Antlers

There’s a list I began in a notebook a while ago that I thought would be short, but it turned out to be long. It’s full of people I know who’ve decided to move, or who’ve made the shift to building shared lives with their relatives, or who are able to support themselves in a creative career somewhere relatively rural.

Looking over it, I realize I’ve been tracking this for a long while. Not interrogating people, mind you, but nosing around. Peering through windows. That kind of thing.

Isabella’s on that list.

We met at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo in 2014. I still have the copy of her thesis project that I bought there—a gorgeous, oversized accordion book full of fluid aquatic illustrations set to the text of a sea shanty.1 We were clearly destined to be friends, but we lived in different places, so we stuck to garden variety mutual cartoonist admiration—the kind that simmers over social media and receives the occasional top-up from tabling at the same shows. She’s got a magnificent eye for production and packaging design, makes lovely, unusual things, and every so often comes out with something that just wraps up everything hiding in my heart and makes it visible and known.

Do you need to know all of that? Probably not. The important thing is that she just released a new comic and I think it’s glorious.

1. Turns out she originally exhibited it as a series of hanging tapestries and I think that’s just so fucking cool.

A Cleverist

I’ve been thinking a lot about about cleverness these last few weeks and how central a thing I think it is in the people I’m drawn to, but also how the term is often used in a slightly perjorative sense. And then of course here comes Ali Smith again just wrecking my shit out of nowhere without a care in the world in the last chapter of There but for the:

“Then she asked Mr. Garth did he really think there wasn’t anything wrong with being cleverest. Top of Mount Cleverest, Mr. Garth said. Brooke laughed. Then Mr. Garth said really slowly:

the fact is, that at the top of any mountain you’ll feel a bit dizzy because of the air up there. Cleverness is great. It’s a really good thing, when you have it. But there’s no point in just having it. You have to know how to use it. And when you know how to use your cleverness, it’s not that you’re the cleverest anymore, or are doing it to be cleverer than anyone else like it’s a competition. No. Instead of being the cleverest, the thing to do is become a cleverist.”

UGH I LOVE THIS WOMAN’S BRAIN.

Make Haste Slowly

In a chapter of Always Coming Home titled “Long Names of Houses,” Le Guin writes:

“It is hard for us to conceive, harder to approve, of a serious adult person not in a hurry. Not being in a hurry is for infants, people over eighty, bums, and the Third World. Hurry is the essence of city, the very soul. There is no civilisation without hurry, without keeping ahead.”

Suddenly I’m thrown back to reading Terry Tempest Williams at the bottom of the Grand Canyon seven years ago; an image I’ve never forgotten of runners trying to outpace the Colorado River.

“The river was red. It was a race; they ran shoulder to shoulder, faster and faster, bodiesbehindandbodiesinfront, inhaling, exhaling, fat-free hearts pumping oxygen into every living cell, the body a machine, sighing, groaning, moaning like one large organism running, running, faster and faster, sweating, puking, shitting, wheezing. They outran the river, faster and faster, every one of them, two feet times thousands tapping, drumming, beating the pavement, faster and faster […]”

They are singing together, these two. (If you’re reading this via RSS, I’d recommend the on-site version for clarity in this next part.)

“The hurry may lurk invisible, contradicted by the indolent pose of the lounger at the bar or the lazy gait of the stroller along the hotel walkway, but it is there, in the terrific engines of the TWA or BSA supersonic planes that brought her from Rio, him from Rome, here to NY, NY for the IGPSA conference on implementation of GEPS, and will rush them back tomorrow, hurrying across the world of cities where there is no tense left but the present tense, every second and tenth of a second and millisecond and nanosecond clocked, the readout always moving a little faster and the A rising.”

“In our human world, we worship speed and desire. We desire money. We assign money to time. What is time worth? Your time. My time. Our time. Talk fast. Work fast. Drive fast. Walk fast. Run. Who ever told us to wear jogging shoes to work? Don’t saunter. Don’t look. Speed walk. Speed dial. Federal Express will fly our thoughts around the world. We do not trust slowness, silence, or stillness.”

“Mozart’s A was a hundred and forty cycles a second, so Mozart’s piano is out of tune with all our orchestras and singers. Our A is a hundred and sixty, because the instruments sound more brilliant tuned up higher, as they all rise like sirens towards the final scream.”

“Stop time. Time? What was my time? What was your time? They are handed their time; for better or worse, their trophy is their time.”

