1. Don't explain anything. Ever.
Anything? Ever? Really?
2. She sits in the bathroom with the shower running. A pad open on her lap. A pen in her hand. She listens to the water falling in the empty stall. She's convinced that if she listens closely enough she'll be able to make out the voices, overhear conversations. These are the dead in the next room talking. She waits until the steam covers the windows. She leans forward, straining to hear. But it's useless. No one is talking tonight.
Or they know she's listening.
Yes, that's it.
3. She's always a passenger. She likes to sit in cars, busses, trains and look out the window. It doesn't matter through what scenery they are passing. That's life, she thinks to herself, looking through the glass. Out there. Flying by. Or, if stuck in traffic,frozen, but only temporarily. Her idea of a perfect eternity is a train ride that never arrives anywhere.
"Open All Night"
(Book recently read)
I felt like I'd heard this story, or one very much like it, before and knew where it was going. As it turned out, I was half right, which is as high a percentage of rightness as I ever achieve.
7. Stuart Dybek is not exactly a household name. Not even in a house where many obscure names are mentioned. What would be the opposite of a household name?
8. On the door inside my freezer, there's a large plastic zip-loc bag. Inside is an agonized gray shape that looks like a large rat. You can't see clearly into the bag because of the intricately beautiful network of ice crystals clinging to the plastic. The bag has been there for a long time. At least since I moved into the apartment, which is three years ago this past May. For three years I've been too scared to touch it. I don't even look at it, except out of the corner of my eye and then in a vain attempt to convince myself that it isn't a rat after all, whenever I go into the freezer for ice, which is hardly ever. I don't use the freezer for anything else. Besides the ice cube trays, the inside of the freezer is as snow-blind as the Antarctican tundra. I am understandably terrified of extended power outages, of an untimely thaw. I'm much more scared of this happening than I am of global warming. Does that make me a terrible person? For three years I haven't had a man in my life who I could reasonably say "I think I might have a frozen rat in my freezer" and ask to throw the bag out for me. That may be the saddest part of all this, the part I most regret. On the other hand, one positive is that I definitely eat a lot more fresh food than I would otherwise eat.
9. A doll, a potato, a burial, a resurrection—as a child you have to piece this stuff together as best you can.
11. The stories collected in Ecstatic Cahoots range in length from two sentences to no more than ten pages. Many read more like prose poems than short stories, comprised as they are of a dense, visual, associative language. A few are downright surrealistic. Others, like Brisket, about a young down-and-out man who ordered a deli sandwich from a concentration camp survivor are of a more traditional slice-of-life variety with a wry O-Henry twist. Although I suppose I should add that I've never read an actual O.Henry story.
12. Dybek takes the title of this collection from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby:
"They're a rotten crowd," I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."
…First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we'd been in ecstatic cahoots.
13. The only thing I miss about being Catholic is confession: sitting in that cramped booth, drunk on incense, glowing in the dark with shame, your heart tripping as the the panel scrapes open and you dare yourself to finally tell the shadow behind the golden waffled light the one thing you're sure can never be forgiven.
15. Somewhere I read that drowning yourself is the most pleasant way to commit suicide. Is it erotic to drown yourself if a lifeguard saves you? Maybe for the lifeguard. You're unconscious, helpless, partially nude, and blue. I suspect it's as much a form of necrophilia as it is a metaphor for Sleeping Beauty.
16. Its snowing, snowing, snowing and a car pulls up and a man leans across the seat and offers to give you a lift. Garcia Lorca. A phone number on a scrap of paper. What do you do? Am I real?
17. Nude in a mirror
beneath his underwear
in a drawer
18. Faun: "The current that he still clutches now flows through his fist, unraveling between his fingers like a braid coming loose down the spine of a virgin."
19. Every door we ever closed. Every door that was closed on us. What if they all rose from the sea of forgetfulness with someone pounding on the other side, demanding to be let in?
Do we really want to know?
21. "Not everyone still has a place they've come from. So Martin tries to describe a single version of his multiple nowheres." But why? Why bother? Who says one must have an autobiography or a universe? How can we really say where we come from? Any point we pick is arbitrary. The question is always implied if seldom asked: Where were we before that? I come from everywhere even if I am going nowhere.
22. Who knows but that the shock or terror of some story read to us in childhood by a well-meaning adult might not have cast its long shadow forward over our entire lives. What if one absorbed the sense that life really worked the way it does in Little Red Riding Hood or The Tell-Tale Heart? What if we imprinted the atmosphere of these stories as a model of reality?
24. I kidnapped myself and refused to pay the ransom. Not one thin dime! I shouted defiantly at my abductor's demands. Keep her! Good luck and good riddance! Hahahahahaha!
26. Stuart Dybek was born on April 10, 1942. As of this writing, he is 72 years old.
27. —I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.
-It's alright. You didn't.
—No, I did. And I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything.
-Come on. Let's get into bed.
—I might not feel up to doing it anymore.
—That's okay. We don't have to do anything. We can just lie here and listen to the rain.
—You know, you're a wonderful writer.
—Sssh. Just listen.
28. Sex with a partner a floor away, a computer screen away, a telescope away—connected by a story, a picture, a moan in the dark from another room, by nothing at all but a fantasy.
And, of course, a need greater even than flesh.
29. —Do you ever fantasize about me?
—Really? What's your fantasy?
—It involves a razor.
—Do I really want to hear this?
—No. Probably not.
30. —I'd sell my body. It wouldn't pose an ethical problem for me.
—Why not? If it doesn't pose an ethical problem. Is it a matter of finances?
—I'd find it too embarrassing to charge.
—It's less shameful to give it away?
—I'm not sure I follow your reasoning.
—There's not reasoning to it.
—You're a romantic.
—I'm certainly not a capitalist.
—So. Would you give it to me? For free, I mean.
—You're kidding, right?
—This is where I'm supposed to say "yeah," isn't it?
32. Dybek has been compared to Saul Bellow and Theodore Dreiser, two other writers who I've never read.
33. Beth returned to the office after a bout of the flu looking better than ever. Jan, full of antibodies cursed herself. She was safe from fever, immune to change.
34. Dreams of flying
free of language
up where angels sing
and you can read
the pebbles like the stars
35. The metallic rasp of a meteor shower…
—Why does it matter to you?
—It doesn't matter to me.
—It sure seems like it does.
But it did.
No way to know.
He got out of bed and walked to the window, lighting a cigarette.
…turned out to be the sound of a long length of aluminum gutter being dragged from a truck bed.
(Entering the Sunshine State)
37. Yes, I have had men do that and of course it makes me uncomfortable, who wouldn't be? I mean, it's not the part of my body I'm most secure about. Who is? Unless you're a total freak. I don't know what they're thinking. They seem to want to see everything, put their fingers and tongues in everywhere. Like, yuck, right? It's not that I'm a pig or anything. I keep myself clean and especially knowing that it's a possibility, that it's always in play…good grief, did I really say that? Am I really talking about this? Look, they know what they're in for going back there in the first place, right? That's what I figure. That's what I tell myself anyway in order to relax. I tell myself I'm not responsible after a certain point. If that's what they want, have at it, okay? Does it work? Of course not! But that's what I do, that's what I tell myself all the same. I still feel responsible in case something goes wrong. If he doesn't like it for some reason! I'm still a nervous wreck the whole time, unless I smoke a joint, which helps a little. It's absurd, right? I know it is, but it is what it is, it's an asshole, for crissakes!, oh please, don't make me laugh, it's not funny, it's not…stop stop I'm going to choke if you don't stop….
38. Mostly no one ever thinks about it when they're young and healthy but I wonder how many people lying in hospital beds, whittled by cancer or some other horrible disease would rather have died in the heat of passion at the hands of a lover? How many would spare themselves their pain and jump at the chance to escape their current deathbeds if only they could still arrive at such a rendezvous with death no matter that it meant dying fifteen, even twenty years earlier?
39. —I'm not dying, she said.
—Of course not, he answered, with as much assertion as he could muster, having already talked to the doctor.
—I'm not, she echoed, and added, I'm going home.
He swallowed hard.
—I don't mean the house. I don't mean our home.
There was no point in asking for clarification. What she meant, he really didn't think he wanted to hear. It was at that moment, despite everything, he understood that he, too, was drawing sustenance from false hope. What he had mistakenly perceived as her false hope.
—I'm not speaking metaphorically either.
He smiled, at a loss, and tried to change the subject to the doings of a niece.
—I'm not delirious, Walter. I'm speaking quite literally.
—Okay. I believe you.
—I'm returning. I was sent here. It was a mistake.
—It was a mistake, he agreed just to keep her calm. Not that she was showing any trace of agitation. In fact, she seemed spookily calm. Then he looked around the hospice room, filled as it was with the machinery of dying, and realized that it was hard to disagree with her.
—Coming here, she said, was a mistake. I came from somewhere else, you see. And now I'm going back. It's a relief.
She put her hand over the back of his.
—You're the only thing on this planet that I'll miss.
40. He couldn't help it. He kept touching the bruise on her hip. It was like a doorbell. It was like he was inquiring: Is anyone home?
—Ouch! she said.
—Damn it Jim!
—Will you knock it off!
He kept pressing the button and running away to hide in the bushes. He couldn't help himself. He never got tired of the game. He felt as if he were eleven years old again. It seemed so funny. Stupid as it was, it never got old. She kept opening the door, looking both ways, no one was there. The expression on her face. She fell for it again and again. Who was she looking for anyway? He was already creeping up to press the bell again.
Is anyone home?
41. —Has it changed do you think?
—I don't know. Maybe.
—Maybe? Can't you tell?
—I'm not sure. I'm not sure I remember what it looked like. I'm not sure if I even noticed it before. It's not like it's the only one back here.
—Not noticed it? How could you miss it? Do you even look at me?
—Come on Patty. Don't make get yourself upset.
—Don't get upset? Easy for you to say.
—Just try not to jump to the worst possible conclusion, that's all I'm saying. It's probably nothing.
—Well how am I supposed to know if it changed or not. Brown, dark brown, black. Maybe it was always this color. What would you even call this color?
—Dark-brownish-black. Parts of it dark brown, parts black? Its kind of variegated. The closer you look the more shades you see.
—Exactly. That's the problem.
