My colonialist myopia: One Art, Revisited

Here, I’ll write it, like disaster: Ten years ago today, I left Florida.

My time in Florida is tinted with a beautiful technicolor nostalgia of a fading mid-twentieth century paradise that never fully existed, much like the enduring legacy of America’s Postwar Golden Age. For me, Florida is not a place so much as it is an era of air-conditioning and colonialist faux-Hawaiian Mai Tai bars, of circus people’s winter homes, of estate sales for New York’s exported and rapidly fading old people, of faded postcards for sale a dime apiece in second-hand shops, of the intersections of infinite possibility among the toxic stew of different communities, traditions, and groups. Who goes to Florida? People who want to start over; almost everyone born there else flees once they are able. I went to Florida, and even though I know I’d have hated it if I had stayed, I miss it and love it still. Miss it and love it in every bone, every cell of my body.


My time in Florida was bookended by two hegemonically horrific and highly mediated (to say nothing of alliterated!) events, one primarily and immediately affecting white, wealthy people in my New Jersey homeland (i.e., 9/11) and the other primarily and immediately affecting those who’d been long forgotten by those hateful elites in charge of America (i.e., Hurricane Katrina). I arrived in Florida in early-mid-August, 2001, and I left on September 4th, 2005. Not-quite forty-nine months, less a couple of summers and obligatory holiday visits. That is the hyphen of my life, that is the hyphen (The Dickensian even supposing— ) that has defined my existence. Even-supposing and even-still.

These two calamities and my evolution in understanding them defined my youth. Childhood was everything before 9/11; adulthood, everything after. In between, however, were my years in Florida, a liminal state belonging to neither childhood nor adulthood, just as Florida itself belongs properly to neither the South nor to the North. Consciousness may have dawned in New Jersey, but my understanding of myself as an autonomous human being occurred in Florida. My first term of college, as a Russian major: vi Flu-Ree-dyuh. The lessening of shameful shackles to my family: vi Sara-sot-yuh. A sense of myself: Mee-nyeh zavoot Mir-an-da. (I gave up on Russian after one term)


You show me those numbers like that on my dying bed, I will tell you this. I will tell you, I will narrate this to you because narrative is important – everyone has got a story! I still believe, I still really believe this. And my story, my colonialist myopia, still involves a technicolor super-saturated Florida that was never mine, never existed, a place slowly dying out but that was irrevocably mine for the taking and the reworking into my own story. Even now, my mental construct of this place seems to exist only as it serves my needs. This is because I had the privilege to leave.


In the deceptively and poetically small space of that hyphen, I lived a million lives, more or less. I became a real person, not one defined by her parents’ unending war or the shortcomings of the public education system. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a place that was all my own, where I discovered music (that others had discovered well before me), where I embarked upon life with a sincerity now unfashionable.

All I knew or continue to know, is that I could walk to the bay, and I could feel the life pulsing through everything around me; if I stayed too still in one place, I always thought, the tendrils of a plant would wrap around me and then I would just be part of the system. I felt so alive in every cell in my body, the world was so resplendent with infinite possibility.

Here I found friendships that last until today, here we ran around barefoot in a multi-mile radius, here we snuck into buildings and fountains at night and swam, here we danced all night and talked all day and sucked dry the vegan protein marrow of life. Here bookcases sagged and we memorized ISBN numbers (or at least, I did) of Critical Editions and here we analyzed the discourses of modernity, here we protested hegemony and here we tried substances and expanded our minds and gave back to the community. Here we found and then lost one another.

Here I sat so many full-moon nights in the memorial chair on the bay, where that one student in the 1980s had apocryphally self-immolated, and it was here I regarded the mother fox. I did this late in the night every night for weeks and then we became tentative friends, of a sort. Before spirit animals were an ironic white girl thing, the fox was very sincerely mine, and I stayed up late nights to trot down to the bay and regard this wondrous creature as I listened to music on my headphones –

(there is also an important dash in “One Art,” you know)

Here I watched so many beautiful moons and talked of so many beautiful books, the inadequacy of words permeating every conversation about the beautiful world of language and its discontents. Here I had my heart broken once, twice, and thrice. Here I laughed and learned to be an adult far from my fatally toxic family. Here I learned to cook and research and wrote 250,000 words on my blog (not this one). Here I experimented, and tried, and yet despite everything, by the end of it I was still barely even a human being. Just as Joseph Campbell’s heroes must descend into the bowels of a hell – and I am no hero – I had to descend into what has become a decade of loneliness and isolation. Here I smoked a lot of pot and heard the “holy shit!” at the end of “O Comely” and felt at one with that beautiful synesthesiac world of sound. And you can still hear it, at the very end, on the left-channel, if you listen really closely.

