The Danger of Change

img_3088I was kind of sick and home most of this weekend, and it was a little spectacular. I read and read and read. I also started watching a really stupid television show that I hate. Only one person knows what it is, and they’d never betray me. I am so ambivalent about the characters that if they all got killed off, I wouldn’t even feel anything. I never feel their feelings. Definition of mindless. I don’t know why I did it you guys. Sometimes these things happen. Anyway, I also finished reading this book I’d started some months ago and had wandered away from. Susanna Sonnenberg recommended it during a memoir class this summer and of course I ordered it as the words left her mouth. It’s so fucking brilliant. The sentences, the images, the placement of things next to one another. It’s wondrous. The story is sad, but young Frank doesn’t know it and we just barely know it either.

The paragraphs I want to show you are from a chapter called “A Yo-Yo Going Down, a Mad Squirrel Coming Up.”

Frank Conroy:

The situation was embarrassing, ridiculous, sometimes unbearable, but I knew it couldn’t be changed. Set very deeply in my mind was the idea that any program of self-betterment would be doomed from the start. To change from weakling to strongman, from C student to A student, from bad boy to good boy! I not only believed it couldn’t be done, but even that it wasn’t worth doing. Success would have made me another person, or an actor hiding the past. And I wouldn’t succeed, I would fail. Failure was dangerous, threatening my only reliable source of strength, my pride. I was proud, and God knows why. I had no reason to be. I’d picked it up somewhere and it held me together. Better simply to live in my absurd body and not think about it.

One could always drift in the warm cloudy water, hearing the cries from the beach skipping out like stones over the soft roar of the breakers, watching the immense clouds, feeling the sun on wet hair. There was always the knowledge of one’s shadow, an extension of oneself slanting down in a long dark bar, a black column sliding into the depths and into the darkness.

The idea and the concrete, the idea and the concrete. But which is which? So good.

Write about a change you needed to make (whether you did or didn’t) , and an experience in your body from that time period in the next paragraph.

Here’s an excerpt of something I’m working on:

Some people change because they know it’s the right thing to do, are able to take care of themselves because they have the good sense to know it’s necessary. I only have the courage to change when it’s in the service of someone else. When alone, I am lazy and still. Would rather go to bed hungry than fix a meal for just myself. In the absence of a witness (an audience) I turn to glass. I speak only to be heard. Sometimes to say fear me fear me fear me. Usually I speak to insist love me love me love me. There are variations, but these are the themes. Maybe this is why I write: to transform myself into an audience, to stay on stage, apart.

Five years into my marriage, when I was twenty-three years old, it occurred to me that not every family had a Top Secret mode, and that I didn’t want to raise a child with this understanding of anger. I rose each morning and ran miles to try to flush the anger out. Ran all through the winter, my ears pounding and body steaming on suburban sidewalks, red faced and out of touch with the air around me. I’d sit on the pebbly concrete stoop of the townhouse for a few minutes, then enter the sleeping house and quietly remove layers of fleece and wool, feeling too robust and useful for the knick-knacks, the pale rugs and silk-covered sofas, too big for the rest of my day.


The book opens with this poem:

Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit
By Wallace Stevens

If there must be a god in the house, must be,
Saying things in the rooms and on the stair,

Let him move as the sunlight moves on the floor,
Or moonlight, silently, as Plato’s ghost

Or Aristotle’s skeleton. Let him hang out
His stars on the wall. He must dwell quietly.

He must be incapable of speaking, closed,
As those are: as light, for all its motion, is;

As color, even the closest to us, is;
As shapes, though they portend us, are.

It is the human that is the alien,
The human that has no cousin in the moon.

It is the human that demands his speech
From beasts or from the incommunicable mass.

If there must be a god in the house, let him be one
That will not hear us when we speak: a coolness,

A vermilioned nothingness, any stick of the mass
Of which we are too distantly a part.

Good luck, my dears.

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