Monday, March 23, 2015

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Aldous Huxley, Island

Aldous Huxley, Island
Harper & Row, 1962

As I read ‘Island’ I thought, “Wow, this is just the book for the world as it is right now” -- and I assume that readers have felt that way for all of the fifty-plus years this book has been in print.

‘Island’ is a tribute to the care and attention that is possible even now, as Big Oil, Wanton Destruction, Fake Spirituality and Sheer Nonsense roll in with their final victory, their FINAL final victory, bigger even than yesterday’s final victory.  Appreciation and real care remain not just possible but inescapable -- at least for those who are paying attention.

This book is intensely full: so many ideas, griefs, hopes, plans, theories, varieties of mischief.  It’s easy to imagine Huxley, terminally ill by this time, saying, “What the hell!  I’m putting it all in.”  Thus it’s natural that ‘Island’ succeeds far better as a mass of ideas, passions and energy than as a traditional plotted novel.  Seamlessness and efficiency are not the point.

I enjoyed this book a lot, was glad I read it, and this is despite loathing the first chapter, disliking the second, and thinking, “Oh, no.  Oh, God.  He must have been fond of D.H. Lawrence.”  (Yep, I guessed right...)  When, in the midst of the drama, we are treated to 35 pages on Huxley’s educational theories, I wanted to say, “Aldous!  Dude!  Reconsider!”

I ended up cheering the book because Huxley is so daring and so determined to include everything -- death, disease, loss, fury, grief, as well as five dozen theories, and the nature of ultimate reality -- you know, in case you had any lingering doubts about the nature of ultimate reality.  A dying man, he clearly used this book to instruct himself how to die.  To me, that’s stunning.

One more thing: nowadays it often seems that Huxley is the private property of New Age spiritual types -- after all, Eckhart Tolle refers to this book.  Thus, I was surprised to discover that there is nothing Huxley is better at than exposing the delusions, self-aggrandizement and sheer madness of self-proclaimed spiritual people.  Chapter 5, with its scary and hilarious portrait of the Rani, is the crown jewel of this novel.  I assume that Huxley meant to lampoon Theosophical types, as well as the devout ladies who clustered around the Vedanta Society in the mid-20th century.  I was chagrined to discover that the Rani seemed exactly like many of today’s New Agers and Neo-Advaitins.  (Like Huxley, I attempt to navigate contemporary Buddhist and Hindu traditions without becoming either nuts or a jerk.  It ain’t easy.)  To judge from Huxley’s portrait of the Rani, it appears that self-delusion has not needed to learn any new tricks -- the old tricks still work just fine.


The little sum of life forbids the raveling of lengthy hopes.
-- Horace 

But though I know beauty, I can’t express it until I’ve undressed.Have so much undressing to do.         
-- Joe Brainard, aged 19 


from 77 Irish Love Stories

We are good people, mostly.  We are a nice couple.  It’s just that we enjoy torturing the man who lives downstairs.  The man downstairs looked at us, right from the beginning, like a cockroach he’d caught in a napkin.  The man downstairs is closeted.  Not so closeted.  He’s on gaydar, grindr and scruff.  He is discreet, that venomous word.  He is the right kind of gay, the tasteful version now lauded all over the world, the good gays, who hate themselves and love to shop.  That is the real meaning of the word discreet.  He will have nothing to do with us, the queers upstairs. And his bedroom is right, directly, below ours.  Don’t you, too, feel that sex is much more fun if you are making noise?  Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.  And, considering that men have been taught they shouldn’t really like to take it up the ass, there’s something really liberating about growling fuck me, which, if we’re getting going, if poppers are involved, may easily become fuckmefuckmefuckme.  No doubt this is irritating to the man attempting to sleep, discreetly, downstairs.  This is impolite, it’s rude, I agree, but the thing that is really unkind is our tendency, while chipperly thumping away, to call out his name.  That’s not right.  We are clearly the wrong kind of homosexuals.  Queers.  The nasty horny disruptive variety, which were supposedly being phased out.  It must surely be difficult to relax, discreetly, when two guys are fucking upstairs and even more difficult when they are calling out your name.  Come on.  Come out, Brendan.  At least come upstairs.


from 77 Love Stories

It is the fashion, among his co-workers, to throw intensely horrible parties.  Sure enough, the party is tonight and the hostess just called to say what she’s not sharing.  The hostess bought a very expensive bottle of vodka, to drink by herself, because, if we only bring cider and beer, that’s not very fair, is it?  Also there’s not going to be any food.  We might order pizza so have money ready.  I continue to try to understand why we have to go to this party.  Like how car crashes seem to happen in slow-motion and yet you can do nothing to stop them.  But this is nothing, he says.  I should have been around for the fish party.  The guests had to share the price of the fish.  And the water, electricity and coal.  And the grill.  Or the barbecue party he didn’t know was bring your own meat.  And cook it yourself.  He had to around with his beers begging someone to trade a sausage with him.  I think his co-workers must secretly hate parties.  Certainly they don’t understand the spirit of them.  We’re going, he says.  Do not try to weasel.  Why is it you never want to have fun?


from 77 Irish Love Stories

His rendition of literary culture:
Oh!  I really adored your ‘come down my throat’ poem.  What’s it about?  LIFE.  So intense!!!


from 77 Irish Love Stories

He explains to me, lovingly, that my small stories will never succeed.  I will never be respected and I will die having wasted my entire life.  The problem, he explains, is that my stories are much too easy to understand.  No one’s going to feel special for getting it and that’s fatal, he says.  He strokes my hair and explains that I should lace my stories with arcane tidbits of Hindu cosmogony.  “Like talk about secret temples created by falling chunks of Lord Ganesh’s organs.  Then you could at least get a job as an adjunct.”  “You mean the devi shrines?” I ask.  But he says, “Wait -- who was Ganesh’s consort anyway?  And why wasn’t that news?”  I have to admit I’ve never heard anything about Lord Ganapati’s love life.  And you have to reckon he was popular: charisma, stenography, elephant parts and all.  The truth is I cannot help myself.  There are stories that are not being told.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

Note toward a catalog of states.  About the best state, which is not the highest, and if it is the lynchpin of delusion, it is also that which renders all else meaningful.  My being has composed itself into a single silent luminous circle, a sphere of receptivity and peace.  It is entirely clear what I have to do.  That’s all there is, just a subtle hum in the background.  It may not look like much, that little hum, but somehow it takes care of everything.

New Rules

from 77 Irish Love Stories

I am in support of a totally different system of retribution, so that married men who shelled out to get fucked by a scintillating tranny whore might wake up the next morning, disease-free, with a ten inch uncut thunder dong -- try explaining that one, buck-o!  I would also seek to close various loopholes, such as the tendency of pious well-to-do white people to get away with ANYTHING, which is a complaint with a long historical pedigree.  If duly elected to the office of karma, as a wholly impersonal force, with the well-being of my constituents always foremost in my mind, I propose an alternate system of karma, in which at least some of the dumb things we did to get love -- would get us love.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

It seems inconceivable that I am uninterested in threesomes and yet I swear that is the case.  20 years at the promiscuity circus -- clowns, elephants, acrobats -- and then one night the gypsies tore it all down and skipped town, off to torment and enchant other boys, those ravishing gypsies.  Just the same, I did consent and so he is on grindr now, reeling in some old lover.  “He doesn’t hate himself, he’s not from here.  He’s friendly and depraved.  He’s from Berlin.”  I am surprised how scared I am, now that the gypsies have abandoned me, now that I’ve slowed down enough to see individual people.  The German turns out to be jockey-sized and admirably rounded from the rowing machine.  His pull luggage contains only vats of lubricant and dildos in a bewildering variety of sizes.  After 2 cans of cider, my beloved strips down in front of the fire, and then there are 3 men and something like 17 penises.  As soon as the man from Berlin walked in the door, I ceased to worry.  He kissed me hello.  He brought beer.  He is the lover of my lover.  It does not much matter who I am.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

“Honestly I’m afraid the dry cleaning ladies have seen us naked so many times by now that I’m too ashamed to bring them laundry anymore.”


from 77 Irish Love Stories

Think how marvelous it would be if newspapers, along with the Classifieds, had a section marked Unclassifieds.  I would subscribe ardently.  I would miss not even a day.  Every morning I would leap out of bed, excited to read the morning paper.  The Unclassifieds would be full of things that didn’t fit anywhere else, unidentified things, things that didn’t quite make sense.  There would, of course, be freakish births, unidentified flying objects, acres of ephemera, spells.  Is this a story or a poem?  Is there an ending?  Did this actually happen?  Acres of uncertain writing, of which a miniscule portion would be discovered, years later, to be absolute genius -- at which point it would be impossible to puzzle out who wrote it.  Reprints of Walser, Brainard, Barthelme, Lispector, manifestos, gift wrap, rants, spectacular quantities of foolishness, but none involving famous people.  Dizzying stews and stark tidbits of language.  Riddles with the answers not provided.


from 77 Love Stories

Now he has resorted to threats.

If the heating bill is massive and you can’t give me money I am going to commit suicide.  I will kill myself and you will be left with nothing to suck.  Nothing!  Nothing to suck!  

#1 Most Strange

from 77 Irish Love Stories

I am a somewhat strange person.  There are many things about me which are slightly strange.  For example, I never learned how to ride a bicycle and I have never in my life met another boy who did not know how to ride a bicycle, girls yes, but not boys.  I dislike television, noise and importance.  My happiest hours have been spent in monastic-like spaces, even when not in actual monasteries.  I made love this morning to a man I made love to first five and a half years ago and I was as amazed by him this morning as I have ever been.  He was new all over again.  But there is one strange thing about me that is most strange and beside it the other strangenesses pale in comparison.  The very strangest thing about me is that I know exactly what I want.  I think hardly anyone knows exactly what they want.  Or first they want one thing, then they want something else.  Or they want what they assume everyone wants.  But I know exactly what I want.  I want to read strange books, study the dharma, and wander.  Above all, I want to write my small stories.  Let me write my small stories or allow me to die.  Let me write my small stories or allow me to die.  Let me write my small stories or allow me to die.  Let me write my small stories or allow me to die.  Let me write my small stories or allow me to die.  Let me write my small stories or allow me to die.  Let me write my small stories or allow me to die.  


from 77 Irish Love Stories

He is explaining (again) that just because his penis is awake does not mean I should wake up the rest of him.  But it’s hard!  “Nooo,” he says and for emphasis holds on to the tip of my nose.  “No long johnson.”  I do not know what enlightenment feels like, but I reckon it must feel something like waking up to discover that I am already in bed with a gorgeous naked man.  Nothing left to accomplish.  His penis (!), all ready to go, beckons from across the furred expanse.  I think my confusion is wholly understandable.  He says, This is just about being respectful.  I say, No. This is an inhuman feat of self-control.  He says, I am warning you.  I will wear underwear to bed.  I will buy pajamas.  (NO!)  You will not even see it.  I sulk, he rolls away.  I am settling into misery when he growls, You woke me up two hours early!  Now what am I supposed to do?  


from 77 Irish Love Stories

When I’m supposed to be writing and I abruptly find myself standing in the middle of the room prying the peel off one of the oranges he steals for me from work -- is that a mistake or not?  Do I set down the half-denuded orange and resume my work at once?  How will my work ever be fulfilled if do not cultivate focus, concentration and discipline?  But what if I actually need that orange?  Perhaps my body is taking advantage of a distracted moment to smuggle in some citrus.  A well-rounded diet is an unfortunate casualty of my current mode of living.  If I permit distractions, I’ll never make my small works perfect.  If I am never distracted, I will probably die.  I want to give you the smallest thing so naturally, so utterly, that you cannot help but receive its radiance, its endlessness.  This orange, for example, half-peeled, flying now toward the sink, and missing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Édouard Levé, Autoportrait

Édouard Levé, Autoportrait
translated by Lorin Stein
originally published in French in 2005
Dalkey Archive, 2012

In the noble and under-utilized lineage of Sei Shonagon and Joe Brainard, here is Édouard Levé’s Autoportrait.  Each sentence is a fresh start, “I” is the touchstone, but the point is not so much to trumpet the self as to endlessly give it away.  Like Joe Brainard’s “I Remember”, Autoportrait is an act of generosity, an intimate act.  Here is the self, its memories, habits and preferences, endlessly raveling and unraveling, appearing suddenly and disappearing to make way for whatever is next.

Autoportrait is 117 pages of unbroken text.  It may be daunting to not see a paragraph break, a place to take a breath, but this book is utterly and helplessly readable -- the only trouble is when you try to stop.  

On page 9 Levé writes, “In India, I traveled in a train compartment with a Swiss man whom I didn’t know, we were crossing the plains of Kerala, I told him more about myself in several hours than I had told my best friends in several years, I knew I would never see him again, he was an ear without repercussions.”  Reading Autoportrait is just like that -- I felt I was that man on the train, intimate from the start, hearing Leve’s memories, preferences, anguishes and tics in a rush.  (He mentioned never having had gay sex so frequently I wanted to tell him, “Come here, sweetheart, let’s tic that box already.”)

When I reached the end I wished there was more, so immediately I read it again.  After reading it twice -- because Levé writes he would be glad to live his life a second time but not a third -- I wished that this could become an established and recognized form: “the autoportrait” in honor of Leve.  It seems to me that the autoportrait is in some ways superior to the memoir, because it is closer to life than the story of it.  The autoportrait presents the “I” as it actually is -- an unstable, flickering, changeable multitudinous semblance, instead of one big unified project.  Think of how much better we would understand people and eras if we could sprinkle across time people like Sei Shonagon, Joe Brainard, Edouard Levé, and if autoportraits could be written, instead of the inherently misleading memoir: Chapter One, My Highly Promising Childhood.  

Inevitably, I had to try writing an autoportrait of my own and, sure enough, once the process got underway it seemed to turn to turn up much that was fresh and alive, as well as truths seldom glimpsed in the “official” version of me and who I’d like to think I am.  (* If anyone else has tried this, or knows others who have, I would like very much to read the result -- please contact me!)  

This book is unnervingly poignant because it appears to include both Levé’s suicide and how it might have been averted.  I am certain that reality was not so simple but reading this I could not help but wish that I could hurry back in time to 2007, to the final ten days between when Leve delivered his final manuscript (“Suicide”) and when he ended his life.  “Excuse me, sir, here is your ticket to India, it’s business class but you must leave tonight.”  

As that is not possible, we are left with this brilliant and fascinating small book, crammed with digressions, illuminations, and possibilities.  May it be read and emulated.

