2016.12.01

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Brief summary: meaningless days, sleepless nights.

If I fall asleep, my old friends, the nightmares, arrive again with a new twist: he loses big chunks of fur, but it’s not too late to save him; he runs into the street, but I run after him in panic, and catch him, and he’s alive; I wake up from dreaming, he’s dead. At breakfast, I dread the day that has only begun; I want it to go away again. At one in the afternoon, I wonder to myself what on earth to do with the rest of the day: take a third or fourth walk, when the first walk was already pointless; cook more food or bake more bread, when I have more than I can eat but no appetite, no hunger for food or life; try to read a book and fail after half a page… because although the destiny chosen for me was to become an “intellectual” with my nose stuck in a book — a semi-failed intellectual would suffice, but a complete failure wouldn’t –, there’s still the small problem of having an attention span no longer than that of a fruit-fly, and that’s in ordinary circumstances. With mr Dog in my life there seemed to be at least some point to struggling, to forcing myself to concentrate a little bit on the arid tasks of the brain, not because he cared much about the tragically insignificant intellectual capabilities of the human mind, but my life consisted of reading some book or other and being with him — and there was at least a minimal balance and harmony to that arrangement, as incredible as it may sound to everybody else. Now, with the latter opportunity gone, the former is more pointless than ever, it is no longer a decent way to spend time between things that mattered. I have all these Steiner books that I managed to lay my hands on short before he died; in the four weeks that have now passed, I’ve managed to read a page and a half. I can’t for my life find a way back to caring about anything, except his impossible return.

(Image: there are still a few withering roses in the gardens where we often walked.)

2016.11.29

För att inte falla ur formen helt och för att ge uppmärksamhet åt något annat än min egen hundlösa misär: i Dagens Nyheter förra måndagen kunde man läsa en liten hyllning till tidskriften Balder. Jag har några reflektioner kring den.

Den första är mer än undran. Man får intrycket (av Maria Schottenius text) att Balder är menad som ett vardagsrum, där parnassen kan hänga i trygg förvissning om att inget annat vassare förekommer än mysigt ryggkliande, snarare än som ett organ för att sprida Steiners antroposofi och hans vision för samhällets omdaning, den sociala tregreningen. Nåja, den visionen är numer svår att skönja, så man kan förstå om den missförstås eller inte förstås alls. Men den finns ju där i botten. Balders undangömda syfte är trots allt att “främja förståelsen av människan som andlig, själslig och kroppslig varelse såsom det kommer till uttryck i Rudolf Steiners antroposofi, och den därur framsprungna samhällsbilden – tregreningen.” Jag är inte så naiv att jag inte förstår att en tidskrift trogen det syftet vore svårare att sälja till en större publik. Så tillvida Balder nu alls säljer till en större publik.

Det leder till min andra reflektion. Min smak är förstås alldeles för udda för att användas som måttstock. Jag tycker att de gamla numren av Balder, som man med lite god tur någon enstaka gång stöter på i second hand-butiker, är betydligt intressantare. Antroposofer är (eller var) nämligen ganska ofta intressantare än svenska kulturpersoners trygga navelskåderi och vänskapliga ryggdunkande i ett rum “av vänner, för vänner”. I de senaste årens Balder — de nummer jag har läst på biblioteket, eftersom det inte faller mig in att köpa den — ställer ingen några intressanta frågor, det är aldrig något som skaver, aldrig några världsbilder som krockar… allting är lamt och förutsägbart, lite i samma trygga anda som alla kultursidor; man vet vad man får. I grund och botten tycker alla respektfullt lika; individualiteten är på sin höjd små krusningar på toppen av en ocean av delade värderingar. I tillägg till det finns en förutsägbar estetik, som förvisso ofta är angenäm för ögat, och meningslösa, förment djupa, poetiska försök. För att fatta det kort: det är långtråkigt och jag får intrycket att tidskriften existerar för att tjäna de ständigt återkommande skribenternas självbekäftelse. Så var det förvisso också på den antroposofiska tiden. Men den hade i alla fall vissa nervkittlande element, och det fanns något slags elektricitet i den, till skillnad från den avslagna brygd som presenteras i Balder i dag.

Det där med värderingar, gemensamma och icke-ifrågasatta värderingar, är ändå intressant. Schottenius nämner det i sin text, då hon skriver att tidskriften utgår från “vissa grundläggande värderingar om människa och natur.” Om man nu går till det som är Balders fundament — den syn på människan som Steiner uttrycker och hans idé om en ny samhällsorganisation grundad i denna människosyn — så undrar i alla fall jag hur väl den sammanfaller med den av svenska kulturpersoner försanthållna världsbilden — men, vad vet jag. De är kanske förvånansvärt förenliga.

2016.11.28

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(Yesterday. I tried to make friends with them. Apparently I speak the wrong language.)

People tell me what to do. Get a job in administration. Don’t try to get a job; you won’t get one anyway. Get a new dog immediately. Don’t get a new dog immediately; it is important to wait before making a decision.

The worst advice of all, which luckily I haven’t heard in a while: ask yourself what you want. Really, asking me? That’s the worst person in the world to ask. I have no opinion. If I had one, I know it would be useless. I haven’t got a meaningful identity. I’ve got an inner ogre that’s better kept hidden under a masquerade costume. It can’t be released in the world.

