19 November 2007

Made whole again ... in time for the morning edition

The genius of the age is that of journalism.

Journalism throngs every rift and cranny of our consciousness. It does so because the press and the media are far more than a technical instrument and commercial enterprise. The root-phenomenology of the journalistic is, in a sense, metaphysical.

It articulates an epistemology and ethics of
spurious temporality. Journalistic presentation generates a temporality of equivalent instantaneity.

All things are more or less of equal import;
all are only daily.

Correspondingly, the content, the possible significance of the material which journalism communicates, is 'remaindered' the day after.

The journalistic vision sharpens to the point of
maximum impact every event, every individual and social configuration; but the honing is uniform. Political enormity and the circus, the leaps of science and those of the athlete, apocalypse and indigestion, are given the same edge.

Paradoxically, this monotone of graphic urgency anesthetizes. The utmost beauty or terror are shredded at close of day. We are made whole again, and expectant, in time for the morning edition.

-George Stiner, Real Presences

02 November 2007

"She had a cat and she played the guitar. On days when the sun was strong she would wash her hair, and together with the cat, a red tiger-striped tom, sit out on the fire escape thumbing a guitar while her hair dried. Whenever I heard the music I would go stand quietly by my window. She played very well, and sometimes sang too. Sang in the hoarse, breaking tunes of a boy's adolescent voice."
-Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's
The Boston Flat was that hypothetical solution to restless cafeteria days and boring Friday evenings. We would have plants in the windows and lots of bookshelves. We would be busy with our brownstone lives, walking to concerts and writing brilliant things all night.

Who knows where we would work, but that would be irrelevant, because we'd earn just enough to have a fire escape to sit on and a big red cat named Taj Mahal and we'd know how to play the guitar.

23 October 2007

The sky as infinite grace*

Every year I forget about geese until I see one symbolic flock, stretched black against the sky, straining southward.

It's been ten years since I first saw this house and drove through this foreign state with a pompous sense of evaluation. The fall was too brown and golden, none of the bloody-fire of a Connecticut River Valley autumn, no sugar maples. Johnny and I surveyed our new back yard and found it wanting: no climbing trees.

Rhode Island: brown and boring.

But we marveled at Rt-102, those hills reaching like ramps into the sky, flanked by forests and straight for miles. We liked the stone roads over Scituate Reservoir.

We didn't spend the fall here, anyways. We went to Cape Cod for the subsequent weeks and walked beaches and took stacks of books out of Falmouth Public Library as we waited for our house to be ready.

Leaves are blowing across the street today, everywhere I go. Towards my office the patched roads and peeling buildings look a little gentler alongside yellow trees and hemmed in by tumbling oak leaves.

And the sky beautifies anything today, marbled blue with high white wisps veining it sparsely. Low fast clouds swell fatly and race along the tree line, having just escaped from nearby smokestacks.


*"For rich people, the sky is just an extra, a gift of nature. The poor, on the other hand, can see it as it really is: an infinite grace."
-Albert Camus, Notebooks

18 October 2007

My tea spilled twice today in my car. Both times suddenly as if it was springing out of the cup holder. And I’m out of napkins.

There are red wine stains on my tawny-grey seat, coffee stains dark on the liner rug and now black tea all over the passenger side.

It’s always a competition, me versus my travel mug. Most days it behaves. Four out of five days it will balance placidly in the holder as I navigate around curves, take a tight turn onto the highway or come to a halt at a traffic light.

But invariably, when I am running late or when I am slightly stressed and not up for a challenge, it catches my expression, conspires within itself, and leaps out of the cup holder and into my lap, onto the carpet or seat and starts gleefully leaking my sanity all over the car.

13 October 2007

every tendril uncurled

"Writing feels like work," said my editor-to-be when she interviewed me. That's what happens when you spend the day typing articles and news briefs. "So I paint and do pottery because it feels like rest." Her novel has been sitting for ten years.

I am trying to sketch for the first time in years on a Saturday afternoon in a bakery courtyard: empty wrought iron tables and chairs, leaves blowing across red brick patio stones, the stucco side of the bakery, grey and cracking.

It's hard, just a few lines on paper, infinitely harder than writing.

There is an absolute quality of removal--as if something inside my head is stretching, trying to dislodge, almost the tingling of new exercise. I am trying to unwind all those knotted brain cells, those tendrils that you see plaited across a dissected brain.

