352: “Maybe It’s Down This Street” (Ross Gay)

                “For instance: I love not getting the groceries in from the car in one trip. Or better yet, I love walking around a city, ostensibly trying to get somewhere, perhaps without all the time in the world, perhaps with, and despite the omniscient machine in my pocket frying my sperm, vibrating to remind me of said frying— just wandering. Maybe it’s down this street. Maybe it’s down this one. Maybe you’re with a friend, and maybe the inefficient will make you closer.”
                -Ross Gay, “Inefficiency,” The Book of Delights

                I do this thing where I ruin books. Because the thing is, books have page numbers. They have these little squiggles in the corner that tell me I’m on page 17 (there are 372 in the book), I’m on page 21 (there are still 372 in the book), and when I’ve “had a lot of reading” in my graduate program, or when I’m feeling invested in accomplishing something and really I should be past page 21 by now, I look at the page numbers and I ruin the book. I feel slow. Time feels sluggish, and too fast, and it slips by without me managing much. I lose track of what’s happening in this paragraph and have to start again, and try to push myself to be faster. And reading doesn’t feel like anything I’ve ever liked.And then this morning.
                And then M. A. Carrick’s The Mask of Mirrors, and my couch, and my blanket, and this morning. I ruined it for the first few pages. Ruined it a little bit more. Then the book was like walking around a city, a new city where I didn’t know anyone, but I was meeting friends. Each street led to another street, another bridge over the river, and all of a sudden I care about these people. I like the masks they’re wearing. All of a sudden I feel the current that runs through the river, all of a sudden nothing’s sudden, nothing’s sodden with my determination to get through this. Reading’s a delight. The blanket’s a delight. Remembering Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights is a delight. Writing to you, rambling about this, it’s a delight, and it’s a bit messy, and next time I’m not going to get the groceries from the car in one trip.

351: “Paratexts” (Gerard Genette)

                “[Paratexts like titles, prefaces, and illustrations “surround” and “extend” a text] precisely in order to present it, in the usual sense of the verb but also in the strongest sense: to make present, to ensure the text’s presence in the world.”
                -Gerard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation

                I’d like to write a science fiction novella that looks like, and says it is, a field guide to birds. Birds of Santa Rosa, California, I might call it. The first page might have an “Amber Hummingbird,” with a sketch of the creature sipping from a flower. Later pages would have blackfooted ducks, drones, mechanical eagles, paper airplanes, red tailed hawks, flying skeletons, sandpipers with their long legs. I’m very much not a birder. As far as I know I made up the amber hummingbird. But imagining these creatures, extinct and emerging, beautiful and frightening, would be a fun way to explore home, to explore the childhood wonder I felt when I saw seagulls bobbing on the waves before taking flight, to explore loss and drought and memory and what I mean when I say us. Which is related to what I mean when I say you, or even other. To do all that, I think the book might gain a lot by pretending to be something it wasn’t. A guidebook.
                All the trappings around a text invite us to interact with it in different ways. If something says “a novel” on the cover, I tend to read it one way. If it says “a dictionary,” or if it looks like a news article, I read it in other ways. In reading Genette I’m drawn to how we can play with paratexts, with the form and trappings of the ‘thing,’ to explore ideas in different  ways. I think there’s something about the birds of Santa Rosa that I haven’t seen in a book yet. It’s not a diagram of common markings, dutifully labeled “male” and “female.” It’s a taxonomy of phylum, class, order, suborder, and family. It might be something about families, the ones I live in, the ones I see in bird’s nests and behind the window when I get back home.What would you put in a book of Birds of My Hometown? Where might I walk if I followed your guide?