Getting and following advice by people who are undoubtedly wiser than I am is problematic, though – or rather becomes so because it is contradictory. I can’t both get a dog immediately and wait a long time. To say nothing of the practicalities involved; maybe I can’t get a dog at all. I can’t both get a job and not get a job. I can’t both travel and stay at home. I can’t both grieve and not grieve. And so on.

I’m always left with (at least) two contrary opinions (and often several more) about what to do with my life. I know they’re both better than anything I could come up with – I with my inner void, I with my ogre. I with my black dog following me; kept in place by mr Dog, now speeding up, its fangs touching my neck, drooling down my shirt.

But who’s going to decide, then? Before I decided to have mr Dog, I followed orders – I went to unversity, when people let me know it was my unavoidable destiny (it was a complete fuck-up, despite my degree); I tried to imitate other people, because I never figured out any other way to be a part of humanity (it didn’t succeed); I never stood up for myself because I figured humiliation was the narrow path to belonging (it wasn’t).

Then I had mr Dog. I don’t think anybody thought it was a good idea. One person said to me: you will never manage, you’re too dumb. Other people said: you won’t really want to take care of a dog, when it comes down to it. (It’s true, to an extent. I like the friendship part, not the taking care of part. But I do what I have to.) Others again thought it a strange choice in general – and why a terrier, rather than a nice shih-tzu?

Somehow I knew I needed a dog, and I got a dog, and it turned out to be the best dog and the best friend in the entire universe. And here I am, alone again, as always before, twelve years later. Scolding myself, because self-hatred is the only competitive sport I practice; I am a master, because I can meta-hate: I scold myself, and then I scold myself for scolding myself, because scolding myself proves I’m a self-obsessed person, which I have no right to be.

Could I have done something differently? Surely. I knew he was more tired than he should have been. But I didn’t listen to my own intuition; I listened to my knowledge of facts and the knowledge of others: he’s an old dog, you can’t expect as much of him now as you did before, he’s been ill, and so on. Strangely, he had energy, but less stamina, which was confusing. Strangely, too, he was his old maniac self in the forest. But I sensed it: something wasn’t quite right. Not that there’s any way to know if taking my intuition seriously would have changed the course of things (probably not; he was an old dog). And what if I had trusted my instinct that the veterinary food was good for the tummy but bad for the whole dog? What if… all those what ifs.

If someone is your best friend, it confers a duty upon you. Oddly – and here’s my intuition at play again – over the last six months with him or so, I felt from within myself an urge to be kinder to him: never be too busy to give him a cuddle, always respond to him, always put him first (which I did to a greater extent than before). In retrospect, it looks like a foreboding; something from the unconscious trying to grab my attention. You should have understood, the universe calls at me now; you should have understood why you felt that way. In the voice of a shy mouse I whisper back: he was an old dog.

What does it matter? He was my friend. I come back all the time to the experience of holding his lifeless body; I come back to the moment when life abandoned him and there was nothing more I could do, except fantasize about time travel. Up until that moment, and though his level of consciousness was declining, kindness mattered; after that moment, nothing mattered.

I got him because I knew I needed a dog; I knew not through reason but through intuition (the ordinary kind, not the anthroposophical, obviously). I think it’s the only time ever that I went with what I sensed was right – against everything, against every sound reason not to do it. In fact, there were millions of reasons not to: I’d be less free to do all the things people in their twenties normally do. Which is all the things I never had any talent for, all those things I failed, and all the things that are everything that counts in the lives of everybody here.

Having mr Dog was both a success and a failure. A success, because I was never again alone for as long as he lived; of course, a dog is a different kind of company than that of humans, but it is a living being sharing your life (and you his) and whom you can give a good-night kiss. A failure, because I continued my failure to adapt to the demands of humankind, and had less time to feel ashamed of it. Among people where I live there’s a strict path to follow: you must dress up and party long into the night on weekends, you must have ambition to become something and be hungry for a respectable career, you must travel abroad every year, you must have a big kitchen which you never use because you always eat out, and you must, eventually, submit to family life, which, in turn, must take certain shapes and meet certain conditions.

If you don’t do this, you can have nothing to do with other humans. This is local culture, and there’s a price to your reluctance to participate. I have nothing in common with people of my age group in the place and context I come from; it’s not a complaint but a matter of fact. I still feel the way I did as a child watching the other children play. If I had beaten myself up more when I was in my early twenties – if I had despised myself more than I did – perhaps I would have been able to force myself to adapt to the lifestyle of my local peers, though I think it would have become apparent eventually that my party skills were a sham. Normal people always identify a failure: be it a failure in Kindergarten or a failure at the night club. They know. And then, what?

As a child, I always tried to imitate other people’s lives, and I failed completely; I wanted to become them, but became a nobody. To try to imitate people around me at this point so that I could gain a place among them – no, it’s too late now. I would fail worse than I did in Kindergarten. The standards where I live are so high; it would be like for an ant to try to jump to the top of an elephant’s head. And so is trying to do what other people tell me to or even to negotiate a compromise between the contradictory things they tell me. On the other hand, if I don’t follow what other people tell me, who should I follow? If I don’t imitate, who should I be?

