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selected excerpts from
TIME AND TEMPERATURE

I like it when the words line up neatly on the page
it almost doesn't matter what they say
not until you read it anyway
I like the way words rhyme
I like to see the ink coming out of the pen
I like to hear the next word forming in my mind
this is what being alive is in the conscious way
this is the reward
to say
I like the dream
I like to do and go
in familiar and unfamiliar
now the line is not finished
this too is part of consciousness
to not finish
we can only go so far before we have to sleep
waking or sleeping we are not linear like the sentence
the sentence is broken
our thought is more like a prickly pear than a millipede

* * *
The reason words are magic:
consciousness is more powerful than matter/energy
consciousness and will can alter matter/energy
language is the tool or weapon of consciousness and will
the sharper the tool the more effective
when the word is employed with singular will
matter energy and even time can be changed
matter is the will of consciousness
language is the tool of consciousness
time is the arena of consciousness
space and time are units of measure not measurable themselves
every segment is the same as the whole thing
consciousness as exhibited in our universe may be nothing more than will
the question is not, Who wills us?
but
Why do we will this?

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from Time and Temperature
© 2003, Zelda Leah Gatuskin

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We stand upright on a big ball of dirt, held here by a force called gravity.

This, I maintain, is all you need to know and contemplate in order to anticipate how the human organism will respond to a given situation or stimulus.

To be blunt, we are the sum of our perceptions. What creature isn't? But to really appreciate the ramifications of this rather obvious fact, you have to appreciate the gravity of the situation -- literally. Because what intrinsic element of this earthly existence is more of a given? Not even our air do we take for granted as much as our gravity. We can go from place to place and detect a change in air quality or perceive aromas in the air. Gravity does not change from one room to the next, normally. We notice a change in gravity when we go into water, but our senses are prepared for this. We expect it and take it for granted just as we expect gravity to be constant on dry land.

We have eyes to perceive light, ears to perceive sound, a mouth to perceive taste. What sense do we have to perceive gravity? The sense organ most dedicated to gravity would be the inner ear, with its equilibrium-establishing fluid. But every organ is a perceiver of gravity, and highly sensitive at that. Gravity is implied in every system; without it, the body malfunctions.

The body itself is a balance. Downward forces are assumed. We are symmetrical left to right -- not perfectly, but practically. Forward movement would be hindered if we had to keep falling lopsidedly in one direction or another.

The ability to walk upright and use our hands (some can even do both at once) is what gave humans the evolutionary advantage to survive and become the dominant species of the planet. You can see how balance has a lot to do with this. Falling over a lot can really interfere with your survival skills. Being able to stand up, and look big, and see far, and carry things -- now that is worth a little evolutionary juice. We evolved quickly from a species that first moved differently from all the others, then perceived differently, then thought differently, then manipulated the environment differently. (Some would say that we are the only species that thinks and manipulates at all, but I am not among them).

So, all physical and physiological systems are designed around the constraints of gravity. Surely our psychological and cognitive systems are ruled by gravity as well. I propose that gravity, the given of gravity, dictates nothing less than what we perceive as beautiful and good or scary and ugly, or what is right or wrong. It is the underlying real physical force behind all of mankind's motives and upon which every one of our built things is modeled. Gravity's necessities are fulfilled and expressed by the concept of balance, which underlies every rule of design in every discipline.

Have I gone over the top yet?

That's a good one. Over the top. The top is much harder to achieve than the bottom. To get down one only has to submit to gravity; but to go up, one has to resist it. So going up is harder. And going over the top is quite a stretch. One might consider the effort excessive. I feel tremendous resistance, but I'm still climbing...

Gravity, as already mentioned, contributes to the human design, symmetry. The symmetry of our limbs is further elaborated by our sense organs. We have stereoscopic vision and stereo hearing. But we also have directionality. We need both directionality and stereo perception to orient ourselves in space. Without directionality, how would we distinguish between our two symmetrical halves, our right and our left?

We have a top and a bottom (not to mention an in and an out, also determined by gravity) and we have a front and a back. Front is front because our sense organs are focused that way. We know a lot more about what's in front of us. That's what we tend to. We are quite blind to what's behind us. That's where the fearful things lurk. And if we look over our shoulders too much to ward them off, we might lose our balance, stumble and fall. Ahead is safe and behind is dangerous. (Not to mention that intake occurs frontally; output, from the rear.) Front is good and back is bad.

Up is transcendent and down is just inevitable.

Birds are magical and worms are icky.

The brain is a noble organ and the belly is base.

I could go on and on.

We are directional beings and implied in that is that we are dual beings. Our consciousness is a continuing process of holding contrasting truths in balanced opposition while we evaluate every new stimulus as a function of where it falls on the continuum of right to left, front to back, up to down, light to dark, and good to bad.

Yes, we have grown beyond the perceptual process as physiological feedback loop, into a cognitive process that imposes meaning and evaluates action in an egocentric system. I'm just saying that we think we're conscious and acting freely, but mostly we're still operating on the same autonomic response principle of "Light, good; dark, bad" that our hominid precursors relied on. We're just a lot more cocky about our judgments; or alternately, a lot more hung up about decision-making. The world of night is not a scary place for us, need not be. And anyway, if a tiger were waiting to devour us in the jungle behind our back door, that would make the decision to stay in and watch TV pretty obviously a good one; but the choices confronting us are often less about physical safety and more about feeling good about ourselves. I have no idea what Uncle Sapiens would say to that.