350: “A Poor Translation” (Natalie Diaz)

                “This is a poor translation, like all translations.”
                -Natalie Diaz, “The First Water Is the Body”

                A few days ago in class we started reading poetry from Natalie Diaz. Afterward I heard two of my friends talking. Edvin said the poem we’d just read, “The First Water Is The Body,” just kept getting better and better. He’d read the poem a couple times that morning but it hadn’t made sense. Now, talking it over, the poem was alive. 
                Micha answered, “When I’m in my efficient zone poetry doesn’t land with me.”
                “Maybe I should read these at night,” said Edvin.
                I think I should read more poetry at night. I’ve been thinking a lot about how a series of thoughts is a series of thoughts but it’s also a way of thinking. When I’m To-Do-Listing my day, I’m arranging myself and my energy and the day in a certain way. A get-through-the-list kind of way. When I read poetry that way, the poetry doesn’t mean much. 
                Maybe this is a translation of that moment, of the connection and chuckle I felt as I heard Edvin and Micha talk. Maybe it’s a poor translation. I’m trying to explain something, but what I’m looking at isn’t something I really want to explain. I want to—share? Read? Hear read? Hear sung?
                How about this, then: for years and years I’ve said I don’t know how to dance. I still say that. Sometimes I’ve watched people dance, watched how graceful and smooth they seem in their bodies, and wondered if they have something I don’t. How do they look so inside themselves, there in the grocery store aisle? In 2019 I started taking dance classes, and lately I’ve been doing bachata lessons. Dance still feels like something (remember to get through your to do list!) I haven’t learned. But the other week I heard music. A music that moved, maybe; in Diaz’s poem, river is a verb and moves. There were eddies in the sounds of the song. There were currents. I felt more held by them than holding them, and I realized I was moving.

349: “To Know What It Is Like” (Charlesia Mckinney)

                “What does someone need to know about you to know about what it is like to be you?”
                -Dr. Charlesia McKinney sharing a question she uses in interviews

                I love the question. I’ve started playing with versions of it for my own work. Lately I’ve been trying, ‘Would you tell me a story that has something to do with who you are as you come into this moment?’ I like stories because they let us tell a movement, a change—not a thought but a bit of being. I’ve also been wondering about the question: could I ever tell you enough to answer it? Could you ever really share what it’s like to be you? Right now, tonight, as the rain falls in Illinois, uncertainty moves back and the love stays. I love this question.
                I don’t know how to answer it. I suppose that’s one thing I could share to help say what it’s like to be me: my brain often moves in a few directions at once, and then falls over, or I hesitate not sure whether I think this or that, whether to lead with the story about the trees or a moment from how overwhelmed I was this afternoon. (The answer usually seems to be both. Inside that answer there are lots more questions about how I become/discover/go about creating me). Here’s another thing: one of my friends, an artist, said she loved being alone to make art, and in my art I often have the opposite experience—I love art because of how it lives within a community that goes beyond me. Here’s another thing: I like breakfasts with lemon in them because the lemon tastes bright, like daylight, like waking up. Like now starting to smile.
                What about you? What would you share?

348: “Para” (J. Hillis Miller)

                “‘Para’ is a double antithetical prefix signifying at once proximity and distance, similarity and difference, interiority and and exteriority…something simultaneously this side of a boundary line […] and also beyond it, equivalent in status and also secondary…”
                -J. Hillis Miller, quoted in Gerard Genette’s Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation

                Paranormal. Paralegal. Parasocial. And then I go off looking for more of these words, and wondering about what I find.
I’ve been playing with a little movement exercise. If you’d like to try, it goes like this: rub your thumb and forefinger together. Feel that touch. Then try to separate the sensations  coming from your thumb and the sensations coming from your finger. If you move your thumb to include the edge of your fingernail, it might be easier. I think I can feel it as different. I can also feel how these ‘different’ sensations wash back together.
                To put it another day: it’s been a heck of a day. Last minute arrangements surrounding a three-minute talk I’m giving at next Tuesday’s research communication event, details about filming one of my Voices projects, finishing pages of my novel to send to my advisor, a rehearsal, and then it was time to teach. Sitting down to write this—late, it’s been that kind of week—I feel exhausted and energized. Far away and right here. Engaged and completely confused. 
                Paratransit. I think I’ve heard that one, too. It’s something to do with buses, but just now I’d like to think it’s the funniness of going from here to there. Of these words I’m typing in an Illinois classroom bouncing somewhere to shine out from your screen. Of the way my head turns to you, trying to imagine my way to your ‘here,’ and then turns back to writing, and then turns with a lot of excitement to going to bed. 
                Parasensory. Paraphernalia. Paradox.

347: Unkempting (Ogden Nash & A Garden)

“This is my dream.
It is my own dream. 
I dreamt it.
I dreamt that my hair was kempt.
Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.”
                -Ogden Nash

                Earlier this week a group of us helped my friend Dusty dig up their lawn and make a garden. We spread nine months’ worth of compost from their kitchen, lay down in the sun to laugh and talk and be quiet, and came very close to accidentally cutting what we think is Dusty’s internet cable. It was hiding beneath the grass. I haven’t washed my favorite jeans yet. The knees are still all muddy. My hands are tired. 
                I think one of my favorite moments is when the world, all green and growy, all banana-peel-decaying and slimy and nutrient rich, sidles close and ruffles things. I had planned ‘to work’ those afternoons. Instead I dug up a lawn. I planned to dig. Sometimes instead roots caught at my shovel. Sometimes instead we ate apple pie together, grinning. I tasted some dirt on my thumb. Sometimes we move into houses with lawns, those strange historical artifacts that (as far as I understand) are woven up with signaling class (look how rich I am! I can have these extensive ‘grounds’ and pay somebody to grow nothing on them) and with the fertilizer industry (your lawn should really be perfect green all the time, shouldn’t it?). Sometimes we dig lawns up to try and grow spinach, garlic, corns, beans, and squash. Whenever I stop to notice, the ground is reaching back, unkempting me, my put-togetherness smudged off in dirt and sweat and an evening’s breezes.

346: Stitching (Rita Dove & Linda Tuhiwai Smith)

“After all, there’s no need 
to say anything

at first. An orange, peeled
and quartered, flares

like a tulip on a wedgewood plate
Anything can happen.”
                -Rita Dove, from “Flirtation”

                Try this: imagine a three hundred foot thread that can slip through anything. Hold one end in your hand, and then weave that thread through all the different ‘spaces’ around you. I imagine the thread going down into the openness beneath my floorboards, and up through a light bulb. I imagine it arching out through the glass of my window and around a bird perched on a branch, and down into the ground along roots I can’t see. I imagine it going through the gas tank in my car and the garbage can by the driveway and into the crawl space beneath the next house.
                I’ve been reading Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies, and one of the thoughts I keep coming back to is the strange construction of “space.” Constructing a ‘space’ often involves constructing what’s appropriate there: there are things we do in classrooms and kitchens and bathrooms and livingrooms and on the porch, as though they were all separate. As though the world’s cut into pieces. As though we weren’t sharing lives that weave through all of them. I started imagining that long string as a way of stitching the world back together. Or rather, of realizing that the world was never separate. I just pretended it was.
                Instead of space, I’ve been thinking of place. Here. Where I am. An orange, peeled, stitches me to the tree and the farmer who grew it, to the truck that carried it and the grocery where I bought it, to the garbage can where I’ll put its peel. Maybe it’s in this place, all tied together, that all these anythings happen.

345: “A Notebook” (Rita Dove and Peter Medway)

“After all, there’s no need 
to say anything

at first. An orange, peeled
and quartered, flares

like a tulip on a wedgewood plate
Anything can happen.”
                -Rita Dove, from “Flirtation”

“I carry a notebook with me everywhere. But that’s only the first step.”
                -Rita Dove on twitter, Nov. 23, 2012

                I usually struggle with notebooks. Or with finishing notebooks. Or maybe with what I’m supposed to be doing in notebooks?
                Three examples: my big gray sketchbook, a leftover from a high school art class in 2012. These days when I draw it’s usually on scratch paper or the back of other things. The book’s mostly blank. I like the torn out pages in the front, though: like memories of someone else. Then there’s a leather notebook with cool strings to tie it shut that someone gave me in 2009 or so. I like it and I’ve rarely used it. It feels so fancy. Then a plain green notebook from my friend Kent’s table. It reminds me of him, which I like, but I stopped using it between semesters.
                I think notebooks are hard for me because I feel a certain kind of expectation in them. A poetry notebook should have poetry. A sketchbook “should” have Good Sketches. To put it another way, I think, it’s a matter of how I sometimes try to arrange myself—as though there are separate spaces for separate parts of me. A place for saving things I’ve found. A place for seeing trees and playing with their colors. A space for poems. Recently I was reading Peter Medway, a writing studies scholar, and he talked about an architecture student’s notebook that had everything in it—phone numbers, library call numbers, lecture notes and coffee stains, romantic reflections, life confusions, philosophical scraps, autumn leaves. All these pressed together by the book’s binding. I like that. I want to try that kind of notebook, not a place for this or that, but a place touched by the anything of what happens. I’d carry that notebook everywhere to feel how here is part of everywhere, and everywhere part of here. Rooting together. Rolling along. It sounds like a nice first step.

344: “A Collage Narrative” (Natalie LeBlanc)

                “As a collage narrative [my dress sewn from pieces of fabric important to my memories] brings new associations and new questions to surface.” 
                -Natalie LeBlanc, referencing Charles Garoian and Yvonne Gaudelius, in “Becoming through a/r/tography, autobiography, and stories in motion”

                Two weeks ago, over empanadas,  I talked to my friend Jean Carlos in the Krannert Center (embodied moments matter—I feel a sameness of thinking and being, place and thought) and the conversation turned to the nature of our conversation. The things we said, the questions we asked, the hopes we shared—all of them were layered with other conversations, other images, other moments. When he mentioned something about “being himself” I remembered his comment in class about spaces that didn’t feel safe. I remembered his drawing of a teacher yelling “no.” I chewed potato and cheese. It was cool in the Krannert center. Or rather it was warm so I’d taken off my winter jacket, and now the coolness made our conversation feel closer, warmer, like a campfire we were building together.
                I told him (then) that language worries me because it often looks like this, not that. Right now I’m writing about our conversation, I’m wandering back through ideas, I’m describing Krannert’s coolness: I’m interlaying memories and thoughts and places, but the writing seems to put one after the other. I don’t know if I can have multiple thoughts at once. (I’ve heard someone say I can’t). I do know that my experience of the world, of people—of thinking in place and being in thought—involves a kind of interweaving that I do not know how to recreate or even really gesture at in writing. I imagine superimposing all these words: Krannert Center and “being himself” and empanada and winter and Midwest and wonder, but that would make (if I put it together how I’m imagining it) a spiky muddle where all the words obscured each other. I mean the opposite. All the words— all these intertwined thoughts— reveal each other. A collage narrative. They’re molecules vibrating with this melody, and this melody is all their vibrations, together and discordant and varied through time and space.
                This—this writing—is not what I mean. This—this reading—is a little piece of what I mean, in the same way that one blowing leaf of grass helps make the field shimmer like ocean swells. Yes, here’s the leaf. And yes, here’s the field.

343: Time “Functions Differently” (Gabriela Garcia)

                In reading Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt we feel how time “functions differently.” She writes how it “drips through an IV.” How “It was a matter of biding her time.”
                She writes, “I have only one day off from the store each week, and I have to choose: spend time with [my mother] or with Mario.”
                “He clings to me like I am the piece he’s been missing all this time.”
                “Time trickles.”
                Elsewhere, we chase after “that first time.”
                Elsewhere, elsewhen, time offers “up its bounty like the yuca she dug from the ground.”
                “The arrangement was supposed to be temporary.”
                It’s not temporary. Garcia’s book lives through generations, through different threads of broken hopes and repeated abuses and yearning connections. A grandmother reaches out through her granddaughter, a daughter lives through pieces of her mother. All of them find pieces of each other, not full and clear, but partial and hinted like notes in the margin of a book. Here we see how a stranger’s choices become pieces from which we build ourselves. Here a young woman can ask, “How will I survive, and when will I stop feeling exhausted from all the surviving?” Whatever answers we might find in these pages, I think we’ll find them through a kind of living respect for all these people, and for all the ways we ravel and unravel and find our way to shared moments.