2016.11.14

And then begin the bad dreams, including the moment of waking up which provides yet another nightmare: we were walking by the rim of a lake on a winter day, the air cold and crisp in the pale sunlight, the temperature dropping to -26 degrees Celsius, I know this because in the dream I told him (he didn’t seem interested in numbers), and suddenly he went into the water and began to swim, but then, overtaken by the cold, to sink, and struggling for his life he sank under the surface, in water that was very clear, like a clean pane of glass, he sank further, and I had to wade into it to fish him out, it wasn’t deep and strangely not frozen over, and I had no difficulty seeing him and to catch him and I lifted him up, and put him inside my layers of sweaters, put my parka coat on and closed it around us, and he was cold and shivering, but he was alive, he was going to make it, and be alive.

Confirming to myself that he was going to live, I woke up.

For the collectors of Steiner facts out there, I think somewhere he says that those we dream of are those we are karmically connected to — thus, have met before in another incarnation. I wish I could find where he says it, but it seems only blindingly apparent that I have too many silly books in my bookshelves.

When this occurred, in the dream, when mr Dog was sinking into the cold lake, an insufferably cheerful man turned up, arriving from the opposite shore — oddly lined with green willow trees — riding on a giant water buffalo, as though we had been out walking by a watering hole or a river in Africa rather than in a snowy and frozen landscape in the north, and this is obviously the part of the dream truly in need of some serious interpretation. The dog part of it is almost self-evident — but how did the water buffalo get there?

2016.11.13

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Absorbed by nature and doing his thing. In a magic forest in the province of Södermanland. Summer of 2015.

He loved the woods, and once he set his paws on a forest path, you could be sure of being ignored; for the rest of the hike he was mostly in his own world and (I presume) at one with nature. For an otherwise highly social dog, he then became remarkably uninterested in social interaction with the human race, least of all with me; but of course, I was more like an old piece of furniture that, for some unfortunate reason, had become his fate and he had to drag along with him. Luckily, despite being unbearably dim and hopeless, I was able to carry snacks, which worked to my advantage because sooner or later the needs of a civilized city dog began to compete with the instincts of a dog, a small hunter and a wolf, who was a being of nature, albeit one attached to a bipedal laggard by a flexi-leash.

We usually spent a minimum of three hours a day outdoors, unless the weather was absolutely atrocious (with age, he found bad weather less and less tolerable). Often more. Every now and then we spent the whole day in a forest somewhere. Those were almost always wonderful days — he did his thing, and I assume, by the look of things, that it pleased him. Tracking, scenting, experiencing a world that is as imperceptible to us humans as is, one must assume, the supersensible realm to the logical, rational mind (– or whatever, and if it existed). Travelling far away from the world of abstractions that people like me are destined for since childhood and into a world of direct experiences and of weak human senses pulling themselves out of sleep slowly, very slowly, to glimpse something of what is there: not that many elemental beings, I hesitate to admit, but quite a few supersensible rabbits.

This pleasure with him is gone. Habits tend to stick, so I still go out, I maintain our routines, except the short morning walk around two neighbouring blocks. But it does seem strange: what on earth is this human being — walking, for the sake of walking itself, without a dog? Such an unnatural act. It’s like doing something just slightly forbidden or immoral; there’s hint of shamefulness to it. The pavements should be spared; they’re there for usefulness and for useful people (and dogs), not for idle walking without a meaning, a purpose or a cause.

I have yet to go on a hike in the woods without him. I long for it, but my experience of the forest is connected to that of being a more or less passive follower of the dog experience that my human mind can’t understand — and without a dog, how do you go about it? Dogs are natural forest beings. They know through instinct what it’s all about, unlike us — confused and with a vague scent of something in our noses, at best, but without any sort of meaningful framework for interpreting it, if indeed we sense anything at all. He helped me to love the forest more, because my eyes saw something through his nose.

2016.11.11

On a rainy day only some weeks ago mr Dog and I walked to one of the few remaining record stores and bought a cheap collection of Leonard Cohen songs; the first CD I had bought in ten years. The songs are of such supreme and transcendant beauty that I can only digest one or two at a time (and didn’t want to continue to do it on YouTube). In the weeks before mr Dog’s death I was obsessed with this song. How odd life is. How odd this year is.

2016.11.10

At the risk of being annoyingly self-obsessed while everybody else worries about things like politics and the fate of the world, which at the present moment I can’t muster the least bit of interest in: yesterday evening I read a couple of pages in the book I was reading last Monday, a book about religious beliefs in Sweden, the book I read before everything happened, before everything changed. (The author thinks Rudi’s name was Rudolph, curiously making the same mistake as bad websites in English.) It’s banal, yet strange: the book continuing, as though everything is the same, on the page that I left it, when he was still here. Yes, I know it is self-obsessed; it is also naive: to imagine, irrationally, that the rest of the world must change because my world has changed so drastically. There is a part of me that knows, and one part that doesn’t. It’s so surreal: like all those times I glance towards the place where his dog bed was, expecting to find him there. The forces of habit are stronger than I thought; I feel very strongly when it’s time for his walks, in particular in the evening. I don’t have to go out, but doing it starts with an automatic motion. He keeps reminding me, without being here. The memories and habits imprinted on the ether body — is that the explanation? And the emotional bond in the astral realm? Am I missing something? I’m sure you know better; I have forgotten everything about all of that.

I don’t know which is worst: thinking about him all the time or forgetting about him briefly and then remembering again; the brief scare of the latter possibly outweighs the constant distress of the former. But there’s no choosing between the two.

Maybe I will be able to go back to reading my daily bit of  Steiner and so on; remembering, once again, the things I used to know. But what should I do with it all?

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Bunnies? Yes, please! Bipedal politics? No, thanks.

