6.14.2017

Always Already Coming: On Fabric and Marc Lafia's "In What Language to Come"


A painting is a material whose materiality is repressed. It becomes forgotten, background, a no place, a blind spot. We look at the paint, not the canvas. We can say the same of photographs and film: the material — the paper, celluloid, code — are quieted by the play of significant and signifying content. What matters is the image freed from its materiality, an image that can somehow exist anywhere. Sure, we might focus on the paint or the exposure time, comment on the density of a painting's paint. But we rarely, if ever, see the canvas, paper, and plastic.

This has of course been amplified by the digital network. Images are no longer tethered to any material other than ones and zeros, interpretive algorithms that transform those numbers into an image that can be seen but not touched. It's as if the image has finally been freed from its body, pure soul manifesting here and there. The materiality of art has responded by becoming monumental, the stuff of stories — think Koons or, in film, Michael Bay — or conceptual, rarely taking root in thingness. Or else it's all petty bourgeois craft, people relishing the feel of wood, of rope, of clay — which is great. But it's not art. It's not creation as such; it's delicious commodity, a decadent relishing of stuff.

Marc Lafia's work often focuses on the terms of image making and distribution — on photography, on narrative, on algorithms of sense making, on the always-on network (which, as Lafia makes exquisitely clear, is a ubiquitous camera and screen). In his work, he has made semiotic content secondary to the production of semiotic content which, in turn, becomes the semiotic content. Which is to say, it's not that his work is absent signification; it's to say that what he signifies is the very terms of signification.

In this new work, he has shifted from the means to the stuff. If in earlier work, he presented the seeing of seeing, in this work he presents seeing as such — an absurd claim, perhaps, and one I am making, not Lafia.

This is not to say that fabric is free of significance. On the contrary, it is mired in it. But this mire creates a miasma that belies ready reference or any direct didacticism. The referential trajectory is blurred, veiled, drifting and draping this way and that, blowing with the wind, wrinkling and pleating, often a folded mess of a pile, multicolored and multi-textured. It is not quite babel but it is polyglottal, alternately and simultaneously euphonious and cacophonous.

Fabric is at once something and not something. It is usually a means, a vehicle, an ornament and not something in and of itself. For centuries, it was a currency, something of value, yes, but something to be exchanged. And, no doubt, today it retains a certain value, the stuff of consumerism.

All the while, it is saturated with association. It is the stuff of clothes and bed, of fresh from the shower and cuddling on the couch, the softened ground beneath our feet, the surface of our sitting. It surrounds us, encloses us, and while we might pay this or that version of it our concerted attention, the fabric as such tends to remain secondary.

And then there is the phenomenology of fabric. It is technically a solid but it shares an affinity with liquid, almost filling its container. It is fundamentally pliable, plastic, as if awaiting use, scissors, stitching, glue. In this sense, it is akin to the digital, a file always awaiting manipulation. But unlike the digital, fabric has an immediate tactility — it is seen and touched before and as it is manipulated. It is not just palpated; it is the stuff of palpation. 

In this work, Lafia does not use fabric as a backdrop. It is fabric and nothing but: fabric on fabric, fabric with fabric. And not to create an image as, say, Rosemary Trockel does. Nor to act as symbol or a means as Joseph Beuys did. And it's certainly not the fine craft of, say, Turkish kilim. Rather, Lafia engages fabric as fabric, using fabric perhaps as a painter would use paint — only, in this case, the painter paints painting.

There is, then, this sumptuous redundancy in Lafia's work. Rather than zoom out or zoom in on the means of image making — as he has so often done in the past — here he remains thoroughly and completely within the realm of the seen, within the realm of seeing. He creates an orgy of fabric, bodies mixing with bodies in all sorts of relations and juxtapositions and with no desire other than this — this frolic, this play, this drape and drift, these folds, this billowing. It doesn't add up to anything; it goes nowhere. It doesn't try to point to meaning or to an experience other than this — a tautology, an haecceity, a redundancy, the world touching itself everywhere, a polymorphously perverse onanism, a plenum of palpation.