The dark tunnels in my mind became my only companion, in those years no longer bracketed by that humble hyphen (2005- ?). All my life, it supposedly only began when I got on the plane that day, and even my sarcastic even supposing with its precious and deliberate m-dash…how ephemeral life; how fleeting our consciousness. What even is it to be alive, within a world crawling with so much cruel and competitive life?

In the hours and days before I left, the news was covering nothing but Katrina: disaster porn and poverty porn and oh-shit this is America, our refuse, isn’t that a tsk-tsk-shame, give to the Red Cross and it’s all good, aren’t They walking all around raping women indiscriminately and looting anyway. This was nothing like 9/11, which had happened just hours, it seemed, from when I’d begun at college, and when I was too dumb to do anything but react and cry and look for names I knew on victim lists on I had been able to see those towers from my hometown; parents of my childhood friends had died that day. But forty-seven months of protesting Bush, and reading widely, had made me far more critical of America’s corporate-fascist imperialist project, and all for what? And I regarded Katrina’s aftermath with bloodshot eyes, and a firm conviction that I had to get out of this hideous excuse for a country, at least for a little while, as long as someone else was willing to give me a visa…

(Esoterica: Katrina was the name of a close friend from middle school who had decided, in early seventh grade, that she hated me and would tell everyone my terrible sixth-grade secrets. I find the idea of her name becoming a vindictive and violent storm slightly vindicating)

The night Katrina hit Florida, I was volunteering for  dog rescue drive. I had agreed, impulsively, to drive my trusty old ’93 Saturn up to, I think, Tampa and then down the Gulf Coast in order to take an adopted dog to his new home, since nobody else was willing to do the last legs of the rescue relay due to the hurricane, and I wanted to end my time in America with kindness to animals. With the hurricane nipping at my heels, I drove the perfectly sweet dog down to what turned out to be a nominally sober woman. She cheerfully informed me that she had lied about many important things in her Internet application to adopt the dog because “she needed him” and “they needed each other.” The dog, not cleared for a home with children, nervously regarded her grade-school-aged son as she almost literally thumped the AA Big Book.

A hurricane was hitting, I was leaving the country in a few days, and now I was worried this dog would end up thrown away again. I still wonder sometimes how that turned out (“even supposing –” a mordant inside joke from Bleak House that I use as a textual signifier for things that I can’t quite translate from my head).

I drove back to Sarasota that night, focusing only on the endearing image of the woman greeting the dog. The wind picked up and I drove faster, feeling that I was and was not dying anyway. I was twenty-two years old; I was invincible; I was leaving everyone and everything I knew and everyone I knew who loved me in order to go to a country I’d never even visited and live there; and somewhere in all of it I was mildly complicit in leaving a dog with someone so clearly not equipped to take care of him.

For me, the best time in my life always ends in that vacuum, the lonely gate in Tampa airport, waiting and waiting for that flight. One life ended then. Since, it’s been nothing but loneliness and loneliness. I ripped up my life once, twice, thrice, four-ice times, or maybe I didn’t. Sometimes I think I died then and everything since has been a terrible and occasionally wonderful nightmare. What really happened that day was not the glorious and well-intentioned teaching experience about which I had waxed rhapsodic to the admissions committee; instead, it seemed, I signed myself up for a lifetime of meals, alone; concerts, alone; movies, alone; reading alone at night. Going to be alone at night and waking up alone in the morning. The vibrant young person I had once been in Florida, dancing all night at parties, was no more.

Instead, I was merely scrambling to survive, and falling endlessly through a void. Christ, can I even say anything about my life anymore without it being some twee reference to Indie rock? Sometimes the endless referents make me feel more connected, sometimes – most of the time – they make me feel connected and unreal, as though all I have in life is a Kristevan web of masturbatory, indulgent and pretentious references that I’m trying, desperately, to translate into something the people around me can understand.

I don’t know. What is it to know? Wisdom, certainly, is knowing you don’t know, and the older I get, the more I’ve read but yet – the less I know. So I will leave it an exercise to the reader to determine the meaning of these words I have carelessly spewed forth into the uncaring and unforgiving digital void.

— even supposing —

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I don’t want a bunch of overly-eager and suffocatingly supportive people jumping on me the second I post here. I really don’t. Is it possible to just have an audience of exactly the people you imagine, even if they’re not even real?

Honestly, my mother found this blog and so I stopped writing here for a long time, because, well, it should be self-explanatory. I come from people who have absolutely no understanding of boundaries, and they never will.

