Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You Yourself Must Be the Seventh


Absolute writer’s block this morning: I pull up stories, start picking through them, removing commas and ampersands with the thoroughness of a chimpanzee removing lice from its neighbor’s pelt. But two minutes later I decide that the same paragraph looked better with the original punctuation. At which point I realize that writers’ block, literary constipation, whatever you want to call it has officially set in.

One of the interesting things about writing stuff on this blog has been, for me at least, the way that it relieves these moments, or at least makes me feel like I’m experiencing relief. For example, right now I have moved from my traditional “serious writing” armchair, to the more relaxed “unserious writing” couch. I am semi-reclined; I begin thinking about the posture of writing, and the way that certain writers prefer certain physical positions while they write. Pushkin, my hero, wrote best lying down, in what I imagine was a gigantic four-poster with grapes and naked women strewn all over it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on the other hand, wrote while walking. He composed one sentence at a time, in his head, and then wrote the whole article or poem or whatever down as soon as he got home. Edward Said wrote standing up, prowling among a study's worth of podiums.

So already I’m writing again….but is this a good or a bad thing? Shouldn't I really be sitting there bent double, agonizing my way towards mastery? Shouldn't I be suffering for my art?

Real writing vs. everything else: this mental/spiritual battle royal has occupied me for years, not least of all because I am a puritan through and through and therefore addicted to fairly narrow ideas of work and productivity. Real writing: the work that produces a finished product, something whole and tight and perfect as a microwave - a “machine made out of words” or, failing that, a poem made out of things. Real writing, I assume, would be recognizable the moment I produced it and would fill my life with joy and self-gratification. I would stand back carpenter-style and observe it. “Ahhh!” I would say....putting my hand on my son's shoulder in a sort of Kleenex moment.

That blog entries are not real writing, however, is a fact I have become convinced of lately: one that has confused and shocked me and made me rethink the whole dynamic. It has led me, as I'm sure you’re tired of hearing, even deeper into the thickets of marginalia. But what is this kind of writing, and what does it do to me? Should I, for example, be combing my posts over and removing unnecessary punctuation? Should I be turning my sentences not twice but once, with my hand on the key? Or, is there something powerful in this speed (swiftness) and movement (intuition) that makes the adoration of mastery and perfection seem like the wrong move? “Anyone who looks for perfection in a painting knows nothing about art,” Ruskin said. I ask because I’m curious, I don't know.

On this topic: I’ve been reading a book by the Spanish writer/scholar/adumbrator Enrique Vila-Matas, called “Bartleby & Co.”, whose narrator devotes himself to tracking down all the writers who have ever decided to just put down their pens and not write. These Bartlebys – these "Artists of the No" – devote themselves, at a certain point in their careers, to the abandonment literature and the advancement of non-literature. Some of them go to great, even heroic lengths: they write books, tomes, encyclopedias, articles, describing in detail the "real books" they are never going to write. Long philosophical treatises on notwriting. Catalogues of footnotes to invisible texts. All in an attempt as the Bartleby Joseph Joubert says, to create something that would “replace ordinary reading, where it is necessary to go from one part to another, with the spectacle of a simultaneous word, in which everything would be said at once without confusion, in a glow that is…total, peaceable, intimate and uniform at last.”

Talk like this has the stupidness of true poetry to me: it makes no sense on a rational level but bites my intuitive line. There’s something in it that I feel I can use…something that pertains to what we’ve been talking about over the last couple of months maybe, that touches my obsessions. Early in the book, Matas’s footnoteist notes something incredible about the author Robert Walser:

Walser’s entire work, including his ambiguous silence of twenty-eight years, is a commentary on the vanity of all initiative, the vanity of life itself. Perhaps that is why he only wanted to be a walking nobody. Someone has compared Walser to a long-distance runner who is on the verge of reaching the longed-for finishing line and stops in surprise, looks around at masters and fellow disciples, and abandons the race, that is to say remains in what is familiar, in an aesthetics of bewilderment.”

Aesthetics of bewilderment.

Bewilderment…say it seven times and it begins to sound like a gum flavor. An artistic command hidden inside like an iron-on tattoo. I think of a huge stag lifting its head up for some reason. Moss is dripping down its jaws and neck.

What happens when the writing of non-writing (this is getting silly) begins to be more interesting than the writing of writing? When the things you do to relieve writers’ block end up feeling better than the story itself?

Found a poem last night that explains to me why this blog is called what it’s called. By the Hungarian hunter/gatherer Attila Jozsef:

The Seventh

If you set out in this world,
better be born seven times.
once, in a house on fire,
once, in a freezing flood,
once, in a wild madhouse,
once, in a field of ripe wheat,
once, in an empty cloister,
and once among pigs in a sty.
Six babes crying, not enough:
you yourself must be the seventh.

When you must fight to survive,
let your enemy see seven.
One, away from work on Sunday,
one, starting his work on Monday,
one, who teaches without payment,
one, who learned to swim by drowning,
one, who is the seed of a forest,
and one, whom wild forefathers protect,
but all their tricks are not enough:
you yourself must be the seventh.

If you want to find a woman,
let seven men go for her.
One, who gives his heart for words,
one, who takes care of himself,
one, who claims to be a dreamer,
one, who through her skirt can feel her,
one, who knows the hooks and snaps,
one, who steps upon her scarf:
let them buss like flies around her.
You yourself must be the seventh.

If you write and can afford it,
let seven men write your poem.
One, who builds a marble village,
one, who was born in his sleep,
one, who charts the sky and knows it,
one, whom words call by his name,
one, who perfected his soul,
one, who dissects living rats.
Two are brave and four are wise;
you yourself must be the seventh.

And if all went as was written,
you will die for seven men.
One, who is rocked and suckled,
one, who grabs a hard young breast,
one, who throws down empty dishes,
one, who helps the poor to win,
one, who works till he goes to pieces,
one, who just stares at the moon.
The world will be your tombstone:
you yourself must be the seventh.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Candy, Anger and Sleep


Candy is a marginal food group, which is one of the reasons why I love it so much. Also it is delicious. Also - and I truly, truly love this - you don't buy candy to improve your life. You don't spend an entire off-season rebuilding your candy empire while keeping your eyes securely fixed on an eventual title run. Candy is for the now and is therefore what makes us human, our Achilles heel. It is a strategy for remaining off-balance and develops inevitably into the second two terms of life, Anger and Sleep. It both relieves and itches. In this way, it is a rough equivalent of such narrative starters as: Your Wife, Paper Clip Girl, or the Way My Upstairs Neighbor Has Been Polishing His Floors.


