Monday, December 31, 2012
Between the Acts
I don't remember where I purchased this. I looks like I peeled a price sticker off the cover that left the glue behind. You can see it smudging the third "I" in "Virginia."
This book, too, I associate this with my friend S. In this instance it was he that recommended the book to me, rather than the other way around. Once again, I picture this discussion taking place on a subway car in Manhattan. There's no phone call involved. We must, at some point in time, have had a discussion about Virginia Woolf on the subway. I have no idea what we were talking about or which books we discussed. My mind associates S, Virginia Woolf, and the New York subway system. That's all I know. That and the fact that this memory is a composite of several episodes.
Either as I fell asleep last night or was waking this morning, I had idea about something to write on the blog today. The same thing happened the other day and it came back to me after I started writing. I thought about it and made a mental note to myself to remember. I thought about how difficult it was to hold onto an idea like that even for a few hours without writing it down. I thought about writing it down, but did not. All morning I have been struggling to recall what it was I thought I should write about when I arrived at this moment, hoping that the idea would reveal itself. I thought that perhaps if I started writing about not remembering it I might remember it, as has happened on numerous occasions.
It must have been before I went to sleep last night. I was reading a short story by Brian Evenson called "Girls and Tents." It's about two little girls whose parents get divorced. They live with their father every other weekend. As a way of coping with the separation, they construct a tent city out of blankets and sheets in their mother's living room. The older daughter believes herself to be autonomous inside the tents.
Their father, on the other hand, does not have enough bedding to construct such a tentropolis. eventually, he starts showing up late, making excuses for his tardiness, until one night, when the mother is out all night and expecting him to pick the girls up after school, he doesn't at all. The sisters build their tents and keep watch until the sun comes up, believing all the while that he will show, but he never does.
End of story. Still nothing.
I remember lying in bed this morning thinking about money. I was trying to figure out some conundrum having to do with our finances. Several conundrums actually. Then I thought to myself that I didn't feel like thinking about money right now and went back to sleep. Then my alarm went off (it's set to go off on weekdays at the same time). I turned it off. Then my daughter woke up.
Then I changed her diaper, emptied the diaper genie, deposited Emily in bed with her mother, dressed, fed the dog, made some coffee, took the dog outside, realized that I hadn't brought the garbage and recycling out, took the recycling out, filled the garbage can with the diaper genie bag and another from the laundry room, flattened a few boxes for recycling, carried the boxes and the garbage can to the edge of the driveway, looked at the neighbors' open garbage lid and realized the garbage had already come but the recycling had not, took the can back in at just the moment the recycling truck arrived, turned around and walked to the end of the driveway, helped the recycling man throw boxes in the truck, returned the recycling box to the garage, went inside, made a batch of blueberry kefir and a cup of coffee, walked into my office, read a few newspapers and blogs and then started writing.
And I still can't recall what it was I intended to write about today.
from Between the Acts
The old people had gone up to bed. Giles crumpled the newspaper and turned out the light. Left alone together for the first time that day, they were silent. Alone, enmity was bared; also love. Before they slept, they must fight; after they had fought, they would embrace. From that embrace another life might be born. But first they must fight, as the dog fox fights with the vixen, in the heart of darkness, in the fields of night.
Isa let her sewing drop. The great hooded chairs had become enormous. And Giles too. And Isa too against the window. The window was all sky without colour. The house had lost its shelter. It was night before roads were made, or houses. It was the night that dwellers in caves had watched from some high place among rocks.
Then the curtain rose. They spoke.
Sunday, December 30, 2012
I am not sure where I got this. It's not the copy I read in college, which had a blue cover. I think I may have bought it for Lori a few years ago when she was reading Woolf. If not, then I have no clue.
I woke this morning with REO Speedwagon in my head. I hated REO Speedwagon even when they were popular, and yet I could even remember the lyrics to the song. "As soon as you are able/or when I am willing..." you know the song. It was in my head in the shower as well. I had an idea to write about it today on the blog, but the idea seems to have skipped away, leaving only the wretched song. "...as soon as you are ready/to roll with changes..."
What did I think I could possibly make of this song? O, wait, now I remember...
I was thinking about how REO Speedwagon's popularity took off a year or two after I started listening to music. My parents were suspicious of rock's pernicious influence on the young and so kept a close eye on any music I brought home. Several times they sent me back to the record store because words like "hell" or "death" or "drug" appeared in the titles of songs they hadn't bothered to listen to. My father never gave me enough money to buy records anyhow, so I was basically stuck with listening to the radio on the sly.
Starting in about fifth grade, I would tuck myself into bed at around 9:30 and wait for things to quiet down around the house. My parents would usually read or watch TV in bed after we'd settled in. I had a manually tuned clock radio next to my bed. It had a traditional dial clock and was made of plastic colored to look like wood. The clock face was on the left, the tuner on the right, the dial on the side of the machine.
I would tune into WRQX 107.3, later Q107, with the volume down as low as it could go. It did not have a mute button, so you could still hear sound come out of the speaker. It was sort of like letting your eyes adjust to the dark. After a few minutes I could make out the songs that were playing. I sometimes adjusted it up slightly, but I had to be very careful, as my parents ears would adjust as well, at least enough to know that I was listening to the radio when I should have been sleeping.
At 10 PM each night they played The Top 5 at 10, a countdown of the top five requested songs of the day. When I started listening, Pink Floyd's "The Wall" was all over the radio. I owned a copy of the album, which somehow had made it past the censors. They mostly looked at the cover, the name of the band, and the song titles. I think they hated the music so much that they avoided listening to the lyrics.
The show was usually dominated by Pink Floyd and various other 70s supergroups, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc. I loved this music. I especially liked listening to long guitar solos by people like David Gilmour and Jimmy Page.
Q107 changed its format from hard rock to top forty when I was in sixth grade. The Top 5 at 10 continued, but music other than Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin started to creep in. I was not happy about this. It started with REO Speedwagon. All of a sudden they had one, two, even three songs a night in the countdown, bumping some of my favorites.
This was the beginning of a wholesale change in the music they played on the radio. The Pretenders, The Vapors, Gary Numan, all of whom I came to like later, started taking over the countdown. I used to love to listen to "Stairway to Heaven" and "Comfortably Numb" late into the night and now they were gone, replaced by "Turning Japanese," "Brass in Pocket," "Cars."
Before long the eighties hit in full force, sweeping Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, David Bowie, and the Police into the Top 5 and pushing my beloved 70s rock bands out forever. I never really got over it and somewhere in my heart I blame REO Speedwagon for destroying the paradise 70s late night radio.
from The Waves
The sun had not yet risen. The sea was indistinguishable from the sky, except that the sea was slightly creased as if a cloth had wrinkles in it. Gradually as the sky whitened a dark line lay on the horizon dividing the sea from the sky and the grey cloth became barred with thick strokes moving, one after another, beneath the surface, following each other, pursuing each other, perpetually.
