4.21.2017

I think at this point Blogger is completely obsolete but it's nice to look back at 6.5 years-worth of posts here, the very first being on November 28, 2010, when I was a junior in college, studying abroad in Florence, Italy. The picture I posted that day is of a bread platter at a restaurant in Rome. I remember that day so clearly. Our Michelangelo art class led by a grouchy mustachioed old man—he was thin and wiry and narrow-shouldered—had traveled to Rome for a two days. The day we arrived—actually it was night—we had a private tour of the Sistine Chapel. The day after we ran around Rome frantically trying to cram in as many Michelangelo-related stops as possible before heading back to Florence: the Campidoglio, St. Peter's, Santa Maria deli Angeli. And then finally, in the afternoon, we stopped for lunch somewhere, and the first thing they brought out was this platter full of hot, steaming bread—all different types: breadsticks, rolls, sliced baguette. In my head I remember the platter resembling a flower arrangement, each thing artfully placed, but when I look at the photo now I see that the bread was haphazardly strewn. Time and memory distort even the most trivial of things.

And I remember how nervous I felt then, at that meal, when the bread platter arrived. I was so hungry, yet so fearful of what I might to do to myself. I started this blog when I was at a very low point: abroad in one of the most romanticized cities in the world, and yet completely depleted of life. Starving myself. Unhappy. Lonely.

A lot has changed since then, but I'm not ashamed of that time of my life. It is very much a part of me, and I know, when I look at that picture, exactly what it meant to me at that time, and what it means to me now, even though those meanings have shifted. Nothing here is literal. Personal significance is embedded in everything—every quote, every photo, every word. A compendium of buried meanings.

Two years ago, I started working at a small magazine—not exactly a traditional magazine. I would call us a story production company. I have learned a lot about how to tell a story; my instincts for what constitutes good writing have certainly been sharpened. Yet working here has also made me, perhaps excessively, self-conscious of my own writing—so much so that when I sit down to write, I begin to criticize myself before I've even put words down on the page. I kill any thought, any idea that arises. I demean even the quietest whispers of my own mind, constantly.

As a remedial measure, I began writing "morning pages" a few months ago. This is a practice from Julia Cameron's The Artist Way. I'd tried it now and again, after hearing about it back in college, but I'd never abided by it as a strict daily practice. But after months of being exasperated by my own inability to produce any work, and by my lack of confidence to try, I knew I needed an exercise small and trivial—but consistent—enough that would help release some of the inhibitions, mental and emotional, blocking my way. My morning routine now takes much longer than it has ever taken, and consequently I am the last one in the office, but it has all been worth it. The goal all along was to turn "morning pages" into a compulsion, and now it is.

Begin small, and up the stakes as you go.

I've lately been inspired by the blog of film director David Lowery, and this cross-section of David Sedaris' journals, to write on this blog more often. The writing here is slightly more polished than that  of my morning pages, but it is still rough and inchoate, which is not a bad thing, I think. I like Lowery's blog as a chronicle of his process, and perhaps this can serve as that too. David Sedaris practices sharply wrought observation and narration in his journals—something that does not come naturally to me as a chronicler, but that I want to practice. I tend to be chronicler of feelings, rarely writing a sequence of events, but recapitulating how I felt in the wake of those events.

But sometimes those feelings can become more powerful when not stated so explicitly: left intact in the action, the dialogue, the silence. Leave them buried. Say what you see, and say no more.

4.18.2017

"Willfulness is a strange optimist. It turns the inevitable into the desirable. If aloneness is inevitable, I want to believe that aloneness is what I have desired because it is happiness itself. It must be a miscomprehension—though I have been unwilling to give it up—that one's life could be lived as a series of solitary moments. In between, time spent with other people is the time to prepare for their disappearance. That there is an opposite perspective I can only understand theoretically. The time line is also a repetition of one's lapse into isolation. It's not others who vanish, but from others one vanishes."
-Yiyun Li,  Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life
"I did not know what I was doing, and what I also did not know, facing my computer screen and a white wall, slowly turning pale, was that I was becoming a writer. Becoming a writer was partly a matter of acquiring technique, but it was just as importantly a matter of the spirit and a habit of the mind. It was the willingness to sit in that chair for thousands of hours, receiving only occasional and minor recognition, enduring the grief of writing in the belief that somehow, despite my ignorance, something transformative was taking place.  
It was an act of faith, and faith would not be faith if it was not hard, if it was not a test, if it was not an act of willful ignorance, of believing in something that can neither be predicted nor proved by any scientific metric.
...

At a time in which the demand for productivity and the measuring of outputs has increased in the university — indeed, everywhere — it is important to acknowledge how much of what is crucial in the work that matters to us, no matter what our field, can neither be quantified nor accelerated."
-Viet Thanh Nguyen, "In Praise of Doubt & Uselessness"

4.05.2017



They say the universe is expanding,

not staying in one place.

I, though, have a small rental room

somewhere in it.


-Bill Knotts, "Poem"
And he woke up alone in the other world     and he was
walking down a familiar street      and it had been raining
all night       and the boughs of the trees were black and heavy
and the first cars of the morning passed       with their tires hissing
over the blacktop        and under his feet he felt the pavement
slither         a carpet of petals battered down by the raindrops
and each puddle swirled with a slick of green-gold pollen
and though he couldn't remember how or when it happened
his heart had been spilled        and at its quick was planted a wet
seed that he'd never known before          and it was spring


-Craig Arnold, "Hymn to Persephone"
"Myth deals in false universals, to dull the pain of particular circumstances."

-Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman

3.17.2017

On the fire escape of your rented room
we sat and felt the empty city
sweat and fret     we passed a cigarette
back and forth     as once we passed
words like these between us      without
hope of keeping
                              Now I write
without hope of answer
     to say
that what we gave each other nakedly
was too much and not enough
To say that since we last touched
I am not empty
     I hear you named
and my heart starts
     the pieces of your voice
you left
     are interleaved with mine

and to this quick spark in the emptiness
to say Yes
     I miss how love
may make us otherwise



-Craig Arnold, "Asunder"
"The posts on Stump the Bookseller are far more utilitarian than they are sentimental, but reading them, which I now do for hours every week, routinely brings tears to my eyes. Each one forces an overwhelming rediscovery of just how real other people are, a confrontation with the fact that everyone’s mind is cluttered with images that are incidental, almost always partly lost, affecting in ways that are subtle, unpredictable and impossible to explain. How can you not marvel at a person who has thought of a kitten carved from soap repeatedly and with agony for years? Or someone who has spent her whole life wondering why a fictional princess, encountered decades earlier, so hated being made to embroider? It’s enough to make you feel as though every obscure thing you’ve ever forgotten is still with you somehow, waiting to be recovered and maybe even shared."
-Alice Gregory, "Letter of Recommendation: Stump the Bookseller"

3.15.2017

chicago, march 13

helio oticica: 













manuel espinosa:










carlos cruz-diaz:




gego: 






leon ferrari:





lygia pape:





lygia clark:











"Sometimes I'm ... walking along the street and a shaft of sunlight falls in a certain way across the pavement and I just wanna cry. And then a second later, it's over. I decide because I'm an adult, to not succumb to the momentary melancholy; And I thought that sometimes with Tony, she just had a moment like that. A moment of not knowing how or why, and she just let herself go into it and there was nothing anyone could do to make it any better. It was just her and the fact of being alive, colliding."
-Margot, Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley)

3.12.2017

"...and he prayed fundamentally as a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way. When he prayed he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched, and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and thus loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our beingness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity's potential for building a better world, and so he prayed as a lament, as a consolation, and as a hope..."

-Mohsin Hamid, Exit West

3.11.2017

"And I Was Alive"



And I was alive in the blizzard of the blossoming pear,
Myself I stood in the storm of the bird–cherry tree.
It was all leaflife and starshower, unerring, self–shattering
power,
And it was all aimed at me. 
What is this dire delight flowering fleeing always earth?
What is being? What is truth?
Blossoms rupture and rapture the air,
All hover and hammer,
Time intensified and time intolerable, sweetness raveling rot.
It is now. It is not.

- Osip Mandelstam (translation by Christian Wiman)

2.14.2017

this is The Life-Writer by David Constantine

The Life-Writer by David Constantine is a story within a story. It is the story of Katrin as she mourns the death of her husband, Eric, and it is the story of Eric as a young man, as he falls in love with a French woman named Monique.

The novel opens with Eric on his deathbed. Then, a memorial service. Katrin is a broken woman, a woman who does not know if she will survive her grief. She is a biographer of minor figures of European Romanticism—and this is interesting: they are "the lives of men and women who have the allure, the passion, the structures of imagination, the longings, the disappointments, the hectic ambition, the devotion, the folly, the grief of their great contemporaries, but not their talent... they lived their lives without the thing they needed an could not acquire: the gift ... Therein ... lay their poignancy"—but following Eric's death the only person she wants to write about is him.

So she does. She attempts to write about his life before they met and married. Eric is much older than Katrin and was married once before. But it's not this previous marriage that interests Katrin. It is a storied love affair that came before that—what might be the love of his life (in modern parlance, "the one who got away"). Through interviews with Eric's brother Michael and best friend Daniel, as well as love letters exchanged between Eric and Monique, Katrin pieces together a tumultuous love affair, scene by scene. She is captivated by the affair, and yet undoubtedly this history is painful to explore. After all, she is not a neutral party. She cannot help but compare the loves of Eric's life, and sometimes his love for her seems undermined by the passions that preceded it.

I was entranced by this book at the start. Its paratactic style—a kind of lyrical breathlessness—is jarring at first, but is ultimately evocative and poetic once you are absorbed in its rhythms. The style accurately reflects the frenzy of grief (David Constantine is also a poet, FYI). The continuous stream of consciousness and intense feeling submerged me into the mind—and also the grief—of Katrin (She is drowning and you feel like you are too and every period at the end of a sentence is like a moment when you finally came up for some air).

The bouts of anxiety, of helplessness, of sadness that terrorize Katrin are familiar—anyone who has mourned anything would be able to relate to the torrents of all-consuming emotion that can paralyze a person completely. I will admit, however, that sometimes reading the book felt like I was cutting myself—a form of catharsis predicated on the infliction of harm and injury upon oneself. And I suppose that accurately describes Katrin too: addicted at once to the pain and catharsis of immersing herself in her deceased husband's love affairs.

In the wake of any kind of separation between loved ones, whether by death or by other circumstances, there can emerge a desperation—one that is visceral and extreme—that spurs a person to find intimacy and closeness in any form, no matter how small a thing. Whether an object as a remembrance or the compulsive reading of messages and letters (or these days, stalking social media accounts), a person finds any way she can to bridge the gap. Anything will do. It is the only way to quell a lingering desire. But not only that—it inflames the desire, keeps it alive. Katrin realizes this as she decides to write about Eric's past: "She did not want to live a life without desire."

Emotional melodrama—whether depicted onscreen or in literature—often frightens me. Perhaps it is too earnest, discomfiting. Sometimes it feels manipulative, as if it is feeding off of my need to feel something, anything, as a distraction from (or transference-channel for) all that I do not want to feel. Yet this book felt so precise and specific in its depiction of Katrin's emotional turmoil and the contours of her grief that it felt more like an honest confrontation than escape. I could absorb and justify Katrin's loneliness and sorrow; I could sense those things in myself, and viewing those things through someone else's life was comforting (being able to articulate a feeling makes the feeling far less daunting and powerful). There is something calming about watching someone go through emotions you do not let yourself experience in their fullest expression; it gives you some distance from your own and makes you feel a little less insane because of it. Most of all I could identify with Katrin's need to find a story: any story, even a painful one, would be better than darkness, emptiness, uncertainty.

I think I read this book at the right time. Sometimes books feel like that—a gift (I don't even know how I first heard of this book!). The best ones make you feel a little less lonely. This one certainly did for me.

2.12.2017

"North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground. The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces."
-"Araby," James Joyce

(Three perfect sentences... a perfect opening to a nearly flawless short story.)

2.08.2017



A kind of thrill—to lie on a road
and flatten yourself,


white fur like a ball of winter,


like the March blossoms on the fruit trees,
each one folded in like


the fledgling that never made it
from the nest.


