Week 40. Tradition

Old Roman soothsaying held that the gods left a mark on the liver when the spirit was snatched from it, that the left side of the body (the sinistra) was hostile, the right friendly. Doctors still tend to work from the right side. The sciences are so much about finding one’s place in a trajectory (beautiful, awful) of error.

All I offer is research, information. Does it mean anything? Does it add to a lineage? I used the word mortality—the language of my profession, the traditions I’ve taken on—about someone I love, and I caught myself. Though, actually, I didn’t catch myself. I didn’t have any feelings at all, only thinking I should feel guilty.

How you adhere to, or rebel against, a tradition illuminates a map to what you’ve lost.

Words form maps, create distance, which is not coldness, not a sub-level of humanity, but simply the space between two points, a way of getting from here to there. I never loved the traditions of my culture, my church, my profession, until I lost the people who’d been safeguarding them as I went my own way. I never understood lineage until it became a set of ghosts I wanted back.

There’s a tradition of wet cupping—slicing open the skin and cupping to suck out the blood, usually in a sauna—among some Finnish people where I’m from. It’s mocked sometimes as archaic, unscientific. But it’s easy to see why it could be desired, a forced loss of self that heals through connection.

Materials: Ink, gouache, wax paper (and I could feel the influence of a ton of liquid eyeliner tutorials)

Even after death his house is opened up Wednesday nights. The tradition borrowed from a college professor of his in the 1930s. We ate cheese and crackers and drank beer in his living room, a projector set up just to the left of the front door. We sat on brown corduroy couches and metal folding chairs.

We packed out our trash because no one knew what else to do with it. When I realized he burned his trash, I kept my mouth shut. What do you say to a ninety year old man, a member of the academy of science who keeps a fire going like it is the eternal flame of a temple?

I often volunteered for the task of shopping, the luxury of tasting and spending as a graduate student was obscene. I liked to buy nutty dry cheeses, bries that melted when cut into, anything with ash layers in it.

We gathered, geologist, limnologist, botanist, anthropologist, mathematicians – anyone interested in reconstructing earth history: the die off of the chestnut trees 3000 years ago, Lake Agassiz draining 8200 years ago, the cold snap 12000 years ago that stopped the retreat of the ice sheets, anything about mammoths or collapses of human civilizations. We squeezed into his living room like it was a theatre, leaving our crumbs on the floor and the energy of questions and debate in the air.

Without flavor and texture and sound to place an idea in our memory, what form does knowledge have? Even objective science needs grit to gain traction.

Medium: Label maker


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