As they neared the shore each bar rose, heaped itself, broke and swept a thin veil of white water across the sand. The wave paused, and then drew out again, sighing like a sleeper whose breath comes and goes unconsciously. Gradually the dark bar on the horizon became clear as if the sediment in an old wine-bottle had sunk and left the glass green. Behind it, too, the sky cleared as if the white sediment there had sunk, or as if the arm of a woman couched beneath the horizon had raised a lamp and flat bars of white, green and yellow spread across the sky like the blades of a fan. Then she raised her lamp higher and the air seemed to become fibrous and to tear away from the green surface flickering and flaming in red and yellow fibres like the smoky fire that roars from a bonfire. Gradually the fibres of the burning bonfire were fused into one haze, one incandescence which lifted the weight of the woollen grey sky on top of it and turned it to a million atoms of soft blue. The surface of the sea slowly became transparent and lay rippling and sparkling until the dark stripes were almost rubbed out. Slowly the arm that held the lamp raised it higher and then higher until a broad flame became visible; an arc of fire burnt on the rim of the horizon, and all round it the sea blazed gold.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
To the Lighthouse
I probably bought this at the Fordham University Bookstore. I read it first for a course I took on the modern novel or something along those lines. It's pretty beat-up, but could probably withstand another reading or two.
I want to return to Ecuador. As I was writing about Veronica day before last, I was trying to remember the name of one of my other favorite students. Like Veronica, I also have black and white photo her that I took during one of our tutoring sessions. In fact, I think I began tutoring her after Veronica was reassigned to another teacher.
Unlike most of the photos I took of kids, which I usually shot from a low position looking up at their faces, I took this one at eye level or slightly above. She is staring straight into the camera. She is wearing a baseball shirt with dark sleeves and a white body. Her still, sharp figure dominates the foreground, while the background is slightly blurred, like captured motion. I never really learned how to use the camera, so I can't take credit for this effect. It just happened.
I had been trying to remember her name for the past couple of days without success. I had it written down across the back of the photo. It's in a closet because we have yet to prep enough walls in our new house to hang art on. I could even picture my handwriting, but for whatever reason I wanted to try to remember myself, to call up her name without the aid of an external cue.
This morning I woke up and there it was: Gladys Gavilanes.
I remember her being somewhat difficult. Math drove her crazy. She was very emotional. Some days she would inexplicably cry through the whole session without ever explaining what was wrong. She was about 10. She had long black hair, thick eyebrows, black eyes, and the rich, dark skin of indigenous Ecuadorians. Her mother was a stout Latacungan who wore the traditional felt fedora and woven wraps of that region.
I once traveled to an annual festival in Latacunga, a town a couple of hours south of Quito, near the base of Cotopaxi, the dramatic, snow-covered volcano visible from the city on most clear days. My most vivid memory of a man in colorful dress selling food. Arrayed in a half-moon shape on his back were a dozen wooden sticks, each wrapped in festive tissue that fluttered in the wind. On the end of each stick was a roasted local delicacy called Cuy. Cuy is roasted guinea pig. I passed on the opportunity to try some.
I taught Gladys throughout the year. I never quite had the connection with her that I did with Veronica, but I would miss her just the same after I left. I gave her a print of the photo I took when we said goodbye.
Two years later, in the midst of a terrible depression, I visited Ecuador again. I stayed at the center for a few days and then traveled around Ecuador the rest of the time. Many of the children and their families had departed from the center by the time I returned. But I remember seeing Gladys. I was standing in the courtyard watching on of the volunteers teach gym class. Gladys walked pass me on the way out of the showers. When she saw me, she leapt up and threw her arms around my neck and wouldn't let go.
As I open To the Lighthouse today, it dawns on me that it was this book, not Mrs. Dalloway, that my friend had called me about. I remember his words, which were confusing at the time. He said, Mrs. Ramsay just died, thanks for not telling me. I still remember this as if I were on the subway when he called me. I think it was at Astor Pl. This, of course, is still impossible, but it's what I remember.
from To the Lighthouse
Had there been an axe handy, a poker, or any weapon that would have gashed a hole in his father’s breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it. Such were the extremes of emotion that Mr Ramsay excited in his children’s breasts by his mere presence; standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife, who was ten thousand times better in every way than he was (James thought), but also with some secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgement. What he said was true. It was always true. He was incapable of untruth; never tampered with a fact; never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure or convenience of any mortal being, least of all of his own children, who, sprung from his loins, should be aware from childhood that life is difficult; facts uncompromising; and the passage to that fabled land where our brightest hopes are extinguished, our frail barks founder in darkness (here Mr Ramsay would straighten his back and narrow his little blue eyes upon the horizon), one that needs, above all, courage, truth, and the power to endure.
Friday, December 28, 2012
I am not sure where I bought this, but apparently I got it for a dollar. This is not the copy I read in college, which I lost a long time ago. It's the copy I bought for Lori, who read it a few years ago, along with several other of Woolf's novels.
I have a memory that has been confused by changes in technology. The memory is this. I read this book in college and loved it. A friend, S., began reading Woolf after college. Maybe it wasn't this book. Perhaps it was To The Lighthouse or The Waves.
I had a bad habit of getting excited about books and spoiling the plots for friends. I'd started to do this with S. about a book by Woolf. It may have been this one. He read the book later in the summer. I have a memory of being on a subway train in Manhattan, talking to S. about Mrs. Dalloway.
Here comes the strange part.
At some point I received and unexpected phone call from S. He said, "so and so just died," thank you for not spoiling the book for me. Now, my memory of this event has been refigured by changes in telephone technology.This would have taken place in the early nineties, easily ten years before I ever touched a cellphone, and yet I want to say that I was alone on a train when I received this mysterious phone call from S.
C'est impossible, but there it is.
from Mrs. Dalloway
What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?”— was that it? —“I prefer men to cauliflowers”— was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace — Peter Walsh. He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which, for his letters were awfully dull; it was his sayings one remembered; his eyes, his pocket-knife, his smile, his grumpiness and, when millions of things had utterly vanished — how strange it was! — a few sayings like this about cabbages.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
The Philosophical Investigations
Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.
Ok, back to Ecuador.
My thoughts begin at a particular little girl, Veronica Toroshina. She was seven or eight. She had six brothers and sisters. They had fairly recently started coming to the center. None of them could read or write. I tutored Veronica and her older brother and sister. We'd meet each day in the little classroom overlooking the courtyard. I can remember the faces of her brother and sister. I can't remember their names. Victor, maybe, was the boy's name. I can't remember the sister's name at all.