This is surely a new language freed of signifiers and signifieds, free of Saussure's semiotics, Lacan's algebra, and Derrida's deferral. Untethered, this is a language free to roam (like all poetic languages). Unlike the language of stretched canvas and pinned art, these fabric works occupy their territory with grace and aplomb. They can live anywhere (I accidentally typed "love" anywhere, a fortuitous mistake).


There is a certain aggression, no doubt, an aggression implicit in any territorialization. These works not only take over a space; they want to take over a space, indoors or out, big or small. They do not stay nailed to the wall, discreetly out of the way, only to be looked at now and again. No, these works inundate, spread, drift, drape, get in your way.

But not all territorializations are created equally. This occupying tongue is passionately languorous, generous, joyous; it softly but insistently spreads the word — which is to say, it spreads itself. This is not only in what language to come. It's in what language is always already coming.

6.06.2017

Good Enough



(This essay was fueled and helped by discussions, feedback, and insights from the inimitable Kia Meaux.)

Two weeks ago, I find myself at Orr Hot Springs — I love the passivity of "I find myself there," not I went there or I was there; French has that great reflexivity — I call myself, I seat myself, etc — in which the subject is also object; English does this all too rarely. I love it because it expresses that middle voice in which we actually find ourselves all the time, more or less, at once elevating and then refusing the ego as subject — anyway, two weeks ago I find myself at Orr Hot Springs, a naked resort tucked into the hills in Mendocino County in Northern California. It's hot out. I'm lying in the shade on a wooden deck next to a cool spring fed pool into which I occasionally plunge. I'm alongside a beautiful, brilliant woman who, like me, is naked. We are not entirely sober, as it were, and are feeling plain old good. There is no cell reception, no WiFi, no clients, no work, no kid, no hassles, and nothing to buy. I turn to my lovely cohort — my lover — and say something like, "Ah, this is so decadent. All I need now is a cocktail." To which she replies: "Isn't this good enough?"

I was, needles to say, humbled.

Like many people, if not most, I have a fiend in me. I find myself in a situation, which is to say I situate myself here or there, only to find myself wanting for something. And immediately I reach for a remedy — a cocktail, an edible, a book, a TV show, my phone, sex, something or someone or some experience that is not present.

Often, this is a fine and good reaction. I know how to steer my experience into my pleasure zone, that place where everything suits my constitution. If say, I'm at a boring event for my kid's school, I may sneak a swig from the flask tucked into my back pocket. This is not a lack of contentment; it's good planning and self-awareness. I know my needs; I know the world; I know how to play it — a rhetorician's coup.

Usually, I am able to avoid any such experiences as I've engineered my life so that I am able to say Yes often and No ever so rarely. No one invites me to dinner parties that I feel obliged to attend. No one invites me anywhere, in fact, that I feel obliged to attend — except, occasionally, an event for my son's school. I've developed a world built around my particular inclinations, around and with my way of going.

But this can of course lead to an ever tightening knot in which I fold in on myself until I'm this tightly wound bundle of self: me, all me! I submit to my habits because I can and because they feel good or, rather, because they are good. I have, for the most part engineered a life of me. Which is fantastic. But this me becomes a habit which can, and will, inevitably not be satisfied. My me will not have its way. This is the condition of life: it is a flux that exceeds me, takes me up. Which is all a fancy and long winded way of saying: sometimes, I'm somewhere where I really would like a cocktail — or quiet, my pillow, fresh bread, my friends — but it's not attainable. Despite my best laid plans, I am not, nor will ever be, totally in control. 

It is insane to wish things other than as they are — that there was always a cocktail, always quiet, no traffic, no assholes, no rent due, that she always loved me, that the train is on time. This doesn't mean one doesn't work to engineer that the same thing doesn't happen again. I am not suggesting that we can ever live in a pure now free of all social ills or that we'd even want to. Or that just because shit sucks, we have to only live in sucky shit. We are not just of time; we are time. Like the now, we are not immediate. We are folds of pasts, other presents, and futures. But to say, here and now: Damn, I wish that what is happening were something else is a kind of madness and certainly the basis of neurosis.

