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Thank you, The Paris Review
The creative impulse is such a fragile thing, but we have to create now. We owe it to ourselves to do the work. I want to encourage you. If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope.
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This is something I wrote a while ago and never posted, for reasons I no longer remember. It's not a resolution, but it seems as good a manifesto to start off this new year as any.

I started on LJ with a very annoying style, that of the cute precocious kid who was too old for that twee stuff now but hadn't yet learned what to replace the too-clever, artfully structured, neatly-tied-up-with-a-moral-at-the-end kind of writing that'd made my high school English teachers love me.

I like to think I've improved a bit since then, but I do still tend to write only when I've got something that will amuse or interest what I imagine my readership to be. So vehemently did I resist the everyday updateishness kind of journaling that my LJ wasn't a very good way to find out what was going on in my life: I'd happily write all about having Chipotle for breakfast but never mentioned that I had a girlfriend, or failed a class, or moved, or the kind of basic stuff that people usually tell each other when they catch up after some time apart.

It's a bit hypocritical of me, because I love to read that kind of thing from other people: I love reading about your dreams and how you got caught in the rain on your way to the bus stop and what you're making for dinner and what you drank last night and how work went and everything. Absolutely love it. But I've never been very good at telling that stuff for its own sake myself.

So it was kind of interesting for me to read this article on how writing about the ordinary experiences of your life can be even more cheering to you when you go back and read them as the extraordinary ones.

It turns out, people are bad at predicting how much they'll enjoy reading back what they've wrriten about their lives.

Which, actually, doesn't surprise me because I had to read Our Town in high school and it fucked up my brain, it appears, permanently. It's a play about ordinary boring small-town early-20th-C. Americans who do ordinary things like be born and deliver the milk and get married and all that.

The part that's always stuck with me is Emily, at the end. She's a young wife who's died in childbirth, and we see her among the dead, people she recognizes from her little town where nothing ever changes much. Those who've been dead any length of time don't feel any great connection to the living world or the things that mattered to them while they were in it, but Emily is new and still attached to what she loves. She wants to re-live her life. The old dead folks tell her that it's possible but advise her against it. She insists, though, and sees her twelfth birthday: her mother is up early nagging the children to get ready for school, her father comes home with a present for her. Small talk is made about the cold.

Emily starts out very excited -- "Oh,that's the town I knew as a little girl. And, look, there's the old white fence that used to be around our house. Oh, I'd forgotten that! Oh, I love it so!" "Oh! how young Mama looks! I didn't know Mama was ever that young" -- but as she watches the conversation unfold, she starts to get agitated: "I can't bear it. They're so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I'm here. I'm grown up. I love you all, everything. I can't look at everything hard enough."

Finally she says, "I can't. I can't go on....I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed."

Well, ever since then, I've fucking noticed. Reading that play made me cry, not in class but after, and I think quite a few of my tears since have been shed thanks to this, in some way. Because I too grew up in a small town where nothing ever seems to change much, and while of course I didn't die I did move away, and that has had a similar effect to me: I'm still here, I can see it all in my memory, but they can't see me and they don't know how much I treasure these images, these people, their ordinary lives.

So I'm trying to practice writing about the everyday stuff that I have so long been so bad at. Let's see if it gets me anywhere.
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My crash course in Canadian politics courtesy of Plok continues (it was more fun in the freezing Blue Bell beer garden last November, but e-mail will do while we're 6,000 miles apart), this morning updating me on the context for the election results. Canada sounds like a pretty good place to be right now! But since me and mine are elsewhere, I was hoping by the time I was halfway through his e-mail that basically what he said at the end of it would come to be:
Anyway, it is my happiness to say that insignificant Canada has maybe been here a bit like Bilbo talking aloud to the ravens so that one day soon one of your Bard-like countries can successfully plant an arrow in Smaug's heart. Y'know?

Like: you could say "look at Canada, Canada's FINE, Canada's doing BETTER THAN EVER, for God's sake Canada just repaired all its *roads*...!"

Anyway that's the hope.

Good morning!
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As is so often the case, my favorite part of this blog post is what's in the parentheses.
Sadly, the article is locked (quite rightly, humanities can kill if not used correctly)
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I'm reading a book that's just mentioned Philip Gosse, a Victorian naturalist who coined the word aquarium and popularized the interest in and study of animals with books he wrote.

There's a great quote from him here.
Gosse wrote meticulous descriptions of all the creatures he captured in nets and chiseled from rocks. He measured and catalogued polyps and tentacles, fronds, spines and bristles; he noted their diets and watched their behavior. "Stand still, you beauty!" he exclaimed to the prawn, "and don't shoot round and round the jar in that retrograde fashion, when I want to jot down your elegant ligaments!"
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I believe in an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory over cruelty and chaos.

– E. M. Forster
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So I'm reading this book on Andrew's recommendation, a book of short stories in a universe for which Andrew wants me to pitch a short story.