Autoportrait: Upon Returning to India

in emulation of Autoportrait, by Édouard Levé

March 2015

Here at the Hungry Eye, I’m perched above the cliff and look out upon the bright broad sea. The sign reads You Are an Organic Dream Constantly Evolving. Oh India. Here I am. Again. I slipped the noose, stepped sideways out of time, escaped. Anyway that’s how it feels. On this, my 13th time to India, I unzipped my bag to discover that I have done nothing to prepare, really nothing. No towel, no bedsheet, no sandals, no sunblock, no repellent. Worst of all the hot water pot was left behind in Galway. I did not prepare to go to India. I did not prepare to go anywhere. To judge from my bag I was mugged on my way to the library and spirited off, to Kerala, to a cliff overlooking the ocean, a few days before the festival of colors. Instead of lost or clueless, I could say I am awaiting instructions. I love how the Tibetan diaspora has trained backpackers to treasure momos in all places, in all weather, at all times, momos full of anything. When the taxi dropped me off it was still before dawn, the priests were performing arati before the crashing waves. Except for my own, every table in this cafe is laden with devices. Everyone has already been everywhere. A girl speaks of the blind masseurs of Siem Reap: I’ve never seen anyone so blind, I mean, they didn’t even have eyes! The situation with my crooking teeth is likely an emergency, I don’t know what to do. After decades of estrangement I now write to my father almost every day, I do not know that we have grown fond of each other, we recognize each other as experts in the fields of isolation and unpopularity. More and more it seems that comparisons are the most serious age-related disease that afflicts me. The barman asked, what are you looking for? we’ve got wifi, we’ve got plugs, I said I just need light, he said we don’t just have the light, we’ve got the WAY. Three years ago my husband was found to have AIDS, I was found to be invisible, neither of us have fully recovered. No one is bothered that I do not have health care, which I guess is why I’m enraged, for seven years I was his nurse. When I feel the ocean roar, I feel as though I am being rescued. When I pay attention to basic unease that I feel, the dull pain I forever try to escape, which drives all my tics and addictions, then look around, I see almost nothing but everyone else also trying to escape from the same basic discomfort. Does it sound insufferable to say that this is my 13th journey to India? It just is -- or else it isn’t, because most of those trips appear to have been taken by someone else. If there turns out to be another world, if wishes are permitted there, then what I wish is to run very fast down the beach, in the surf, with two whole legs. Most places here want to give you a beer in a tea pot or an oversized mug but I am always suspicious, I don’t think I’m getting the whole bottle I paid for. I am in love with a man who appears bored by everything that comes out of my mouth, I’m not certain this is evidence of a fault. It occurs to me that this is likely not the middle of my life, but late life, even very late. I am grateful that stray dogs generally recognize my harmlessness, cats too. The dogs here are so happy and playful, do any of them live beyond a year? One of my professors worked very hard to cure me of comma splices, it is with great joy that I recover them. Every crow I see I imagine to be the intimate of every other crow in the world and so I want this crow here on the beach in Varkala to speak to a crow on the quay in Galway and send a message to my lover reminding him that I would not be nearly so difficult if I was not crazy about him, obviously. Of all my current fantasies the most persistent is the wish to stay in a place long enough to have my teeth fixed, some physical therapy, maybe a skin peel, and can I get my ear fixed too, while I am dreaming? I often think that I would like to have a lover who thought I was wonderful, handsome even, even if he wasn’t nearly as gorgeous or interesting as the lover I have now, and this is very likely the essence of egotism. The pleasure and interest of writing a self-portrait is that the moment a sentence is composed it ceases to be me, it both is and isn’t, it bears the same relation to who I am as waves have to the ocean, you can’t say it isn’t real, but it would be silly to make a thing out of it. Although it may sound insane, for a decade I really believed that my husband would get around to loving me, I mean physically, but I guess I am lucky he didn’t. There are people walking around with sunburns so severe I wonder if they shouldn’t go to the hospital now to be under observation, as they pass by they are all saying the same thing, because of the wind you don’t feel it. I am glad to be in a place where men are constantly adjusting themselves and I am grateful for the tight pants that make that adjustment necessary. I appreciate the fact that every place here, no matter how humble, feels perfectly justified in referring to itself as a beach resort. I am therefore free to consider myself, at all times and in all places, a famous porn star. After I separated from my husband, all of our friends and relations gradually shifted to acting as though I did not exist, it was like watching many lights turn off, one by one, until only a few lights were remaining, one of the last relatives to acknowledge me was his cousin’s wife, beautiful, increasingly famed as a novelist but without pretension, eventually that light also switched off. Although I am not close to either of my brothers, I still adore them unreservedly just as I did as a child. After breakfast I walked into town, bought two simple towels for 30 rupees each, just two rough white cloths, one with a blue stripe, one with a red stripe, when the mirror of a van clipped my shoulder I turned around and went back to my room. I like very much being perched up high on the edge of a cliff: for once life actually appears as I feel it to be. Of all my negative qualities I assume the most immediately evident is my tendency to leer. If I could request a supernatural power it would be to be forever surrounded by dragonflies because I adore them and also to gobble mosquitoes. As it is, the only supernatural power I possess is the ability to always know who is well-hung, it’s a psychic dong gong, but that’s as far as it goes, I can’t reel them in, I just grin helplessly, like an idiot, which is certainly off-putting. One of the cliffside restaurants is offering blue marlin this evening, I’d never seen one before, astonished I stopped and stroked its blue wing, the man couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to eat it. Almost every restaurant here offers food from at least six nationalities, though I think it is wise to be wary of any place that promises both Israeli and Mexican. At a reunion of the extended family, I was surprised to discover that the most kind, inclusive, and socially adept of my relatives is a 5 year old girl with Down’s Syndrome. I would like to resemble a youth in a magazine, I impose on myself the most strict and generic beauty conceivable, my dearest friend is 62, she is ample bodied, she does not color her hair, anyone who does not consider her to be extremely beautiful is stupid. The path along the edge of the cliffs has recently been paved with bricks, most of it has a low fence, and still there are places you could take a false step and fall to your death. I am pleased to report that despite the onset of what gets called gay liberation, some young Indian men still hold hands, usually two fingers hooked to another two, as they walk along, swinging their arms. At least half the time I’ve had sex with Indian men I’ve afterward thought he just liked me ‘cause I’m a mammal but just the same I felt grateful and lucky. My love for the song that goes I love a rainy night has not diminished since I heard it first at the age of 8, and I love you too. . . I have a persistent fear of being maimed or killed by a falling coconut and thus I cannot enjoy sitting under a palm unless the coconuts have been removed and, in my defense, it does happen. Now that my jaw is so tight the only smile my lips can manage is a twitch around the edges, I am relieved to discover that a smile is accomplished almost solely with the eyes. At sunset I walked down the steps from my 5 dollar room and the boss lady commanded me, Sit! She served me a tray of prasad from the temple, a huge pile of it, there was no refusing, it was delicious. I thanked her, as I walked down the alley to the cliff’s edge I buckled over into a crying jag, I have no defense against covert acts of tenderness. I have never been able to tolerate good news. After every crashing wave the young Indian men must stop to pull up their scant wet briefs, say what you like about the ocean, it has the right idea. I always calculate how crazy I am by whether I am able to tolerate two radios blaring different songs in the same space, some days it’s OK, some days it’s out of the question, some days it’s kinda sorta, I lied just now, kinda sorta is as good as it gets. A Jesus freak I met in the waves used to be a Krishna freak, he was from Arizona, when he saw my crippled leg he asked if he could do a healing and I agreed but I think he’d had a couple beers so that he prayed, “Jonathan, please heal the leg of Jesus.” Probably the single truest thing about me is that I try too hard, like so hard it is excruciating to watch. All night the cover band was atrocious and then the lights went out and then they did an acoustic version of Sunday Bloody Sunday that was spectacular. Excuse me, through whose oversight have I not yet been vouchsafed a green-eyed Kashmiri boyfriend? I have only made one truly serious attempt to kill myself, OK two, and all things considered I figure that figure is remarkably low. If I could ask for one thing right now it would an ally for my work, I mean someone else who believed in it besides always only me. The Tamils are flirting with the blonde, “I see? I see or a/c?” Only in India do I remember that many of my odd tics aren’t odd, they’re Indian. I can find meaning in most of what happens to me, even bad things, but when I saw that I had not received the fellowship and downstairs they began to sing Happy Birthday it seemed to me malicious. With long gray hair and sadhu gear, the old hippies look foolish, whereas the yoga devotees are exquisite, gorgeous, and there