Sunday Morning, Rain Is Falling

Sunday evening.  Close enough.

I don’t like the holidays.  I get grumpy, fidgety, and depressed.  Here are some highlights (lowlights?) from a late-December weekend.


At the coffee place, yesterday:

I had earbuds in, because of the Christmas music (holiday thesis statement:  I hate Christmas).  There was an unsupervised small person next to me, and he asked what I was listening to.

Me:  Velvet Underground.

Him:  Is that the name of the song?

Me:  No, the song is called “Venus in Furs.”

Him:  What’s it about?

Me:  Love.

And no, I don’t have children.  And I’m not ever around them.  So don’t call DSS.


I can tell it’s getting really close to the dreaded 25th because my anxiety is through the roof (more than usual).  I had a substantial freakout yesterday that resulted in frantic texting, mostly to assure me that I had not ruined my life forever and always.  Apologies again to the person on the receiving end of that one.


It’s not all my typical anxiety, which tends to come from overanalyzing everything.  And everything else.

Both bulbs in my bedroom burned out, which I put off dealing with as long as possible:  I decided to fix it, finally, when I was squinting in the semi-darkness this morning, trying to determine if I was holding the navy tights with stars or the black ones.  For future reference, the navy ones have the small stars, and the black ones have larger stars.  And I changed my mind and didn’t wear either pair, in the end.

That was just trying to get out of the house.


So I wisely waited until after nightfall to change the bulbs, because darkness is the ideal way to attempt that.  I dragged a kitchen chair into the bedroom and finally got the fixture down.  When I got the box of bulbs, there was only one of the correct wattage.  I have a box of four bulbs of a different wattage, but having non-identical lightbulbs hovering over my head would effectively blow my mind.  So I changed one bulb.

img_9627

One is the loneliest number.

See also:  previous post about the so-called Minute Rice, which I ended up giving away.


When washing dishes, wash dishes.

Or, alternatively, brood!  This is where “Sunday Morning” comes in.  I was thinking through the lyrics and trying to decide if that or “Heroin” is the most depressing song on that album.  I unfairly created a tie by designating the latter the most overtly depressing and the former the most subtly depressing.


I tried to pep myself up with John Prine, but I gave up midway through “Sam Stone.”  In retrospect, probably not the best pick, either.


This picture, taken while visiting my parents, sums up how I feel:

img_9555

Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.


 

A Super-Deep Reflection: Solitude

Yeah, right.  I’m going to start off with how I dropped my phone down my pants.

Tomorrow is pickup day, and I was hauling the bins to the alley.  I needed to carry my phone but had no pockets, so I stuck it in my waistband.  MacGyver, right?  I didn’t even make it the five or six feet to the bins before the phone worked its way out of my waistband and down my leg.  It’s been raining, and the ground is soaked, so I ended up trying to hold my leg out horizontally so I could remove the phone without drowning it.

Later, after dark, my elusive new neighbor or neighbors came in, and I heard a bin thunk.  The one I’ve met, whose name is Chase or Hunter or Chet or something, appears to have gotten separated from his fraternity herd, and I wasn’t counting on him to pick up a bin that he’d knocked over with his car.  By this time, it was raining again, so I stood at my back door, in my pajamas, holding a keychain flashlight (shaped like a pig, and yes, it does oink while illuminating), trying to pinpoint the location of the trash.

img_9070
What this has to do with solitude:  it makes you act like you were raised by wolves.  Or, more accurately, living alone causes you to lose your set of “is this normal?” checks and balances.  I suspect that even those living the contemplative life sometimes wear beanies indoors– who’s going to know?

I ended up going outside about 11 PM, in pajamas and Doc Martens.  It was a look, that’s for sure.

img_9061


There’s no need for an essay discussing pros and cons of being alone, and I hate pro-con lists anyway:  they tend to be paralyzing, unless you actually do know what you need to do but have to rationalize it.


I was considering cooking Minute Rice last night.  I got entirely hung up on the directions:  why does Minute Rice take five minutes to cook, five to solidify (or whatever)?

I had cheese and crackers.  The Minute Rice question was too fraught.

That’s an example of when having someone with me to say “shut up and cook the damn rice” might have been helpful.


The point I’m getting around to:

  • At what point do these quirks hit the irreversible Grey Gardens threshold?

