Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ways Away


Early one evening we parted company
at a junction of diverging dialects.

Forgetting how to speak wasn't easy
until the speeding traffic did it for us.

Assured of death's promise to endorse
the remainder of our happiness,

we strode into perfect silence.
Tomorrow's static turned erratic.

Its weather, childlike, was barely credible;
it taught us dissipation, indelible.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ideology


Tickle your ideology; you never know what mutant futures may come tumbling out. To wit: A woman polishes off a banana post-apocalyptically. She wants what it represents (success in business). Yes, it's tempting to insert one's own innocence into this ribald narrative, but that's when the death of history wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and cries, "Tag! You're it."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Nothing


A selfless plunge into desuetude is a form of self-defense, but try explaining that to your desire to be used. Nothing matters, so it might as well matter anyway. This is why solitude eludes me when I'm alone; longing my way out of time, I'm yoked to its endearments. Memory won't shut up, but its echo says what I want to hear.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On Second Thought


One unreliable minute later, the captive disquiet
I was nursing a little too lovingly for mixed company
took a breather—took it too far, in fact, before any
new feeling like home could be brought to bear.

A swelling of dead-eyed absence began to tell,
in tones of majestic indifference, the origin story
of our smoothed-over tacit agreement, abandoned
when duty called to say I love you. How artless

the whole thing was, remember? It was beyond nature,
lacking only an answer to what might have been but wasn't
reeled in in time or pulled from the proper context to be.
So there you were, clutching a highly specific detail,

under orders to keep moving. Stumbling on this torrid scene,
or slinking away from it (same difference), one may yet
see the point of its deliberately flimsy construction,
the beauty of a forgetfully imminent collapse.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Hurricane Placenta


Rinse a nonstick Neanderthal and watch his head get examined
per the advice of a statuesque actuary, duly hirsute,

aboveboard to the utmost, almost a lamppost. But wait—
I didn't say "Simon says." I did hold my head high

in a last-ditch chipmunk's boudoir ambience; my
fever was beached there, whipped into wrinkles by

decisive greenery, a climate curated in a belief no
soon-to-be-jizzed-on jam band was more than sweet

revenge for. The bachelorette was out of smokes—sad enough
in happier times, downright laundered to shreds in these.

What's needed on the record's an omission of whatever
one is, in ham-handed retrospect, most proud to regret.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Unforced Marches


Destiny tends to ship out before it shapes up,
leaving nothing to chance, least of all the
harrowing stares one can't help disowning
in the natural course of a drowsy commute.

The end is insight, that fatuous old news.
Any leftover magic you'd like to unload
may cost more than mobilizing in support of
your least ideal metric of success is worth
once your silence's essential truth is exploded.

Now there's a freak accident I can get behind,
miming an act of footsie as I go; all night I
imagine myself into a more flattering forecast
spun out in lieu of a sight best left unseen.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sucked Dust


Relax while you can, married to a good score
for yielding temporality, durably alone
in palpably overripe malaise—
the kindest ever, according to a pleasure
I never heard of until it pleased the court
to drink from a tainted well, the better to
surprise us, getting a jump on our own
escalating drama, the sheer scale
of which was nearly embalming,
yet gave hope to the frowning millions
asleep in their cribs. Word came
that slipping under the prevailing
wind went a panoply of colorless fears.
All new motion was suspended, sold off
in harmonic virulence, the pretty past
setting out to prove itself; enter the
shattered class and take a seat.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Terribly Earnest Piece on Death, Love, Writing, Waiting, Meaning, Crushes, Time, Perspective, and Friendship


A couple weeks ago I turned thirty-three. I didn't enjoy it. I don't enjoy getting older. The ever-approaching reality of death is increasingly distressing to contemplate. If I were capable of deluding myself into believing in any kind of afterlife, I would. But I'm not, and I don't. The knowledge that a full third of my life (if I'm very lucky; a larger fraction if I'm not so lucky) is already gone forever is too terrible to think about: I'm already at least one-third dead. The only thing to do is to not think about it. (It also might be a good idea to try to find a way to conceptualize a life's duration as something other than an unrechargeable battery.) Also, avoid thinking about the future. Still, I have to make some effort to accomplish something. If I remain satisfied to go about my days as I currently do—working (insofar as what I happen to do for a living can be called "work"), reading, watching TV, and clicking around online—my life will feel empty, as if I'm doing nothing but waiting. Already I feel it. I feel my life is a waiting room, a condition of almost total passivity in which I only daydream about what my life might one day amount to, as I do nothing but daydream and wait, wait and worry all the while.