And is the very fuel of the American, or at least Western, liberal capitalist world. It is propelled by a constant desire for something else — new shoes, new house, new job, new phone, new boyfriend, new restaurant. Imagine, for a moment, if we were all content with our lives. Imagine, for a moment, that we wake up and say: This is good enough. Then we get out of bed and go on with our days, all along our mantra is, This is good enough. How would Amazon ever survive?? While I reach for my cocktail, most people reach for a new pair of shoes. Or a another date. This guy's pretty good but, well, is he all that? Our entire economy — financial, social, and sexual — is propelled by a pervasive lack. Something is missing. I need to fill that hole. (And it's not that capitalism made us this way; it's that we are capitalism. We are this will, this breed of life, this way of going, this will to power.)

We relentlessly yearn for, and in fact demand, something more. Something else. This is how we interpret that cryptic right to pursue happiness. Out of my way, loser, I see a better guy over there! I'm swiping left on your sorry ass! This — all this — is never enough.

Would you ever feel like you should settle for good enough? Don't you feel that you're entitled to more than that? You're entitled to the best, goddamnit! And the best sure as shit isn't this! Gimme another blouse! (Yes, I know no one says blouse; I do because it's funny.) Gimme another boyfriend! A better girlfriend! Sure, this one is good enough but how could I — why would I — ever settle for good enough???? We even have conversations about having it all! How to Get It All is a not uncommon headline.

Think about how insane that is! It's hilariously deranged. What will, what breed of life, would even ask such a question? How could such a line of inquiry even find itself expressed, not to mention seriously discussed? To me, the most deranged thing about this is that the question is asked by those who wouldn't know what to do with it all! They have plenty and are still lacking — and so they want more? In fact, they want it all???!! Really? How about first do something beautiful with what you have before asking for everything. Jeez louise. It's a will that, as Nietzsche would say, is ill constituted.

Wanna know how to have it all? Stop asking! Stop looking for something else! Stop swiping left or right! You already have it all, you deranged nincompoops!

And, please, know that I count myself among the deranged nincompoops. After all, there I am at Orr Hot Springs with an incredibly beautiful, lovely woman who loves me and whom I love; it's the perfect temperature and, if it's not, there are pools to warm and cool me; I have nothing whatsoever to worry about. And yet, without thinking, I want something else, something more. I want a cocktail.

But isn't this good enough?

What propels me to seek more, to seek something else, to reach for that cocktail? It seems to me that that dissatisfaction comes from a sense of lack, a fundamental belief that life is not enough — that I am not enough. Nietzsche calls this nihilism. It oozes from a being incapable of affirming this life, incapable of loving this life, incapable of loving itself. And we certainly live in a world premised on this lack of love for life. For Nietzsche, it began with the slave revolt of Judeo-Christianity who found perfection outside life, in God. I see it in liberal capitalist America where we are told, from day one, that something is wrong. Pregnancy, for fuck's sake, is seen as a medical condition. The very birth of the species is a disease! And then it continues — you shit wrong, you're too loud, you can't spell, you can't read, you can't do that, stop playing with your food, put your clothes on. You are wrong! All this, in fact, is wrong! So we keep grasping for the thing that will make it right.

And the only thing we believe capable of setting it all straight is something outside of life — the ego or god. Both, alas, create and propel relentless dissatisfaction as they create a split within life, a split between the world and me. I am here; the world is there; I can control the world. But this is a false dichotomy. After all, aren't I constitutive of the world, as much stuff as the sky, planets, widgets, and squirrels? I am not in traffic; I am traffic. To be groaning about traffic is to be groaning about myself.

So what if rather than looking elsewhere, we exhale and say: I am good enough. This is all good enough. Life is good enough. Such is amor fati. Such is love.

Should I find myself at the altar, the eyes of friends upon me, my sweetie before me, all I want to say, all I want to hear, is: You, my love, are good enough.  What expression of love could possibly be greater?

5.31.2017

Notes on Moments: An Accidental Teacher

Whether Castaneda made up Don Juan or not is irrelevant. The teaching remains the same.
(I actually like it better as made up.)

Sometimes, I have an idea that takes on life (what a great, odd expression: to take on life — like one does with clothing, sorta; like a mule does with stuff; like fisticuffs in the thoroughfare). I see something or think something and, as it makes its way through my body, it blossoms. And then I sit and write it, fleshing it out in every sense. These become essays that usually live here; other times, they've been known to become books. (Buy my darn book, already, you lazy louts! I promise it's chock full of goodies!)

