file under: things I shouldn't admit to but will anyway
During today’s lunch break, I wandered around the West Village, my phone shoved between my ear and shoulder, my empty cold hand holding onto my insurance card. The woman on the other end asked for my ID and I read the ten numbers out, asked a few questions, listened to her answer, tried to figure out if I knew what she was talking about. Because normal people make these calls while walking along the sidewalk in 30ish degree weather. But—the whole insurance thing is new to me, and figuring out claims and all that. You know: something normal people actually do.
It brought to mind two things, which just about summarize my equal love for brows both high and low.
Firstly, on the insurance bit: the one time I genuinely laughed while watching ‘My Idiot Brother’ was when he said something like, “I don’t think I have insurance. Wait, do I?” And then also, everything related to April and Andy’s storyline on last week’s episode of Parks & Rec. “No, we uh, we have the free money card.”
Secondly, on the ‘things normal people do’ bit: this poem, "What the Living Do" by my former professor, Marie Howe. I think about it more often than is probably healthy. You can read it over there, at that link, but for my own benefit, here are some lines:
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
Anyway. Insurance insurance uninteresting. I shouldn’t post this.
“Some fathers hate to read but love to take the family on trips. Some children hate trips but love to read. Funny how often these find themselves passengers in the same automobile. I glimpsed the stupendous clear-cut shoulders of the Rockies from between paragraphs of Madame Bovary. Cloud shadows roved languidly across her huge rock throat, traced her fir flanks. Since those days, I do not look at hair on female flesh without thinking, Deciduous?”—"On Reading" from Anne Carson’s Plainwater
“But no. That’s impossible. Let’s imagine that Henric simply climbed onto his Honda and rode off into the vaguely literary, vaguely unstable Paris, and that his absence on this occasion is strategic, as amorous absences nearly always are.”—Roberto Bolaño’s “Labyrinth,” in this week’s New Yorker.
A few nights ago, I dreamt that I had a crush on Thomas Merton. He was at the same party as me, wearing a big puffy vest. But this Merton had hair. Then a high school friend of mine made out with him. She said his kiss was “gummy.”
Last night, I dreamt that I was working on a poetry project, on poets P-Z. But then I got sidetracked and started working on one for H.D. too. I got especially super stoked when I remembered the bibliography book we have in our office, with her face on the cover. Because everyone’s dream is to remember a big thick heavy reference book.
I think also in that dream I spent a few hours reading Pound’s Cantos.
These are my dreams lately.
Not that I’m complaining, I guess. But I feel like my dreams could be a little more adventurous, a little less work-related. Couldn’t I time travel a little? Go flying? Learn to shoot arrows? Make best friends with a lion? Something?
“My shift lasted from 6 p.m. to midnight. Sylvia warned me that George often came down in the evening, after she’d gone home, to engage in sabotage. Father and daughter were embroiled in a simmering conflict over “improvements.” Telephone, or cash register, or books organized by genre – George was revolted by the idea. A few weeks earlier, under orders from the French authorities, the famously-treacherous staircase, described by Anaïs Nin as “unbelievable,” was taken down and replaced by a wider, sturdier, more conventional thing. Enraged, George attacked it with a hammer. The night of my first shift, I sat at the register, nervous that he would renew his assault.”—James Gregor remembers George Whitman, of Shakespeare and Company. (via millionsmillions)
It seems I'm filming my life in order to have a life to film
…like some primitive organism that somehow nourishes itself by devouring itself, growing as it diminishes.
I’ve been thinking about this documentary lately: Sherman’s March by Ross McElwee. I first heard about it a couple years ago from my cousin, who I trust with all things movie. She told me I had to watch it, it was on Netflix Instant, and it was great. She and her boyfriend reenacted (probably without realizing what they were doing until it was done) some dialogue from the film, and I couldn’t believe they weren’t fabricating, but they weren’t. This documentary is terrific in it’s twisty sickening reality and honesty, in the way the man takes the lens and puts it between himself and heartbreak and his mother’s expectations for his next heartful. And these women he dates! I don’t want to say too much, because the things they say are pretty unbelievable. But I will say that there are rollerskates and talk of floating heads in space and a linguist who milks cows (I think, if I’m remembering correctly).
The basic outline is this: McElwee was all set to film a documentary about General Sherman’s march through the South, but his plans were interrupted when his girlfriend broke up with him. He couldn’t focus on his original plan, and instead turned the camera on his upturned life. The documentary became more about his personal life, the dates he went on and the conversations he had with family about the type of woman he should be with, along with his own personal reflections on the shifting landscape around him.
It’s a great movie in its own right, but I love it most for the way it addresses that elliptical question: how our lives respond to art, how our art responds to our lives, and how our lives respond to art responding to our lives: on and on and on. The stitching together of one’s own narrative is always filled with potholes and switchbacks and low-hanging branches. It’s rare to be given a glimpse into someone else’s attempt at this.
David Shields mentions it in Reality Hunger (maybe the only point in that book where I really felt I agreed with him):
I love what he says here: The confusion between field report and self-portrait; the confusion between fiction and nonfiction; the author-narrators’ use of themselves, as personae, as representatives of feeling states; the antilinearity; the simultaneous bypassing and stalking of artifice-making machinery; the absolute seriousness, phrased as comedy; the violent torque of their beautifully idiosyncratic voices.
It reminds me of Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage: our layered intentions, and how what one expects to create is rarely what one does create.
In the film, sometimes McElwee points the camera at a wall and talks over it, as a sort of diary. He’s painfully honest. Melancholic. Hilarious. These moments are unsettling in their openness. Like looking at a fresh wound beneath a bandaid that hasn’t had the proper time to heal.
In one of these moments, McElwee says:
It’s a little like looking into a mirror and trying to see what you look like when you’re not really looking at your own reflection.
“These were books written by writers who recognized the sentence as the one true theater of endeavor, as the place where writing comes to a point and attains its ultimacy. As a reader, I finally knew what I wanted to read, and as someone now yearning to become a writer, I knew exactly what I wanted to try to write: narratives of steep verbal topography, narratives in which the sentence is a complete, portable solitude, a minute immediacy of consummated language—the sort of sentence that, even when liberated from its receiving context, impresses itself upon the eye and the ear as a totality, an omnitude, unto itself. I once later tried to define this kind of sentence as “an outcry combining the acoustical elegance of the aphorism with the force and utility of the load-bearing, tractional sentence of more or less conventional narrative.” The writers of such sentences became the writers I read and reread. I favored books that you could open to any page and find in every paragraph sentences that had been worked and reworked until their forms and contours and their organizations of sound had about them an air of having been foreordained—as if this combination of words could not be improved upon and had finished readying itself for infinity.”—The Sentence is a Lonely Place - Gary Lutz