The title above is me trying to fit in with the rest of the Internet. Did it work? Can I eat lunch with Best Buy and Zappos?
The semester is coming to a close and I’m officially halfway through grad school. I’ve done a lot of writing, some that I feel was successful. I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize last week which this guy says I shouldn’t brag about. I see his point, but I’m still pretty pleased (and awestruck) that someone likes my writing enough to think that someone else might like it. Which is what the editors at Duende are saying to me with this nomination. I also finished my book. The book I thought I’d never finish. The book that felt like a mountain crumbling beneath me as I climbed it. I feel alternately terrified and ecstatic to be releasing it into the world (in a year, dearies, so let’s all calm down). But the best thing I did this semester was read. I spent the past few days annotating books, which I complain about but actually love.
I began marking up books when I was thirteen and read Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat and there was no one around to share in the hilarity and absurd magic so I had to put foil stars and comments in the margins (this was before the cell phone camera phenomenon, so I couldn’t put the hilarious passage on IG), and the habit stuck. But now I spend some time every few months copying all my notes into a semi-coherent mini-essay about each book, linking the marked passages with half-formed sentences so that I can turn them in for credit. I do this all the time, even when I’m not in school. The books I read are as much a record of my life as the things I write—perhaps more so. I love tracing how they arrived in my hands, love realizing how these little labyrinths (thanks, Rebecca Solnit, for giving me that image) entered through chance. The books that changed my life these past few months have been recommended to me by friends, by book reviews I happened upon on-line, by Instagram photos of passages. I have bought them at thrift stores, been mailed books by friends, found them in stacks at the library and checked them out on a whim. I ordered one of the most formative books of the semester—“The Paradox of Love” by J. Pittman McGehee, because the author was giving a lecture I was going to be out of town for and I was bummed. The book completely impacted my understanding of love as a life skill. I delivered a talk in Minnesota that referenced his book the same weekend he was giving his lecture in DC. So here are some quotes from my favorites. If you want to spend money on Cyber Monday (WTF is that, by the way?) buy books.
Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
“The self is also a creation, the principal work of your life, the crafting of which makes everyone an artist. This unfinished work of becoming ends only when you do, if then, and the consequences live on. We make ourselves and in so doing are the gods of the small universe of self and the large world of repercussions.” (53)
Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of Love
“Mermaids seem, in part, to echo the conflict men feel about women in general. They are beautiful, mysterious, idealized creatures whom men long to possess. But they also arouse feelings that make men vulnerable, irrational, and crazed. They can enslave the most powerful men. And they don’t fight fair. The more beautiful they are, the more power they have, and when they know it, and act remote and unconquerable, they can be truly frightening. However weak of limb, they’re strong enough to send a man to his doom.” (238)
Kim Addonizio, What is this thing called love
There are people who will tell you
that using the word fuck in a poem
indicates a serious lapse
of taste, or imagination,
or both. It’s vulgar,
indecorous, an obscenity
that crashes down like an anvil
falling through a skylight
Jimmy Santiago Baca, The Lucia Poems
“Young lives are like fire; they can be used to illuminate the night or burn a city to the ground.”
J. Pittman McGehee, The Paradox of Love
“Any person who doesn’t know another, doesn’t know herself, and any person who doesn’t know herself, doesn’t know another.”
Howard Zinn, Artists in Times of War
“I’m not interested in just reproducing class after class of people who will get out, become successful, and take their obedient places in the slots that society has prepared for them. What most of us must be involved in—whether we teach or write, make films, write films, direct films, play music, act, whatever we do—has to not only make people feel good and inspired, and at one with other people around them, but also has to educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world.”