a legitimate government defend itself from its own citizens with police bearing clubs, tear gas, pepper spray, pistols and machine guns? With helicopter attacks, secret and open raids, illegal arrests, disappearances, torture, assassination, bombs?

How is it possible that we have come to accept that a government can repress a mass movement of its own people? Who else do we think it is accountable to?

In my cynicism I know that’s a beginner’s question. Of course they are not accountable to the masses of their people; they are accountable to the few, the wealthy, the elite that they themselves are part of. They hold the money and power, and if persuasion does not work, they will use force. I understand all of this, but even so. I rage at the fundamental absurdity of this being the universal system that defines the lives of all us.

LA’s floating islands

Wealth in LA floats. We are not just segregated from north to south and east to west, but above and below. And I suppose I knew about the aerial isle that was once Bunker Hill, but I’d never really walked it, and until you walk you don’t really know a place. At 4th and Hope you are high up above LA, and all traces of the old Victorian neighborhood once there were completely bulldozed and destroyed several decades ago. And there followed some truly grim decades in terms of block architecture, and a planning model designed to keep public space as the exclusive right of the right people. So it is a modern wonderland of concrete and plazas leading to car garages and sleek, expensive men and women. There are a couple of skyscrapers built on it, their lights serve as the stars and I’ll not deny a strange beauty to them…there are some expensive shops and restaurants, but they all look like upscale chains. It’s that particularly L.A. thing I think, where everything is relatively new, sanitized, familiar, safe. People here trade what is real and true for a secure and enhanced façade every time, just look at sunset strip with its fake western bar, it’s fake Irish pub. Look at people themselves. And this place is made for cars, you have to climb a very steep hill to get here, and it isn’t the easiest thing on foot. I’m sure that’s quite deliberate. The right sort of person doesn’t walk in this city. I passed Gehry’s Disney hall, it’s on the edge of this as is MOCA. Wealth’s claim on high culture.

Usually I go beneath this place, through the terminator tunnel with its shiny white tiles reflecting the light when they are not falling off the walls, and the homeless sleeping along the sidewalk. I like it better underneath.  The higher you go in LA, the richer it invariably gets. From crack in Hollywood to cocaine in the Hollywood Hills and so it goes everywhere…even Echo Park has had its bastions of wealth up on top of everything, and now of course it is gentrifying at the speed of light, and from top down.

These things make me angry, so I’m glad the YMCA is still there, giving people one last reason to democratize space. I was walking because I forgot a clean shirt to change into after workout, sauna and steam, and couldn’t face jumping on a standing room only bus full of people going home from work. Especially since I was going home TO work. Happy Friday to me. But I haven’t really been home for so long, so I’m still enjoying it.

The radical thought on the wall

“Put down your weapon and come out with your hands up.”

There is a wailing of sirens. The helicopter circles endlessly, it has been doing so for twenty minutes. The megaphone comes through loud and clear, the house is at most two streets over I think. This is when I hate Los Angeles. Some poor fool holed up in some shit building, and if he’s not smart he’s going to be shot tonight. Or she, I suppose he could be a she, but he almost never is.

It’s sweltering. Hot like Arizona hot during the monsoons, not the white and blinding oven heat that I rather enjoy, but a slightly sticky heat. Nothing as bad as the East Coast though. I’ve worked right through it, got so much editing work done today I’m quite a happy woman though this weekend I have a lot to pull off and I’m not quite sure how well it will go.

Siguen los pinches helicopteros.

So I’m working on a map of radical thought, it lies in different coloured post-its spread across my wall. It is the foundation for my upcoming literary tangle with combining theory and practice. For money, my first paid article. I’ve been mostly a practice girl myself, but I think it really is time to take a good look at where we’ve been, and where it has brought us, and why we are still so fucked. And when people label themselves or others as this ist or that, I’d really like to have a firm handle on what the hell that means…apart from the fact that such labels have been rendered ludicrous over the passing years, and also that maybe they’re not actually working in the trenches. Still, in the trenches you forget to look up, you have no time to think, you’re not always aware of where you’re headed and how exactly you believe you might get there. And so organizing organizations seem to have a tendency to devolve into service because the emergency is always there, and it’s just easier. It’s such a huge weakness. So I’m doing my map and thinking through all this stuff again and it’s been good so far.
More sirens.