Increasingly, I worry that I’m incapable of being around other humans for extended periods of time.  Yes, I know my personality is a factor.  Thanks for pointing that out.

But:  are the other oddities becoming embedded?  Am I becoming inflexible?  Does isolation feed on itself?

When did I develop my mother’s habit of flinging myself into this-place-has-to-look-decent mode before someone comes over?


I’m not broken over here, but is my crack showing?

itnormal

I am *killing* normal here.

I Want You to Want Me

The song titles are getting away from me; however, to my credit, “My Bloody Valentine” was the first thing that came to mind, and I skipped that.  Last year’s Valentine’s post was a cards compendium.  This year, it’s shorter:  I’m ditching the efforts of every dating site and app in favor of the Prost Questionnaire.

I normally resist linking to Wikipedia, but here’s a brief history.  Here’s a more interesting link with David Bowie’s answers (given to Vanity Fair); from there, you can also view the answers of a number of other people that might pique your interest.

But you also get me.  Sorry.  My version of the questions is from here.


 

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?  If there is such a thing as perfect happiness, it exists only in moments, as a transient state.  Happiness, perfect or otherwise, is mutable and must be achieved over and over again.  It is a series of moments, not a resting place.
  2. What is your greatest fear?  I can think of a lot of abstract fears of things that have never happened to me:  terrible things.  The most concrete answer I can give is when I think back to my lowest moment and imagine being there again, replaying the emotions and physical sensations I felt then.  Realistically, that is the greatest fear I have.
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?  I have difficulty knowing how to respond to things other people say in any appropriate manner.  I can attempt to filter a response and then agonize over it for days/hours afterward, but I can’t say something and then be comfortable with it.  I think it’s a fear of presenting an authentic self and feeling comfortable with that.  That sounds very egotistical.  I’m just typing this on the fly.  
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?  Lack of self-awareness, unquestionably.
  5. Which living person do you most admire?  I hope that I can look for something to admire in everyone, but I’m getting a bit cynical on that front lately.  I have not thought of a specific #1 person and suspect this position would be a rotating one.  Actually, I think I’d like to debate this one over coffee.
  6. What is your greatest extravagance?  Have you SEEN my book collection?  Though I question whether those are an extravagance or a necessity.  The qualifier might be that I own physical copies of many things that I could borrow or own in electronic format, but I am extremely partial to having my own marked-up hard copies.
  7. What is your current state of mind?  Picture an old-school card catalog; that’s where I have all the books, music, etc. I’ve read or am interested in filed away.  Next to that is a filing cabinet, where I have all the relevant/interesting information I’ve gleaned from the former.  Throw a tornado in there.  Now you’ve got it.
  8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?  Anything that the current moment declares a virtue.
  9. On what occasion do you lie?  Lately, about what I’m doing with my life.  I’m ashamed that I do it, but I’m ashamed to be in such a suspended state.  I do this to people I won’t see again.
  10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?  NOT the right person for this question.  Pass.  There are only 24 hours in a day.
  11. Which living person do you most despise?  Oh, my.  There was a debate last night featuring America’s Most Wanted Sociopaths.  
  12. What is the quality you most like in a man?  How about one I don’t like but have had occasion to observe a lot lately?  Colonizing public spaces, physically and vocally.  So I like it when people don’t do that.
  13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?  Don’t put yourself down, jokingly or otherwise; it’s a protective mechanism against letting someone else do it first.
  14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?  actually, probably, apparently, possibly
  15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?  [this space reserved] 
  16. When and where were you happiest?  I hope I haven’t hit this yet.
  17. Which talent would you most like to have?  The ability to pre-plan without anxiety.
  18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?  I would turn down the volume on the anxiety that bleeds into so many other things:  how I react, how I speak/respond, things I do.
  19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?  Currently, maintaining the health I’ve worked for.
  20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?  One of Bob Ross’s happy clouds.
  21. Where would you most like to live?  The British Library.
  22. What is your most treasured possession?  My books, because my cat is not a possession.  You do not possess cats.
  23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?  See #2.  I can speak most concretely to misery as I’ve experienced it.  In short, though, when my world has been most reduced, I’ve been most miserable.  When it opens up, I’m happier.
  24. What is your favorite occupation?  Reading, but I’m prone to doing multiple things at once.
  25. What is your most marked characteristic?  I think that’s best observed by other people; I doubt I’d catch it.
  26. What do you most value in your friends?  I hope they know.  If they don’t, I need to tell them personally.  
  27. Who are your favorite writers?  There are only 24 hours . . . I already said that.  Currently, Sarah Waters, Jeannette Winterson, Ali Smith, Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Wallace Stevens, Carson McCullers, William Faulkner, I can keep going.
  28. Who is your hero of fiction?  Dr. DeSoto
  29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?  Someone in the background of a crowd scene of a painting, on the edges.
  30. Who are your heroes in real life?  Numerous.
  31. What are your favorite names?  You know a name I really like that I could name neither child nor pet?  Tess.  Thomas Hardy ruined that one for everyone.
  32. What is it that you most dislike?  Coconut.  As well as mistaking opinion for fact, which tends to be joined with the lack of self-awareness previously referenced.
  33. What is your greatest regret?  Nope.
  34. How would you like to die?  There’s a great Reno 911 bit about this.  How about defenestration?  Can you imagine the newspaper having to print that in your obituary?  “in local news, . . . .”
  35. What is your motto? See God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater– ever since I first read that as a teenager.


