Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.
― Andy Warhol
Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.
― Andy Warhol
It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.
— Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
Some 130 million books have been published in history; a big reader will get through 6,000 in a lifetime. Choose carefully.
—Alain de Botton
verb | mis·tap | \mə-ˈstap\
: to accidentally touch the wrong icon or area of the screen while operating a touchscreen device
see also: fat-finger
I never much considered Robert Frost, that ubiquitous poet of school English texts. The sort of thing people think of when they think of poetry — pastoral, conventional in rigid rhyme and meter. Easy. Old-fashioned.
I came across him again in Turco’s Book of Forms:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
— ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost
And he thrilled something in me, old Robert Frost. Born in a time of war, coming of age in the Gilded Age, writing in the conventions of his time and place, oh this pretty picture of New England. A snowy wood on a winter evening. And yet.
I’ve been in snow soaked woods in the dark of night, places where there is no ‘farmhouse near’ and they are not moments from Currier and Ives. They are dark, wild places where humanity is small and I feel the Fimbulwinter that awaits. Looking at the skeletal trees, the pines shrouded, and the world blanketed in white and silence, I imagine the end of the world and the heat death of the universe.
Robert Frost, with his little horse, thinking he’s crazy to stop here, in this lonesome place, this end of time place, this place of wolves and silence, he must have felt that too. The winter wood is not a pastoral place; it is not charming or idyllic. It is a savage place, a place that sleeps and dreams of death. And there is Robert Frost, longing to enter that wood, ‘lovely, dark and deep’.
Oh yes, that place of darkness in all its seductive power. And how easy it would be to ride his little horse into that dark. But he can’t. Not now. He has promises to keep, and miles to go before he sleeps.
Sometimes there is the right time for meeting someone. Meet them too early, and you don’t recognize them; you overlook them. When you meet them too late, the moment you could’ve fallen in love with them is already past. And I wonder, maybe, if I have met Robert Frost, again, at exactly the right time.
It’s been a while since I posted anything. I don’t know why. I have lots of things. Here’s one —
On reading Robert Frost I’m struck by how he returns to the wood. As a metaphor, as a place, as a symbol. This image, in so many forms, appears again and again, and his work is never so powerful as when it is in the wood.
Compare ‘Snowy Evening‘ with ‘Acquainted with the Night‘ — Robert Frost is not a creature of city streets and urban darkness; though he may have haunted the city in his time, he is alien there. It’s the darkness of the wood that lives in Robert Frost’s soul, the supple green of lithesome birches, the ache of the lonesome places ‘lovely dark and deep’ and the yellow regret of roads not taken and paths unwalked. He never writes himself so fully as when he is writing of the wood.
Someone, a friend of mine, said she had only one novel in her, that she kept writing the same story in different books. As though it was a bad thing. As though the same story cannot be told again and again in a hundred ways, and as if, in each telling, there are not new facets turned to the light.
There are writers I read, and read again, writers who tell the same stories. Irving. Oates, though I’ve conceived a dislike of Oates, not for her sameness, but because of a sense of ugliness which seeps into her work. How many stories do we have in us?
I think we fall prey to the worship of novelty, which is not the same as originality, and the idea that we must write a thing that has never been written, something new. Something novel. I say we, but I speak of myself. I find this idea in myself, and I think this idea–the idea that a thing may be done only once, that it must be done only once–is a sickness, a mechanism of self defeat.
To say, ‘What newness can I bring to this subject, what can I say that hasn’t been said?’ is the voice of the censor. To feel before I truly begin that I have already failed, that it is hubris to think I have anything to say that hasn’t been said, and said better, is to guarantee failure.
I wonder what my wood is.
What is the thing that’s lodged in me so deep that I’ve grown around it, scar, muscle, sinew, until it is no longer foreign, until it has become a part of me, impossible to excise. There are thoughts and ideas I return to, metaphors. Alienation and sex. The joining of flesh, the isolation of souls. Creation. Abnegation.
I don’t know if thinking about this helps me or hurts me. Writing. When I think too much about what I’m really saying, and what I feel I ought to say, it paralyzes me.
A realization that came only recently, but now when I look at the work that remains unfinished, I can’t not see the pattern. I wonder if I understand myself, finally, will I have anything left to say.
Winter morning when earth and sky are the same color the only way of telling where land ends and heaven begins is the ragged black line of pine sawing the horizon. White flakes drift in a suspension of air. The snow doesn’t fall.
Reading Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco.
I’ve been dressed and returned to a state of undress. I write email sitting cross legged on my kitchen table, like some kind of 21st century Buddha (the fat one, not the serene one) motionless but for my thumbs flitting over the tablet keyboard.
I was talking about poems and why I stopped writing them. I try not to be dramatic about these things. It’s not interesting and there’s nothing to be done about it but me getting over it. Or not. Which is a fine option also. There are plenty of things to write and poetry isn’t as important to the world as we sometimes pretend.