“There is nothing to be done.”

“Where the runners stop, the river continues, a slow, strong current that now meanders through willows.”

“There is no way to heighten the pitch of the instruments of the Valley, no way to abbreviate their institutions and addresses and names to capital letters, no way to get them to move ahead.”

“I am not so easily seduced by speed as I once was. I find I have lost the desire to move that quickly in the world.”

Le Guin published Always Coming Home in 1985, but here I am reading it in 2021. Williams published Red in 2001, but I first read it in 2014. The precipitous time travel of literature never ceases to make my head spin. To discover these things all out of order and yet find them in conversation with each other—so close they could be touching. A thought moving at the speed of light, yet also crawling forward with impossible slowness.

“To see how much I can done in a day does not impress me anymore. I don’t think it’s about getting older. It feels more like honoring the gravity in my own body in relationship to place. Survival. A rattlesnake coils, its tail shakes; the emptiness of the desert is evoked.”

A thought you must think all your life long.

The rattle on the end of a rattlesnake’s tail is called a crepitaculum.

Delights

This morning I woke suddenly in the dark, startled by something toppling in a gust of wind, and decided to get up. I very rarely regret being up before the sun. It’s something my dad taught me to love, waking early to wash the previous night’s dishes or listen to Satie at the kitchen table. Sometimes we’d go to the park and hit tennis balls back and forth on the empty courts, or walk around the block in the pitch black till my legs itched unbearably from the cold. Whatever we did, it always felt like secret, stolen time. A pocket of temporal spaciousness.

So, this morning, I got up and made tea and decided to curl into the armchair in the corner of the living room and use this particular pocket to read.

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay came very highly recommended. This is sometimes a deterrent because I’m the sort of nightmare person who stubbornly avoids things the more often I’m told to consume them, but in this case I’m glad I persevered. 

The premise is very simple: a year’s worth of daily essayettes on various sources of delight. The collection glows precisely because it isn’t some kind of Pollyannaish litany. Instead, it captures the complexity of finding joy in a flawed world, and the particular necessity of claiming joy as a Black man in America. Gay’s entries are full of digressions and caveats. He’s constantly gesturing toward vast, complicated power structures with one hand while using the other to point at tiny, captivating miracles poking their heads out of the soil.

I love any piece of work that wrestles with the paradox of “and yet” and “even still,” and this book is no exception. I love it because it doesn’t demand that we wait to be pure enough for joy. It doesn’t position a sense of a wonder as a commodity to be bought or earned. It doesn’t disqualify people. Delight is simply there, in spite of it all.1

Two years ago I sat in Mother Foucault’s Bookshop on a Saturday morning with the sun streaming through the windows and listened to my friend Anis perform his poem Today’s Love Is Brought to You by the Letter Jon Sands. (You can probably hear me laughing in the background of this video. You can certainly see me crying in the background of another in the series from that morning.)

Hearing the way Anis says “I fucking love Black people” echoes the many celebrations that run throughout The Book of Delights.2 These two half-Black poets share a tender ear for the sublime and an irreverent sense of humor—the kind of sharing that makes me wonder if they’ve met.3 Their words flow into each other and elicit snorts and grins and also pangs of truthful recognition. Neither of them eschew the paradox of what it means to embrace delight in the world we live in—in the skin they live in—and I am so deeply grateful for it.

I stayed curled in the armchair for an hour or so, and when I was done reading the acknowledgements (one of my favorite parts of any book) and had breathed one of those happy, book-finishing sighs, I looked out the window and realized there was white frost sparkling on all the neighborhood rooftops, and that the sunrise had snuck up on me, and that it was January 20th.

A laptop resting on a pillow in front of a window. There's a luminous pink sunrise glowing on the horizon.

Happy new presidency, America.

1. “Wanna hear something terrible? Even here, at the end of everything, I still love it.”

2. Which echoes the “black abundance” of Kiese Laymon’s Heavy. And so on, and so on.

3. Yes, part of me also wonders if there’s the sort of inexplicable friction we sometimes recognize as envy in this comparison. Occasionally people will refer to me alongside other creators whose work I admire and rather than feeling like a compliment it elicits a jab of petty resentment. But my friend Mara taught me that often what we envy in the other is an aspect of the self we haven’t fully claimed yet, and you know what? I believe that. It checks out. Things have gotten better since I started noticing those tiny jabs and thinking “Yeah, okay, that’s me too. I have that. Wouldn’t notice it if I didn’t.”