 

And No, I’m Not Sorry

This is not a thinkpiece about not needing to apologize, excessive apologizing, etc.  There are lots of those.  Google should have your back.  This is about the stages of talking about what you love:  here, specifically, literature.  And, specifically, embracing what books you love, unapologetically.


 

I saw a tweet recently that said the person was so mad that Infinite Jest was trending, she couldn’t even think of something funny to say.  I’m not sure of her specific complaint about the book, but, yes, it has plenty of flaws, and it’s one of the most polarizing novels I can think of.  Is anyone lukewarm about that one?

My response:  I love that a book can make someone have such a charged reaction.  And I love that it’s trending!  Not that I had anything to say about it in 140 characters.


 

The three stages of loving a book that I’ve come up with are:  1)  Exuberant like/dislike, often forged with some sort of specific identity as a factor.  2)  Increased awareness of what it’s “acceptable” to like/dislike, and mumbling over specifics when quizzed about things not en vogue.  3)  Saying forget it and just liking what you like, no apologies.


Which isn’t to say be offensive:  your favorite book will not and cannot be someone else’s favorite.  You really can’t convert everyone to a book or author, and it can get very annoying if you try.  There’s a difference between recommending something (if someone asked, if you know the person and think they’d like it) and beaning people on the head with a particular book.

It also doesn’t mean that you should insult other people’s taste in books (of course, if you know them well and do this facetiously, it can be a great deal of fun . . .).  I had my second conversation with someone I don’t know at all (have only met in passing) who is working his way through all of Sherlock Holmes, which sounds dreadful to me.  I don’t know this guy, but I can tell he’s extremely enthusiastic– extremely unapologetic.

However, I talked to someone Sunday (another stranger) who asked what I was reading (Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?— rereading, and if you have my original proof copy, I want it back).  After some discussion, we arrived at the point that she would be interested in that one, and she took down the title and author.  I was pleased, because I would certainly love to bean people with that book.  (cough, cough, recommendation)


Back to apologizing and Infinite Jest.  The book has to be something to have sprawled one of the most comprehensive sites on the internet.  And a considerable number of venomous sites.  Does the book have a considerable number of problems?  Yes.  Do I like it anyway?  Yep.

I’m reading Artful right now and came across this passage written by Katherine Mansfield, inside Aaron’s Rod by D.H. Lawrence:  “There are certain things in this book I do not like.  But they are not important, or really part of it.  They are trivial, encrusted, they cling to it as snails to the underside of a of a leaf– no more,– and perhaps they leave a little silvery trail, a smear, that one shrinks from as a kind of silliness.  But apart from these things is the leaf, is the tree, firmly planted, deep thrusting, outspread, growing grandly, alive in every twig.  All the time I read this book I felt it was feeding me.”  (p. 87)

There are certain things in IJ (or any book) I do not like.  They may or may not be important/part of it (I’m suspicious of that particular claim, along with the triviality, frankly).  I do love the idea that the book is the leaf, the tree, that nourishes the reader.  That, for awhile, readers are able to suspend some qualms (in a moment) and be nourished, though I’d argue that engaging the problematic parts of a text is part of the nourishing process.


No text is conceived and born without faults.  There is no Ur-Text with no flaws to critique.  There is also the simple progression of time:  time moves on, and texts very frequently don’t age well (or become encumbered with new critiques).  Frequently, there is a manner of degree involved here, but save that for you and your friends to debate over coffee.  That’s a separate post.

I only want to say that there is no such thing as a perfect text, something inherently polished and perfect.  Some flaws are celebrated, some need to be discussed.  This keeps book reviewers in business, and this makes literature interesting.  It’s also why you can say “A really means a lot to me, because of XYZ,” and agree when someone shrieks (or tweets) in protest.

It also means that you can dislike something but have a civil (if superficial) conversation with a stranger.  I’m venting now, after all.  And things will balance when you have a somewhat deeper conversation with yet another stranger.

If books are a language we can share, don’t shout each other down in that language, and don’t just mumble apologies about what you love and drift into the corner.  Keep talking, keep sharing.


UNNECESSARY APPENDIX 

Redundant?

These are the books that are lying on the sofa that really, really needs cleaning up, because it looks like a bookmobile exploded.  Recommendations?  Things to avoid?  Up to you:

  • Artful, Ali Smith
  • The World Is on Fire, Joni Tevis [recommended to me]
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeanette Winterson
  • modern American poetry anthology, because my complete Wallace Stevens is AWOL
  • Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh [recommended to me]

 

 

 

Mockingbirds, Gödel, and Chopping Broccoli


Caveat:  This one is brought to you by insomnia, after Gödel, Escher, Bach (cheaper than sleeping pills) failed to knock me out.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Title image:  from Empathy by Sarah Schulman.


 

Is this common among introvert-type, bookworm children (now nominally adults): a mockingbird tendency to steal the song of others, rather than using our own voices?

I know I’m guilty, and I know that probably needs some explanation.  When I feel like I’m on stable ground or in familiar/safe territory, I’m more free with my own speech.  When pressured to speak about something that makes me uncomfortable or upset, I’ll back into the pages of a book.  It’s how I retreat.

There’s a certain amount of learning everything and learning nothing involving in reading, which is where this defense mechanism becomes complicated.  You can quote pages of relevant material, but those pages are not lived experience.  If you’re like me, you sometimes use fiction as a stand-in for discussing lived experience, because talking about what is or was is too acutely painful and difficult.

It’s not quite the same as looking for a 1:1 parallel to your own situation in a novel (though I’d love to see the search algorithm online booksellers would have to devise for that one).  I certainly did that more as a child:  see my requisite Harriet the Spy stage (I also wanted to be Sport; it was very complex).

As characters, often through internal monologue, reveal (only to the reader) what is unsaid, it does feel powerful that someone did not so much find the words (though that’s a feat– but a book review, not for this post) as put them on paper, in the public eye.  When I’m on the spot, I may sputter a bit before commencing my ongoing Jane Goodall-level study of carpet fibers.  It’s not the same creative process, and it’s not nearly as articulate.


 

In case I’ve painted myself as a quoting automaton, that’s not quite the case.  This is what happens when I’m acutely, unusually uncomfortable.  If I can’t (or don’t want to) use my own words, I’ll use someone else’s.

To be clear, it’s not the same thing as posting a mystery, you figure-it-out song lyric on Facebook; I am trying to make myself understood.  It’s a literary defense mechanism.

Of course, a bon mot, well-placed, can be a lot of fun.  Having “a way with words” often involves coopting other people’s.  If I can’t quote Dorothy Parker, I’m taking my toys and going home.

And I just assume that everyone ELSE also sings “Choppin’ Broccoli” (hey, that’s a classic!) while chopping broccoli . . . .


APPENDIX, AND QUITE UNNECESSARY

I didn’t let myself quote anything while writing this one.  That was hard.  This is getting into vaguebooking territory, but I can’t resist tacking on a reading list of books that, at various times, I’ve torn chunks out of for personal use.  Consider them reading recommendations.  Or reasons to avoid me.

My only real (facetious) attempt at vaguebooking to date has been to declare that my mood was “whatever Peter Wolf says at the beginning of ‘Whammer Jammer.'”  I’m working on it.

DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU