: Set Optimal Function


I like the holidays.

I am prepared to be unapologetic about that.

I like having trees inside the house and the look of gifts is pleasing to me.

Though it didn’t much occur to me prior to a few years ago, it seems possible that there may have been times when the goodwill and prayers that were mustered by holidays actually did something extremely important in the world.

I suppose it could be said that they still do.

Why wouldn’t they?

Everything does something and everything – en masse – is important, due to the presence or absence of action and the workings of intent.


I used to do this thing – where I would move things around in my house, sort out papers and clean the dust off the mantles.

I would wipe down the doors and wash the floors.

This thing that I’d do, I think it is referred to as housekeeping.

While I never let things get gross and kept the bare minimal done, I haven’t exactly been doing a lot of housekeeping the past couple of years.

It’s a long story, but I did some housekeeping tonight.

Here is how I do housekeeping:

I start with a plan to do some monumental household chore, such as painting the kitchen floor. In preparing to do such a large task, I end up emptying shelves and filling bags with things that need to be moved elsewhere or that I no longer feel a desire to keep, such as pieces of a broken bowl or a tupperware full of candle-stubs, segments of a Playmobil wheelchair, dried flowers turned to dust.

Tonight, I decided to keep the small tissue nest full of finches eggs and I put it in a small drawer, for later consideration.

I might just keep them forever, those finches’ eggshells.

I get distracted and so I just walk from room to room, picking up old things and putting them in new places, cleaning the shadows off of the places where they were.


Here are some of the thoughts I’ve thought today:

1) I don’t know what I’m doing with my whole situation.

2) I really just want to be an artist.

3) A regular job might be nice.

4) I’m tired of having to show up for people and have people *expect* me to be…?

5) I have worked really hard to do what I have done in the past 3 years. I have fought tooth and nail.

6) I am fucking a lot of things up.

7) I’m kind of okay with that.

8) I really do think that I was still hoping that someone would buy me a camera and finance some sort of whimsied and novel life that involves going places to take pictures of clouds and talk with people about how they see the forms in them, how they might see the world as it was once seen…when the sky was big and old and might mean something and can make everything we’ve created seem clumsy and full of absurd errors, fleeting and easily imagined as being something other it is.

That’s the job I’d be best for.

When did whimsy become so flimsy of a word?

It’s all bow and sparkle, mist and giggles.

Tonight, I made a spell out of things I found on my mantle.

This is what the spell contained:

1) 3 notes from my children, two written on heart-shapes and one featuring a spirographic design in blue ink

2) A picture of my second child on the lap of a Santa, with doubtful countenance

3) A landscape made by oldest child

4) A broken rabbit ornament posed alongside a broken archer toy, which appears to be shooting an invisible arrow

5) A shark’s tooth and a marble, the handle of a blue faucet, a flower made of yarn-loops, a miscellaneous stone, a token from an NYC monk, the Queen of Diamonds, an additional spirographic design on manila paper, a carving of a corn god from Belize and a pottery-self portrait of one of my kids, grinning and round-eyed

There is also a shell and a piece of wood and a souveneir candleholder from Jerusalem, an ornamental key and a piece of copper wire formed into a ring by my oldest child.

These are just things that I found on the mantle.

Now, they are an alchemical arrangement of subthematically synergistic objects imbued with relevance and a certain spatial and relational oomph.

They are, I have decided, a spell for peace.



I am finding that I’m tired.

Still, I’ve done well to stay up as I have, to do this housekeeping and this wrapping of presents.

I spent the present wrapping time on the phone with a friend, the person who gave me the souvenier candleholder from Jerusalem.

Actually, that’s not true. This friend did give me souveniers from Jerusalem, including a mock key to the City and all sorts of other ephemera, stones and Israeli cigarettes, a branch from an olive tree in Palestine.

However, the candleholder came from here, from the downtown market, an object selected by my son.

I should find that olive branch tomorrow.

Not that I’ve mentioned it, but I’ve been sick for the past month or so.

A cough, a fatigue, a certain heaviness of lung that makes the winter feel like winter.


Here’s some notes about some of what has happened since I’ve been sick:

I stopped speaking except when it is necessary to speak.

This wasn’t a choice so much as lack of a better option, the other option being to speak, which didn’t seem like such a good option when I realized that it didn’t matter

what I said,

that people would hear

what would they hear

what they would hear

no matter what I said?

there is an echo

of tables being

thrown into plate glass

to bonk and bounce

onto the floor

as useless wooden forms

rattling to a slow stop

as the diners keep on dining


the people walk by outside

a fork is laid down

a chin is cupped

“Oh, really…?”

An eyebrow is raised

and a man looks bored

Nobody notices a thing around here.

“Can you get on the call?”

“He’s trying to call you right now.”

“Can you re-start?”

“Maybe that would help?”

“Are you feeling better?”

“You’ll see my business sign. It’s a big piece of plywood.”

“Yes, Poverty Branch Road.”

“Look at this picture. I’ll tell you her story next time. It’s a sad looking picture. That’s just how she looked.”

“The puppies might be born on Christmas Day.”


For as long people have existed, some portion of our lives has been devoted to trying to figure out who we are and what we are doing. We have struggled to determine the direction we want to travel in and navigated endless journeys in our search for what home might be.

It’s true that some people have had the luxury* of certainty, the comfort of believing their lives are just right for them and that there is nothing to want for, hope for, or wonder for.

Whether or not this luxury is something to be desired is debatable.

What is life without uncertainty, without struggle, without wondering or hoping?

There is something missing from a life that goes as planned.

I mean really, what is that?

Maybe that’s what really separates us from so-called animals and so-called plants.

I think there are about 102 theories of consciousness and conceptual relationship that explain this perfectly.

We get to plan and fear death.

We think that squirrels do not plan and fear death

in the way that we do

and that the tree

is as dumb as wood

knowing nothing,

no wanting

only growing

and then dying

in a series of chemical reactions

 We get to know though.

 We have history in vivicolor and the faculties to consider the future.

So, we plan.

We want to avoid things.

We want to live as well as possible.

We work out the probable calculations and hedge our odds in hairdo, barter our direction by being impressive or, to the contrary, unimpressive.

The people we seek to impress are often the people we become.

I think someone else said this.

It’s really not so simple as that.

There are all sorts of considerations and factors.

As I was saying, people have always been trying to figure things out and fucking up their lives or having their lives fucked up for them.

I think people talk about this in therapy sometimes. I don’t know. I haven’t had much therapy. The therapy I did have didn’t so much address this issue – that trying to understand who we are and why our lives are as they areis part of what it is to be human and that there are all sorts of stories and allegories and poems that explain this sort of existential cartographic urgency, this curiosity and woe that defines where we are in relationship to where we want to be or what we imagine might be beyond sight,

Nobody every really framed the reason I was in therapy as having anything to do with that. It was more a matter of me not being able to do what I was supposed to do or behaving or communicating in a way that was perceived as dysfunctional to the task at hand, regardless of what that task might have been…school…work…being a daughter…being a wife.

I think a lot of therapy is about trying to teach people tricks and other ways of convincing themselves that they are not miserable in their lives, strategies for how to cope with miserable lives. It seems like the best way to cope with a miserable life is to change it if it can be changed…and most lives can be changed, because life is a  changeable entity, though some lives are more constrained to stay the same as others.

In the case of some therapies the goal seems not to be to support someone changing their life, but to persuade an adjustment to one’s life, so one can stop being miserable and do the things they are supposed to want to do.

There are some stories I tell again and again and the day my father and I sat in the grass and he said, quite plainly, that I simply needed to “find something to do and to do it” stays with me.

In a way, it was the worst advice ever, but on some days it makes total sense.

The only problem is that there are things I don’t want to do and there are things that, in doing them, make it hard for me to do things that I do want to do.

Like if I have to be at work all day and can’t draw or write.

Boohoo…such is life and welcome to the club.

Why are we so expected to give up what we love in order to “do what we have to do?”

That seems a problematic element in our cultural foundations, seemingly designed to keep people from spending too much time in non-productive pursuits, i.e. things that don’t make money.

I guess, in a way, the fact that nothing is easy could be a mechanism for determining what it is we most truly want and cannot live without in our lives.

*just because something is a luxury doesn’t mean that you have to want it or that it will even be good for you.



When I took the dog out for a walk yesterday afternoon I caught a glimpse of how wind was born.

I had just turned the corner and caught myself aware that I felt quite fine – clear headed, but not too expansive, no massive scheme urgently unfolding, no press of big ideas that kept me from noticing the pace of my movement or the sound of my footsteps.

I made small talk with the dog, asked him how his day had been, told him he was good. The streets were quiet because it was Christmas and I thought, “This is how I’d like to feel most days. This is my optimal function.”

Then I thought, with some determination, some intent, almost a command: “Set Optimal Function.”

For about 1/2 a block I busied myself imagining that some part of my brain-mind could detect what it was that was making the current working order feel so pleasantly ideal, so…optimal.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been in a slump, almost a funk. This isn’t a matter of mood alone, I assure you. In fact, I’d say that mood has had little to do with it, other than perhaps the noticeable absence of mood, a bland neutrality that after having only showed up beige at the edges of things for a good while now had somehow spread to swaddle near every waking moment in a dull, eerie calm.

Before when I felt utterly sane, it was often a matter of logic. “Of course it was possible that there is a mythic realm of signal that somehow calibrated the radio to align with my heart’s truth and destiny.”

“Of course…”

Then I would assure myself of my sanity* –  – further by reasoning that it was entirely possible that I – being a theme-finder in need of comforts and a person with a mildly (okay, rampantly) self-referential tendencies – had simply concocted this lark of a relationship with the radio as a way to keep myself both entertained and feeling loved while driving to work and during other times that I found myself sitting alone and listening to music.

Everybody needs entertainment. Everybody needs love.

What began as a liking for the way my Pandora station made me feel as if someone (so many people) knew what was going on in my life, in my heart, quickly became generalized to all songs playing everywhere.

It didn’t help that I began hearing songs from my Pandora station in other, unlikely, places – like Regina Spektor or Guster at the big grocery store, or Gary Jules on the radio itself, in my car.

It’s a mad world.

I rationalized, what observant and thinking person wouldn’t find something a little strange over such deeply personal thematics showing up between notes and in lyrics that might be baffling to anyone but me…because it is, after all, the story of my gypsy uncle and all sorts of other stories.

Amazing to me, the propensity for the mere mention of said dead uncle and the word “story” to impel me into a completely different reality, in which ghosts are real and work in the world and that truth that was to be told and heard will continue to try to tell itself and to be heard and that justice is what drives the world.****

As I was saying, it did seem as though even the most implausible explanations were still remotely possible – up to and including the possibility that I emit a small radiowave at all times which is in consistent interaction with all the infinite signals of the universe and which had been found by waves so old that they have a sort of intelligence of their own, a core of purpose and theme, and that something in the patterns that write my life pushed its way into that channel, broke through into everything that has been known in the hearts of people that I am connected to and a sudden knowing that I in varying degrees am connected to everything, because – in varying degrees – everything is connected to everything.


I mean, that’s not exactly a new idea. People have been losing their minds over that for thousands of years.

So, I always knew I was sane, that there was an explanation.

‘Tis a quandary indeed when the explanations can’t yet be explained.


I forget what I began to discuss, the story I meant to tell. Oh, yeah: Set Optimal Function and the origins of wind.

So, I was walking and my head was down. I was talking with the dog and thinking about how it might be that I could encourage more particularly fine states of mind such as the one I was currently inhabiting and I was thinking about how peaceful the world seemed without so many cars and how wouldn’t it be amazing if there weren’t so many cars and places to go.

Ah, optimal function. I breathed out deeply and considered what had led to the little stretch of feeling quite well.

Was it walking the dog?

Was it that I had played a made-up sport with my kids or that I had taken some nice photos of ice earlier in the day?

Was it that I had eaten this or not eaten that or because I finally started my damn period or because the cold had done something to the electromagnetic field or the WiFi radiation or because my dining room was clean and I have been sleeping a lot?

What, I wondered, were the neurochemotive attributes of that state and could I will my brain to create the conditions that support optimal function?


It seems unlikely, though possible. I am not one who has ever denied that humans have brains and that what is happening in our brains impacts our experience hugely. However, the brain isn’t the end all be all and – besides – is affected by so many different variables that one may as well blame the leaky bathroom ceiling for one’s foul mood as anything innately neurochemical – though there does seem to be neurochemical phenomena that may make the leaky ceiling more or less distressing, along with a host of psychological reinforcers or mitigators, meaning that if you fancy yourself a poet a leaky ceiling might be lovely.

This was all that I was thinking about as I approached the tree.

I heard it before I saw it, a shiver, a faint rustling, sharp with a little bit of clatter at the edges.

It was full of leaves, the tree. All of them were dead, dried, hanging on. They were are uniform brown, the color of a package. Against the clear blue of the sky, they appeared warm and the sun carved them into shadows as they moved in the wind…

There was no wind. I looked around. No other trees were moving. Everything was still.

The tree shimmied its leaves, rattled them and it moved like it was in the wind.

…but, there was no wind.

…and then there was, just a little. I saw it move the tree across the street, a small stirring.

“Hmm, I think I just figured out how wind is made…”

Over the next block and a half, I considered all the hundreds of trillions google to infinity movements had ever been moved in the history of the world, how much movement there is now…right this very instant…and how it all makes wind and I wondered about the first wind.