The second part of a life of energy, and in some ways the most important.

For example: for a long time now, I've been looking for ways to keep myself off balance. I do this because my life is, for the most part, pretty routine. I find myself unable to read the novels I once loved - why read novels, I ask myself? The sensation is like being shot out of one of those old-style catapults, with plot as the cata- and me as the -pult. What is the purpose of a novel? (ask yourself this with complete honesty - as in, "Why do I pick up this or that novel?) The answer is: to finish it. Same with a story. I mean, I can watch ten minutes of a Seinfeld episode even if I've seen it a thousand times before, and be filled with delight, scorn, love of fellow man. But try opening even your favorite novel to page six hundred and seven, and reading a line, and convincing yourself that this is something you like.

This makes me angry - not the real, out-of-body angry you get when someone cuts you off in the check-out line, but "angry," the force that like Mephistopheles "wills only evil, but does only good." In this way it is the flipside to my joy and maybe only a half-step more honest.


Sleep is what happens after candy and anger, after I have fed my body something it doesn't need and then whipped myself into a state that leads nowhere, leads to nothing. As an American, I am an ecstatic and therefore both terrified of and addicted to waste. I aspire to be one on which "nothing is lost." This is the miraculous dream, right? This is when the stars stand up and start singing out your name like Mouseketeers?

Nap sleep is not like night sleep and this is important to me, since about half my sleep these days comes from naps. Nap sleep is marginal sleep: brief, deep, utterly more pleasurable than the food-pyramid sleep you get at night. Some people want to write a book like a dream, but I want to write a book like a nap.

Of course, one problem with napping is that it can erase borders and make you forget things: your name, for example, or just how long you've been napping. It can want to drag you down like a turbine, closer and closer, you're nothing but sleep, you live to sleep.

Could I live to sleep? Do you live to sleep? And how many people out there are sleeping right now, in their beds or on couches, subways, haybales, laps? How many people are sleeping RIGHT AT YOU as we speak?

Endless sleep is terrifying, it is death or maybe worse than death and at this point it is important to remember that there is always candy.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Short Fiction: What's Cool

For Josh's uncle...

I used to pee a lot. Now I do a lot of cocaine. The two are not exclusive. They go together. What happened was this: I spend a lot of time dining out. I drink too much wine. I have to pee.

And, well, the walk from the table to the bathroom is embarrassing.

I mean, have you really ever walked through a crowded restaurant, to go pee, five or six times? Maybe you did it once, not five times. And I know you didn't do it six times because that's the record. Trust me, I contacted the people who keep the records and everything.

They told me: Six times, yeah, that's the record.

This is terribly uncool. All this peeing. But you know what is cool?


Cocaine's just about the coolest thing ever. It's right up there with the girl who wears paperclips on her shoes. I love when she finds paperclips laying on the street. I mean she's full of magic or something because she finds the most boring thing in the world laying on the street and she transforms it, magically, into an emblem of coolness.

My emblem of coolness is my rampant cocaine habit.

One night, at my favorite place Table, I was peeing. I was embarrassed. It was like the seventh time, a new record. I was thinking of how uncool it was. Then I was hit with an epiphany or something.

I thought: What's cool is cocaine.

Now when I get up to pee everyone knows I'm really getting up to do more cocaine. Trust me, I can see the looks on the people's faces.

They're not saying: Look at that fucking dork, peeing again.

They're saying: Look at that Mythical God of Love, doing more cocaine. Isn't he cool? He probably doesn't ever even need to pee.

At least that's what Paperclip Girl says. I'm her Mythical God of Love.

Once, after dining, I drove Paperclip Girl to an abandoned parking lot and fucked her in the backseat of my car.

She was like, That's good.

But that doesn't include the sounds she was making, or the volume. That's just the words.

That's good. That's good. That's good.

A bunch of times, just like that, with a lot more Os, and real loud.

Afterwards we just sat there, not having to pee or anything. It was cool. She was fiddling with a paperclip which I had lovingly clipped on her nipple.

We laughed and laughed.

I said: Why is it that sex ends in laughter?

She said: When it ends in crying that means you fucked up somewhere along the line.

But anyway, I like it best when I get up, I go pee, I do more cocaine, and when I come back Paperclip Girl is there waiting, the food has been served, and everyone in the whole place knows, really knows, that I only got up because I wanted to do more cocaine before eating.

Only thing, I'm never hungry when I dine out anymore. I don't get it. I just keep thinking about "after dining", about, you know, making love, which I previously called fucking, but now realize is probably just loving.



Before getting back to our Zeno’s paradox-type enrichment/demolishing of daily life, I wanted to pause for a second, lift my head up, shake, and take a minute to savor the great wet dog smell of other people. One of the strange things about writing online being, amazingly enough, that both strangers and loved ones can read your shit and then have an opinion of it, and that there’s nothing you can do about it. Bizarre, right? The desk drawer where I used to stash my aborted masterpieces is getting so lonely that I can hear it mewing at night like a lamb at pasture…

The Fascination of the Fucked Up and Brilliant Uncle is a known quantity in the world, despite its mysteriousness. But why the uncle? Why not (and wouldn’t this be about a hundred times more cosmically fair) the father? Why not Barak Obama, who seems to me like he’s probably a fun enough uncle but a lousy father? Tolstoy? Steven Spielberg?

My own uncle has become more and more important to me as I've gotten older, and especially so since his sister died two and a half years ago. As a kid I remember him as kind of a shit…a lovable shit, but a shit nonetheless. He and my mom argued whenever they met, there was tension, I mean they had a whole childhood’s worth of issues that I have no idea about and never will probably.

