A Plea for Tenderness

A Plea for Tenderness

My friend T. says who cares if something lasts forever or not? The point is, it was. Plus if it’s a book — a website? — then sometimes it still is. For example, I read Anna Karenina in 2000, a full century-plus after its first publication, and the middle event alone freaked me out. I don’t even remember what translation it was, but when I read it I had green hair, and I hope somehow someone who read it in Russian in 1873 had green hair too. Somehow. Whatever that meant-means to them. Time is relative. Bookslut is forever. Read the archive.

The Death card is: ending, transition, elimination, FORCE. It’s above my desk, above a picture my friend S. drew of wild horses. One of the best parts about being a writer, being a reader, is you go through ending after ending after transition and you are still a reader. Still a writer. Frankly I want to read more of Jessa’s books and she can’t write them if she’s editing us all the time. I want to be old with Jessa, I want to hobble into museums together, wearing sensible shoes and dresses with pockets and I want to cry in front of paintings, eat nachos afterwards. This is the constant. I am not being cute. There will still be words to read, don’t worry.

Part of this, maybe, is about ownership. I’ve been reading and re-reading a poem by Lauren Shufran that begins “I was a dude, and paying for it with this pound of flesh I was indebted for.” I love I was a dude. But the speaker isn’t now? The speaker was dreaming? The speaker translates? They continue: “I didn’t need to own the cliffs I climbed to get my raid on.” The italics imply another verb was needed. Is. Maybe the cliffs just need to be climbed. Maybe they just are. And then we see other things, and so we want differently.

I miss the CB&J sandwich at Hopleaf, where the Bookslut Reading Series happened twice a month for years, I miss it violently, but I never wrote anything when I came home. Or the next day, when I felt fuzzy. I had a broken leg for a while, and then I had metal healing in it. This is not a criticism but a fact: I needed to write because I am Mairead, and I wasn’t writing yet. Sometimes I came home, wavy, and read Elizabeth Bishop’s “Keaton” aloud to myself and the Eighteenth Street ghosts and my cat: “Perhaps a paradise,” Bishop writes, “a serious paradise where lovers hold hands / and everything works. / I am not sentimental.” This poem helped me realize how beautiful the utopian moments are. How necessary. Not sentimental. Too, those nights helped me realize that writing is work, and it requires isolation. Some months I am good at that, and some months I fail better.

Another poem I liked then, and now but differently, is from Juliana Spahr’s Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You: “A younger man and an older man are support. A woman is a tower.” That poem made me realize I hate when people write about being young and wild, and not anymore. I love Juliana’s writing, and I love walking home tower with music in my ears. Sometimes I still come home wavy, though I drink much much less these days because I realized then I was drinking to be comfortable in my body, in my mouth, and so drinking became less fun. It’s only good when it’s fun. What I am saying is, if you are ever on the North Side of Chicago, eat a CB&J at Hopleaf because it rules. It tastes good with a sour. Eat-drink it all, and eat all the macaroni and cheese side too. Be a tower. Get home safe, and you.

I love this song, most immediately because the video looks like a party I want to live in, looks like someone I love put up a sheet in the kitchen and gave us all mop-hats to wear, in the best most elegant way, but I love it also for the chorus: “Hey, I’m alright.” I’m not saying it, you are. Hey. So here we go. I used to think a lot about the Little Red Hen, how she worked and worked and worked and then she could feed her friends. Now I think maybe it’s good to be Rip Van Winkle too, to sleep a while and wake up and write down your dreams. Rip Van Winkle worked in the world before he fell asleep, so his dreams are real and utopian all at once.

I started Dignity and Tenderness, this column, twenty pieces and three years ago, because I started an MFA program, surprising myself, and because I was having a hard time talking. I wrote all these applications saying I had a language, but once I got in at first I couldn’t say anything. Academia is hazing, is fitting into boxes even when your armpit hair is sticking out, is missing friends and certain sex and falling asleep in the sun while your laundry dries, and freaking out because: healthcare, now. Is a lesson, learning to love two worlds at once, which means you don’t fully live in either, though maybe this is more about time than place. And so I thought: pick a song, and write about your work to it. I did that once, and nineteen more times, and now this is the last one. Doing it I learned to love more than I thought I could. Again, I am not sentimental.

I thought this probably wouldn’t turn into an advice column, though I didn’t know for sure. I knew it was always important to perform vulnerability, to say: yes I am in school in my thirties and publishing a book and traveling, but also: I can’t sleep. I eat meals on trains. I have PTSD. My friends feel far away sometimes, and sometimes I ride buses or catch flights to eat dinner with them. I sleep on couches. I am depressed and politically pessimistic and hate hate hate journalism-as-social-media, and sometimes I cry on those same trains. This is not a plea for anything but dignity and tenderness, it is to say: I am a writer right now and always, and this is what it looks like. I have a room of my own and worked for it but sometimes, I work too many other jobs to write there. It’s still my room though.

I wrote Dignity and Tenderness to ask: how do you write a tour diary when most of your work is at a desk? How do you find friends and health in the forest? How do you write social-media-resistant earth art? Nancy Holt’s sun tunnels. Gordon Matta-Clark’s food.

Do you write listening to songs too? I wrote to say: hello. I write to say thank you, Jessa. Now go write more books. We need them. And I love you. Hi.


Mairead Case (@maireadcase) is a working writer in Colorado. She wrote the novel See You In the Morning (featherproof) and Tenderness, a poetry chapbook.