Saturday, June 18, 2011

Looking Out

Looking out at the still unfamiliar street, despite having lived here for almost a year, it occurs to me that perhaps the things you want or the things you think will transpire are only an illusion. Instead, it is the one thing you are doing, when everything else seems to be on an uncertain edge, that one thing that is working is working because it is the thing that is actually you.

Moving 3000 miles, you cannot possibly know what to expect and still you do. Think of things, anticipate what something, someone, or someplace will be like to make it less unfamiliar, even though you also know that you have no way of anticipating what awaits you there. Anticipation is a funny entity. We wait hoping for something that really has no existence except in our minds. Like the first time I went to Paris, I had anticipated it for so long, thought about it, dreamed it into existence, that the reality of it seemed anything but real. Anticipation makes us forget reality.

What becomes us is not what we dream, but what we do not dream. The very undreaming of things is our reality, despite that Proust said, "if a little dreaming is dangerous then the cure for it is to dream more, to dream all the time." Perhaps that is the cure because eventually we see the dream is just what it is. Like Marcel's disappointment in meeting the actual Bergot, to dream more mean one finally meets the dream itself, that is the dream looses its power in the reality of itself.

But I digress. My point is that in moving, I have found nothing of what I anticipated, and instead discovered everything that I could not possibly see. We know nothing. Reality moves through us; we do not move through it. The agency that one thinks they have over the world is an illusion. Expectations are the dream itself. Reality is the beauty that we cannot immediately see.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is this Writing?

Roland Barthes writes much on the topic of writing. Except that for Barthes, writing is not always the act of simply placing one’s intention in small black letters on the page. Far from it. Writing becomes something else and other gestures are forms of writing. For example Japanese cooking in Empire of Signs is writing. In an essay on fashion, he says what Coco Channel does is writing.

What is writing then? It seems a gesture towards that which is, perhaps, a perfectibility beyond us. Not that perfectibility is even possible, but that the gesture towards a perfectibility, towards an order in a world of chaos becomes a gesture that is larger than any intention. Serious work of any kind is perhaps writing? Barthes says, "Writing is precisely that act which unites in the same labor what could not be apprehended in the mere flat space of representation."

While thinking about these things on a recent weekend in New York, I began to look around the world and see if I could read in it instances of writing. This first materialized on the subway where the studiousness of people lost in their own world while waiting to arrive at 89th Ave from W 14th St. seemed a form of writing. The writing of the moment in the gesture of time passing. Could this not be apprehended in a mere flat space of representation? Is this serious work?

Yes. It is serious in that it requires one’s absolute attention, the gesture becomes the person. The person is that moment. In that moment, they are writing. The writing of the moment is the old woman’s deliberateness to put on lipstick perfectly though in every gesture from opening the tube to inspecting the color to the moment of confusion when she attempts to replace the cap the wrong way smashing the perfectly formed tip, this is a gesture of writing, but a failed attempt.

In the Met, it occurred to me that those small moments of looking that are perhaps moments beyond looking are also writing. Are these instances of writing?

Does the perfecting of the image in the photo become an instance of writing? Or is it simply recording the moment without thinking? The latter couldn't be writing, could it?

Does imitation become a way of writing a text?
A text that has already been written once, and
now it again becomes the author that copies, a copy
that is the author, the copy not of the image before
the person, but the person who "writes."
An autobiography as Derrida would have it.

Is the father in the background teaching his daughter to write?

Is this couple in some way writing? Or reading the writing of Monet on the wall to the right of them? Or is it possible they read no writing at all and are only involved in the writing of each other?

"It is also an emptiness of language that which constitutes writing; it is from this emptiness of language that derive the features with which Zen, in the exemption from all meaning, writes gardens, gestures, houses, flower arrangements, faces, violence."
Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I'm making plans to go to New York. Somehow the idea of escaping one unfamiliar city for another is inviting. The world is different here in the directions of street signs and unusable bus transfers; I find myself a foreigner in a strange land albeit still the land of America. I'm drawn to New York. How odd that that is the place I choose when I'm home sick. Simon Critchley once told me that New York didn't belong to anyone. That was one of the things that is so intriguing about it. I believe he is right. Perhaps that is why I can feel somewhat at home there. In a city of 8 million, where on a short subway ride one will hear at least half a dozen languages, there is a place where everyone can be at home and not at home simultaneously.

