I have a system. The one I was given. The one that was taken away. I live in between the two, developing others, which in turn develop systems within me.
So pieces develop. I find them here and there in the notebooks people have given to me over time. Years later the notebooks have things in them that I think I wrote. I definitely wrote them. But the people who gave them to me may have taken them back while I wasn’t looking. Because some of the things I find in them seem very unfamiliar.
As a writer, I take matters of style and technique as seriously as I think I should. I listen. I read. I review. I consider and reconsider.
But I am skeptical of all the capitalism deep inside the writing industry. So I sometimes don’t listen. Or read. I ignore. I dismiss and re-dismiss when I see writing advice re-tweeted.
But I did read a craft book by Douglas Glover and it helped. It’s called (ahem), “The Erotics of Restraint.” Subtitle: “Essays on Literary Form.” When I say it helped I mean one specific part of it helped. The very long but very good essay, “Anatomy of the Short Story.”
Early drafts of my story-reviews often start out very personal. A moment or two related to grief and family, which I first bend around a review of the book, then work to find a balance.
I’ve been writing these sorts of reviews since 2014 and as time goes on I like to check back to see how I handled finding this balance. I recently looked at my review and marginalia for Bae Suah’s novel, “Recitation,” translated by Deborah Smith. Continue reading →
Quantum entanglement is perhaps the loveliest phrase in English. That’s my humble opinion. I heard that at one time a survey revealed that among English speakers and non-English speakers researchers were somehow able to determine among the respondents the phrase “cellar door” was the most beautiful in all of English. How they decided, among every syllable and permutation possible, is a mystery, but I do recall some teacher in my past discussing this anecdote and its disappointing result — “cellar door,” this image that brings to mind the entryway to dimly lit dirty spaces.
If this kind of survey ever goes out to the world again, “cellar door” is going to have some newfangled competition in the form of “quantum entanglement,” this technical phrase that unlocks its beauty like a lotus, seeming to speak its exact meaning hinged with mysteries within mysteries from one clear syllable to the next. I’m sure it doesn’t speak the same kind of thing to other people. Everyone has their own pet phrases and secret languages from the past that evoke memories we’re happy to keep inside these personal worlds within words, and of course there are deep horrors locked in everyday language that we wish we could filter out completely.
I’m happy to stand up for the beauty I hear and feel in the possibilities inspired by the words quantum entanglement. But there are others I’ll never discuss. Like the secret tree language characters use in Christina Rivera Garza’s novel, “The Iliac Crest,” and as Yoko Tawada wrote in her novel, “Portrait of a Tongue,” as translated by Chantal Wright, “You don’t always want to share a language with the anonymous masses.”
He would have hands large enough to go to the edge of that green ground, jab his fingerspades into the sod and grip the turf woven with roots and rhizomes to lift the life-giving blanket of the earth, shaking it high in waves through the sky to reveal the giggling children of old and dead and forgotten beneath it, all the bumps and skeletal humps and vertebrae valleys, the shapes of history that are softened and hidden beneath sedimentary layers of the planet’s bedsheets, the holy collective decay of animal and vegetable life like leaf litter under which all the past sleeps until tectonic turmoil strikes at an invisible hour, the dead awaking the living above the blanket, as his hands shake the wavy coverlets free of the day’s greed and corruption.
Gripping the continental edge, standing in the Atlantic off the coast of Maryland, with one shake he sends the concentration camps flying, hurls aside the anti-immigrant shock troops, tumbles the white-power militias, upsets McConnell’s and Miller’s and Kavanaugh’s and Gorsuch’s beers, giving Trump the thump of fate beneath his feet and deep within his temples.
With this generation’s horrors flung beneath the moss, he’d throw his arms out and with his head back shout, “Tsunami!!!!” crashing backwards into the sea, letting his words and energy breach the shore, sloshing back beneath the waves, disappearing into the green black depths, having given, gone, some dreamed echo of justice.
All the jealous fathers are eating tacos shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar down the street. Each of their hands is feverishly but nonchalantly swiping at strange banal things on their phones while the other helps sips Bloody Marys or cervezas, their ears tuning out the thrash metal on the jukebox, internalizing their ability to both ingest the badassery of thwanging temptation on their own lips and at the fingertips of the row of men extending left and right.
It’s Father’s Day on a day when the sky has lightened and darkened several times. The cycle of hormones is absolutely paramount within their bodies but will never be discussed. It should be worn on t-shirts though, it’s so apparent. Their very beards, or the thin, well-trimmed hint of beards, speak to exactly how little or how much sex they crave or pretend not to crave. Crunch is popped into mouths and crunched with gusto. Skulls inadvertently bop as they dribble one of several fine salsas onto their burritos. Peter ponders his plantains. Herve heaps huevos onto his gluten-free toast.
On the TV it’s sports, which is supposed to represent the opposite of death. (I am miles away helping a young man up who has just been thrown down the stairs by his drunk father. I am in costume looking up from a table at the morgue helping a young man prepare for the day when death will be as this before him, prepared, cold to the touch.) Life life life the colors of the athletes’ bodies scream. We have defeated death. You fathers will live forever.
Eternal life is there on the tip of your tongues. How much of all this behavior is funded by the dead or living fathers? All of it. None of it. Each body is into his own. They would storm the streets together at any sign of injustice. They are as chill as each radish sliced into a pile in the corner of their plastic baskets of food. All is well. ATMs blink awaiting their touch. Somewhere the land of naps is ready to accept their bellied skeletons. That roaring sound is the laughter of young angels cracking up at the entire scene. The workers’ bodies at the cemeteries glisten in the sun.
I avoid the answer to the question I asked of tomorrow. Avoiding myself, too, as my half-life struggles, revealing itself to others, one hand dipped in the past, the other paddling along in the future.
I don’t know what time is, and I won’t know until it’s over. Having never begun. I can’t capture exactly what I mean, not yet at least. In theory I have it all figured out though. And ideally I don’t rely on puns.
But I am coming to understand in a very simple way that most of the anger and fear we have of others and ourselves, the crushing hatred grinding like the compounded gravity of distant entities light years away, with the weight of a mountain compressed into the size of a grain of sand, all that destructive power tends from hiccups in how we each experience time. Continue reading →