is zero question with whom I’d rather have lunch. Every person in this cafe is typing away on their device and I am here with the Norton Book of Classical Literature, in hardcover, taking copious notes on a battered silver clipboard, like some militant extremist Luddite wackjob. So far I’ve only gotten as far as the introduction, in which we learn that Sumerian is difficult because there are at least 16 different meanings for gu. I am constantly tempted to take one of the Xanax my lover gave me before I left Galway so that I think of myself as a regular user even though I have not yet taken a single one. (How about now?) Big musclemen always make me think of cattle: the hormones, the diet, the regimen, rather than manly they seem to me domesticated. Most of the orange dogs on the beach prefer the shady zone beneath the beach chairs but I prefer the dog who has plunked himself down in the surf. I am also fond on the giant mutt who is right now shoving his huge head out into the glare so that his head, the shadow, and the rainbow umbrella all appear to be part of one very strange all-weather mammal. Pretty much all I do in the afternoons is endure. A pretty yoga girl is instructing the restaurant owner that he must never give the dog chicken bones they are VERY BAD, the dog meanwhile is slouched flat on the floor staring intently at the owner, as if intent transmitting telepathically the message, “Pay no attention to her. What does she know?” One of my most precious possessions is an 84 yen black ballpoint pen that is 2/3rds used up. My reading glasses are so hideous that I try to take them off before speaking to anyone, even to thank the waiter for bringing me water. Parasols always make me think of my lover, even though I have never seen him with one. I am not mad to be writing this way, it was Edouard Levé’s idea, or anyway I am not necessarily mad. Jonathan seems to me a generic name, but I am very glad not to be named Terry. Last night I googled my most brilliantly successful classmate, the one I envy the most, and I saw that she had tweeted, “Today it has been exactly one year since my mastectomy.” Nothing alters a day, a place or a feeling as much as someone speaking kindly to me, even very briefly. Plastic surgery makes much more sense to me now that I understand it is done more for status than beauty. It never fails to amaze me that a good blowjob can be so hard to give away. People who think they could have written Joe Brainard’s “I Remember”, if only they’d thought of it first, are idiots. Such generosity, such an orchestra! As a parting gift, my lover gave me a dildo and suggested that I name it, since it is orange, the color of holiness, I have named it “Swami-ji”. For decades I said piously, “I do NOT know how anyone could POSSIBLY like that.” The Chinese tourists are wearing white dresses and crowns of jasmine, as though in a Greek chorus. When I came to Varkala years ago there was a strange blind man in the room next to mine, he’d been one of the first American yoga instructors, he’d had several facelifts, he believed the chucks of aloe he rubbed on his face made him younger all the time, he looked like a ghoul but he was fascinating to talk to. Today, walking past the hotel, which I can no longer afford, I asked the proprietor, “Any idea whatever happened to him?” and the proprietor said, “He’s still here.” Almost none of my relatives will have anything to do with me, I don’t think they dislike me exactly, at least not most of them, the fact of my existence is somehow inherently uncomfortable. I go to the gym more for my mind than my body. My grandfather, who lived to be 96, taught me that growth and development are possible even in deep old age. It seems to me that ultimate reality is getting louder all the time, it is beyond birth and death, beyond being and not being, and it is jumping up and down, waving its arms, setting off flares. I like salmon sushi but I also like salmon deep-fried. Sometimes I like to remind myself that I am in an “anti-rush”. When you consider that it is possible to live under palm trees by the ocean, to eat curries with butter naan, to have no a/c but a fair number of Kingfishers, all for less than 500 bucks a month, it really surprises me that more people do not run away to Varkala. Suicidal persons ought to be given 500 bucks, a visa, a bucket of sunscreen and a plane ticket -- if it doesn’t work out, there’s the cliff. Sometimes I wonder if I might not be revealing just a little too much of myself. A swim in the sea is preferable to everything I am thinking. I was born at nine minutes after midnight, my birth certificate has one date and my social security card another. I was not expected to live. This long row of blooming red anemones. The salt drying on my skin after an early morning swim. What would I do without the Internet to remind me how very little I am appreciated? The German is here to drop off her puppy for babysitting, she hands over a large bag. “There are his things. They go everywhere with him. He loves meat. He loves fish. He loves prawns. He is not allowed to bite people and we tell him so.” By this point the entire housekeeping staff has gathered round, they look amazed. As I climb out of the waves in wet underpants I understand that the aim of men’s bathing suits is to buttress your dick so it doesn’t just look pathetic. My ravenous lust gives me a real advantage in India: go ahead, haggle with me, I am happy just to look at you, cram me on the bus already, I adore clean curried sweat. The times I am cheated are outnumbered by the times I am shown a tenderness and courtesy so extreme, so causeless, that it is difficult to think about without starting to cry. My drop-foot brace is now 22 years old, for nearly all that time I have hated it, now that it has grown brittle and transparent with age I feel tenderly toward it, it has gone with me everywhere, on the day that it breaks I will walk with a cane. I am still thinking about the lady who announced to the staff that her dog enjoyed prawns. The face in all the world that gives me the most joy is a face whose mouth often says, “Radio? Hell, I’ve got the face for radio!” I believe it is possible that you could discover the nature of reality just by paying complete attention to the swell and crash of the waves. One day in the front row of Latin class I got a raging boner and after class the white-haired old queen of a professor clucked, “I have never known anyone to have that response to the story of Acteon?” (He was torn apart by dogs, wasn’t he?) Perpetually failing at writing has given me an incredible life. When no one is watching, I prefer a heaping plate of nachos to almost anything. The lady would like the fruit salad, but without watermelon and with absolutely no grapes. At least once on every trip to India I try to add the sugar after the lemon and soda, thus creating a volcano. This tuna potato egg salad looks like an from Better Homes & Gardens, the carrot slices have been carved into hearts. Someday I ought to stop terrorizing restaurants, I walk in with two clipboards, sit in the corner writing, looking around, writing some more, until the staff is completely freaked out, I ought to tell them that I am only writing My Deep Thoughts About Life, as well as nasty perverted sex fantasies, I ought to confess I am nobody, but I can’t help it, I love getting the best food and such large helpings! I wish I could be friends with Edouard Levé, I’m not sure I’m the sort of person he’d like, he’s dead, I still wish. I understand that I play with words like someone fiddling with a combination lock to which the combination has been lost -- with little hope, but much interest. The landlady’s beefy son asked me about my crippled leg and after I explained it to him he kissed me on the forehead. There are moments I wonder if it wouldn’t have been preferable to choose a life activity at which I might have had a chance of success. Chuang-Tzu suggests that art shows up when concentration is so intense you’ve forgotten, first, about praise and blame, second, about success and failure, and third, about identifying with the body. Please click ‘like’, it means a lot to me! Abruptly I realize that what I would really like to survive death is my ability to make witty remarks. I would like to write a book entitled Self-Comforting Activities. I always expected to be excluded, so much that when I am included I start to cry, which embarrasses everyone. I generally appear too dumb to do anyone any harm, which has been a boon to me my entire life. I am a small and fierce survival animal, like my ancestors who scurried out of reach of the dinosaurs. I only wish that there was a discreet and dignified way that I could communicate to everyone that I operate a Complimentary Kashmiri Blowjob Service. Here is the last picture of my mother, she doesn’t look near to death, but that 7 year old with her sure looks like he’s got a screw loose. I have a lover who is extremely beautiful, some of his radiance is rooted in the fact that I am permitted to touch him. I am fond of my cousins, but I love my nieces even more. Whatever this is, I might as well go with it. There is a lot to be said for stowing me away in India, who knows if a use for me might yet be found? I would like to be able to pretend I believe I don’t care whether or not I am ever chosen. Tomorrow I will conduct an experiment in which I am beautiful. If I can remember not to be myself, what relief I will feel! Once, during an argument, my husband said, “Why don’t you just stay in India forever!” and right then I stopped what I was saying and agreed with him. When I say that I would also like to have health care, everyone acts as though I have had said something astonishing. Imagine what my life would be worth if I was a rich Dutch lady whom everyone liked, yes, imagine if my name was Wendela? I can barely swim but I will play in the waves until I am forced out. I can’t help but wonder if Leve might have been distracted from killing himself if he’d been spirited off to India, I mean it worked for me after that unfortunate throw-myself-at-the-Light-Rail incident. What is drunkenness but the back entrance to presence? Oh, to stop keeping track! It’s not true I am unemployed, I was supposed to disappear, and that’s just what I’ve done. I am a noisy ghost. I don’t know about you, but for me euphoria is nearly always caused by abruptly being able to let go. To let go at last. The announcer shouts, “It’s a cracker! It’s a Ritz!”

