02 July 2008

"i came on this trek to videotape desire"

I've been a long, long time gone from the blog now, dear all of you. For this, I apologize, though I don't imagine many of you are hungering after a blog daily like you might hunger after, you know, food.

Still, I do feel a bit neglectful, like I've let your lawn grow too long while you were on vacation, and the neighbors are complaining. Or like I've left a glass on the porch with a smidge of red wine left, and now it's all yucky and attracting flies.

Thankfully, blogging requires neither lawn-mowing nor dish-washing, and so, here I am, making up for all those days without entries.

I'm in a new/old place for the next several weeks -- I lived here for three years, and while I was here, I had established my life -- not just in the daily ways, that I had two or three jobs, or that I knew which grocery store was closest and the fastest way to get there. No, I mean, I had established "my" places -- which coffee shop, which booth, which seat in that booth I would spend hours in for writing and staring out the window. I knew the baristas or the bartenders by name, and they knew me, and they were starting on my drink of choice when I walked in the door. It takes a long time to establish these things, these relationships and levels of comfort, and I guard them carefully, jealously. Especially when it comes to writing.

I'm realizing more and more just how superstitious I am about writing. (And it's a little scary to talk about it -- like, once it's exposed, it will vanish. Knock on wood.) I nearly gave up, threw up my hands and cried, the other day, when I didn't have the pen I like to write with -- I only had green and red grading pens, and I feel they must carry that kind of critical thought and occasional grumpiness/despair and attentiveness that I use when I'm grading, and that's no kind of mindset for a poem. I have a particular notebook, and I write in it from the back to the front. Always. There's something secretive about starting in the back, and so, liberating. There's something a little formal and beautiful about black ink, and so, I love it and refuse anything else. There are plenty of other little habits that follow these same lines, but I can't give them away here -- they're either too weird or too close to my heart to give away. I know it might be a good idea to let go of some of this superstition, but at the same time: whatever works, right? Sure. Just agree with me for now.

So, I'm trying to reestablish "my" places here, so that I get to that place where I can let go enough, let my guard down enough, to begin writing again. It ain't easy. But, luckily, one of my dear friends just purchased one of my favorite books, one of the books that's the best for my heart -- lifts it, crushes it, all at the same time. It's Plainwater by Anne Carson. My copy of the book was sent to me a long time ago, by someone I missed terribly, in one of those summers where everything was ideal except that my heart hurt steadily, every day of June, every day of July. He inscribed it: "Because I can't be there and she can't be here." (Which is, more and more, the story of my life, no?) And I fell madly in love with the book, primarily for the essay/travelogue/poem/gorgeous thing, "Just for the Thrill: An Essay on the Difference Between Women and Men." The premise of the essay (we'll call it that for the sake of brevity) is that the speaker is traveling across Canada and the US with a man she's fallen in love with, but the intent of their trip is to move him -- and he will stay in LA while she returns to Quebec. This, though, is the barest of skeletal descriptions of this essay -- she does miraculous braiding with Chinese characters and wisdom, jazz and blues, the weather, her own history and personal story, maps, anthropology, landscape. . . You name it, it's in there. I'm not going to go into defense or whatnot of her "belief" in this passage I've chosen, except to say that it strikes a chord -- I am often the women chopping the onion, filling up the bucket, whatever. But that's not really why I selected it.

I chose it because it's so astonishing for me, not just because the story itself breaks my heart, but because so much emotion comes from the delicate, intricate, dangerous pairings between sentences -- Chinese characters lead to a Robert Johnson song lyric, which leads to a storm across Missouri, which leads to some quote from her history, which leads to some fabulous statement about the difference between men and women, which, of course, leads us back to Robert Johnson: "Standin' in the rain, ain't a drop fell on me." This is a loose mimicry of what she's doing, and I hardly know how to describe it clearly, let alone follow her lead.

All the same, it's both familiar and strange, just as I am feeling much of the time here right now-- I belong in this book, I know it well, and yet it's too beautiful to hold. I belong in this town, too, though it's not really mine, not just yet, not just now, and maybe too beautiful on some days.

From: Just for the Thrill

Celine Lake, Indiana

Camping is hard on top vertebrae. Baked Indiana clay is no silk pillow. It reminds me of the morning my father woke up so angry, he dislocated his neck getting out of bed. On the good side, he loved mileages and every Sunday took us out in the car to view the landscape. As we rolled down the driveway he would glance at his odometer and call out, "Now somebody remember this number!" I was somebody. I remembered that number. For hours, for years.

It is my belief that women like to be given a task in the middle. Don't worry about putting up the tent, just hold this pole. Just fill this pail. Just chop this onion. Just collect sticks all this size. Timing is important in the middle, I know when the cursing stops is the time I go hold up the pole. Exactitude is important, depending on what the numbers are for, but I usually don't find that out until after. Good temper is important, caryatids often outlive the structures into which they are built. And now--tent pegs scorching my hands, I can hear his voice saying, For God's sake don't grow up to be one of those helpless women. Father was a man who knew the right way to do things. Well it's true the natural facts generally elude me. Yet, to see it catch like a row of wheat and do nothing, just stand there, face growing hot, knuckles hanging down -- collaborator! That is who I am. Women are not pure and they know it is the reason why the middle smells so good. A person without a smiling face should not open a shop, says classical Chinese wisdom. The original Chinese ideogram for woman shows her in a bowing position. Later the character was reduced to that of someone kneeling. For ease in writing.


Illinois, Route 19

Cornfield after cornfield after cornfield. Through southern Illinois and across sullen Missouri where the ends of the sky fall open and into hot Kansas where they dropped and stay. Another thing is you know one thing is, Carmen Macrae is singing on the radio, I don't want to be free. One thing camping is is an excellent way to confront the difference between women and men. The emperor is videotaping out the window while I drive. Explaining to me that in classical Chinese the character for cornfield plus the character for oneself mean freedom. Well I came on this trek to leave one self behind. Like a painting, it will be erased, I thought, and the suffering too. For desire is like the secret of the suffering of a work of art, dispersed over the surface of the beloved's body, residing everywhere and nowhere at once. You know I'd rather be a blind girl. I came on this trek to videotape desire -- to obtain cheap, prompt and correct facts about an object to which nothing in the world exactly corresponds. Than to see you walk away with another love.

(published in Plainwater by Anne Carson. New York: 1995, Vintage Contemporaries.)

No comments: