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playing the field | words from the week (vi)

Poem by Hanif Abdurraqib in the May edition of Poetry Magazine:

For the Dogs Who Barked at Me on the Sidewalks in Connecticut

Darlings, if your owners say you are / not usually like this / then I must take them / at their word / I am like you / not crazy about that which towers before me / particularly the buildings here / and the people inside / who look at my name / and make noises / that seem like growling / my small and eager darlings / what it must be like / to have the sound for love / and the sound for fear / be a matter of pitch / I am afraid to touch / anyone who might stay / long enough to make leaving / an echo / there is a difference / between burying a thing you love / for the sake of returning / and leaving a fresh absence / in a city’s dirt / looking for a mercy / left by someone / who came before you / I am saying that I / too / am at a loss for language / can’t beg myself / a doorway / out of anyone / I am not usually like this either / I must apologize again for how adulthood has rendered me / us, really 
/ I know you all forget the touch / of someone who loves you / in two minutes / and I arrive to you / a constellation of shadows / once hands / listen darlings / there is a sky / to be pulled down / into our bowls / there is a sweetness for us / to push our faces into / I promise / I will not beg for you to stay this time / I will leave you to your wild galloping / I am sorry / to hold you again / for so long / I am in the mood / to be forgotten.

Extract from Something Fresh by P. G. Wodehouse:

“The silence lengthened. Aline could find nothing to say. In her present mood there was danger in speech. ‘We have known each other so long,’ said Emerson, ‘and I have told you so often that I love you, that we have come to make almost a joke of it, as if we were playing some game. It just happens that that is our way, to laugh at things. But I am going to say it once again, even if it has come to be a sort of catch-phrase. I love you. I’m reconciled to the fact that I am done for, out of the running, and that you are going to marry somebody else; but I am not going to stop loving you. It isn’t a question of whether I should be happier if I forgot you. I can’t do it. It’s just an impossibility, and that’s all there is to it. Whatever I may be to you, you are part of me, and you always will be part of me. I might just as well try to go on living without breathing as living without loving you.’ He stopped, and straightened himself.”

A quote from the inimitable Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with our old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”


playing the field | words from the week (v)

Poem by Nayyirah Waheed in her anthology, salt:

“in our own ways we all break. it is okay to hold your heart outside of your body for days. months. years. at a time.

– heal”

An extract from the East Folk newsletter:

“Our hands do a lot for us. More than any other body part, our hands work. They wash our bodies, hold our loved ones, build houses, cut vegetables, pick flowers, button shirts, take photos, write, caress, push, press, and touch. We use them to communicate. We wave them to say goodbye, put two fingers up for peace, and one for the opposite.”

Poem by Mary Oliver in her anthology, Felicity: (a lot of poetry was needed this week)

Nothing Is Too Small Not To Be Wondered About

“The cricket doesn’t wonder
if there’s a heaven
or, if there is, if there’s room for him.

It’s fall. Romance is over. Still, he sings.
If he can, he enters a house
through the tiniest crack under the door.
Then the house grows colder.

He sings slower and slower.
Then, nothing.

This must mean something, I don’t know what.
But certainly it doesn’t mean
he hasn’t been an excellent cricket
all his life.”

playing the field | words from the week (iv)

Anne Truitt on vulnerability, via Brain Pickings:

"I am always, and always will be, vulnerable to my own work, because by making visible what is most intimate to me I endow it with the objectivity that forces me to see it with utter, distinct clarity. A strange fate. I make a home for myself in my work, yet when I enter that home I know how flimsy a shelter I have wrought for my spirit. My vulnerability to my own life is irrefutable. Nor do I wish it to be otherwise, as vulnerability is a guardian of integrity."

From Alain De Botton's The Course of Love:

"We believe we are seeking happiness in love, but what we are really after is familiarity. We are looking to re-create, within our adult relationships, the very feelings we knew so well in childhood and which were rarely limited to just tenderness and care. The love most of us will have tasted early on came entwined with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his or her anger, or of not feeling secure enough to communicate our trickier wishes.

How logical, then, that we should as adults find ourselves rejecting certain candidates not because they are wrong but because they are a little too right—in the sense of seeming somehow excessively balanced, mature, understanding, and reliable—given that, in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign and unlearnt. We chase after more exciting others, not in the belief that life with them will be more harmonious, but out of an unconscious sense that it will be reassuringly familiar in its patterns of frustration.”