Each day I would try to teach Veronica the alphabet. It never seemed to stick. We'd do the vowel sounds, AH, AY, EE, O, OOH. She could remember those. We'd add consonants to them, PA, PAY, PEE, PO, POO. She could remember those, too. But when we tried to put them together into words, everything fell apart.
Veronica and I had a special bond. She had a kind of light about her. I always wanted to pick her up. Put her on my shoulders. Carry her around. Whenever I saw her, she'd leap into my arms. I taught her for the first couple of months I was at the center. But then her schedule got moved around and she was assigned another volunteer, J. J. was sweet and I liked her but I was always jealous that she got to teach Veronica everyday. I'd see her carrying my little friend around on her shoulders and would feel like I was being deprived of a love I'd come to depend on.
Then one day I found J. crying in the volunteer lounge. The Toroshina family had been tossed from the center. One of the requirements each family had to agree to in order to receive services was a daily shower. Off the courtyard were large bathrooms with multiple shower stalls and long, stone, trough-like communal sinks. Families had to enforce the rules among their members. Each person had to bathe each day and they had to sign in with the woman in charge of the showers.
Mrs. Toroshina had wanted to leave early one weekend for a visit to her family, so she had a friend write in that they had showered when they had not. Someone caught on and reported them to the Madre and the Padre, the nun and priest who ran the place. That was it. They violated the rules. They lied. The whole family was thrown out.
J. had been informed that morning. The family was already gone. They had no address, no phone, no way of being contacted. They were just gone. We were both devastated. The harsh justice of the place made a certain sense in the abstract. In order to prepare people to participate in the economy, you had to teach them to discipline themselves. But then how could you teach them once you'd tossed them back into the world without hope of return.
It was old school, hellfire Catholicism and it was brutal.
I had always been skeptical of the people who ran the place, but had a hard time arguing with the work they did. Thousands of people had been given educations, meals, dental work, healthcare, etc. They weren't even forced to go to church to receive these services. All they had to do was follow a schedule, save money, bathe everyday. It seemed like a fair trad.
The brutality came in the insistence on family cohesion. Individuals with families could not enter the center unless they brought every member in with them. All it took was a mistake by one member of the family and everyone got thrown out. In this case, all the kids suffered because of a mistake by the mother. The reverse was also often the case. It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially when the kid being punished was someone who you cared about.
Knowing you would never see that kid again made it doubly so.
I have a photo I took of Veronica. She's leaning against a whitewashed stucco wall in the courtyard. she has a faint smile on her face, but mostly she is serious. Her hair is puled back in a ponytail. Her eyes are jet black, reflective. On the surface of both you can see the image of the center itself, a grid of white lines with black squares between them.
from The Philosophical Investigations
629. When people talk about the possibility of foreknowledge of the future they always forget the fact of the prediction of one's own voluntary movements.
630. Examine these two language-games:
(a) Someone gives someone, else the order to make particular movements with his arm, or to assume particular bodily positions (gymnastics instructor and pupil). And here is a variation of this language-game: the pupil gives himself orders and then carries them out.
(b) Someone observes certain regular processes—for example, the reactions of different metals to acids—and thereupon makes predictions about the reactions that will occur in certain particular cases. There is an evident kinship between these two language-games, and also a fundamental difference. In both one might call the spoken words "predictions". But compare the training which leads to the first technique with the training for the second one.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
The Blue and Brown Notebooks
Preliminary Studies for the Philosophical Investigations
Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. I think. It might have been at St. Mark's Books.
I have been meaning to return to my memories of Ecuador. It dawned on me the other day that I have written a fair amount about myself and the other volunteers and how we lived, but not much about what I did there on a daily basis. Or if I have, I no longer recall what I wrote. Please forgive me if I repeat myself. I am middle-aged. It happens.
A typical workday in Ecuador ran from about eight in the morning until eight at night, with about a forty-five minute commute in each direction. My mornings alternated between physical education and what they called "Programa de Chicas." Physical education was, I think, two days a week and Programa de Chicas three.
The former was taught in a courtyard built into the side of a mountain. Quito is about 9000 feet above see level, so pretty much everything is built into or on top of an incline. The center was near the base. Our courtyard was made of concrete and the lines between the slabs formed a grid. I taught three separate 50-minute classes in the morning. At the beginning of class, I would line the kids (fourth, fifth and sixth grade boys and girls) up on the grid and take attendance.
We would then do about ten minutes of calisthenics, including stretching, running in place and what I called "saltos de alegría," i.e., jumping jacks. Following calisthenics we would organize into teams and play competitive games. Some days we would play "bombardeos," i.e., dodgeball, others "béisbol de pie," i.e., kickball, or "fútbol de cangrejos," i.e., crab soccer. For the latter, I invented my own reflexive verb, "cangrejarse," meaning "to get into the crab position."
To place a further note of absurdity into the idea of me teaching physical education, you have to imagine me with hair halfway down my back and pulled into a ponytail. I usually sported a black t-shirt and jeans. Oh, and I smoked. During class. During physical education class. Yeah.
Anyhow, the other days of the week I would teach "Programa de chicas." The gendering of this particular class had to do with the fact that the little boys would often work in the street shining shoes from 8 AM until noon. They would give a percentage of the money back to the center to deposit into a family bank account to be used at some later date to purchase land and a house. It was too dangerous for little girls to work in the streets like that, so they stayed back at the center.
Programa de chicas was a three-hour class period. Activities were basically the following: make crafts; learn English; watch Disney movies; go to the park. Some of the crafts the kids produced were sold in a store operated by the center and the proceeds went back to the center. I took a lot of photos while I was down there. I used a dark room on site to develop the photos and we in turn used some of these photos to make greetings cards that were sold by the center. The photos were all of the children.
Mornings were followed by a two-hour lunch period. If you stayed in the center from twelve to twelve-thirty, you were expected to attend the mass. Not being much of a church person, I skipped this daily ritual and usually went wandering around the old town of Quito. I often ate at a litte cafe under the national theater, where I'd order a ham and cheese sandwich and a turkish coffee. Sometimes a friend, E., would come with me and we would play chess on the tables in the cafe.
After lunch I performed two hours of small group and individual tutoring in reading and writing and math, usually to third and fourth graders. We used a tiny classroom overlooking the courtyard. It could get kind of close in there, as most of the kids' clothing reeked of urine. The families often slept side by side in bed, usually on a mattress on a dirt floor, sometimes with as many as six or eight people to the mattress. Someone would always wet the bed and this would soak into the mattress and permanently into the blankets and clothes. I often had to open the window during these tutoring sessions just to breathe.