This is the first time all week I've had time and brains to read, so I'm still getting used to the first story in the book, but I did just find a phrase I like:
With that whole unkindness of ravens watching me...
I've no idea what the collective noun for a group of ravens is, but if it's not "unkindness," it should be.


Apr. 14th, 2013 10:02 pm
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"Like I told you last night, she's been herself lately," said Nanny...

"You mean she's not been herself, don't you?" said Agnes.

"I knows exactly what I means, girl. When she's herself she sulks and snaps at people and makes herself depressed. Aint you ever heard of taking people out of themselves?"
I didn't know this was what it was called until yesterday. Yes. I've been myself lately, too.

And I do love being taken out of myself, but I don't know how to do it.
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A blog I read pointed me at this interview with Stephen Colbert in Playboy, and I read it -- cults, bears, interview guests, superPACs, and all -- because the quote they gave from the long interview was about one of the subjects I'll read pretty much anything about: dead brothers.

Colbert's father and two of his brothers died in a plane crash when he, the youngest of the family, was ten.

PLAYBOY: It’s been almost four decades since it happened. Does the grief dissipate?

COLBERT: No. It’s not as keen. Well, it’s not as present, how about that? It’s just as keen but not as present. But it will always accept the invitation. Grief will always accept the invitation to appear. It’s got plenty of time for you.... “I’ll be here when you need me.” The interesting thing about grief, I think, is that it is its own size. It is not the size of you. It is its own size. And grief comes to you. You know what I mean? I’ve always liked that phrase He was visited by grief, because that’s really what it is. Grief is its own thing. It’s not like it’s in me and I’m going to deal with it. It’s a thing, and you have to be okay with its presence. If you try to ignore it, it will be like a wolf at

I am drawn to people talking about their dead brothers for reasons not totally known to me but I suppose it's because losing a brother at what we've been lead to believe is such an unnaturally young age is a rare thing now; it doesn't happen to a lot of people, so it's easy to feel lost and bewildered and alone.

I remember just after Chris died, among all the well-wishes and expressions of love and concern -- touching and monumentally important though those were! -- the only person I could really stand to talk to was Hilary, Andrew's aunt, who told me about losing a brother a handful of years earlier.  Her brother was about twice the age of mine, but it was still considered a tragically young death, and I think it was of something quite sudden too.  I don't remember the details now, but I remember being grateful to have her to exchange e-mails with.  It might seem like the most horrid way to cope with such a blow, by thinking about other people who've experienced similar horrible things, but it worked for me.  She knew what to say.

I remember everybody telling me "I don't know what to say" and while (I hope!) I rarely if ever said anything as abrupt as this out loud, I always thought "Good."  May you never know what to say. I wouldn't be surprised if the only way to know is to have it happen to you.  Hilary knew what to say.  My mom knew what to say when a co-worker's son of roughly my age died suddenly a few years after Chris did.  Stephen Colbert knows what to say: "Grief is not the size of you," indeed.  "It’s not like it’s in me and I’m going to deal with it. It’s a thing, and you have to be okay with its presence."

Sometimes I'm more okay than others, of course.  Next week it will have been seven years since my brother died I'm not one for anniversaries -- I keep saying, he's no more gone that day than any other -- but it's hard on my mom.  Thanksgiving is hard on her, and it being a floating holiday, so the date of his death and the holiday are sometimes on the same day and sometimes not, means each year is hard in a different way: last year they were the same day and she was particularly dreading that, but this year they're almost a week apart and that just sounds like an unfairly extended period of agony.

But then of course it's all unfairly prolonged agony.  I think of the interview question Colbert got asked: It’s been almost four decades... And of course it doesn't stop hurting, and I don't expect I will have stopped hurting after four decades or any greater number of decades that I might live.  His story is part of my story.
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Andrew read this out to me last night and it made me giggle and wiggle with delight.

“From the New York Times

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 28, 2012

An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Isambard
Kingdom Brunel as a Dickens character.”
I can't really blame them for thinking he was. But I'm very glad I live in the same world he did.

press me

Oct. 18th, 2011 01:22 am
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I don't think much of the analysis in A Queer History of the United States (a book by someone called Michael Bronski), but it's packed with enchanting primary sources, telling of early Europeans shocked by a woman dressed as a man, leading Native American groups and having four wives of her own, to a comic poem about vaudeville actors who impersonated the opposite sex ("Our language is so dexterous, let us call them ambi-sexterous...").

I'm charmed by this letter one (middle class African-American in the mid-19th C.) sent to another woman: "My head is better Last night it pain me very hard O My Dear dear Rebecca when you press me to your dear bosom...happy I was, last night I gave anything if I could only layed my poor aching head on your bosom".... That letter travelled the distance from Maryland to Connecticut, and as someone who's too often been that far or farther from someone I want to cuddle up with when I have a headache, I can't help but smile in recognition.


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