Friday, March 06, 2015

Who Will Save the Stories of Lucia Berlin?

Lucia Berlin, So Long
Black Sparrow Press, 1993

When I was 23 years old this was my favorite book.  Then as now, I was peculiarly strict about what should be read when and where -- there were books for the morning or the afternoon, for dawn, sunset or midnight.  There were the books that were right when accompanied by two strong cups of coffee, by casual distraction or complete exhaustion.  There were books that were right for the toilet, for the cafe, or for the bus.  So Long was the only book I had that I felt I could be read anywhere, at any time.  Even when I read it in the nightmarish waiting room of Denver’s public health clinic, this book didn’t condescend to me, it always granted to me its kind, funny, sad, wise company.

I discovered the stories of Lucia Berlin in the classroom of the legendary Bobbie Louise Hawkins, who had been a friend of Lucia’s and said that her writing was a hidden American literary treasure.  For months I carried this book everywhere and read it all the time.  I adored it.  Almost twenty years later, I reread the stories and -- Bobbie spoke the truth.  These stories are a treasure.  Like Chekhov or Saramago, these stories are profound instructions in the practice of compassion.  Anyone who reads and reveres Grace Paley or Alice Munro has got to read these stories -- but how are they are going to be able to do that?  The Black Sparrow Press books were heroic undertakings but they are fragile books and increasingly hard to acquire.  These are brilliant stories -- how are people going to be able to find them?

When I started rereading this book, I could find no evidence of a rescue mission, a book in the works.  Lucia died more than ten years ago now.  The neglect of her work since then seems as universal as it is senseless and maddening.  Checking again a few weeks later, I am astonished.  I find rumors that Macmillan is going to publish a Selected Stories of Lucia Berlin titled A Manual for Cleaning Ladies with an introduction by none other than Lydia Davis.  If this is true, then it is magnificently good news.  If the project flounders, we will be guilty of allowing the stories of an unsung American master to disappear.  May the rumors be true!  I hope very much that the re-discovery of the stories of Lucia Berlin is, at last, about to commence.

Drastically Less

from 77 Irish Love Stories

Like everyone else, he is frustrated because I do not want to watch movies.  It’s not true that I dislike movies.  Movies are difficult for me.  Movies are too much.  You see, I respond to everything as though it were actually happening.  I duck at gunfire.  I hate to see anyone in danger.  There’s too much arguing in movies.  Frankly, I am too exhausted by my own emotions to want to take on anyone else’s.  If only movies were much slower, if only drastically less happened.  (I am always willing to watch movies with nice music and lots of soaring birds.)  For example, this scene here, where the young couple is shown kissing in a Victorian wedding cake of a mansion.  Now look at the staircase behind them.  Not the grand staircase.  The small staircase off to the side.  The way the light hits it.  I have nothing against this charming and unlikely couple.  It’s just that I would rather not proceed to his dire illness, the blooming of his genius, the affair with the speech therapist.  I would like to stay right here and watch the light on the staircase.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

Any day now I will be declared the undisputed king of the world.  Although my rule will be absolute, please don’t worry!  Most things will be much better.  Especially if you are an impractical sort of person: poet, nudist, treehugger.  As for public whistling, excessive sniffling, and little crinkly bags of chips -- enjoy them while you still can.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

He eats rarely, but beautifully.  For him the function of food is primarily talismanic.  He may announce he is going out for groceries and come back an hour later with a bottle of elderflower cordial.  A diet of talismans does not appear to do him any harm.  (I assume it is his nature to be very pale.)  Just the same, he is not without mercy and can be convinced, for people he likes, to cook flawless meals in the style of northern Italy.  Other days he simply collects beautiful ingredients: fresh figs, small tomatoes on the vine, truffle oil, pomegranate.  He is especially fond of the brightly colored macaroons from Le Petit Delice.  Ten hours a day he spends on the phone being insulted in five languages.  The remaining time he spends like the proudly ornamental daughter in a family of imperial descent.  Food is only for pleasure -- it is not something he needs.  It goes without saying that in bed he is weirdly insatiable.  How does he survive actually?  How do any of us?  For a very short time we are held, inexplicably, in mid-air.


from 77 Irish Love Stories
for Aileen

There are now thousands of teachers of creative writing.  Still, I am confident that I could be one of the worst.  I would stand in front of the workshop and say things like, “It’s simple really -- you crouch in the underbrush until rabbits start appearing.  The rabbits just show up, if you are patient and quiet enough.  Please, understand.  I’m not saying you shoot the rabbits.  That would be Hemingway.  It more like the bunnies go up, one by one, to the microphone.”

Midnight Mass

from 77 Irish Love Stories
for Rachel

Every year, it seems to me, the Christians get it exactly right for two hours.  I try to be there if I can.  Midnight mass, they call it.  But I felt a little scared to go to mass in Galway.  Obviously the Irish take this all very seriously and what if I did something wrong?  Still, for the chance to hear a choir at night within stone walls I will accept certain risks.  I was glad to see plenty of other people were wearing jeans.  And other folks sat when they were meant to kneel or missed the cue either to stand or sit down.  Nobody else wanted to say, ‘Peace be with you’ either.  (Is that what you’re supposed to say?)  We all put coins in the offering basket.  Nobody had any clue which direction to pass it.  At the suggestion of communion several people looked visibly alarmed.  The choir was transcendently splendid, though at the end I noticed that many people left before the end of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.  Imagine!  These are people who would walk out on their own orgasm.  To say nothing of their partner’s.  On the whole I would like to say -- even though I am not a Christian -- how heartwarming, inspiring and cheering it is to attend midnight mass, where no one else has any clue what’s going on either.