Singer, writer and artist Claire Evans on "a new way of looking at things or something to attempt in the future", via Moonlists:

"I learned that fire alarms don’t signal that a fire is happening; they signal that it’s socially appropriate to react. People will stay in a room as it fills with smoke, if nobody else moves — they don’t want to lose face. The alarm gives everyone a shared context, something to point to and say, “this is really happening.” It strikes me that art serves the same purpose." 

playing the field | words from the week (iii)

Eileen Myles on writing and the impact of social media:

“I feel like so much of contemporary loneliness in motion is this compulsion to share my web browser. It’s like there’s a way of aesthetically stating your browser, which is kind of where you move and how you look and what you see. Even just breaking it up into close shots and long shots, and like what’s at the center. It’s not about a golden mean, but it’s a signature as poetry—which is how I see and how I move and what stops me—and putting them together.”

"Fury Is a Political Weapon. And Women Need to Wield It." in the New York Times by Rebecca Traister:

“Many of the women shouting now are women who have not previously yelled publicly before, many of them white middle-class women newly awakened to political fury and protest. Part of the process of becoming mad must be recognizing that they are not the first to be furious, and that there is much to learn from the stories and histories of the livid women — many of them not white or middle class — who have never had reason not to be mad. 

If you are angry today, or if you have been angry for a while, and you’re wondering whether you’re allowed to be as angry as you feel, let me say: Yes. Yes, you are allowed. You are, in fact, compelled. 

If you’ve been feeling a new rage at the flaws of this country, and if your anger is making you want to change your life in order to change the world, then I have something incredibly important to say: Don’t forget how this feels. 

Tell a friend, write it down, explain it to your children now, so they will remember. And don’t let anyone persuade you it wasn’t right, or it was weird, or it was some quirky stage in your life when you went all political — remember that, honey, that year you went crazy? No. No. Don’t let it ever become that. Because people will try.”

Su Wu on an encounter for Moonlists:

"I’m pregnant, my best friend said into the phone without hello, and I yelled, holy fuck, on the street in another country. Some guy turned, rushed over and asked, are you okay?, and it was a new kind of joy for me, a whole joy running headlong into kindness, and I said, I’m okay, and really, more than ever this month, I was."

playing the field | words from the week (II)

Examination for Capable Assistant by Jesse Ball:

+ Which month is best and why?

+ Take the overland route or a ship around? And (2) if possibility of bandits in mountain pass / pirates in straits — then which?

+ Shorthand: sad it has no use these days, or, it has a use! or never mind, it stinks.

+ Someone doesn’t like the great jazz singers of the mid twentieth century. How do we behave with/ trust such a person?

+ What book are you reading?

+ Do you occasionally put stones in your pocket? Why?

+ Why must we be friendly only to a point?

+ Which personal items should be of best quality?

+ Draw a map of your life, somehow.

+ If you had to appear in a photograph, would you want to be wearing a raincoat in 1948 or getting off a motorcycle in Cyprus in 1964 or standing on a Korean fishing boat in 1979 or sleeping under a bridge in Moscow this morning?

+ Someone of low quality wants to borrow something of yours, say, a book or a paring knife. Do you (1) let them borrow it, (2) give it them for good (it shall not be the same after they’ve had it), or (3) simply say no. What if you know it will get them out of a pinch?

+ Someone attempts to put you in his/her debt through purchasing you something without your permission (a drink, a coat, a roast chicken, a transit card, etcetera). Do you accept or not? What form would your analysis take?

+ Write a short plan for a bank heist.

(This is the written exam I give to prospective personal assistants. It generally allows me to determine whether a person would be suitable or not.  There are many ways to go wrong.  I’d say it is a test of discretion and imagination. - Jesse Ball)

Nicholson Baker on copying out passages of your favourite books by hand via Austin Kleon:

“Copy out things that you really love. Any book. Put the quotation marks around it, put the date that you’re doing the copying out, and then copy it out. You’ll find that you just soak into that prose, and you’ll find that the comma means something, that it’s there for a reason, and that that adjective is there for a reason, because the copying out, the handwriting, the becoming an apprentice—or in a way, a servant—to that passage in the book makes you see things in it that you wouldn’t see if you just moved your eyes over it, or even if you typed it. If your verbal mind isn’t working, then stop trying to make it work by pushing, and instead, open that spiral notebook, find a book that you like, and copy out a couple paragraphs.”

Margaux Williamson on how to act in real life:

“I set up a small red carpet in the dead center of the museum. Being dead center made me feel less cornered. Sheila and I sat there and I gave her these “acting lessons.” I’m not such a good teacher or a good student, but I understand having friends. So I gave Sheila some lessons, and she gave me some too. We made it up as we went along. The brochure was on a podium in front of us. When people picked up the brochure, they knew we were thinking of them and aware of them, but that we didn’t have to talk to them. It solved my problems. It was also surprisingly intimate and intense.”

playing the field | words from the week (i)

Teacher Hauna Zaich via Shoko Wanger's Non-Career Advice series:

Sometimes, all they need is love. "On my desk, I keep two written reminders that I like to reference if my patience is being tested. One of them says, the student who needs the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways. I think back, and there are so many instances in my life where I wish I'd known that. I could have really used it. When I was younger, I took rudeness personally. I had a hard time seeing past a person's words. Now, especially with my students — but also in my friendships, relationships, and family life — I try to think, you must really be hurting. How can I help you through that pain? Some of the people I've loved the most deeply have also been some the hardest to love — but they need that acceptance more than anyone else. They just may not know how to ask for it."

Mervyn Rothstein on Tennessee Williams, from the New York Times Archive:  

"Sometimes he would be able to work, and sometimes he wouldn't. He was tired. But he still was so courageous. He was so disciplined. His feeling about life was always positive. One must go on. 'En avant, en avant.' It was his cry."

Emma Rathbone's 'Before the Internet', in The New Yorker last year:

"It was a heady time! 

You’d be in some kind of arts center, wearing roomy overalls, looking at a tray of precious gems, and you’d say, “That’s cat’s-eye,” and your friend would say, “Nope. That’s opal.” And you’d say, “That’s definitely cat’s-eye.” And there would be no way to look it up, no way to prove who was right, except if someone had a little booklet. 'Anyone got a little booklet?” you’d ask, looking around. “Is there a booklet on this shit?' 

Then you’d walk outside and squint at the sky, just you in your body, not tethered to any network, adrift by yourself in a world of strangers in the sunlight."

words in mind

Often times, I carry words about in my head; handling them gently, smoothing out the edges, letting them rotate in my hands over and over until they wash away, as if rocks turned gradually to sand. I lose them slowly and then all at once, in a moment no longer able to grasp what felt so concrete a minute before. It's as if they evade me, ducking away and spinning just beyond my grasp, though my fingers stretch to hold them. Ah! There they go, I catch myself thinking, as the words go in and out of consciousness. I do not think to chase them. They'll come back - I believe, perhaps naively - if they need to. A lot of things are relegated to this dusty corner of my decision making - that place that laughs nonchalantly and thinks it best not to exert yourself at all if you can possibly avoid it. Stifle the desire to run screaming like a mad person towards the things you want; turn away from hurtling towards potential danger that may end in reward. It is safe, my conniving brain says, to stay right where I can see you. I scold myself, as a mother scolds a child, shooing away the possibility of adventure or frivolity. There is no time for that today, I say, wagging a finger at my childish self; there is only time for the things you already know.

elsewhere ~

cinema paradiso by Ennio Morricone (on repeat, played by a student orchestra) 
the yellow wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
tiny desk concert by Andrew Bird

away from home

I'm currently sitting in a motel room 63.9 kilometres from home (about seventy-five minutes away in good traffic) drinking orange juice from a litre bottle and trying desperately to think of the right words to note down here about the experience. I'm too unreasonably close to my house to call this entry a travel monologue, really; so close that if I stood on the street now and hitchhiked my way back, I'd be home just in time for dinner. There would be nothing waiting for me to cook, of course, because I'm mildly disorganised when it comes to vegetables and other food with nutritional value, but I digress: this story is about the motel room. Have you ever stayed in one? They're funny places; cold and utilitarian, but most often with quirks too wild to invent. This one has a wall of mirrored tiles - a striking feature against the exposed brick that covers the rest of the room, and a terrifying one when you awake in the middle of the night to find not one but twenty versions of yourself staring back, all of them discombobulated and bleary-eyed. It's very cold here too, so when you encounter those many mirrored selves blinking back at you, you do so shivering - not only from surprise but from catching a chill overnight. Perhaps I'm painting the motel room too negatively? I do not mean to. Motel rooms are the best place to think. You only bring essentials to a motel, so there's not much you can get up to besides boiling the kettle, reading paperbacks and thinking. And this is where I've got to. Just sitting here, amongst my mirrors and my orange juice, considering what to write.  

elsewhere ~

the man who invented soul by Sam Cooke
i feel bad about my neck by Nora Ephron
domestic policy by Alicia MacDonald

the blank page

is there anything more comically absurd than the fear we feel staring down a blank page, an empty notebook, an untouched document? in the hearts of all writers, professional and amateur, it strikes terror. the distinct blankness mocks you, daring you to mark it with your silly words, daring you to destroy it simply by lifting your pen. does it get easier the more you look the page dead in the eye and courageously scribble your thoughts, despite the page's jeering? perhaps. but then, perhaps not. and yet, we persist, don't we? the writers, the thinkers, the feelers, writing, thinking and feeling our way through pages and pages, once blank, now full. 

and so begins a practice. feeling the fear and writing anyway. 

elsewhere ~

the music from S-Town by Daniel Hart
even if you beat me by Sally Rooney
a writer and three script editors walk into a bar by Matthew Saville