In the evening we taught two more hours of adult education classes. Students ranged from sixteen to sixty-five in these classes. Most spoke Quechua as their first language and Spanish by necessity. They could read or write neither, and their arithmetical skills were usually limited to finger counting. We occasionally taught geography and history and other subjects as they came up. I feel like I have written all this before. What I really want to write about are some of the Ecuadorians I taught and worked with.
from The Blue and Brown Notebooks
Imagine that I tell you to mix a certain color and I describe the color by saying that it is that which you get if you let sulphuric acid react on copper. This might be called an indirect way of communicating the color I meant. It is conceivable that the reaction of sulphuric acid on copper under certain circumstances does not produce the color I wished you to mix, and that on seeing the color you had got I should have to say "No, it's not this," and to give you a sample.
Now can we say that the communication of feelings by gestures is in this case indirect? Does it make sense to talk of a direct communication as opposed to that indirect one? Does it make sense to say "I can't feel his toothache, but if I could I'd know what he feels like?"
Monday, December 24, 2012
Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius
Purchased at East Village Books, apparently for $8, with a note that it was priced thus because of a water stain on the cover page. This book has the distinction of being the only biography that I can recall having read from cover to cover. It was my decidedly random introduction to Wittgenstein's thought.
You can read all about my memories of reading the book under this entry about Rosmarie Waldrop from a month or so back. All I can say is that Ray Monk created a pretty vivid portrait of an eccentric genius that was also a useful introduction to his thought and also his historical era.
I have a memory walking down the street on the Lower East Side with Laird Hunt, who was reading this book at the time. I was already living in Buffalo and must have been back on a visit. That's all I remember.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Purchased at the SUNY Buffalo bookstore for a course, oft-mentioned on this blog, called fiction and film, or something along those lines. This book served as the exemplar of the western genre, as it is considered the first novel of its kind. It has been adapted to the screen no fewer than six times, not including a nine-year run as a TV series in the 1960s.
I remember the lecture about the book more than I remember the book itself. The professor laid out what he considered to be the essential plot elements of a western -- the outsider, the lawless town, the virtuous woman at the hearth for whom the outsider must establish the rule of law by violent means, etc. He then showed us a film he thought broke the mold for the genre, in this case, The Gunfighter, starring Gregory Peck.
Although I did find the lecture useful to a point, I always found this formulaic way of approaching film and books to be pretty tedious.
I've never really gotten interested in the western as a literary genre, but I love western films. Lori and must have watched a hundred of them a couple of years back. It's too bad they are no longer popular, as they are one of the richest genres in film, at least as rich, IMHO, as film noir.
I meant to get back to Ecuador today. I guess it will have to wait till tomorrow.
from The Virginian
"God bless you, my dears," she told them. "And when you come next time, I'll have the nursery ready."
And so it happened that before she left this world, the great-aunt was able to hold in her arms the first of their many children.
Judge Henry at Sunk Creek had his wedding present ready. His growing affairs in Wyoming needed his presence in many places distant from his ranch, and he made the Virginian his partner. When the thieves prevailed at length, as they did, forcing cattle owners to leave the country or be ruined, the Virginian had forestalled this crash. The herds were driven away to Montana. Then, in 1889, came the cattle war, when, after putting their men in office, and coming to own some of the newspapers, the thieves brought ruin on themselves as well. For in a broken country there is nothing left to steal.
But the railroad came, and built a branch to that land of the Virginian's where the coal was. By that time he was an important man, with a strong grip on many various enterprises, and able to give his wife all and more than she asked or desired.
Sometimes she missed the Bear Creek days, when she and he had ridden together, and sometimes she declared that his work would kill him. But it does not seem to have done so. Their eldest boy rides the horse Monte; and, strictly between ourselves, I think his father is going to live a long while.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Mad Science in Imperial City
Given to me by the publisher. This obviously go mis-shelved and should have been in WA and not WI. Alas.
Still thinking about Ecuador. After my month alone, the other volunteers started to arrive. I think there were ten or so, all American. They came from New York, Wisconsin, Massachusetts. Most had had Catholic educations, but it wasn't a particularly religious bunch. In fact, I can't think of more than one person in the group that went there for religious reasons.
For the most part everyone came from middle and upper middle class backgrounds and were looking to spend a year abroad or to do so good in the world or to learn spanish or to find themselves or some combination thereof. I just now was trying to count on my fingers how many of us there were and I realized I could barely remember some of them. I can picture all of their faces, but I can't quite put a name to each one.
I have kept in touch with exactly one over the years. The one who became my roommate ended our friendship rather abruptly just after I moved to Buffalo and we haven't spoken since. There was a strange incident though, where he tried to renew our friendship.
A few years ago, at the suggestion of a friend, I posted a Wikipedia entry of myself. It was a very brief bio that was purely meant to link out from a couple of other entries I was named in: Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Ammiel Alcalay, etc. so that people who asked, Who is that? could find out. I never thought about it again and assumed it would be taken down.
One night, a friend, P, called and asked if I had a Wikipedia entry. Sheepishly, I said yes and provided the above explanation. It's just a quick bio, I told him. He then said that someone had written a longer one that included references to a college play I had written, my Irish Catholic upbringing, etc. I read it and was convinced the P had re-written the entry as a joke. He swore up and down that it wasn't him.
I made a list of about ten people who could possibly have access to the content of the entry. I narrowed it to about five who seemed likely and contacted each one. All of them swore they had no idea what I was talking about. In the meantime, I deleted the added text and returned the entry to its original short form.
Now, however, I started checking back daily to see if it had been altered. Sure enough, I went in to the back end of the entry to look at the discussions and discovered a whole diatribe by the writer accusing me of both self-promotion and censorship.
Now I was on a mission. The editor's screen name was Nepal Tree. I looked at his other edits to see if I could figure out his interests and make a guess based on the content. No luck.
My old roommate's name was on the list of ten possible perpetrators, but I had crossed him off the list, assuming based on our last conversation that he wanted to have nothing more to do with me. It was Lori, my wife, who said she thought that "Nepal Tree" was an anagram.
And so it was. The letters of "Nepal Tree" rearranged spelled the name of my old roommate. I called him out on the back page, where, after admonishing me for violating Wikipedia's code of ethics as he understood it, he made comments that suggested he wanted to be friends again. Not long after that, he contacted me on Facebook. It all seemed a little to weird to me, and, remembering the last letter I'd received from him, not to mention the flying chessboards and playing cards, I chose not to reciprocate.
But I digress...
