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.”

everything is waiting

“Everything is Waiting for You”

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte

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."

in September, things that are new

I called you as I paced, full of nerves and caffeine, back and forth in front of the building that belonged to a man who would become my employer. I wasn't ready yesterday, I told you, but today, perhaps, I am. It was a Monday - you were at work in your teaching job, shimmying out of the classroom when my call flashed up on your mobile. I should have been at home preparing for another day of my own nine-to-five, but instead I was in an unknown city, negotiating a contract for a position I was both unsure of, yet intoxicated by. The day prior - a Sunday - I was inconsolable in my hotel room; the world of possibility crumbling around me amongst hotel-room soaps and worn-out passions. I had no idea what I wanted, and there was no one around to tell me otherwise. I wallowed and threw myself around, lazily picking objects up and admiring their solitude, wondering if I could take up as a woman who simply exists. The constant go-go-go of the city and the job and the life were getting to me, too deep in my veins and I was burning myself to the ground chasing something I wasn't sure I wanted. I slept fitfully, angrily, and then I was there, calling you on the street on Monday morning, perhaps readier than I ever had been. Maybe it was you, an anchor, a weight, that helped me leap. You heard the surety in my voice, the clarity saying yes, yes, now I am ready, now I am strong enough, now I have arrived. Write it down, you said, because you won't believe me when I tell you how ready you were, next time you believe it wasn't right after all. You have to remember, right now, that you can. Read it back, tell me you still believe it. I never wrote it down, I'm sorry to say, but I have never stopped thinking that I should have. What I wrote somewhere in the back of my memory is the way I stood, after you said those words, shoulders back, head high, attack-ready, (I suppose). I leapt.


I've been making tea on autopilot - finishing one cup, or noticing the cold remains at the bottom and immediately padding back out to the kitchen to put the kettle on again. As it burrs in anticipation of bursting, my mind wanders. There are tangelos on the table, a habit I picked up from my father ("if they're in season, buy a few") and staling bread rests on the counter. It's always mine, because I always leave it there. My housemate is not so forgetful as to leave her bread about the way I do - nonchalantly, uncaring. Cars whir past without pause and a bird whistles incessantly. Any other week I would linger to hear it, but this week I just wish it would go away. I close the window in a hurry, pour my tea, head back to the desk.


Places I am not comfortable: grocery stores, waiting rooms, hospital beds, foyers, some gift shops, and occasionally, home.


If you laid out an entire life in blocks of activity, it is said that you will have spent 67 days purely experiencing heartbreak. I spend fourteen minutes considering how long this really is. Is it enough? Is it too much? How does one classify heartbreak, anyway? Does it account for all the small times your heart breaks for things you have no control over - the acts that you witness but cannot leap into, the stories that are not your own? Or does it only consider the personal miseries and longings, the wrong things said and the deceit received and given? How many of my waking hours have already been chipping away at that number? Is there a right time to stop being heartbroken?


Spring has arrived, with not so much a bang as a whimper. I welcome it with old favourites: roast vegetables, stewed apples, Melancholia on the DVD player and books; Helen Garner, Julian Barnes. It is still cold outside, though around lunch the weather breaks and the sun warms the one specific part of the living room carpet that I can sit within and bask under for at least a quarter of an hour before it retreats again. There is music from the cars underneath the window - mainly radio hits, but occasionally, Wagner's Prelude from Tristan and Isolde. I only recognise it because of the film that's been playing on repeat; I am notoriously bad at holding tunes in my head if I have not recently heard them. The melodies almost always seem familiar, but I can never recall from where I recognise them. The Prelude though, from the film; it sits heavily on my chest; too heavily for Spring. I've closed all the windows now, because the chill has returned to the bones of my apartment. I choose to listen to new music, new words; melodies that I couldn't recognise even if I tried to. I like this; that if you focus on the new, there is no matter if you forget the old. You have no reason to remember it now.


I walked towards the train station the other day, collar up against the chill, eyes pressed tight together leaving just a glint to see where I was going, the wind whistling through the tree-lined streets around me. I noticed a man walking hurriedly in my direction, looking ahead sternly, but eating an ice cream. I gaped at him; surely it was too cold to be enjoying a treat like that on a wintery day? He saw me looking and cracked his fierce exterior; grinned. As we bumped shoulders on passing - the streets not quite wide enough to walk two abreast - he winked and said, "some afternoons require  sweetness", not breaking eye contact. I stumble a little, as I'm known to do, knocked around by disappointment and beauty and the fact that some afternoons do, in fact, require sweetness.

every month, an essay. editing by Madi Chwasta.

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.”

make the ordinary come alive

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and animals die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.

- William Martin

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."