2020 in Reading: The Big List

The landing outside our bedrooms is tiny—barely big enough for one person to stand alongside the single floor vent that’s supposed to heat the entire upstairs. But! There’s enough wall space for two tall pieces of paper, so that’s where Zina and I have kept our reading lists since 2015.

I’ve never really gotten into tracking my reading online, so this practice has served as my visual archive of books devoured. It’s a lovely way to remind myself of when influential authors first appeared in my life, and to lend shape to the years. I used to keep the old ones pinned up in my room for easy access, but my impending move has meant getting rid of a lot of papery ephemera, so here they all are for posterity:

A collection of six tall, thin pieces of paper with lists of books written on them. They're dated from 2015 to 2020 and have the name Lucy at the top of each one.

Since I’m trying to keep more of myself on my own site, I figured I’d upload the whole catalogue from 2020 as a blog post. I’ll do a followup with a little more about my absolute favorites, but for now: here’s everything.

LegendRough Guide to Ratings
🎭 – Plays
📝 – Poetry
📖 – Books (Fiction)
📓 – Books (Nonfiction)
💬 – Graphic Novels
❤︎ = Yes
❤︎❤︎ = Oh Yes
❤︎❤︎❤︎ = Hell Yes
  1. 📖 The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern ❤︎
  2. 📓 All About Love – bell hooks
  3. 📓 Trick Mirror – Jia Tolentino ❤︎❤︎
  4. 📓 Atomic Habits – James Clear
  5. 📓 The Way of Zen – Alan Watts
  6. 💬 Unversed – Ed. Jonathan Hill
  7. 💬 Uncomfortably Happily – Yeon-Sik Hong
  8. 💬 The Chancellor and The Citadel – Maria Frantz
  9. 💬 The Northwest Passage (Vol. 1) – Scott Chantler
  10. 💬 The Hunting Accident – David L. Carlson & Landis Blair ❤︎
  11. 💬 Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules – Tony Cliff ❤︎❤︎
  12. 📓 Deviced – doreen dodgen-magee
  13. 📝/📓 Letters from Max – Sarah Ruhl & Max Ritvo ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  14. 📓 Van Gogh – Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith ❤︎
  15. 💬 Gaugin: The Other World – Fabrizio Dori
  16. 📖 The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow
  17. 📓 Madness, Rack, and Honey – Mary Ruefle ❤︎
  18. 📖 Axiomatic – Maria Turmakin
  19. 📓 The Crying Book – Heather Christle ❤︎❤︎
  20. 📖 Looking for Jake – China Miéville
  21. 🎭 Macbeth – William Shakespeare
  22. 📖 The Bird King – G. Willow Wilson ❤︎
  23. 📖 Steel Crow Saga – Paul Krueger
  24. 📖 On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong ❤︎
  25. 📓 The Salt Path – Raynor Wynn
  26. 💬 Displacement – Kiku Hughes
  27. 📓 Time is a Thing the Body Moves Through – T. Fleischmann
  28. 📖 The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book – Kate Milford
  29. 📓 Pleasure Activism – adrienne maree brown ❤︎
  30. 📖 Tales from 1001 Nights – Trans. Malcolm & Ursula Lyons
  31. 📖 The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemesin
  32. 📖 The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea – Maggie Tokuda-Hall
  33. 📓 Constellations – Sinead Gleeson
  34. 📖 The Reapers are The Angels – Alden Bell
  35. 📓 The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis
  36. 📖 Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
  37. 📖 You Are the Friction – Ed. Jez Burrows & Anna Hurley
  38. 💬 The Golden Age – Cyril Pedrosa & Roxanne Moreil ❤︎
  39. 📖 Flights – Olga Tokarczuk
  40. 📖 Annabel Scheme and The New Golden Gate – Robin Sloan ❤︎
  41. 📖 How to Be Both – Ali Smith ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  42. 📖 A Burning – Megha Majumdar
  43. 📖 If Beale Street Could Talk – James Baldwin
  44. 📖 Blandings Castle – P.G. Wodehouse
  45. 📖 Summer Lightning – P.G. Wodehouse
  46. 📖 Heavy Weather – P.G. Wodehouse
  47. 📓 Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency – Olivia Laing ❤︎❤︎
  48. 📝 Citizen: An Americal Lyric – Claudia Rankine
  49. 📖 A Room with A View – E.M. Forster ❤︎
  50. 📓 Close to the Machine – Ellen Ullman ❤︎
  51. 📓 The Power of Ritual – Casper ter Kuile
  52. 📖 Artful – Ali Smith ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  53. 📓 Coming to Writing and Other Essays – Hélène Cixous ❤︎
  54. 📖 Attrib. – Eley Williams ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  55. 💬 Go With The Flow – Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann
  56. 💬 Knight and Beard (Vol. 1) – Tara Kurtzhals & Sarah Bollinger
  57. 📓 The Heroine’s Journey – Maureen Murdock
  58. 📖 Each of Us a Desert – Mark Oshiro ❤︎
  59. 📖 Self Care – Leigh Stein
  60. 💬 Syllabus – Lynda Barry ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  61. 💬 Grass – Keum Suk Gendry-Kim
  62. 📝 Handwriting – Michael Ondaatje
  63. 📓 Letters from Tove – Tove Jansson ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  64. 📝/📓 Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties – Trans. John J.L. Mood
  65. 🎭 The Tempest – William Shakespeare
  66. 💬 The Best We Could Do – Thi Bui ❤︎
  67. 📝 Beowulf – Maria Dahvana Headley ❤︎❤︎
  68. 📝 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  69. 📖 Piranesi – Susanna Clarke ❤︎❤︎
  70. 📓 A Reading Life – C.S. Lewis
  71. 📓 Better than IRL – Ed. Katie West & Jasmine Elliott ❤︎
  72. 📓 Split – Ed. Katie West & Jasmine Elliott
  73. 📖 The Waves – Virginia Woolf ❤︎❤︎