2016.11.09

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A week ago, I sat with mr Dog in his last hours. It is still unfathomable; I don’t know if I will ever understand that a dog like him can leave this world; perhaps I will get used to it, to some extent, but never understand it, never accept it. There are all the small things: I expect him to come when I put on my sweater and coat to go out; the toothbrushes in the supermarket reminding me of getting one for him (always with bunnies, not cats) and realizing: no, he’s no longer here, his perfect teeth no longer need to be brushed; remembering not to trip on his water-bowl, which is no longer there on the kitchen floor; all those small things that meant everything, that meant the world.

The weather since has been congenial. Ice cold and harsh winds, grey — the skies were full of mourning, it seemed. It was then replaced by snowfall. Culminating today, it has forced the city to sleep or semi-consciousness: everywhere is silence, everything buried underneath a three to four decimeter layer of snow; there’s virtually no bus traffic and no other traffic; not even the major streets are clean, and the snow keeps falling, more and more heavily. It will be a wonderful afternoon and evening, silent like in the country-side. The sounds that still are, are muffled. The world is white. I must go back out, though I just came in.

As a younger dog, he would have loved the snow, though he was never exactly a dog of the winter-proof variety. Yorkies don’t come with the right kind of fur for this Nordic climate; luckily, the terrier temperament somewhat makes up for that. So he would have loved it, for a while. He loved to follow scents in the snow; to dig his nose down deep, possibly sniffing the elementals or sensing the earth-soul… or something — well, perhaps just similarily esoteric traces of bunnies and rodents. He walked tirelessly — or jumped like a kangaroo — in snow that was as deep as he was high, even deeper. In recent years, snow was more problematic; as an old dog, he began to suffer from the cold more easily and to find it hard to bear, and couldn’t compensate to the same extent by jumping around energetically, ecstatically. I still believe that this snow is falling for him, for the eager terrier he was.

(Image from February 2010, when he was five and a half. I remember that day well: how he ran all day in the snow; he ran as fast as he could over the frozen sea in the archipelago; he hunted for mice under the snow, burying himself in snow; he only discovered he was cold and tired when we waited for the boat to go home.)

2016.11.07 ii

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Peaceful snow today. The icy winds of the past days felt more appropriate for my state of mind; being flogged and battered by the weather seemed right, almost like a relief: the violence from without competing with the violence from within.

We used to walk this path often. He liked it; the ground was soft earth, not unfriendly gravel.

For the first time since he left me I tried to shop for food, but what is the meaning of anything when he’s not alive? I tried to remember what interested me before this happened; I have no idea. If somebody asked me what ‘anthroposophy’ is, I wouldn’t know — what is it, but an empty word? I tried to find a book on any topic — just any book that I could read or look at without reading. It is not possible. I suppose there were things I couldn’t do when he was still here, but I have no idea what they were. Perhaps to bake better bread? But they taste bland regardless. I really, truly don’t want anything in this world — except the one thing I can’t have.

2016.11.07

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Last Monday, a week ago, on our walk, I asked him to sit on that stone bench, while I took a photo of him; I paid him with a piece of a cookie. To be sure of his co-operation, you always had to bring a cookie. Now that I look at the picture, I see how tired he was. He was a little unwilling to walk, but it was cold (and I knew how much he hated the cold) and I had recently discovered that one of his paws was a bit sore (it had happened before, and didn’t worry me, I started the familiar treatment), so I carried him a lot. There wasn’t anything particularly alarming about it. Neither was I particularly alarmed by his lack of appetite; it was “normal” for him. We came home, and he went to sleep, and I looked at him and felt strangely heart-broken (I even wrote that I did), because I was again made aware he was an old dog.

But that was alright, as long as he was with me; I could carry him. I had bought a new bag for him to sit in, whenever he wanted to. Increasingly over the past two winters he found the climate unpleasant, and his paws were very sensitive to walking on cold and wet surfaces. I was in the process of devising a prototype for a dog shoe I’d try to make for him. We were going to make it through the winter.

Or so I thought. He was “just” an old dog, he could have had two months or two years left of his life; on Monday last week, there was no way of knowing, not for me. I should have known, but didn’t.

And then, the rapid deterioration.

This evening, five days will have passed without him. To be home is intolerable. I walk, and I walk, and I walk; my legs and feet are sore. I walk, and when I walk towards home there are short moments when I think he’ll be there; he’ll be there, and we’ll go out together. As if by some kind of magic he could return. As if I could will him back. If I want it enough — he’ll be there. And he isn’t.

I don’t know what to do.

2016.11.05

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I’m writing this in the morning of the third day after the best dog in the universe, the world’s greatest canineosophist, my beloved mr Dog, whose real name was Åke (which few of you know how to pronounce), passed over to the higher worlds, went to his eternal sleep, or died — whichever way you prefer it — at an age of twelve years and three months on the day.

You wouldn’t believe that a dog who weighed a little less than three kilograms could leave a void larger than the entire universe, but he could. My whole life was an emptiness that he filled with his presence; his absence is unfathomable.

In the emptiness and silence, I still hear him, I smell him, I sense him — I need him — I hallucinate him back, then realize he’s not there. There’s nothing there, just me and an endless row of unbearably long days without him.

He was my reason to get up in the morning, my reason to go out, my reason to come home (always missing him when we were apart, even for just a few hours); everything everywhere reminds me of him: we were together every day and every night for twelve years and three weeks.

