the end of winter break
I wake too late, 11 am, confused. The cat is squalling in the hallway, her dish empty. Patchy clouds outside, so I race to haul the avocado tree outside, browning holes in its undersunned leaves, for what light it can get. Carefully palpate Brian, the angry red underground pimple on my chin that has been there for two weeks now, to see if he’s anywhere near leaving: maybe slightly deflated? (Apologies to my friends named Brian.) Pee. Try to pray. Get distracted halfway through. Check email: no acceptances, no rejections. Put a hot compress on Brian. Wonder if this is helping or making him worse. Think about last night’s dreams, which were epic and colourful and complicated and starred most of you reading this. Wonder what it’s going to take to get me to sleep through the night—awake from 2 to 4 am, churning, thrashing, freaking out. Wonder what it’s going to take to get me to finish my incompletes. Wonder if I’ll get kicked out of PhD school.
Then I sit here for a long moment, thinking/doing nothing. There’s been a lot of that, this break. Too much.
A thread on Facebook, where Lemon Hound links this gemlike, wistful post from BAP guest blogger Don Share (with whom I worked in the same basement office, albeit at a much more lowly position and for such a short period of time as to make our experiences incomparable)—and then she notes, rightly I think, that too few writers apprentice these days. But what about the ones of us who never move on from the apprenticeship, I find myself thinking. Who are still hanging up coats and fetching the metaphoric coffee? Is that even true? Always the managing editor, never the editor? That always seems to break down along gender lines, at least at smaller magazines. Those who don’t believe the gender wage gap exists might say it’s our fault, for shirking increased responsibility—for not having the confidence to stride forward, for remaining quietly in the background waiting to be rewarded instead of being more ballsy with our submissions and our editorial vision? Or are we just drowning in so much administrative work, playing Martha to Mary, that we don’t have time for frank self-promotion? I don’t know. Haven’t known for a long time. Maybe I’ve made too many career changes, is the thing. I was always trying to find a job that let me write. When I was an “editorial assistant” (managing editor without the title—my job description suffered constantly from unfavorable comparison to, of all people, that of Roger Kimball, who was at the time ME for The New Criterion; our editor had the unfortunate idea that ours, founded as a literary magazine, should be more like theirs, which attitude is as far as I’m concerned what ran the journal out of business—although now as then, no one particularly cares what I thought about Partisan Review)—as an editorial assistant/managing editor, I wasn’t writing; so I quit. But then I also wasn’t really writing as an adjunct, as a grant manager, as a freelance critic/copy editor, as a ghostwriter. And now I’m not writing as a PhD student. The common denominator here is me, so it must be my fault. Or my writing just isn’t very good. Okay, this is January talking.
And January has been talking pretty much incessantly since, well, the first of the year. That’s 10 days of January hissing into my ear all her insidious little half-lies that sound so true. I’m one week off Emsam which means another week before I can start something new. I should call and make a pdoc appointment right now. [Does not move.]
Should I stop with the hot compresses and just use tea tree oil? But that wasn’t really working either?
There are a few honey mandarines left but they’ve gone sour & bitter.
After what was, on the whole, a really lovely break, filled with doing nice relaxing low-key things together, my consort and I recently had, not to varnish it, a series of horrifying fights which have left me and presumably him feeling internally shredded and uncertain. They started before my med change and continued into it. It has taken me many days to write this out and I am not able to add more, or explain, or anything. I can only say that 2013 has already had its allotted share of desperate ugly scrapping and I am deeply committed to neither instigating nor perpetuating any additional conflict, no matter what.
The postman slops more mail through my open front door and walks away chatting on his headset. He’s a genial man but you can never speak to him, because he’s always on the phone. A new perk of being a postal carrier.
The cat is outside relishing the warm weather, nowhere to be seen. She tends to go around the corner of the house where the sun flickers and therefore there are lizards, slow and easy to pounce upon.
Next to my front door are three parcels to be mailed. If you haven’t gotten yours I’m sorry. It’s literally one block to the p.o. and still it seems so far.
Instead I have just entertained myself by hate-reading some Kimball, one of those bowtied neocons who still touchingly believes the culture wars have any currency. E.g.:
Much of what presents itself as art today can scarcely be distinguished from political sermonizing, on the one hand, or the pathetic recapitulation of Dadaist pathologies, on the other. Mastery of the artifice of art is mostly a forgotten, often an actively disparaged, goal. At such a time, simply telling the truth is bound to be regarded as an unwelcome provocation….An equally important part of criticism revolves around the task of battling cultural amnesia. From our first issue, we have labored in the vast storehouse of cultural achievement to introduce, or reintroduce, readers to some of the salient figures whose works helped weave the great unfolding tapestry of our civilization. Writers and artists, philosophers and musicians, scientists, historians, controversialists, explorers, and politicians: The New Criterion has specialized in resuscitating important figures whose voices have been drowned out by the demotic inanities of pop culture or embalmed by the dead hand of the academy.
Pathetic Dadaist pathologies! The great unfolding tapestry! Demotic inanities! I literally can’t stop laughing. Do people still write like this? Why is it so terrible? Even better, from the Wiki: ”Kimball argues against nihilist, deconstructionist, and anti-enlightenment perspectives prevalent in modern theory, contending that objective truth is an important tenant [sic] of any discourse.” Objective truth! Good heavens, why didn’t we think of that?!
Okay, enough with the sarcasm. Dora is still in bed at 2 pm trying not to pick at her chin and unable to finish a blogpost much less write anything that masters the artifice of art, so Freud wins this round.