But, I guess I have to up my Marketing and Self-Branding Games because hey, I’ve been writing a book for the better part of a year and a half now and, even though I absolutely hesitate to write this sentence because of its entailments and implications and the communications it will spark, I’m close to having a draft done, and someday i hope to publish it so I can have a new, exciting set of problems to complain about. First World Problems. This is also the title of the book.
BUT, I’m having trouble focusing on it today, and one of the big problems in my creative life has always been that I find it much easier to write when I know there is the immediate reward or gratification of an audience. At the same time, when I think of certain people as part of my audience (viz., my mother) I totally shut down and can’t write at all.

Also, I am uniquely cursed in that despite the fact that I am very improbably a professional writer, I’m also a terribly unfashionable extrovert. And, but, I spend enough of my time alone, and I always have, and I suppose I always will.

There’s just so damned much to say about nothing. I’m pretty sure that’s the biggest takeaway I got out of my six wasted years in grad school.

Here, I just did over 200 words on the topic of nothing, and I’m still not to the point, by which I mean the vague impulse that spurred me to log in and click “new post.” I suppose maybe I’ll reboot this now, to try and write about things, again, to some kind of vague imagined digital audience, and if anything ever happen with the book, at least I can say I have made a perfunctory effort to Connect with My Digital Public.

So speaking of Publics, not to be confused with Publix, the Southern grocery store chain, what do you all think of Habermas?

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I blog here sometimes.

Geek Buffet

Girlchild, by the improbably-named Tupelo Hassman, is in spite of itself fast becoming my favorite recent novel. I know, how very middlebrow of me. Actually, the technical title is Girlchild: A Novel, but one of the few things I hate more than genocide is when a book feels the need to condescendingly point out that it’s A Novel, as opposed to garden hose or a life insurance policy or a cabbage or something, so I will just ignore that. Today, I will explicate three reasons you should read this book (or four, if “Miranda really liked it” counts as a reason). As a brief summary, Girlchild is the story not only of Rory Hendrix, who grows up in a trailer park community in Reno, Nevada in the 1970s and 1980s, but of the women in her family. It is fundamentally a character study.

1) Girlchilddoesn’t shy…

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Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster WallaceEvery Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ironically, I want to say that my experience reading this book – which I did voluntarily – was totally “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”

Beyond that, I don’t really know what to say about this book or how to assess it.

Part of the reason I think I’m rating this book so low is that it’s so unbelievably sad and unfair that it exists at all. And that’s not really D.T. Max’s fault. Another reason is that what I really took away from reading this was just what a fine writer Wallace was, which consequently heightens the weaknesses of Max’s own writing. I mean, how can you write such a boring, joyless and pedestrian biography of one of the most inventive writers of the past fifty years?

This book is rather superficial. I don’t think it pretends not to be, so I can’t really fault it for that. The marketing materials even say it’s the “FIRST!!!111” biography, not the best, not the most critical, etc. In that sense I think I resented it for its rushed, middlebrow-magazine qualities. It is merely a recitation of facts.

The book is also heavy on telling and light on showing. I found myself annoyed at parts when Max would elide seemingly important episodes, or gloss over them, or throw in a “hey by the way,” like towards the end when Max nonchalantly mentions that Wallace was essentially a political conservative. I felt like entire stories were reduced to sentences and asides, which maybe is the closest Max came to being an inventive or stylistically interesting writer. Although it’s sad that Max has this task at all (okay, not really – this is probably the most important book this dude will ever write), I never once got the sense the author was having any fun or even that he really enjoyed Wallace’s writing. The lack of direct quotes from Wallace’s friends and family made me wonder exactly what they thought of this project. The book was oddly sterile and lacking in affection for the subject, his work, or anyone in his life.

I know the NY Times review mentioned how this biography made Wallace seem like a jerk, and while I don’t think biographers have any obligation to represent people positively, I think this dovetailed poorly with the more superficial aspects of the biography. After reading this book, I still don’t feel like I know anything more than a ton of facts about DFW, though I guess since apparently he really liked The Wire (something Max mentions several times) I should finally get around to watching it.

I wanted to rate this book higher. I do think D.T. Max is to be commended for having engaged in a daunting task, and nobody wants to write the biography of a talented writer. The task was complicated even more by the need to stretch out minor aspects of Wallace’s life to fill pages, which just made me really depressed all over again. If this was some clever trick on Max’s part, then maybe I’ve underestimated the book. Nah, I don’t think I have. It just seems like an absolute travesty that the biography of such an important writer has to discuss grade school poetry because the author in question died so horrifically young.

That’s why I’m giving this a gentleman’s 2 stars. If you want to give people the impression you have a superficial understanding of DFW’s work, like maybe to get them to sleep with you, then this is probably a great book to read. But if you wanted to gain at least moderate insight into the writing, process, influences, and life of DFW, the book is a big disappointment.