Of course there were tricky times; he was a very hyper-active dog during most of his life, he was a true terrier and had a mind of his own, and wasn’t easily impressed by my efforts to reign him in even a little a bit, but he was also extremely endearing: he liked everybody and almost everything, except cats. He required a lot of attention and had a lot of energy that needed to be drained. I thought his recent tiredness was only old age, but in hindsight it probably wasn’t — I should have known, it wasn’t like him at all, but for another dog it would have been entirely normal. He still had more energy than most lap-dogs do when they’re five. Be that as it may.

His deterioration was very quick. From the first clearly noticeable symptom — sudden and complete blindness (but he had cataract for years) — to a realization that something much worse was going on only 18 hours passed. I increasingly understood this during the last night when I slept with him on the floor to help him deal with his sudden loss of sight. Then, after talking to his veterinarian early Wednesday morning, I sat with him, him laying on me, all day long. Keeping him warm, keeping him safe, feeding him ice-cream with small pieces of sausage, which he ate with unexpected eagerness, he was very thirsty (his kidneys failed). She — his vet — was out of town that day, but came back in the evening; by then his consciousness level had dropped even more, and while we waited for her, him tightly wrapped in a blanked in my arms, I don’t think he knew much of what was happening. He was put to sleep, and it was entirely peaceful.

I think I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that keeping absolutely calm through that day required an almost inhuman strength; in fact, for a weak bipedal like myself, I can’t believe it was possible, and that I could keep the strain of it from over-powering me; I honestly don’t think mr Dog would have thought me capable. To sit, or half-lie, with him nuzzled under my chin, and knowing: so and so many hours from now, and he’ll be gone —

then he’ll be no more, his little head, the warmth of his fur, the almost intangible scent on the head between his ears, his little nose, his little tail, that still could wag just barely on that morning, it would all be gone —

and afterwards, after the fact, the body is limp, lifeless, so surprisingly lifeless, it’s the greatest shock, because you realize how unfathomable, how enormous that rift between alive and lifeless is: before, something was still there that kept an increasingly tired body alive, and seconds later — gone.

A being who had been so full of energy and life — and then, nothing.

And then, the grief that tears the world a part, that soars through the cosmos — you cannot believe that the earth does not shatter, the buildings around you don’t come falling down, that your own body doesn’t disintegrate and become dust.

I guess most of you are people persons, and perhaps you like animals, but still, you are people persons. I’m not. I’m not really even a dog person; I like dogs very much, but it took me a long time to bond with mr Dog. Many, or perhaps most, people fall almost instantly in love — be it with other people or with animals. Not so for me. I guess that makes me vulnerable to loneliness. (Though I must add that during this awful time, there have been friends who made me think more highly of humanity than I used to. I will be eternally in debt to them.)

But mr Dog was not only a separate being — or a separate person, because he really was a person, a big personality, a gigantic soul — we were a part of each other.

So here I am, with a part of me — the most important part — ripped away, and there’s an open wound that can’t be stitched together, and the waves of sorrow makes me want to scream and curse — and an empty and colourless world stares back at me, blankly, flatly.

There are also the small things: everything reminds me of him, we had a long time together, all the things we did together; everything at home reminds me of him; all the streets remind me of him, we walked them all, we walked endlessly during those years; all the parks and forests and the buses and the entire world remind me of him; it’s really as if it all existed just for him, and now it has lost its purpose.

I still hear him and see him and sense him — I mean this quite literally. His sighs as a changes position when he sleeps, his paws touching the floor — the vague smell of the fur between his ears —

I try to have breakfast and the gruyère cheese that is still in my fridge reminds me of him; he had a low appetite during his last five days (this happened from time to time, and didn’t actually alarm me), and I grated that cheese on his food and used small pieces of it to entice him. The last of his favourite crackers; the vanilla ice-cream I got for him; the remaining pieces of sausages in the freezer —

His things, everywhere.

His coats and sweaters, the dog beds and blankets, the toys, his plates and bowls, the leashes on which he kept me so that I wouldn’t get lost —

and now I’m so utterly lost. How could he let go and leave me lost like this?

Then there’s this realization: what I did, during all those years with him, whenever I felt distress was to take a long walk with him. He was always up for a long walk. He loved his walks. We walked a lot; I think we could have gone into the Guinness book of records, the walk section. And now, in the greatest and deepest distress ever, there’s no mr Dog who presents himself, with enthusiasm, for a walk.

There is instead this bottomless grief — so dark and so violent —

I needed him for my survival and he came into my life. When I was with him, the feeling of unreality, no matter how pervasive it could be sometimes, always lifted. What was unendurable became endurable, because I had him. His presence made everything lighter and easier, gave the world another colour. I love him so much —

and he is not here.

(Image: mr Dog a couple of months ago.)

2016.10.10

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It’s a hideous situation when your only minor gift in life (if that’s what it was) is with words, and you find yourself increasingly bereft of words. I grope around in the dark, the words seem to be disappearing right before my eyes, and those that I still have I can’t put to use. And because words were everything, I’m left with nothing, a void, no way to express any meaning — nothing, just emptiness. I’m grasping at words with teeth and claws — and nothing. Perhaps I’m just beyond weary of words, I’ve felt this thing, this numbness, coming on for a long time now, years even — or perhaps they’re really deserting me.