One afternoon we ate lunch together at Red Lobster; at a certain point I asked to go to the bathroom, where I peed, washed my hands, and then stared calmly at my face in the mirror. My face, which at that point I decided looked nothing like either my mom’s or my uncle's, and which therefore was completely innocent, spotless, uncconected with their problems. I had been sent to this planet to observe and record and would be whisked back up to my home planet upon my eighteenth birthday. So I spent the rest of the meal watching the shrimp scampy fly from behind the dumb waiter.

(Actually, that last part never happened and never would happen: my family is Scotch-Irish and would literally walk the Red Lobster plank before they’d let even a single slice of lemon garnish go to waste.)

Fifteen years later the mothership still hasn't circled, and I've become at least partially convinced that there are things you can’t escape. To be honest, I've become fascinated with the things you can’t escape. Family being one of the big ones. My soul is a battlefield where my father, mother, and whatever other ancestors might want to show up fight for supremacy, and there are unfortunately no dumb waiters to hide behind.

This preamble is getting kind of ridiculous, so I’ll speed it up. My uncle, who visits me every once in a while but whose permanent whereabouts have been unknown to us for some time (some say Indian reservation, some Hawaii, or prison, but I have insider information that points to Shanghai and a small but lucrative expatriate video rental business) has begun sending me emails about this blog. Interesting emails. To say that his angle of access is unique is understating it – I mean this is the guy who, I am not kidding, used to read my brother and I a page of Finnegan’s Wake while we were taking our nightly bath. Given that both of us kids had to fit in a single bathtub for that arrangement to work out, I’d say that our combined ages at that point were probably not even in the double digits.

Anyway, here’s Screwtape on your last entry, blogging, and the State of the Soul:

“i dug seth's recent gristlogue on 7thdraft and kept mulling what we were in disco about on the pierrepont street couch: writing for an 'audience' v. the interior madness & conflict we keep to ourselves, & only capture 'diaretically' in an effort to explain said incongruities TO ourselves (a losing proposition, mostly)

for instance in the 'journal' version he woulda done that poor girl in the office. right in the ass, bent over the copier, her moans barely stifled as a stack of corporate balance sheets are spit out to the rythym of his thrusts... [sorry, but we all know this is closer to the psychic truth than any 'reality' could be!]

it woulda been : "how could i do this to my wife whom i love??" -kinda schtick, ---the counterintuitive acting against our own best interests we all know & love so well its become the practical fabric of our existence; part of every story, every film...

then it occurred to me, you - you & this particular associate, par example - may simply be too good-hearted as people to pull this off. you may simply lack the type of mean-spirited, selfish, & abusive instincts required to entertain an audience riddled with covert pathologies & obsessions

for instance i would never tell ANYONE but my diary something like: "women should be routinely cornholed until they drop", etc. - a horrible, rotten thought indeedy - and yet one proffered only 1/2 in jest, since its amazing to me how many times i find myself drifting down that burnt brown dirt road...

its the core misanthropy you're missing, lad...


wow, now THAT, that is at the very heart of the matter, isnt it. when you get right down to it & stop lying & stunned me right off the side of my chair. wowwowwow....oww-wow. brilliant.

actually once on the screen porch in Berkley several years ago i broached this very subject with a friend, and she told me almost exactly the same thing. shocked the shit outta me then & it still does. my point? you knew i was dragging you along towards one?

well i laid the groundwerk with you & el last time at clark's, non?? did you see it rearing its ugly head then? or did my overbabylonia only cloud it up?

OK>>lets reverse engineer this pudding for a moment. in other words, the psychic landscape may not be a function of unintended 'bad' consequences, as if we didnt want to be so detached from & hostile towards one another deep down but QUITE TO THE CONTRARY - what if its....

-----------------------> TRAUMATOPHILIA???"

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Cause or Result of My Daffiness?

Oct. 24,

5:00 am

My wife’s cell-phone wakes me up. I have the urge to pee. So I pee for the third or fourth time since falling asleep, five hours earlier.

My wife, crazily, gets ready for work.

I wonder: What kind of person wakes up so early? What kind of person cares so little about sleep? What kind of person is this person, my wife?

I get back in bed and happily doze. The wind from the open window smells nothing like steam from the subway. It smells like aged green, like wet leaves and smoke. I fall asleep wondering if my wife might be the type of person who would say: Tootle-loo

6:55 am

I wake up, again. I find, to my surprise, that I feel refreshed. I walk into the kitchen, test my blood sugar: 138. What the fuck? Why is my blood sugar so high? I make about five, six calculations. Finally I understand: The chicken. I ate too much chicken last night.

I accept it. I drink Noni. I jab a needle into my abdomen, inject three units of insulin.

Then, my first thought of the day as a writer: Can a writer possibly write about blood sugar hassles with coolness?

A few years ago, just after I was diagnosed, I considered my coolness quotient irreparably wounded.

This morning, I take my insulin, I eat my toast, I jump down on the floor, do fifty push-ups. Then I leave the house wielding my weird little blood-tester as if it’s some sort of badge of triumph.

Fuck it. That’s what I say when I leave the house. Fuck it.

In this way, I convince myself: Coolness is possible. And levity, probably, is mandatory.

8:00 am

I drive to work. It’s raining so hard I have to pee. Why do I always have to pee? Is it possible to write a story exclusively about one guy’s never-ending urge to pee?

That story would be about me.

8:15 am

I get to work, pee.

9:00 am

I pee. I test my blood sugar: 145. OK fine.

9:01 am

I look in the mirror. I’m so in thrall of my face it’s obscene. I think: when I was a kid, looking at the gorgeous faces in my brother’s magazines, this is exactly what I wanted to look like. Exactly! I’m so excited!

Maybe, I think, I’ve always looked like this. Or maybe it just happened recently. Or maybe I always looked like this, but I only recently learned to see it. Likely, I’m utterly narcissist. I’m doomed. There’s a small chance though, that the obscenity of loving one’s own face is actually quite fruitful.

And maybe, I think, I just need to say this to my wife: You’ve always been as beautiful as you are today. Always. So buck up. What’s done is done. You can’t help if you’re born this way. You can’t ever be any less beautiful than you were last night, in that goofy green shirt. It’s not obscene. It just is. And I think it’s cool.

10:05 am

I pee.

I walk out of the bathroom and there’s this woman I work with, making herself a cup of coffee. She tells me a secret. We’re standing by the coffee urns and she tells me a whopper. We just stand there, looking at each other. She’s trembling. She probably needs a hug more than any person needs a hug right now.

I say: come here.

We embrace, warmly. She cries. I rub her shoulder blade.

I tell her, in terms of work: I’m here, so don’t worry. I’m here. I’ll take care of everything.

Walking away, I ask myself, When did I become the guy who says: I’ll take care of everything?

Then I think: Why am I so fucked-upped and wounded?

Why is everyone is fucked-upped and wounded?

10:12 am

I sneak away, read Shalom Auslander for five minutes.

I answer my question re: Why is everyone so fucked-upped and wounded?

Just because.

11:43 am

I’m sick of everyone asking about the new girl working with me. I’m sick of telling everyone that she’s my best friend’s sister. Yes, I know, she’s gorgeous. But back off.

So I change tactics.

This guy walks up, asks: Whose the new chick?

(He smiles, weirdly.)

I say: My sister, why?

He says: Oh.

11:44 am

I tell the new girl some people might think she’s my sister. I pee.

11:57 pm

How goofy and horrible is life?

12:00 pm

Fucking conference call. Do people actually enjoy conference calls? Perhaps that’s why they ask so many questions, consequently prolonging the conference call. I hate conference calls. The conference call might just be the thing most opposite writing.

Why am I here, doing the thing most opposite writing?

When I should be writing?

How did I get to be 31 without figuring this problem out yet?

I start to blame my blood tester. I start to blame my blood. Bad blood, always fucking me up. Can’t you just start raging with me and not against me?

I decide for the one millionth time: I will never, ever waste another moment again.

Calls over.

I pee. I jab a needle into my stomach, inject three units of insulin. I pee.

Lunch is sandwich and soup, the same lunch I’ve had for about three years. The exact same lunch. I read the New Yorker while I eat.

The New Yorker will save me.

1-3:47 pm

Weirdly, I forget to test my blood sugar. This never happens.

3:47 pm

I’m home from work, on the couch, reading Shalom Auslander. I get up, pee. I doze. I get up, pee. I doze.

4:49 pm

My wife calls, wakes me up, asks for a ride. I test my blood sugar: 120. Not bad.

We get into a bit of a scrape. I eat an apple and some pumpkin seeds. She’s shocked I can eat and apple and pumpkin seeds so nonchalantly.

Not because of my condition. Because of her’s.

She flops into bed. I go there, delay my trip to the gym by nearly thirty minutes.

Afterwards, I jab a needle into my thigh, inject 11 units of long-acting insulin.

6:00 pm

At the Y, on the treadmill. Vogue.

Strike a pose
Strike a pose
Vogue, vogue, vogue
Vogue, vogue, vogue.

Why does Madonna say Rita Hayworth gave good face?

What the hell does that mean? Do I give good face?

If the music's pumping it will give you new life
You're a superstar, yes, that's what you are, you know it.

8:00 pm

Roast Chicken and Epic Sweeta Potato Mash for dinner. Wine too. I jab a needle into my abdomen, inject two units insulin. I pee. I eat a ridiculous amount of chicken.

The World Series begins and I feel celebratory! I drink three glasses of wine!

The life-giving air of baseball.

I tell my wife I’m a spiritual man when it comes to baseball and that her brother is a religious man when it comes to football.

That’s the difference, I say.

Get over yourself, she says.

8:40 pm

I pee.

I sit down to write. I’m thinking about how everyone’s so fucked-upped and wounded, especially me.

Henry calls. He’s on day three of his Master Cleanse. I chide him for chewing gum. He desperately wants to eat a cheeseburger.

Knowing he’s insanely afraid of death, I say, That might kill you.

He promises not to eat a cheeseburger.

I get back to my work.

Just because is not a suitable answer. Just because is lazy.

The only other thing I can think of is that fucked-upped woundedness is probably pretty funny. I think of Daffy Duck.

8:43 pm

“Well?” I shout.

9:07 pm

I love you Miranda July. I love when you say:

"People are always breaking through, like in the Doors song ‘Break on Through (To the Other Side).’ But I really had. I had broken through twice now, and my feeling about the universe was that it was porous and radical and you could turn it on, you could even fuck around with the universe."

I test my blood sugar: 142

I jab a needle into my abdomen, inject one more unit insulin.

10:00 pm

On the couch, with my wife, watching the Red Sox destroy the Rockies. My wife. Her skin, ridiculously soft. Ridiculous! Her coolness quotient, sky-high. Sky high!

She probably doesn’t even think about this kind of stuff.

We grew up together but we grew different in our goofiness.

I wonder: Why does she still like me so much?

Why do I need her so much?

I like her ass. That's one thing.

10:03 pm

I pee. I pee. I pee.

11:02 pm

Awful things have happened to Daffy Duck.
Was that the cause or the result of his daffiness?
His bill blasted to the back of his head.
His eyes bounced around.
Deep inside his meal feathered brain
is the need to fuck or fuck-up
everything beautiful even the Parthenon.
Yet he returns again and again from what
would kill and make inedible
an ordinary duck.
Is this too a power of daffiness?

~Uncle Deano

11:54 pm

In bed, with my wife. I put my hand on her ass. Why do some people call it rump? Rump is a terrible word. Ass isn't much better.

This is the assumed posture of our marriage.

Sleep like a duck in the middle of an explosion.

My wife's ass. That's funny, put the word "wife's" in front of "ass" and the word blossoms...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Self Portrait as Miranda July

Oct. 23rd,

4:15 am

Wake up early and am confused. What is it that makes me do this? My girlfriend is asleep, my apartment is asleep. The wind from the open window smells like subway steam. I seem to have found myself on the dark side of the world, not the sinister dark side, but the unseen side, the “tail” part of a two-headed coin.

Coffee, thick, which I make by hand. I find, to my surprise, that I have no idea how to make coffee. I put too many beans into the grinder and then too little water in the French press: the result is a sludge that I could only be drinking for the caffeine. So why am I making it?

I stare at the coffee-grinder; I imagine that it is not a coffee grinder at all, but one of those centrifugal amusement park rides. Exiting, the grounds feel both more and less themselves.

5:30 am

Still no one up, except for the ginkgo trees. Luckily I am Miranda July.

