Radio check

Sometimes I think how strange it is that after you stop being a baby there isn’t anyone who sees you everyday. There is one day your mother doesn’t look at you once and then there are a thousand more days to keep track of yourself.

So here, for me, is a small inventory of the things that have changed:

  1. My hair is three or more inches longer, the longest it’s been in years and years and I have seen many new states
  2. I have lived alone for the only time
  3. I have a set of new knives
  4. I worry in new ways, with less narcissism, wider and more like an anxiety about everyone and how they could be hurt or how I could hurt them. I don’t know if it is the way the claws and cranes come in, stretching you out and teaching you about the biggest ways you can feel or if it is just a small sliver of getting older and pushing down those old strategies for putting yourself in the center of all that is good or bad or the best and the worst
  5. I don’t write anymore


In August we flew to Seattle with a friend working on his commercial pilot certificate, making our way over the Oregon trees we were lost in on foot a few weeks before. I’d just finished Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, now knowing that the word “lost” comes from the Old Norse los, meaning the disbanding of an army. On the plane there were so many ways to prevent you from disbanding, GPS and maps and the constant checking-in over the frequencies, relaying locations along the way with an alphabet stretched to more audible words.

About the last point: it’s true, or very rarely. I never think I am a writer, I think I like to have things accomplished, and to remember, and I like reading and used to be sad a lot. In the air, though, I thought how nice it was that with all the maps and GPS there was still someone from the ground to call to, someone there to tell your plans. All the time above us this is happening: here is who I am, where I am, here is where I am going. I used to do that.


In A Field Guide Solnit talks about the artist Yves Klein, who one day with his friends decided to divide the world among themselves: the earth, the air, the sky. Klein signs his name to the sky:

In 1946, while still an adolescent, I was to sign my name on the other side of the sky during a fantastic “realistico-imaginary” journey. That day, as I lay stretched upon the beach of Nice, I began to feel hatred for birds which flew back and forth across my blue sky, cloudless sky, because they tried to bore holes in my greatest and most beautiful work.

We saw a fireworks show from the plane, taking place somewhere right outside of Portland. Everything is well documented, small and still from that high, but this was still miraculous: those fireworks that take up the whole sky from the ground, the whole huge sky, and they don’t take up any of it at all, not even close.

I think about Klein claiming his sky, hating the birds that flew through his masterpiece that he couldn’t fathom the size of, that no one can, not from that one place on the earth where you only are. And I think about all the claims I make everyday- who I was and what was mine- and what a tiny little piece I see. There are days I miss making claims like this, though, sometimes.

* * *

Has someone

Has someone told you about the man in Florida I ask. In Jacksonville there is a man waiting for a good thing to happen.

People tell him to wait at the restaurants, or at the station or for a call or a message. Some people tell him to wait at the lowest of lows, down the steps, and some people say “go upstairs and wait we’ll be right there.” Others say to go all the way up, up up closest to heaven. Most often he is told to wait just one minute, hold on. He’s got two brown big eyes and he waits with his hands gripped.

He thinks of a good thing when he goes to sleep, as he waits to wake up. You know what it is to sleep waiting? On a little ledge and held-tight teeth, so he is a tired man, the man in Florida.

One day while he was waiting he got his money stolen. It was only a little bit of money, but he came to wait at the same spot as always and the man in brown stole a little money. The man in Florida went to the police who asked him to wait on the chairs that went straight up and down, and the man sat with his fingers gripped and waited. He told the police what the man looked like, where he was waiting, what little money was stolen. A lady put it all somewhere and thanked him for reporting and said we’ll do the best we can. The man thought this was a little good thing.

It took a lot of little good things to make the world go. The man from Florida would wait along the side of the bridge, the bridge that had the spires built to keep the people from jumping. The man got tired of waiting sometimes. He thought about standing on the spires, balanced as a circus act, spinning like a top while those below clapped their hands and waited and watched. He danced on the veil, spinning forever, everyone waiting and watching, watching and waiting.

* * *


I stopped writing mostly. I am sliced-open and crawled-inside in love and it’s new and silly to write about. And what I’ve been reading lately is so small and far between, on buses when I’m on my own rarely. I’m back working all of daylight, even now that it’s spring, for just a while longer. A little cobwebbed and the happiest I’ve ever been.

