I’m washing my eyes with words and hoping something turns up that works as I’m moving forward.
Robert Eggers, on writing dialect for The Lighthouse
7. People pretend there are readers and non-readers. But there are just people willing to practice the patience necessary to get hypnotized, and those who quit before their eyes turn into spirals. To read is to welcome this hypnosis, await its arrival, then trust its direction.
I wish I’d known at twenty-one, when I developed a chronic illness and became suddenly alienated from all my peers, that over the decades, one by one, all of them would come join me on my island.
Sarah Manguso, 300 Arguments
I come back to this quote a lot these days, thinking about it from the perspective of losing a loved one early in life, or becoming a caregiver, or any of the other life circumstances that hit us before we feel they “should.” It’s a weird construct, when you get right down to it. These things happen all the time, so what undergirds the idea that they’re aberrant?
I’m much further into reading Stephen Jenkinson’s Die Wise than I was a couple months ago. (Funny how I can’t crack into a book that gets too directly at my current lived experience while I’m right up close to it. I had to go to another state before I could find a way in. I’m hooked now, though.) As far as he’s concerned the undergirding is a sense of entitlement; this particularly North American obsession with individuality and control and comfort.
The book’s full of things I feel like I’ll need a long, long time to process.
Exactly one year before I started drafting this post (which then languished for a little while, so technically now it’s more than a year ago, but whatever you get the idea) I wrote a short thread on Twitter about feelings and impermanence. I dug it up because I came across this photo and couldn’t remember what the hell I was doing that led me to group these little slips of paper in this kind of configuration. I’ve copied the thread verbatim below.
“Did an exercise in therapy this morning where my therapist asked me to list all the feelings running through my brain/body on bits of paper. Spent the rest of the session sorting them into affinity stacks while we talked.
It got me thinking about Chronic Feelings vs. Current Feelings. These are current, influenced by the hospital visit this week, the slow return to stability after a trauma, my anxiety about understanding my family’s finances, an impending trip, a disappointing career decision.
The Chronic Feelings are things like anticipatory grief, professional burnout, climate anxiety, hatred of capitalism, Pandemic Fatigue. The stuff we’re all collectively steeping in that constitutes a full emotional plate on its own.
But to try and be present with the feelings in my body right NOW requires a different sort of lens. It requires understanding that all of this passes.
I get reliably down most afternoons. Eating lunch triggers a slump of despair and exhaustion that isn’t the end of the world. It’s rare that I feel dreadful while I’m having my tea and scrawling pages into my journal outside in the sun first thing in the morning, so whatever’s coming for me today will, at the very least, abate for a half hour tomorrow. This helps to remember.
I have many weird/bad feelings about Twitter but also I think a lot about the people I know on here who’ve been generous enough to share their complex emotional stuff over the years. Folks grieving in public, folks naming anxiety, folks sharing their affirmations. It’s important.
A big cornerstone of how I’ve carried myself online for years has been an emphasis on sharing clear, proactive, hopeful things. Sometimes I fear this season of my life is going to break that, because it’s HARD. But I do think there are still ways to approach it with that ethic.”
Weird to still be chewing on the same stuff a year later. Weird to still be in an endless rollercoaster of absurdity and grief with my dad. Weird, also, to see the cadence of tweeting transposed onto my blog. Writing like that doesn’t belong here! But also I engaged in it for so many years on that platform. Every container nurtures its own syntax.
A friend asked if I’d signed up for Bluesky and the wave of exhaustion I felt in response washed the flesh clean off my bones. It’s not just that Twitter seems to be continually on fire these days, it’s the broader truth that social media feels hollow to me now. The ADS! There are so many ads. Why did I ever put up with a space that was so aggressively trying to sell me things at every turn? (The answer is that it was giving me the Good Brain Chemicals when I interacted with people I care about, but these days I don’t post enough to get notifications, so I’m trading my attention for NOTHING! No wonder the shine has worn off.)
I’ve been thinking about this installment of Holly Whitaker’s newsletter ever since I read it a couple weeks ago. I haven’t even dug into the links, but the dislocation theory of addiction latched onto my brain stem and has yet to let go.
Our modern social arrangement, Alexander argues, means that we have to sacrifice “family, friends, meaning, and values” in order to be more “efficient” and “competitive” in the rat race. In this framework, addictive behaviors are adaptive responses meant to fill that void of meaning and purpose. Using substances can provide a temporary sense of community (with other users), purpose (to acquire the substance), and meaning (feelings of euphoria or calm from using the substance). Substance abuse and addiction help to fill the gaps in meaning and purpose left by modern society.
None of this is news to me, really, but the articulation slotted something into focus. Reflecting on consumerism as an addiction (or maybe….everything as an addiction?) this month has been a valuable touch point.
And then here I am hitting go on a reprint of my graphic novel! A product I must then sell! A product I might even sell on the premise that it will make people feel less alone! HNGNNNGNNHHGHHH.
(I was going to expand on stuff in that tweet thread in this post too, but I got sidetracked and now it’s time to make my dad his breakfast so I’m hitting post because there are no ads here and nobody needs to buy anything and it’s one of those days where I want to move to the woods and eat grubs for the rest of my life so byeeeeee)
Jacob wrote six very good sentences today about jealousy and being an artist. I needed them this morning because there’s nothing like moving back in with your parents and mostly disappearing from the face of social media and undergoing a massive gear shift in the trajectory of your career to bring up feelings of unworthiness and comparison; but that’s not what I wanted to write about.
The fifth sentence (“The purpose of an artistic star system is to undermine solidarity”) brought me up short because I interpreted “star system” as “constellation.” The constellation is one of my favorite metaphors for how creative people—all people, really—exist in the world. On these grounds his statement didn’t seem right at all. On second reading I realized he meant “star system” as “a system in which certain people are held up as shining exemplars while the rest fade into obscurity,” to which: absolutely yes. The dangers of worshipping celebrity.