—And the edges. Are they regular? What's regular? It's not like it's drawn on with a compass. Everything in nature is irregular, isn't it? I think I read that somewhere. So how can it be regular? See, it spreads out a little on the side, gets a little waver over there. Sometimes it looks like it's gotten bigger to me but I'm not sure. I never measured it. For all I know, it might have gotten smaller. Is that even possible?
—I don't know. You should probably ask a doctor.
—You really think it's suspicious enough to warrant a doctor visit?
—I'm sure it's nothing. It couldn't hurt, right?
—That means yes. You think it's bad, don't you?
—I never said that.
—Of course you did. Just in different words. You said I should see a doctor.
—I also said I'm sure it's nothing. Did you forget that part?
—So what are you saying? You can't have it both ways.
He starts to answer, not exactly knowing what to say, but she cuts him off, which is just as well. He'll only dig himself deeper.
—Just imagine. You're supposed to do this for all of them. Keep an eye on them. That's what they tell you. How can anyone do it? How many do you think you have all over your body? Two or three hundred? They're like stars in the sky. And some of them you can't even see. They're hidden in crannies you can't get to, like in the cleft of your buttocks for instance. Tell me how you're supposed to keep an eye on them there? How are you supposed to tell if it's changed when you've never seen it before? Are you supposed to keep a chart with photographs? Have a friend go over your body every week with a magnifying glass?
He didn't have an answer.
Later, as he positioned himself behind her, he couldn't help noticing it now that she'd brought it to his attention. In fact, he thought if that thing had always been like it was now there's no way he could not have noticed it. At least he couldn't imagine not noticing it. Maybe she was right. Maybe he never really did look at her.
42. Knock tight
44. —Never explain.
—How do you expect anyone to understand you, then?
—If I have to explain, I don't.
45. Why do women use that awful helium-pitced screech when presented with another woman's baby? Is it to prove to everyone how maternal they are? To assure everyone they aren't envious? That they really don't want "to eat the sweet little thing all up?", that it's just a figure of speech? A figure of speech for what, really? Maybe there was a time in the dim beginnings of the species where mothers literally ate the babies of other mothers to ensure their own children's survival? Maybe it was simply to prove how much they cared when, in fact, they really didn't care that much at all. Whatever the source of that voice it set Pamela's teeth on edge. It was phony, it had to be, they all used it, as if they were all doing imitations of Mae West or Greta Garbo, a voice so well-known anyone could do a passable cliche version of it. Her own daughter, at three, shrank away from that voice whenever it was directed at her by waitresses in diners, relatives they seldom saw, old women in grocery lines. It was one of the things that Pamela loved most about Melissa—as a person, not merely as her daughter—this ability to detect a fake. "What are you thinking about," Max said, turning briefly from the traffic pattern splashed across the windshield. "Nothing," she said, feeling the tears collecting in the ledge at the bottom of her sunglasses. The empty thirty-five acres for sale outside her window was gray as deep-frozen beef.
46. One day
I'll belatedly learn
that you have died;
I'll feel like a cartoon cat
who's been running in mid-air
47. If you weren't expecting it, and why should you be, I could cross the room, hurdle on the table, and before you could react jam these chopsticks in your eyes. And after you finished howling, and your long hospital stay was over and you were learning to feel your way with a white cane, you'd think back to tonight with the snow and the champagne and the smell of takeout that cooks sweating over spattering woks had ladled into cartons for a kid who probably can't speak English to bring us on his bike in the driving rain, and I bet you'd realize that you were happy. You just can't see it at this moment. —Stuart Dybek
48. My aspiration is to create a kind of non genre made up of fiction, autobiography, the essay, poetry, and of course, the joke.
(book recently read)
51. One day you will wake up and everything, the stones by the driveway, the brick houses, each brick, each leaf of each tree, your own body, will be glowing from within, lit up so bright you can hardly look. You will reach out in any direction and you will touch the light itself. —Margaret Atwood
52. I was arriving at a language that was really my own; that is, it no longer concerned others, it no longer sought common ground. I was cutting the anchor. —James Tate
I decide to write this story with my left hand for a change. My right hand has been in charge long enough. Don't get me wrong. I appreciate all the forks and spoons and cups it's brought to my lips over the years, all the checks it's signed, all the times it's wiped my ass. It's done yeoman service, it's really stepped up to the plate when I most needed a hand, no one would deny it, least of all me. I couldn't have survived this long without it. It's even written a handful of halfway decent stories and poems, a few successful love letters, too. But enough's enough. Let's face it. My life's a mess and the fingerprints of my right hand are all over the scene of the crime. I'm taking the hammer away before it can do any more well-meaning damage. I'm handing the reigns over to its slower, awkward half-brother instead. There's no guarantee that my left hand can do any better; in fact, there's every reason to believe it'll make things worse. But I think it at least deserves a chance before it's too late. It's been hanging there, like an empty glove, patient and quiet, keeping its own counsel all these many years. Who knows what secrets it holds? What fortune, good or ill, like encrypted in its palm. I think it's time to find out. Why wait for a stroke or a chainsaw accident? Why wait for someone to break into the house in the wee hours before checking if the .38 hidden in the night-table beside the bed is loaded or not?
Ron Sukenick: On the one hand you have a tradition of logic that has to do with the gaining preeminence of written language. Then, on the other, you have the tradition of the rhetoricians, which is antithetical and self-contradictory and flowing. I wouldn't exactly say anti-logical, but it doesn't have the same kind of syllogistic logic based on fixed philosophical ideas and definitions. It's an improvisational sort of intelligence, based on the way we think and speak more than on the way we read. I think it's much more appropriate to our mode of thinking these days, especially when you think of the kinds of popular and innovative arts we're surrounded by that have gotten started in this century. I'm thinking especially of modes like jazz, like Abstract Expressionism. These are forms that move sometimes in alogical, anti-linear, anti-syllogistic, improvisational ways. So this is the kind of rival tradition that, I would say, is coming to the fore. And it's not exactly avant-garde. It has deep, deep roots.
(to work—envelope art)
Sam He Was
One morning Sam realized he just couldn't wear that same old Sam suit anymore. He saw it hanging there on its hook where he always hung it in the evening before inserting himself into bed. There was nothing wrong with it, really. It wasn't torn or completely out of style, a little worn at the knees and elbows maybe, but it still and a good deal of life left in it. With the aid of a decent tailor or a wife handy with needle and thread, he could probably get another fifteen, twenty years out of the suit at least. It would have been a shame just to ball it up and stuff it in the garbage chute just because he didn't want it anymore. Sam never believed in our disposable culture. He was out of step with the times that way. Instead of throwing the suit in the garbage, he decided to donate it to Goodwill. He found the number in the yellow pages and arranged a pick-up time. With that settled, he sat down to breakfast. He ate his cornflakes as he always did, methodically, spoon by spoon. Then he picked up the bowl and titled it towards his mouth to drink out the remaining milk. "Delicious," he said, smacking his lips.
Some time later, the doorbell rings. Sam doesn't answer. It rings again (and a few more times after that). Same story. No answer. Whoever's on the other side checks the address, mutters a curse, and goes away.
It was nearly a week later that the landlord opened the door for Sam at the urging of a downstairs neighbor. The police were soon called, as is the custom in these situations. They conducted a brief, lackadaisical investigation. No one could identify the woman they found in Sam's bed. And she, being mute, confused, and naked as the day she was born, could offer no explanation as to how she came to be there or where she had come from before being found in Sam's bed or what Sam's empty skin was doing hanging on a hook behind the bathroom door.
E.M. Cioran: The secret of my adaptation to life? I've changed despairs the way I've changed shirts.
At the side of the inlet a man is fishing. He is bundled into a shapeless gray coat, his nose red as a clown's, his lips wet and uneven. He is drunk. He is the kind of man who turns up in every police line-up as a suspect for every kind of crime. His wife left him twenty years ago. He has suffered two heart attacks already. He will be sixty-five this May. The water before him is gray and pocked with rain. He turns the handle of the fishing reel slowly. The sky above him colorless, like the bottom of a frying pan. The fish aren't biting. If you asked him what he was thinking he'd say, "Man I wish I had a hot pretzel." A patrol car passes slowly. A rookie cop turns to his partner behind the wheel, his mouth opened to ask— "Nah," the veteran says. "That guy's alright. Leave him be." A seagull wheels into view, hangs steady in the stiff headwind a while, as if it might portend something.
What misery to be afraid of death.
What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven. —Mary Oliver
(tree of life-envelope art)
Arn vowed never to write again. This was last week. On a Thursday, at 7.31pm. Arn had made a note of it; it was the last thing he wrote. This morning, his pen, which lay untouched on the table for the succeeding six days was nudged from its place by his coffee cup. The pen began to roll toward the edge of the table. Without thinking, Arn shot his hand out to save it from a fall to the floor. His palm came down harder than he intended. From the next room, his infirm mother took off her oxygen mask to shout, "For god's sake, Arn. What is it now?!" "Nothing mother! Arn shouted back. He glared at the pen, the source of so many miseries, as he took another sip of his coffee. This time he set the cup down at such a great distance from the pen and so softly, too, that the cup didn't even touch the table. His mother in the next room put the oxygen mask back on her face. The sound of her breathing tattooed the white walls with a whiter graffiti. One day, if she didn't die sooner, they would all be erased simply as a result of her breathing. "Go ahead," Arn muttered at the pen. "I dare you." Everything defied everything else. The cup continued to float a millimeter above the table.
An infinity of error makes its way into our Philosophy through Man's habit of considering himself a citizen of a world solely—of an individual planet—instead of at least occasionally contemplating his position as a cosmopolite proper—as a denizen of the universe. —Edgar Allan Poe
…which is what Lovecraft set himself out to do, following the implications of such contemplations to their horrifying logical conclusion: our absolute cosmic insignificance.
She was a woman but she was also a cactus. She was swollen with water but covered with spines. She ached for the thirst of a staggering traveler but the desert surrounding her was deemed uncrossable by the many who'd already failed. She longed to be an oasis but try as she might could only be a mirage. The stars that were spread above her promised that someday she would surely be discovered if only by accident, for it was all-too-easy for men to miscalculate and venture off-course. But the desert is full of promises easy to believe because they take thousands of years to break. The treacheries are many. There is always another dawn. A sun remote and pitiless. A hot dry wind full of blinding sand. And a dune over which something might come.
65. Christmas morning in Florida.
Where you are: 203 miles from Pensecola.
Where Pensecola is: 203 miles from you.