Time may show that the dull, superficial qualities of this book are actually part of some stylistic project on Max’s part. But I doubt it. If so, I’ll adjust this to 3 stars.

View all my reviews

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And now for something completely different…I am too angsty even to post all the angsty shit I actually write here. So!

Here is an amusing, possibly too-inspired-by-the-Bloggess’-style-yet-100%-transcribed-verbatim conversation I had with my Marxist Housemate on Friday:

I pulled an onion out of the drawer in the fucking refrigerator and freaked out because it was filled with small holes that went all the way through to the other side, like some fucked up children’s toy that also smelled like an onion.

I said, and this is an exact quote: “[Marxist Housemate], did you – no. There’s no way even YOU did this.”
[Marxist Housemate]: WAIT!
[Marxist Housemate]: No, wait, sorry, I was trying to smoke [redacted] out of that onion.
Me: …
(I am rarely rendered speechless. but I was just then)
[Marxist Housemate]: It was disgusting. it burned.
Me: Wasn’t that sort of the point? What made you think this was a good idea? Also, why did you return it to the refrigerator after you had smoked out of it?!
[Marxist Housemate]: (shrug) I’ll buy you another onion.


(He hasn’t bought me a new onion yet)

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detritus and practice

In order to make myself continue to write, today I am not going to open, fuss over, and subsequently discard any of the 15 drafts I have open for this site.

Really. 15. Ish. More if I count text files.

Today I am just going to write and hit post and never look back at it again.  It’s more for me – the act and practice of doing – than for anyone else. Props to de Certeau here. Writing and walking and reading and being and strategizing. Let me make vague gestures in the absence of actually understanding anything.


It’s late afternoon on Friday. I am determined to celebrate, along with the working world, the idea of 48 hours of impending freedom from the capitalist apparatus, even if in practice it is not my future.

It is Friday, and while I sit here and wait for my tutoring client, I think about how glad i am I moved here, and I’m telling myself over and over again the rules by which I will now live my life.


It’s cheesy, but every time I drive east for this meeting or go east on the train and see HOLY SHIT A FUCKING MOUNTAIN HAS ANYONE EVER SEEN THAT BEFORE? – I feel glad all over again.

I hate being a cliche, but I hated more what I was becoming as I languished in my previous incarnation.


I feel I haven’t been here long enough to really Understand and Get To Know the city, but this is everything I want. Suddenly again I feel permanence and a sense of the future, rather than  an all-encompassing terror and feeling of impending doom. This feels like a place that will last. This feels like a place owned by hippies, geeks, and hipsters and at some point or another in my life I’ve been all of those. I live in a poor area. Every day I hear the extremely complicated issues of poverty playing out in extremely complicated arguments; I am extremely poor.


My best (only?) friend showed up, almost like a metaphor, so while having an unplanned roommate may be tense and stressful, it’s also saving me money and giving me some human interaction. I’m still terribly lonely. But I’d rather be horribly lonely here than ever spend another day in Indiana again.


Seven years ago on Wednesday, I left Florida. I haven’t been back since. I sat alone in the airport terminal as the late afternoon light bled out into evening. I got on a plane, and my long lonely post-college life began.

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“they say time may give you more than your poor bones could ever take”

At this point in my life, I have lived in exactly two places where merely walking around made every cell in my body feel alive and joyous, where I really felt like being alive mattered, and where I could feel, almost to the point of tears, the struggle of things all around me – where I felt that this struggle was part of some primordial and unending narrative.

The first of these two places is where I am now: Portland, Oregon. I do not yet have the experience or gravitas to write about this new place of mine, other than to say I definitely made the right choice in coming here and that I intend to make this my long-term home. One supposes I will write more about that at a later date.

The second place, though, was Sarasota, Florida, and it’s Sarasota I want to write about today. All the places and all the people I loved, I’ve left behind, and I’m done with that now. I’m here to stay and I need to focus on developing the kinds of relationships that make me like myself. But I miss what I’ve left behind; I miss my beautiful, warm home with the exotic flora and fauna and the palindromic zip code. I miss the subtlety of seasons that were there if you knew how to look.

But, the past lives in my bones, or at least, that’s how I feel about it. They say all your cells regenerate every eleven years. If that’s the case, then in only 4 years there will be not one cell left of me that has ever been in Sarasota: not a skin cell that felt the bay sunset, not an eye cell that saw an osprey, not a brain cell that considered the rhetoric of Florida and the irrevocable passage of time at an estate sale, not a hair blown out of place dancing late at night with friends.