I thought as time went on I would grow used to this place. But I find my self instead looking for a place in time when I can return home. Only the home I know doesn't exist for me. I still think it does at times. At times, I forget. Looking out a bus window, I believe I'm at home. Not that I wish or remember that I'm somewhere else, but that I really am there. Then I remember. Remember where I am. I was in a pub on Friday night and overheard some men talking about how New England was perfect, how they were pleased to lead that life of a fisherman. Perhaps we always feel most at home where we originated from. Our beginnings are the root of where we find perfection, only we forget this as we grow older and think we must find this in other things, and so setting out in the world, we lose our home altogether.

Home I am beginning to think is not a place, but a state of mind. It is nothing that I have at the moment. Perhaps when I am in my apartment quietly reading alone, I can feel at home, but most of the time I feel like an outsider. There are moments I remember back in Portland with friends at Roadside Attraction on a winter evening talking in a corner booth about everything and nothing. Those are moments that feel like home. But they have vanished into time and space that is bridged only by memory. How do I regain this? Perhaps the answer is something like in Proust to write more and all the time until the writing of memory becomes greater than the space of time.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Evening Bus

Lights slide by in the darkness of the bus window. Unfamiliar patters of colors and light. A known in the unknown does not exist here. It is raining hard. The rain here is different than in Portland. There it is a soft drizzle that you can evade, that barely makes you damp. Here in five minutes your shoes will be ruined for days, your umbrella is worthless because of the wind that come in at an angle, and you will be left soaked though every layer you have on. It is an unforgiving rain that makes no exceptions.

All I can see now is a steady stream of headlights. Inside the bus, no one is paying attention to the world outside or inside for that matter. Closed up like turtles in their own world, a commuter bus becomes a time in which we fail to see. Wanting to arrive at point B from point A, we forget there is a space between two points, space that propels us forward through time. It is good to be writing again. I should be working, but I have taken this as a breathing space instead, listening to the mechanic whir of the engine and the hiss of tires of wet pavement. Red tail lights reflect off the wet windshield, filling the front of the bus momentarily with color.

Academics have a word for everything. We neatly put our thoughts in to deliberately crafted that make us sound “oh, so elegant,” and yet from what I know of myself, it is artifice that is one thing I can master. It is the one thing I have in a world of chaos, a little island of order as Frost would say.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Sep. 13, 2010

It is cloudy today. For some reason it is these days that make me the most homesick. Is it only because I associate grey skies and rain with Portland so much? Or is the inward reflection that darker weather brings? I’m listening to Arcade Fire. There is so little of the familiar here. I try not to compare things. Try to take things for what they are. Some days are better than other. Warm sunny afternoons become their own entities that stand a part, like warm memories of a summer vacation. But autumn is coming on and with it becomes the reality of the choice I have made. But then I have always been a little afraid of autumn. I have never know why. Something of the unknown, the new, and the death of the old, knowing you will have to face winter soon. Wondering if you will be able to stand the cold that is coming, and here, wondering if I even know what is coming.

That last sentence can mean so many things. One moment I’m thrilled to my finger tips at the newness of everything, then the next, I’m terrified and my head is swirling and I wonder how I ended up three thousand miles from everything, that I realize now being so far from, I love so much. I also wonder why I’m mostly compelled to write these things only when I’m feeling slightly melancholy.

I saw a cardinal last night. I have only ever seen pictures of cardinals in books, so this small thing while I was sitting on my deck in the last of the afternoon sun, seemed quite extraordinary. For some reason, I have come to take a kind of comfort in watching the birds, realizing that there are many I do not recognize and can only wonder what they are. Goldfinches in the garden, and a whole flock of some large brown variegated bird out my bedroom window that filled the tree and made such a noise that I thought it was the rain. There are many sparrows in Providence, far more than in Portland. I have come to watch them as some people might watch the sky for signs of a change at sea. As long as I see sparrows, they seem to me my sign that things will be alright, and that I am where I should be. Ah, if only I could find my chickadees! I love them more than any other bird. For I will always be thirteen standing in the snow with my hands full of seeds stretched out to meet the hungry winter chickadees. . . .

The Last Train

Aug. 10, 2010

I only have keys to an apartment in Providence now. For some reason, I feel like don’t live anywhere at the present. For some reason turning in my keys at PSU was the hardest thing to do. Somewhere in my mind I feel that there is a saying about keys and how many you keep on a key ring. I only have two now.

It is odd to start over from nothing to have a whole life and then in the course of a few short months, god, not even really, in the course of month, you have the life of an entirely different person. I’m on the train now. This will probably be the last time I am on this train. I overhear a conversation next to me; a twelve year old girl and her mother are talking about chickens. Rhode Island Reds are the biggest they say. Ironic.

I have always wondered if odd little occurrences in the universe are there or if they materialize serendipitously as the world changes around you. I suppose, really, it doesn’t matter. Only suddenly in a faraway place, or a crowded restaurant, someone calls out the name of a very close friend and in a kind of Proustian moment you are whisked away to a different time and place. You look up and wish you could be somewhere else, somewhere that doesn’t exist anymore and is lost in time.

But I’m moving forward now. I cross a bridge. The sun is setting behind me. I admire the mountains that I will soon be trading for the Atlantic. There is too much emotion to contain. Wondering who I will see again and who will fade into memory. The sun is low now, the landscape glowing with low yellow sun that reminds me of August in my childhood. Sunlight that always signaled the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, and somehow made me sad because it was the end of a season, haunting me with the kind of melancholy that fills up Sunday afternoon.

Two young people in the seat behind me talk about traveling to different cities. The young man has a three day beard, the girl has green dyed hair that is fading. The man says that he has lived in a kind of communal situation for the past two years, and the two days he has been alone has felt like two months. He explains how he hates being lonely. Most people don’t like to be lonely. For the first time really ever, I’m actually worried about my solitude. I know from traveling the intense solitude that overwhelms me is passing, I learn from it and it silently slips into my blood and becomes me when I come home. But what happens when you have no home to return to? What happens when the adventure is a one way ticket to a very different place? I suppose one must trust it. What else is there to do?

The young man and woman are still chatting about languages. She sings a prayer in Portuguese. He says how pretty it is. They continue on like this. The old woman sitting next to me is eating a cup of rammen soup. When she is finished, she leaves the paper Amtrak napkin draped over one knee. I crane my neck to see the Gorge behind me, and sneeze because of the sun. “Bless, you,” she says.

The light is getting low now. The trees are getting sparse. I am almost home now. Ah, if only that were true. I have to home right now other than where I might leave my suitcase for the night. It seem I am often finding myself on the train these days, somewhere caught in transition. A difficult place according to Rilke because you cannot stay there. Ah, Rilke, then why does it so often seem the only constant?


July 21, 2010

Day one. Landing in New York didn't seem quite so strange today. Whenever I actually think about how it is that I'm really coming to live here, it doesn't seem real, but when I realize that I will not be only visiting, I'm overwhelmed with a kind of vertigo. Walking to the AirTrian platform I could have burst in to tears but only for a moment. I wonder what I have done at times, knowing so little of what to expect. The city feel quite normal to me. Strange for a place I have only been to twice.

I realized today that the New York subway smells a certain way. I can't quite place it. A little old, a little dirty, something of plastic and stale air and warm bodies moving though it very fast. But for some reason this also always makes me feel a little lost. On a train leaving the city it seemed very odd. I can't quite place what it is. Perhaps it is the difference in architecture? Perhaps it is the different slant of the sun? Perhaps it is the briskness of the people? But there is something that hangs in the air for me like the melancholy like the sunlight in an Edward Hopper painting, warming and yet containing a certain distance.