Last year around now, when I was working all the time too, and someone I barely liked had said we should stop sleeping together which made me feel again like I’d been building little shacks I didn’t want for someone else to blow over, and wasn’t taking care of anyone. Now I’ve got these heavy shovels digging out a basement with most things I want to say too specific or numinous. This is maybe like cracking open a window, that I can redirect what’s been making its way directly to my chest and get back to a good way to know what I mean.  Air out some little things and move on.


He said zinnia was “not a flower, it is a constellation of sounds. Don’t ever see beyond the word as a thing, but to another word.” He went on to say, “the extent to which you think writing is about something other than words then you will fail.” He also said, “If I can deprive zinnia of meaning and make it a feeling then I can control it.”

“You are not producing meaning. You are not communicating. You are making time.”


-We should play a game.

-Okay. But not with moving. Not in this old bone house.

We sit and look at our hands.

-Swear, I swear they won’t get rid of the houses. They’ll just move them. And they’ll start digging tunnels and filling them up with pipes and sewage. What game, I guess. What next.

-Dad; Dad. I’m think I’m shrinking.


All that would go here is perhaps too intimate.


But every day we seem to learn new things about the ways our bodies live and die, about mirror neurons and somatization and proprioception and the wider-than-expected boundaries of ourselves, the ways we shape the universe and are shaped by it, the ways we are the universe. In some ways, we’re always at zero degrees of separation. If I watch Jason Kittelberger dance on his neck, or look at Maira Kalman’s picture of Pina Bausch being swung precariously close to the ground, or listen to Peter Wortsman read the gory ending of “An Earthquake in Chile,” it changes my own body.


I read in the Wall Street Journal about broken-heart syndrome, that happens mostly to women, post-menopause. I am envious of science more than those people who have all the discipline I lack. Curled I like to imagine the space in between each beat its own distance, four feet, twelve, making up a nice little spot in that time where we can’t be damaged. And then science comes along and actually breaks a heart. While I’m learning all kinds of ways the world changes my body.


Here’s one thing about Native American tribe names: the names we know them by are often the names they’ve were given by their neighbors. Cheyenne, for instance: it means red-talkers, something like “people of an alien speech,” because the Sioux people could not understand what they were saying. Learning not to call things by these names.


The people who lived here before us

also loved these high mountain meadows on summer mornings.

* * *

All of these things are right

Most of the last 10,000 words I wrote somewhere between Portland and the Bay while Lex drove. Lex is from Croatia and from craigslist and as a European or human being was excited about America and free refills and the state line. This is probably a good thing to spend some hours with sometime. It doesn’t mean we are best friends or will fall in love and get married but means that for a few hours he asked me to read his text messages to him out loud and that we ate at a Pizza Hut with the nicest waitress that exists in the world.

Portland is the most livable city I’ve ever been to. Troubling a little, but all of the things you could need seem within such short distances there it felt easier to keep your priorities straight. Lex moved to the states from Germany where he’s in school and didn’t understand what suburbs were, ending up in the suburban neighborhoods outside of Palo Alto and bored to death. (His mother didn’t understand because she’d seen Desperate Housewives and that’s what American suburbia is.) Portland somehow takes the parts about the suburbs I miss (houses, yards, trees) and puts them in a context that doesn’t mean staying inside would be preferable.

So I didn’t write much while I was there, because I was busy and happy and fairly sure I could catch up. Whatever kind of asceticism I thought the whole thing would’ve taken was completely mistaken; it served mainly as a reminder that I am a regular person with a normal job and no children and a lot of free time, and most days I could live normally and still write 1,500 words by the end of the night. Sometimes I said no to things. Mostly I didn’t.

But I’m glad to have done it, mostly to know that I’m not lazy, and have some semblance of discipline. It’s good to do one thing for some time. It’s also good to know that a sense of story is possible without outlines or any real idea of a plot, that years of story consumption will make something emerge however mightily it may rely on clichés to get there. Better, though, was being a part of the amount of work that went on to make the event run, and watching others do it and hearing stories much more interesting than mine, and knowing how much was happening that would not have otherwise been happening.

Picture 9

This is maybe the one thing I feel as excited for as Lex was about the California state checkpoint.


Tomorrow I start moving to San Francisco. Three days after I wrote this post everything changed again to prove there’s no point in planning for anything. I’m going to miss living in Oakland a lot.

Picture 5

This is a picture of my home in The New York Times

Before I left for Portland– when I told my mother I was getting in the car with a stranger for ten hours– all she said was that I only have good people in my life, and she doesn’t expect that to change. It is a weird thing to have someone else tell you: when it is true completely but you’ve somehow failed to realize, and how then I felt I owed something to someone or everyone for whatever luck or circumstance means that my whole life is made up of people who are fundamentally good, and fundamentally good to me.

But so for whatever reason I still place a lot of weight in location, being in a place for a time and the right one, when everything I know says that it is mostly beside the point. In one of the best things I read this year the author asks to imagine if there were a boat upon which you could put only four people, and then everyone else would cease to exist:

Who would you put on that boat? It would be painful, but how quickly you would decide: You and you and you and you, get in. The rest of you, goodbye.

and it is horrible, but how quickly. And this is the point, if it is four people or ten there is no boat but they are here. Here, as a life; not here as a place. Everyday we expect to live out the door and to the end of the block and up the elevator and back home again, and expect that somewhere those people we love to do the same, without thinking or checking while the world keeps moving. They’re there. Someday this isn’t true, and it is its own special kind of narcissism the way I worry that I’ve not said enough to those four people. To anyone.

Someday I would like to build a house and fill it with nothing. There would be rooms and closets but each of them would be empty. In winter I would keep it warm and in summer I would keep the windows open. For months I would search out everyone I’ve every known and invite them to the empty house and many wouldn’t come, but those that could would fill up every wall and corner until it makes sense to own nothing else but everyone in those rooms.


This year when so many things stopped working the conversation seemed to turn– more than I ever remember being the case– to seclusion and labor and building a life that exists tangibly in the way you spent your time and the food you put on the table. When being too far divorced from the effects of our actions finally made a lot of rich people poorer and a lot poor people even poorer it seemed maybe nicer to live a little more immediately. But to do it immediately? I’m still making the money I can, buying the things I can. There’s been so little change.

Leah came with us too on the drive to Oregon. She was going home to Eugene for a month before she left for Japan to join a monastery.

Picture 10

So this was how I saw it: I’d sign a lease and go to my job each morning and take all of these good people in all of the time in what ways I could, and somewhere Leah would take a vow of silence, and we could maybe build a balance back in. But it only works if I find a better way to balance growing up and learning how little I matter with mattering more to those people I don’t deserve. In Oakland or here or Portland or on a farm or in Japan or Croatia.

Picture 11

The point of the novel I wrote was meant to be that we don’t own anything, except if we’re lucky someone else or others, and after fifty thousand words I should’ve found a way to mean it.

* * *

Picture 2

* * *

So then I had to tell a stranger what I was trying to do and it was easier than I thought but mostly he just wanted to talk and within two minutes I’d learned he’d been four years sober and then the lady across from me asked him to please stop talking

Last night I passed 3000 words making this the longest fiction thing I’ve ever written and there are still 16 times that to go. It is vastly more painfully obvious how quick I am to delete things. It also feels like it is trying too hard but that’s because it is trying too hard.

So far it’s not that difficult to get words on the page but I am also not delusional; two days is not many.

* * *

Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing

A small quickening. The room responds slightly to being entered. Like a raised blind.

* * *

I felt bad this weekend

At Lucky’s at 11:30pm where I get oreos, these stupid things, and that glamour mag with the normal girls there are a lot of people in the store, a strange amount of kids. I’m not at all curious. At home my roommate’s not around and I go back to sleeping on the couch even though I’m still paying off the mattress I bought when we moved in. I get to sleep faster. I feel proud for no longer caring what anyone thinks of what I buy at the grocery store because I’ve come farther than it sometimes feels.

Before 11:30pm at Lucky’s I saw the new Coen Brothers movie which made me feel bad for not being Jewish, sort of, or more the same thing I have always felt at having no well of tradition to draw from. It made me think of “The Conversion of the Jews”, and for the first ten minutes in the theater I was pretty sure I was watching the wrong movie. It’s pretty funny though.

The next day I didn’t leave where I sat except to show them where the roof leaked and then when I’m going to go to this party. The library is on the way and I get this book though it has never occurred to me to want to write like Chekhov.

I only wanted to tell people honestly: look, look at how badly you live, how boring are your lives. The important thing is that people should understand this; if they do understand this they will certainly invent a different and a far better life.

I’d left for the party early because it’s too goddamn sunny in the East Bay; it doesn’t feel like anything is going forward. I sit in a shop and read, then go to the store again to buy beer. I don’t know what to buy but settle on one kind that I don’t like but I feel like people bring to parties. I go and everyone is nice but it makes me feel bad. I remember nothing about the trip home but that it took too long, and that someone’s mother was going to be mad.

I woke up today at 3am to drink two glasses of water and woke at nine to be up. I went to buy used things and paint, went to the grocery store again but this time with purpose. At home I cut so many onions it feels like I have been bawling all morning but I’m not feeling as bad now. The good news is it doesn’t feel good to stop making things. Today I made corn chowder and this picture of a whale. There will either be less good or more good tomorrow.


* * *

A note

For the last month I’ve been helping out the remarkable people at the Office of Letters and Light in preparation for National Novel Writing Month, and have decided to also participate, and am now breaking some arbitrary rules to not write about writing and to not write about not writing: things are about to get real boring and even more intermittent as I just consume enough things to turn me into an enormous repository of ideas that will come pouring forth November 1st, which is merely a nice idea and not at all the case. Avast, however: I am try-er. I will try. And so, lower your already low expectations, readers– for October I am a tumblelog. (this is a joke please don’t be sad)

And: do it, buy stuff, donate. It’s a beautiful thing. Doing and making, world.

* * *

Curtis White Takes Issue

“Excuse me. I know I have pledged suspended disbelief to this narrative, and I’m trying to be a good sport about it, but incredulity asks for a moment in which to say its piece. Incredulity says, ‘What ‘old village’ are you referring to? And why do you imagine that the idea of returning there cozens anyone into accepting your future? Is this village of which you speak so fondly in the Carpathian Mountains? Where are those mountains? In Carpathia? Is the village surrounded by rich forests and colorful songbirds? Is it like the cottage in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves? Or is it perchance in good old Missouri? Will we be gathering around the cracker barrel to listen to the androids indulge their homespun humor and tales of yesteryear down at the general sim-store? Will we eat the crackers, or will they be made of silicon? Will we later meet down by the river? Will Reverend Automaton bless us and dunk us in the eternal waters of the Ether Domain? Will the fragrance of genetically modified apple pie drift from matrix to matrix, causing a pang, a yearning, a hankering for the olden times when some of us had tatters of flesh attached to the hydraulics?'”

[From Middle Mind, a book about how our lack of imagination is destroying our country and the world, which– though I sympathize with the hesitations– ultimately I’ll be on board with, and have spoken of before: an argument that art or culture is most dangerous when it gives the illusion of engagement without providing tools for true criticism or rebellion, and that insufficient critical thinking skills make it hard to distinguish between art and culture that wants to actually push back and that that is mostly placating. Hard pressed to disagree with the notion that Americans are fairly impoverished as to White’s definition of the function of the imagination: “to critique and to imagine alternatives to the social status quo”; so here is his critiquing, the sincerely best parts of the book, I think, flexing and teeth-bearing, but then maybe because it is Most Entertaining so perhaps I do a disservice by quoting it instead of his actual arguments and I am not really engaging with his point, as this is all simply context for the book not for what he’s criticizing here, which is the idea that new technologies (“wearing the internet around your neck”) will bring us closer and make us, in fact, more like the village of our ancestors and less disconnected. You’re already wearing the internet around your neck; this isn’t very village-like. But a thing should be engaging to be engaged with, and moving on from his bite White offers possible solutions which are captivating and hopeful despite the weariness that seems to run through the rest of the book, and he is also deeply involved with my favorite book press so there you have it.]

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