They do this when they feel threatened,
remain motionless


even when curious people come prod
them with sticks,


stiffening their pearly claws as a tree stiffens
its twigs for winter. What is it to be dead?


The possums know—that eternal watchfulness
by which the dead in their stately wisdom


watch us
who keep moving.
-"Possums," Sheila Black

2.07.2017

"This breach in his chain of water disappointed him absurdly, and he felt like some explorer who seeks a torrential headwater and finds a dead stream. He was disappointed and mystified. It was common enough to go away for the summer but no one ever drained his pool. The Welchers had definitely gone away. The pool furniture was folded, stacked, and covered with a tarpaulin. The bathhouse was locked. All the windows of the house were shut, and when he went around to the driveway in front he saw a FOR SALE sign nailed to a tree. When had he last heard from the Welchers — when, that is, had he and Lucinda last regretted an invitation to dine with them? It seemed only a week or so ago. Was his memory failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of truth? Then in the distance he heard the sound of a tennis game. This cheered him, cleared away all his apprehensions and let him regard the overcast sky and the cold air with indifference. This was the day that Neddy Merrill swam across the county. That was the day! He started off then for his most difficult portage."

-John Cheever, "The Swimmer"

2.03.2017

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

-Abraham Lincoln, first inaugural address.

1.31.2017

“Think of me then, Katrin, never forget me then, that lad gaily assuming the land and its roads and traffic would never be anything but kind to him…” 

“The running colloquy with him distressed her more than it comforted her. Every other person lapsed, she was inhabited entirely by him. She felt that he had not passed away but had passed on, not her, and there he lived, in her, not jealously, not desiring to confine her further life, but wishing her well, urging her to live, to keep up with old friends, make new ones, get on with her work. And all that benevolent admonishing worked futilely on the fact that he, the admonisher, was necessary to her doing what he asked.”  

“She was in a state in which distress, anxiety, panic, rise and rise into something akin to paralysis but fraught with a desperate need, and inability, to move—panic in stasis, no act imaginable that might bring release; confinement in unease without opening or issue in any direction; unbearable, but implosion and annihilation the only conceivable way of ending it.”
-David Constantine, The Life-Writer

1.29.2017

I can never leave all the kindness I have felt in this apartment,
but if a big black iron wrecking ball comes flying toward me,
zoop, out I go! For there must be
kindness somewhere else in the world,
maybe even out of it, though I'm not crazy
about the emptiness of outer space. I have to live
here, with finite life and inner space and with
the horrible desire to love everything and be disappointed
the way my mother was until that moment
when she rolled her eyes toward me as best she could
and squeezed my hand when I asked, "Do you know who I am?"
then let go of life.

The other question was, Did I know who I was?

It is hard not to be appalled by existence.
The pointlessness of matter turns us into cornered animals
that otherwise are placid or indifferent,
we hiss and bare our fangs and attack.
But how many people have felt the terror of existence?
Was Genghis Khan horrified that he and everything else existed?
Was Hitler or Pol Pot?
Or any of the other charming figures of history?
Je m'en doute.
It was something else made them mean.
Something else made Napoleon think it glorious
to cover the frozen earth with a hundred thousand bloody corpses.
Something else made . . . oh, name your monster
and his penchant for destruction,
name your own period in history when a darkness swept over us
and made not existing seem like the better choice,
as if the solution to hunger were to hurl oneself
into a vat of boiling radioactive carrots!

-excerpt from "The Absolutely Huge and Incredible Injustice in the World," by Ron Padgett

this is my favorite sentence in the history of all sentences

"I'm sure we were all feeling blessed on this ferryboat among the humps of very green—in the sunlight almost cooly burning like phosphorus—islands, and the water of inlets winking in the sincere light of day, under a sky as blue and brainless as the love of God, despite the smell, the slight, dreamy suffocation of some kind of petroleum-based compound used to seal the deck's seams."
-Denis Johnson
The stain of love
Is upon the world.
Yellow, yellow, yellow,
It eats into the leaves,
Smears with saffron
The horned branches that lean
Heavily
Against a smooth purple sky. 
 
There is no light—
Only a honey-thick stain
That drips from leaf to leaf
And limb to limb
Spoiling the colours
Of the whole world.

—William Carlos Williams