It rained this week. Reluctantly, but it rained. Sometime before or maybe just after, there is this in my feed, from the journals of Sylvia Plath:
August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.
I hear from an old friend—someone I have not seen or spoken to since tenth or eleventh grade maybe... We swap iMessages for a while and then—of course—she asks when we can speak by phone. Of course. Everybody always wants to speak by phone. I feel my spirit curling away from the encounter like plastic under a heat gun. I try the truth like I have so many times before (even though it has failed so many times before). I say, “Listen, I’m not good with calls...” I say, “Listen, it’s been a hard year (or two, or three...)...”. I say all the things I always say, even though people never seem to hear them—even and especially the people who claim to love me best.
Later when the phone trills/thrums to tell me she has answered, I wince in anticipation.
I think I know already, how this will go.
Instead and to my surprise, my friend says, “Listen, I understand. Take your time.”
“Listen, I am here.”
And so I feel space opening up outside all of my insides. A rush of air from this strange and sudden unrushedness. I think, even, of the way the word “exhilarate” feels close to “exhale.”
I could be wrong, of course. She may lose patience soon enough. But for now I feel unpressured and safe and seen.
Then, at the end of another volley of messages back and forth, I mention my writing, and how I publish it here, in this place. And again, her answer comes like a window suddenly unfastened.
“I will read your work.”
I think about how no one, among the people who have known me longest, has ever said that.
Elsewhere in the week, I go looking among old emails for the link to a video I once sent to a cousin, of Mary Oliver telling us all the things that only Mary Oliver can tell us. Along the way I come across an email from long ago, in which I am discussing with my cousin, that old post of Elizabeth Gilbert’s, on tribal shame.
Because they know (and you secretly know it, too) this truth – you kind of have abandoned them. [...] You did choose a totally different way of life. [...] You really are no longer one of them.
I think about that Paris Review interview with the novelist Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. There’s a point where she is trying to explain how she came to write her latest novel, Savage Tongues:
I really wanted to explore the complex and troubling ways that children of immigrants have to bridge the gap between their parents and the host culture they are dropped into, the unbearable violence that can manifest when that gap is too wide to close. One thing I don’t think we talk about enough is how parental neglect, cross-generational misunderstanding, family dynamics, and gender-based abuse intersect with geopolitical conflict, colonialism, and patterns of migration.
I think too, of a couple of almost throwaway lines from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland:
...until your ship comes in, the only people who will really care about your work are those who care about you personally. Those close to you know that making the work is essential to your well being. They will always care about your work, if not because it is great, then because it is yours...
In the margins I have written one word: “Ha!”
I go looking for more of Plath, and wind up with way more than the week can hold. All that snow and rain, all those beercans and lipstick and time. That hunger for life and loving and meaning—for all those good sentences.
All that catastrophic awareness.
And this line, too:
I had been alone more than I could have been had I gone by myself.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[venerdì 27 agosto 2021 ore 14:09:25] [¶]
This today, from a Paris Review interview with the novelist Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi:
I am very interested in the power we can claim when we embrace the full spectrum of our identities and emotions, without reaching to erase the contradictions that inform them. And I’m interested in how literature can hold all of this without losing its sting or descending into simple epiphanic sentimentalism.
I think of some things from the sessions this summer, at Rutgers. (There were so many sessions, that blew my mind...)
Like Airea D. Matthews saying that something as small as a comment, can be a form of activism.
(“Which is not to say we are not hypocrites. But it’s also not to say that we are.”)
Like Airea saying we all speak a colonial tongue—the language of our captors.
(And then talking about sublanguages, subcultures, subversions...)
Like Airea on “all the inherent contradiction we are required to live in.” On being anti-capitalist in a capitalist world, because — for example — you need to pay for shelter.
(“You implicate yourself in the capitalist system, cause you tryin’ ta eat.”)
And like me thinking as I listened to all this, that to contain multitudes, you must contain contradictions.
I come back to the interview. I had not heard of Oloomi until just now, but according to Wikipedia she’s a 38-year-old Iranian-American writer, and according to her own website she has lived in Catalonia, Italy, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. She currently lives in Chicago...
(I look all this up and think to myself: Of course. Multitudes. Contradictions.)
At a certain point, in talking about the great deal of meditation and interiority in her latest novel, Oloomi says:
That introspection is not self-indulgent—it is the kind of self-theorizing that is required to decolonize one’s mind and body.
I re-read the sentence as I paste it into this space. How it hums. How something at the level between reading and instinct — somewhere that’s right around rhythm — comes awake to it...
And of course, it takes a minute — but only a minute — to realize why and in what way it feels so primordially familiar... Of course. Because just a paragraph or two before, Oloomi herself had mentioned an Audre Lorde quote that was very present for me as I wrote the book:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[lunedì 16 agosto 2021 ore 18:08:28] [¶]
I keep thinking about a poem from last Saturday’s Poetry Foundation Poem-of-the-Day. You could even say, the way the poet does in the poem, that I didn’t like this post of [his] but I’ve been thinking about it for days:
On every cover letter I’ve ever written for every school, every award, every scholarship, and every fellowship I make sure to say that I was born in the Philippines so the judges know that my white-sounding name belongs to me.
Because I do this too. On every cover letter and every application and every introduction. You might say at first that it’s a different kind of it. But then again, not really.
And so what is this about? It’s about many things I know, but what are some of them? Some of them are that I figure I need to tell them who I am before they have a chance to decide for me. Or worse, to decide and then tell me what they have decided.
(“Non sembri Pakistana.” “But that’s not a Muslim name.”)
Except of course, they decide and tell me anyway.
Some of them are that I need to point out, as soon as I can because I am hungry before I have even opened my mouth, all of the cracks I have fallen through. Am falling through still.
(“And now I live in Florence, Italy.”)
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[martedì 10 agosto 2021 ore 15:08:08] [¶]
Yesterday, an upsetting and ultimately failed conversation with a friend. I wake up and carry the morning like a small, bruised animal.
Then—because luckily for me it is August and it is The Sealey Challenge, because luckily for me I decide that today is Joy Harjo and Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, there is this, on page 56:
Our worlds are utterly interdependent. All of our decisions matter... We make sacrifices to take care of each other. To understand each other is profound beyond human words.
This is what I am singing.
I re-read what I have written above and I think:
But what do I mean by “failed conversation”?
Listen, girl. What if there is no such thing, outside of the transactional worldview of product-obsessed capitalism, as a failed conversation?
What if that?
But there are other ways to maybe tell it. Like this way:
For my forty-fourth birthday I went to the place in all of Florence, that has known me longest.
So. The place in all of Italy, that has known me longest.
But this is what going there teaches me, on my forty-fourth birthday:
That the now in knowing has little to do, with time.
Afterwards, I go to another wine bar. I stand before a friend and see that she too, is having a bad day. (Many of us these days, are having bad days.) And we don’t even need to finish our sentences, for us to hear each other. We stand before each other like trees whose branches don’t need to touch.
One of us says to the other, I really need someone to be kind to me right now.
One of us says to the other, I’ll be kind to you too.
And like this way:
Afterwards, after all that, what do I find I am most grateful for, maybe even just grateful for (because when I try to think what else from this year and that day — and the way one is embodied in the other — I come up so fast with so much empty that I hesitate to look again...), is this:
That I am with someone to whom I can pass over, across a table set with two glasses full of good wine, a poem. That he will sit quietly and read what is and is not, in the poem. All the said and unsayable.
That he will allow himself to be moved by things he cannot fully understand.
That he will be moved.
Back in Harjo there is this line, from the title poem:
They were dancing as if they were here, and then another level of here, and then another...
I love it especially this way:
As if they were here, and then another level of here, and then another...
Though just after too: We are here dancing, they said. There was no there.
And so I think to myself: So. There is only a here.
There is only ever, a here.
And like this way:
Afterwards ancora, and nighttime. We do not sleep together every night, or even most nights. And when we do, we do not snuggle. Instead and usually — those nights — he sleeps on his back with his legs scissored like a frog prince, and I sleep on my side. And because of the luck of the draw, the sides of the bed we each took so long ago, and the side of myself I like to sleep on, it means that I sleep facing away from him.
But most of those nights. He puts a hand out — it only needs to go a little way — and places it on my back. A palm of quiet.
Most of those nights, I have that.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[mercoledì 04 agosto 2021 ore 12:08:05] [¶]