There are two areas of my life in which I feel I could attain some kind of meaning: writing and romance. More precisely, writing and publishing a book that will be remembered, and finding someone to fall in mutual love with, preferably for a lifetime.

The year that just ended, my thirty-third (coincident mostly with the calendar year 2014), was a period of regression in both areas. A relationship ended last January, one I'd thought might last a long time, but in fact lasted less than three months. It was hard for me to recover from that. In the spring and early summer, however, I underwent a burst of energetic poetic production. Then, in August, without warning, I became disappointed and discouraged with every poem I'd written—not just the ones from that period, but all the poems I ever wrote. I decided to remove them all from my blog. Since then, I've been flailing around trying to figure out what to write next. A novel? A memoir? Short stories? No matter how much I struggle with the question, I can't seem to pin myself down. If someone were to give me a specific assignment with a deadline and the possibility of payment or other reward, I'm sure I would have no trouble sitting down and forcing myself to write something. As it is, I'll have to learn to give myself my own assignments and stick to them, even without the possibility of payment or fame.

Two genres of writing I don't seem to have trouble with are letters (or emails), and diary writing (both on paper and here on my blog), which are hardly different genres at all. It's really one genre, which I might call Communicating Things About Myself. Emphasis on communication.

Which brings me to another reason the past year was a hard one. I'm a person who needs to communicate with people in order to avoid crippling loneliness. After my breakup, I stopped communicating with people, and with one friend in particular. This is a friend on whom I'd had a years-long hopeless crush. At the time I began the less-than-three-month relationship mentioned above, I was in the process of writing a novel about this infatuation. I gave it up when I fell in love with this other person (which is probably for the best, for all concerned); it simply didn't matter anymore. I realized how foolish that crush really was, and with my emotions now completely invested in my new girlfriend, I felt my life was finally moving forward.

Then, after the breakup, my devastation was such that I found myself emotionally unready to communicate with my old friend again. I couldn't bear the thought that my life would thereby revert to the sorry state it was in three months before. It would be like hitting a reset button, a sad reset button that would have, I imagined, erased the recent positive developments in my psychological well-being. So, for months I denied myself the temptation to reach out to her. We did eventually exchange a few emails, but for the most part I continued to keep my distance. This was very painful for me, because, even setting aside my old romantic feelings, I still missed her—I missed my friend, my pal.

When the anniversary of my breakup came along, about a week ago, I decided to write to my friend about my memories of that painful day. As soon as I hit "send," I felt better. The unavoidable cliche that comes to mind is that a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I had hoped, but didn't quite expect, that writing about the breakup would be so cathartic. It was indeed. And right away, I felt it would be okay to resume regular contact with my friend, the way it used to be, but with a new, more mature perspective on my part, thanks to the intervening year, which created a buffer between the old era of our friendship and the new era just beginning, which I hope will last indefinitely. I can say goodbye to the self I was back before the yearlong gap, a self I can now think of as a discrete entity, connected to my present self only by memory, and viewed with a new, critical eye. No reversion necessary.

So, having been reminded of how fulfilling it feels to write about what's on my mind, I wonder what possibilities this might open up in terms of my writing "career," or, not so much my career, but my very identity as a writer. I've lost interest in poetry, so if I'm not a poet, what am I? Can I be a blogger without having to call myself a blogger? How about "diarist"? Can I get away with that? I don't need to ramble on about these questions at the moment, especially since I'm no closer to any answers.

My more urgent concern is finding love. The more I date, the more unlikely it seems that I'll ever find someone who wants to spend the rest of her life with me. For a brief time, I thought I might have found such a person, but it wasn't to be. The kind of happiness I had a glimpse of then is what I've always wanted to find more than anything in life.