So I knew, but never quite…hm, how do I say what I want to say? I knew, but it never ever struck me before that Gandhi was only 1 year older than Lenin. That their struggles were contemporary, along with their philosophies. And I don’t know if they ever commented on each other. Why do I not know that? In my head these movements are entirely compartmentalized…Europe and to a certain extent America together (as so many Europeans fled here until we deported them back), Asia, India, Africa, South and Central America…separate, isolate. They seem like different eras almost, though the separation is philosophical and geographical only. There must have been connections, I shall have to find them. Or perhaps the arrogance of the Western World simply continued supreme…

The helicopter is still circling. They haven’t made demands in a while.

So you look at Europe up through the Russian Revolution, the Spartacist League, the Spanish Civil War, and all the theorists and philosophers have some connection to struggle. There are a number of people who are self-educated and brilliant and came out of the working class. And then it all gets more and more abstract, Marxism moves into the Universities and sits there writing to itself. The people doing stuff are elsewhere, in other countries around the globe. Or perhaps still in Europe, I just haven’t sifted down to them yet. But they aren’t like their forerunners, the heady times after 1848, actually perhaps since always when theorists tended to actually trundle themselves down to the barricades, rouse the masses, spend quality time in prison…is it just that they’ve all been bought out now?

The helicopter is still circling. It’s funny, but after hearing so many refugees unburdening their pain and fear when I worked at Carecen, I’m rather deeply afraid of helicopters, they are the perfect and ultimate killers. You can’t really hide from them. It’s not a surface fear because it’s not rational – in that I am almost certain a helicopter shall never come for me though I never say never; but in that it’s not my own memory. It’s like a nightmare fear that’s more powerful for belonging to a mass of other people and passed on to me slowly slowly through stories and tears and memories of the dead. It hides in my stomach and I don’t even quite realize how much it’s affecting me until my stomach starts hurting, and I can feel my shoulders around my ears. And I wonder that in this country we cannot understand that no one who has been in it truly escapes from war.

The helicopter is still circling.

At any rate, the other thing that seems clear is that a lot of these guys were just assholes. And they all hate each other. And Spanish communists somehow figured that anarchists were a greater threat than fascists, and did Trotsky really tell Martov he belonged in the dustbin of history with the other pitiful isolated individuals? What a dick. Better than shooting him, though he shot his fair share of people as head of the red army didn’t he? Did he have to destroy Makhno? Mao, Stalin, Hoxha (he was shooting his comrades in the resistance to eliminate competition even before the war was over)…all assholes. Some may argue that the revolution needs blood and ruthlessness to succeed. I think that perhaps it’s just that being assholes, these guys had to rise to the top quickly or be forever shut out and outcast because people just didn’t want to have them hanging around. You know they were the kind who went on that same old rant over beers that everyone was so tired of hearing, or perhaps they didn’t even drink, just ranted and were all self-righteous and lacked any ability to listen to others or laugh at themselves. It’s my (rather bitterly flippant) proposal for the asshole theory of…

The helicopter has left! After an hour. No shots. No death. Relief.

So, the asshole theory of failed revolution. Or why we are still fucked. I rather like it, after all, assholes want power, it’s the only way they can keep friends and sleep with attractive people. I saw Kissinger on the Daily Show, and he’s the rightwing version of this, the man has not a humorous bone in his body, he speaks in a monotone, he’s not at all attractive. Not only is he an asshole, but he’s a boring asshole. And yet he kicked it with the rich and famous all because he rose to the top, and power was enough to overcome every other natural deficiency.

Another helicopter, the same helicopter? And it’s fucking circling again. I guess the life and death confrontation continues and the helicopter just had to…refuel? Moonlight for the filming of some new Hollywood smash? Catch a quickie car chase?

Anyways, I’ve written enough now I think…I’ll come back to the delightful eccentricities of some of the older generation of thinkers and doers in another blog. I got the Maltese Falcon in the mail from netflix today, I suppose it will go well with the damn helicopter.