Again and again, driving around in my car trying to have a thought, I conclude that social conservatives are unable to come to grips with Marx—that Marx more even than Nietzsche or Freud is the real turning point for postmodernism (literary as well as sociopolitical). If you cannot recognize or accept that there are (still!) deep, structural, societal imbalances of power which lie almost entirely along lines of class, race, and gender, then you will find very little to enjoy in philosophy post-1950, except perhaps for Martha Nussbaum and Alisdair MacIntyre, and maybe—maybe—bits of Richard Rorty. You will remain entrenched in scientism and I for one feel sorry for you, because there are much more interesting games in town than perfecting the knot of your invisible positivistic bowtie. //screed
And here I have sat staring at my laptop another half-hour, vacantly. I—
Will I always be this dumb, this stupid, this mute, this unproductive?
I have two pages of notes for a review of S’s book, two pages of notes for an essay on nail polish, two pages, it seems, of notes on everything. Always the note-taker, never the scribe. I keep hauling my masses of poetry drafts out of their drawer, looking at all the crazed pencil scrawl, and then thrusting them back in. I am, as I often am in winter, deeply and profoundly stuck. Enmired. Spiritually, aesthetically, professionally. Almost certainly the result of too much self-regard and too little service. People who volunteer report being happier.
Fortunately I start teaching next week, my version of service for someone who doesn’t cross her father’s ground for any house or town etc. (I avoid my colleagues. I turn down their invitations, helplessly, promise to get together for coffee and poem-swaps and then cannot.) The miracle of the semester is that my poetry class is now on the books, even with only 7 students enrolled and not the full 19. I will make posters today, and put them up on Monday. Why this is extra magical: having 27 composition students instead of 54. This means I can conference them all without dying of flu afterward; this means I can grade the papers in a single afternoon/evening rather than trudging through them in batches of 4-5 at a time for weekends eternal. This means, in short, I have a prayer of finishing the two incompletes in the next 15 weeks as well as 3 new classes. The financial aid office will not give me a loan unless I make Satisfactory Academic Progress and this means I can’t take any further accommodations, “disability” be damned. I have to put it in quotation marks, I can’t help it. I no longer feel I deserve any accommodation other than a kind of contemptuous pity or pitying contempt (like Crayola, blue violet versus blue green, or red orange versus orange red—those names fascinated me as a child, how an adjective modifies a noun).
More Kimball, uncannily, succinctly related to my above thoughts:
No, Marxism has been as wrong as it is possible for a theory to be wrong. Addicted to “the self-deification of mankind,” it continually bears witness to what Kolakowski calls “the farcical aspect of human bondage.” Why then was Marxism like moral catnip—not so much among its proposed beneficiaries, the working classes, but among the educated elite? Well, beguiling simplicity was part of it. “One of the causes of the popularity of Marxism among educated people,” Kolakowski notes, “was the fact that in its simple form it was very easy.” Marxism—like Freudianism, like Darwinism, like Hegelianism—is a “one key fits all locks” philosophy. All aspects of human experience can be referred to the operation of a single all-governing process which thereby offers the illusion of universal explanation.
Marxism also spoke powerfully to mankind’s unsatisfied utopian impulses. How imperfect a construct is capitalist society: how much conflict does it abet, how many desires does it leave unsatisfied! Can we not imagine a world beyond those tensions and conflicts in which we could realize our full human potential without competition, without scarcity, without want? Sure, we can imagine it, but there is a reason that “utopia” means “nowhere.”
Of course, it is not just to mankind’s spiritual cravings that Marxism appeals. It also speaks to its inherent thuggishness. This cannot be emphasized too much. These days, Stalin and Stalinism are in bad odor. We forget the romance that Western intellectuals indulged for this mass murderer. We also tend to overlook the fact that thuggishness is an integral, not an accidental, feature of Marxism.
Suffice it to say that I find very little of this to have real intellectual purchase or traction, though it is (moral catnip) somewhat entertaining.
A few minutes ago a elderly man and his two very large slobbery dogs, on leashes, wended their slow way right through the backyard, de rigeur plastic baggie in his hand. I hesitated over whether to say anything and then dashed downstairs. “Hello…hello!” He was leading them through the hole in the fence, which is usually grown over with poison ivy but which the neighbor and I sometimes duck through carefully to get to the Mexican restaurant without having to walk all the way around. “Hi, what are you doing?” “Just takin’ my dogs to the park.” This was quite evident. “Well, my cat is loose, so please don’t come through my yard again. It’d be better if you would go on the sidewalk to the park. Hi guys,” I added, as the dogs approached me, very friendly, leering amiably. I felt it sounded irresponsible to say “my cat is loose,” and for that matter it’s hardly “my” yard; but by this point he had waved me off and gone on. Who walks through someone’s yard, even when it’s unfenced? This guy does, with his giant friendly bulldogs and his red suspenders and straw hat. Capital. Private property. Landlords and tenants (not tenets).
Further to consumption of capital: on my way back inside, I picked up a small package the mailman had flung on the floor—a wee mini bottle of nail polish, Jawbreaker, my very first indie glitter, from Pretty & Polished on etsy. What I should do is quit bloviating quotidianly and slap some of this on, for my first-day-of-school manicure. Because look how insanely cute this is (photo by MU-토끼 ✽ Makeup Bunny):
How can January hiss into your ear, when you wear that? I ask you.