I am trying to draw finches and vines in the arbor. I am trying to draw a bell lamp that's painted grey. I cannot get the glass belly of the bulb right; it doesn't look rounded at all. I have no color to capture the sky behind it all, intense blue and the ribboned power lines hanging black against it.

The snapshot, the summary, that's what I've been practicing these five months at the newspaper. I don't mix colors or sketch until things look right. I don't labor to arrange or tease out words. I don't stop what I'm doing just because a phrase is ringing in my ears.

Phrases don't ring in my ears. I don't whisper them beneath my breath until I find a pen; every adjective poised, every pause premeditated.

This weekend stands quiet, released from one job and not yet begun at the other. Every job has been a season, none intolerably long. This change continues the motion, the assurance the I can work, the satisfaction that I can earn some living with my pen, even if it leaves me quieter.

I must search every aspect for grace: in orange slices and reassuring smiles, in encouraging words that temper my cynicism, in the newness that has me bending my mind in new ways and making lists of resolves, trying sketching for rest and instead finding myself begin to write.

14 September 2007

I remember leaning over the desk at the resturant this spring and telling a co-worker, "I used to write internet spam." There was a severe gravity to the way I said it, my chronic drama. It was long ago, I implied, when I was foolish and naive.

It wasn't even a week since I'd had my last anti-climactic day at the publisher. I made my two months of indecisive quitting much more decisive and noble, "I quit when I discovered that my boss purchased our email list."

I guess that's when I decided that I ought to quit. But it took me weeks to have the guts to bring it up and even more weeks to tell my boss that I actually was leaving.

On my last day I sat and addressed envelopes for the office manager and made two bank deposits for the company and then I wound my green scarf around my neck, pulled on my coat, and went down onto the street.

But no, I was breaking with an evil spam company, and this was brave because I didn't even have any job plans.

Except I knew maybe I'd interview at a newspaper and bide my time at a resturant.

But that was last fall - sitting and cutting and pasting copy - writing reviews of cities I'd never seen.

The best part was the brick face of the opposite wall and the little patch of Providence sky I could see above it. Or maybe the best part was walking to the river for lunch, or sitting in cafes writing letters, or catching bus 30 every morning, or singing in the alley before I reached my office building.

11 September 2007

a good day for soup.

i am drinking a complimentary coffee from dave's - where i stopped on my way to work to buy a $.75 bag of spinach to go in my lunch.

i always feel like an impostor there, like i don't belong, picking out nice cheeses or meats, acting as if i shop there all the time. i guess i do.

but i don't feel like i ought to; starving artists shouldn't shop at dave's.

it has taken me all this time to realize that i have a routine that i've been building all summer long. that little things like sleeping through my snooze and reading a lot of emails from home and never actually going running but instead going somewhere for coffee happen every day. later, when the season shifts up and i have some other job or frame of life, i will look back at these distinctive things as the substance of the time.

this has been the summer: scrambling out the door a little later than intended, coming into the office at newspaper p. and staring for a half hour, rousing myself by a jaywalk over to starbucks, getting down to work just before lunch.

i started reading girl meets god by lauren winner last night. i mistrust the title. i like to think that her publisher forced it on her or that maybe she is like me and gets paralyzed when it comes to naming something that she poured months of herself into.

my best titles are only lifted quotations, a segment of someone else's thought and i do a miserable job writing my own headlines.

i like her also because she is an intellectual and never sacrifices that, but she befriends you with her writing. she shares awkward stories about herself, but has to define a word every other chapter.

her style reminds me of kathleen norris and anne lamott: the fragmented confessional memoir. chapters end and begin with no immediate connection to each other, yet they all gather into a whole of thought by the end of the book. if i ever write a book it will probably be like that too.

i read the first two chapters last night and she made me want to travel again.

"when [hannah] lived in paris and i lived in cambridge, we used to meet in london for weekends. she brought french chocolate and we sat in pubs and teashops for hours. we darted in and out of churches and bookshops and walked through parks."

a year ago i was in berlin and we were sitting on church lawns, journaling on park benches, eating on balconies by the train tracks. we only had 10 days.

i just opened the window so i could hear the rain better and the cars coursing down main st..

raindrops are lining up along the bottom of the thick telephone wire that hangs outside my window and dripping in groups onto the people at the bus stop below.

it's almost lunchtime so i guess i can get to work now.

07 June 2007

Southern Rhode Island Coast

I swear I didn't sleep last night.