A window of sunlight
on a hotel room carpet.
I kneel in the window
take your cock in my mouth…
When I'm done,
the window has moved.
"A dark cloud
passed across your face
I knew something about you
I never knew before."
A cactus that desperately wants to give water
but grows spines because it fears anyone who comes close enough to drink.
This is the essence of the desert.
Fantasy is an oasis. What enables us to survive this world.
Unwrapping gifts, feeling no joy or excitement, but an intense shame and guilt, a regret about everything…
It is better to give than to receive.
The breathtaking complexity that enables the centipede to scramble so fluidly into the moldy seam between the bathroom tiles—that arouses in me only revulsion…
To reduce the number of things we turn from in disgust is the practice of one who wishes to fully appreciate life.
Nothing one can think hasn't already been thought before—
Does this make one feel a sense of connection with others or merely the futility and purposelessness of life?
(pink flowers-envelope art)
67. Double meanings are highly valued in Japanese poetics. Also, leaving things partial can either be or be akin to synecdoche. The Japanese refer to such suggestion as fragrance, . You don’t need to say everything, because the fragrance will continue, and you can keep experiencing what the fragment suggests even after the piece formally closes. Just because something is partial doesn’t mean that the whole is not, somehow, present. It just means that something is not going to be fully extended or even fully realized as an image. —Kimiko Hahn
69. I hang around, quietly, unobtrusively, motionless as a fly strip, in a cafe, in a train station, in a hotel lobby. I wait for the stray thought, the random image, the illusory moment of insight to attach itself to me. And these I record in the little notebook I keep with me always.
70. I've begun reading Lars Iyer's Dogma. The middle book in his trilogy following philosopher pals Lars and W. Sixty pages in and improbable as it may see, this second of the three book in the series is the best…certainly the funniest.
The roaring of the sea is like the roaring of my stupidity, W. says. It's a terrible sound, but a magnificent one, too. It's the sound of un-learning, he says. It's the sound of Lars, of the chaos that undoes every idea.
There's silence and silence. There is the reserve of the wise man, full of learning, full of modesty, who knows that the truth is infinitely subtle, infinitely complex, and that one must never speak too soon. And there is the roaring silence of the idiot, which resounds with dark matter and barren wastes and bacteria—with everything that is unredeemed in the universe. —Lars Iyer
(book recently read)
72. Did Beckett really spend his final years at an old age home reading Dante and watching cricket on TV? Why not? He had to be doing something. Do we imagine him, even in his twilight years, forever bent over the page, recording lines of genius?
—reminds me of Cioran's observation about how difficult it is to picture what Socrates might have been doing at 2pm of any given afternoon.
(cactus & the desert sky)
74. As he did in Exodus and Spurious, Lars Iyer delivers more of the same in Dogma. One might have suspected as much, Dogma being the second book in the trilogy. Still is that an excuse for writing what is basically the same book three times? Or did he write one long book and divide it into three? Does it make a difference? Either way it goes on for a good 600 pages. Is that too long? Do we mind? Can we endure it that long? Or enjoy it that much?
I can only speak for myself. I do enjoy the continuing company of Lars and W. Yes, the books are repetitive. Even within one book there is a lot of repetition. But repetition is fitting in this instance. Every thinker has his or her own obsessions around which their philosophical lives endlessly revolve. And so its also fitting in a sense that their discussion continue ad infinitum (if only mortality would allow it) inasmuch as it's the nature of a philosophical life that the discourse run concurrent to that life, that it never come to a conclusion. It's only at Iyer's discretion as an author whether or not that discussion (and that life) will continue to be recorded in additional books. If it is continued, I'll probably continue to read them. Lars and W make amusing, mildly thought-provoking company as they bumble and bicker through this postmodern shambles of a world.
75. W to Lars: There's a difference between knowing you know nothing only to sally forth from your ignorance and wallowing in your ignorance like a hippo in a swamp.
76. Messianism, obesity, the need to reignite a religious fervor for life, the c(r)apitalization of the world, the exile of philosophy to the very margins of existence, the apocalypse which may have already occurred…
78. A baby of five or six weeks old is a wailing bundle of existential rage and impotence, a thing of despair created out of nothing, a soul in the torment of terror in its purest form—a terror unmitigated by any equivocation or illusion…
I don't know how it's possible to hear its piercing cry of agonized despair, to see the stunned uncomprehending expression in its wide, blinded eyes, and not feel a terrible guilt. I don't understand how, whether its your fault or not, you can escape the instinct to apologize for it being brought here without its permission from wherever it is it came from. In its wrinkled, disapproving little face, I see the panic, the accusation, the rejection of the vast senselessness that it is suddenly forced to face. It is the look you might expect to find on the face of an old person facing the senselessness of death. It is a senselessness that it will spend the rest of its life trying to dispel, deny, surmount, or, as most people do, simply ignore. All we can offer the poor thing to cope are the many ultimately insufficient strategies developed for the purpose of asserting, beyond all reason, that this life is worth living—which amounts to the accumulated legacy of what it means to be a human being. "I'm sorry little dude," I want to say. "I am so so sorry you're here. I haven't got a good explanation for it. But try not to get too upset. They'll convince you it's a good thing after a while. They'll help you get used to it. You might even have a good twenty, thirty years or so when it really will seem like a good thing. It'll be the last twenty that'll reduce you back to this state of despair. But that's a long long way in the future. For now…" Well, it does no good. It can't understand a word you're saying, of course. All you can do is pat it, make incoherent noises and funny faces, rock it, and let it bawl itself to an exhausted unconsciousness.
Would it be too much if I were to say again how much I appreciate the use of your cabin? It has been a real life-saver, if not literally, than certainly metaphorically. If I were to speak strictly literally, I could, with perfectly accuracy, say it was a life-enhancer. The trees (even in their currently ragged state of shedding), the fresh air, the occasional furtive deer, the birdsong, even the sudden trail-side rustle of leaves that sends my heart galloping out of control for several alarming minutes, it has all been a tonic to me. I feel some great insights beginning to unfold inside me. I’m not sure exactly what they are yet, but stay tuned. Anyway, I can't thank you enough, so I keep thanking you again and again.
I have always wanted to be one of those women who retire to the seaside for a year to take stock of their lives, taking long meandering strolls along the shore, studying the habits of terns and clams, recording the changes in weather and the shifting of the dunes, even making little sketches of starfish and other detritus left behind by the retreat of the tide, that sort of thing. Of course, your cabin sits in the woods far from any ocean, or river, or any body of water, for that matter, except for the occasionally flooded meadow (if that is what you call it) but it amounts to much the same thing: a woman taking stock of her life in the solitude of nature. If you can call it solitude--there is so much present in nature that one is never really alone, the lack of human companionship notwithstanding.
I'm beginning to understand that is a large part of what you come to realize when alone in nature. That you are not really alone but at the same time you aren't a very big part of anything around you. My only regret is that I never learned much about the names of flowers and trees. I guess I could buy one of those field guides but it’s not the same thing. Nature is not something you can learn from a book, I suspect, or in a set amount of time, but a subject you must experience, like a second language, perhaps, something that I also wished I could but never learned. Not that I didn’t try…learning a second language, that is. I simply never had the aptitude for it. I have a hard enough time making myself understood in the language I do know.
I had a boyfriend once who told me how much he liked peeing in those urinals where they have the little deodorant cakes. He got a satisfaction from directing his stream onto the cake, watching it reduce almost imperceptibly in size, doing his part, knowing that it would eventually disappear. That is a pretty good metaphor for how I'd felt with Douglas for the last year and a half. I feel like I'm disappearing here in the woods but in a better, more positive, more, dare I use that vague mean-nothing word we both have so often mocked, "holistic" way.
Thank you again,
(elephants, Hardeeville, SC)
81. The homesick feeling you get leaving a hotel room—for home.
82. Zuihitsu as a novel? Why not?
83. Only a book never meant for publication, a book not meant for eyes other than those of their author can be truly, 100% honest. Only such a book seeks to please no one, owes nothing to anyone, fears no judgment. Such a book follows only its own inspiration.
It need serve no purpose.
It need be about no one thing or any thing at all.
It is free to be whatever it is.
It need not even be coherent.
Lenkiewicz: the Plymouth Rembrandt
Josh T. Pearson
The blur outside the window
of the car doing eighty. Outside a gas station
a pile of oranges on a folding table.
You surprise me
chocolate cake Krispy Kreme donuts.
(view from hotel room window: Walterboro, SC)
87. It's not so much that I don't trust people. I don't trust myself with people. I can't read properly the directions for use with which they come. It's as if the directions were written in a language with which I'm not familiar, a highly technical jargon filled with synonyms and neologism and dense with alternately negating clauses like legalese or the explanation of quantum physics whose meaning I lose like the pea under the con man's walnut shell before the trick is finished. In the end, what I think is there is never here nor there, it's always somewhere else, or nowhere at all. Don't play! I have to remind myself over and over. It seems like such an easy game. Don't play!
88. Perhaps this is already hell. They—the ones we once were—lived out their whole lives somewhere else. No doubt they committed terrible crimes. No doubt they were guilty of the worst. And we're what's left, serving out our sentence, having been stripped of our memories…
Or perhaps we're souls waiting to be reborn. perhaps this is a great waiting room; this, the time before a dentist's appointment, when nothing very important happens; we leaf through a magazine, we gaze out of the window. All our books, all our philosophies are only articles in some gossip magazine.
Why haven't they called our name? Have they forgotten that we're here? —Lars Iyer
89. Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen? Perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not. Only the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knew—or perhaps he does not know. —The Vedas
90. Last words of 2 Franz's:
And now it comes, the point of all points, which the Lord has truly revealed to me in my sleep: the point of all points for which there
A bird was in the room.
Everything was so infinite.
91. The circumstances that lead to our travels together have always remained a matter of some dispute between Phil and I. He defines them as a matter of enhanced seduction.
He's immovable on this point.
I insist on calling it what it was.
92. Pre-technological peoples were right in their instinctive fear of being of photographed, Phil explained. Allowing yourself to be photographed is like allowing someone to read your fortune. You are giving up your power and ownership, whether over your image or your fate, you are surrendering your inalienable right to alter and definite them according to your will and you will alone. Never yield control of your iconic image: it is your birthright.
So in other words, you won't let me take your picture in front of the giant cow.
In one word or less? No.
(traffic into Virginia)
94. Centipedes can have a varying number of legs, from 30 to 354.
Centipede legs are paired in odd numbers. ie. 15, 17, 23, 177, etc. Therefore, it would be a rare centipede indeed that had 100 legs.
Centipedes range in size from a few millimeters up to one-foot in length.
The common house centipede is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean. It was introduced into Mexico and spread to the American South. Its presence was first recorded in Pennsylvania in 1849.
Jimmy didn't want anything most married guys didn't want. He wanted me to meet him at the door dressed in skimpy lingerie and high heels. He didn't want to be bugged about his day or when he was going to cut the lawn or take the kids to soccer practice. He didn't want to be reminded about the visit to the mother-in-law that weekend. He didn't care about the shelf lining paper needed in the kitchen or the new curtains needed for the guest bedroom. Most married women do not want to know these facts. They grow angry when they hear them. They block them out with their anger. He wanted to drop his pants in the living room and to have me kneel in front of the chair in which he liked to sit. He didn't even care about the candles I lit or the incense I burned or the atmosphere I tried to create. Later he'd have a cup of coffee and—occasionally—a scone or cookie I'd baked, but he didn't really care about these things either. He just wanted to put his cock in my mouth and to have me suck on it for twenty minutes or so. He wanted to say dirty things to me. He wanted to call me his whore without me taking offense. Men are very straightforward about what they want; they are very straightforward in general. They learn to lie when they learn that the woman they're with won't accept the truth. They lie to avoid the fighting, the nagging, the guilt-tripping and judgmental belittling they associate with women who are displeased. Like most men, Jimmy wanted me to be enthusiastic about sucking him off. He wanted to rub his cock on my face and in my hair. He wanted to come in my mouth and have me swallow it and not get up and go to the bathroom right away to brush my teeth and rinse my mouth out with Listerine. Then he wanted to put his pants on and leave without any fuss, without having to say where he was going or when he'd be back. He wanted to leave with a brief goodbye, or, if he had the time, after a brief, casual conversation over a cup of coffee and maybe a cookie or two. After that, he wanted to go home to his wife and family who he was now ready to endure or, possibly even appreciate, with a calm mind and a satisfied body. "I'll call you," he said. He didn't want to be forced to be more specific than that. And because I didn't force him, he would call, a week or two or even three weeks later. He would always call eventually. Even five years later, he would call. Like I said, he was not unlike most married men.
I'm sorry for my most recent email (the one prior to this one, although I am preemptively sorry for this one, too). It was weak and stupid. But I am weak and stupid. Of course this email will cause me no end of regret the moment after I press "send." The only way I can break the inevitable chain of emails I regret writing, one after another and each meant to correct or explain the one before, ad infinitum, is to break off communication by email altogether, which is the purpose of the present email. The last email I will send you.
To most normal people, my decision to take such an extreme measure will probably seem, well, abnormal. I wouldn't know. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. If they (the so-called normal people) thought so, I certainly wouldn't argue. No one whose known me longer than a week has come to the conclusion that I was one of them (the so-called normal people). That I can tell you for a fact.
This afternoon I bought a book from the bargain shelf at Books-a-Million. It was a collection of short stories by Gordon Lish called Mourner at the Door. It was marked down to only three dollars. At the register the woman tried to sell me on one of those membership things they hawk at so many stores nowadays. I politely declined. All I wanted was this three-dollar sale book. I wouldn't even have bought that if it weren't marked down to three dollars.
But the cashier persisted, going into this long canned spiel about how much I could save, what bargains I'd be privy to, on and on etc. if I signed up for a membership. Only thirty-five dollars a year or something like that. I waited until she was finished and once again said "thank you, but no I didn't want to buy a membership." I explained that I seldom shop for books at stores, preferring to buy them online from Amazon, and when I did shop at a brick and mortar store it wasn't at a Books-a-Million, whose stores, except for a very abbreviated and unsatisfactory version in Long Island, aren't even located anywhere close to where I live. I thought I made myself clear.
But as if she'd heard nothing of what I'd just said, she all but repeated her earlier sales pitch, highlighting all the supposed advantages of buying a Books-a-Million membership. Well none of this was really to the point. The point was that I didn't want a membership. I just didn't want it. Did I really have to explain why not? I didn't want it the way you don't want an apple sometimes. Or the way you don't want to listen to Bach when you aren't in the mood for Bach. Or have sex when you don't want sex, etc. It wasn't a matter of reasons, of being convinced or talked into it. But I've noticed a curious thing about people who are trying to convince you to do something you don't want to do. The more you explain, out of politeness, out of empathy, out of guilt for disappointing them, the more they press you. I think by giving them reasons for saying "no" I'm giving them the impression that my mind could be changed. I realized my mistake in this particular instance the way I always realize my mistakes. Too late.
Out of nowhere, the tears came. I guess it was just sheer frustration. The tears of a lifetime of this kind of interaction with people flowed out of some deep hot hidden well at the core of me. No one could have been more surprised than me at my spontaneous breakdown. I was sobbing uncontrollably, all but shaking apart at the seams. At the same time I was trying to speak, half-coherently, I'm sure. What I was saying, or trying to say, was "Why can't anyone ever listen to me? Why don't they take what I say seriously? When I say no I mean no. Why doesn't anyone believe me?" This is the gist of what I was saying. What I meant to say.
It was a horrible scene I was making, as you can well imagine, not something I usually do, I assure you, being too deathly embarrassed to draw attention to myself at all. I am mortified just thinking about it in the safety of retrospect. But it was effective, I have to say. It got the cashier to stop trying to sell me that damn membership almost immediately. Stopped her right in mid-sentence. It brought the store manager over to take me aside and assure me that everything was okay. That I didn't have to buy a membership if I didn't want one. Hysteria has its undeniable social advantages. If you want people to leave you alone, that is. At this point, I don't think they wanted me as a member. Probably they'd be glad if I never returned to the store at all. The manager, nice as can be, offered to buy me a coffee at the in-store cafe. I declined, but thanked her anyway. By now, she had steered me away from the register, away from the other customers, towards the back of the store, near reference, where they keep the dictionaries. A very unpopular section, comparatively speaking. I was endangering business, you see, by carrying on as I was, and that's one thing that always gets you some respect if nothing else does: upsetting capitalism at work.
It wasn't until I got home that I realized I'd never paid for the Lish book. So I saved three bucks. All's well that ends well, I guess.
I hope this clarifies my position at least somewhat. Although, I'm not sure even I see how it does. I'm scratching my head, figuratively speaking, trying to find any connection myself.
But there's a connection there somewhere. I'm relatively certain of it.
It will be very difficult and cause me a great deal of anxiety to ignore any subsequent emails you might send, or might have sent, before receiving this email, which I would have to think would discourage you for numerous reasons from continuing to attempt to contact me again.
Why I should have so exaggerated my reaction to that lost package I don't know. I suppose I was trying to express my sincere regret but it came out so absurdly overblown. It was awkward and embarrassing, as all but the briefest and most impersonal of my interpersonal contacts inevitably are. Even now, as I type these words, I'm aware of the awkwardness of this email. I don't know how to show emotion in suitable proportion to the situation at hand. It's easier for me to show no emotion at all and this is why I seldom do (show emotion).
Good grief. The more I write the more horribly complicated this all becomes. I should just break off in the middle of this sentence and fall into silence for good.
But, no, here I am again in a new sentence. Explaining.
The real probability was that it wasn't necessary at all for me to explain. But I have no social sense. It's all so complicated, what is and isn't appropriate, and it's tortuous to me to try to figure out, second-guessing myself as I do. It's easier to have nothing to do with people at all. You'd think I was raised by wolves. If only I'd been so lucky!!!
The package was sent to me. I had nothing to do with it. I didn't address it, stamp it, bring it to the post office. I didn't sort it, put it on a truck, deliver it to my porch. I had absolutely no control over whether it arrived or not. You would have thought I was to blame for its going missing the way I went on about it. But that's how it is with me. I feel myself to blame for everything that goes wrong. Why? That's another story. Let me not go into it here. Or anywhere. What I'm saying is enough. More than enough. I think that's partly why I'm writing this absurd email: to illustrate for you clearly my dysfunction.
I believe I have succeeded at least in that much.
Be assured (though how or even why it should reassure you I cannot imagine) that I still hold you in the same affection as before, which is a lot, considering the tangential nature of our relationship.
America is a spent country, Phil says. It's depleted. You can tell just by looking at the fields. Look at them.
I look at them. They surround the interstate in every direction as far as the eye can see. They engulf the airbus.
The soil is depleted, Phil says. The cows look sickly. They keep pumping more and more chemicals into both. But it doesn't help. It's all sickened, drying, dying. And this is what we eat, drink, and breathe. This land is your land, it's my land. Crops grown from this enervated earth, from these stick-figure cows.
What's worse, the ideals of this country are kaput, too. They never meant anything to begin with, of course. Freedom for all? Not for the slaves or the Indians or the indentured servants, not to mention for women. Freedom for who? For landowners, that's who. For those with money. The Founding Fathers were trying to get them on their side, promising a payoff if they stood against the British.
And it worked, for a while, anyway, as an organizing principle, these abstractions, at least at the level of ideology. But they gradually stopped being true, even believable. Who today, except the most grimly determined idiot or the brain-dead, which, unfortunately, makes up 95% of the general population, can possibly believe it? What thinking person can possibly convince him or herself that this country stands for freedom based on its actual actions in the world and at home?
Secret prisons, widespread surveillance of ordinary citizens, the suspension of the rights to a lawyer, protection from being arrested and held indefinitely without a proper charge, the state sponsorship of torture…this country has long since stopped even attempting to live up to the illusion of its ideology. And its as if most of the country hasn't even noticed.
Phil went on for a good hundred miles more.
(Delaware rest area)
99. Why am I trying to write like everyone else?
Why am I trying to paint a tree that everyone recognizes as a tree—or recognizes as an abstraction of a tree? Or recognizes, period.
Why am I trying take myself understood?
When was I ever understood?
When did I ever have a voice in the dominant discourse?
When did I ever belong?
Do I even want to belong?
Why not speak gibberish?
Let me direct my speech to no one but myself; if I'm overheard, so be it.
This is a private party.
100. —Don't ever explain anything.
—Aren't you inviting misunderstanding?
—Misunderstanding is all there is.
—Surely there must be another choice.
—Yes. It's between contempt and mystery.