But sometimes I have an idea or a comment or take (oh, "take" as a noun is fantastic!) that might not have enough, quantitatively speaking, to become an essay or book. Or maybe it does have enough but that's not what interests me: what interests me is a moment within the flow, an aspect, a whisper, a shiny brooch, a parenthetical, a throwaway. Or I don't even have an idea or comment. I just have a notion or observation. How do I publish that? Sure, tweets are great, an Oulipo project. But what I got is often more than 140 characters. (I tend to be purple. The limitation is probably good for me. 140 characters! Or an essay! And yet: why not something in between? And, again, it's not just a question of length, of quantity, but of quality and form. Need everything I write have a point?)

I always carry a little Rhodia notebook with me to scribble ideas as they come to me. Very few take on more life than that. And so there most of them remain, scrawls in a ratty notebook in a jacket pocket.
There are worse fates.
I love stand up comedy as a form. There is such license to build different flows and logics, different ways of moving through an "act." Like any performer, comedians use the refrain in various ways to stitch it all together. But they always leave room for the non-sequitur. Often, it's lead by a pause..."Anyway.......I almost died last summer" (pace Sarah Silverman who forces her audience to note the form more than any comedian I've ever seen).

Music definitely faces this. Maybe you have a lick but not a song; or a song and you can't find the bridge. Can you, would you, buy an album of licks? (Yes, I know, no one buys albums anymore. Humor me.)

And then there's writing. Sometimes, I just want to share a tidbit, an ornament, an insight, a comment.  It's probably longer than an aphorism but, in any case, less profound, less dense. I'm curious in the expression of notions. (At first, I wrote "the phenomenology of notions and words." But that's cumbersome. So I got rid of "words." But then it wasn't accurate. Then I had "the phenomenology of the expression of notions." But that made me want to punch me in the face.)

Orr Hot Springs. The back room on the left is the steam room. This pool is the cool pool, in every sense. The whole scene is quite decadent.

So here's something. I'm at Orr Hot Springs a few weeks ago with my, uh, special lady friend. It's a clothing optional resort in Mendocino County in Northern California (for the curious, about 3.5 hours north of San Francisco). There's a lot to say about that, which I will, but not at the moment. What I want to tell you now is this.

This clothing optional spa — I'll just say naked spa — has a small steam room right next to the cool pool. We were going back and forth between the intense heat of the steam room and the bracing cold of the pool which, for the record, is simply a great experience that opens the senses, making you ready and eager for life.

So at one point, we're in the steam room. It's a very small room — maybe 8 x 8 (I made that up; I have no idea. Just know it's a small, intimate space). At first, we were alone and just sitting next to each other, shvitzing (no, that's not code for fooling around; it's Yiddish for sweating. Stay with me here). Anyway, a guy walks in and proceeds to lie down on a lower bench at 90 degrees to us.  Remember, we are all naked. Which, in this story, is irrelevant and yet adds necessary color.

So he lies down but as the tile bench he's on is small, he has his legs up against the wall, stretching his hamstrings. And then, through the quiet and steam, he lets loose one of the more extended, rich, robust farts I've ever encountered.

What's startling is not that he farts — everyone farts — but that he farts so loudly and follows absolutely no social protocol whatsoever, spoken or otherwise. He says nothing. No excuse me. No acknowledgement. Nothing. And his energy, for lack of a better word, reveals no shift whatsoever — not a hint of embarrassment, shame, or self-consciousness of any sort. Zero. Zilch. He just continues to lie there, occasionally flexing his legs. My lady and I giggle because, well, we're 13 year old boys at heart.

And then he does it again! And still he offers no sign of social negotiation. He's just lying there in this steam room naked, with two naked strangers, laying down farts of geologic import. (Note that as the springs that feed this place are laden with sulphur, there is a fart miasma pervading the place. Which is to say, his production yields no new discernible odor.)