Midnight Mass / 2

from 77 Irish Love Stories

The bishop was there, in his adorable hat.  I think maybe he has had a small stroke because his voice is hard to understand, especially when he rushes on, as if he can’t get through mass fast enough.  Probably by the time you are bishop you are tired of going to church.  The mayor and his wife were there.  He must be capable because he couldn’t have looked less impressive.  The mayor’s wife’s coat must have cost a fortune but what’s the point of all those adorable rat-like animals dying if you’re just going to wear it and slouch?  Jesus died for our sins.  The ermines died for naught.  The altar boys in their matching green suits were adorable.  Which was disquieting at first.  Until I realized they were all at least 18, terrifically sturdy and well able to look after themselves.  Or maybe the priests just asked a rugby team to help with midnight mass?  Anyway, the altar boys were HOT.  May the saints preserve us all.


from 77 Irish Love Stories
for CA Conrad

6 years old and already defensive, I said to my mother, I have brought you dandelions even though I know you do not like dandelions.  My mother said, I like dandelions when you bring them to me.  Now here I am, gray-bearded, wrinkled and unchanged, clutching my small stories, so doggedly minor, so full of dirt and sun.  Which sounds like a plea for emotional indulgence.  Absolutely not.  Well, okay if you feel like it.  But meanwhile the dandelions were all the time radiant, with sweet brightness, with jagged leaves relentless.  Aged 6, I was performing one of the principal jobs of children by assisting my mother to see them.  What I mean to say is     please      allow me to be your small boy.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

Leaning over the sofa to kiss him hello, I straighten up to discover that I’ve covered him in golden 50 cent coins.  “Good dog!” he says.  And: “Why can’t it always be like this?”  Just think: if we made a little money every time we rubbed up against each other, we’d be very well off.  (And how about that for keeping love alive!)  Naturally we have to get crude right away.  “Hey dog, I need another bottle of Jameson!”  Jack-off motion.  “Here you go.  27, 28, 29 -- and here’s the 50 cents.”  Hell, we’d be paying the rent if we earned even pennies on the thrust.  We’d wake up every morning in a bed full of money!  Coins would drop out of pant-legs as we walked together, two ballsy queers holding hands in the streets of Galway.  As it is, we just manage to eat.  But it’s true that we do an excellent job of entertaining each other, without spending hardly any money at all. 


from 77 Irish Love Stories

A reunion, overheard, at the fish n chips shop.  Friends from uni, still young, explaining the men that they’ve become:  Had a few medical issues last year.  What happened?  Lost a testicle.  OH.  They thought it was cancerous but it wasn’t.  Still treat me like it was cancer but it wasn’t cancer.  Shit.  Thought I’d better get married and have kids before the other one drops off.  Seemed like the right idea anyway.  Last year.  Gone to hell now.  Even my phone’s crap.  Well you look great, just the same, seems like.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

He is one of those people who live almost entirely within comparisons.  It is a grueling fate: comparing this fish on the plate to every fish since birth.  Any city must necessarily seem lackluster for a young man who lived for years in Venice.  A lot of courage and humility is required to be the lover of this man.  I am able to do so only because I have a lot of experience in being disappointing.  I have been disappointing my whole life.  No one is more disappointed than myself.  My job is to adore him.  It’s an easy job.  I only really want to murder him when he mentions Belfast.  Belfast, for all its rough edges, was really alive, really vibrant, as well as personable, affordable, and friendly.  I knew him, of course, when he lived in Belfast.  He never failed to mention what a hellhole it was.  In the same way I know he will grow to approve of me -- but not until after I am gone.  This is not tragic.  His disappointment is the very most gentle and considerate that I have encountered in my entire life.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

keep me in the fridge & dilute me   says the cap of the elderflower cordial.  I am so totally jealous.  Even objects know what they are supposed to be doing.

One Question

from 77 Irish Love Stories
for Radha

If I could have the answer to only one question, I’d ask about this -- the odd luminosity in the background.  Do you notice it too?  An underlying hum.  The very peculiar brightness of space.  Is that -- something real?  Or is it just a mirage, an odd quirk of consciousness?  Is it real but temporary, like noticing your heartbeat or the rush of blood in your ears?  Is it simply due to my penchant for very strong sweet coffee?  Or to schizophrenia in my family?  It is just wishful, or only woo woo?  I really wish that I knew.  Because, if it turns out to be true, then, when the body falls away -- no big deal.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

He has never liked the name Jonathan, he says.  Some bastard in his elementary was named Gionata.  And he admits he has a huge fetish for calves.  The kind attached to legs, of which most people have two, and not baby cows, which I could at least buy.  He doesn’t read my little stories.  When I asked him why, he said that fragmentation didn’t interest him.  He wants me to write something real, something that makes money.  Maybe the next Game of Thrones.  I admit I had a secret plan that I was going to win a fellowship and then he would be proud of me and decide that there was maybe something to it, after all.  I really thought I might win.  (Why does that seem to me now the very most shameful thing I could possibly say?)  But of course the genuinely good and insightful people at Lambda Literary wrote to say they’d really rather I didn’t emerge and I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it, I cried.  Although I work hard to always remain entirely hopeless, sometimes the temptation to construct a non-loser persona gets to be too much, but, you know how it is, the world won’t sign off on it.  He went out and bought me cans of hard cider and those seriously good salt and vinegar chips but I could tell he was really getting impatient.  His weekends are sacred.  He just went off to the bar alone.  I don’t know why it ought to be so hard, just to get permission to be sad for one single solitary day.

A Summary of My Mistakes

from 77 Irish Love Stories

Or, as if holding on ever made a difference.

Or, as if holding on made a difference.

Or, as if holding on changed anything.

Or, as if holding on changed anything ever.

Or, as if holding on were the answer (was the answer?)

Or, as if.

(The first time I heard the story boom across my mind, a story in a single phrase, I knew it was exactly right.  Finished and correct.  The problem was that I was doing the bench press, had a big dumbbell in each hand, and my notebook was in my bag in the locker downstairs.  Well, I’ll remember it, I decided.  And I repeated it several times to make sure.  Of course I forgot it.  None of these sentences are the sentence I heard first, though I’m quite sure the title is correct.  None of these sentences are the correct story.  They are all mistakes.)


