To Believe in this Livin'
An incomplete list of topics I’ve notebooked since May:
(one notebook gold one orange)
The lyrics to John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” a song earworming me since this summer, when Ruby karaoked it on the dance floor in Wisconsin. Prine says his pivotal image was a woman with her hands plunged in dishwater. God it’s so good. She doesn’t even want a new rodeo, just a poster of an old one. “How in the hell can a person go to work in the morning / and come home in the evening and have nothing to say.” I remember sometimes when I was a kid and couldn’t sleep, and I’d come out into the kitchen and Mom would be singing to Bonnie Raitt singing to John Prine. In my head all these voices braid. Ruby made me cry.
Lines from Alissa Nutting’s Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, which I bought on impulse one clear cold morning at Innisfree Bookstore, when nobody else was there and Ella was playing Jonathan Richman. “That’s how I feel about Wolf Rainbow -- I’m afraid of falling into it, becoming the music and losing myself there,” says Nutting. “I can’t stand what you do,” sings Richman. “I’m in love with your eyes.”
Paragraphs from Mark Aguhar’s tumblr, which my students wrote to in class one day. “I believe in anger and rage, controlled consensual violence, temporary separatist fantasias, the destruction of reprosexuality, my personal hedgemony, transgressive fashion, body positivity, and making looks.” Pick one. Write it at the top of a blank page. Fill up the page. You don’t have to read anything to the class, unless you want to or have a question for us. We talked about how complication and confusion are truths, are real and only maybe red flags. Aguhar did not intend to make teaching work, or art to represent the entirety of the LGBTIQA community, but to express their situated experience of the spectrum.
A list of ways to teach music by playing music, not talking about it: Mimicry. Dialogue. Purpose. Sanford Friedman’s Conversations with Beethoven, which is the last year of the composer’s life told through his journal and notes people wrote to him in it. The Lucky Dragons performances where people got to hold a balloon to feel the bass. Work. Emotion. The way Brecht Evens draws cities and parties. Brian Eno’s street accident. John Cage’s wild mushroom hunts. To say specifically how my love’s eyes look. This might be a list for something else. I am still learning how to talk about music.
A condensed biography of Suzanne Mallouk.
A grocery list: onion, sausage, can tomatoes, eggs, tortillas.
Drawings of the fool, the hanged man, the hermit, and in-between them.
Research on steam shovels, for an article.
“Having a device and explaining it within the work is actually two devices.”
Notes from the #fundblackfutures action in Chicago on October 24th, which are confidential but present, and half-written in pencil because my ink ran out.
Directions to Butterfat Studios, where Tine made an arrow on my inner right arm, after -- for me; probably not her -- Paul Celan’s poem about the arrows that take their targets with them. As translated by Popov and McHugh: “Each arrow you shoot off / carries its own target / into the decidedly / secret / tangle.” There are diamonds and lucky eyes in my arrow. I don’t mind people asking what it means, though I know I don’t have to tell them.
Part of a letter Maeve Brennan wrote to Tillie Olsen, though I forget where I read it: “I have been trying to think of the words to say to you that would never fail to lift you up when you are too tired or too sad not to be downcast. But I can think only of a reminder -- you are all it has. You are all your work has. It has nobody else and never had anybody else.” You you you all all all never too sad
Part of Frank O’Hara’s poem “Mayakovsky,” which Matthew Goulish taught me to read aloud when I’m feeling sludged: “Now I am quietly waiting for / the catastrophe of my personality / to seem beautiful again, / and interesting, and modern.” I like how the catastrophe of personality is different than a catastrophic personality. Catastrophe is only a sudden turn.
Parts of poems by Julian Brolaski, because I’ve been reading these aloud to the apartment after I turn on the heat and before dinner. “intentional disgrace / getting oh-aff / I sleep where I sit / gog and magog / ope myopia.” I know xir poems better after I hear them. I remember intentional disgrace day because King Soopers had mums on sale, so I bought burnt-gold ones and read aloud while I put them in a vase.
A row of exclamation points written in front of John Singer Sargent’s oil painting of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth. The dress she wore, for real, in London 1888 was designed by Alice Comyns-Carr, and crocheted by Ada Nettleship from green wool and blue tinsel. It’s embroidered in gold and one thousand beetle wings, which Comyns-Carr said gave it the look of both “soft chain armour” and reptile scales. Sargent painted Terry over seven feet tall, pale as milk with braids to her knees, crowning her own self with King Duncan’s crown (a moment that doesn’t happen in Shakespeare’s play). Even scanned into the Internet, the painting makes me stop breathing a minute. I stopped even longer when I stood in front of her with Jessa at the Met. To help us start again Jessa showed me how the bustle on her dress could turn into pockets. I loved that whole show. Everyone is dressed in incredible, expensive fabric and looks like they just had sex.
Notes from research to help a client who writes in his accent, which is great because he has a accent. Rather, he doesn’t speak like the other people in his class, who are mostly white Midwestern men. I admire him because often I think it’s hardest to hear yourself. The only problem is when your teachers -- or your audience, your community, the grocery clerk, babies: whomever -- can’t hear you because of it, and so then you do work to meet in the middle. Or the middle-ish. If you want. Or you write a cipher. Or you don’t. “What does it mean to engage with something they way it comes out of you???” I wrote. Below it: “I get pleasure when I say these things.” On the same page are notes from a talk I heard about drawing faces. The woman, whose name I didn’t write down, said hair is a shape, not individual lines. Don’t draw individual strands of hair unless it’s to frame the face.
Poem drafts from my class at the women’s prison. I answer our prompts too, though I never share my work. That day we read Jean Baudrillard, Wendy Xu, Anne Sexton, and Kazim Ali. The coffee machine in the public lobby has a sign for OATMEAL COOKIE HOT CHOCOLATE, but I spend enough time imagining things in there so I haven’t imagined that flavor yet. The six o’clock sky that day looked like blue smoke.
A list of Pacific Northwest plants and shrubs, because the woman I’m writing now takes walks there, and she would know about each green even though I don’t. Both Bob Glück and Mr. Doelger say you need to know plants and sky around you, and I don’t argue with either of them. So far I have growth that’s edible, fire-resistant, fruiting, and perennial. If anything has thorns there is a tiny red X penciled next to it. If the writing stops I just put another plant in front of her.
I indulge all my obsessive-compulsive desires while doing research because that means I can splash and scream in the text as much as I want, at least at first. Frequently in these margins I read YELLOW ROSES in all caps, because people brought those to Mia Zapata’s funeral in 1993. Right now I don’t know how it all fits.