Eventually, as we're sweating to death, we leave the room to go into the pool. But both of us are absolutely blown away by this man (I wasn't wearing my glasses so I can't tell you his age; I'm guessing mid 40s). He is a master! A teacher of the highest order! Someone so comfortable in their skin, in the way they inhabit the world, they can inflect the social so freely without any acknowledgement whatsoever. He wasn't brazen or punk rock about it. He wasn't hippy-we're-all-just-meat about it. He was absolutely, completely, utterly neutral — not asocial nor social. He was simply being, simply becoming, as this thing in the world. Here was a teacher like none I'd ever met.

Still reeling from this experience, this great teaching — which, by the way, is as profound to me as the story of Abraham and Isaac — we leave the cold pool to go back to the steam room. Our Master Farter is gone. And my lady friend — what word do I use? girlfriend? friend? you tell me — proceeds to lie down on the tile bench much as our brilliant farter had. And then, as she moves to stretch a muscle, the same farting sound suddenly blasts from her body!

Holy shit! None of these sounds were farts. It was simply moisture, flesh, and tile expressing themselves.

And yet this revelation detracted nothing from the teaching! It didn't, and doesn't, matter at all that it didn't actually happen. This man, this would-be farter, taught us more than most books and courses ever taught us — or could possibly teach!

This accident of perception became a figure, what Deleuze and Guattari might call a conceptual persona. It became an epic tale, biblical, perhaps made all the more so for not having actually happened. It became elevated, a teaching from on high, an aspiration. The material reality was irrelevant, concertedly displaced by a much more profound, resonant reality — a truth, a possibility, that forever exceeds some 46 year old gaseous hippy.

This makes me think of Carlos Castaneda. People accuse him of making up Don Juan. Which is insane as an accusation. If it "actually" happened, that's great. If he made it up, all the better! It makes him a genius and a master teacher. In fact, he's a master teacher either way. Just like our steam room farter. Which is all to say, I remain inspired — indeed, haunted — by this man who only exists as a possibility, as a beautiful idea, as freedom vital and embodied.

5.30.2017

Drape and Drift: On Marc Lafia's "In What Language to Come"


I'll say this from the get go: when you see Marc Lafia's latest work — a site specific installation in his Park Slope brownstone — you want to be there. If you saw it through the window from the street, you'd find a way in. It is deliriously seductive — sumptuous, sensuous, beckoning. The word that comes to me is enchanting with its mystery and captivation, the way enchantment at once disarms, infuses, and engages. That is this work: it takes you up.


The colors might be the first thing to grab your attention — purples, whites, pinks, blues, greens. But then there are the textures as silk, neoprene, latex, rubber tubing, cloths, zippers and such make their way. With the fabrics enjoying a variety of opacity, your experience of the space is relentlessly changing, the works interacting with each other as well as with you, with the sun, with what lies behind them (paintings, house objects, framed photographs as these fabrics frolic in their freedom, draping over other art, acting as filter, as veil, as liberator — and as executioner). This creates a persistent visual hum, a shimmering of ever shifting intensities, a billow of affect. The space is alive.



Lafia has taken the object of art — the thing we behold, the thing we hang on the wall, the thing we fetishize as we interpret ad nauseam, the thing often of codes, references, and representations  — and draped it about. The object has lost its rigidity — and gained vibrant plasticity. If the framed object of art is bound, even as it bleeds (pace Derrida etc), this fabric enjoys a conspicuous state of becoming as it refuses to settle, all shimmer and hang.

Of course, the Abstract Expressionists (among others) tried to elude the signifier by creating art that was an action not a representation. But they still framed it, turned it into a fixed object, a new piece of information but information nonetheless. They took a living action and nailed it to the wall, lepidopterists pinning a butterfly's wings in place. The framed object that sits securely to be viewed linearly — see this one, then the next one, then the next one — performs signification even if the objects themselves refuse signifiers as content.



This work has no frame. Even the edges of the fabric are often frayed, as if they're always coming to, or out, of existence. This work is unbound. And yet it enjoys discretion. In fact, it proliferates borders, internally and externally. That is, each piece is a thing, for sure (even as it frays). It is an object. But this object drapes and reflects, folds, pleats, moves, filters, interacting with its environment in ever changing ways. It is what I call a bound infinity, drifting this way and that — sort of like a Calder mobile (or, rather, a mobile that's actually mobile! It's insane to me the way museums halt the mobility of those metal gossamer dances).