Every now and then, I struggle to write a post or two just because abandoning the idea of expressing myself (with words, which is my only way) would mean a total defeat. But there comes a time — there has come a time, now — when it seems pointless — why torture myself for a few words on a blog or (more often, because I constantly fail) in some document never seen by a human eye?

What do you do when words are gone? When you’ve stood on your bare knees begging for words to mean something — just something — and they just stare back at you, empty?

There’s no place among the humans either, because there’s nothing else to human interaction than to produce an endless flood of words — to get people to understand your words (and fail), get them to agree, to disagree, anything goes, as long as the constant stream of words is kept flowing. All those words just to prove yourself worthy.

Of course, that is a minor issue. But what about when all you could do was to write, when that was all that proved you existed at all? And then you can’t do that anymore, because the words stare at you malevolently, they won’t oblige anymore — they turn their backs on you. They make themselves entirely numb to you.

I have no attachment to writing, except it’s all I have that anchors me, in the most brittle way admittedly, to the human world, in which, mostly against my will, I am forced to live. (Mr Dog doesn’t care much about my words, which is a blessing if there ever was one.)

At this particular moment, I’d rather do something with my hands, or anything that doesn’t require words, but that’s always been a — I don’t know how to put it — non-option. There’s a path that’s been staked out — or it’s a dogma that I’ve had to adhere to: every supposedly “intelligent” person needs to dedicate him- or herself to words, or numbers. It’s the only thing that matters. The words written on tests, and so on. Competing with other people’s words, proving yourself again — to be worthy — with words. Being the most “right” — with words, again. So the hands go off and live their own life, detached; idle hands nervously scratching winter dry skin ’til it bleeds.

And then the words fail, they’re gone, and you stand there with nothing, no crutch, because the words were everything. I think my relationship with words have been going downhill for a long time; dealing with them has become an obligation — an obligation that exists only to prevent you from looking into some abyss or other. And only because there is nothing else, which basically amounts to the same thing as the abyss.

And because of that, I’ve continued to struggle, as if I could wring or tear something from those elusive words — if I only hit my head against them hard enough, long enough, insistently enough, it — whatever it is — would work its fragile magic again. To what avail? Nothing happens, just frustration and the occasional pointless text.

If I lived in a society in which the ability to walk a thousand miles was an asset, then I’d be alright. But in a society where everything that counts is sitting all day at a desk producing words — and then in your spare-time producing even more words in the company of other people who produce words, words, words — in order to afford a car that will carry you those thousand miles — sitting down, producing more words in the meantime — in such a society someone like me is lost. Because it all depends on the predictable production of words. Or numbers (but that was never my thing). It’s a culture less about having a brilliant head than having a reliable head — a reliable output of words.

But though I’m not too bad with words, when the muse allows it, it’s never been predictable and I’ve never been able to use words for anything that ultimately proved useful, rather the opposite: it’s all been for no good at all. So it is of course right that the ability itself should desert me; what other reasonable punishment is there for wasted resources? For what reason should it stay?

(I don’t know what Steiner said about things like these. If someone could refer me to something, it would be splendid — or else, simply forgive me once more for not being “on topic”…)

This was a long-winded way of saying I’m going to go through my older documents and perhaps I’ll publish some pieces I wrote earlier — but apart from that, I will, for the time being, relieve myself from all of my imagined writing “duties”, I will stop battling words like a knight battling a too powerful dragon. I’ve tried to become decent at writing again by forcing myself to write, and it clearly doesn’t work; instead I’m having a premonition that words will abandon me completely if I continue to force it. I’d like to arrive at a place where I once more feel a spark for these things, writing and so on, and words come to me without me chasing them, and threatening them with violence, screaming at them, tormenting them, and where language can be a source of communication rather than a dark monster hovering over me, demanding that I achieve something that I can’t see what it is.

I have no idea what I’ll do instead — possibly walk until my feet ache. That’s all I know how to do.

(Image: a forest back in the Autumn of 2014.)

2016.10.03

One quite signficant thing I had blissfully forgotten when I wrote the Michaelmas post last week — forgotten, despite having come across the phenomenon many times: here in Sweden, Michaelmas is no longer called Michaelmas. It’s not even enough to ameliorate the impression of the pious word (on the mind of the ordinary materialist?) by adding, mendaciously, that it’s really just an Autumn or harvest festival and certainly not a religious festival. No, it is no longer spoken of as Michaelmas at all.

The novel concept to be used is “dragon play” or “dragon playing”.* The entire festival appears to be called “dragon play” these days. As if it were suddenly a game with no meaning or purpose at all. Bereft of all ties to a worldview.

If this cowardly change of terms also colours the experience, then the experience is rendered effectively meaningless, possibly even pointless. Which, if so, is perhaps all for the best — it all depends on perspective, I suppose. But if it doesn’t, it appears to me a superficial adaptation aimed to suit those who feel better about hypocrisy than about the explicit presence of something with a slight whiff of religion to it, a whiff which is conveniently left unexplained.

* “Draklek”, which means, if you know Swedish, “play” as in children’s play in this case, not as in a drama production.

2016.09.29 — Michaelmas (and more)

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It was in the air we breathed, in the water in which we swam – the spiritual atmosphere was far more salient than what we were taught. Knowing that the merely intellectual was not what was going to take us anywhere, in the long run, that’s hardly surprising. Reverence and enchantment took precedence over the fact-based world, dry and cold and theoretical as it would have been.