from 77 Irish Love Stories

What can I say?  He doesn’t get home until almost 9 and by 9 I am tired.  I can’t help it, I’m totally a morning person, though of course I do my best -- cup of strong green tea, try to sneak in a nap, cold shower -- to act lively when he gets home.  I’d prop my eyes open with toothpicks if I thought it might help but, just the same, by the time he gets home I’m winding down.  “I work,” he teases.  “What do you do all day?”.   It’s not exactly true that I do nothing.  I contort my mind into strange shapes in hope of obtaining interesting results.  This may or may not be a sane use of time but it is indisputably tiring.  By 9 o’clock there may not be much left of my mind but, in my defense, I have done at least some of my chores and I am happier to see him than an old dog left alone all day at home.  I mean well, I really do, and I’m sure he means well too, but it doesn’t always come across that way, not tonight, so that when I find him on the bed staring into his phone, I give up and I ask him what’s wrong and he reminds me sternly that when I say I am fried or burnt-out or overwhelmed, as I did tonight, as I do far too often, it makes him feel tense, really spoils his night, and right off I say that it was obvious to me the minute he walked in the door that he was in a bad mood and so it’s totally not fair to say that I spoiled his night just because I acknowledged what was going on anyway.  And he says it’s much worse when I say we, like we are having the same emotion, like I just know it all, and yes he’s maybe a little off tonight, he’s tired, just like I always say I am tired, can’t he say he is tired sometimes, and why can’t I ever just leave it alone, not say anything, then soon enough we’ll be all right, he was all right anyway, not so bad, and then I had to go and talk about it and say again that my brain was fried, fried, fried.  Why can’t I just leave it alone?  Leave it alone?  I ask, I’ll leave it alone and I jump up from the bed, stomp out and SLAM the bedroom door and go to sulk in the living room, the only other room there is, it’s not like I can go storming off to the other end of the estate.  Unfortunately.  Now, reading this, you might think I’m a little foolish or self-dramatizing (!) but if you really understood about him, about me, about my Gothic childhood, which was like a Disney holiday in a tiki-tiki village compared to his childhood, the shit he went through, you wouldn’t think I was foolish or self-dramatizing to raise my voice menacingly or stomp or slam a door, no, you’d be totally clear that I am a total fucking asshole.  You’d contact him privately, suggest he change the locks, and offer to pay for it yourself.  After about 5 minutes I message him on Facebook to apologize and he writes back, “I didn’t see that coming.”  Well, neither did I.  “Can I come back now?”  “I guess.”  He’s sitting on the bed with his glasses on staring into his phone, porn probably, and sure, it’s awkward but this time I keep my mouth shut and just sit beside him on the bed.  He’s so beautiful, as well as adorable, how anyone could ever raise their voice to such a person is beyond me.  After awhile I gently butt my head against his chest, like a baby goat or a dog who is terribly sorry.  He ignores me.  I lift my head and nuzzle his cheek and finally he reaches a hand out and strokes my hair.  We lie down then and spoon together.  One thing I’ve noticed is how after every fight we become adhesive, like our bodies are trying to make up for the dumb messes our voices make, like the well-meaning mothers of deplorable children.  Like, sorry sorry sorry, just let me pay for that.  We are still not OK (fuck I said we again) but with any luck sleep or our dicks will take over.  I’m sorry, I say.  He says I say sorry too much.  (I pretty much try to include it in every sentence, just in case there’s a call for it.)  I figure it’s OK to say sorry now that I’ve definitely done something wrong.  I’m sorry, I whisper.  Beautiful man.  But he’s either asleep or pretending.  

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Holy Books: Joe Brainard

Joe Brainard, The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard
Ron Padgett, Editor
Library of America
Penguin, May 2013

I feel as though I had a small important love affair with this book.  For weeks I carried it with me everywhere, clutching it, telling everyone about it, reading aloud from it as if from a scripture.  I imitated it, I copied down its moves, I argued with it.  More than once I got annoyed.  Sometimes, particularly toward the end, I wish it tried a little harder.  I admit I feel a little like I had an affair with Joe Brainard himself -- a liberty for which I hope he would forgive me.  I think he would.  I loved this book.  I wanted it to go on forever.

The first portion of the book, “I Remember”, has long been renowned.  Brainard discovered that the phrase “I remember” was a magic key and since then memoirs (and creative writing classes) have never been the same.  The other sections, gathered from Brainard’s notebooks, literary magazines and small press books are presented in such a way that it feels you are flipping through his notebooks -- a choice which seems to me correctly intimate, casual and inviting.  (Really, it’s no wonder that I felt like I was having an affair.  It’s designed that way, I swear.)

More often than not, Brainard writes from the present moment and he seeks to do so in as simple and open a way as possible.  Reading this book, I asked myself repeatedly if such writing could ever be done now, if it could ever be recognized and embraced -- or if we are too stuck in the pride of fancying ourselves incomprehensible, complicated, difficult.  Could writing like this ever find readers now?  Would the self-proclamed avant-garde stick ever up for it?  (If so, I admit I have a stack of pages I wish to show them.)

I felt more than a little envious of how Brainard seems to have been surrounded by warm-hearted geniuses: Ron Padgett, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Anne Waldman, Joanne Kyger -- people I have idolized for a long time.  If you are a fan of any of these writers, this time in history, or The New York School of Poetry -- this is a book you must acquire at once.  If you are as yet uninitiated, you are still very likely to be smitten.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

Put the frequency first.  Even the possibility of the frequency.  That quality of listening, which matters even more than what is heard.  Yes, that’s very much what it’s like, like fiddling with knobs on a radio.  Static mostly, ads, repeats, boors, wingnuts, interstellar communication, and occasionally some old-fashioned story-telling.  Tears, torch songs, strenuous elations, awkward fervent kitchen dances.  Above all the opportunity to pass 4 hours and then ask, We have been doing -- what, exactly?  

How to Start a Civil War

from 77 Irish Love Stories

The moment the buzzer rang I took the dress shirts out of the washer.  Each one I shook, then smoothed, then placed it on a hanger.  Buttoned each one, smoothed it again, straightened it, then hung them all in the sunny window directly facing the dry cleaners as if to say, “HA!  We don’t need you!”  I wondered then if this might not be too aggressive.  Provocative.  Combative, even.  Hurriedly I took the shirts down from the window.  Hoped no one had noticed.  I hung the shirts in the bedroom window.  There was a lot less sun there.  Still a good chance the shirts would dry before mildewing.  Fair to good chance, here in Ireland where it rains all the time, where I want so much to get along with everyone.  Certainly I don’t want any trouble.  It’s very likely that I will take the shirts to the shop to be ironed.  After all, it’s important to support small business.  And I’m dreadful at ironing.  And they are such nice people, all of them, they really are.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

The first, most obvious, problem is the teeth.  At this point I could probably be classified, taxonomically, as a narwhal.  What causes one tooth to leap out in front of the others?  The second problem is that it is impossible for me to talk to strangers without them noticing at once that I am terrified.  Why must I be this way?  Why isn’t it enough for me to be scared all the time without everyone having to know about it -- you know, like everyone else?


from 77 Irish Love Stories

Early morning isn’t early here on Prospect Hill.  The dark stays for so long.  Through the black door and up scuffed steps to a small apartment: drab but with fireplace and walls freshly scrubbed.  Nearly all the mail is for people who no longer live here, a long procession, not prone to flourishing, who left cigarette burns on all the furniture.  The downstairs is real and registered; upstairs we do not exist.  Our view is of the sun rising over Shannon Dry Cleaners, the sun which soon will be intercepted by storm clouds.  The dry cleaners, I see now, have put up fake trees with white lights on either side of the door.  For weather, two kinds are available: steady rain and mist that soaks to the bone.  I appreciate I was told in advance that umbrellas don’t work here.  It would be too much to say things are going well.  We don’t want that kind of attention.  It is enough to note an unexpected, though deeply welcome, tendency toward cheerfulness.

Grow Light

from 77 Irish Love Stories

If you’re looking for a way to liven up your time in Ireland: go to one of those mammoth garden/home improvement warehouses and ask for a grow light.  The rumpled lady clerk blinked and asked me three times what I wanted.  “A grow light.  You know, one of those lights you grow stuff with.  Indoors.”  Seemed like the most reasonable request in the world to me.  The shop was large enough to park aircraft.  There were aisles of light bulbs and lamps.  I thought I was asking for the very most obvious thing.  This is Ireland.  There is NO SUN.  Almost none.  So little sun that whenever the sun comes out I am alarmed because there is a blazing ball of fire in the sky!  I noticed the kind lady was looking at me suspiciously.  She’d been so kind a moment before, warning me off the cheap desk lamps.  “I just need to keep my basil alive.  How does anyone grow anything here?”  The lady narrowed her eyes.  “We.  Don’t.  Sell.  Anything.  Like.  THAT.  Here.”  Then I understood.  Sunlight!  Ireland!  What could be more subversive?  But -- this was like those other times.  Like when I showed up at the pharmacy wanting nothing but 12 boxes of Sudafed.  Or a few boxes of clean syringes.  Like when I try to buy masses of fertilizer, even though I am obviously not a farmer.  I was the radical element!  I was undermining the establishment!  I was perverting the youth of Ireland!  I aimed to unleash lawlessness and depravity!  Incidentally, all of these things are true.  Totally true.  I just wasn’t expecting this particular person to register the fact in this particular moment.  I really was just trying to keep the basil alive.  You see, I went to Tesco and it was a euro twenty for cut herbs and a euro fifty for herbs in a pot.  Seemed like a clear decision to me.  I thought it would be lovely to have herbs growing on the windowsill.  It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized it would be impossible to keep the herbs alive, particularly the basil, because Ireland has NO SUN.  It was exactly as if I’d bought a cute bunny for Easter, then discovered it had severe hip dysplasia.  I felt morally responsible.  I couldn’t just put the basil out on the curb to freeze to death.  I couldn’t just, you know, eat it. 