Well, there's nothing for it, of course, but to keep looking.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Books I Finished in January


Dancing in the Dark by Janet Hobhouse. This one is about yuppies in New York in the early eighties. It was published in '83, so I trust its faithfulness to the zeitgeist it depicts—more, that is, than I would trust a book written about that time now, decades later. The sentences are incredibly sharp and smooth, by which I mean they articulate highly nuanced and complex ideas in clear ways, not a word too many or too few. The author is a master observer of interpersonal relations. The characters are richly drawn and have what I value most in characters: specific individuality. Hobhouse seems to be largely forgotten now, which is a shame. If she hadn't died, she'd still be alive today. Her final, unfinished novel, The Furies, is available from NYRB Classics, and it's on my to-read list.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. This is a suspenseful, intense page-turner about whose plot I won't say too much, because it's fun to discover the whole thing gradually as you go along. Basically, this young woman and her widowed mother in 1922 London decide to rent out part of their house to help pay off accumulating debts. A young, vibrant couple moves in. Trouble ensues. That's all you need to know for now. Just read it. A reader faster than I will probably devour it in two or three days.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July. I've been a fan of July's since the day I saw Me and You and Everyone We Know at its NYC premiere at the IFC Center—and then saw July herself taking questions from the audience afterward. This is her first novel. I was into it from page one. I don't want to say much about this plot either, for the same reason mentioned above. The main reason to read this book? It's very funny and strange. It has a lot of quotable lines. (Which I won't quote here, since it's better to come upon them yourself.) Not just funny, it's touching in a very idiosyncratic, non-sappy way. It sort of reminded me of a Todd Solondz movie, but less bleak.

Friendship by Emily Gould. I've now read two Emily Gould books, for some reason. I actually kind of enjoyed her memoir, but this novel, not so much. It would be an unfair oversimplification to say that it's partly a book about a snarky former gossip blogger who loses everything and then, by the end of the book, learns valuable life lessons about humility by volunteering at a soup kitchen. But yeah, that is partly what it's about. Mainly, it's about the friendship of two young women of the educated middle-class persuasion in New York circa now. I truly, unironically, unabashedly am fascinated and intrigued by such subject matter, despite what you may assume, but when the prose—especially the dialogue—is as lackluster and unimaginative as in this book, my interest fades.

The thing is, though, I know that if I were to write a novel, I would be prone to the same flaws. I'd write something that sounded a lot like this book, probably. Which is why I hesitate to criticize. I think part of why I finished this book at all was the ego boost it afforded me in relation to my own writing. For a would-be writer, there's something heartening about other writers' mediocrity. If this mediocre novel got published, then even I might have a chance!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Read (pronounced "red") in 2014


I still think there should be a new spelling for the past tense of "read." Anyway, here's what I red this year. My total number is deceptively low, because for the past four months a great deal of my reading time has been taken up with Shelby Foote's The Civil War, which is around 3,000 pages long, in three volumes. After four months and roughly 1,600 pages, I'm still in volume two. Add those pages to my total page count for the year, and it's a new record, around 15,000. That's well over 300 pages per book, also a new record.

Category names are self-explanatory. Each list is alphabetical by author.

Number One Top Favorite

Americana — Don DeLillo


Best of the Year

Americana — Don DeLillo
Mao II — Don DeLillo
The Book of Strange New Things — Michel Faber
The Late Parade — Adam Fitzgerald
Neverhome — Laird Hunt
Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan — Phillip Lopate
After Claude — Iris Owens
Burning the Days: Recollection — James Salter
Light Years — James Salter
The American Future: A History — Simon Schama
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular 
          Fall of a Serial Impostor — Mark Seal
Travels with Charley: In Search of America — John Steinbeck
The Goldfinch — Donna Tartt
Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in the Seventies
          James Wolcott


Honorable Mention

Quick Question — John Ashbery
Serenade — James M. Cain
Jamie Is My Heart's Desire — Alfred Chester
Underworld — Don DeLillo
Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud — Martin
          Gayford
Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a 
          Masquerade — Walter Kirn
Madame de Pompadour — Nancy Mitford
Netherland — Joseph O'Neill
Forgetting Elena — Edmund White