I guess I'll keep on with the Ecuador theme tomorrow. It seems like there is a lot there.
from Mad Science in Imperial City
there is no point I see no point in further interpretation I smell the last lily of june I usher my lady of flower into my secret glass garden of budding black mushroom I feel an itching in the back of my knees spreading horizontally backwards and vertically downwards at the same time I don't want to go let me go
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Purchased at Talking Leaves Books.
I was writing yesterday about my arrival and Quito in the summer of 1994 and the evenings I spent alone in the volunteer apartment, first having dinner with Norma, the cook, then reading Spanish and watching random movies on VHS in the evening. I smoked like a chimney back then, and I really paid no one who didn't like it any mind. I smoked where I wanted and when. I had a certain obnoxiousness about me.
I am trying to remember the apartment. It was on the second or third floor of a building about a quarter of a mile down the road from the center where some of us worked. The others, myself included, worked in downtown Quito and we began our days with a forty-five minute bus ride to the other center.
It was a large apartment, as I recall. Actually, now that I think about it, it was two apartments. Several of the volunteers lived in an apartment one floor below. Our apartment was larger because it had a living and dining room, while the other was only sleeping quarters.
I remember making a video to send back to the states for my friend S's bachelor party. If I recall correctly, I structured the whole thing using lyrics to one of his songs. I had one person after another say a word to the song, quick-cutting from one to the next. The grand finale was of me sitting on the couch wishing him a happy marriage with a pair of naked men waltzing behind me in the background.
When I saw him again later he said, in a a slightly admonishing tone, "Thanks for the naked men -- my mom really loved that," in a slightly admonishing tone. I didn't realize that by bachelor party he meant that his mother, in-laws, fiance, etc., would be in attendance.
One night we were all sitting at the long tables in the dining room playing a card game. I think it was hearts. Or spades. One of the other volunteers, who later became my roommate back in NYC, was not a good card player. He was the kind of card player that bewildered more experienced card players because he just didn't understand how to play card games. He barely understood the rules, did not understand strategy, had no desire to win, and thus would throw out one puzzling card after the next. Everyone at the table made jokes about his playing, and he started to take it personally.
It was something I said that broke the camels back, as it were. I don't recall what it was, probably something sarcastic. He flung his cards into the air and screamed that he didn't give a shit about the goddamn card game and that I could go fuck myself. It was a shocking conclusion to an otherwise friendly game of cards. And neither was this the last time I was at the receiving end of such a tirade. I tried to teach him to play chess and one night some comment I made sent the chess board flying across the room.
Why I thought being roommates would be a good idea is a question for the ages.
More on Ecuador tomorrow....
from Meteoric Flowers
(Note: this poem seems to be the last one I read in the collection, as the cover flap was still pressed between pages 42-43, thus...)
Pictures Connected By A Slight Feston of Ribbons
When the ship is in danger, a bell can be a most familiar sound. Traveling by coach or the disastrous locomotive refinements of wind. Of important motionless conversation, the mouth's wicked noise, an internal sensation of ten and of apparent fever, an alcove of Lear. To voluntarily dissolve before a lesser lens, to bark and blither till the end in drunkenness, or as a cottage trembles above the snow with a surprise like joy.
Monday, December 17, 2012
The Penguin History of Latin America
I probably bought this at St. Mark's Books.
Before I left for a volunteer year in Ecuador in the summer of 1994, I realized that I knew next to nothing about the country to which I was about to move. I searched all over for a history of Ecuador, but found nothing. Instead I bought this brief history of the entire region. I read part of it on the flight down, which takes about twelve hours from New York. I read the rest while I was living alone in the volunteer quarters.
I arrived a month earlier than the other volunteers, as I wanted to have some time to practice speaking Spanish before I had to enter a classroom where I would be teaching native speakers how to read and write their own language (I discovered, once the others had arrived, that my Spanish was actually pretty decent compared to most of them. But I was happy to have the time to explore and read and write on my own.)
A woman named Norma cleaned the volunteer quarters and cooked dinner in the evenings for twenty or so people. She was working when I arrived, even though no one else was there. She'd drop by every evening to cook dinner for me. We lived in an apartment in the northern part of Quito called Cotocollao. After dinner, I'd help her do the dishes and we'd share a cup of Nescafe (with boxed milk and tons of sugar) and a few cigarettes. She would tell me about her family and I would tell her about mine. That was where I first learned to have conversations in Spanish.
There was a small library of VHS cassettes and books left behind by previous volunteers. After Norma departed for the evening, I would usually watch a video. There was no rhyme or reason to the collection. There were teen movies from the eighties but also sixties-era socially-minded films like Patch of Blue, starring Sidney Poitier. I think I watched all of them before the other volunteers arrived. Once they did, we mostly watch television shows on tape. One volunteer's mother taped every episode of Seinfeld for a couple of years and sent them all. We must have watched each episode five times before the year was up.
Lots of memories of Ecuador suddenly bubbling up...I'll continue this tomorrow.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Williams, William Carlos
William Carlos Williams: Man and Poet
Given to me by my friend, S. We'd gone to college together and afterwards belonged to a writer's group that I have written about previously. After the writer's group broke up, we remained friends. We both taught at downtrodden Catholic high schools in Manhattan, he at Rice up in Harlem, I at LaSalle down in the East Village. He'd started a chess team up there and invited me to do the same. I did, and before long we were bringing our students together for matches.
Later, he went to graduate school at City College, first as a writing student, then as a PhD student. His first child came along and disrupted his dissertation plans. A few years later, when I was working towards a not-to-be-completed PhD myself, he gave me this book, saying he thought I would put it to better use than he.
We lost contact for a long time. I had probably last talked to him seven or eight years ago before I ran into him at a party near New Haven this past summer. It was a happy reunion. We've started playing Scrabble on our iPhones. We often send messages during the games and occasionally delve a little deeper via email.
I don't remember how much of this I ever read. It used to sit next to the Paul Mariani biography of WCW on my shelf, which, like most other biographies, I read only in part before putting it down. I don't know why I bother even to start biographies. I rarely finish them, and I seldom enjoy the even the one's that I do finish. Just give me a well-organized Wikipedia entry and I am satisfied.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Williams, William Carlos
Spring and All
Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.
I wish publishers would reprint more collections like this. I know I have said this before, but Spring and All is such a different book with the prose and poetry woven together. The poems become parts of a larger narrative argument that just isn't there without the prose chapters. It's also, to hammer on my gripes about collected poems, a manageable amount of reading, a comfortable format, etc. I pulled if off the shelf this morning and re-read the first third of the book before I began writing.