from 77 Irish Love Stories

with thanks to Abraham and Giada

An essential word, obviously.  As soon as he says it, I can’t imagine how I ever got by without it.  In Italy, he tells me, there are vineyards where you can can fill plastic bottles with wine for a euro fifty.  And it’s really excellent wine.  Then he’d go with Abram to the bulk food area of the supermarket, scoop out a few kilos of pistachios, choose self checkout, and label them “ beans”.  Some days they had nothing but red wine and pistachios.  That’s aristo-poverty.  Or, how about this: I remember the autumn I spent in P-town when I was 23.  At first I felt sleazy for sleeping with guys just so they’d buy me dinner.  Finally I understood that what I was doing was wrong.  I was making a mistake.  The mistake was ordering scrod.  After that I always ordered lobster.  I felt so much better.  Aristo-poverty!  How have we survived without this word?  I think of my PhD waitstaff friends, keeping a house full of waifs going on 5 star leftovers.  Or, after a stint of homelessness, a gig cat-sitting in the mansion of well-to-do friends of friends.  Washing up in the bus station, turning tricks at the Four Seasons.  For a time there wasn’t a homeless youth in America with hand towels the equal of mine.  There are ways and means that the cautious and diligent cannot comprehend.  There are minor but influential deities devoted to the well-being of scapegraces and scoundrels.  Despite owning no decent shirts, we travel ceaselessly, without end, and we dine at the finest restaurants, or else we go hungry.



from 77 Irish Love Stories

In bed, propped up on one furry and delectable arm, he says, “Prob’ly that’s why everything you write’s so short.  ‘Cause it’s all the time: I want to be a great wri--  sex sex cock cock cock.”  Here again he supplies his trademark happy cocksucking sound, which is the sound someone else might make to mimic children munching sandwiches in the park or a big sloppy dog lapping water from his bowl. 

The Percentages

from 77 Irish Love Stories

Recently, while standing at the urinal, I determined that pissing is 5% as pleasurable as shooting a load.  That’s no big deal, to be sure, but it’s not negligible either.  Right now I am pleased to report that I am still getting laid.  That particular wavelength of grace is still mine.  And I am strenuously grateful.  Still, I know this won’t last forever,  maybe not even so much longer.  When it ends, I would like to give the world a gift: I would like to be one less old embittered queen, slathered in moisturizing cream, livid with self-loathing, venomous, catty, and paying for it.  The world does not cease to be ravishing when it loses all interest in snaking a hand into my pants.  Therefore, I here compile a list of alternatives, of compensations, of sexual activities not sufficiently appreciated, so that the wizened bald old man I may one day become can go on appreciating, go on celebrating, without feeling too embittered, or left out of a world that goes right on being gorgeous.  Therefore.  Pissing is 5% as good as sex.  Here are some other percentages:

Shampoo at the barbershop: 35% as good as sex.

Heavy bulges in sweatpants: 25% as good.

Sporty boy reaching toward a high shelf exposing his taut belly, the furry inch above and below his navel: 50%.

Shaving at the gym with a naked Irish tough beside me: bald, red-faced, glowering at the mirror,  meaty fist around the razor, face lathered with shaving cream: 65%.  At least.

Indian bus journeys with sweaty peasants and a relentless motor rumbling under my balls: 20%.  If the goat herders and cigarette men are slouched not caring about boners jutting out in their tight smudged pants, it’s just as good as sex.  (Chance of death/disfigurement on an Indian bus journey: 10%)

Assisting musclemen on the bench press: 20%.  Trading bicep exercises with rugged Latinos: 50%.  (Facial tattoos or freeballing add 25% each.)

Irish bar fights in which one man grabs his crotch and screams: SUCK THIS!  35%  (It is assumed in this case that you are neither the target of the aggression nor close enough to be endangered.)

Hugs from fully-grown distressingly handsome nephews and nephews-in-law: 5%.  Maximum, 5%.  That’s all I will ever admit, even if tortured by fire.Rugged woodsmen types adjusting themselves in public: 15%.

Acceptance letters from highly prestigious university press publications: 2%.

Likes on Facebook: 1% per 500.

Skinnydipping at night is every bit as good as sex if the water is warmish and you feel that the dark water receives you, caresses you, and welcomes you just as you are. 

I said pissing was 5% as good as fucking but actually that’s not sufficiently specific.  Pissing at a trough urinal is 10% as good.  20% if the trough’s at an Irish bar, 40% if it’s Saturday night, and if it’s a trough urinal in an Irish bar on Saturday night in South America then: good as sex.


from 77 Irish Love Stories

This kind of day: I wish to receive a Moneygram but the Moneygram people explain that Moneygram works perfectly well in Britain, where Moneygram is done at the post office and they always have money, whereas, here in Ireland, Moneygram is not done at the post office, Moneygram is done at little shops, which seldom have money, so here in Ireland I should have known never to go with Moneygram, I should have known to go with Western Union, the Moneygram folks insist.


from 77 Irish Love Stories
for CEZ

Walking on the quay, by water’s edge, just past the Spanish Arch, I saw a heron, so grand in gray and white, like a ferocious intellectual, like the boss, and I felt just as I had when I saw a heron as a child, that awe, that sense of being wildly fortunate.  He was standing entirely still and, as herons do, he appeared to be thinking very important thoughts.  He was letting me come so close!  I was maybe 20 feet away when two loud duffers came along; he flew off and hid himself behind a line of cars.  Right away I was chatting with myself: oh how lucky I was to see a heron and be so close to a heron and have I ever been so close to a heron before oh no I don’t think so -- when the heron vaulted into the air, flew toward me, hovered, immense, before me in the air and landed an armslength away, as if to say, “Sorry we were interrupted -- you were saying?”  But I had nothing to say.  My mind melted into an incandescent ball and vanished into the heron until the heron rose into the air and flew out to sea, leaving me there blown apart and gasping like an asthmatic.  I remember thinking then, with the available small shreds of my mind, “Nice.  That’s helpful.  Now I can understand a little and have some empathy for the prophets and Mary, for what they must have felt when the angel descended.”  Next, my ever-vigorous capacity for logical deduction was restored.  “Is that you, Linda Lou?” I asked to the air.  “Are you making use of your newfound freedom to joyride the herons?”  I then explained to myself sternly that obviously the herons in this area had become so accustomed to the human presence (and free handouts) that they no longer shied away.  I explained this to myself a second time, then a  third.  Because it was obvious that I was not making the slightest impression on myself, a moody queer drama queen dead-certain he has just received a divine visitation.  I apologized to myself for being, yet again, a fool.  It could not be helped.  A heron had flown to me.  In my mind I very clearly heard my husband, from whom I am estranged, say, not unfondly, “And how long are we going to have to hear about this for?”