field notes; week of january 7, 2019

hello, friends. it’s been a minute, hasn’t it? i’ve just spent the last three weeks on the west coast with family and friends, doing the hard work of sweeping away the detritus of this past year and filling the empty space with love and little kindnesses.

over the weekend, i went to seattle to see lucy, and we ate donuts and pizza, took a desultory spin through the museum of pop culture, watched “the favourite” in a little arthouse cinema on bainbridge island and gasped aloud at the sheer batshittery of it all. later on i talked late into the night with lucy and their mom, all of us digging into a wide pan of gooey brownies with joyful abandon, meditating on the death of journalism.

last night was a calm few hours on grandma’s couch, her arthritic hands mending the sleeve of my wool coat, the diffuser i bought for her gently belching lavender into the air. dad picked me up and we drove to a bar in new westminster and over a cranberry soda i told him i’d gone on a few dates in recent months, but i couldn’t connect with any of them, and he said, “why?” and i said, “it’s like going back to black-and-white after colour. it’s so much… less.”

i stayed up too late ruminating and then i woke up just in time to meet rachael at georgia and denman, and we walked from the mouth of stanley park to the curve of english bay in a gorgeous, gentle grey rain, ten kilometres in all. we crossed the street at the end of our walk and drank coffee (rachael) and apple cider (me) and wondered why matthew weiner and vince gilligan are so eager to take full credit for the work of their female writers.

i’m flying back to toronto on thursday, and i do feel better after all this rest, all this love. that’s the thing: for all my carping about loss and loneliness, i’m loved and cared for very deeply. it’s nice to be reminded.

as always, feel free to reply; i love hearing from you, and i miss you guys.

two hundred and forty-four.

i don’t want to learn anything from the failure of this love. (what i could learn is to become cynical or guarded or even more afraid of loving than i was before.) i don’t want to learn anything. i don’t want to draw any conclusions. let me go on being naked. let it hurt. but let me survive.

-- susan sontag, as consciousness is harnessed to flesh: journals and notebooks, 1964-1980

i don’t know that love is ever a project with happiness as its end goal, anyway; the finitude of life means that we are bound to lose anything we love, in the end, and the greater our love, the more that loss will level us. it’s easier, more comfortable, to live without the possibility of that loss.

two hundred and forty-five.

- so i came out of the closet.

- and that was good?

- yeah. and I’m in a committed relationship.

- with keith?

- yeah. that’s supposed to be a good thing, too, right? that’s what i’ve heard. so, shouldn’t my life be better?

- truth and relationships don’t make life better. they make life possible.

- so you think i should stay with keith?

- i think you should do whatever brings you deeper into the reality of your life.

- the reality of my life.

- yes, but not the life you think you can have, the life you’ve got.

-- craig wright, six feet under: twilight, 2003

but that’s just it, right: invulnerable living isn’t living at all. if you want to feel anything, do anything, be anything, you have to tell the truth. to lie is to let someone else steer your body while you sleep in the back seat. you need to be awake for this.

field notes; week of october 29, 2018

i don’t know what to say except that the only thing which has given me even a lick of comfort in this devastating week of fascist convulsion is the knowledge that we get to be alive at the same time as cardi b.

two hundred and thirty-eight.

truly, i live in dark times! an artless word is foolish. a smooth forehead points to insensitivity. he who laughs has not yet received the terrible news. what times are these, in which a conversation about trees is almost a crime, for in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing! and he who walks quietly across the street, passes out of the reach of his friends who are in danger? it is true: i work for a living but, believe me, that is a coincidence. nothing that i do gives me the right to eat my fill. by chance i have been spared. (if my luck does not hold, i am lost.) they tell me: eat and drink! be glad to be among the haves! but how can i eat and drink when i take what i eat from the starving and those who thirst do not have my glass of water? and yet i eat and drink.

