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Joan Mitchell, Untitled, Diptych, 1989
Fort Greene park in November: we crush the leaves with the weight of our bodies and I read Nevada, a novel about a transgender New York punk woman. I take Yumi out of her pouch and she chews on the grass, exposes her belly to the gray sky. My whole life I wanted one dog and now I have two. When I was a kid I also wanted a green-eyed boyfriend and a spacious apartment and time to write. Instead of being grateful I’m constantly annoyed at myself for not writing more, writing deeper. I read other people’s writing and think to myself: do that. Most days what I write does not resemble what I’d like to write, not even a little bit.
Carl Phillips writes, in this beautiful essay: Shortly after my first book was published, a teacher of mine told me that having a career in poetry was like riding a runaway open streetcar, that the secret was to hold on tightly and stay aboard, rather than becoming one of the many who get thrown off, into the street.
Hold on tightly and stay aboard. How’s that for a good maxim to live by?
Ultimately I’m bad at giving things up. That’s my only virtue. I can’t quit anything I really like. I can’t even quit tech, though everyone I know is like: why wouldn’t you? I’m just not done with it. I’m still interested, and for me interest is everything. Once something becomes boring it’s all over. But I could never give up something that was interesting to me, no matter what price it exacted. So I couldn’t give up writing even if all writing does is disappoint me for the rest of my life.
An ex-boyfriend said to me once: It drives me crazy how you don’t care if I’m nice to you or mean to you because you find both funny. Obviously, I’ve changed since then: turns out, I do need people to be nice to me. But I’m still more invested in being interested than I am in anything else. I don’t believe that means I’m obsessed with novelty. The opposite, really: repetition is interesting because it’s the pursuit of depth. So I vary my approach, but I always come back to the same thing.
Yesterday I went to a B-tier Chinese restaurant in Williamsburg with my friends and we got onto the topic of how when you’re obsessive the most important thing is to channel your obsession into the right things. What I believe now is that “the right thing” is not something that you can evaluate based on how it looks or how practical it is or even the end result. It’s just a feeling. Not a conviction or a belief, since once you start intellectualizing it everything gets fucked up: just a feeling in your body. If you’ve felt it you would never doubt its existence.