6:15 am

I come across a quote in a book that I pull randomly off of the bookshelf. Books! Why do I have so many…The underlining is so heavy that you can feel it, like braille, on the other side of the page.

“ ‘I trust people who get up early,’ admits a young woman.

There are poets who do not concern themselves with the material of sleep. There are those who are concerned with it, but they are fighters against sleep, sleep-fighters.”

Earlier in this same book, another, equally-interesting idea has gone un-underlined:

“He has nothing to do with sleep. As another poet put it, he knows only a ‘great insomnia.’”

7:30 am

Staring at the ceiling, that last undiscovered country. I think one of the experiences I want to create in my work is the one you get when you stick your head in the corner of an old sofa. I would advise you to do this too, but I know you already have.

Everything in there is amazing, like being on the moon.

It’s like, I’m in life, but I’m not in life. I’m waiting to be born.

Being Miranda July, I allow myself to observe that, though we will be dead forever (there is forever in front of us), we were not born forever too (the forever behind us). I greet the dawn by covering two of my three windows with peach-colored post-it notes, and the third one with yellow ones. I feel like I am in the belly of an enormous tropical fish, whose scales are soft as feathers and flutter in patches when my rotary fan passes over them. October: however, it is for some reason still 80 degrees outside, with the sun just coming up.

9:30 am

A sea of Chinese people: “Good morning teacher!” they say. Appreciating this, I love them as Miranda July. But they do not love me back as Miranda July.

During the break, I get in a long discussion about the difference between a whiteboard and a blackboard. How is this difficult to understand? I tell a middle-aged woman in a purple track suit that, if it is helpful, she can think of our whiteboard as the long-lost cousin of a blackboard that is out there, in the world, tramping from town to town and cameo to celebrity cameo, like Big Bird in “Follow That Bird.” I remind her of the horrifying “blue bird” sequence. “Each blackboard searches for its whiteboard,” I say. “Blame Zeus.”

She nods, of course: my students, apparently are always nodding. But her eyes look at me as if I have a sunflower growing out of my forehead.

12:00 pm

Class gets out. I sit for a few minutes in the empty classroom. Actually, it is a conference room hidden deep within the bowels of a YMCA.

12:15 pm

I walk home over the Brooklyn Bridge. The naval yards like a prehistoric swamp.
Take a minute, oh my people, to imagine what it would be like to actually see a dinosaur. I honestly think very few people are capable of imagining this more than once, or at most twice in their life, myself included.

1:00 pm

Home. Have you seen my eyes? I look at them in the mirror. Seriously, I could be Bette Davis over here.

2:00 pm

Where is lunch? My refrigerator is empty but I still open it and stand staring. I am a big starer – at lease I assume with eyes like these I spend a lot of time staring.

5:00 pm

More quotes from the sleep book (maybe this is my favorite book? Maybe it is one I am planning to throw out? Give away?):

“And so the truth of poetry gradually disappears from public places – it retreats into the separate lives of separate individuals.

The reader changes – now he is not occupied with faceless ‘common affairs,’ now he experiences his life in the light of the problematic phenomenon of Existence. This must not be thought of as his own selfish ‘affair’ – his experience of existence can be exemplary, can show the way – a model of human life. The reader needs a poet who speaks only for him, only with him. The poet in such a case is the only companion he can trust.

The ‘shape’ of the connection between poet and reader is changing. Now it is not from stage to auditorium, to the ear, but from paper (often not even from print) to person, to the eye. The reader is led, not summoned; he is conversed with as an equal.”

7:00 pm

Quiche for dinner. I used to hate it. But now I can’t get enough of the stuff.
How could this have happened? My five-year old self would be horrified. He would not even recognize me.

8:12 pm

Halloween coming soon according to this month’s calendar.

9:18 pm

“Well?” I shout.

10:00 pm

Beds, which like many people I have always imagined as plummeting through an endless sky. Interesting that the term “escape velocity” has come to mean something moving very fast. Escape, for me, moves as slowly as a moon rock. It stares and stares, until finally its heartbeat stops.

I’ll tell you what. You try it.

Sleep like a door in the middle of a river.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Joy Quotient


It's funny, I've been thinking of what you wrote here, actually not thinking, but more likely gestating without responding, and today, out of the blue, I wrote an annotation on the very topic you write about below, re: strangeness and familiarity. To me, it's a matter of scale and, well, Miranda July.

Yes, you went away to Mexico, I went away a few times to New York, and now we re-convene and I'm still talking about Miranda July.

My wife says: Miranda July this, Miranda July that! Why don't we just find Miranda July and fuck her, me and you together?

Actually, my wife doesn't say that at all, but isn't it pretty to think so? (Do Hemingway quotes pop into your head at inappropriate times too? Bastard, he's seeped into me--too much early training in canon, not enough marginalia.)

Anyway, in an interview for Miranda July was asked what her collection of short stories No One Belongs Here More Than You might have to say about “our human existence, our minor existence, on this big planet.”

She answered: “I guess…there’s something always interesting to me about scale and how you can get to the universe through sort of the tiniest things and vice versa.”

July’s response puts me in mind of her narrator from the story “Making Love in 2003”. She—the narrator—is a goofy, sentimental young woman who makes love, first, as high-school student, with a dark shape, and later, as a special needs assistant, with one of her students. Love, and making love, for her, is the universe. She longs for, and lives for, a love connection and her need is displayed in the most idiosyncratic, goofy ways: She sits around other people’s houses; she drives around, without purpose; she confiscates other people’s hand-written notes. The whole time she thinks about love.

And this is what I love about Miranda July: she writes about the great universal theme, love, via the utterly mundane, and in doing so she reminds us that the mundane is precisely the scene of the extraordinary.

Early in “Making Love in 2003” July’s narrator is sitting around a woman’s house waiting for the woman’s husband to come home. The woman’s husband once told her she had “promise” as a writer, so the narrator wrote every day for a year with his business card attached to her computer. Now she is finished and she is sitting in the husband’s living room with his wife waiting to present the book to him. She scoffs at the wife and she wonders what the husband will do with her: “Will he kiss me?”