I feel awkward talking about poems now. Not poems I pick up and read at random. I can tell you all about the poem I read last night–its structure and resonance, the ways it connected, where it left me cold. I can’t talk about the poem you’re writing.
I can see what I might do with it, if I wrote poems (which I don’t anymore). That doesn’t help you. I could tell you what I think it ought to be, the same thing I think all poems ought to be. But that doesn’t help you either, because what matters is what you think it ought to be, the way you would make it.
The poems which stick to me have a sensuality. It’s not only what they say, the ideas, but the way they rub up against me while they say it. Some words feel more than others.
How to explain the weight of words.
I can’t. They have their own density. Either you know them heavy and pressing and suddenly weightless, or you don’t. A poem ought to feel like a rollercoaster ride. It’s alright if it makes you throw up.
Memorable poems are the ones where the poet is honest. People are hardly ever honest. They don’t always lie, but they hide themselves. That’s a dishonesty too. Obfuscation. Couching self in diplomatic terms because we fear…. So many things. Disapproval, giving offense, the fallout of truth. How often we lie to spare another discomfort. A forgivable sin in life, but not in art.
I can’t write honestly now.
I was listening to an interview with Billy Collins, and the question came up, whether he’s writing about himself, or a character in the first person. His answer was he writes about a more interesting version of himself. He could, as easily, have said a truer version of himself, with no meaning lost. My Hafiz and your Bukowski, they have more in common than you’d think; you’ll never catch either of them lying on the page. We’re all the same as we’ve always been.
If I ever start writing poems again, they won’t be what they used to be.
I was in the salon before our trip, waiting to have my hair done–it’s a little different than last time. Similar. But not exactly the same because I never get exactly the same haircut. I don’t know if you’d be able to tell the difference if I hadn’t told you. It doesn’t matter.
I was reading poetry on my phone. As I do when I’m somewhere with no wifi, waiting.
It’s good to be places without wifi. And to wait sometimes for something you want.
I was reading ‘Peanut Butter‘ by Eileen Myles. I never heard of her, but that doesn’t mean anything. There are lots of people I never heard of that are worth knowing. And some people I know that aren’t. But anyway. I like her. We are sympathetic animals.
I am always hungry
& wanting to have
Then she talks about peanut butter. I, too, like sex and peanut butter.
I, too, know the way hunger makes you aware of your body. Everything is more intense when you’re hungry. The physical becomes acute. There are times I live for weeks in the edge state of hunger. If you cannot, or will not, feed one primal urge, satiate another.
We are not meant to be fat and bloated animals, drugged on food. Lazy, castrated housecats. Do you remember what it’s like to need?
We are meant to be lean and always moving. We are meant to be hungry.
as a means,
and then a
with no ends
Pleasure being an end unto itself. I have a joke for you. It begins, an ascetic and a hedonist walk into a bar…
I don’t know how it ends.
I do wonder how they got to be friends.
This part reminds me of you:
When the water
boils I get
a cup of tea.
read all the
works of Proust.
I don’t know if you’ve ever read Proust, but I can imagine you having that kind of accident. This is a love poem, but the love parts don’t make me think of you.
Eileen Myles and I are sympathetic in love, also.
I have always
known be the
very best there
It’s important to know what hunger feels like. If you don’t know the ache of it, you don’t know when it’s soothed.
I’ve known people with a black hole where their stomach ought to be. They’re so out of touch with their own hunger, they don’t know when to stop eating. They can’t ever feel full because they don’t understand the nature of the hunger.
Up late the other night playing with my new toy. Too late. I felt half hung over the next day. We’ll say it was the late night, not the bag of crisps and the bottle of knockoff champagne I put away while I was loading apps.
I installed the Poetry Foundation’s poetry spinner. When you open it, it randomly selects two different themes, like ‘anger’ & ‘spirituality’ or ‘frustration’ & ‘celebrations’, and gives you a list of the poems where they intersect. I already have it on my phone.
Those moments when there’s not enough time to do anything but too much time to do nothing–waiting in queue at the post counter, riding three stops on the bus, when the person I’m with has to make a call–I fill those moments with poems.
Past the end of the bottle, in the small hours, I was lying on the sofa, too tired to read, to lonesome to go to sleep, and spinning up poems. Letting the machine read to me. Not all of them have audio, but enough.
I found myself listening to Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If—‘. I’ve never paid Kipling much attention. Not out of any particular dislike, but maybe because he’s often lauded as a Victorian poet and so I anticipate him as stodgy and socially moribund. I perhaps do Mr. Kipling a disservice. Some of ‘If—‘ seems as relevant to navigating the shark-infested waters of the internet & social media today as Victorian society of yesterday.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
The more old literature I read, the more I’m struck by how little we, as a species, have changed in the course of human history. We have shinier tools, but the characters of the animals wielding them are the same as we ever were.
Camus’s The Plague meets Lord of the Flies.
Last night, I said to Em, ‘I want to try this…‘
He looked about as interested as you imagine, which I took to mean he wasn’t interested at all, and probably content blocked whatever I was going to say by imagining lolcat videos in his head once he realized I was talking about housekeeping and not weird sex.
I still thought it was a good idea. So I talked about it some more. He maintained an indulgent attitude, which meant he was still thinking about lolcats, or maybe sex. Pussy, in either case.
This morning I was reading more Apartment Therapy with my coffee, as one does, and I said to him, ‘Apartment Therapy says we should declutter by getting rid of some of our dishes to free up cupboard space.’
He raised an eyebrow and said, ‘And which dishes are you going to get rid of?’
I said, ‘I think what they meant by “get rid of” is box some of them up and put them in storage until we need them.’
‘Mmm-hmm,’ he said.
Once I considered the logistics, the wrapping and boxing and carrying up the stairs, not to mention rearranging our crammed storage to accommodate another box, and the fact I’d have to go out and find a suitable box since I decluttered all our empty boxes three weeks ago, the whole thing sounded a lot like work. I decided to forego ‘getting rid of’ our excess dishes.
People interested in a plan promising a clean house in 20 minutes a day are largely interested because it sounds like less work.
I said, ‘I think decluttering my desk is a higher priority. I really need to clean out the drawers.’
He said, ‘I thought you were supposed to surface clean the kitchen and living room today.’
Figures he was listening after all. He’s sneaky like that.
I have a surface clean kitchen (and living room) and it really did take only 20 minutes. I was kind of sceptical, but I figured I should at least give it a chance so I set the timer on my phone and hit it like a keg at a frat party.
I also did three loads of laundry and took out the garbage and the recycling and put away the dishes and rearranged my kitchen counter to create another usable food prep area. That was not included in the twenty minutes a day.
I know what you’re thinking:
But the point here is that now… now… I’m decluttering the fridge, so I have leftover wine and some cheddar nearing the expiration date and a freshly downloaded copy of Go Set a Watchman, which I’m fully prepared to enjoy the hell out of, no matter what the internet, or the critics, say.
Note that I may not be able to resist livetweeting it. You may wanna mute me until tomorrow.
One of the great pleasures in returning to the internet is catching up on Charlotte Geater’s ‘Alchemical Notes‘ newsletter in my email.
Some things, once broken, aren’t worth the trouble of saving. Sweep them up. Dump them in the bin. Maybe there’s a pang if it was a favorite something. Maybe not even that. We live in the land of plenty where nothing is irreplaceable. In a day, a week, a month, we’ll have forgotten we ever had it, except in moments where a scent, a color, a song call the memory.
Few things are valuable enough, rare enough, to be worth saving. The painstaking work of collecting the pieces and fitting them back together, and sometimes you can’t. Sometimes a piece gets lost and the thing will never be whole again. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you don’t understand how they fit. Then there’s patience, waiting for the seal to set, the joint to harden, the bone to knit. The heart to mend.
For what. It’ll never be the same.
The message of our culture is disposable; it says, ‘Whatever you’ve broken, there’s another, a newer, shinier one, on the shelf, a later model on the showroom floor.’ Pristine.
One that doesn’t remind you of how it was broken.
That’s not what I meant to say about broken things. I meant to say sometimes they’re worth the saving. That they’ll never be the same again, but sometimes that doesn’t matter. That maybe something else is lost in the replacing. That the legend of breakage is history.
I feel certain that somewhere very near here–the first house down the road maybe–there’s a good poet dying, but also somewhere very near here somebody’s having a hilarious pint of pus taken from her lovely young body, and I can’t be running back and forth forever between grief and high delight.
–J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
Got my bicycle out of storage today. Filled the tires, rode in the sun and the wind. Only to the shop. It was the kind of wind that whips the winter dust into a golden cloud, stinging your eyes to tears. The grit in my teeth tastes like the desert. Never confuse the beach with the desert; they’re two different things.
There’s a scene where Nurse Elkins teaches Thackery to ride a bicycle. She tells him the first thing she did she did when she got to New York was buy the Rambler. She says, ‘I like riding in the city. It makes me feel like I’m a part of it.’
He says, ‘I saw you on it this morning. You didn’t look like you were part of anything. You looked free.’
Wine… cat… thinking: I don’t know how to be invisible. It’s a talent some people have. Being overlooked. Sometimes I wish I knew how to do that–fade, forgotten, into the background. Make myself invisible. I wish I knew how to make you stop looking at me.
Did I ever tell you my favorite jazz musician? I can’t remember.
Billie and Ella had wicked voices. And there’s Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington & Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery & Miles Davis. Oh of course Miles. But Monk…
Monk lives perpetually in my playlist. He’s the first thing I load on a new device. When I run out of space, removing Monk is never an option, no matter how many versions of ‘Round Midnight I have.
I’m listening to A Love Supreme now and remembering I still have to rip my Coltrane CDs to mp3.