When I say ”we” I mean that’s what happened, not that I think this is something other people thought consciously about. I accept that I’m probably alone in being affected at all by it, in this particular way, that leads me to write this. Even for me, the experiences have receded into the mists of fading memory; there are patches left of incomplete images and the remnants of an atmosphere, there are the lingering gnomes and fairies of the mind.

So, dry and cold, no – that it wasn’t, but there could be a certain coldness – another kind – in the constant striving to enchant, to live in a world of enchantment. It can just as well cut you off from a connection with the world as intensifying it.

Waldorf people speak (and write) about awe and reverence all the time, of the importance of enchantment – as if these things were good and necessary in and of themselves. Sometimes I don’t think they know what they mean anymore. There are obvious traps here: people envision a goal, which is mostly an esthetic one, and set about creating it, but without substance; people produce empty kitsch rather than engaging in meaning; people ”do” tradition, but fail to realize that these things can’t be done half-heartedly – it’s not really the usual theatre of human life (or can’t be, there is to be a point to it at all).

***

It’s a matter of contention (or whatever else shall we call it?) between other critics and myself whether the promotion of fantasy (that is, those things that are not facts or real) in waldorf education causes harm. The fact that I don’t always agree that it is so may actually speak against myself; perhaps it iss the surest sign indeed that it has, that I myself am too entangled in this phenomenon, this mystical web, to see it for what it is. And, in fact, I didn’t accomplish anything much in life but pointless daydreaming: who knows, without this spiritual brain damage, would I not be an accountant or a dentist, toiling away, content in fulfilling the dreary tasks of the material world? I understand the point people make: education ought to prepare you for this world, and to prepare you for life within its physical contours. It ought not make you metaphysically confused.

So that’s the objection: the world of fantasy and imagination (the unreal things replacing the world of facts) causes confusion and anguish – in the end, it also prevents a correct attachment to the world as it is. Art does not seem to be an object of the same kind of distrust, though in essence the areas overlap; mysticism and art overlap in that neither deals solely with crude physical reality.

***

To its strenghts or weaknesses – be that as it may – waldorf education takes the non-material world seriously indeed. I don’t know what it’s like these days, when fewer teachers have a personal commitment to spirituality, to anthroposophy more specifically, which matters a lot (we’re not dealing with random fluff), but if they are (and at least some are) – you have to understand the difference: this view of an immaterial world is pervasive, it permeates everything, mystery is not restricted to the half-hour during which a fairy-tale is read, soul-lessly, from a book, it is in the atmosphere at all hours of the day, it is in the blood that runs through the veins of the pedagogy, and if any content is taught at all, it is in it as it is in the walls, in the songs, in the verses, in the meals, it is pervasive and it is supposed to suffuse you – that’s what it is.

Then, of course, you know what children are like: they laugh, outwardly or inwardly (depending on what is permitted), at adults who believe in silly things, so there’s not necessarily a wholesale absorption of the enchantment that adults serve up. At least it wasn’t for me. Perhaps that is easy for me to say, I don’t think I ever had any particular difficulty understanding the various ways in which fairies could be existent or non-existent – at least I don’t remember it. Although you may, at the same time, call me confused – to this day.

***

To include a point of actual criticism, so as not to disappoint my dear friends: the issue here, in my eyes, doesn’t so much seem to be the beings who lack physical presence in this world, but the absence of an academically sound education – of cold facts, among other things – to complement the world of those beings, and eventually, if needed, override it. It lacked somewhat, to put it mildly, in that latter department. And if you object that the following has little to do with education, I agree. Therein lies the obvious problem, not for this text (for it isn’t my problem) but for waldorf education as education.

***

There weren’t only the fairies, of course – there were the gnomes scurrying to their burrows and mines, the ancient myths and the adventures of the gods, the legends and the saints, the heroes and villains, angels and demons, the darkness and the light, good and evil, the hidden forces of nature, the devotional items, the rooms in dark and candlelight, the scent of beeswax, the rituals and rhythms, the soft and dreamy sounds of the lyres and flutes, the sing-song voices, and there were the living and the dead, matter and spirit. But there weren’t facts or even books; no lessons on how to distinguish the Real from the Unreal.

There were two random anecdotes I once told my waldorf critical friends: one of teacher who used to talk about the dancing fairies he had seen on his way to work; another who communicated with the dead. Harmful things perhaps, but I don’t feel harmed by them; and in any case none of it more harmful than other beliefs people have. The dogmatic religious threat of eternal damnation and hell, meeted out for silly earthly sins, seems no less harmful; the world’s major religions are filled with unreasonable dogma and cruelty. You can object, of course, that the confusion created in the child’s mind, when the beliefs of the teachers don’t match the beliefs of the child’s home, but so what: there’s a multitude of strange beliefs in the world. You can say, of course: there’s no place for such things in school, it’s not knowledge, and confusing knowledge with such beliefs endangers the ability to know truth from untruth. Yes, well, so it may be. Or not: it is, under all circumstances, an ability subject to development, and it is an ability that doesn’t evolve if it isn’t triggerd or exercised. If nobody pokes at your capacity for discernment with a tiny sharp object (or a tiny gnome), it isn’t brought into awareness – it doesn’t evolve. Rational facts, good as they are, are swallowed without any such process taking place; they are absorbed, sometimes only with effort, but usually without being spurred by intellectual irritation.