The narrator is mystified by a collection of needlepoint pillows. One says: MAKING LOVE IN 2003. Another says: MAKING LOVE IN 1997. The pillows seem weird and creepy to the narrator. Then she learns that the woman is actually Madeleine L’Engle, the famous author. This bit of knowledge hits the narrator with a bout of cosmic consciousness. Suddenly, where she once saw creepiness, she now sees the extraordinary love between Madeleine L’Engle and her husband:

"I looked around the living room. This was Madeleine L’Engle’s living room. MAKING LOVE IN 2002. MAKING LOVE IN 1997. I looked at her tailored brown pants and realized he was probably making love to her right this second. When you reach a certain saturation point, lovemaking becomes one endless vibration. He was running late, and this was his way of making love to her, and she wanted to write but had to entertain me instead, and this was her way of making love to him. I was just a part of the love-making between Madeleine L’Engle and her husband. A tiny part of MAKING LOVE IN 2003."

This quote jumps from the mundane to the cosmic back to the mundane in a matter of three lines, from brown pants, to an endless vibration, to a man running late. July’s sense of scale here is enormous, and yet she seems to be saying: do not be fooled by scale, it has nothing to do with size. The grand endless vibration of love does not need a grand image to match: it can be seen easily in a collection of needlepoint pillows. The needlepoint pillows, in fact, purposefully temper July’s grand, vibrating gesture; by conflating her cosmic image with a mundane image, July gives the reader something to chew on, something familiar to taste and in doing so she not only illuminates love in a new way, but pillows too.

I think this is what you call the "squishy ridiculousness of life." I call it The How Goofy and Horrible is Life Quotient. Yes, it is both: goofy and horrible.

Another quotient I've been thinking about: The Joy Quotient. What if we're given an endless amount of joy to spend each day, like a wallet with an endless supply of twenties? If we don't use it we waste it. But it's there and the supply is endless.

So I'm starting to think like Richard Pryor in Brewster's Millions.

I mean after all, there's pillows and stuff like that. So much.

What the hell do I have to lose?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Third Way 2: Why Transformers Is the Most Important Movie of Our Generation


In hopes of serving as an aesthetic bird-dog, I'd like to send out a few more brief but hopefully potent salvos about writing and the difficulty of writing, now, when the technology of literature is at its peak and a tangible sameness has settled over storytelling, the story, and American writing in general. Of course, to say that I'm under qualified to talk about these things definitively is, well, pretty much stating the obvious.

As I see it, great art should posses two qualities: strangeness, and familiarity. Less than great art errs most often by forgetting too much about one or the other side of this equation.


The world is filmed with art and with ways of looking at things. You can barely touch a soda bottle without getting your hands sticky with story, let alone a person. And because all this art is known to us, the world gets dull, gets boring. We forget it exists.

Claude Levi-Strauss talks about culture along the Amazon: sometimes form stops being a way of perceiving and starts being a way of remembering.

But the amazing thing to me is, the world is still there! I can still go outside to get some coffee and see a little girl, maybe six or seven years old, calmly walking down the other side of the street with her hand on her crotch. I still have to park my car every Tuesday.

"Keep the ground, feel the roots, domesticate yourself." - Emerson's Journal

"There are, however, corridors around these mountains." - Davenport on Joyce, Mann, Proust.

"All is garden."


On the other side of things, experiment that leaves the human universe is less interesting, to me at least. Gertrude Stein is a force of nature in Three Lives or The Making of Americans, but I don't see the point of Tender Buttons. Language, unlike music, is referential: it can never be completely abstract.

A true investigation of daily life reveals quickly how bizarre the world is. Also, how packed with humor, life, death, joy, pain.

"A few nights ago I was the topic of discussion, and we all decided I was an ignoramus." - Anne Frank.

"Destroy your manuscript, but save whatever you have inscribed in the margin out of boredom, out of helplessness, as it were, in a dream." - Osip Mandelstam.

"In this vacuum of our thoughtlessness, in the pile of blase, feuilleton nothingness, our eternal lyric Poem has plopped itself down and howls like a soaked dog." - Gombrowicz.

To recap and tie some of these undeveloped strands together: about four months ago I saw the movie "Transformers" in a North Carolina movie theater. There, for the first time I think, the fatal flaw of digital special effects was brought home to me. I mean, the gigantic robots looked "real" - they were given weight and dimension and color, they turned shiny in the light and darker in the shade - but there was no reality to them. An entire industry, state, country's worth of resources had been put into making these creatures life like, but they weren't: they were deader than dead.

Think about how amazing it is that we are not impressed by the spectacle of gigantic robots fighting with one another! Why not? What is missing?

Now try looking at this short clip of the Russian animator Yuri Norstein's "Winter's Tale," as an antidote.

For me, the difference between the two types of "animation" - Transformers/Hollywood style special effects and Multfilm collage - is incredible, illuminating. Norstein's movies (and if you haven't checked them out, you should: very Miranda-July-worthy) are made out of pieces of paper; what makes them appealing is not that they're realistic - that they "fool" us, or pass for live action - but that they're so clearly artistic. The technique is at the forefront, and because the technique is so visible, we take pleasure in its mimesis (the Blogger spell-check says that I should spell this word "mimosas"!). We get the feeling of a mind observing, and translating its observations into a resistant medium: this gives delight. We also get the feeling that there is an observed, human world under there.

How does this apply to writing? Without making too many grand claims, I wonder if the traditional short story and novel forms - the types, Seth, that we are working our asses off to write every day - haven't become a sort of high-tech production themselves. Ways of remembering, rather than ways of perceiving. How many stories/novels do you read in which the point of the whole thing, from page one, seems to get to the end? Even very good works frequently feel like that for me, and I wonder if it isn't because the form itself has become a sort of ritual that I indulge in, like drinking warm milk before bed or something.

One of the reasons why "Miscellaneous" literature - and by here I mean the great, gigantic Nile delta of diaries, letters, fragments, experiments, failures that runs around, beneath and through the main channels of literature - has been so fascinating to me lately is because of its "low-tech" feel. Something about the way a diary, for example, admits its form from the very beginning seems to give it an unbelievable freedom to me. So I wonder about different ways to break things up, put art in the forefront, transform things back into perceptions.