In much of his past work — there is a lot as he's been creating for almost 50 years — Lafia has reckoned and recorded the very act of seeing. He gives us the seeing of seeing, making film and photography and painting the very thing he films, photographs, and paints. We usually find him playing with instrumentation, the technical and conceptual apparati, of image making — the camera, "photography," the network, Tumblr, algorithms, Command-Shift-4, Chatroulette, watch cameras.

But here he is doing something different. If in the past he proffered a seeing of seeing, here he gives us just seeing. The work confronts the viewer not through concept or even affect but as the very stuff of seeing, a material haecceity. This! Lafia delcares. This! This! And that! And all this! Our act of seeing is taken up and for a ride — folded, pleated, reflected, draped, filtered, titillated, danced with, spun every which way, a veritable carnival of seeing.

As with a Calder mobile, our movement inflects the work while the work inflects us. We move around; it changes; which changes us; and so we move around; and on it goes, an endless, beautiful dance. It is not a hermeneutic circle of understanding; it is a sensual moving-with. We don't see the contingency of seeing, we experience it as seeing-bodies. This is what Merleau-Ponty calls the chiasmus or the intertwining: seer and seen have always already been swapping positions. Unlike an object that's nailed to the wall, this work is ontologically contingent — with viewers, with light, with wind, with the other pieces.

And all this takes place in and with what Merleau-Ponty calls the flesh — the stuff that fills the void, the materiality and palpability of the invisible, the stuff between stuff as well as the stuff itself. The world is a plenum, Merleau-Ponty suggests (and Leibniz maintains), filled with itself. "In What Language to Come" is a delicious encounter with the flesh. (I was going to say that this work is generous. But it's not. It's actually dictatorial; it immerses you, take you up, enchants you. But, while not generous, it is kind, luxurious, and giving.)

Unbound, this work inhabits space rather curiously. You first confront it in a domestic living room. The space has not been arranged to mimic a gallery. On the contrary, it luxuriates in itself as a private living space as we see the things of a living room behind and between the fabric. This is not a statement about the domesticity of fabric (even if it points to the everdayness of art). It is, rather, a flexing of this work's reach. A rhizome, it can and will live anywhere — on city streets; among trees, bushes, and plants; as discrete window pieces; even isolated and nailed to a wall (paintings, after all, are fabric, too; photographs, too, just plastic and paper. And so these works can sit joyfully on a wall, truly hanging just so).



In this intertwining of the sensuous — an experience joyfully free of information, of the signifier, free of the economy of meaning — Lafia gives us a different way of going in the world. He proffers a different way of speaking, of communicating. It is a language that has at once come and will never come, a language we're always already speaking and will never speak. It's the language of an experience — perhaps the language of all experience — that's always happening and hence never finally here. This work speaks in what language to come, sans question mark, an enchanted tongue of drape and drift.


5.20.2017

Yes, No, and Neither: On Preferences, Whitman, Nietzsche, and Getting on with It


I like my cocktails a certain way. While I am no longer averse to a hint of sweet — it gives the cocktail some legs, some viscosity — I find sugar repulsive (as in it literally repulses me, rejects me, makes me recoil). And I don't like my cocktails too sour, either. I want the booze to prevail. Oh, and I usually like my cocktails over rather than up for two reasons. One, the ice adds some much needed hydration to my flailing, failing body. And two,  a cocktail served over comes in a rocks glass which I find less emasculating than a martini glass. These are my quite particular preferences which, too often, I am not shy about explaining to the barkeep with a certain emphatic umph (read: a NY Jewish inflection). 

But what happens when such particularity is not met? When my preferences cannot be, or aren't, served?

Well, I have some options. I can get irritated which itself can take a variety of forms — from rudeness and/or anger towards my server or, as is the go-to for the kids these days, I can write a scathing Yelp review. That'll learn 'em!

I can leave the premises and go in search of a cocktail bar that'll cater to my very precise preferences. This, of course, defers my pleasure and, if with company, becomes a burden for all.

I can say nothing and have the barkeep concoct an inevitably too sweet, too sour cocktail served up and sit there and drink it.