And it’s still circling. I can never fall asleep to helicopters, even after all of this time in L.A., it could be a long night.

Mortality and Palin

written on wednesday with no chance to upload until now…

I confronted dying again today, it was very meditative, the plane left LA on usual course to Tucson, it starts out over the ocean and then makes a big U-turn but it wobbled in the sky today and just kept heading out rather erratically over the water and I knew something was wrong, we had to land again on manual control with fire engines racing beside us. Exciting. You know what the funny thing is? I’m not afraid of dying at all, I can’t see it as anything but a door in spite of myself…interesting that, since I’m not religious. I’m just afraid of pain. I figure there won’t be time for pain if your plane crashes so it’s a good way to go really. So I sat thinking about life and how I’m very happy with the fullness of mine, and how I’d be a bit sad if I died cos life is just so good…and tragic and difficult and beautiful and so many other things that fill it up and make it worth living. So I enjoyed the plane trouble.

Of course then I got on the next plane and the two desperate housewives behind me getting chatted up by an annoying and enormously successful businessman made me actually wish that plane would crash. Or I had access to an eject button…that would be far better, I think all planes should have them. They weren’t sure if they were voting for McCain but then he chose his running mate and they were overjoyed. Why? Because Sarah Palin is just so pretty. Honestly. But the vampire who also boarded the plane made it almost bearable.

Night

I love the night, there is something about it…and there is something about being out in the darkness, out in the city at night, perhaps because this is LA and there are so few people on the streets, perhaps because I am a woman. But  I wandered Glasgow as well, I love traveling lonely through the darkness. There is something transgressive about it that only adds to the joy of just wandering streets without really being seen, passing houses where life is being lived inside and you remain the outsider, alone, free. It is different on my bike of course, more speed, more focus on getting from here to there, more wind against my skin and less time to think…I like both, but certainly I feel safer on a bike, I feel that I can go more places and stay out later then I might try on my own two feet. I can’t run so fast in chanclas, and I am realistic about my ability to defend myself though i admit to occasional dreams of invincibility. But in the night you feel part of the long tradition of writers who wander sleepless through their cities, who collect images to put onto paper, who make foreign streets live and breathe so that you feel that you have also walked them…I feel utterly alone in the darkness, and yet at the same time part of something, united with others across time and space, it is an extraordinary feeling that I treasure and that keeps me up long past my bedtime.

I have had three nights of brilliance, and I am happily exhausted. Wednesday out with Larry and I drank far too much of course, paid for that the next day but I learned that Thomas Wolfe was 6 foot seven and wrote standing up leaning on his refrigerator and using it as a table, he scribbled a handful of words on each page and let them fall into a crate…and he delivered his manuscript to Scribner like that, in crates upon crates. We talked about what it means to be a writer, what it means to be an editor…as someone that goes over sentences time and time again, who seeks perfection, I can’t really imagine how such a writing process is possible, it fascinates me, and is the finished product, refined and cut down by a third to a half…is it his or the editors? Raymond Carver’s stories as well are lean and spare and terse due in great part to his editor as well…I knew the editor’s names on Wednesday, I will look them up believing them of great importance but not tonight.  Tonight I was filming Gary interview Larry and Denise…talking about writing and politics and then we drank a few bottles of wine and talked about Chandler and where he wrote and how, and we talked about the FBI and the CIA and Guatamalan immigrants and Bukowski and Roman Polanski and the Maltese Falcon and how there were two previous versions of it, and how To Have and Have Not was one of Hemingway’s worst stories and yet such a brilliant film…last night I was out with Chris and Charles and talking about politics and Dark Night, Watchmen, old movies and anarchist politics. In short I am fulfilled, meaningful work done for love alone, work that will change the world, that gives me hope and happiness, that is real and true and good. And good conversation about words, writing, theories, art, movies, conversation that challenges what I think and adds so much eccentric brilliance to what I know…I am so glad it is possible to have both. To me this is what I’m fighting for really.

And I have the night, it is mine to pass through, to exult in.