Strange, Familiar Seas

Not every night, but most nights, the English writer Philip Hoare gets into the sea.

I know this because he tweets about it. Not every night, but most nights. A brief, poetic, timestamped dispatch from the waves.

I read Hoare’s book Risingtidefallingstar toward the end of 2018 and fell hopelessly in love. It’s a sweeping voyage through various coastal regions, literary lives, and strange creatures of the sea. It defies categorization—feels tidal rather than textual. (Just describing the book makes me realize that it shares many qualities with Always Coming Home, which should hardly come as a surprise at this point.)

When I followed Hoare on Twitter, I started seeing these fleeting messages in my feed. The nature of the platform meant that it took me a while to realize how consistently they cropped up, but when I noticed, it shifted something.

In 2019, I made a pact with myself after a week by a lake on an island in Canada: if I find myself near a body of water and it is even remotely possible for me to get into it, I must get into it.1 I’ve since plunged into frigid waves on the Oregon coast, silky river waters of the Columbia Gorge, and the hidden shock of a creek in my hometown of Ojai, California.

Often, as I’m sprinting, screaming across the wide expanse of sand toward the breakers, or furtively scrambling out of my clothes in the underbrush, I think of Hoare’s constant devotion to being where he feels most alive. Most held.

It’s not even about whether or not he swims every night, or what time he goes (does the man ever sleep? Unclear), or what the sky is doing on that particular Tuesday. It’s just a reminder that there is a person who embodies his affection for the sea so fully and faithfully that he’s out there, in the water, baptized night after night.

Whatever Hoare writes next, I’ll probably love it. But my primary interest isn’t his creative output. The thing I want to know is whether he is still himself, and as far as I can tell plunging bodily into the ocean on a near-nightly basis is the backbone of his existence.

I’ve chewed on the idea of object permanence a lot this year—dug into my mistrust of fleeting social media feedback, questioned how online creators can feel secure in taking leaves of absence, and wondered at what it is about our work that truly endures. Hoare makes me consider relocating the idea of permanence from deliverables like books and art and films to the substrates of our creative practices; these undercurrents of selfhood.

That is the thing I want to celebrate and support.

1. Even having trod on a stingray and endured unimaginable agony two months after taking said vow, I still believe it to be sound.

The Infinite Carrier Bag

What’s the thought you think all your life long? It must be a great one, a solemn one, to make you gaze through the world at it, all your life long. When you have to look aside from it your eyes roll, you bellow in anger, anxious to return to it, steadily to gaze at it, think it all your life long.