I'd love to see some other books reprinted as well, like Oppen's Discrete Series, which, if you ever get a chance to see the original, Objectivist Press edition, is a completely different book than the one re-printed in the collected poems. The layout gets reproduced in the reprinting of Oppen's collected, but it still doesn't have the feel of a collection. That would be a great project for someone to take up someday. Come on, New Directions! I double dog dare you to reprint that!
from Spring and All
The imagination, intoxicated by prohibitions, rises to drunken heights to destroy the world. Let it rage, let it kill. The imagination is supreme. To it all our works forever, from the remotest past to the farthest future, have been, are and will be dedicated. To it alone we show our wit by having raised in its honor as monument not the least pebble. To it now we come to dedicate our secret project: the annihilation of every human creature on the face of the earth. This is something never before attempted. None to remain; nothing by the lower vertebrates, the mollusks, insects and plants. Then at last will the world be made anew. Houses crumble to ruin, cities disappear giving place to mounds of soil blown thither by the winds, small bushes and grass give way to trees which grow old and are succeeded by other trees for countless generations. A marvelous serenity broken only by bird and wild beast calls reigns over the entire sphere. Order and peace abound.
(Sort of changes how you read the "Red Wheelbarrow," doesn't it? All that's left are the chickens, dead perhaps, and a wheelbarrow and some rainwater.)
Friday, December 14, 2012
Williams, William Carlos
The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams
Volume II, 1939-1962
I think this was purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.
I am drawing a bit of a blank this morning. Flipping through this volume, I see that it contains three of my favorite collections outside of Spring and All: Pictures from Brueghel, The Wedge, & Desert Music. Even so, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of poems in addition to those. There are several collections in here that I have only scanned.
What else to say? I remember in college wondering who Breughel was and having a hell of a time finding a book of Breughel prints in the Fordham University Library. The library catalog was still pre-computer and finding anything at all was a challenge. I remember being mostly frustrated trying to find things.
I also have fond memories of working in the lower levels of the library and then in procrastination wandering around the stacks pulling random books off the shelf. I discovered a lot of interesting things roaming around like that.
I don't recall if I ever did find any prints by Breughel when I looked. I do remember eventually seeing some of the paintings the poems are based on, but I can't say for sure where I encountered them.
from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
According to Brueghel when Icarus fell it was spring a farmer was ploughing his field the whole pageantry of the year was awake tingling near the edge of the sea concerned with itself sweating in the sun that melted the wings' wax unsignificantly off the coast there was a splash quite unnoticed this was Icarus drowning
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Williams, William Carlos
The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams
Volume 1, 1909-1939
I think I bought this at Talking Leaves...Books. At some point, I got tired of not being to access all of the poems when I needed them, so I splurged. I haven't used this volume much, but it's nice to know it's there when I need it. I guess that's the purpose of a collected poems: reference. They are certainly not very useful for reading. They are always too bulky in the hands to enjoy, and then follows the question of how to read what's in them. Almost all include hundreds of poems that the poet his or herself probably would have left out, given the chance.
Knowing that, where does one begin reading? At the beginning? In the middle? At random? If one only intends to read the "greatest hits," as it were, then the selected poems should probably do just fine (although in Williams Case, this is not true, given what he/they did to Spring and All in that volume). The ideal collected poems would be a box set including all of the individual collections that make up the collected poems, each re-printed separately. That way you could pick up the individual books to read them as you wanted, without having to shell out a ton of money collecting rarities. I'd imagine this would be prohibitively expensive for a publisher, but hey, we can dream, can't we?
from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams
It is a broken country,
the rugged land is
green from end to end;
the autumn has not come.
Embanked above the orchard
the hillside is a wall
of motionless green trees,
the grass is green and red.
Five days the bare sky
has stood there day and night.
No bird, no sound.
Between the trees
and the early morning light.
The apple trees
are laden down with fruit.
Among blue leaves
the apples green and red
upon one tree stand out
Still, ripe, heavy,
spherical and close,
they mark the hillside.
It is a formal grandeur,
a signal of finality
and perfect ease.
Among the savage
aristocracy of rocks
one, risen as a tree,
from his repose.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Williams, William Carlos
Purchased at Rust Belt Books. I read some of this in college, but never owned a copy of my own until I started working on my oral exam lists in graduate school.
This was another of those books my undergraduate professors deemed too difficult or even "failures," whatever that might mean. They tagged The Cantos with the same label as a way of writing them off and not having to teach them -- that way we could get onto really significant work like "The Red Wheelbarrow" and "In a Station of the Metro." (I jest, of course, about these two, both of which I love. It's just that as an undergraduate I really wanted to dig into the longer poems, failures or not, and felt my professors too often chose the easily digested over the supposedly half-baked).
This copy is not in the best shape. The cover and the pages have begun to yellow and the pages fly open and lay flat on the desk, leading me to suspect that the binding doesn't have much life left in it. It probably wouldn't survive another close reading, at least not without shedding a few pages along the way.
These terrible things they reflect:
the snow falling into water,
part upon the rock, part in the dry weeds
and part into the water where it
vanishes–its form no longer what it was:
the bird alighting, that pushes
its feet forward to take up the impetus
and falls forward nevertheless
among the twigs. The weak-necked daisy
bending to the wind . . .
winding the yellow bindweed about a
bush; worms and gnats, life under a stone.
The pitiful snake with its mosaic skin
and frantic tongue. The horse, the bull
the whole din of fracturing thought
as it fall tinnily to nothing upon the streets
and the absurd dignity of a locomotive
Pithy philosophies of
daily exits and entrances, with books
propping up one end of the shaky table–
The vague accuracies of events dancing two
and two with language which they
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Williams, William Carlos
In the American Grain
Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. This book was one the syllabus for one of the first courses I took in grad school. It was called, "Preface: or Seen Again for the First Time." The course was taught by Susan Howe and, as I recall, this book became the focus of the class at about the mid-way point. It had a tremendous impact on me and became a sort of guide to a lot of what I studied. Books like Olson's Call Me Ishmael, D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature, Howe's My Emily Dickinson, et al, followed my reading of this book and formed the core of my graduate studies right on through to my oral exams and the beginning of my unfinished dissertation.
There are no American servitors. An American will not serve another man. This is a fear. Nothing is so delightful as to serve another. Instead of that, we have "service," the thing that Rabindranath Tagore so admired, telling us we did not know we had it: Sending supplies to relieve the cyclone sufferers in Indiana. It is a passion. But to serve another, with a harder personal devotion is foreign to us: a trick for foreigners, a servant's trick. We are afraid that we couldn't do it and retain our self-esteem. We couldn't. Thus we see of what our self-esteem is made.
"Don't let us have any poor," is our slogan. And we do not notice that the chief reason for this is that it offends us to believe that there are essentially poor who are far richer than we are who give. The poor are ostracized. Cults are built to abolish them, as if they were cockroaches, and not human beings who may not want what we have in such abundance. THAT would be an offense an American could not stomach. So down with them. Let everybody be rich and so EQUAL. What a farce!