As Pushkin, the king of marginal literature, says: "Poetry has to be a little bit stupid."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Third Ways 1: A Russia of the Mind

This may end up having to be a two part post, so I’ll get right down to it. For the last few weeks I’ve been making my way through an amazing landscape of wolves and trees and snow: Jesus, I’ve found myself muttering as my teeth chatter. Jesus fucking Christmas, am I glad to be back! Mother Russia, how I have missed you.

If every reader has certain mental terrains – cities, eras, rivers, houses – to which they return again and again like a cabin in the woods, to restore their courage or just get that old whiff of pine cone and stale Rice Krispies, then Russia is mine. Back in high school I took a bus across the country with Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment and Dead Souls in my embarrassingly-monogrammed LL Bean duffel bag. Sixth months later I was living in Moscow with a host family that had a parrot named Kiyasha, and kept jar upon jar of fruit preserves in a bench under their kitchen table.

I could go on and on about these people. The father was a soldier who hadn’t been paid for three months; the mother Irina smoked constantly. My two host brothers, Kiril and Grisha, gave up their room for me. The first thing I saw in this room was the gigantic poster of Freddy Mercury above the bed, fist-raised, be-wifebeatered and with the usual glorious moustache: Kiril was learning guitar, and like half of the male population of Russia, worshipped a pantheon of musical gods that puzzled me, to say the least. Richie Blackmoor, King Crimson, Freddy. The two prerequisites for his worship seemed to be: 1) Unholy guitar chops, and 2) A wardrobe that included wizard hats, velvet cloaks, and rune-covered parachute pants.

Grisha, who was seven, had been in one of Russia’s many pre-teen boy bands. He displayed his four-color tour poster proudly and offered to teach me some moves. He loved correcting my Russian, which one day made me so mad that I tore off all the legs on one of his stuffed caterpillars – I was and am very ashamed about this. Gennady, the father, nodded sadly when the little roll-shaped legs were discovered stuffed beneath one of their couch cushions. That night he recited parts of Evgeny Onegin to me from heart while I pretended to have some clue what he was talking about.

It was one of their worst winters in years! They had no money, bread lines stretched around corner after corner…And I fucking loved it. I had never met anyone so happy in my entire life.

Anyway, to relate this all back to something more than my own literary mastication: a few posts ago I talked about the diarist’s power to act as a sort of generator, a form that could take the raw shit of life and turn it into, or reveal it as, pure gold. This has to do mainly with perception, I think: with organizing your soul into something on which, as Henry James said, “Nothing is lost.”

I tell you, I am searching for this right now, Seth. It is my grail and the sock I just can’t find, but which I’m convinced has found a portal to another dimension behind my radiator or something.

It’s also a capacity and gift that I smell again and again in Russian writers: Nabokov with his gnats darning the air and Tolstoy who forgot whether or not he had dusted his chair and Shklovsky, who parked my car on Tuesday. The combination – the sheer, unadulterated frottage – of the mundane and the mystical, surreal and sub-real. Like they all just landed here from Mars or something, and are fucking ecstatic about it!

I think this is part of the key, too. Their solutions to problem are fresh and powerful, because they come at an angle, from one remove. My uncle likes to use the phrase “internal technology”; well, recently in my writing I have been trying to cultivate a very particular type of internal technology, one that I feel my Russians would recognize. It’s the literary equivalent of duct tape, which is versatile and sticks to everything and always tend to work better for me than, for example, buying a whole air conditioner (remember that it is, unbelievably, eighty five degrees in Brooklyn right now). Or maybe duct tape wielded by Gary Kasparov, since what I’m talking about is not low-tech exactly, as a technology that is both very low and very high, like the amazing Miranda July website you linked last time. Web page + writing on your appliances with a sharpie.

I throw all this down under the assumption that, as Miranda herself says (after seeing her fridge, I feel like I can call her Miranda), “Both of us know what I’m talking about.” I see Seventh Draft themes and obsessions beginning to rise, kraken-style, and one of these seems to be the mysterious Third Way of writing, where to find it, how to hunt it down. I don’t know. I am obsessed with certain possibly-useless things, for example the kind of devolution/evolution that Bob Dylan showed by going back to Depression-era folk songs. One step back to go two steps forward.

Next post: show and tell. I’ve got a kick-ass video.

Also, an open question: imaginary landscapes? The places that make you shout, like Tertz, “Kangaroo!”

Davenport’s best book: “The Geography of the Imagination.”

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Without a grey hair in my soul...

Things are different in the suburbs. You want to park your car? No problem, park your car. Suburbanites are calm--we lack the spunk to flamboyantly towel anything, let alone corvettes with diapers.

Just kidding, we're even more crazy and spunky, due to our high levels of repressed desire.

Today I go outside and sit in the sun. I read Miranda July's story "Mon Plaisir".

I sunbathe for 34 minutes.

I do this. I count my minutes sunbathing. I accrue them and list them in the little journal in my head which also holds the phone numbers of every house I've lived in as well as a tedious reprisal of the amounts of sit-ups and push-ups I have performed day in, day out, over the last three weeks.

I dislike this little weird part of my brain and I try to ignore its siren's call, but the call cannot be ignored. Trust me, I've tried. A few days ago, I intentionally neglected to think about push-ups and sit-ups. That very night I bolted out of bed with one searing thought in my head: September 27th, 120 push-ups, 80 sit-ups!

I say to my wife: You see, I'm mildly autistic!

She says: It's four am.

Anyway, I was sunbathing, and I have to tell you about what happens on a typical cul-de-sac, in a typical town, on a typical Thursday afternoon, from 1:15 pm to 1:49 pm.

Not much.

But still, more than I would have expected. First of all, there's the lady across the street. She zooms in, zooms out of her driveway in her stationwagon about three times.

What is she doing?

I imagine she's killing time. She's adopted two little Asian boys and they're now in school. She seems incredibly agitated without them around, almost as agitated as when they are around. This Sunday, for example, she zooms into the driveway. I'm sunbathing.

She screams: Oh my god, Oh my god! Are you OK?!! Are you OK?!!

She's slammed the door on one of her son's fingers. That little devil could care less. His only concern, I know, is noise. So he remains mute, which I assume he knows will provoke higher-pitched, more agitated screams from his mother. So she screams and her screams, I know, are pleas for my attention.