— To The Bullock Roseroot, an improvisation spoken during the Second Day of the World ceremonies by Kulkunna of Chukulmas

I’ve been making my way, very slowly and over the course of many loans from the Multnomah County Library, through Always Coming Home, Ursula K. Le Guin’s unclassifiable, meandering, pseudo-anthropological record of a fictional future people called the Kesh. I’m not even a third of the way into the thing, but as the above quote from the book suggests, I’m thinking about it all the time.

There are so many things I love about this collection, particularly its place-specific-ness. The Kesh live in a far-future, post-societal-collapse Northern California. Even with the ravages of climate change, they describe the local flora and fauna in a way that taps straight into the landscape of my childhood—what Cassie Marketos calls “our good earth to grow in”. It brings me back to hot, dusty hikes through the Sespe wilderness in grade school, shifting my weight side to side as a leathery naturalist lectured us on different varieties of manzanita. It roots me in a place I think about even when I am not thinking about it.

If we are friends in any capacity, chances are high that I’ve pressed Le Guin’s essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” into your hands at one point or another. It explores a hypothetical world where stories are about the things they gather and contain, rather than the bodies they pierce and conquer, and I want to talk about it with everyone. It took me years to bother looking up where it had originally been published, which led me to Always Coming Home. Now that I’m a third of the way into this massive, discursive, lovely collection, it makes perfect sense. Theory in practice.

I like a book that forces me to take my time.

I’m a fast reader, and the first to admit that I can get a little breathless with my consumption. I spin out over ideas, get caught up in the excitement of newness. A book like this resists every opportunity to rush. The chapters and sections are all relatively small, but they loop and meander and digress. They build in layers over hundreds of pages to give an impression rather than a narrative. The experience feels very similar to reading oral traditions of cultures other than my own—an abruptness as one’s expectations of narrative symmetry and pacing are undermined in real time. The lack of them speaks louder than anything; makes me more aware of what I’ve been raised with, and of how things could be different.

Despite their distance from our current world of technology, the Kesh still interface with certain vestiges of present-day culture. These moments are some of my favorite in the book so far.

The City mind thinks that sense has been made if a writing is read, if a message is transmitted, but we don’t think that way. In any case, to learn a great deal about those people would be to cry in the ocean; whereas using their bricks in one of our buildings is satisfying to the mind. […] What does it mean to cry in the ocean? Oh, well, you know, to add something where nothing’s needed, or where so much is needed that it’s no use even trying, so you just sit down and cry.

If that isn’t social media in a nutshell, I don’t know what is. The desire to know everything, consume everything, document everything butting up against Marge Piercy’s recognition:

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

When I retweet or double tap on a post by a friend to express my approval, I’m not using their bricks in one of my buildings. But when I write? That’s when we’re in conversation—occupying the same room across space and time, building it together.

This is what Le Guin manages, in this layered, looping collection of stories and ideas: she writes a re-envisioned world into being, and then writes herself—writes all of us who create—into that world. “What do they do,” she asks, “the singers, tale-writers, dancers, painters, shapers, makers?”

They go there with empty hands, into the gap between. They come back with things in their hands. They go silent and come back with words, with tunes. They go into confusion and come back with patterns. […] The ordinary artists use patience, passion, skill, work and returning to work, judgment, proportion, intellect, purpose, indifference, obstinacy, delight in tools, delight, and with these as their way they approach the gap, the hub, approaching in circles, in gyres, like the buzzard, looking down, watching, like the coyote, watching. They look to the center, they turn on the center, they describe the center, though they cannot live there.

It’s the doubled items in this list that I love the most: “work and returning to work,” “delight in tools, delight”. I love that Le Guin understands these as separate, yet interlocking elements. I love that she has thought, so deeply and with so much lenience and also so much slantwise clarity, about the purposes we might serve in remaking the fabric of society.

She was a writer with a thought to think her whole life long. And the beautiful thing about writing is that the thought didn’t end when she did—now I’m thinking it, too.

Literary Archipelagos

Last week, in a moment of Peak Bellwood Weakness I signed up for an online class/study group called Literature at Sea: A Brief History of Existence. The facilitator shared something in today’s intro call that I can’t believe nobody sent me when it was released back in July. It’s called An Ocean of Books and it looks sort of like this:

A screenshot of the homepage for An Ocean of Books. It shows a pale greenish blue chart with a mass of tiny, tan islands spread across it. They're loosely grouped by subject: History, Science, Novels, Classics, etc.