-- bertolt brecht, an die nachgeborenen, 1939

i feel now like i felt in the fall of 2016, which is to say: not good. like i don’t know how we got here and i don’t know how we’re going to get out. i was talking to my best friend on saturday and she said, “i don’t know what i can do now that will make someone three generations from now forgive me for living in this country, in this time.” i don’t know, either. when i find myself feeling sad about something normal, something that isn’t fascism or murder, i’m almost grateful.

two hundred and thirty-nine.

a capitalist society requires a culture based on images. it needs to furnish vast amounts of entertainment in order to stimulate buying and anesthetize the injuries of class, race, and sex. and it needs to gather unlimited amounts of information, the better to exploit natural resources, increase productivity, keep order, make war, give jobs to bureaucrats. the camera’s twin capacities, to subjectivize reality and to objectify it, ideally serve these needs and strengthen them. cameras define reality in the two ways essential to the workings of an advanced industrial society: as a spectacle (for masses) and as an object of surveillance (for rulers). the production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. social change is replaced by a change in images. the freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself. the narrowing of free political choice to free economic consumption requires the unlimited production and consumption of images.

-- susan sontag, on photography, 1977

realizing years too late that #RepresentationMatters was kind of a scam. like, make no mistake, i’m still writing about trans people and queer relationships, but my priorities are different now. when, in may, i sat across from my literary agent and pitched a sweet romcom starring a teenage trans boy, i didn’t know the trump administration was about to eradicate my protagonist’s civil rights. i was always writing fiction, but now i find myself writing fantasy.

two hundred and forty.

there is a popular but wholly mistaken assumption that to be exiled is to be totally cut off, isolated, hopelessly separated from your place of origin. if only that surgically clean separation were possible, because then at least you could have the consolation of knowing that what you have left behind is, in a sense, unthinkable and completely irrecoverable. the fact is that for most exiles the difficulty consists not simply in being forced to live away from home, but rather, given today’s world, in living with the many reminders that you are in exile, that your home is not in fact so far away, and that the normal traffic of everyday contemporary life keeps you in constant but tantalizing and unfulfilled touch with the old place. the exile therefore exists in the median state, neither completely at one with the new setting nor fully disencumbered of the old, beset with half involvements and half detachments, nostalgic and sentimental on one level, an adept mimic or a secret outcast on another. being skilled at survival becomes the main imperative, with the danger of becoming too comfortable and secure constituting a threat that is constantly to be guarded against.

-- edward said, intellectual exile: expatriates and marginals, 1993

me: damn… true… it’s like i’m trying to move on with my life but every other word reminds me of what we had and i relive those moments in my dreams and i read the letters and i watch the videos and i flip through the pictures over and over and i listen to “some things last a long time” by daniel johnston and i —

edward said: oh my god i’m literally talking about geopolitics and the subaltern i’m not talking about your train wreck of a love life

me: okay but like… it’s a valid interpretation like… ever heard of intertextuality

edward said: that’s not what intertextuality means

two hundred and forty-one.

body, remember not just how much you were loved, not simply those beds on which you have lain, but also the desire for you that shone plainly in the eyes that gazed at you, and quavered in the voice for you, though by some chance obstacle was finally forestalled. now that everything is finally in the past, it seems as though you did yield to those desires -- how they shone, remember, in the eyes that gazed at you, how they quavered in the voice for you -- body, remember.

body, remember not only how much you were loved, not only the beds you lay on, but also those desires that glowed openly in eyes that looked at you, trembled for you in the voices -- only some chance obstacle frustrated them. now that it’s all finally in the past, it seems almost as if you gave yourself to those desires too -- how they glowed, remember, in eyes that looked at you, remember, body, how they trembled for you in those voices.

body, remember not only how much you were loved, not only the beds on which you lay, but also those desires for you that glowed plainly in the eyes, and trembled in the voice -- and some chance obstacle made futile. now that all of them belong to the past, it almost seems as if you had yielded to those desires -- how they glowed, remember, in the eyes gazing at you; how they trembled in the voice, for you, remember, body.

-- c.p. cavafy, body remember, 1918 (three different translations)

daniel johnston was RIGHT. thits shits lasting FOREVER.

two hundred and forty-two.

what if i don’t want the monster to stop being a monster? what if that’s the only anchor i have left? what if my sanity depends on being able to point at the bad thing and say, that is the bad thing. haven’t i already lost enough time losing track of who the enemy is? i’ve spent half my life not knowing the difference between killing myself and fighting back.