But I'm half-naked and sunbathing. I'm hung-over and reading Miranda July. What the hell do I care?

After a few minutes, the tender, patient husband comes out. He assesses the situation.

She says: Why did he have his hand where my door is, that's what I want to know.

Indeed. The screaming stops, though, and the cul-de-sac resumes its spooky, boring hum.

So that's Sunday and now it's Thursday. What does she do today? She zooms in, she zooms out. I see her in her car, her head nearly on-top of the steering wheel. I think: No way, she's not masturbating in there. No way.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting on the lawn, a young man, almost naked. We share a glance at each other. I don't know what she's thinking, but I know what I'm thinking: not in a million years do you show up in a sexual fantasy of mine.

Without a grey hair in my soul
Or a snip of senility's gentleness
Raiding the world with
Sheer force of voice I'm strutting
22 years old

That's what Mayakovsky says. I'm not saying that.

(In the Ambler school of Russian formalism, of which I am apparently the only member, nothing much happens.)

I just check my watch, count minutes.

This is how I distract myself from writing. This is my break. Without this time, I start to evaporate. I become pale. I lose my Vitamin D stores rapidly.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Russian Futurist Parks His Car

Have you ever tried to park your car in Brooklyn? It is not easy. First of all, parking spots are impossible to find.

Second of all, Russian Formalists are not very good parallel parkers.

Especially Mayakovsky.

Why him in particular? Well, parallel parking takes patience and precision, and though Mayakovsky did remodulate Russian verse, thereby eliminating predictable end-rhymes and rejuvenating literature as a voice for the masses, he lacked the kind of large, car-filled expanse of gradated pavement in which parallel parking can be learned without danger to oneself or others.

In America, on the other hand, the asphalt grows on trees. Dean Moriarty, according to legend, could hair-turn a school bus while going eighty off an exit ramp, sliding it without adjustment between a pair of priceless Ming vases.

But then Dean Moriarty was a symptom of capitalist malaise. That kind of energy goes nowhere.

Far better to leave your apartment at four o’clock in the afternoon, move your car to the opposite side of the street, and then wait until the parking ban on that side is lifted. This way, you will probably not have to parallel park.

You will have to wait in your car for two hours, but that will allow you to see things.

You will see:

The arrogance of the far-too athletic pregnant woman.

The flamboyance of the guy who spends forty five minutes towelling his orange Corvette with a diaper.

The birds of our neighborhood.

One of the rhymes that Mayakovsky saw as obsolete was krov / lyubov, blood and love, which in English are dissimilar enough to qualify as slant rhymes.

What does “Love” rhyme with in other languages?



(In the Brooklyn school of Russian formalism, of which I am apparently the only member, stoves are clotted with the ashes of the trodden-upon proletariat and therefore rhyme with "Love.")

What happened to the Revolution, Seth? What am I doing here, parking my car for two fucking hours?

My heart beats faster as the rear-lights on the van in front of me blaze red, red! My mind prepares for open space. Tundra! Russia! The snowy fields stained black with the blood of my enemies! Unfortunately it turns out he’s just backing up.

He wants that extra inch.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Less Wine, Less Seth


Sorry for my inexcusable absence from our blog. I've met a shark. We're in love. Our shark meets human romance is strange and tantalizing and very, very time-consuming.

Also, I've met Miranda July. We're in love too. She doesn't know me, but that doesn't matter. We're in love and our romance too is strange and tantalizing and very, very time-consuming.

Plus, there's The Season of Triumph. You would simply not believe how much extra time it takes each day to perform 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups. Even when I'm not on the floor, grunting, I'm thinking about them: the push-ups, the the sit-ups (and Miranda July and the shark for that matter.) It's a considerable commitment. Plus, I've vowed to only drink wine four or fewer nights a week and I've learned, by accident, that wine was the source of my power. I am no longer the exuberant wino of yesterday who over-drank out of a lust for life. I am no longer the guy capable of writing a blog in a single leap. I am now sober and boring and triumphant.

Which is to say: sorry.

I had wanted to write immediately after reading your last post. To be honest, I was in hysterics. You said you once had a medium-sized Season of Triumph. That was funny. Then you said you chewed like a cow. That was funny too. And then you talked about your upstairs neighbor in the city:

"As far as I can tell, he and I are the only people in New York who get up before eight o’clock on Saturdays, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that sometimes the thought of this fills me with a feeling of tenderness for him that makes me want to get the stepladder out of our closet and press my cheek to the ceiling as a sign of solidarity."

That was funny.

By the way, I feel much differently about my upstairs neighbor. Keep in mind, I don't live in the city. Every noise around here, in Ambler, startles me. I jump when a car starts. And I'm not a big fan of hearing other people's intimate movements. An old neighbor, a surgeon or something crucial like that, used to make love to his girlfriend just above our living room. We'd be watching baseball and suddenly someone's moaning (him? her? I could never tell and so never felt any sense of voyeuristic excitement at all) and something's creaking and as far as I can tell the guy lasts about two minutes.

So, yeah, I'd rather just watch baseball.

I appreciate your appreciation of marginal literature and I will certainly read the Season of Triumph sounding book by Terz. The only books for me are the ones that burn! Just kidding (been reading a lot of Kerouac retrospectives lately...) But seriously your endorsement is the exact endorsement I look for in a book: "a primer, an instruction manual on how to turn your own life into a book of great beauty and potency."

I feel the same way about the Miranda July book, probably for completely opposing, ridiculous reasons. But still.

So the semester ambles. Who are you doing? Any luck with “Essay on Dogs as a Unit of Breath"? I've started a story about a guy who can't stop talking about sharks. It's called "The Season of Triumph." That's not a joke. I have such high hopes for the story I'm starting to get delusions of grandeur. It won't just be a story. It'll be a novella! No, a novel! I'll illustrate it. No, someone else will illustrate it! Someone with verve and talent!

I'll check out all the books you mentioned. Promise me you'll seek out Miranda July.

I'm coming to NYC this weekend, gonna see George Saunders at the New Yorker Festival. I'd ask if you were gonna be around, but most likely I'm outta there on Saturday afternoon (festival happening is Friday...)