Or sit there and not drink it. (It's a funny thing to me that people feel that, because they paid for something, they are obligated to consume said thing. I have the opposite belief: because I paid for it, I can do what I like with it. I can not finish my meal, not drink my drink, not watch the movie I paid to see. That, alas, is true luxury: the freedom to walk away.)

I can order something else, something that runs little to no risk of offending my delicate palate — a whiskey neat, for instance.

Each of these options is viable. What matters, it seems to me, is not which path I take but how I stand towards my decision. If my preferences keep me from enjoying my evening, enjoying my life, then something is wrong with those preferences. Nietzsche would call this sickness: the things I want make me sick (indirectly, of course).

Now extend this past a cocktail. See your preferences extend into the social. She's smart and cool but I prefer someone taller. He's smart and funny and makes me happy — but I prefer someone who has a real job. Or into the everyday: I don't like being in this traffic! I prefer the road to be clear! Goddamn fuck it all! (This is me, often, in today's suckhole of the city we call San Francisco.)

What, alas, is more insane than demanding life to be different than it is? What is more sick than cursing traffic while being in traffic? First of all, I am not in traffic; I am traffic. I am in and of every situation in which I participate. So hating that situation, expending energy hating that situation, is a kind of self-hatred. And, worse, it's an enormous drain of energy: it depletes without any return on investment.

What I always loved about riding a bike is coasting: I pedal once, twice, three times and then coast for a while. It feels like the most healthy energy exchange possible; I exert a little and get a lot! It's a great deal!  Getting pissed off about traffic while being traffic is a terrible deal, expenditure without return.


Walt Whitman is a, and perhaps the, great Yes sayer.  He says Yes! To everything. He is vor-a-cious! Leaves of Grass is a catalog of things he loves, which is everything he encounters. That is surely one way to go. I love this cloying, sour cocktail in its ridiculous martini glass! I love this traffic! I love this sinus infection! Whitman is beautiful, one of the great souls of this, or any, planet. He is a man without preferences and hence a man without disappointment.


Nietzsche, the great philosopher of affirmation, has a lot of preferences. Never drink coffee, he tells us, as coffee spreads darkness. He likes the air just so; his company just so; his meal just so. And, in the same breath, he says that the key to living well is the affirmation of everything. How can he reconcile this?

Well, for Nietzsche, saying no is not necessarily saying No. There is a no-saying that affirms this body, this health, this life. We have to know our own way of going. If coffee makes you sick, don't drink coffee. But, he tells us, we want to be in a situation in which we can say Yes as much as possible as no-saying expends energy, sapping life.

It seems to me that preferences are not only inevitable but good. It is what differentiates me from you. But when these preferences prevail in the moment and become demands, there is only madness. Sure, you might shape your life to fit your preferences — only go to certain bars, date certain women, talk to certain people. Or do what I often do and just stay the fuck home, alone. But this is a strange strategy as it's doomed from the get go. At some point, you will be in a situation you can't control, that doesn't conform to your preferences. It's not a matter of adapt or die as much as it's a matter of accept and get on with it.

I've always taken pride in my preferences, fancying myself a discerning man. But this discernment becomes an escape from the flux and flow of life, a moral code that dictates from on high, trying to make the inevitable unruliness of life obey. My preferences become my own private fascist, trying to force life's meandering cadence into a military march that conforms to me and me alone. This is when preference is no longer a matter of health and self-sustainability but a matter of sickness, denial, and living death.

A few weeks ago, I was in Golden Gate Park (in San Francisco) with a friend. It was a rare sunny, warm, Spring day and the field was filled with all sorts of 20-something sporty types throwing objects and drinking beer. We sat on the perimeter, as is my preference (I've always sat in the back of the bus, the classroom, the movie theater as crowds displease me). At some point, my friend wanted to refill our water bottles from the water fountain located over yonder and — ahhhh! — through the crowd. Without thinking, I started walking with her when, all of a sudden, I noticed myself in the middle of this swarm of bodies drinking, tossing, shouting, cavorting. I stopped short and immediately scanned for my escape: there, a path that winds outside of the throngs! My friend looked at me and, without skipping a beat, declared: Don't look for the exit. Just go with it. And, with that, I relaxed and together we strode through the sea of bodies, balls whizzing by our heads, sweaty frat bros hollering this and that. And all — all — was good.