(( so where do memories live? ))

Soon enough, all my stories and all my memories will fade, so, I keep writing things down in the hopes of launching what Dawkins would call a meme. So. This one is for Sarasota, the place where I became a real person, the place I liked myself most, the place to which I can never, ever return, lest I lose the illusions by which I live my life. Maybe none of this that follows is true, but it is how I am choosing to tell the story.


I. History

What I liked about Sarasota was that, at least when I lived there, several worlds seemed to collide at once, constantly. Here, the grotesque postmodern bourgeois retirement world of golf shoes and condos met the beautiful technicolor mid-century dream of picture postcards and modest bungalows and the wonder of the modern highway. Here the picture postcards met the steaming hot cracker heritage: cut-off jeans and boiled peanuts at gas stations. Here the cracker culture met the fertile mixing ground of those who for whatever reason were beginning their Chapter Two in this beautiful swamp. Here, all the above groups mixed with the Amish and Mennonites. In a shadow I could see the past: we used to go to a bar called Tiki Hut, which was exactly what something from the 1960s would have looked like (or so we thought: here is historicity, cf. Philip Rose), complete with ash trays, hula girls, and some truly amazing Mai Tais. In a box at a chilly bookstore, I could pull out the old postcards and try to write a story of my own making onto a history that wasn’t mine, all within in the curl of a neatly-penned cursive G. At an estate sale, I could put on my soberest shoes and affect the kind of person who would care about custom-made furniture, though I only left with vintage paperbacks and coffee mugs.

Sarasota, to me, was a bouillabaisse of all the prominent eras of the long 20th century, discretely preserved and floating around, and I was excited to be part of it. Now I’m gone from it, too, and I wonder if I even left behind any ephemeral traces. A postcard, a coffee mug, even a finger print. What of me remains there? Legend, I hope.

II. Mystic

Vuh-Flor-EE-dyuh, I intoned along with the rest of my Elementary Russian I class at 10 AM Eastern Time each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday during the fall 2001 semester.

In Florida, I whispered to myself at night, during my endless walks down Tamiami Trail and the border of the bay, trespassing rules be damned. And that prepositional phrase contained so much, as I came to discover on my long constitutionals, tracing the outline of the bay like a lover’s body.

People are so dismissive of Florida. It’s all about images and Disney and hyperbolic perceptions of weather, but the truth is this: I love Florida because it is just so aggressively alive. It fascinated – still fascinates- me. At night, often barefoot, I would walk to the edge of the water on the bay, where untamed trees met low water. I would lie down in what I privately called the bower (with apologies to Toni Morrison, I suppose), an area of tree branches that sloped down nearly to make a room, with the only opening the water. The Bower was in a dark, wild area, one of the few places vuh Flor-EE-dyuh left that hadn’t been touched by building mania. My small body and my music and the enormity of the nature around me worked in harmony, and I still think back upon that when I think about the isolated moments in my life when I really felt I had any sort of understanding of the world.

I liked to go to the bower and feel a continuity of history, to try to experience what people felt when they came here — there– B.A.C. (Before Air Conditioning). Even the bugs crawling on me, even the pine needles didn’t faze me; I could open my eyes and sometimes there would be a grand, nearly metaphorical bird only a few feet from me in the water. Sometimes there was a fox; once, she and I sat and stared at each other for several long minutes in the beautiful, hot night.

Always I had music on my CD player (oh! obsolescence!) and for once, I felt like I was part of an ongoing narrative; I felt alive and purposeful. Everything was sincere and new, yet part of something bigger and cosmic. A few times, I saw a dolphin in the water and it was all so beautiful I wondered if I was dead. Here there was no Disney; here there was no golf; here there was no flood insurance: here there was only the world as I could believe a God might have intended it, because in those moments I could really believe that there was, in fact, a God.

And every breath I took, I felt like I was part of a larger thing, that even if I lay down and banyans swallowed me up, I would still be part of a larger living system – that the essence of whatever I was would somehow continue. It was there in those nights, when I lay on the ground and stared at the stars, that I really understood the preciousness of life (and not in the vapid American fundamentalist Christian rhetoric, something deeper, something meaningful). It was there that I really understood that life fights, that everything is a battle around us, that the desire to remain alive and survive is common to every single living organism.

The infinite battles raged on scales from the microscopic to the galactic – as I anthropomorphized them. All around me, some organisms were winning, others losing; everything at the expense of something else and all somehow coalescing into a system.

I didn’t do nearly as many drugs as this piece would indicate, but it was there that I felt a connectedness that extended from the dirty under me to every cell in my body to every bacterium in the air all the way up to the stars, overhead.

I don’t really know how to end this. Those nights are so long past I can no longer be sure they really happened. Most of the best things in my life have happened when I’m alone, and I have nobody to share them with. Now, here’s a pat and ready-made ending: This is why I write: so when I finally lose the homeostatic battle, and nothing of me remains, the meme I sent out tonight might continue.
This ending feels like a minor chord, and I hate it, but nobody reads this anyway. And I suppose if it worked for postmodern composers it will work for me.


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From the other side

I’ve been here a week now, and I wish I had some wise thing to say about Perspective or Difference or Narrativizing or Chaptering. But instead I’m as usual behind on a ton of things for my business, totally overwhelmed by unpacking, and the fact that I am utterly alone here is just now hitting me hard, though the counter-valence is that I was just as alone back where I was; everyone I knew there was a painful reminder of the things I gave up, or that had been taken from me. This is the kind of alone I need, because it’s a beginning; back there it was just endings going on too long.

Everything I try to write, I second-guess into oblivion. Including this. My mind is a scary place to be. Did you know that on Jupiter there have been storms raging for hundreds, maybe even thousands or millions, of years? My mind is the same way, but more claustrophobic.

I go on long walks, frowning, staring at the ground or the sky, but never, never meeting the eyes of the people who dwell in between. I have nobody to tell of my observations and thoughts on these walks. Sometimes, I take pictures; by the time I get home, I feel too self-conscious to write anything in here. Overwhelmed (reciting my mental to-do list because I’m so worried I’ll forget something). Exhausted (most days begin at 3:15 AM to tutor online at 3:30 AM, or “old 6:30”).

Somehow, someday, I’m going to have to write it all down, the ultimate act of narcissism, depending on my mood. I hope I still can write. I am so paralyzed by frustration because all I really want to do in life is write, and circumstances and my own feeble talent have conspired to make it nearly impossible. Compounding that is something I’ve thought about a lot lately, which is the lavish and inappropriate praise I got as a child and adolescent in this regard. I know the adults in my life meant well, but I wish they had meant well in a more productive way. I spent far too long hearing I was the world’s most amazing young writer, and then getting yelled at by my father for not writing enough (“You’re a writer who DOESN’T WRITE ANYTHING!” he once yelled at me). I spent far too much time Being a Writer, stamping envelopes and perfecting a pout and fussing over portfolios, and not enough time Actually Writing.

But Actually Writing is so lonely. Sometimes I just prefer to talk to (or at) people; there are no people left in my life to talk to (to whom I can talk) (because I speak in Grad School-ese and don’t end sentences with prepositions, and the vicissitudes of academic admissions committees have scattered me to the winds three times over) (and, oh, the annoying parentheticals – multiply all these factors together; imagine each one cubed: I consider myself an incredibly annoying person and I imagine that’s one of the few things I have in common with many people: they would likely agree that I am annoying).

Also, I’m probably just incredibly lazy. I have the attention span of a goldfish and Napoleonic ambition, which is a pretty terrible combination of character traits.

Once, someone I loved and respected told me that writing about literature and film was still writing; I believed it and now…I’m on the cliff of 30; I feel like I’m 80; I’ll be paying off student loans til after I’m dead. At last, a legacy. To show for all this, in my boxes of books I have one refereed journal article on an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, a book chapter on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a book chapter on 1950s dating films.. I have a grotesquely large master’s diploma, still encased in bubble wrap (a metaphor for the loans, always the loans). I have an ornately framed college diploma that I hope to God is actually in one of these boxes. From the years spent typing in order to pay for food while engaging in such fatuous pursuits, my joints and knuckles are deteriorating; here, students, you see the hands of someone who never really worked but typed constantly: in these joints we may observe the decline of the Western world.

It didn’t work out. I know you meant well, and really believed in me, and I’m sorry I disappointed you. But I spent so long thinking about writing about literature that I never wrote anything of note, not really. However, the past 7 years or so have written on my body the inextricable sad ending of hubris and useless skills and the fate of wannabe intellectuals in vicious, late capitalist American society. The story’s all there, in the ancillary documents that make up my life, and I never had anything left to write.

That wasn’t what I wanted to write about. Dear 3 of you who read this, how does one even describe this? Has this word vomit even got a topic?


What I wanted to write about is the liminal states, the 2,200 miles in the car, the easy narrative of days 1, 2, and 3, and start-over. For that’s an easy story to tell. Too easy.

On this trip, I wish I could have observed more and worried – and Internetted – less. I want to write about the vast expanse of America, the moments when I stared out the car window and suddenly understood a little bit about what the authors of patriotic songs meant when they unironically wrote paeans to it. The moments when without a hint of self-consciousness, I felt genuine awe at the landscape, and there was no cell phone signal so I couldn’t quickly ameliorate my feelings with some Instagrammed photo filtered all to hell, filtering out the real, distancing myself from it. What I wanted to write about was the connection I felt, how only through driving can you really get a sense of the obscene vastness of this landscape. I wanted to write about the relief I felt in noticing that even though the landscape, in many places, was a Looney Tunes-like loop of the same big box chain stores in endless succession, there were differences, and somehow stubborn regionalism remains, just underground, in the face of overwhelming and destructive globalism.

