untitled poem 2

As a teenager, I drank
hatred like an animal
glutted at the stream
its stomach distended.

If I could hate
you, I would
let that feeling wash over
drown out the memories from a summer night
flights across the country, the comfort
of knowing who is in the other room.

Instead, I stagger against
a love that has passed
removed like the pictures
from our walls and unsettled
as the dust that still
swirls with the particles
we left behind.

— Last night, I listened to Wilco and played guitar. Helped to get out of a rut. Guess this is a continuation of that same idea.

To the Lighthouse

I’m three quarters of the way through this book. Meant to push through it last night, but got caught up things. Also, the book isn’t uplifting, so I wasn’t in the mood to be slightly depressed or dreamy feeling.

All that said, I’m really enjoying this novel. I can see why Charles Baxter uses it in his essays when talking about writing. It’s rife with sub-text, and characters who are keeping parts of themselves separate from each other. Beautiful writing, with long sentences that pause on moods and descriptions. However, not much happens in the novel, or at least not.

The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams

Joy Williams’ The Quick and the Dead is unlike any novel I’ve read. What separates this book from a lot of writing is the ever shifting point of view, and the how characters enter and leave the narrative in ways that do not conform to any of the advice from the dozens of books on fiction writing.

If I had to pare down the prose for a blurb or a quick summary, I’d say this novel is about the boundaries between living and dying. The characters seem caught in a state where they are neither wholly alive nor dead yet. Some of them are paralyzed by grief, trapped by their televisions, haunted by the recently deceased, medicated, obsessed with their image, and regurgitating slogans. The novel takes place in Arizona, and the desert exerts its will upon the characters. Perhaps they are reflecting the life and death struggle of survival in the desert?

While this book wasn’t conventional, it was entertaining, interesting, intriguing, and raw.

Man Walks into a Room by Nicole Krauss

What would you do if your memory from adolescence to the present were wiped out? That’s the central question in Nicole Krauss’ novel Man Walks into a Room. The novel follows the events of Samson who disappears from New York and is discovered wandering the desert outside of Las Vegas, sick and incoherent. It turns out he has a tumor in his brain, which when removed causes the loss of his memories since age twelve. However, he does not suffer any other effects from the surgery. That was one part I found a little unbelievable, then again, I don’t have a lot of knowledge of the brain and how it works. I was willing to let this go, but it still seemed a stretch.

Samson returns or tries to return to his life. He is an English professor in New York, married to a caring and beautiful woman, has plenty of concerned friends. Yet all of this seems alien to him. With no memory of who he was, he doesn’t identify with this life or feel a connection with the people who care for him. He feels there is this vast expanse in his mind, this empty space where the old memories were. He’s not sure he wants them back, or that he wants to be who he was. He identifies with explorers and astronauts, because he sees his mind and lack of identity as a new frontier. He’s not the only one though.

This novel explores what makes us who we are. Are we a collection of habits and preferences? How do we recognize people in our lives? We perceive them to act a certain way, because that is how they’ve always acted and thus who they are. If the experiences which form us are swiped away, who are we, and how can we be close to the people with whom we’ve shared those experiences?

At times Samson seems callous and small. He is unable to empathize with people, partly because he feels a lack of connection, but also because he can’t remember experiencing the emotions his loved ones feel. So much is new to Samson as he navigates through his life.

Another moment in this novel which is a little unbelievable as well, is when Samson gets a phone call from a brain researcher. The man convinces Samson to come out to California for a project. This project involves implanting a memory from someone else into another person’s brain. Since Samson visualizes his memory as having a wide open void, he seems like the perfect candidate. Krauss does a decent job of supplying Samson’s reasons and motivations for the experiment, but still it’s difficult to imagine someone signing on for such a project. When the memory is implanted, things do not turn out how either Samson or the researcher thought.

The final section of the novel involves Samson dealing with this outcome and eventually finding his place in the world again.

If this doesn’t seem like a narrative that interests you, another reason to read this book is how beautifully and succinctly it’s written. Some people may complain that not enough happens, or we spend too much time in Samson’s thoughts. While that may be true, this is a novel about thoughts, about memory and identity. Reading it makes you think about your own life and what events have shaped your being. Even though the premise might be hard to believe, once you accept it the narrative is compelling.

Regarding Arts and Letters: REAL

My creative non-fiction piece – “The Night Janitor’s Son, Racing the Midnight Train, and Thoughts from across the Ocean” was published in the 33.2 issue of REAL. Check out all the great writers in that issue and help support the magazine.

the habit of writing

I woke up at six a.m. with the intention of doing some yoga and then writing a little bit. One thing I discovered, is that I can’t wake up and do yoga. I can wake up and go for a run, or wake up and go for a bike ride; however, the need to think and plan (other than moving in a linear fashion as in the other activities) was too much for my brain to handle.

So I enjoyed the miracle of the automatic coffeepot, poured a cup, read some of the Atlantic and gradually woke up.

Eventually, though I did do some writing. What I like about poetry is that you can get a draft down in 20-30 minutes. Maybe I’ll use this again, or maybe it will just sit in a notebook like a thought, until the ink gradually spreads across the page forgotten.

The poem was about distance. The physical distance between family members, and how it can seem overwhelming to cross that distance.

It was good to get something on the page. Always is.

Commentary on poem draft

I’m not sold on this title the subjects of our study, but titles can always be changed, and you should never leave the top of the page blank.

Started on this while at lunch today. The campus is in exam frenzy. You can feel the student’s tension and nervousness. It seemed as though I were in a different world than they. I’m not studying for a test. I don’t have papers to write. My life won’t change next week with a summer vacation and either a trip back home or an internship somewhere.

The last stanza underwent the most change. I kept adding and tinkering with it. Initially it read:

The real constant being these days
which flutter fast as pages caught by the wind
will trail into a vanishing point
the memories too repetitive
to differentiate between the days.

-> But it seemed pretentious. Is that the real constant? Like I know what the real constant is? So I cut it. Changed it. Incorporated more of the previous stanza.