Personally, looking at looking at the world as a perceptual construction gives me a feeling of lightness and liberation. We're not really evil or base. We are stuck to this ball of dirt by forces beyond our control, but not beyond our perception. When we notice where our vocabulary comes from, and where our thoughts come from, and where our fears come from, our likes and dislikes, we can begin to contemplate change.

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Excerpts List
from Time and Temperature
© 2003, Zelda Leah Gatuskin

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This next birthday, I have decided
I will not be forty
I will be four
Will be as I was at four
As I was before

Before ego and self separated
Were socialized
Sanitized
And taught to tell time

I know I couldn't tell time at the age of four
I had no need of it, nor it of me
I noticed light and shadow
In the backyard I sat on a green swath
Watching the white bedclothes sway and ripple
The four-cornered flutterers so blank but so alive
Me too, at four, before

Squirming at the kitchen table, I was made to look at the clock
However old I was, it was too old by now
I would learn to read the clock already
Something more than time imposed itself on me
My free-floating mind, hitherto anchored by two tipsy clothespins
Now lassoed round and wrestled to submission
You can count, can't you?
You can read the numbers!
One, two, three, four

Before the kitchen clock snatched me up in its tireless hands
I was a compact little package, curly, pudgy, puckish
All soul and drool
All that was and would be
All of now and never rolled up into
One
...two, three, four...
And do you know your age?
And how many sisters you have?
And what time Daddy comes home?

The year I will be forty I will before
I will snap back the telescope of time
Take out all the space between all the layers of all the years
Let them settle softly, one atop the other
If shuffled, all the better
A mess at rest
Remember me?
Tousle-haired, precocious
Time is not true and it's arbitrary besides
I knew this then, better for having all my knowing
Whole if not articulate in my roly-poly being

Expression, others and my own, has stretched me thin
I am bigger but my thoughts are smaller
My sense of self transparent and conditional
Like a see-through plastic ruler
Or the glass-faced clock
But I saw through the friendly assimilation
The time teaching trick to divide my thoughts and conquer
Time is not real, I told myself
So I needn't bide it, or need only
And I haven't and I have
It is now again, the big Now that it was
Before

Open Book
Excerpts List
from Time and Temperature
© 2003, Zelda Leah Gatuskin

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Noticing in my datebook the difference pre- and post- the "daily accounting rebellion": Satisfying to look something up about what I was doing when, and to find it. But I didn't linger over all the tedious little entries. Enough that the book looks busy, right?

The pages since the revolt, by contrast, are stark and empty. Just one or two activities written in, or nothing at all on days with no pre-set appointments. What was I doing on all those days?! Look, they're all blank! I didn't linger over these pages either, looking at them is like having my entire experience sucked up in a void. I can't remember who I am. Apparently I did nothing, do nothing...

And then a small light dawns: If I did a lot and didn't write it down and that makes me feel later like I did nothing, I might just as well have done nothing. If I did nothing but made the same entry as I would on a day when I did something -- that is, no entry -- then, by my perverse method of judging my worthiness, the days I do something and the days I do nothing come out equal. They become more and more equal as time passes. A week, a month, a decade later, certain "things" can be said or shown to have been or to be "done" and it doesn't matter anymore on which days I did or didn't actively focus on those tasks.

I'll be getting into dangerous territory again, though, if I simply replace my accounting by hours spent with accounting by things done. I can feel another exercise in judging worthiness coming on with that approach! So, I'm keeping the calendar blank at least through the end of the year. If I start "keeping" the datebook again, I'll do it with the goal of having as few entries to make as possible. That's it -- I'll make myself write down all of my activities and strive to have very few to write down! "Wrote all day," would be a gratifying entry to make, or "Kept house; dozed."

Of course questions come up about when I did this or that. But does it really matter? What would nag at me so if I couldn't pin down the facts? My memories are unreliable, maybe, and I want to make sure what I think I know I really know and I'm not just making something up? But there's another question: Does it matter whether our memories are memories or fantasy or something in between? We don't even know if what we experience in the "present" is "real" or not! And here I am obsessing about history!

History is important to us. It's our anchor. Pretty dangerous to let that go. The whole Anne Frank project was about confirming and disseminating the "correct" and "complete" view of history, for the purposes of improving human behavior. No doubt about it, if we exist, if we're real, if time is sequential, then history matters a lot.

But it's still all made up in our heads. No one can know all of it. We each have our own little history collage forming and growing in our heads, interacting with all those other collages of knowledge. Pieces and pieces. If we put all our heads together we might get the whole thing -- we might be the whole thing. For now we are just excerpts and clever compositions of parts of parts. And it's really not necessary or desirable for everyone to be totally Baroque in documenting their lives in intimate, intricate detail.

Obviously, I've entered my minimalist period. Against the backdrop of the blank datebook, my real life feels more real, more alive; whereas the early pages make me feel diminished -- all those months of busy, busy little entries (had to write small to get it all down) -- reduced to a laundry list.

And now I have to teach myself how to write all over again. And dance, and do collages-- What have I been doing? Trying not to care, I guess. First I gave up the datebook, the "chronicle of worthiness." Then I had to give up keeping the tally in my head. Now I look back at empty pages. What have I done? What have I accomplished? The need to be accountable, to account, is still there. Only, now I allow for the fact that some of the things I "do" which "count" most amount to a whole lot of nothing by the standards of the material world.

If what I'm out to accomplish is transcendence over the material world, how will I know that I've accomplished that? When I have nothing, I guess, and care not at all.

Open Book
Excerpts List
from Time and Temperature
© 2003, Zelda Leah Gatuskin

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