I want to write about it, and maybe I just did, even if my adjectives did not quite paint adequately to you the images and landscapes and voices.

But the thing I need to keep most in mind is that there’s time for all that writing. That for the first time, I’m not really approaching any massive, life-altering deadline. I cut the poison out of my life, but now I’m not sure what is left. It’s always been hard for me to understand the future as a vast expanse; first, I think about death so much it’s unhealthy and embarrassing to admit, and second, and my entire life was chaptered into uncertain segments during which my fate was to be decided by external authorities: high school, college, post-baccalaureate fellowships, master’s, PhD, the vagaries of the job market.

It both defined and destroyed me. And now it’s gone, and even though I know it’s for the better, I don’t know who I am or how to think about anything more than a few months into the future. It’s late afternoon at the end of July, 2012; it’s evening on the east coast and there’s a breeze outside. The sky is blue and the trees in this place are so verdant it feels like a hallucination. It’s July, 2012, and this is it, this IS my real, grown-up life, my finally-time-to-write. So I did, sort of.

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2012, Summer: The First Law of Thermodynamics

(The song that goes with this piece of writing is “Cotton” by the Mountain Goats, and I guess I should apologize for the highly derivative first few sentences.)

This story is for the people who have ever looked around their tenuous and confining place of residence, where they couldn’t stop adding, multiplying, calculating interest in their heads. This story is for the people who realize nobody else will help them, so they table panic for a few minutes and construct elaborate artifices by which to give themselves the illusion of control over their spiraling situations. This story is for the people who bit their lips and dug through their things until they found something to sell, recalling the stories of great-grandmothers who clutched their pearls over the stove until one day they had to sell the pearls to cook the things on the stove, and then one day the stove was gone, too, and then they had only sandwiches, and stories.

It’s not really a story: it’s just a sketch, and a futile, inadequate one at that, and it’s also true, so I don’t know what that makes it. A blog entry? Oh.

In all the different places, in all the zip codes and all the time zones, in all the states and all the countries, I always had my books. They were an ever-revolving selection, to be sure, to reflect ever-revolving tastes and interests. Where other people have a family whose faces they see every morning, I saw a calming and familiar set of book spines, and those were really the only material possessions I cared about.

And now summer is so hot time seems to be melting into itself like that stereotype of a Dali painting, and yet again, I’m so desperate I am selling off my books, but this time I’m gradually – in 3 or 4 fell swoops – selling them all, or at least, all the academic ones. This may not sound worthy of such hand-wringing, but it’s like a mechanic selling his (or her) tools. Because I am selling the tools of my trade, at pennies on the dollar.

It works like this: late at night I start to panic about money and feel like I’m falling through infinite space again, the wind rushing around me in a way that screams the amount of student loans I have. And I have to do something. But I can’t do anything, except make pretend-hard choices: “Do I want to keep Kierkegaard still, or do I want to have $5 to put towards my loans?” And I fuss over book stacks and carry them to my car and wait for the book shop to open.

So I get in my emergency-purchase car (i.e., the straw that broke my financial back, my getaway vehicle) and I drive across town in the migraine-inducing traffic and construction. And I hope that the guy buys my books today; I have changed from standing and holding those books in a seminar room, hoping I could adequately articulate how I understood them, to standing in a strip mall, holding these books and hoping I didn’t underline too much because, oh hell, I’d like to get $3 instead of $1 for the Lacan that originally cost $40, and so forth (“Phone bill, or move Cahiers du Cinema Volume II one more time and hope I read it this year?”). Here is the point in my routine where I realize that despite my liability of a liberal arts education, I can compound Stafford loan interest in my head. I wish I had pearls to twirl, though if I had, they would have been sold off long ago to pay some outrageous and usurious school fee. I wish I had a grandmother (or even a mother) to call.

The women who really succeed in this society, I think, staring blankly at the neon-orange vests of the gainfully employed road builders, have this same problem, but with designer bags and shoes. So maybe there’s hope for me yet, somehow. I bite my lip and think about how my new mantra is do what matters, do what lasts; and then I think about how these books are not transformative works in and of themselves; they are only social capital. They were only artifice, a prettified means of nearly aggressively asserting intellectual capital within the last gasping subculture that actually knows what intellectual capital is, or cares about it at all.

So then I take few quiet-deep breaths and remind myself, these aren’t the books that made me who I am (those – are already packed away: the Dickens and the Woolf and the Proust and the Fallada and the David Foster Wallace, and so forth). These are the books that represented the person I wanted to be, the person who could never be, the person who’s dead now: my aspirational self lost to the realities of being a capitalist subject.

There are no great cultural landmarks to be found in second-rate media research published by politicked and poorly-funded university presses (I tell myself as traffic grinds forward a yard). None of these books will be read in a hundred years, or even twenty five (I assure myself as I heave them out of the backseat and into the store). I’m one of only five people who have ever read these (I rationalize as I stare at my shoes and the book guy judges the value of my education). If there was a fire, I wouldn’t even save any of these; if there was a fire and I had time to save books, I’d definitely take some POETRY OR NOVELS FIRST (I think, in all caps, as I shove twenty or thirty dollars into my tattered wallet, trying to look like I don’t care; poetry or novels first: my financial house’s version of the Titanic evacuation procedure).

And, oh, but I do care. But it’s more about me than some books. And I need to think about me right now (ergo, blog). So I will reframe the gaping holes in my bookshelves as opportunities, not horrible, self-inflicted loss; they will be considered rational decision-making in response to external pressures, not heart-wrenching events.

All those years, all those agonizingly bourgeois decisions about toothbrush holders and kitchen accents and shower curtain rings and pots and pans bought second-hand at yard sales. And now I parcel my things away into boxes and bags: the Goodwill bag, the recycling bag, the sell-books-for-cash bag. This is what all it comes down to. Stuff doesn’t last; ideas do. I once wanted to start traditions and leave legacies. Now I am more humble. I only want to break even and I only want to surround myself with ideas that represent the traditions and legacies I once hoped to leave. I want those ideas in my mind, not on my shelves. I have no great ideas or great voice in me; I just need to amplify what’s good enough about what already exists.

I’m starting my entire life over and I’m absolutely terrified.

At least being someone who voluntarily complicates their own life is a lot more reasonable than being the kind of person who stays up past 2 AM crying and pontificating over selling some books.

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“the process of becoming obsolete or the condition of being nearly obsolete “



It’s a lilting word, a little like “Lolita,” yet a harsh one that trips me up when I think of things fallen away, gone and useless now. I went to a conference about obsolescence a few years ago, and it awakened in me a heightened awareness of the permanence of obsolescence as a process “always already” happening. We are the primitive people of the future, et cetera. 

Dear future people, even though, the way things are going, you probably won’t even be marginally literate:

It’s Friday night, or 2 AM on Saturday, May 19th, 2012, and I’m ripping all my CDs onto my laptop. I had given up on maintaining digital archives of my CDs long ago…but now I kind of want to get rid of the 300 disc CD changer that just takes up tons of room and put the CDs into storage…and next week I am flying to Portland to look for an apartment, and obviously the most responsible thing to do is to stay up all night 8 days before to make sure I have plenty of music on my laptop. Right? 

That CD player itself is obsolescent. I bought it from Stephen in 2004 right before he went to Chicago. I used it for one semester, left it for safekeeping with my parents when I moved to Europe, and didn’t have room for it in New York. By the time I moved to Indiana, everything was digital. Time went on outside my CD player for so many years. It’s like those ephemeral items you see at yard sales sometimes, items somebody stuck in a closet for years, unopened, and now suddenly a cereal box is an artifact. Or wasn’t it already? 

The world has passed me by in my stupid pursuit of worthless education, and I have to stop hiding in my apartment with my 2004-era electronics and music and dreams and attitudes. 

I keep thinking that supposedly, human cells regenerate every 11 years. But some of these CDs, I’ve had since I was a kid. They’re frozen, just like the CD player, my embarrassing tastes intact. And I’m ripping them anyway because somehow the $15 I spent 18 years ago seems worth it. 

Some of them are burned on store-brand Cds for stores that no longer exist (e.g., CompUSA).

Some of them are scratched so badly that I can’t copy them anymore.

Some of them show the progression of my always-horrible handwriting into total illegibility.

Some aren’t labeled at all.

Together, though, they make a mottled, messy patchwork of the soundtrack of my rotten life, 1995 to present.

And for right now I can stare at my iTunes library and feel I have an autobiography, of sorts, at least until the next hard drive crash.

(That’s the thing with living digitally, you know: after a while you get used to the permanence of impermanence, the holding-onto of nothing, the commodification of nothing)

And maybe later tonight, if and when I finally burn the last one, I will finally have a digital archive on my “new” (6 month old) laptop…another archive that is totally ephemeral, and incomplete, and destined for destruction during a future hardware malfunction.

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