This “poetic experiment” was made by Gaël Hugo during his time as an Artist-in-Residence at the Google Arts & Culture Lab. It pulls from the entire Google Books library and uses a bunch of (I’m waving my hands vaguely here) technology to generate a chart of Author Islands whose distance from each other is determined by their relationships on the web.

The site’s a little awkward in places, but I find the whole concept delightful. The weird aesthetic mix of pixelated game art and old nautical chart elements!1 The playful mechanism for revealing keyword searches within a bank of fog! There’s also little factoids beside various islands, like this gem about Maurice Sendak:

A screenshot from A Sea of Books showing a drawing of a boy riding a horse. The text beside it says The original title of Sendak's famous book was Where the Wild Horses Are but he couldn't draw horses. So, when his editor asked what he could draw, his reply was Things.

Anyway, I spent a lovely afternoon poking around in here, but what it really got me hungry for was a similarly attractive way to organize one’s own library for others to explore. The trouble is that I’m just not moved by reading lists—even ones curated by subject. I’m a visual thinker, and I need to make a big mess and tack a lot of red string to the wall before I can truly understand how all these ideas are contributing to the electric pinball machine.

I don’t want the map to be dictated by an algorithm; I want to play cartographer.

I rediscovered a piece of technology this week that might hold the key, but I’m saving it for now. You’ll just have to wait.


1. Fun pedantic terminology fact: if it’s to do with the ocean, it’s a chart, not a map. Yes, there will be a quiz on this later.

Shakespeare at the End of the World

I keep thinking about Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

I’m not usually a post-apocalyptic fiction person, but Erika recommended the book to me several years ago by saying “it’s about art at the end of the world, and the things it can and can’t do to keep us together.” That’s more than enough, it turns out, to get me in the door.

I remember how sickeningly plausible Mandel made it all feel: the Georgia Flu. The collapse of society. The various reactions of America’s citizens—denial, adaptation, fanaticism, reinvention.

But the detail that really stuck with me was that the traveling theatre troupe at the heart of the narrative attempted to stage modern plays from time to time, and instead their audiences—even 20 years after the pandemic—kept demanding Shakespeare.

“People want what was best about the world,” explains a member of the ensemble.

I’ve consumed more Shakespeare in Quarantine than I have in the last ten years. Zina and I read Macbeth aloud to each other over the course of several evenings in the early days. Then we graduated to filmed productions through the National Theatre: Twelfth Night, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra. This week I’m back at it with Hamlet and the Donmar Trilogy: The Tempest today, and (if I play my cards right) Julius Caesar and Henry IV next weekend.

I don’t know that it’s about how good the plays are (though they are very good!) or how poignant it is that Shakespeare wrote and produced so many of them in the midst of plague-induced theatre closures (though he did!). It’s about how long they’ve been around.

I crack open an essay by Hélène Cixous and there she is quoting Van Gogh, who was reading the history plays shortly before his death in 1890:

“But what touches me […] is that the voices of these people, which […] reach us from a distance of several centuries, do not seem unfamiliar to us. It is so much alive that you think you know them and see the thing.”

The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, vol. 3, p. 187

I need the weight of history right now—the notion that something, anything has been bringing us together to laugh and cry and consider what it means to be human for more than 500 years.

I guess I’m just hung up on art at the end of the world, and the things it can and can’t do to keep us together.

The Electric Pinball Machine

I finished Ali Smith’s Artful in bed the other night at 12:42am. I didn’t mean to. I’d told myself I wouldn’t. But I did, because every new page contained something that made me yell—actually yell—in the dark of my room and I’d already blunted my pencil with furious underlining and I couldn’t believe one person could weave so many wonderful threads into a cohesive whole.

This is the deep and abiding pleasure of the thing: to be introduced to new secrets—inducted into them, even—while also catching sight of familiar friends. Sometimes you read a book this rich before you’ve encountered enough of the source material and it just feels overwhelming. Other times the author will quote a phalanx of people you’re already familiar with and it’s…tired. The same quotes from the same famous figures. Nothing new.

But Artful…woof. It hit me just right. Just rich enough, just new enough, just familiar enough, just fucking weird enough to wrap me up in a giddy sense of total intoxication.

You know when you meet someone whose brain operates in way you find totally engrossing and energizing and you just want to spend all your time watching them cram things together into new and impossible forms? It’s like that. The mere fact of their existence grabs you by the shoulders and seems to bellow “If you’re not doing everything in your power to live in this electrifying pinball machine all the time then what are you even DOING WITH YOURSELF?”