Now, to those fairies. I think most teachers spoke about fairies, but for some reason I remember this teacher in particular, the one I once referred to in a discussion with my waldorf critical friends: he was a mild-mannered and soft-spoken man, not necessarily weak (though we may have gotten that impression), but light as if floating on a cloud somewhere above ground. Elemental beings may well have meant more to him than children; he was a bit aloof; he didn’t know who the kids were individually. This isn’t a subjective feeling – it was quite objectively so: he had no idea who I was, for example, and you can see that from the text in my end of year report. He was not alone; many teachers may have known how to identify a huge number of elementals, but children were more like bees in a beehive. (Then again: would they be individually different to me? Only the interesting children, hardly the masses.)

On the way to school, he saw the fairies dancing – we all saw them, but my sober friends in the world I now live in, call them ”mist” not fairies and I do, too, naturally. But what is the difference to a child if the adult arrives in class talking about the fairies or if he arrives expounding on a scientific explanation (which, considering everything, I’m not sure was this man’s domain anyway)? What would you actually remember, three decades or so later? What lesson is there in seeing mist swirling over the meadows on an Autumn morning? Is it a scientific one, a poetic one, one about elusive elemental beings, or one about paying attention to nature and everything happening around us? I have no doubt that they all – almost all – believed in elves and gnomes. Not as physical beings, but spiritual ones.

Are there still, in the schools today, people of this ancient breed of anthroposophists? Or do the new teachers learn by heart how things are supposed to be done? Feigning a conviction (even to themselves) or a celebration of ”something out there” but essentially – as with most spiritual people, no matter how bonkers beliefs they subscribe to, no matter the lack of critical thinking – their view of the world is materialistic, essentially materialistic. The idea of the fairy or the gnome or the angel is but a condiment; it means little. As with fairy-tales, most adults can purposefully engage in ”make-believe”, if it is thought conducive to the child’s creativity and imagination. But it is as with Santa, a meaningless mental construction – at best, a pedagogical crutch, conceived for the purpose of utility, but with no consideration taken to sincerity.

The teacher who communicated with the dead (they almost all did, I presume, but didn’t talk about it explicitly) was another one of those teachers; a stern Steiner lady to the bone. Fascinatingly, the female Steinerists were often harsh and strict, seemingly cold, almost regimental, with a heavy air and a greyness around them; the male Steinerists, soft and just slighly feminine, yellowish and light like the sun of early spring. One ought to investigate this phenomenon – how is it so? It’s quite attractive in its own strange way. I don’t remember much else about her; she was very serious indeed.

***

This time of year, with michaelmas approaching (it is today, in fact…), followed by martinmas and advent and christmas, it’s worth pointing out that none of these things are games or children’s play – these are dead serious things. The michaelic battle with the dragon is no game – it is real. There’s a darkness to this which people wouldn’t like – because they mistakenly think darkness is bad and something childen don’t ”get” – so it’s recast nowadays as harvest festival with fun games and so on. That kills it, but not the dragon, obviously – who would, if he existed, thrive on being neglected or denied. Rather it is – if anything – an kind of initiation rite; like the advent spiral much darker than it seems when presented as a children’s game. From the same kind of percieving springs the notion that fairytales and myths aren’t fiction but primeval truth. The battle with the dragon is not a symbol merely – it’s a reality, even if not physical, material reality. Fairytales are truth, not make-believe, but another kind of truth. Fairies are real beings, not imaginary ones, they’re not physical beings – but they are true nontheless.

Herein lies the point. People distinguish sharply between two poles with an ocean between them: the physically real and material on the one side and the imagined and the products of make-believe on the other. This scheme is not apt to describe what fairies are in anthroposophy. Or gnomes, or Michael or the dragon. If something is not real, people think, it must be imagined. Either or. So what you get with waldorf is an education that focuses on imagination – oh, how creative this is, people muse. But it’s less about free imagination than about a different kind of truth – one that doesn’t fit the ordinary, simplified schemes.

Happy Michaelmas and successful dragon-fighting to you all!

(Picture: Dancing FairiesÄlvalek — painted by August Malmström in 1866. One of my favourite paintings.)

2016.09.26

If you think about endless destruction and the infinite suffering of humanity, perhaps your mind wanders to bloodstained wars, unrestrained violence, rape and murder and cruel dictators or to the possible future fate of mankind when antibiotics have ceased to work, the polar ice has melted and arid deserts cover more of the earth with subsequent starvation and floods of refugees that resemble nothing like we’ve seen so far. These things are not hard to imagine.

Little did you suspect, I presume, that one of the most severe threats against the fate of humanity — or the wellspring from which all of the above flows, one might say — is the editor of a critical edition (that is, not an edition of criticism, but one that traces changes to the text and the sources used) of Steiner’s works, whose supposedly unforgivable (and, it should be said, frequently misunderstood) deeds make the overcoming of materialism impossible, the consequence of which is a deluge of destruction and suffering that knows no end. Only anthroposophy can save this world — and, somehow, seemingly harmless ink on paper prevents this. Anthroposophy, an ostensibly obscure philosophy, whose name only a few of us know, is the center of the universe.

You’ll find it summarized here, with a link to a longer tome that offers a challenge to one’s patience. It is, however, fascinating and frightening in equal measure to behold such monumental and hysterical exaggeration — exaggeration almost as an art form, taken to the highest levels. Though part of the fringe of anthroposophy, it is meant seriously, and more than a few people take it seriously.