-- andrea gibson, upon discovering my therapist willingly shares an office space with a male therapist who is an accused sex offender supposedly recovered from his urge to rape 13-year-old girls, 2015

the extremely particular hell of your close friend being trapped in an abusive relationship and so desperately wanting better for them that you begin to feel as though you, too, are trapped. knowing you’ve done all you can, knowing that you’ve reduced the harm substantially, knowing it’s still not enough. trying to live with yourself. trying to get used to the presence of a bona fide villain in your periphery.

two hundred and forty-three.

the energy of attempt is greater than the surety of stasis.

-- mary oliver, long life: essays and other writings, 2005

if you say so, mary.

as always, feel free to reply! i always love hearing from you!

field notes; week of october 15, 2018

two hundred and thirty-three.

perhaps grief was nothing but disbelief. the first snow fell and melted. and the second snow. after that, there was no reason to keep counting. the neighbors put up christmas lights, blue and white icicles under the eaves, orange and red bulbs outlining the evergreens, a deer pulling a sleigh in one front yard, wide-winged angels trumpeting in another. the world was not new and offered little evidence that it would ever be new again. perhaps grief was the recognition of having run out of illusions.

-- yiyun li, when we were happy we had other names, 2018

i read an old diary last night, october to december, and i wanted so badly to reach back through time, to warn the person on the page. but then, they were seeing the future, too; they calculated the risks, and they chose to continue to try. maybe it was always hopeless, the radiance of the reward so bright that the contours of the risk disappeared in light. i listened to “i’ll believe in anything.” i thought of him each time.

i remember, in the most perilous moments, asking myself, “do you want to stop?” each time, my answer was the same: no. when i talk to myself now, i ask the question in reverse: “should you have stopped?” even now, with the bruises fresh and green, no. because if grief is the recognition of having run out of illusions, then reality — memory of touch, breath, bravery — is the only antidote.

two hundred and thirty-four.

when painting was, in her words, “the opposite of death” -- when a woman gave up everything to be a painter, and made a fair exchange.

-- claudia roth pierpont, the canvas ceiling, 2018

i don’t paint, but i write, and i agree: creation is the opposite of death. i’m not really alive unless i am creating, and that’s always what’s kept me here, really. the simple desire to leave behind as many bright remnants as possible.

two hundred and thirty-five.

i mean, that’s ridiculous. who lives a hundred years? so i never believed it. if they have a party for me at a hundred, then i’ll be a hundred. i’m not objecting. but i’m not going to stay that way. after all, the year keeps going, and i’ll keep going along with it, and next year’s going to be a hundred and one, and then a hundred and two, and pretty soon i’ll be a hundred and five, and then what are they going to do with me? they’ll put me on a fence post and say, “look at that lovely lady, she lived a hundred and five years and nobody knows why, so we’re trying to figure out why. what’s the point in living all that long if you can’t live it? and i don’t think i’ve been living it. i’m just existing. and when the time goes by and i say, “yeah, another year passed, and i’m a hundred and two, a hundred and three, a hundred and four, and then what? what number do i have to reach before something changes? do i have to go to a hundred and ten, and then be something else? or what? what’s it all for? that’s the question i’m asking, and i can’t get any answers.

-- eleanore, quoted in the comforting fictions of dementia care by larissa macfarquhar,  2018

these are the words of a one-hundred-year-old woman, eleanore, who lives in a facility for dementia patients in ohio. i am a 25-year-old with a nice, healthy pink brain, and i read her words and felt ashamed of all the times i settled for existence instead of life.

two hundred and thirty-six.

wandering, as both a life style and a philosophy, can be as lonesome as it is liberating. if you never stay long enough to plant your feet for a fight, you will never know the catharsis and relief of forgiveness.

