Sunday, June 29, 2008

Either or Not

Yesterday, between thunderstorms, I walked down to pick up my share. This consisted of corralling six or seven plastic bags, marching my bag-laden self into a stranger's garage, checking my name off a list, and making off with the following:

1 head lettuce
1 bag snap peas
1 head kohlrabi
2 small yellow squash
1 bag salad mix
1 bunch kale
1 pint black raspberries

There it was, my produce for the week. Locally-grown, occasionally bug-ridden, and, most importantly, choice-free!! Sure I joined the local Community Supported Agriculture initiative (CSA) after having the Fear-of-the-Lord-Plus-Industrial-Agriculture instilled in me by Michael Pollan. Sure I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint and score fresher produce besides. But the hidden benefit of the CSA, the thing that keeps me panting for more, is its neat end run around free will.

Never mind menu planning! Never mind weighing the nutritional benefits of chard vs. kale! I will eat asparagus five weeks running and then never again for the rest of the year! I will wriggle in anticipation of tomato season! I will figure out what the hell I'm going to do with that kohlrabi!

There's a surprising amount of pleasure in making do with what you get. Except I'm kinda sick of lettuce. Also I need kohlrabi recipes. Stat.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

On p. 478

"Steve Reich remembers attending composition classes where students showed off byzantine scores whose intellectual underpinnings could be discussed ad nauseam. Then he'd go to see Coltrane play with his quartet. he liked the idea that Coltrane could walk out with a saxophone, play freewheeling improvisations on just one or two harmonies, and then disappear into the night. 'The music just comes out,' Reich later said. 'There's no argument. There it is.'"

And here it is: the reason I'm utterly, spectacularly, gob-smackingly unsuited to be a practitioner of historical performance. Historical performance practitioners (can I call us HIPsters? Please? We're just as whiny and self-conscious) take pleasure in engaging intellectually with music. They enjoy detail, debate, and the close musical read. I, on the other hand, get enough detail, debate, and analysis just staring at the wall. For me, music is most galvanizing when it bypasses thought. I crave the feeling of synthesis -of wordlessness, really- that occurs when your instincts take over and the rest of you shuts up. There's no argument. It just comes out.

(The only other thing that gives me a comparable frisson of voicelessness is step aerobics, but I have a feeling that's where Reich takes a hike.)

(Unless he wants to take a class with me. What do you say, Steve? I'm HIP. Also bouncy.)

Monday, June 23, 2008


You are required to read this unspeakably awesome article from Slate. I'm particularly partial to the following:

Semicolons do have some genuine shortcomings; Slate's founding editor, Michael Kinsley, once noted to the Financial Times that "[t]he most common abuse of the semicolon, at least in journalism, is to imply a relationship between two statements without having to make clear what that relationship is." All journalists can cop to this: The semicolon allows woozy clauses to lean on each other like drunks for support.

O naive Mr. Kinsley! The relational ambiguity of the semicolon isn't a flaw; it's magnificent verisimilitude! Life is equivocal; shouldn't punctuation follow suit? I love that weaselly semicolon; hiccup.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

All over Alex

Way back in the spring, I started to read The Rest is Noise, a history of twentieth-century music by the delectably wordy Alex Ross. (The man knows more words than I do! How can I not go weak in the knees?) The book was excellent, but about 70 pages in, I put it down. I can't remember the exact reason, but I think my attention may have strayed to Michael Chabon, another delectably wordy man who had the further attraction of stringing his words into fictional narrative. Phew. Is it hot in here?

On Friday, I returned to Alex. Since then, I've been wandering around in a Ross-induced stupor, swilling chapter after chapter. I like to keep the book within visual range. I like to retire with it to bed.

This is more serious than mere word-lust. It took me a while to figure out what was happening, but reading The Rest is Noise kicks up the same itch behind my ears I get when I read poetry. In fact, I've had to relinquish Alex to the mid-century American avant garde in order to go hammer out a strange question and answer poem about Strauss. Typically I write poetry when I read poetry, not when I read what gives?

What gives is the peculiar genius of The Rest is Noise, which is that, for all its footnotes and historical anecdotes, it's essentially a collection of poetry. Like poetry, narrative is replaced by narrative fragments, hints at larger stories. Like poetry, elements are collected and brought into contact with one another so that the correspondences and disjunctions between them are evident. As in poetry, the author isn't so much creating as discovering, holding up to the light some hunk of the world.

Poetry, much more so than prose, is about listening. I'll listen with you anytime, Alex.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

On Quiet & Abandonment

Sometimes I draft things and forsake them. I'm like a teenage mother unprepared for the consequences of my actions, stuffing my offspring into an ill-fitting bassinet and depositing the whole caboodle, sans note, in the pet supply aisle of Wal Mart. Only no one wants to adopt my discarded ideas (not cute enough; no bootees) and so they linger, mummified, forever marked DRAFT in my posting queue. They are one line long, sometimes two. They are timorous and strident, exotic and dull. Sometimes the ideas behind the drafts have disappeared, leaving only a strange, dry chrysalis of words.

I was going to compose something exceptionally dreadful about the landscape of the mind, but instead I'll just talk about rocks.

Being smart, being stupid.


Is there anything you've ever wanted to ask me that you haven't asked me?

This last is, I believe, a direct quote from... well, from one of two people in the documentary 51 Birch Street. Father and son are sitting at a table hashing over the past and one of them -I think it's the son, but it's been a while and I can't be sure- says to the other: Is there anything you've ever wanted to ask me that you haven't asked me?

For me, this draft still has a glimmer of life to it, though in the interval between when I watched the documentary and when I sat down to write this post, the nature of that life has mutated, crescendoing from a whimper to cry. I used to fixate, as one does with questions, on answers. Was there, at the core of every relationship, an un-asked question? And if you could find that question, if you could pinpoint the informational gap in your relationship with your mother, father, sister, friend; if you could dig up that question, stuff it in your mouth, and spit it out, what would happen next?

Time has passed, life has rather dramatically narrowed, and I'm less interested in answers. I know there are un-asked questions. There are un-asked questions scattered the whole length of the ground between every pair of us. They are small and large, explosive and innocuous, sterile and festering. Do you love him? How could you stay? Why did you laugh? How did I hurt you? Why her? Why me? Why now? Did you mean it? Do you believe? Would you have kissed me back?

The thing is, none of it matters. Or rather, it only matters insofar as you know that, whatever you know, there is always, always, more. It's almost -but not quite- comforting, a tiny glimpse of infinity for those of us who've misplaced God.

Q: Is there anything you've ever wanted to ask me that you haven't asked me?

A: Yes.

No, yes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On All Things Considered

NPR: source of all desultory attempts at self-improvement. I've browsed for aluminum water bottles online, thought vaguely about reducing my cell-phone usage vis-a-vis brain tumors, and half-heartedly resolved to unglue my dashboard from the rear fender of the wannabe Amish SUV in front of me so as to reduce my gasoline consumption. Worse, I've attempted to meditate.

This last was brought on by a segment suggesting that folks who meditate a lot (hello monks) or even a little (random meditators) can adjust the happiness "set point" of their brains to the point where their baseline happiness more closely resembles that of a doped-up parakeet than that of, say, me.

Let me add by way of an introduction that I am not a meditative person. (I know you are shocked, readers.) I am not a meditative person despite the fact that the hippie school I attended through the third grade had a mandatory meditation period. I am not a meditative person despite the fact that all of my nuclear family members have become, one after another, Buddhist. And we're talking seriously Buddhist: possessed of "practice" and meditation rooms and aspirations to relinquish all desire.

Still, in the interest of chronic euphoria, I thought I'd give it a shot. I sat down. I folded my hands in my lap. I took a few deep breaths and tried to quiet my mind.

This lasted maybe 6 seconds. BITE ME, whooped my mind. OH BITE ME. Raucously, my seat of (dubious) wisdom hopped from breathing to breath support to the last performance I gave to cold hands to braziers. To the disturbance in weather that is performing; the collision of conflicting fronts of desire; hiding versus seeking.

Desire, again. In Buddhism, desire is the root of all suffering. In narrative, desire is fuel. My mind rolled over, played dead, fetched, spoke; I admired its tricks. Who needs zen when you've got story? Maybe I can't meditate because, deep down, I don't want not to want. Even when I want what I can't have, when I want what I once had or what I could have had, when I want a thing and its opposite in equal measure. Even when want strips down, stands naked, revealed for what it is: one of the many flavors of pain.

At least want shivers, makes noise.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On the Road but So Not Jack Kerouac

There are consequences to making the wrong choice. You are stricken with hives. You get caught emailing photographs of naked girls in reindeer horns to your senate colleagues. You are pregnant. You are dead. You lose $20 to Uncle Arnold AND there are photographs of you hopping on one foot in leiderhosen in front of assorted relatives while singing God Save the Queen.

Is it any wonder, then, that we treat wrong choices like cockroaches, squelching them underfoot before they can reproduce? I've spent so much time avoiding wrong choices that sometimes life seems like a giant game of Mario Kart: all banana peels and ice and poisonous mushrooms, plus way, way, way too much driving.

I was recently given a choice. It was an unexpected choice, one I should have been grateful to have to make. Yet, when the choice found me halfway across the country, when it ambushed me by telephone as I was peering, sunburned and thirsty, over the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, I got mad. I kicked a rock, thought better of kicking rocks, then did a moderate amount of crying. I strapped myself in for a full-on, high-stakes boss round of Mario Kart with sand traps and invincibility and lots of ice.

Did I mention I've never liked Mario Kart?

Seven days later, I made the wrong choice. I made it willfully, in full cognizance of my act. There was, in the end, a freedom to it. It was like fouling out, or putting the moves on the love of your life and then getting shot down. Choosing wrong hurt. But at least I'd taken myself off the track and out of the game.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Friday, June 6, 2008

Time after Time

Just outside Moab, Utah is some sort of government complex. It's low to the ground, alarmingly dusty, and boasts, in addition to an incomprehensible nameplate, the following sign:

This site has worked 7,120 days without a lost time accident

I do not know what lost time accidents are, but I have a feeling there ought to be commercial products to prevent such things. And I should be using them.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How Utah Reminds you of Calculus and Renders you Temporarily Writerly. Hmmph.

Coming down highway 128, the earth reveals itself: red, valved, lumpen. There are cliffs and spires, great spurts of stone. You've seen it in pictures; you don't need anyone to tell you. You go there to feel small and temporary. You want that sense of enclosing permanence, the kind you can't get anymore from God. Landscape is the next best thing.

You forget things. Shampoo, thank yous, what the sun through the kitchen widow at home looks like in the mornings. You forget, or you never knew, that the whole of what you're driving through was under water, or just above it. You forget that water, even though it is now invisible (inaudible, easy to breathe) is what you're really driving through. The landscape is not permanent. It is not a firm thing at all, but rather an impression of movement, an accounting of change.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Full of Sound and Fury

Never mind correspondence and congruity. The best metaphors wallop reality on the rear until it cries.