Pretty Good

Ancient Light — John Banville
The Stench of Honolulu — Jack Handey
girls: A Paean — Nic Kelman
10:04 — Ben Lerner
Wait for Me! — Deborah Mitford
Vile Bodies — Evelyn Waugh
Somebody Owes Me Money — Donald E. Westlake


Meh, Not Bad

Wolf in White Van — John Darnielle
Nude Men — Amanda Filipacchi
Nightmare Alley — William Lindsay Gresham
The Folded Leaf — William Maxwell
BUtterfield 8 — John O'Hara
Cabot Wright Begins — James Purdy
Sophie's Choice — William Styron
A Game of Hide and Seek — Elizabeth Taylor


Disappointments

One Pill Makes You Smaller — Lisa Dierbeck
The Expendable Man — Dorothy B. Hughes
The Unknowns — Gabriel Roth
Three Bedrooms in Manhattan — Georges Simenon


Severe Disappointments

The Natural — Bernard Malamud


In Progress, Currently Enjoying

Bleak House — Charles Dickens
The Civil War: A Narrative — Shelby Foote
Dancing in the Dark — Janet Hobhouse
Mating — Norman Rush
East of Eden — John Steinbeck

Monday, August 4, 2014

From a Distance, Faintly


Around the bend of a new day's expiration
All your palette's colors are held in abeyance
As they unlearn the dreams our sponsors
Couldn't foster forever, much less entertain
In light of new performance standards—

The thing is to fake it until you forget it.
Even before the merry-go-round starts up again,
Gathering your thoughts pursuant to
A circular logic most days are too troubled
With noise to make room for, you begin to see

The error of your ways as it crawls along
Ahead of a shy, stiff breeze bearing secrets
Relatable in their candor. No wonder it
Feels like home (or better yet, a hotel)
When in the course of a coy unraveling

You awaken the infinite in a sneak attack,
Poised to milk its magic to bridge the gap
Between good conscience and good riddance—
Only to find the approach impassable.
Passing anyway, you feel pure, like a mock trial.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Of Murky Origin


If not for my purely academic interest in the matter,
I might never have bothered to surveil the sunbeam
That fell across my schoolroom desk, but its attention
To detail was radically forgetful; I couldn't help admiring.

Inspired to think with my hands, I set to work renovating
Every uttered distance of my shadow self's design,
Putting the ideas down and circulating among them
Like a proctor at an exam that will likely determine

The thrust of history's artifice. Fortunately my stakes
Were never so high, just high enough for tuning out mistakes
Who rubbed my lighted way into the existing template
For living and found out later what that really meant:

Waking up in the morning, hitting the snooze, rising finally
Into the honking air, my hunger for its breath doing
Little to sweeten the deal with all those routine reversals
We make unwitting room for, though not unwisely.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Our Mutual Mission


Violence is a pithy contribution to the color in my vowels—
big band music gives me an urge to split the atom.

Penitentially I float down a river of New York minutiae,
restoring the city's faith in me. Out of the toxic hunger

for a performable psychodrama erupts
a fountain of missed connections, fragments of fate.

These are what decide the rate of death's progress
toward the gape of a raw mouth. More suspect, though,

is the idea that this will complete our mission, our sleeping
through the alarm that, once set, cannot be disarmed

except by consent of an imaginary author falling to earth
by way of Zeno's parachute, forever on the verge of opening . . .

Friday, July 25, 2014

Electric Parvenu


Some of my best friends are billionaire space-tourists . . .
Next up, we hear from a man who eats his own garbage!

Sandwich artists rarely have literally thousands of
good T-shirt slogan ideas. "It's chilly in here,"

said no one ever. "Is a window open somewhere?"
Every store in town is fresh out of context.

Ever think of offing yourself? Default to factory settings—
I prefer Perry Como to Bing Crosby . . . sometimes.

Armed to the teeth with old saws, the cutest among us
have all gone loco—who cares how we motivate our hair

when we have the means to employ
ancient astronauts in our entourage? I mean,

you could at least try to see my nut in a virtuous light—
it rewards us with rapture via 1080i clarity.