Trisha Baga

June 2020


Janique Vigier

July 13, 2020

Dr. Hyman,

I’m facing reality, as you suggested. Not exactly something I would recommend.

A man I no longer wanted to sleep with suggested I try therapy. He forwarded me the email he sent you in which he describes me as “grinding against perennial dissatisfaction.” Let me just say: Anyone having sex with him would be.

Well, why am I here? In part because loneliness has made me forget how to articulate my desire. In part because my friends are running out of patience.

It’s about to start storming, Dr. Hyman, and the sky is the ochre-blue that seems to swallow the light. You have a nice view from here. Do you ever go sit in the park? Now that I no longer take the subway it’s where I go to listen to stranger’s conversations. This morning I saw two men moving a piano. The one at the front was yelling “You had ONE job” and the other said “What was it?” I’m the piano, I thought wildly.

I’m suspicious of the idea of moving from hysterical misery to common unhappiness. Doesn’t leave me with much. Doesn’t that get a little dull for you, too, Dr. Hyman? What would be better, you asked. Years ago, I saw my friend’s tarantula, Ooga Booga, molt, and for weeks afterwards, the spider stood a few centimeters away from its exoskeleton, staring. There’s someone capable of staying on nodding terms with the person they used to be.

The problem with talking to Marxists is that you’ll be describing a small horror after having followed someone up the stairs and they’ll hand you The Making of the English Working Class. The problem with me is I’m always following someone up the stairs.

OK, you want to go back to childhood.

When I was 7 or so my father would take me to the bar with him and at the end of the night, driving home, would place me in the front seat beside him. When the car would float out of the lines – elegantly, I always thought; my first idea of elegance– I would put my hands on the steering wheels and make tiny adjustments. The car would right itself and we would drift along, saved. When the cops finally stopped us one night my dad pointed at me and shrilled MY DAUGHTER CAN’T DRIVE. He was an honest man.

All in all, Dr. Hyman, I think we’re making great steps here. Fewer crying jags. Fewer encounters with wino lunatics. No sign of a career or love, but that can’t be far off, can it? Hopefully before the inheritance runs out.

Until next week,

Dan Fox

June 2020

Dear D and DD,

The last letter I sent using your service was mailed in November 2016. Issue Three, Standard Delivery. It was long and gushy so I used extra bubble wrap and Tupperware to prevent leakage. The addressee was someone I’d known for over twenty years. Six months later, he cut our friendship dead. A swift blow to the head with a blunt text message did the job. Decreed that I had changed since we first met and that I’d lost my vim or zest or some other citrusy quality. So now I’m the asshole, as they like to say here in the USA. It being Number One Best-in-Show in the global Asshole-Industrial Complex and all.

My friend had become galvanised by leftist activism during Occupy. Over the years I had sensed an increasing disappointment that my political commitments did not match his exacting standards. The letter was intended to sketch the history of our friendship, but I wrote it right after the election, when the sky was falling on our heads. The sky is always falling, but cloud cover was notably low that month, so fuzzy ideals and sentimental platitudes crept into the writing. Flavours he disliked. I got carried away with rhapsodising about how, in the 1990s, he had introduced me to an arty, zany, utopian, all-elbows-and-knees underground-weirdo USA and how I was grateful, mind blown etcetera. He said he was touched by the homage and relieved that it didn’t involve too much liberal handwringing. A sly dig. My laptop keeps autocorrecting liberal handwringing to ‘liberal handwriting.’ I imagine liberal handwriting is neat and legible, but flirts with French-style cursive and sometimes goes wild with green or purple ink colours before reverting back to standard blues and blacks.
In some respects his dig was accurate. Crises clarify your scale as a writer or artist. They show you the size you work best at. I’m sure you know writers who love to wear the imperative op-ed style, whose first instinct is to reach for big picture commentary when a major disaster or upheaval hits. “This. Now. Clearly, we must. If not, never.” Or artists who get one whiff of revolution and immediately start planning to shoot the sequel to Medium Cool. (Tagline: “Turnin’ Up the Heat.”) They rush to paint the icons before the church has even been built. Then there’s the Last Days Mob, for whom the apocalypse egg-timer is reset with every news cycle. “Civil war by next Tuesday! Are you stockpiling enough potatoes?” I’m better suited to the small scale, more interested in where we’ll get toilet paper after the revolution. Embarrassment has taught me this about my writing. When I try to make The Big Statement I just sound like an art administrator suffering a fit of the now-more-than-evers as they try and write a statement of solidarity for their museum’s social media feed. Writing in green and purple ink before reverting back to blue.
Embarrassment is a great teacher for writers. It only flowers after publication and can take months, even years to bloom. You catch its scent when you find yourself re-reading an old piece of work and wishing you’d been tougher, or more precise, or understanding of your limits, or simply learned when to dip your headlights. It helps you disagree with yourself. I learned a new word the other day: opsimath. A person who begins to study or learn late in life. I wish I had discovered it years ago, which itself is an opsimathic wish. (Opsimathian? Opsimathicalist? I should learn.) I think all writers are opsimaths, so it’s unfortunate that the culture demands of them immediate answers to immediate problems. Learning to write involves learning the art of sleeping on things.

But my trouble is that I have Restless Legs Syndrome. It’s like insomnia crossed with postmodern dance. I go to bed, doze off for a while, then get woken up by a creeping sensation in my legs and arms, specifically the knees and elbows, but sometimes ankles and wrists. It’s as if energy is rapidly building inside my limbs, somewhere between the bone, ligaments and tendons. As if I have been injected with seltzer and my blood has begun to carbonate. It winds to an uncomfortable pitch, triggering an irresistable urge to move the limb, because that’s the only thing that will ease the feeling. Relief lasts for half a minute, then my joints start to fizz and the cycle begins again. I work my limbs repeatedly, hoping to tire them into sleep. Bend and stretch, bend and stretch. If I lay in bed it looks like horizontal semaphore. I curl my body tight, then extend it right out, then coil up again. I get up and pace around the apartment, like I’m doing a bad impression of an Yvonne Rainer performance, finding tasks that will exercise elbows and knees. Doing squat thrusts can exhaust me enough to sleep for a little while. But even if that buys me an hour or two, the kinetics will eventually drag me conscious again. I am possessed by a demon obsessed with aerobics.
It’s a chronic sleep disorder. I’ve had it since childhood. For much of my life there have been long stretches without the restlessness, but for the past six months I’ve been doing the dance every night. I used to be able to nod off for a couple of hours before the wriggles set in, but the gap between sleep and wakefulness has narrowed to a thin slit. The second my head droops into unconsciousness, my knees and elbows jerk me awake. It’s like having a built-in cattle-prod. This cycle repeats throughout the night, finally evaporating in the morning, leaving me thick-headed for the rest of the day.
It would be nice to think it’s my body resisting the spatio-temporal controls of the straight-eight-hour sleep regime. A twitchy, four-limbed up-yours to the Protestant Work Ethic that corrals people into daily work schedules. But in truth it sucks. I cannot sleep on my writing which means I cannot write – or rather, I can’t trust what I write. All I can do is be a body in space. This has been useful lately. I march all over Brooklyn and Manhattan, and although I understand that now is no time for sleep, I return home in the hope that my knees and elbows will be tired enough to knock me out for the night, so I can sleep on my experiences. So I can think cogently the next day. Currently, I cannot walk far enough.

I used to confuse the line “lunch is for wimps” from the movie Wall Street with the subtitle of its sequel: “money never sleeps.” For some time I thought the zinger was “sleeping is for wimps.” I wondered if the destructiveness of Michael Douglas’s yuppie monster, Gordon Gekko, was due to his inability to think straight. But my insomnia-dancing has not made me rich, and those who sleep the sleep of the just have not yet dismantled capitalism.

This morning I pottered around my apartment trying to think of a way to finish this letter. I re-read the letter to my friend, the one from November 2016, hoping it might prompt a thought or two. Eww was my only comment. I stared at the bookshelf in search of nothing in particular and pulled down a foxed paperback of Chroma: A Book of Colour – June ‘93 by Derek Jarman. It was given to me when I was at art school by another friend who disappeared from my life. Mental illness took him along a different path. The book is pencilled with underlinings and notes in scratchy handwriting. On the inside front-cover he inscribed it: “Danny, ignore all the rot written in the margins. [Heart] H.” I like his modesty but I think he was wrong.

Dan x

Quinn Latimer

June 15, 2020

Dear Whoever, my love,

The moods? Anxious, authoritarian and anti-authoritarian, deep cuts of grief, slivers of relief—they slip in. Like, what, quicksilver. Some “early summer.”

Early summer. I’m on an island again, as I always am when I write for this platform. (That is, twice.) You asked about the mood, though. I slipped up and read “moon” and almost told you: huge, “super,” with a copper mood and real aura. A reddish, granular tint, grit like confetti crossing the sky, or some Sahara.

No one cares about the mood or moons these days or everyone does. I wake up and watch the season finale of my favorite show. Mostly, though? I look forward to the chorus of comments that follow. The silvering wit of the audience, it pours into my wound, my mood—what a relief. I am thankful for the language. Its litter of light.

The moon thinks we’re trash, I think.

In films it destroys us or hosts us, a hospitality we return by effortlessly trashing its surface. Its judgment comes at a distance: its remove is novelistic or imperial. That said, bureaucratic and brutal. Like pale coin, the treasuries of tribute whose marble records stand or slump like bodies in the cool basement of the museum just down the hill.

Some season, as I’ve mentioned. Could be June. My show’s season is over but this one—pandemic, protest, the long deathgrip of white power, its deep extractions and constant violence, all the practiced forms of—is still shooting. Authoritarianism in the air or the streets, at least, which are full of the authorities, their static and glitchy violence. I am too far away—

To feel hopeful, I mean. Closer is the new party in power here that ran on a Law & Order platform (without irony). In the early morning they call the local media to make their little films together: pulling families out of squats and loading them onto buses, mostly. In the early evening they show them on the news. The cops in riot gear to infer criminality. The cops in medical gear to infer disease. Children crying in the street; their parents distressed, exhausted. Disappeared to camps outside the city.

After the buses leave, the cops brick up the doorways of the buildings with cinderblocks, to be covered in graffiti by night. The op-eds the next day talk, in measured, genteel tones, about property rights, certain values, water and land borders (both closed), terrorism, sometimes even women’s rights, if they’re feeling extra shameless.

I wonder about the brutality they infer of their audience. That is, their viewers and voters and readers (these are, maybe, the same thing).

The party leader with the soft, cartoon face—a bit of a blur, better for distanciating the easy fascism of his policies—was filmed yesterday, at sunset, suited and seated in front of one of the more beautiful island views. One leg crossed over another, hands folded in his lap, a soft smile. An appeal for tourists from the north. The moon was left out of the shot. Had it even risen yet. Yes and no.

The mood. Yes and no.
The sunset gradient. Yes and no.
The loosened quarantine. Yes and no.
The fig tree in the ruin. Yes and no.
The jasmine vine burning on the terrace. Yes and no.
The unseasonable weather. Yes and no.
The air of pandemic and Bergamot. Yes and no.
The cops riding double. Yes and no.
The long lines outside the food pantry. Yes and no.
The man selling braided fluorescent bracelets. Yes and no.
The man selling packets of tissues. Yes and no.
The old woman showing her bandaged knees for coins. Yes and no.
The question about ancestors. Yes and no.
The letter to a hovering drone. Yes and no.
The medical masks in the gutter. Yes and no.
The camps that continue. Yes and no.

The full moon in Capricorn, super and copper of tint, as it rises above the village, the electrical lines crossing and scripting it with some thin writing on power.

Yes and no, friends.
Yes and no, family.
A father in the west, on his own. Yes and no.
A daughter in the east, on her own. Yes and no.
Multiple displacements, a disassembling mood. Yes and no.
Yes or no, cousins, sisters, sorrows, studies.

In the short story by the southern writer gone north, the mother calls her daughter—what—sister. My mother would never. The fictional mother has a wonderful sense of irony about the daughter who fled. Did mine, I wonder. What kind of fiction was she. What kind of irony.

“Not a poet, she produced a poet’s prose.”

I linger over that line printed in small type on the back of the book. It rocks like a ship in my mouth. I sense the water on both sides, and the moonlight loose and laboring on top of it.

Ms. Hardwick, I pronounce silently, clicking my teeth.

These nights, this season, we feel more unsafe on the streets, my women friends and I note casually to each other in texts. The new cops hired by the new party in power, called, unironically, New Democracy, have increased not just the violence but the feeling of violence. Both. There are too many men in the street, we write, our jaws clenched. Too many guns. Too many addicts that are feeling too desperate. The new-old story of politics, violence, vulnerability.

Late night, in taxis, not wanting to walk home, we ask our drivers to put on their masks. Old men who sigh then fish one out of their front seat littered with coffee cups.

But now we are on the island surrounded by small animals who cry into the night, along the cliffs and into the valleys, as I read news about people in the streets of the cities I used to live in.

There are so many ways to die, to try to not die. Notes for the next shoot. Notes for the next season. Notes for everyone I love, some dead, some alive. Notes for the makers of films of violence in every city, every country, notes for those enacting that violence.

What am I trying to tell you, my love? My love and grief and anger which has no object but the moon, a mood.

The moon, a mood.
The moon, a mood.

Yours, yes and no,

Lidija Haas

October 11, 2020

Dear Z./A.,

It’s been twenty years since I spoke at your funeral. I didn’t grieve you. At the time I didn’t understand grieving as an action, or an unbroken series of actions, like loving—I thought both grief and love just happened like an illness and had to be endured. And for several years before that, you hadn’t been yourself as I knew you: vain, competitive, belligerent, selfish, cunning. You mellowed as your mind slackened. So there was no real grief, just some tears that seeped into the ambient misery of my adolescence and vanished. For me it’s as if you’ve carried on living somewhere else. I wouldn’t put it past you.

It’s tacky to bring this up but that solid silver fruit bowl you left me in your will, turns out you’d already given it to my uncle and his wife for their anniversary. You did bequeath me my weakness for rampaging bitches, though. At least, you were the first to show me they exist. They’re not some myth invented by misogynists, who, frankly, wouldn’t have the imagination.

For years I barely thought of you at all, and now you come to mind all the time. It’s partly that I’m wearing your engagement ring, nearly a century old. The stones are like a gang of beauties fighting their way out of a cage. The one in the middle looks to be winning, so I know that must be you. Wearing it may have cursed me but now that I’m two divorces in, I’ve resolved to stop indulging fears like that. After my first, my mother showed me the little box of wedding rings she and other relatives had discarded: it was a consoling stash. She added mine and said: “See? We’ll melt them all down and make something pretty.” It’s inconceivable to me, by the way, that you stayed married. I think of that joke about the ancient couple divorcing, who told the judge they had been waiting for the children to die. Presumably removing the option can spur ingenuity—freedom in constraint, and all that. But you were never one to be constrained. I’ve had to conclude that you and Poppa loved each other. That’s what he told my mother when she asked. The least likely explanation, yet the only one that fits. The same goes for my parents. Would you believe (and this question, to be clear, is not rhetorical, I really wonder if you would) that after everything, they’re still together? They seem happier than I ever remember them. I don’t know what to take from that. If there’s one relationship I would have bet against, it’s theirs.

The real reason you’re with me so much nowadays must have more to do with what’s around me, this confection of interlocking crises on what I want to call an inhuman scale, except that the destruction of worlds takes place precisely on our scale. Most theories of the difference between animal and human minds don’t hold up for me—anyone who’s ever loved an animal knows they make mistakes, too—but that talent for destroying things so much bigger, older, grander than ourselves, and for romanticizing as we go, that’s surely an exception in nature, or I have to hope so. We’re the element that doesn’t mend.

My mind always associated you with crisis: you could concoct one out of nothing and, being born in 1910, you weathered so many. I know you used to tell my mother she was the only one of your pregnancies that was deliberate, which we both find funny given that she was conceived smack in the middle of World War II. Who knows whether it’s true, or whether you told each child in private that the others were accidents and they were the one you wanted.

I spent years listening to my mother on the phone, and early on I made a habit of repeating the juicier gossip I’d heard to the person in question, to see what would happen, but I can’t remember ever telling you how she used to dread your calls, avoid them when she could (this was pre-caller ID, so she had to go on instinct), or how, after hanging up, she’d spit “Fuck you!” and hold the receiver down hard, as if you might blast it back up off its cradle. I suspect it would please you to know that. You didn’t require anyone to like you, as long as attention was paid. When you were young and rich, I heard, you used to gun your motorboat up and down the bay at all hours, just to revel in how much everyone loathed you. Or was it a yacht? Later you were broke and you did that in style, as well.

If I had to describe you to a stranger, I’d tell her two things. The night after Poppa had escaped by boat, Nazis banged on the door. You said you had no idea where your husband was. Apparently your imperious charm impressed them, and I’m sure your perfect German also helped. “Keep your voices down,” you told them. “You’ll wake my children.” Then came your own escape, years later, under the next regime, not long after your first-born son had sickened and died. Poppa was still trying to find a way to get all of you out of the country to join him. You suspected he was having too good a time in his London exile. It may have been true. He was sunny, happy-go-lucky, generous, extravagant. Those descriptions sound a little euphemistic, don’t they. What words would people use, in those days, to call the man of the house a slut? In any case, when an opportunity came, you fled—another night, another boat, a risky border crossing. You got word to Poppa that you’d made it, and he came to greet you, incredulous, thrilled. “How did the children take the journey?” “Oh,” you said, “I didn’t bring the children.” Family lore has it that this was the one time he ever raised his voice. “If you’re going to talk to me like that,” you said, “I’m going straight back.” Since anyone going back would be arrested, or worse, you’d won that round. It took him two more years to get my mother and her remaining brother smuggled out, and that’s another story. Not about you, of course, because you weren’t there.

They say that in pandemia we’re having more elaborate nightmares. The only dream I’ve ever remembered clearly is the one that recurred throughout my childhood. I’m buckled into my stroller and my mother is pushing me along a wide bank of sand, with forested darkness on one side and a deep body of water on the other. We stop moving and I know that something vicious will emerge from the water and attack. The moment of anticipating this is elastic, endless. Then I feel it coming, some reptilian threat, very ugly, very fast. My mother flips the stroller over and I’m strapped there on my side facing the water, bait for the creature. I can hear her running for the trees when the dream ends. I have to concede that in our waking lives she never did any such thing to me. Only as I write this do I notice that it’s near enough what you did to her. I’m not judging. You survived and so did three of your children, and one of them got to have her own child, me, in the midst of what must have been Europe’s most peaceful half-century. I don’t presume to know what it took.

What would I know about you without relying on hearsay? That after your youngest daughter moved back in with you in the wake of her own divorce, we three would get drunk together, though I was still a child, and you’d sing and play “The Night They Invented Champagne” on the piano, which had a framed picture on it of Sasha, the son who died. That I never saw you cry even at the things that made my mother cry, like when bombs were falling on Dubrovnik. That when we called up to your window to say you’d be late for church, you shrieked “GO TO HELL” so the entire street could hear. That you screamed at Marko, the cousin who saved you from drowning, dragging you against the tide all the way back to shore, because in the process he had ruined the hair you’d just had done. That whenever Poppa gave me a gift you had to find me a version of the same thing only more, or better. That while my aunt lived with you you liked to put the chain on the door whenever she left the house so she’d have to beg to get back in or clamber through a window, and you’d pretend it was an accident. That these kinds of games kept you young well into your eighties. That as a small child I bored you when I talked but you could spend hours telling me salacious family secrets, mixed with the occasional whimsical fantasy. Now I think of it, I could recognize them because your fantasies tended to follow a pattern: at the last minute someone steps in, averts disaster.

Let’s see what happens this time.

I love you, Lx

Hermione Hoby

April 30, 2020

Dear Z,
I realize I have a postscript to my MeToo stuff too. Which is that "believe women", as heuristic, is irreproachable – a righteous corrective to centuries of not believing women. The problem is that it was wielded and heeded as absolute dogma, not heuristic. And this is everywhere. All women are superheroes, every woman is a victim of rape culture. Etc. Just this totalizing mode that shuts down thought and complexity and honesty. (And also due process, obviously.) It’s frighteningly illiberal. And anti-intellectual. And anti-literary!

Dudes on Instagram: yes, you're absolutely right that for my vision to happen it would require entrenched re self-objectification. Agh, I so wish for a world in which no one gives a shit what the daughters wear or play with, or how they dance at any age. And I want a world in which men squarely interrogate their sexual behavior and identify and correct their latent or otherwise misogyny, but I also do not want a world in which this gives rise to widespread male neuroticism. O that delicate, Goldilocksy (not too much, not too little - just right) creature that is the superego!!! The remedy for the neuroticism that patriarchy has inflicted on generations of women is not, it seems, to inflict something of the same on subsequent generations of men. I mean, I think we're very far from that, but anyway. Also, it seems obtuse and absurd for me to even talk about masculine superego when pure id sits in the White House. Your death/T***p piece was so good by the way. Lately, I’ve just had Gil Scott Heron going, "who will survive in America, who will survive in America" over and over in my head.

Do you remember back in the 90s when "spin doctor" became a new phrase in politics, and "spin" was discussed with horror and dread, particularly in relation to "the photo opportunity" and its cynicism? When I remember that it seems akin to reading Machiavelli now, as in, these proposals once deemed scandalous seem... well, depressing, certainly, but so deeply ingrained in how the world works that the question of ethics almost becomes moot, certainly naïve. But anyway, remembering the disapprobation around "photo opportunity" makes me think of how so many people, especially of my generation and younger, now live (or crucially don’t, in the full sense - 'outsource', rather) their whole lives for the 'photo opportunity'. As in, "doin' it for the 'gram" and "pics or it didn't happen" - they are, via social media presence, self-ordained public figures foremost and the private self is subordinated. Everything is content. So yeah, I don't wish that soul death on anyone. And there’s this corollary with presentational politics, right? – it’s all attitudinal, all about how it looks, less what it does.

I saw that today Elon Musk, our constant toolbag, used the word "fascism" to describe lockdown measures. CO's governor, a good dude, was recently called a Nazi for issuing a shelter in place order. He's Jewish. He lost family in the Holocaust. He gave this powerfully bewildered speech in which he just said quite simply that he was trying to save lives, not destroy them. On a much lighter note, his name is Polis, which pleases me. When you were a kid did you read that Alan Ahlberg series in which all the characters had profession-appropriate and alliterative surnames? - Mr Tick the Teacher, Mr Biff the Boxer.... Mr Polis the Politician!

Haha o man that's so awful with the underwear ad, I'm sorry. You can look forward to.... still existing! Lucky you! Have you seen Vera Chitilova's Daisies? Don't wish to (wo)mansplain it if you have, but there's a bit where the girls just skip about singing, "we exist we exist we exist." - YEAH BUT WAIT TIL YA GET TO FIFTY, GALS. And it's funny you mention this because for the last week I've been relentlessly targeted with ads for these confoundingly ugly bras that look as though they're for women who wish to be invisible. They're all over my internet. Like, putty-colored, wide-strapped things, with hammocky pouches in which the boobs slump and seem to be letting out defeated sighs. Just amazingly de-sexed. But the lighting and make up and whole aesthetic is Glossier-ish, and of course the models are all like 19 years old. So this seems to be what's fashionable now. Unsexy underwear. The normcore-isation of lingerie! And now I've written "bras" and "lingerie" in an email they're just going to keep coming aren't they.

I haven't watched Normal People! I.. probably won't? This will no doubt sound obnoxious and/or risibly grand but I just have so little interest in TV. I'm trying to work out why this is, and I think it's because I do have interest in TV, by which I mean, it lights up a part of my brain that overshadows the part of my brain that wants to read. But the difference is, the part lit up by reading stays lit, or even, gets brighter, but the part lit up by TV instantly goes dark again and then I feel depressed and despairing. It's like a glycemic index of stimulation and satisfaction in which TV's the sugar and reading's the brown rice or something. So I feel like if I watch TV I'm not only not reading but also damaging the reading urge. In other words, me saying I'm not interested in TV is kind of like saying "I don't like chocolate chip cookies" - as in, what I actually mean is I fucking love them, find them so delicious that I'll eat, like, fourteen of them and then be sick. Ultimately, I'd rather have brown rice. I know this is supposedly a time for chocolate chip cookies not brown rice (I heard a friend on the radio the other day saying, “this isn’t the time for Proust!”) and I have sympathy with that, certainly would not deny anyone their cookie in any form right now. At the same time, truthfully I think, man, this is absolutely the time for Proust! As in, real sustenance! (As a side note: it's funny to me that Proust and not, I don't know, Gaddis or someone, has become a byword for the highest of self-regarding highbrow when he is in various delightful ways so trashy and soapy.) The last thing I want is escapism right now. It's no consolation at all. I just want grown-ups giving me distilled honesty. I've been reading A.R. Ammons - he's hitting the spot. Also and however we've found ourselves pursuing a Young Al Pacino theme in our movie watching and Young Al Pacino is most certainly a cookie. "A snack", as the youngs probably don't even say anymore. And I'm fine with that sustenance. I guess woman cannot live by brown rice alone.


Paige K Bradley

May 13, 2020

Dear Dominique,

It’s getting late, but my imperative to finish what I started means I’ve been watching Björk’s Dancer in the Dark even when I probably would have been better off going to sleep. I’m batting around the idea that most Lars von Trier films should be credited to the actresses. Like so: Nicole Kidman’s Dogville ; Kirsten Dunst’s Melancholia —why not? The pitilessness of their performances is what stays in the memory, like Björk as Selma crooning “My Favorite Things” through an air circulation vent in prison. Yes, turn the screws tighter. Horrible, but I like that. Her delights, staged via musical numbers throughout the film, are always framed as delusions, feverishly framed by a symphony of Robby Müller’s cameras. Her motivations are mostly sealed in the realm of her rich inner life, or her insane disassociation from reality, depending on your perspective. She doesn’t particularly want anyone to know why she’s behaving as she does, and sharing her goals just leads to a downfall.

Like Selma, I also have a habit of imagining how scenes from life could have played out more beautifully, and just disconnecting from the actually shabby scenario at hand. Then again, she’s going blind for most of the film’s two hours and twenty minutes before she’s hanged, whereas I’m just severely myopic. You don’t like musicals and neither do I, but I relate to their relentless style and the grandiose pronouncements of intention (e.g. the “I Want” song) no matter how ill advised.

No one’s gone to the gallows (yet) for the crimes happening in our midst, but don’t you think Selma is sadly correct when, after a would-be suitor queries her, “You can’t see can you?,” she replies, dreamily, “What is there to see?” We talked about how there’s no essential image we could point at to exemplify what’s happening around us. I live in an epicenter of death, ergo I should be grateful for life, but I’m bad at taking cues, or understanding directions, or others’ intentions. Perhaps my female adult autism research will shed some light on that in the coming months.

I wonder if anyone could be nostalgic about previous catastrophes. Culture thrives on circling back and following up, so I’ll cite what Paul Virilio said of 9/11: “We were not informed, we were frozen in front of a single message generalized on a world-wide scale…we only had one eye, a ‘big optic’ on the global scale. The single big optic.” And becoming informed was, as hindsight, which is 2020, tells us, not a priority. Action was. What is there to see if you’ve seen enough?

Blindly rushing in also has a romantic connotation, like I wrote in a poem three years ago:

If sight is projection
Look back at me so
We’re light to light
Just holding and blinding

I must have really been sick of looking.

Björk’s by turns exquisite and crude displays of suffering in Dancer may have had inspiration enough from the Danish director apparently harassing her throughout the production, as she claimed a few years ago on social media. I’ve never watched the film with anyone else and it’s one of the few films I own on DVD, bought when I was sixteen, whatever that says about moi. I’m not sure we could bear watching it together; you’re a sensitive. In the past I’ve said I liked this film, and if we did put it on I’d probably be eager to spare you at the first sign of emotional wear and tear on your part. But what did I like about this preposterous wringer anyway? Now I’d just say: “the editing.” Here’s a thought: I was into it for the same underlying reasons I’ve spent years pushing myself past “my limits,” as they say, as if that was going to earn me some red badge of courage or laurel wreath for endurance. Best Actress in a Supporting Role, supporting whatever. Now I feel like I am possibly just watching an absurdly talented woman torture a performance out of herself for the sake of not letting the whole production down as badly as she was being let down. There was some principle at stake…besides dignity? Again Virilio floats to the thoughts: “There is a sort of human sacrifice in performance.” It can be perversely wonderful when people give too much, but it’s usually tragic when too much is given, and it’s just not enough.

Stockhausen was a dick when he said that ponderous bullshit about 9/11. But the theorist of speed and accidents, may he rest in slowness, has a more curious anecdote about the symbol that gave way during the previous disaster’s single big optic: “The World Trade Center vibrated, suffered when there were storms in New York. I have a cassette that Stephen Vitiello gave me…Months prior to the attack, he put sensors on the towers, and you can hear them during the storms…You can hear the suffering. It is an ideal performance.” Well, months, as in almost two full years before, actually. Who would agree that they should have suffered though? Was that integral to the architecture? Paul said the design sacrificed a cement core, but Arman was in architecture at RISD before I transferred there and when I asked him about it he wasn’t buying this line. In short, you can’t build like that anymore, for reasons I won’t go on about, and how many skyscrapers is France known for anyway?

Perhaps they were particularly vulnerable to the elements though, or just sadistic guys doing some directing. That’s one way of building, if you like. In the past I have tended towards thinking sacrifices are necessary to make something great. Maybe I too have suffered some grand delusions, but does that make them worthless? We don’t do hot takes, so let’s discuss later, leave no record, and post nothing.

Here’s another old poem:

The goal is to shatter—
Are you asking me for the backstory behind ‘nothing’?

I wish the sincere didn’t have to arrive so busted to convince people of “I mean it.” A long shadow all whole and reaching out at the edges would be welcome.

New poem:

I haven’t seen it yet / it remains to be seen.

I still wonder sometimes what you think when you look at me—you said I was an idealist. Say more.

See you soon,

Christine Smallwood

June 6, 2020

Dear Damon,

When I told Negar I wanted to write you a letter, you were three days old. I wanted to tell you the story of your birth: how you arrived during the pandemic, how your dad and I were so scared to go to the hospital that, at thirty-two weeks, we hired a midwife and planned a homebirth. I wasn't afraid of getting the virus—I was afraid that if I tested positive for the virus, they would separate you from me. Those were the days and nights of sirens. The numbers were racing up every day.

My only fear with the homebirth, I told your dad, was that you would be in breech and, if the OB refused to take us back—why they would do this, I didn’t know, I just often expect that people will punish me—we would wind up at the hospital with a stranger cutting me open. That was anxiety talking, we decided. We ordered the birth kit. At thirty-six weeks, the midwife came for a visit. She palpated my abdomen and from behind her N95 respirator informed me that you were in breech. I felt a miserable desire to congratulate myself; I told me so! She said we could try to have you at home anyway; out of the thousands of babies she had delivered, seven had entered feet first. Seven out of thousands did not sound like a lot.

The OB took us back. Why wouldn’t they? So many people had left the city. On their advice, we went to the hospital for a screamingly painful procedure called an external cephalic version, whose purpose was to turn you around. It was terrible, like being punched and kneaded and reduced to a quivering dough, but at least I knew why I was there. I can only imagine what it was like for you: suspended in a warm bath, when suddenly the walls caved in and some shoving pressure came down from above. You didn’t budge. We were at once devastated and proud. You had a mind of your own, a will of iron. By then I had realized that what for months I had taken to be an oddly firm bottom thrust up against my ribs had been a skull all along. Still, I worried. "Babies are head down for a reason," I said to your dad. "Could he be having a better time?" It was your only chance in utero! I didn’t want you to miss out. Your dad, rightly, was disgusted with me. "Leave him alone,” is what he said. “He's happy how he is.” I cried for days. It was clear, the purpose of this chain of events: to remind me of what I already thought I knew, that motherhood has nothing to do with getting what I want, and everything to do with encouraging who you are. Please know that this is something I am likely to forget again.

The delivery was a joyous administrative event. It was imperative I be there, but I had almost nothing to do with it. Your dad and I showed up at the appointed time and held hands in our ridiculous surgical caps. We were like passengers on a spaceship manned by robots. I was splayed out and watched the proceedings reflected in the metal lamp above—a gooey patch of yellow threaded with pink and red. Then they dropped the sheet and the doctor pulled you, glue-white and speckled red, out by the feet. You dangled upside down before she flipped you head-up, presenting you for inspection. In that moment I saw you completely, you seemed to hover in the air. They kept you too long at the warmer and when they put you on my chest I couldn't see you at all; I had to lie flat on my back while they sewed every layer. For the next two nights I kept forgetting to put on my mask whenever the nurses came into the room. The dread and paranoia of the pandemic had parted to make room for you, a totally new creature on the earth. On the day we were discharged, the woman who pushed my wheelchair to the lobby told me she took the NJ Transit to Penn Station every day. Oh shit, I thought. I have to get out of here.

That was one month ago. Earlier this evening, while I was writing this, the police helicopters were flying low overhead, so loud that if you had been crying in the next room, I wouldn’t have heard you. Now all I can hear is the cheering of protesters violating curfew, chanting for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. The dread and paranoia of the pandemic has been overthrown by a political uprising that has unleashed the terrifying racialized violence of the state and the liberatory power of mass demonstration—bodies released from isolation, flooding the streets. It began with Black people in Minneapolis and it has not ended. “No justice, no peace” is more than a slogan. You won’t remember but I took you to Grand Army Plaza this week. We stood far on the periphery, where no one could cough or sneeze or, God willing, breathe on you. In the thick of the crowd people stood shoulder to shoulder; the next day we stood far back again while the marchers linked arms around the fountain, fearless and shouting. I don’t know if I should have been there or not—if taking a newborn near a protest in a pandemic makes me a bad mother or a good one; I guess in fourteen days I’ll find out—but I’m so glad we didn’t leave New York. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. The world here ended and it’s beginning again.

Your brother was born the night that Donald Trump was elected. You were born during the crisis that was the direct result of that election. The virus is not a natural disaster, any more than racism is a natural disaster—or climate crisis. These are political disasters and can only have political solutions. You’ll find out that being a political actor does not come naturally to me. The truth is I don’t like it. I’d prefer not to do it. But what will I say to you in twenty years if I don’t?

You have barely emerged from your animal self. I am still getting to know you. So far here is what I know: I know that you have a funny way of twisting your head and pursing your mouth when you pull back, milk-drunk, and stretch your arms overhead. I know that you turn red when you are upset. I know that one side of your head is a little flat because you found a comfortable position pushed up next to my liver and did not see fit to move for many weeks. I hope that your whole life you will be stubborn and strong-willed and do things your own way and be your most original and radiant self. But I also hope that both of us will learn to be less comfortable.

I used to think that as a mother, it was my duty to make the world more habitable—more livable, more just. I thought I had to do that for you. This week I have been thinking that I want to do that with you, instead.


Lynne Tillman

July 9, 2020


Here, flowers blooming, or ready to bloom, in many shapes and colors, but I can’t describe an array of flowers the way Virginia Woolf might; I’ve thought about limitations such as these, or not limitations but capacities and incapacities, during this temporary exile, not from a nation, not during a shooting war, but from a sick city, whose death rate drove me away. I wanted to stay, at first I did, but not to use a small house we own far from all that death, a house we’ve had a long time and to which I was never reconciled, but now I am — it seemed absurd. I don’t like owning property, it makes me feel indebted, but I’m more than fortunate to have it, and it doesn’t own me.

Spontaneity gone, sheltering in place. Grab your mask. Plastic gloves. Sticky in the heat. People dying. Flowers blooming. Hateful people. People clapping at 7pm. Planting seeds. People going hungry.
My daily habits have been uprooted, so I’ve developed a few new ones, for the morning: Awake, turn on the radio, steep a pot of tea, return to bed with tea on a tray, think about Edith Wharton, who wrote from bed, and wait for Governor Cuomo to speak. All the covid facts, ma’am. I wonder how he’ll be when he doesn’t speak to us every day.
How luxurious is this life o’mine. Lying in bed. Drinking tea. Listening to bad news, horrific news.
The rest of the day, into the night, goes fast and slow, day fills up and yet nothing much happens, still, time moves along, and I move with it. Maybe I do some writing, catch up a little but not enough. Watch old-fashioned TV news, BBC at 6; ABC at 6:30, sometimes CBS at 7pm, that’s pretty constant.
Listen to radio news, five minutes at the hour. BBC commentators deliver world news, a rarity here: There is a world. In isolation. There is a world.

Watch grim and great series — Better Call Saul, Ozark, Shtisel, procedurals, Norwegian, and Swedish and Belgian crime series, stupidly funny shows. They all come to an end. Find another distraction. Not MSNBC, I barely watch it. The repetitiousness of days is matched closely by those talking heads repeating everything five times in an hour. Fox news, check in to the dark side.
To fill time. Time’s all we have. Commentators filling it. Rabid conspiracies. Why do they believe what they do, and why do I believe what I do. There’s ideology’s rub.
Strange days, nights, face yourself or don’t. I don’t know. What is everyone doing right this minute: So-called sex addicts coping on Zoom? Less murder, more domestic abuse, because people can’t get out to murder. Zoom can’t bring you food. As Putney Swope said, you can’t eat air conditioning.
Gardening, summer coming, gardening’s handy metaphors, which remind me of my college paper on Richard II, and Shakespeare’s emphasis on gardening and its relationship to minding a kingdom, and his many instances remarking on time, “time’s numbring fool,” a favorite. Now we all are, waiting.

I do not feel guilty. Guilt is narcissistic. I feel like shit.

Gardens become unruly fast, people spend the days of spring and summer tending them. I refuse, though ugly weeds — crabgrass — spread, do I let them? A weed demands pulling, and once you start gouging the soil of one weed, you see there’s another, and another. And when does it end.
People are wondering when this will end. Some think never. Some imagine life will never be the same, though what aspects are not specified. Sure, more remote learning, sure, working from home, masks. This will be extemporaneous and temporary. The most con-temporary. Life will also be much the same, eventually, because human beings have habits. Attitudes. Humans don’t suddenly metamorphose into different beings, if at all. Changed circumstances and conditions will be met by relatively unchanged humans.
No innovation is untouched by sameness.
I’m no optimist. I read history. I read novels, and see histories everywhere repeat, with specific vicissitudes, repeat and repeat, and consciousness over time is familiar, similar. Different objects and subjects to ruminate on, enjoy, hate, and worry about — nuclear warfare, tech, global water shortages, devastation of the environment, et al. Human failures abound, human successes....I don’t know.
People get used to most things, if they are not in constant pain. If they are not very sick, if they are not hungry.

An account by a Rwandan Tutsi writer, Scholastique Mukasonga, Igifu, told what her hunger felt like during the genocide. It’s sickening what we do to ourselves, and much worse what we do to others.
I wear a mask and walk in a small city, more like a big town, that is rarely crowded. Still, suspicion rules. I buy groceries and clean with Chlorox. I am bored and annoyed by these routines, and my life depends on them. Funny, really. In this time of plague, I feel a compulsion to clean the kitchen, I have hot and cold running water, to vacuum the old wood floors, we have floors, and tidy the garden, pull those weeds. How deep and strong roots can be. You dig and pull and really need to wrestle them out, and I wonder, why are these roots so strong and others not. Gardening, like cleaning the house, and knowing it will get dirty again, feels, I don’t know, crazy. Yet you have to do it, finally, at least try to do it.
The roots of the worst human-made systems are strong and deep. I don’t care if trump is smart or stupid. If he plans or doesn’t plan... His roots are strong and deep and he needs to be pulled.

With love, as ever, and also, as never before, Lynne

(Sourced by) Alissa Bennett

April 2, 2001


I have misunderstood nothing. I am sorry you didn't get to the second page of my letter, because that was the page where I called you a cunt, an insult I do not want to deprive you of. I've included that page in this batch of letters, so the pleasure of reading about yourself described as a cunt awaits you.

Do read your letters carefully to dearest Joel," where you used the phrase “sucking the right cocks” to get ahead about the brilliant biographer of Picasso. Perhaps that slipped your mind when you just wrote "I did not hint at anything remotely sexual." I call that more than a hint, I call that legally actionable. I felt terribly telling the story about Leon and the 18 hustlers fucking him in one afternoon. That is not my manner of speech but I wanted to hurt you in retaliation for what you said about John who's not even a friend of mine but whose talent I admire. I even checked the story before I wrote it. Leon traveled with a procurer named Tom Holtz, or some such similar name. He rounded up the boys from the streets on Santa Monica Boulevard brought them out to Malibu to dump their loads in Leon and paid them each the requisite $200.00. Tom died of aids, too. My intent was to hurt you. I die of shame if I have hurt Philippe, who is a gentleman. You are lucky to have such a decent person.

I knew the first time I met you were duplicitous. You came to New York to see me with a story of your daughter's death for me to write and then gave it to a fashion magazine instead with fashion lay-out pictures, thereby minimizing its tragedy and importance. You told me that day that I would hear you were a dominatrix. I never did hear that about you. You told me I would hear that you had had an affair with Mr. Meyer. I did hear that over and over and over. I no longer disbelieve it. I think it explains a great deal.

That you could discuss me in such a belittling manner as you discussed me with your bracelet maker friend, knowing that I had such a bad relationship with him is another of your duplicities. How shitty of you. Don't tell me that queen didn't know the trouble he was causing you when he sent a stash of letters to Conde Nash. He must have hated you. It's interesting how much your daughter’s friends disliked you. The photographer David Seidler loathed you. This sweet little girl from NYU who mutilated herself with a razor along with your daughter hated you too. I saw Alexandra T the other night at a party and told her of the correspondence I had just received, as you and I had been introduced by that family. She had dinner with the jeweler the following night in New York. He denied ever sending letters on. Read the pages I have sent you and you will see the answer to that lie.

I have no wish to see you in New York. I do not want you to talk to any of your doctors about my son. I do not want anything to do with you again ever. Do not call me. I will hang up on you. How stupid of you to lose such a loyal ally as I was for several years, I have come to your rescue when I have heard you vilified, and I don't mean by John and Grace, because we rarely speak. Your unpopularity surrounds you heavily like that vast mink coat of yours. 40 or 50 people may know who the jeweler is. Millions know who I am. Maybe you're not so smart as I thought you were.

Dominick Dunne

Dena Yago

July 10, 2020

Dear A.S.B.,

I do need to live for you. For I do live to need you. You need to live, for I do. I do need for you to live. Do I live to need for you? I want to live like you do. Do I want to live like you? You want to live like I do. You do live like I want to. I live to want like you do.

There is one poem that did not make the edit. These past months in relative isolation, words like these are on an endless loop. During our last conversations we spoke about all lines becoming loops, specifically the walks between our neighboring apartments, parks, etc. We tried to come up with places to send each other in our respective cities — a emptier and emptier New York City and what seems from a distance to be best described as a “lush” Vienna — but quickly realized that level of activity seemed insurmountable to both of us. In the weeks since we spoke, I want you to know that I did walk between your apartment here and mine many times, out of a want to keep that desire trail fresh. I hadn’t explicitly told you, but I went to the protests, the park at Forsyth and Canal, and the bandshell all with you in mind. All of these walks were loops. Take this letter as my report back.

As time stretches onwards the more prevalent coils are those taking place in my mind rather than the streets. A circular logic has taken hold. It’s obsessive, the way my thoughts take laps in an ever-tightening radius like dishwater circling the drain. I want to live. I want to not need many of the things that dominate my life, by my own volition or otherwise. I seem to need to live for other people, as well as myself, I guess. I need to love. These statements obsessively circle around themselves in my mind, reaching a point of semantic satiation at which they become meaningless. What do I need, what do I want, what do we need and want? In order to live, which we want and need to do, what do we need? From what you’ve told me, it seems like your thoughts are cycling on a more immediate material concern, your body and health. I hope you found an answer. All of these questions remind me of Nora Slade’s big letter questions she prints on Waggy Tees: How do you spend money? What do you with your time? How do you talk to the people you love? I’ll take my answer off the air.

That poem up top, it seems a bit odd to write these words to a friend, for they feel rather intimate. Maybe better suited to a lover, sister or twin. But maybe we are that, I have always felt a twin-ship with you. Something that goes beyond our shared fascination with goats, textiles, shared domestic spaces or New York City — our desire for clarity of thought, purity of form and appreciation of clear instructions, but simultaneous full body-slammed embrace of “the foam,” as Eileen Myles calls it. Foam is a byproduct, an excess created by the instability of gender, which all gender is. As she puts it “It has some extra stuff and it expresses itself in tiny bubbles on the sides of trees. Speech coagulated on the corners of your mouth…” Or images too, like a fingernail clipping used as a bookmark in a user manual or the stain on a silk shirt that, when analyzed, would reveal traces of lotion, coffee and most of all, spit. I think of the woman that sat a few rows ahead of us at the baseball game we went to last spring, how her hot pink acrylic nails pierced the billowy hot dog bun as she ate it. How the mustard flowed over her perfectly manicured hands. How she took that hand to flip her perfectly straightened chestnut hair, leaving the yellow residue in its wake. How she gingerly adjusted the straps of her too-tight tank top with oil-slicked fingers. How she licked each finger clean. Imagining her foaming mouthful of processed meat, acrylic, skin and sauce — such a beautiful hot mess, we couldn’t look away. So erotic. There was also the morning in a previous April (was it two years ago? Why is it that we always return to April?) when we shared a bagel before I left for Los Angeles (I think you were also on your way back to Vienna? Or had just arrived. All the comings and goings before this…). You were in the midst of a divorce, which was always an unknowable part of your life to me — having been married, let alone to a doctor, it seemed so old world! So chic! had just been somewhat broken up with and was heartbroken (a fairly consistent state throughout that decade). I remember staring at this bagel doing all that I could to keep its contents in my shaking hands, but cream and lox were sliding between my fingers, dropping into my lap. And you, catching about as much of the bagel in your mouth as you did on the counter. Maybe that’s the twin-ship, we are both messy eaters, we both can’t keep a thing in our mouths without foam forming at the corners and spilling it all over the fucking place.

The last time we spoke, I had just sent you the Moyra Davey film, “My Necropolis.” I think that you watched it, but if not, she takes an excerpted line from a letter that Walter Benjamin wrote to his friend Gershom Scholem in 1931 — a year before his exile from Germany — and has various friends, colleagues, family members read the line and proffer their interpretation. It’s a poetic exegesis of the inscrutable line “As time goes by, this clock, especially, becomes a luxury it is difficult to do without.” Ok, I’ll go first. In the context of the letter, Benjamin had recently moved into a new apartment and is lamenting its furnishings slash lack thereof. Some are borrowed, some inherited from the previous tenant, and while he does not have a desk, he does have a sofa too uncomfortable for sleeping. He works there, and from his position he has a view of Schramm Lake, a filled-in bog, which he states is almost “l’atelier qui chante et qui bavard.” Singing and chatting. I couldn’t tell if he meant his own little studio or was talking about the world outside, then realizing that he was quoting Baudelaire’s poem The Landscape. It was the city beyond his apartment walls. As I am writing, I take a moment to stare out of my own window, but the time is kept not by a visible clock but by the ritual appearance of Supreme sponsored skateboarders filming tricks on the median every afternoon. Benjamin’s domestic time, bodily time, experienced time was unmoored in the face of precarity and crisis. The clock, this luxury, allowed him to see a representation of time that was not subjective, but rather served as a point for public consensus. That time, infrastructural, municipal time, was something he shared with the people outside —the fascists outside — who we would flee from shortly thereafter.

Re-reading my reading, there’s not much poetic about it. One of Davey’s readers says something to the effect of: in a state of trauma (or crisis, I can’t remember), one can only ever live in an ever-extending present. This feels woefully inaccurate to how I am experiencing this particular shared crisis, this particular shared trauma. It is very difficult for me to experience the present, since the precarity and uncertainty of the future is a ten-car pile-up just up the road and, oh fuck, the brakes have gone out. That is my anxiety writing, I zoom out too quickly and have trouble zooming in. But I’d like to let you know, I’m working on it. I was thinking about how you had sent me a video of a beaver in a Viennese canal the same day I had seen one out in nature upstate. I would like to think that these two beavers, thwapping their tails together in synch, might have the power to generate another thread of time that links the two of us. More soon, but until then,

Yours truly,


Emily Skillings

July 10, 2020

Dear Nest,

I have noticed that some materials come back around into favor. Recently, the original parquet floors and eggshell walls embedded with price tags framed shapes of woven wood and reeds. These lines came together, sometimes expertly, to form ottomans, chairs, lampshades, planters, even divans and the frames of mirrors. The material seemed to signal a throwback to the 1970s, a time when I was not alive, yet I felt a powerful attraction to the construction of these pieces.

Or perhaps I was drawn to these reedy curvatures because they reminded me of a bird’s nest, and I associated this with the lover’s nest, with you. I am in love and I am moving into the space of that love or something like that. My boyfriend possesses a great many records and books and art objects, yet he has made space for me in you. In my second favorite chapter of The Poetics of Space, Bachelard discredits this image of the human “love nest” as it relates to the space of the bird’s nest, the two having little to do with each other. He also differentiates between the abandoned nest that humans are able to take as a souvenir, and the living, occupied nest. I know this passage is very long, but I will show it to you anyway:

Indeed, the nest we pluck from the hedge like a dead flower, is nothing but a ‘thing.’ I have the right to take it in my hands and pull it apart. In melancholy mood, I become once more a man of the fields and thickets, and a bit vain at being able to hand on my knowledge to a child, I say: ‘This is the nest of a titmouse.’

. . . And yet it is living nests that could introduce a phenomenology of the actual nest, of the nest found in natural surroundings, and which becomes for a moment the center—the term is no exaggeration—of an entire universe, the evidence of a cosmic situation. Gently I lift a branch. In the nest is a setting bird. But it doesn't fly away, it only quivers a little. I tremble at having caused it to tremble.

I think it is very mean (male?) of him to think taking a nest, even a dead one, from nature is his right. And why does he destroy it? He then goes on to say that a botanist once observed that the nest is cozy like a vagina. The botanist’s wife, Mathilda, held out a finger to stroke the nest’s mossy surface. The botanist yelled at her not to touch it, apparently because the whole thing was too sexual for him to handle. “Don't touch it, above all, don't touch it!” OK. I realize there is lots of trembling and quivering attributed to birds and humans alike in this chapter.

Maybe I associate you, nest, with a kind of feminine pain inscribed through repetition. I look at you and see a place for pacing, for cleaning, for tidying, dirtying, arranging, sulking, writhing. We coat each other in being. Bachelard quotes Michelet:

‘The house is a bird's very person; it is its form and its most immediate effort, I shall even say, its suffering. The result is only obtained by constantly repeated pressure of the breast. There is not one of these blades of grass that, in order to make it curve and hold the curve, has not been pressed on countless times by the bird's breast, its heart, surely with difficulty in breathing, perhaps even, with palpitations.’ . . . The nest is a swelling fruit, pressing against its limits.

You cannot hold me, but you must. You are airy and light. I can see into the neighbor’s windows from the kitchen, which is like watching TV. You have a fresh, chalky coat of paint. At my request, they brought a refurbished refrigerator to replace the old, dirty one, which had worked just fine. A baby cockroach crawled right out and I pressed a paper towel into its dusty skeleton, still quivering. I chilled my beer. I hung new curtains from Family Dollar. I love how empty you are. You are small, too small for my things, so I must shed much of what I have collected, impulse purchased, carefully acquired, charged, mistaken, taken. In this way I am tasking you with simplification, a kind of stripping away of the material trappings of my life. I’ll get sharpened. You will shave down my fitful form, pressing down my feathers as I etch grooves into your floor. I think I want you to be a new kind of place, a constraint inside which I am not subject to these unconscious materialist desires, yet I already succumbed to the rattan mirror. I put it on my credit card. I placed it in the hallway, the floor of which I vigorously polished and restored, scraping mysterious residue from behind my boyfriend’s old bookcase (which men called “junk haulers” smashed and took away, again at my request). The mirror hangs over a small wooden storage cabinet that holds CDs, on top of which rests the only other thing that is mine in the apartment—a plastic red woodpecker that dispenses toothpicks when you depress its beak.

The last public event I attended before the pandemic was a symposium on poetry and water at Columbia hosted by my friend Dottie. One of the speakers, a writer from Argentina named Cecilia Pavón, spoke about garbage in the water and the discarded personal items that make their way into the natural landscape. She was responding to a photograph of a skinny child in rubber sandals standing next to a colorful, plastic-clogged waterway (I can’t remember where) that was projected for the audience. I loved her presentation, but the thing I remember the most was when she said something—and here I’m paraphrasing—about how she didn’t want to be the kind of person who threw away a dish towel when it got dirty (its only job!) or a pot when it became dented. To her, these types of people, always replacing their objects, were the exact opposite of who she wanted to be. I remember thinking, right, I don’t want to be that kind of person either.

But in packing my belongings I have felt myself becoming this kind of person, one who wants to make themselves new through things. In fact, I have always been this kind of person, both deeply sentimental (holding onto) and cruelly wasteful (throwing away). The mountain of acquired and discarded garments, tchotchkes, books, papers, ornaments takes on an almost organic shape. Has thoughts and feelings. Will it be replaced by one of equal size, mountains with eyes eclipsing mountains with newer eyes? I once set out to write an opera about a landfill, but I couldn’t make it past a couplet. The heap of trash sings to the nearby canal, which occasionally sweeps some of its components out to sea:

And you see there was no escaping it, this great accumulation Looming in the distance of every life, shimmering its excess

Another material I am drawn to recently is plaster. A lamp and a stool rest in separate online shopping carts. It seems both light and dense. Like it could dissolve. Chalky. Mineral. I saw a documentary where animals traveled to the cliffs to eat the nutrient-dense clay. Parrots clung to the bluff and tore off huge chunks with their beaks. Mounds, moulds, a roundness like something from the Flintstones’ cave. The faces, the words crumble late into the night, Flynn Raw Plaster Footstools (a Pair), Plaster Bust of Hippocrates, Plaster Fixture in the Manner of Giacometti, Plaster Bust of Homer, Plaster Lamp in Shape of a Swirl, 1980s Postmodern Plaster Obelisk, Plaster Lamp in the Style of John Dickinson, Vintage Mirror Panel Plant Stand, Russell Woodard Style Mid Century Plant Stand, Set of Two Vintage White Rattan Wicker Plant Stands (a Pair), Vintage Wood Carved Decorative Dice (Set of 5), Dice Cup and Enamel Dice, 1970s Sigvard Nilsson Sowe-Konst Teak Dice Pencil Holder, 1980s Henry Link Wicker Desk, 1970s Vintage Henry Link Desk Set, Late 20th Century Hand-Painted Washed Console Desk, French Provincial Corner Writing Desk, Kitchen Cart, Kitchen Island, Kitchen Storage, Display Cabinet, Pot Rack, 100% Linen Dish Towel (Clay), seagrass, synthetic seagrass, pliable stems of palm, old world climbing palm, raffia, shrub, bamboo, birch. “This is the nest of a poet.” If all goes as planned, if I get the furniture just right, if the light does its work, you are a space in which much of me could disappear and something else may come to take its place.

Tiona Nekkia McClodden

May, 2020

Dear TM,

So it's been a shit show down here since you’ve passed on. Like a whole ass mess. End times, some are even saying. This virus is taking out a lot of people, but my goodness it is really taking US out. It's infuriating and I can say that here, like right now, that I feel very much present and very much a witness to something I never expected to be a part of.

I'm writing you cause why not and who else? You are one of my biggest people. Last time I wrote to you it was in an act of public mourning. I wanted folks to know that I loved you too. Like really loved you. You changed my life and broke my head open a few times in the good ways. Let me tell you that there was this one time in particular when I read The Bluest Eye in my English class and then Paradise. I want to tell you that you really made me cry with Paradise. The first time I read it, I couldn't. The words were shifting and I couldn't hold it in my head. It was too heavy. It physically hurt me and I know why as I prepare to read it again. It took me about three tries and then BAM it happened. I could hold it and I could hold them. You showed me that I was taking in the easy stuff even as an AP student. I was weak with IT! My brain was stretched by your hand. I had to unlearn so much about time, legibility, and form to read you at that level. I was a teen checking out the adult books and had met my fucking match. Thank you. I have always responded well to hard teachers.

You know, I've almost kinda met you several times in my adult life. And not in the corny way like “I MeT yOu ThRoUgH yOur ChaRacTers” foolishness. Like I've been in a room with you at least five times. I saw you with Sonia Sanchez and Rita Dove. I saw you with Ta-Nehisi Coates on Broadway [very strange with way too many people]. I saw you at the Free Library here many years ago when you released A Mercy - barely dialogue and the land is the true character, the cartography of the land as character my goodness! And the blacksmith?! Imma keep that between me and you but I knew you KNEW! I mean how genius?! I walked up like everyone else with my book and stared at you and you stared right back - frowned even. I rushed off to catch a flight or maybe it was a bus. It is rather strange, because I had a real chance to meet you. I was working with ██████ and she invited me to go with her to meet you but I respectfully turned her down. I was too afraid to roll up on you like that. Like what the fuck would I say to you with myself and you being you. All that glory in front of me I woulda fell flat TF out! You know that ██████ tried to contact me the day you passed?? I remembered right then the moment that I realized she hadn't even read your books yet a scholar with a focus on everything that you do. The conceptual house you built?!? I recommended my favorite book, Jazz. The audacity of it fucking all!

Thank you for reminding me of the unspeakable real. Truth. And for ruth….you know imma keep that between you and me.


Thymaya Payne

January, 2020

To the current object of my affection.

I am working at being more relatable. More, you know, human. Like in the zoo when you go up to the monkey cage and the kid looks in the glass at the baboon or whatever, and they stare across the abyss through the bars - recognizing the other’s being, the delineated form, the outline of the blood and flesh that makes you you and me me. I am working on that, you know, recognition of self and yourself and that we are different and that you may say one thing about how you care about me or don’t care about me, but you know, it doesn’t matter really. You are in your movie I am in my movie and sometimes we cross, and we stare or we smell, and you come into me and I you, for a second with air and secretions, and thoughts and imaginations, but mostly, we are just here, watching, looking from a familiar distance, listening to our ear pods, hallucinating our intimacy. In my car, air conditioning fades across the bridge of my nose. KCRW drones on in it’s whatever it is. What is it exactly? It’s like 10000 maniacs meets Canadian jazz. Henry Rollins is ok. But is he really, or is it just sitting on the toilet letting the white wine rush out of me, or staring in the mirror and looking at the tanned crows' feet? Sail away sail away , cracked eyes in the sun, waves rippled white along the surface, 2-foot wind waves, little bumps for us to glide across, “hello Venetians” that gay surf guy repeats on the Instagram north pier update feed. Why does he say that? There is a pizza place on the boardwalk. Pizza and sand. I am working at being more relatable, but it's hard. It’s so hard to relate to most people, especially here, in this place, this land of individuals that don’t want to be tread on, a space of illusions, and projections and wishes, and “Sunday Service” and black people as trophy and rented Lamborghinis — oh that's cliche… T mobile on Lincoln is real… So Asian…I am working on being relatable, but it's hard because I feel like that kid in high school, looking around, waiting for everyone to get Columbine'd. Just waiting for the moment when I will be free and meet “my people”, and not have to roll my eyes. Who am I? I am nothing. I don’t even have a tv show or a lot of IMDB credits. Say yes, agree, surrender to the opinionated opinions. The tactless win and we are not superior. I am working on those wide eyes, open and fun, a white smile, working on presenting ideas in a non-threatening manner, working on agreeing even when I don’t, because three equals five and whatever. It’s all about what they believe, and I say yes. I need to relate, I need to connect and not just eat peanut butter sandwiches in the shower, alone, thinking about you and if we could just touch. White ripples crest along the surface. There are so many feathers, dead birds, in the warm Pacific Ocean. Bloated seal carcasses. Sharks or poison or flaming boats. Sailing… I am working on being more relatable, and I wanted you to know. I want to relate to you my fellow American. I am an American… But I can’t help but feel sick. Maybe it’s Lyme disease? Maybe we all have Lyme disease? Never trust anything that started in Connecticut. But whatever. Just say yes. Just say yes. It’s easier than saying no.


Forever yours,


Ken Okiishi

July, 2020

Re: "White Allies"

I find it more than strange that, all of a sudden, when I hear “Black Lives Matter,” my mind instantly retrieves images of white people on Zoom frowning.

The thing is to know when something is not about you, when something is about you, when to be present, and when to stay out of the way—to be able to tell when an epistemological break requires certain kinds of willful and often difficult absence, even when one’s body is urgently present or used to being the discursive fulcrum—and that “race” is not necessarily the primary marker that designates how one participates in anti-racist processes, but finding one’s tactical use-value. I would hope, after more than a century of work at dismantling “white supremacy” in the fragments of the globe where that has ever been a dominant ideology, there could be some agile and adept version of being present and absent at the same time for shared and unshared aspects of solidarity. That this nimbleness could already be second nature to many of us already. And I would hope, by now, even as things get worse as if history were a flat plane of being depressed, where only the most awful aspects appear on our reality screens and everything else disappears as if it never existed, we could understand “white supremacy” not as some eternal dominance but as a settler-colonial heirloom ideology that encourages wildly incompetent individuals to believe that they should be in power because of eugenic ghosts and mystified capital. When the most naively selfish people in the world suddenly think they can become born-again anti-racists, you start to wonder what the cohorts of white fragility unlearners are really up to. The material world will not let anyone actualize the rhetorics of impossible promises and transcendence by simply talking about them for a very long time, no matter how “amazing” it feels to think that cognitive rupture is a “life-changing” feeling. Nothing makes me more nervous than a (virtual) room full of white people talking about what it means to be white, whether they think they are “divesting from whiteness,” or its disowned parent, “saving the white race.” The perception of identarian threat—and the “community” response of banding together--is the same: personality-cult rooted processes that give the feeling of righteousness to the in-group while generating chaos and “threat” everywhere else.

It's a bit like Dr. Birx with her Hermes scarves around her neck and shoulders during the March-April White House daily briefings, telling everyone to be "meticulous" hand washers for months on end, and gaining a media-image credibility that at least she was trying to reign in the “invisible enemy,” when the only thing that would have prevented the virus from spreading was putting her scarf over the president's nose and mouth--in February. All the while the real gangster in the room could manipulate stock prices live, in speech acts that would make Benveniste’s and Austin's brains explode. What better way to correlate investments to the exponential increase in Covid-19 cases than to simultaneously accelerate the rabidity of viral spread with confusing bullshit while speaking the names of the stocks to buy from the president's mouth?

Americans under “white supremacy” have proven themselves to be fundamentally hopeless, using the chaos of arbitrary contradictions and pathological need to be right especially when they are wrong--or more precisely, mobilizing these aporias in every aspect of daily life to generate confused masses that become radically docile, taking simple commands like low-tech robot dogs--as the primary techniques of attempting to maintain power. This is one aspect where QAnon, like any good counter-intelligence operation, tells 50 percent truth mixed with 50 percent lies, frothing the obfuscation of the obvious: the deep state isn’t deep, it’s just the state, and they don’t control us with 5G, they use regular propaganda techniques like the news, twitter, and inciting Instagram groupthink. It’s amazing that people who understand how to activate viral chains of propaganda so effectively have no idea how to contain a virus—or maybe that is the truth here. Unleashing a virus is very easy.

I once learned, from a very useful bit of clickbait, the truth of American exceptionalism: if you want to be successful, pretend you don't know how the printer works. I think that trick works in England too. It could be the definition of whiteness.

Now, I am lucky enough to learn that there are support groups of whites-only safe spaces, where they can sit around for hours obsessively speculating about all of the bad things they heard that white people do but don’t understand while figuring out how to coerce the most ass-kissy BIPOC people they know into providing life-altering insight.

The master is the master because the master doesn't know how to do anything other than maintain an inability to do anything. If we all ignore the master, s/he will eventually die of boredom and/or starvation and/or the virus may decolonize faster than any propaganda could. Novel viruses gave New World colonizers a magic aura, since they could literally wipe out entire villages with the viral load of their breath. What worked for colonization has the potential to work the other way around.

Fingers crossed.

All my best,


Juliana Huxtable

July, 2020

Dear Sam,


I’ve just now left you by the canal. I sunk a bit and wafted air with my with hips letting the whimpers that today wont blossom into sobs ride the squeaks and rattles of my busted bike home. My head and neck were planted firmly on my shoulders, immovable. I thought, just maybe, he’s following me, knows Im near-shattered and wants to just check in or to kiss me to hold it together until I finish this address that has consumed me. A figure with curly hair tossed to the side slipped under and past the streetlamp. Your body glitches over hers and for a split second I entertain belief that you have intuited the text message I didn’t know I needed sent to me. Your phone is dead. My phone phone is dead. And this is not about texting.

The glitch is a phantom from the past, the minutes-ago memory of you rolling tobacco. The dancing shapes, finite projections onto the carved surfaces of the present's urgency, seem to be everywhere. Quarantine life has been sieged by the past.

My own cycling memories scatter for a moment to listen to the name-events shored up in your texts and emails from people I've heard or haven’t heard about in stories and/or confessions. I've never understood the relationship between the past and present as one in which the further past something is the more gravitational influence it has on the presence. This would make the concept of micro aggressions obsolete. This would render the totalizing natality of our love mute.

This moment, my leaving you at the canal just now, has hit me harder than my entire childhood. The past weeks carry more, are fractal amplifications, less about the measure of time as a system that finds its ultimate structural truth in scale than in a kind of relational truth that has more to do with the intensity of the historical event itself. Right now, my having lost my sense of place 5..10 minutes ago is far more urgent than, say, the enduring impact of my parent’s divorce.

I’ve come to understand the biographical as the historical … the fractal relationship between the two … a structuralism of the self.


Bereft of the vividness that I claim my own, I can now only see through a misted veil of crimson … painfully arrested in my basic capacities the rolls of hips fight to manic neon panics … what I held as my beauty; as baroque as swarming..; fucking at the threshold of my willing demise …. The haze is now pure sight, the sign is in the itching … teargas for a lover sooner a martyr than a shrill … my naked grotesque silhouette … What is this impatience that screams a tiny squirting wound nestled under the emblem, a crimson patch on your shirt? Which of you is the feed of conquests meant to nourish? And where is he in eden when all the yous and all the I's just 7 days prior were in bliss again?

All of my postulations will only ever tell so much … its my voice, after all, that in the heat exacerbates. But the stress …


Bout Nuff, Sho Nuff

Troubled My Fancy

Tickles My Sweets with his Sheen

Parlayed me a story ‘bout a garden in my Name

If I would oblige him in tending

Bout Nuff, Sho Nuff

Sho Got the Glances

Drew me in with his Glean

Shot me a smile and we walked for a while

And I learned Bout Nuff can be real mean

A bad motha fucka, fo sho not no sucka

Theres a bustling in his perfect chest's beam

Got stuck between a rock a hard place and me

And found out got damn bout nuff'll scream

Hollers from a scholar with a slick tongue to bat

Theres a charm in his thoughtless release

But being his lady, I learned to watch out

Cuz sometimes he cant see when hes most free

Bout Nuff, Sho Nuff

Has a soft-headed heart,

Which hes kneaded to make room for me

I just feel like I gotta help him clear out a few things

So we can both be free and still see

I've never loved a man like Bout Nuff, Sho Nuff

A love surely sweeter than fo sho

A workin love from a country girls soul

That knows a struggle with it rears its nose

I would sign my rhyme, but I don’t have my name yet

I know Bout Nuff will find it in time

For now, its back to workin on this garden of ours

Spring has sprung and my berries look mighty fine


I wanted to hide a joint under the refrigerator before I left so I could write "please smoke" as a mood-setter for this letter.

The feelings have been intense and difficult, the interface for accessing them fundamentally anesthetic. But I hope that by giving them space in writing I can somehow choreograph their coming-forth, and possibly your seeing them.

When I am in panic or crisis, I can turn to instincts of self-deprecation … "the real," has taken center stage, is giving a climactic bravado "read" that says to me, sometimes things are determined… I think of my body, my words (my work), my crumbling sense of value … and I think about us …

I sometimes I want to ask you, after making loving ineffable beyond inherited language that fails so brutally to speak, "is this real?”

If the sentiment is unclear, its because the questions, perhaps, are also ineffable…the difficulty of being beyond certain language, of having the always gift, sometimes burden of giving language to your own materiality. It can feel, to me, when everything is hanging heavy, like a responsibility, and perhaps it does to you too idk idk.

I begin to fold, but sense that the folding has no basis in precedent, because time and again you have seen me, chosen to love me, even when I’ve been absorbed in my alleged id-betrayal… We have created a horizon of possibility that has exploded what I thought possible, settling me on the other, assured, side of cycling trivialities [pulling and retreating on a black sand beach] that now suddenly increase their radii, amassing swipes across the structures of our lives, leveling the earthen edifices that framed the play of light and its shadows we had built our sundials in accordance with.

But that is not about the real, more a question of dealing with its amplification in the burning scrutiny of a solar flare. My real has been one of insecurity, of place (not homeless, but without home after just-having-had-it), which if I'm honest, collapses into tight space (crisis sublet) then into my body (a different kind of woman) … its tissues and functions and ritual structures stumble to falling in delayed response to my spiritual unrest. Fail to respond to the exquisite gift of intention as an animating spirit of the possibility of my form to nonetheless be (and be in language) and be loved, firstly by myself, and secondly as or by anyone else.

If asking for patience is too much, I will understand and keep to myself as planned. If its not, I guess I am asking for it in the form of finding ways to give in to the real together. I frankly don’t know what the fuck that means, I think of acid trips, writing together, and suddenly wonder

"is it carrying to write a love letter?"

[Obviously yes]

Which is all to say I don’t know in the only way I know how to, which is to say too much and hope that what settles amounts to something like it’s elementary particles, another way of thinking through a real.


Im writing this in one note

I have a page that I originally

intended as my page of love poems

But now that I've made it a pdf

… sent it to you in an email

It seems a bit too final

Also just really methodical,

Of which anything with aspirations to speak you

Obviously cannot …


Just sit and write the sort of sparse and illuminating

Love poem

Won with line breaks

And the cute witticism

Of a major writers offspring

We had a conversation

There was an absence hanging

I felt like we were

one of those couples who

I swore I would never be a part of

Who sit in silence

When I spoke, I felt resistance

We had discussed

In our awkward

Chat to the void

That it was normal to happen sometimes

You, putting words in my mouth,

Suggested that perhaps

I find it "excruciating and painful"

Not actually a quote

But a quote

I would have believed any of what you told me at the time

So that it could be true

That this very obviously strange and funny

And absurd and terrifying silence

Was, in fact, happenstance

Sometimes I ask myself

What it is that I …


gave me a book when we first met

Near to the Wild heart

I read it

And I wept and felt seen

Part of me wanted to believe

It was a question

In an "are you in an abusive relationship" quiz

Has your spouse intentionally exposed you to literature, film, or music that would encourage you to question your relationship … love in general?

Strongly Agree

Neither agree nor disagree

Strongly disagree

I think we'd fail the test

(aka NOT in an abusive relationship)

Although I do like the word gaslighting

I still don’t really understand what the word means

Less its connotation, then why that word

Gas. Light.

Actually sounds lit to me


A love poem derailed once more …

I was reading a poetry book today

That had short fiction at the end

It proposed John and Mary as two people who have just met

It then speculates

What their entanglement(s) might look like in various forms

Place, age and occupation variable

At one point John

Is convinced that he has met his singular match

She leaves

She is and remains the "love of his life"


[6:40 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: bout nuff sho nuff was thick with his swang

[6:40 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: Threw weight like a wordsmith's vowels

[6:40 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: Drew me cummin in cursive

[6:41 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: my hips signed his name

[6:41 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: Popped my swells to squirtin disavowals

[6:44 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: Nary a nick was mute to the moves

[6:44 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: My rounds like a nigga cartoon

[6:44 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: Bouncing their way to a better view

[6:44 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: Of what love in flesh could truly do

[6:46 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: As dawn broke over the northern summer skies

[6:46 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: I turned to catch a bit o the suns glimmer

[6:48 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: Hoped it sweetened the bama honey of my too big eyes

[6:50 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: Then bout nuff replied in tongue up the side o my thighs

[6:51 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: And I said, sheeeeyyyiiittt …

[6:52 PM, 6/26/2020] Juliana Huxtable: I think we gon be aaaaaaalllllllll riiiiggghhttt!

Thank you for the opportunity to fall in love again every day resplendently …


Juju Eriod

Lucy Ives

July, 2020

I do not think I am a demigod, but that's a nice idea.

So, I have read the first two chapters of Surviving Death. I should mention that I have a number of longer-standing, general questions about analytic philosophy as a discipline or style (maybe preferably regarding its status as a style, a category of analysis I'm more comfortable with). Some of these questions took on specific form(s) in relation to Johnston's lectures. I thought I might share a few of them with you.

My first question has to do with the methodology that becomes a point of focus in the second lecture, in which Johnston sets himself the task of showing how lines of argumentation that understand what is lost in death, via either personal identity or self identity, are flawed. I was very interested in the results of this exploration, i.e., "that one's ownmost death is impossible, because radically undefined," that we "offload" (I don't know if you will remember this concept; I found this to be a fun thing to think about) and persist in a conception of ourselves as mental substances that has no empirical basis but which leads us, all the same, to fear loss of that very (chimerical) mental substance. While I was delighted by this conclusion, I was confused by the route taken to get here: Johnston's curation of examples seems mercurial in the extreme; sometimes "real" psycho-somatic conditions, diagnosed via modern medicine, are cited, and at other times we are looking at Lucretius's descriptions. Psychology "itself," while admitted to have some form of existence, is so bizarrely reduced (this is almost always true of thought experiments), that it is hard to take Johnston seriously at some moments. He seems to forget that a major reason "selves" exist is that we are capable not only of feeling pain but of accidentally destroying ourselves. I need to know where/what I am so that I don't stab myself while I am chopping carrots or walk off a cliff during a hike. (I hiked up to a cliff last weekend and really thought about the existence of "me.") An even larger elephant: Selves aren't made by "offloading"; they're made by families. So while I enjoyed thinking about a kind of pure cybernetic dynamic in which I "offload" and assume "me," it's quite obvious that "me" is historical in nature and related to my mom yelling at me a lot (sorry/not sorry). There are several moments in the text when these sorts of incidents are admitted (the mildly misogynist example of the Britney Spears-obsessed girl who suffers from a confused conception of how personal identity arises, the dream a female colleague (?) has of becoming her own father and marrying herself, the descriptions of codependency that are veiled as the acts of the "meddler"), but by and large psychology, which is actually very useful when it comes to describing fears, is cast by the wayside, resulting in a sometimes implausible idealism. I was interested to see the question at the end about hospice care, by means of which the questioner seemed to hope to obtain some help with this idealism. The response bordered on insulting, in my opinion, listing "pain" as just one of the reasons hospice care is useful and going on to speculate about the timeliness of individuals' deaths, suggesting that some people live too long—although this point was not very well elaborated. I get the sense that Johnston is sympathetic to Wittgenstein's notion (which he quotes) that "...there really is a sense in which philosophy can talk about the self in a non-psychological way." Which: yes, granted, it can talk about the self in that way, but in doing so it seems to risk reproducing limited and socially regressive forms of life, no? There would seem to be no room for questions regarding dynamics produced by trauma in analytic philosophy, particularly because trauma interrupts consciousness as well as the knowledge we/one can have of self and world, via its tendency to cleave the self or impose repetitions whose origins are demonically unclear. Trauma's movements are fundamentally denied by the analytic field, as I understand it, almost as in some sort of collective act of repression. And, to state the obvious, one is struck by the whiteness and maleness of the authorities on offer—begging the usual questions.

Another question I had related to psychology and what counts as an "example" comes out of an unclear memory of what I believe is a biological fact: Some people are less afraid of death than others. I saw something about this in a documentary about a man who climbs very high cliffs (cliffs again!), but rather than googling this, I'll just remain vague and say that I think an MRI was taken of the man's brain and there is something going on there that allows him to do what he does. The term neurodiversity has come into greater use, and I thought a bit about this as I was reading. Neuroscience might support the notion (which historians and readers of literature have perhaps often held anyway) that there is no exemplary subject. "We" exists, but this does not mean that we can generalize, conceptually speaking, about the qualities of a/the person or a/the brain. This has led me to think that perhaps Johnston is talking about a more specific kind of fear of death (i.e., his own). In lecture two he does have things to say about how what we fear is likely subjective death, not physical death, and I thought this was promising and convincing—but probably mostly for this moment in history and for a certain group of people. I'm not sure if we actually fear subjective death more, but it seems likely that it is harder to conceive, intuitively, of physical death and what we can't imagine we can't judge. Of course, I'm just relying on common sense here! And I'm quite uncertain if this is or has always been true for humans. And/or animals. I did continually wonder which sort of death we're talking about, whose death it is, if it's classed and gendered and raced, if it has an education or a language—and if there might not be other deaths out there. This is of course related to the first line of questioning.

I keep meaning to read Philippe Ariès's The Hour of Our Death, a history of Western death.

I'm constantly embarrassed by how interesting I find Lacan. A couple of practicing psychoanalysts I know (one of them my own) have made fun of me for this, but I'm a sucker for a clever subversion of expectations. My memory of Lacan's Antigone is that she is an example of extreme subjectivity, maybe only possible in art. But this, Antigone's (desire for) death, is sort of where I think Johnston is heading. He seems to be about to say that the symbolic death is the only one that matters and it's actually impossible. Of course, Lacan is interested in what language does in an irrational universe (Johnston's universe is probably rational?) and wants to show us that Antigone may have mistaken her dead brother for herself, in some sense—and may therefore be letting death into life in a way that is courting punishment on multiple levels, if death is considered a punishment.

I think there is something about practicality in Antigone—that sometimes, paradoxically, it is more practical to do the irrational, illegal thing. This seems relevant, but I'm not sure why!

I guess my own intuition has something to do with all of the above, in that I sense a certain porousness with respect to categories like alive/dead, living/dying. It seems like much of our intelligence is devoted to maintaining these categories as separate and strong, so perhaps it's my great stupidity creeping up on me! I like the parts of Johnston that seem to entertain this possibility, anyhow.


Fanny Howe

Excerpt of letter from Mark Howe to his wife Mary Manning in 1943

Here the day has been not unlike most others, but there were long conferences in the General's office on Germany, with a recently returned economist telling us something of the gloomy prospects ahead. And I confess that they are gloomy. We seem to have embarked on a program which is bound to fail - we have undertaken to provide the Germans with a minimum standard of living, committed ourselves to the industrial demilitarization of Germany, and undertaken to our own taxpayers that there will be sufficient industrial exports from Germany to pay for the wheat, medicines, etc. which are imported into Germany to prevent starvation. When the Russians transferred eastern Germany to Poland they cut off 25% of the food resources of Germany, and they made inevitable the emigration from the new Poland of millions of Germans who don 't want to Poles. The total result of all this is that we can't possibly expect Germany to live on her present resources, we must send a lot of imports into the country to prevent wholesale starvation, and unless we permit the revival of German heavy industry, and the resurrection of that threat to the peace, we cannot possibly refund ourselves for the goods which we send in. The choice will thus have to be made between abandoning our program of demilitarization and paying out millions in US taxes to feed Germans. In the meanwhile, as you may have noticed in the papers, for humanitarian and commercial motives mixed, the British movement to let German industry get back on its feet is mounting every day. Against this whole background of virtually insoluble riddles, the American public with fury is demanding the immediate demobilization of the Army and the return of all their sons and husbands to the USA - thus weakening enormously our bargaining power vis-a-vis the Russians, French and British. It looks very much as if all our paper promises and resolutions to play a part in the world were going up in smoke. As I have long anticipated the American's provincialism and homesickness is much stronger than his sense of global responsibility.

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