It was probably just a puff, a slight expansion, an atomic jostling.

There is probably a theory of how such extrapolative events grow in a controlled environment. There is probably a formula for it.

This, of course, is not a controlled environment.

I did an interesting class today on creativity and mental health, or rather on creativity and mental illness, as the case may be.

We read some BBC articles about how creative ways of processing or conceptualizing one’s experience may be associated with struggles that are deemed to be a mental illness.


Thunder is a red cloud

in this order in this right.

Most of the people who know me and who come to my classes know that I am what I have termed “non-linear.”

I was just saying today that I had a difficult time expressing myself in a logical progression of ideas…or in a progression that would seem logical to people who think more linearly than I do.

This afternoon, covering a class for another staff person and watching A Beautiful Mind with some folks who live at the shelter, I found myself wondering what might have been possible if I had ever had the chance to only work in the art of ideas and a sense of proof, if I had found a way to be a scientist.

I have to laugh at myself over how pointless such wonderings are.

Of course I have had the chance to only work in the art of ideas and a sense of proof. I do it every day.

Of course I am a scientist.

I have always been a scientist.

Given the highly variable quality of modern science, I’d say I’m as good a scientist as some, unless the measure of a scientist’s worth is based in their ability to “scientifically prove” things to other people, in which case I’m a terrible scientist.

I can prove things, but not in ways that people accept as proof.

After the movie, we talked some about how crucial it had seemed that someone believed in the John Nash character, and how he had the privilege of social supports that recognized his brilliance and potential.

“He never would have made it otherwise.”

Even in the part of the movie that was not shown, someone believed in the person, got him where he needed to be.

Not everyone has that.

Not everyone has someone who believes in the full audacious capacity of their true potential.

In fact, most people don’t have that.

Driving home, I thought about how weirdly sad but kind of wonderful it is that I really did come up with a very elegant theory of God, language and integral human function that could change the way we see clouds forever, or – depending on how such things are viewed – restore the way that we see clouds…and a great many other things, too.

 I want a new name for clouds.

 This is fucking serious.

(Reckoning with the reality of what it is that am proposing, the weight of it trembling at the edges into farcical movements with nonsense explanation invariably shifts me into a state of humdrum alarm, a tightly held panic, my own embaffled voice incredulous in asking why nobody has helped me to find the people who are working on theories about patterns in nature as they correspond to archetypical iconography and mythic storytelling as it relates to the evolution of human consciousness…but people who are doing this work for real, not in New Age groups on facebook. I want to find the people who are using mathematics to measure the distance between plane and angle and who are collecting data on the incidences of defined atypicalities in pattern formation in correlation with geomagnetic activity and comparing this information with the EEGs of unmedicated schizophrenics…or something like that?)

Christ, in a world full of scientists there is not such research being done?


That’s unfortunate.

In the movies, if a person was me, someone would help them with their theory.


Of course, if this were the movies, I’d probably have to go through all sorts of horrendous shit (ahem…what exactly would qualify as horrendous enough) before I finally triumphantly got to sit down and have a vernacular conversation with metaphysicists, theologians, and complex system theorists.

At which point, I’d probably just stammer.

Maybe I should make a presentation of some sort?

In the movies, a person like me with an idea like mine would quit everything and devote herself to hyper-prolifically documenting and explaining, researching and referencing and reaching out.

My hair would get tangled. It would be the gauntlet-y part of the story.

Well, I did try that…it didn’t exactly go well. It wasn’t something I planned.

It was just something that happened, as such things do.



*as measured in postmodern logic, which takes into account the plausability of every possible reality and values the properties of magic and alchemy, the sensuous** relativity of the unlikely and absurd and thus often renders anything and everything quite mutable in its capacity for certainty of meaning –

**sensuous as defined by sense*** and also in the sense that we feel ideas and that the concept of reality itself has a certain feel

***sense meaning here both physical and affective feelings that take on a subjective value which to us may mean something or inspire other certain feelings and associated values and sense also meaning the phenomenon of experiencing something in the context of one’s individual worldview and sense also being, simply, the gist of a thing, place, or idea and the feeling of this particular sort of gist.

****what I mean by this is that the call to truth and the call to justice is what inspires the events – both small and large – which shape the histories of the future and the stories we currently tell. This is not to say that seeking justice doesn’t backfire powerfully in a hundred million different ways or that the reasons people seek justice are remotely just in themselves or that people don’t frequently confuse justice with revenge…

******feel free to quote me on that.


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