I realized the other day that the cadence most natural in the poetry I write resembles the rhythm of a children's book or a nursery rhyme,

Lying on my back on the sand today, reading T. S. Elliot and Kierkegaard, groping for a political philosophy, and then stretching out beneath slumber, all my thoughts in fragments still,

The ocean and the continuity of self. Learning that it helps my later self, in some ways, to force out a record of days, even if my words have no artistry, even if I can't finish or properly punctuate sentences,

Here at a side beach, enclosed by stone jetties, watching the Block Island Ferry, a tall white layer cake with frosting windows, floating back and forth on a string, jelly flags whipping. High blue sky, gulls (sky rats), fishing boats crawling below, and kite surfers cutting in angles and spitting white foam. Houses, stretching out along the arm of horizon, shingled, grey,

All of my words, always the same,

The ocean, rolling, like Ecclesiastes, and me watching, groping after words (vanity, vanity),

I can't match the things I've read, Fitzgerald's blue ocean of promise denied, Camus' boiling Algerian Sea, Warren's muddy Louisiana Bay, somehow still inviting to Anne and Jack, with space to float and sky, sky, and grey and slate and storm and cloud,

I can see, more than imagine, Sylvia Plath's Cape Cod, where she nannied and slept in the sun, pressing her brown body into a heated jetty stone, pulling periwinkles off the rocks, and the green brine of low tide, and cleansing wind regardless, and the way the salt stays in your hair all night

28 May 2007

For Jamie--

"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with summer."

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

25 May 2007

when the passing days finally acknowledge me

Will I awake, half sunk into summer, fingering new lines etched into my skin by nights and days that have passed me, unremembering?

I'm writing this now in the maytime heat - my writing wrinkling beneath the moisture of my hand, the words quivering as I rest the journal on the vibrating steering wheel, my foot squeezing hard the break, hoping for another red light on Division Street so--

I can finish this sentence.

I cannot live without thought, but I am, rising and dressing and driving and eating beneath a thick film of necessity and reaction. There is so much today and especially these days that I want to feel - but my nerves are all worn off, threadbare velvet, no longer plush or soft to the touch. My words have no grip, no conviction, they slide off the present--

And it rolls away as the odometer climbs and the gas needle sinks and I sometimes have thoughts while I am driving about how blue the sky is, or the space between the high clouds, or how all the leaves have opened now and hang down over the road verdant and spread, even on the hesitant oaks. My hand swills the humid air, fingers spread or closed, reaching out the open window to touch the day.

I am seeing this all through the sepia-tint of the hideous glasses I purchased last week. All of this yellowing with passing, the sunlight falling at the particular angle which becomes the things that have already ended.

11 May 2007

"To become a writer, patience and toil are not enough: we must first feel compelled to escape crowds, company, the stuff of ordinary, everyday life, and shut ourselves up in a room.

"We wish for patience and hope so that we can create a deep world in our writing. But the desire to shut oneself up in a room is what pushes us into action. The precursor of this sort of independent writer – who reads his books to his heart's content, and who, by listening only to the voice of his own conscience, disputes with other's words, who, by entering into conversation with his books develops his own thoughts, and his own world – was most certainly Montaigne, in the earliest days of modern literature. Montaigne was a writer to whom my father returned often, a writer he recommended to me. I would like to see myself as belonging to the tradition of writers who – wherever they are in the world, in the East or in the West – cut themselves off from society, and shut themselves up with their books in their room. The starting point of true literature is the man who shuts himself up in his room with his books.

"But once we shut ourselves away, we soon discover that we are not as alone as we thought. We are in the company of the words of those who came before us, of other people's stories, other people's books, other people's words, the thing we call tradition. I believe literature to be the most valuable hoard that humanity has gathered in its quest to understand itself. Societies, tribes, and peoples grow more intelligent, richer, and more advanced as they pay attention to the troubled words of their authors, and, as we all know, the burning of books and the denigration of writers are both signals that dark and improvident times are upon us. But literature is never just a national concern. The writer who shuts himself up in a room and first goes on a journey inside himself will, over the years, discover literature's eternal rule: he must have the artistry to tell his own stories as if they were other people's stories, and to tell other people's stories as if they were his own, for this is what literature is. But we must first travel through other people's stories and books."

Orhan Pamuk

26 March 2007

Softly and tenderly
Brightly and darkly
Little by little
Lightly and sparkly


and i sit in my car and sing at least twenty minutes a day.

I am writing lists on the back of my hand again which means that I am moving quickly enough that my mind doesn't retain details. Except annoying one-line-segments of the poor song selection on work radio.

I wrote "ebenezer" on the front of my new journal this weekend because I realize that right now I am in the midst of a season of grace that I will NEED to remember in the future. About to start writing full time. Can't believe it. Coming in late for makeshift dinners after hostessing at the resturant. Not falling asleep until the last whispered word.

And right now I'm about to go do that.

The present is never our end. Past and present are our means, only the future is our end. And so we never actually live, though we hope to, and in constantly striving for happiness it is inevitable that we will never achieve it. (Pensees, III.80).

07 March 2007

You are here to kneel.

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfillment.


If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

T. S. Elliot, Quartets IV.I

04 March 2007

Beauty is truth

I like this. Papers and notes all over the floor. Haphazard hair. Running out of ink and getting another pen.

Diminish, cut away all the pretense, cut away, cut away, cut away. Write with a scalpel. Give me the probe. I've been taking notes about everyone anyways. Now I can actually ask the questions I've been wondering. This feels a lot more like carving than building. Cut away, cut away, cut away.

I could interview the blind man who rides Ripta. Ask him about his dog, Abby.

I could stop a familiar stranger on Westminster Circle and begin to test my speculations.

And they can read me beneath the gossip in the Arcade.

Write found-poems from overheard-dialog onto the back of my hand.

Life, etched into my skin.

Don't speak too soon amidst the agony of creation... but I am going to learn everything, and I'm going to tell you.

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

John Keats

22 February 2007

dear tomorrow,

(and those of you who stalk my blog)

so, i checked out and laid low and have been so utterly confused about what i ought to be doing at least since mid-december. i quit my job and took lots of naps and pretty much had a warrenesq "great sleep". working two days a week and counting pocket change. spending money mostly on coffee, postage stamps, and calling cards.

waking up in the afternoon, or falling asleep then.

sending out resumes, making phone calls, dropping in on establishments that might want to hire me. i swear there's some look about me that makes them smile and say, "no, no thank you. we're all set."

in any case. i wouldn't usually write a first-person post. but i have THREE interviews tomorrow... one for a job that (i think) i really want. join the dark side. become a journalist. alright, alright, in very good company including certain very dear former roommates and my most beloved dead authors (camus, hemingway). even dreamers have to live. and being a starving artist isn't all its cracked up to be.

i promise not to sell my soul.

it is crazy how long it takes me to act. how much i've really had to be pushed to the edge. how many times in the last month i have just struggled against God wanting to shout "what are you doing with me?" so confused. thinking i'd laid everything down only to find the next day that i certainly hadn't.

and finding myself in an inexplicable slump in which i have existed without writing, without music, without much thought, with as much escapism as a few good novels can provide.

so: hello again. i think i'm ready to be alive. please pray for me. and as always. my love and prayers to each of you.



Here's an idea
Let's grab this life and wring its neck with joy
So that when it comes time to die
When we find we have no breath left
It is because we willingly strangled ourselves
With love
Fell down dead
And mostly happy


14 February 2007

existentialism on quaker lane

how quickly the road falls away before you, conscious, suddenly, of every breath, of your feet inside your maryjanes, your hands inside the wide wool knit of your mittens, the shape of your heart in your chest.

what is this hidden dread, and where does it hang, catching you as you drive? as close as your clouded breath, this winter morning, as sharp as the sunlight gilding the icy power lines, as loud as the quivering engine shaking into life.


a twitch upon the thread

I've always been bad. Probably I shall be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can't shut myself out from his mercy.
Evelyn Waugh

05 January 2007

...all thoughts suddenly gather...

The shadow chases the side of the bus as we pass between streetlights. It crawls up along side and then falls back, constant indecision, rocking back and forth, as we speed and slow, weave and break, through evening traffic.

You get to know the road in the dark, the way it pulls up or down, the curves and intersections, the pieces that float by—fronts of stores and houses, garage doors, and lights, like rubble floating along in the dark.

And there are these days, unexpected in the midst of winter, suddenly warm and rainy. When I find at the end of a ride home that I've been staring out the window, smiling.

I Remember

And I went to write
Because my days were full
And overflowing

And I had to smile
Because I thought of you
And loved myself for knowing

And I stopped to pray
Because I could not keep
This sparrow heart from singing

And I held the day
And sure enough
St. Mary's bells were high above the town

And ringing


Linford Detweiler