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Williams, William Carlos
Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. I think I may have bought this for a course in graduate school, but I can't remember which one. I am pretty sure I bought it for Spring and All, which is printed here complete, unlike in the Selected Poems, where all of the experimental prose bridging the gaps between poems like "The Red Wheelbarrow" and "For Elsie" is still intact.
I remember asking Creeley about that one, why Williams approved a selected poems that focused attention solely on the poems removed from their original context. He didn't really have an answer, though he did say he had puzzled over it himself.
My memory of this book involves Williams's use of the word "imaginations." Prior to having read it, I always thought of quality of mind that allowed for creativity. To me, the phrase "use your imagination" always meant to use this faculty to find a creative solution to a problem. Williams takes uses the term in a more literal sense, something like "the production of images." To imagine something is literally to create an image of it, in the poet's case an image made of words.
Now that I write this, I am unsure whether it was Williams who used the word this way or Creeley himself. Either way, it stayed with me because it sort of ties into the whole idea of the poem as "a machine made of words" that Williams develops in the introduction to The Wedge, one of Creeley's essential books. On some level, you could say that the machine made of words has a function of producing images, "imagining," in the literal sense.
I remember having a discussion with a wealthy lawyer at a fundraising party in Buffalo. He was an older man who had read Mann and Proust and so on as a young man at Harvard, but, he said, he'd always had difficulty reading creative prose or poetry because he could never picture what he was reading. He said it took him so long to read a creative work that he got frustrated and never finished.
On the other hand, he said, he could zip through legal briefs without having to work at it very hard at all. I said I wondered if it had to do with a lack of imagination. He seemed insulted at first, until I explained that I meant "imagination" in a literal sense of "making images." A novel or a poem requires the mind to produce images in order to be understood, whereas a legal brief does not. Perhaps his mind was not inclined to produce images in such a way. He paused for a moment and then said he thought I was onto something.
That which is heard from the lips of those to whom we are talking in our day s-aff airs mingles with what we see in the streets and everywhere about us as it mingles also with our imaginations. By this chemistry is fabricated a language of the day which shifts and reveals its meaning as clouds shift and turn in the sky and sometimes send down rain or snow or hail. This is the language to which few ears are tuned so that it is said by poets that few men are ever in their full senses since they have no way to use their imaginations. Thus to say that a man has no imagination is to say nearly that he is blind or deaf. But of old poets would translate this hidden language into a kind of replica of the speech of the world with certain distinctions of rhyme and meter to show that it was not really that speech. Nowadays the elements of that language are set down as heard and the imagination of the listener and of the poet are left free to mingle in the dance.
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Williams, William Carlos
Purchased at the Fordham University bookstore for a graduate coure on modernist poetry that I took in my final semester as an undergraduate. As I recall, the course was rather schematic. In almost every case, we purchased one volume of essays and one volume of poems by the poet under discussion. We read selections from the essays that contained concise statements of poetics and followed this by reading the poems against these statements to see how they did or did not measure up to the claims being made. I think we may also have read some biographical material and looked at the poems through that lens as well.
I always found that approach stifling, though my credulousness at the time led me to see it as relevant. I often find now that the last thing I want to know about a poet is what kind of relationship he had with his mother, or she we with her husband, etc. I do like reading statements of poetics, but more to test them out against my own thoughts and my own poems than to gain any understanding of the poet's. I often find that it is the failure of a poem to follow it's author's own prescriptions to the letter, or even the spirit -- call it a poetic hypocrisy -- that makes the relationship between the two interesting.
A poetics becomes interesting not because of the truth value of the claims it makes, but because of its generative nature. Do they produce interesting thought or writing in their wake? Though I guess I also wonder, saying that, what quality of the writing we could point to that could be characterized as "generative." I can't say for sure if it has to do with the passion of the writing or the quality of the ideas or the disjunction between the poetics of the poet and her poems. I guess it's as the judge in the Ulysses case said famously of pornography -- I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.
from The Poem as a Field of Action
We seek profusion, the Mass–heterogeneous–ill-assorted–quite breathless–grasping at all kinds of things–as if–like Audobon shooting some little bird, really only to look at it the better.
If any man's work lacks the distinction to be expected from the finished artists, we might well think of the profusion of Rabelais–as against a limited output. It is as thought the moment we should be profuse, we Americans; we need to build up a mass, a conglomerate maybe, containing few gems but bits of them–Brazillian–that shine of themselves, uncut as they are.
Friday, December 7, 2012
William Carlos Williams Newsletter
Volume 1, Number, Fall 1975
Given to me by Cass Clarke, my former colleague at Just Buffalo Literary Center and the widow of poet Jack Clarke. A few years back Cass was preparing to sell Jack's archive, which she eventually did, to SUNY Buffalo. Before she made the sale, however, she gifted me two items, this first issue of the WCW Newsletter and a precious copy of Charles Olson's chapbook for the poem, "West." This first issue contains work by Norman Holmes Pearson, Robert Creeley, Paul Mariani and Marjorie Perloff. A pretty impressive first issue.
Off to work -- no excerpt this morning!
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Okay, I have plowed forward through the missing part of the W's, back to the place I thought I had arrived a little over a week ago. W-I comes after W-H, not before. I am surprised, given the number of W titles and how W-H is at the beginning of s many last names, that there aren't more books in that section. Perhaps more will appear when I open all of the boxes again. I have to say, the final shelf of books from W-Z is looking very short and I am getting a little nervous about arriving at the end. It should happen in the next couple of months.
Several people have asked if I intend to turn the blog into a book when I am done. My answer so far has been that I am not sure how I would turn it into one. I would imagine there are close to 3000 pages of text, not to mention1300-1500 images, most of which are of pretty poor quality. I suppose I could do selections from each part of the alphabet -- but what about the photos? There isn't a single print-quality image in the bunch. Seems like it would be worthwhile to try something if I can find a publisher who'd be interested in taking it on. I guess we'll just see, then.
I am not sure where I bought this. I have a memory of running into Tyrone at the AWP book fair in NYC right after it came out. He was standing behind the Omnidawn table, presumably getting ready to do a book signing, or perhaps just hanging out with the editor. But I don't think I bought it there. Soon after that I brought him to Buffalo for a reading, so it's possible he sent me a copy prior to his arrival. He was back in Buffalo again a few months later, giving a reading for the poetics program, so it's possible I bought it at that event. I also might have bought it online or at Talking Leaves Books.
There you have it. The myriad avenues into the work of Tyrone Williams.
from On Spec
Written By H'Self
The signature public
the only avant-garde
wheelchairs (in) "the street."
Type (A) bleeds through the page–
or screen–it becomes–
a pool as it we're
one drop rules (.)
into tithes, tenths
and nationalized tribes
market share erosion.
Piggyback the Gap.
John Henry–busted by Keaton.
Gentlemen, 'e thinks,
as the bespoken,
it was the other
kind of happy
feet I wanted.
Guess these shoes
will have to have.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Poetry and Prose
Purchased at the Niagara Falls outlet mall discount bookstore.
When I bought this, I was very happy to get rid of my beat up old Modern Library paperback edition of Whitman's poetry. That book, though compact, was overly thick, and it was not in very good shape when I bought it. I have strong memories of struggling with its bulk while trying handle Whitman's often equally unwieldy poems.
I love how these Library of America books feel in my hands. I also love the book mark set into each one, and I have even grown to enjoy turning the transparently thin sheets of paper on which the work is printed.
I didn't always like the paper in these books, but after reading through a collection of crime novels in the LOA edition, I came to really appreciate the thoughtfulness that has gone into designing these books.
I am not sure why I kept my paperback copy of Specimen Days after buying this one. I don't see anything missing in this edition. Maybe I just kept it because I like the cover. Who knows?
It appears that my cats also like the little ribbons, as this one is pretty frayed. Better that than my computer cords, I guess.
from The Sleepers
I wander all night in my vision,
Stepping with light feet, swiftly and noiselessly stepping and
Bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of sleepers,
Wandering and confused, lost to myself, ill-assorted,
Pausing, gazing, bending, and stopping.
How solemn they look there, stretch'd and still,
How quiet they breathe, the little children in their cradles.
The wretched features of ennuy‚s, the white features of
corpses, the livid faces of drunkards, the sick-gray faces
The gash'd bodies on battle-fields, the insane in their strong-door'd
rooms, the sacred idiots, the new-born emerging
from gates, and the dying emerging from gates,
The night pervades them and infolds them.
The married couple sleep calmly in their bed, he with his
palm on the hip of the wife, and she with her palm on
the hip of the husband,
The sisters sleep lovingly side by side in their bed,
The men sleep lovingly side by side in theirs,
And the mother sleeps with her little child carefully wrapt.
The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep,
The prisoner sleeps well in the prison, the runaway son sleeps,
The murderer that is to be hung next day, how does he sleep?
And the murder'd person, how does he sleep?...
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Specimen Days & Collect
When I was planning my dissertation, which was to have been on the subject of poets writing prose about history, I intended to write a chapter on Specimen Days. I never got around to it.
Yesterday was quite a day for me on this blog. The book I opened in the morning turned out to be something of a Pandora's box. I hadn't thought about R., the person who gave me that book, in quite some time. We were very close in college and after, and our relationship bordered on the romantic without ever quite stepping over the line.
It all ended badly, and I don't feel like recounting it again here. I know I wrote about it someplace else, but I can't tell you for sure which book it is under. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann might be a good place to look, if you are interested.
What was unique about yesterday was the unexpected force with which the memories came surging back to the surface. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I am feeling a little displaced right now, having just moved -- and to a cul de sac in the suburbs, no less! -- for the fifth time in four years. Maybe I am just having one of those middle-aged reassessments, asking myself what I have done with life, what I am doing with it, if I have lived up to my ambitions, etc.
There's no answer to these questions, of course.
Maybe it was the way the inscription was worded in the present tense of a relationship that no longer exists. It was startling to read a twenty-year old admonition to hold on to my sense of the accidental. This was compounded by the fact that I had no recollection at all of the conversation referred to. This didn't matter so much, as I could remember how it felt to be in that conversation, or at least that kind of conversation.
Strange also to think of a time in my life when I was so heavily invested in my friendships, that I once depended on my friend as if they were family or lovers or some combination thereof. I can't remember the last time someone lectured me on my behavior or attitudes, or vice versa, something I recall happening a lot at a certain age.
Maybe it's just the insecurity of being young. Everyone is running around feeling displaced and alienated and alone and part of the importance of those youthful friendships is that they help set you in place for a moment, to see yourself in the world as others see you, a sort of pause before you become something neither you nor your friends had ever imagined.
from Specimen Days & Collect
Thus I went on, years following, various seasons and areas, spinning forth my thought beneath the night and stars, (or as I was confined to my room by half-sickness,) or at midday looking out upon the sea, or far north steaming over the Saguenay's black breast, jotting all down in the loosest sort of chronological order, and here printing from my impromptu notes, hardly even the seasons group'd together, or anything corrected -- so afraid of dropping what smack of outdoors or sun or starlight might cling to the lines, I dared not try to meddle with or smooth them. Every now and then, (not often, but for a foil,) I carried a book in my pocket -- or perhaps tore out from some broken or cheap edition a bunch of loose leaves; most always had something of the sort ready, but only took it out when the mood demanded. In that way, utterly out of reach of literary conventions, I re-read many authors.
I cannot divest my appetite of literature, yet I find myself eventually trying it all by Nature -- first premises many call it, but really the crowning results of all, laws, tallies and proofs. (Has it never occurr'd to any one how the last deciding tests applicable to a book are entirely outside of technical and grammatical ones, and that any truly first-class production has little or nothing to do with the rules and calibres of ordinary critics? or the bloodless chalk of Allibone's Dictionary? I have fancied the ocean and the daylight, the mountain and the forest, putting their spirit in a judgment on our books. I have fancied some disembodied human soul giving its verdict.)
Saturday, December 1, 2012
The Beautiful Room is Empty
Given to me by a former friend, R.
It has a long inscription in it that says that she liked the epigraph of the book because it reminded her of a conversation we had had when she visited me in Ecuador, something about the accidental nature of life. Apparently something I said during her visit struck her as reactionary and she thought she needed to remind me about this conversation because she didn't feel the comments that I made were actually who I am (or was).
I have no recollection of this conversation, so I can't comment either on what I said that she thought was reactionary or what we discussed regarding the nature of accident. I do remember her giving me this book and telling me she loved the epigraph, which is by Kafka. It reads:
Sometimes I have the feeling that we're in one room with two opposite doors and each of us holds the handle of one door, one of us flicks an eyelash and the other is already behind his door, and now the first one has but to utter a word and immediately the second one has closed his door behind him and can no longer be seen. He's sure to open the door again for it's a room which perhaps one cannot leave. If only the first one were not precisely like the second, if he were calm, if he would only pretend not to look at the other, if he slowly set the room in order as though it were a room like any other; but instead he does exactly the same as the other at his door, sometimes even both are behind the doors and the the beautiful room is empty.
I think this epigraph probably says more about the unrequited romance between myself and R. than it does about the accidental nature of life -- but that's another story altogether.