I’m flying solo this week while my mum attends my godfather’s funeral in England, but I’m not really solo. We’re trying overnight caregiver coverage for the first time; something I advocated for because loss of sleep is infinitely more disruptive to me than structuring my days around changing my dad’s Depends and making him meals and bathing him and metering out the distribution of pills.
There are so many gifts to trying overnight care, but one of the biggest has been getting me back on my early to bed, early to rise rhythm. I’ve been waking up of my own accord at 5:30 or 6, feeling more rested than I have in months. It grants me a gift my dad taught me to love: an hour and a half of luxurious time to myself first thing in the morning.
Many of my happiest memories of being with him are around this time of day. In high school, we’d listen to Erik Satie on my boombox in the kitchen while he made me eggs. In middle school, we’d drive to the tennis courts at Libbey Park and hit balls back and forth under the amber sodium lamps until the sun came up. (Neither of us knew how to play tennis, but it didn’t matter.) Earlier still, I’d wake up to the sound of him tapping away at the keyboard with two fingers in the corner of the bedroom, writing.
Those hours felt like secret time. Sacred time.
I still treat it as such. This morning it was dark enough when I got up that didn’t realize the valley was shrouded in mist. Now I can see that the lawn outside my window is spangled with a galaxy of dew-soaked spiderwebs.
All this is to say that in the blissful hour I’d been granted this morning, I dove back into Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit’s memoir. She writes a great deal about context, and the way subcultures and communities act as greenhouses for culture, so when I read Jacob’s post, the string layer came back online. Solnit writes:
In a way, this has been my life’s work, the pursuit of patterns and the work of reconnecting what has been fractured, often fractured by categories that break a subject, a history, a meaning into subcompartments from which the whole cannot be seen. […] The art of picking out constellations in the night sky has cropped up again and again as a metaphor for this work.
Elsewhere she quotes the poet Diane di Prima: “You cannot write a single line w/out a cosmology.”
We think of people as settling down when they get older, getting more set in their ways. But that hasn’t been my experience. Instead as I get older, I’m itching to get weirder. I think that in my twenties, I was so determined to carve out space for myself in the world. And now that I have that space, I don’t really feel like I have anything to prove. So it’s safe to ask some big questions about who I actually am. I’m more up for rethinking what I thought I knew. I like the idea of not being content with the apples you can grasp.
Is it that we actively pull ourselves into being by our very actions, our choices laying the foundations brick by brick for who we are and who we will become…?
Or is it that what pulls us into being, what pushes us toward action, is the ache, is our future selves, is the wisdom in our present yearning, foretold and prophesied by a future world who wants us to become who we inevitably need to become to create itself…?
Maybe this swirl of awe and marvel and good intent for the world and gratitude for ourselves in it is where all the religions came from. That is where our feel for the sacred in the world is conjured, surely, the ordinary, staggering mystery of where it all comes from before it is born here among us and where it all goes after it dies away from us, the starry midnight courtship of the heart that whispers, “What is gone is still with you, still here. As you will be.”
Not every experience needs to be put in the basket of “turn this into a beautiful piece of writing for the people”, but everything goes in the basket of – perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye.
(All these quotes are from A Handbook of Disappointed Fate, Boyer’s collection of essays on poetry, illness, avant-garde creative movements, mutual aid, reading, and crushes.)
After I got sick in late summer 2014, I followed U.S. poetry only from afar, as if walking by a shop window and glancing at it through a glass, even the most necessary uproar too expensive to my health for me to even think of buying […]
This rang so true to how these last two years have changed my relationship to the comics industry—a space I never felt particularly enmeshed in to begin with. Every discussion of online drama or publishing upset or new technology costs far more than I have capacity or inclination to spend. A relief, in some ways, to have that decision taken away from me.
My time in the time of illness has been unmeasurable or ir-measured or a-measured. Yet despite how this time can no longer steadily or predictably submit itself to clocks and calendars, for survival’s sake I still have to try to measure it.
Underlined this because I’m doing my annual workbook on the couch right now, surrounded by a corona of calendar pages and journals and sketchbooks, trying to piece together the fragments of a lost year.
The harm can be studied like anything, every wept tear a textbook, every minute of shallow breathing a monograph, seven hours and fourteen minutes of a sleepless night a textbook a tedious-to-read but potentially useful dissertation on having existed.
It is not as if what is true, right, urgent, and necessary is a light, and what is harm is the darkness. They are both darkness: they are both lights.
yes yes yes yes
15. There will be a lot of sewing last year’s fragments with this year’s threads.
Poetry is revenge porn against the self by the self.
As grim as reading has been for me, reading is not only the private amplification of the human worst. Reading is not merely escapism and militant solitude and everything shirked–that is, reading is not an act exclusive to words and books–and a person can also read the patterns of migrating birds or the lines in a soon-to-be-lover’s palm or the buds of oak trees or the damaged look in an eye or the danger headed this way or the people amassed in the streets. The world existed before books, and it always exists outside of them, and how a person should read is how a person must read, which is at least in duplicate, both always in this world and looking for another.
How do we celebrate when there is nothing to show for? Where do we turn when “to show for” is our work and our work is our art but we have turned towards watering the plants and painting the kitchen and building the fire? How do we fasten ourselves toward proving nothing to no one and sinking into the privacy of life?
It felt as if everyone else had already read Priestdaddy and I was last person to arrive at the Priestdaddy Party and yet when I scream at anyone in earshot about how this is the funniest book I’ve read in years, many of them haven’t heard of it at all. A reminder, then, to holler about the things we love, never assuming they’re old hat to those around us. We can always be the catalyst for someone’s next foray into joy.