Jan 312017

“Reading is first and foremost non-reading. Even in the case of the most passionate lifelong readers, the act of picking up and opening a book masks the countergesture that occurs at the same time: the involuntary act of not picking up and not opening all the other books in the universe.”

Pierre Bayard


Unread books, I thank you. You sit there on the shelf and look at me with your lonely spines . . . you push me to be a more informed, richer, emotionally intelligent person. Some of you have been with me for thirty years. That doesn’t mean I will ever read you, Gravity’s Rainbow. And though I respect you Ulysses, I’m content with Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Though I have read pages of Ulysses, here and there. I call that “trying.” I’m satisfied with what I know about Harold Bloom. No, wait. It’s Leopold, not Harold. I know about his Irish day and his wife Molly and his perambulations. I did read all of Proust, I swear to God I did. Except maybe I didn’t finish the third volume. I can’t remember. The point is, I want to read it. And that’s what matters.

valley of the dolls. yes.
all the king’s men. no.
fathers and sons. yes.
rabbit is rich. no.
huckleberry finn. yes.
the satanic verses. no.

There’s time. And then there isn’t.


Mar 172014


“It was with great reluctance that I found the figure could not serve my purposes . . . But a time came when none of us could use the figure without mutilating it.”

—Mark Rothko, 1958

First Layer: We have an aura. It’s said to hover above our head and around the edges of our body. Best bet: wear white and sit in a room with white walls. Ask a friend to look at your aura for you. We can’t see our own aura. We are inside it, like a dry cleaning bag. A woman once told me my aura was red, and that was bad. (Anger.) This happened a long time ago; maybe the color has changed. Maybe not.

Aura is the visual cousin of what people call “energy,” that unseen vibe that follows us into a party and affects our social success. It can also influence sex life and salary. I would talk about “chi” here if I knew anything about it.

Second Layer: What people see, smell, taste, and hear when they get close enough to touch us. What we are trapped inside of. The bag of bones and the skin. The thing we dress and clean and feed and stroke and long to have stroked. Pretty simple, stupid even. The outer body.

Third Layer: The inner body, blood and guts. Biggest element? The brain, which has DNA telling it how happy we get to be. The same DNA tells us how lonely we feel, regardless of the people in our lives. The brain is going to do exactly what the DNA tells it to do, unless we intervene with chemicals. But the brain ALWAYS wants to revert to its original DNA-directed balance. And it will keep trying to get back there, like a stubborn horse, which makes higher doses necessary, and which also makes psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies lots of money. And drug dealers, and big tobacco, and alcohol manufacturers, and candy/cookie/ice-cream makers. You get the idea. A lot of people make a lot of money off the stubborn brain.
So screw the brain. Just go around, and hang out with the heart.
That’s right, circumvent the brain. It’s easy.
No, it’s not, it’s damn near impossible.
Still, the heart is much more relaxed, and forgiving, and elastic and fuzzy and melted and delicious. And it’s the size of our fist, which is adorable.

Fourth Layer. Ah. Dropping down into the depths below the organs and the blood. Where bombs go off on our arrival. And after the bombs, the hot lava. And after the hot lava, the clouds and the swollen oceans, crashing waves. And after the crashing waves, a tiny glimpse of light. Which is hiding behind this layer. Except this isn’t a layer. It drops away into something else altogether. This is only going to happen when we are sitting around alone. Probably close to suicide. In fact, maybe the glimpse of light is the thing that suicides are looking for, but they take a wrong turn and end up dead.

Fifth Layer: Let’s take that back, that comment about suicides. We are all presumably alive if we are reading this. So let’s leave the suicides out of it. But you do have to figure that they were either missing a layer, seeking a layer, stuck in the wrong layer, or involved in some kind of out of control soul-diving exercise when they took their own lives. That’s all we will say about it. (Except that the brain should have been able to put a stop to it, and it didn’t, which is why I say, boycott the brain.)

Fifth Layer: Let’s try layer five again. Well, there are more than five layers. Too many to number, if we could actually find a way to describe them. Let’s be cheerful and optimistic about this fact. And also acknowledge that there’s very little to be said about what goes on down there, or out there, or beyond. We would need new words, new language, maybe a new alphabet. Maybe a version of cyrillic. Maybe clicks and beats. But this is where we need to rest and grab our water bottles. Resolve to keep going.

Aug 062013



An Die Musik (“To Music”)

Oh gracious art, in how many gray hours
when life’s fierce orbit ensnared me
have you kindled my heart to warm love,
carried me away into a better world?

How often has a sigh escaping from your harp,
a sweet, sacred chord of yours,
opened up for me the heaven of better times?

Oh gracious art, for that I thank you.


music and lyrics by Franz Schubert, 1817
based on a poem by Franz von Schober


I knew a girl who wanted to swim out into the ocean in Delaware in February. She was twenty-one and had just graduated from college. She couldn’t think of anything reasonable to do with her life. She was back in her hometown, living with her parents. She bought some old vinyl records at the Goodwill store. Pretty cool stuff she’d never heard before like Laura Nyro, Janice Ian, obscure albums by Donovan. But soon this music seemed just as bland and meaningless as the new stuff she was listening to on CD. She was hanging out with an old friend from grade school, a guy who had never left town or gone to college. He sold pot. She smoked it from a bong she made out of an empty toilet-paper roll. She was crafty that way.

She was sitting in her car, and she was wearing a huge, brown winter coat that she had also found at the Goodwill. It was a brown faux-tweed, a man’s coat, vintage. She knew she would drown if she wore it into the ocean. The way she pictured it, she would wade in and just keep walking. She’d be walking along the ocean floor, and she would somehow stay weighted down. She’d keep walking like that until she was ten feet underwater.

It would be really cold. She knew this.

She had the radio on inside the car. It was nighttime . . . nine, ten. She was parked by the beach, in a spot that would be impossible to get on a hot summer day.

All right, she thought. Let’s do this.

Then a song came on the radio. Just a shallow pop song, one she had never heard before. Another dumb love song. But wow, cool new sound. The singer had a sweet, hurt, begging voice. It was a man, but he sounded like a woman. The guitar was different, too, not exactly cowboy but almost, and sensitive somehow. She just really liked the song. She sat and listened to it all the way through. She felt better. Maybe tonight was not the night, after all. For the swim. She wanted to hear that song again and find out who it was, and whether he had any other good songs.

Also, she realized she really liked her old coat. Sometimes a coat was the last thing a person had, the last thing a person cared about. Something to throw on against the cold.

Sep 292012

proust allusion, arabian nights

“I have suggested my father killed himself, but it’s just as accurate to say that he died gardening.”
–Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Houghton Mifflin, 2006.


Bechdel’s father was gay at the wrong time in the wrong place and so he stayed in the closet and lived a secret and possibly criminal life. Then he was hit by a truck when Bechtel was 20. Died. She suspected it was suicide. But as she admits, it might have been an accident.

The past is defensive and sluggish, sludge-like, slutty, muttonish, muggy, morbid, maudlin, haunted, hunted, heavy and just plain hostile. The past is gone.

There’s this realness to right now that makes it a lot nicer. On the other hand, Alison Bechdel was born and raised and wrote a book. And the nineteen seventies definitely happened. (People wore tube socks.) So it’s hard to pretend that right now is all there is. But it’s not that hard.

Memoirists spend time in the past. This is their stock and trade. They live back there.

Take me along. Don’t leave me.

And so all those French fried, postmodern, semiotic theories about the death of the author and the slippery nature of all narratives, the impossibility of static truth in language, got buried under an avalanche of bestselling baby boomer memoirs.

Take me along. Don’t leave me.


Jan 132012

from the SFGate, August 30 2007

A Burning Man participant was found dead this morning, hanging from the inside of a two-story high tent, according to Mark Pirtle, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Land Management.

The apparent suicide would be the festival’s first in its 21 year history, Pirtle said.

Pershing County coroners are investigating the scene and preparing to remove the body. Pirtle said the man was hanging for two hours before anyone in the large tent thought to bring him down.

“His friends thought he was doing an art piece,” Pirtle said.


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