-- amanda petrusich, the weight, 2018

there is no better feeling on this gay earth than having an old friend call you up after years of estrangement and hearing them say, “listen,” say, “i’ve been thinking about the way i behaved, and i’m so sorry, i never should have done that.” i’ve torched more than a few bridges in my day, but now, i’m far more keen on rebuilding. i want to make everything live.

two hundred and thirty-seven.

m: if after the poem i am still an object, then we’ll know that, won’t we? i hope then, you’ll talk to me, and i promise i’ll make sense of you.

s: the answer to the question posed in your poem is always yes -- the eternal yes that poets sing about, the yes of the poet’s immortality.

-- max rivko and sarah ruhl, letters from max: a book of friendship, 2018

max rivko was a 25-year-old poet who died two years ago of cancer. he was diagnosed at 16, and he flew through the next nine years of his life with every pore open, and he left no shortage of bright remnants for us.

as always, feel free to send a reply. i always love to hear from you guys. my cat is lying at my feet and diligently licking her paws. she’s now moved on to licking the bedspread, which i don’t like her to do, because she might accidentally pull out a thread and swallow it, which will surely kill her. i keep stamping my foot softly next to her, waiting for her to get the hint. ah, okay, now she’s moved on to licking her butt. crisis averted.

field notes; week of october 8, 2018

happy canadian thanksgiving! i celebrated by fishing a half-price, shrink-wrapped pumpkin pie out of the cooler at shoppers drug mart yesterday. the celebration will continue tonight, when i go to see liz phair, for whom i am thankful. let’s get into these field notes.

two hundred and thirty.

i have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

-- audre lorde, the transformation of silence into language and action, 1977

if i were to assign this year a broad, overarching theme, it would be silence versus speech. i do think audre’s generally right, and that what is most important to you must come out, at some point, one way or another. but encouragement to speech generally fails to account for just how badly that bruising might hurt. it’s hard to begrudge anyone their choice of quiet over being misunderstood.

two hundred and thirty-one.

you are too timid to embark upon a future without having it thoroughly explained in advance— which is plainly impossible. what seems a sense of responsibility on your part, and honorable as such, is at bottom the official’s spirit, childishness, a will broken by your father. change this for the better, this is what to work at, this is what you can do at once. and that means, not to spare yourself… for sparing yourself is impossible; this apparent sparing of yourself has brought you today to the verge of your destruction… one cannot spare oneself, cannot calculate things in advance. you haven’t the faintest idea of what would be better for you. tonight, for example, two considerations of equal strength and value battled in you at the expense of your brain and heart, you were equally worried on both their accounts; hence the impossibility of making calculations. what is left? never again degrade yourself to the point where you become the battleground of a struggle that goes on with no regard as it were for you, and of which you feel nothing but the terrible blows of the warriors. rise up, then. mend your ways, escape officialdom, start seeing what you are instead of calculating what you should become.

-- franz kafka, diary entry, august 27, 1916

two hundred and thirty-two.

you can withdraw from the sufferings of the world -- that possibility is open to you and accords with your nature -- but perhaps that withdrawal is the only suffering you might be able to avoid.

-- franz kafka, the zurau aphorisms, 1917-1918

scalped by mr. kafka on this cold october night! actually, upon reading #231, i immediately navigated to and impulse-bought kafka’s diaries, and after doing some cursory research and reading while waiting for the package to arrive, i believe i’m truly ready to fling myself headlong down this rabbit hole.

in the interest of not making this literal entire e-mail kafka, however, because i like to deliver a diversity of thought unto your inbox, i’m going to now catch us up on the backlog of beautiful words i’ve encountered in the wild.

patrimony: inherited from one’s father

in the crawlspace, in the safe, mae borowski found a strange sort of patrimony: a single tooth.

temerity: excessive confidence

as he fell down the stairs, and moments before he was nearly crushed beneath the weight of the animatronic frog’s body, gregg lee realized his temerity had been his downfall.

hybristic: proud and arrogant

so hybristic were the followers of the black goat that they grew brazen in their misdeeds, failing to properly hide the evidence of their crimes.

unctuous: excessively flattering or ingratiating, greasy or soapy

mae couldn’t understand what so attracted bea santello to those unctuous hipsters from bright harbour.

elegiac: mournful

as mae snatched the last pierogi, gregg let out an elegiac howl.

crepuscule: twilight

in the golden crepuscule of that autumn day, mae and her friends stepped out of the clik-clak diner, so content after their pizza that they very nearly didn’t notice the severed arm on the sidewalk.

probity: the quality of having strong moral principles

angus, so full of the probity his parents lacked, carried mae out of the mineshaft on his back.

remoulade: salad or seafood dressing made with hard-boiled egg yolks, oil, and vinegar, and flavored with mustard, capers, and herbs

if you put remoulade on a pizza, where would that pizza fall on gregg’s pizza scale?

lèse majesté: the crime of offending a monarchy

in the eyes of the cult, mae’s defiance in the face of the black goat was tantamount to lèse majesté.

apposite: apt given surrounding circumstances

though they had little in common, their shared struggle to find purpose in their hometown brought mae and bea into an apposite friendship.

  1. night in the woods is a good game

  2. i have to go see liz phair now

  3. send me a reply if you feel like it! i always love hearing from you guys!

field notes, week of october 1, 2018

a short one today.

two hundred and twenty-six.

can i love non-possessively, permissively -- without withdrawing myself, setting up my own defenses and strategic retreats, on the one hand, or reducing the amount and intensity of my love, on the other?

-- susan sontag, as consciousness is harnessed to flesh: journals and notebooks, 1964-1980

this is, like, the 21st century homo version of 1 corinthians 13.

two hundred and twenty-seven.

the leaves are changing from emerald to gold and i’m changing for the better! i’m changing for the better! i’m changing for the better! i’m changing for the better! i’m changing for the better! i’m changing for the better! i’m changing for the better! i’m changing for the better! i’m changing for the better! i’m changing for the better! i’m changing for the better! i have to believe that i will.

-- keaton st. james, september affirmation (don’t be afraid), 2016

autumn still feels like newness to me, even though i no longer have school to go back to. i love the way the air cools, the colours on the trees get warmer, the world settles down. the air smells different. last year’s september was triumphant, and this one was sad, but i feel new, still, changed, for the better, i hope.

two hundred and twenty-eight.

if you write thousands of sentences that have absolutely nothing to do with what you think or feel those sentences are still what you will become. you can turn yourself into another person.

-- sarah miller, the movie assassin, 2018

[a long wooden cane reaches out from the side of the stage and yanks me into the wings before i can turn this into a 5,000-word essay on don draper’s performance of identity and the self-inflicted suppression of selfhood that follows in the wake of childhood abuse]

two hundred and twenty-nine.

be it depression, or dissociation, or the lack of a god, or the loss of the industry that your town was built around — what happens when you lose that grounding? what happens when your friends are going to leave you, when plans fall apart, when everything becomes shapes, when your own brain betrays you, when the giant cosmic horror known as capitalism grounds you into dust, when those you trusted to make things ok fail you, when you are trapped, when you look down and see only a hole where no one can escape? are we doomed? and what does that experience make us?

…did angus deserve to be abused as a child? no. did bea deserve what’s happened to her? no. did casey deserve to die? no. did mae deserve all the horrible things that happened to her? no. but most of us rarely “deserve” anything that happens to us — good and bad. that’s not how the world works. most of us are doing the best we can, often with things we have no real control over.

…is mae going to be ok?

i hope so. i’m optimistic. one day of feeling good doesn’t change your life, but it can help you get to the next day, and the next day, and the next day. and enough of those days added together is a life. i have faith that mae, with the support of those around her, will get some help. i have an idea of where she ends up years later, and what she’s doing, and with whom. but all i know for sure is today she’s going to play a song and get a pizza. god knows that’s saved me on more than one occasion.

…we won’t last forever, but we aren’t doomed. grab hold of what you can and hold on. let go of things when it’s time, and move on to something new. none of us get out of this alive, and that’s a really great reason to keep on living. and when we go, let’s leave great ghosts.

-- scott benson, four years, 2017

go forth, friends.

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