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26 February 2008 @ 11:55 pm
honey almond soap, vanilla almond tea, jasmine perfume. an evening with ricepaper, a decimated tess gallagher book in the mail. i'll press it between two heavier books on a tight shelf (all my shelves are tight) and maybe, someday, it'll lay flat.

the book is under stars. there's a circle-stain below the title, roughly the size of a shot glass. the ragstock cover curls away from the pages. there's a stranger's name penned on that visible title page, first name in lowercase, last name in all capitals. the binding knots bulge at the ragstock spine. a quarter inch of frayed thread protrudes from the interior corner edge, a cowlick, a bookmark too short to mark. the book was made the year my lover was born. a previous owner boxed off meaningful text on page 13:

It's like this on your own: the charms
unlucky, the employment
solitary, the best love always
the benefit of a strenuous doubt.

the title is "On Your Own." i wonder if the owner who boxed the stanza was on her own yet, really, or if it was boxed from college fantasy--a world she tried to prove her understanding of before she'd yet been forced to give real understanding that hard and unwanted second look. there's a rip on the cover, it stops just off the last letter of stars, a kind of departure from the thought, a tentative glance toward the heavens. gallagher might use too many commas. i might use too many commas. it's a conflict i've had for many years.

i'd like to take my new ancient copy of under stars and lie it along side my ancient new copy of moon crossing bridge. it's the book carol, in her role of gifting oracle, gave me for graduation. that unbent spine, that cover at a full manufacturer's gloss. i'd like to see if i can determine the ways in which my own understanding of the universe has changed: this investment of half my life in something that looks untouched held against yesterday's acquisition, which looks like it's spent ten years buried in loose sand.

what could i determine about myself in viewing my oldest and my most recent tess gallagher books? that the tess who wrote under stars was almost a contemporary, if only maintained in print; that i have many nights to navigate before arriving at my own moon crossing bridge?

it's a chronology for which i am presently grateful. i am yet under stars. i've been counting, lately, and i've been counting too much. number of years, number of accomplishments, number of days left in the month, dollars, dollars, dollars. i can't enjoy a film until i've counted the number of years between myself and the lead actress, between myself and the director, between myself and the author who wrote the book the script was based on. i'm counting to see if i'm still artistically viable, counting what those artists had accomplished by my age, counting on the plausibility of getting somewhere like that in a few years myself. somewhere along the way i got lost: maybe i'm counting the number of chances i have to find my way back.

except the artists keep getting younger and i keep getting older.

maybe i need to look less at chronology and more at my own worth. if only i could stop counting and just look. maybe, looking at my tess gallagher books--written by her 15 years apart, acquired by me 15 years apart--i can marvel at our mysterious gift for existential meter, the unexpected reveal of narrative couplets. the spring before i left for iowa, that last semester at the community college, i was assigned to write a review of an active poets most recent work. i chose the book carol gave me over grilled cheese sandwiches and seasoned fries at colonial's restaurant 3 years before. the paper was for the "advanced poetry" workshop at my community college, a thriving ideological hub of five students, four once the fifth dropped out halfway into the semester--he was disgusted with us for acknowledging poetic forms outside of shakespearian sonnet and subject matters other than love and the beauty of poetry. sometimes i'd walk by him in the cafeteria. he'd always glare.

that day, three days before graduation, the instructor caught me in the hall outside the mail room to tell me he'd been impressed by my choice. "gallagher's so stylistically dense," he told me. he wondered why i'd chosen her. three years before, i'd wondered why she'd been chosen for me, at least past the iconic parallel of curtaining dark hair. "most writers your age crack under her weight, but you did her justice. your paper was extremely well done." at the time, it didn't mean much to me. at the time, not much of anything did. i did feel it was auspicious, that he'd liked my paper, especially with my going off to iowa in a handful of months.

i am either not a poet at all or i am nothing but a poet. or i am a silly girl prone to writing sweeping statements at odd hours of the night in places where such linguistic gesticulations will go uncontested if they are read at all.

i'm no poet. where are my poems? i can't look at them directly. most of them are half thoughts broken up on moleskine pages or as old as my nephew, or as old as my nephew two times over. lots of the things i believed then were wrong. but, then, so are lots of the things i believe now.

we keep changing. it's how we know that we are alive, through the changes we come to in what we believe, what we once believed, what we can't believe any more.
[ spirit in the wires ]: open bookurbandelirium on February 27th, 2008 06:49 am (UTC)
Would love to read some of your papers. I bet they're a treat.

My mom's an obsessive age-keeper. She can tell you how old all the people she ever admired were when they achieved their creative milestones, how old they are now, when they started creating... It's kind of fascinating, but also daunting.
selva oscuraanonymousblack on February 27th, 2008 05:35 pm (UTC)
some of them are tolerable, and i'm certainly not above pillaging old school papers for ideas. but, you know that old process of looking back at stuff you did a long time ago. kind of that bittersweet marriage of "wow, i really had a lot of insight i didn't know i had back then!" and "...i remember thinking that. kinda wish i hadn't written it down."

however, since i didn't keep a steady journal until my senior year of college, it's at least some record of how i thought during my schooling. they're even written about something other than who i had a crush on at the time!

it's a family inheritance, i think, the year and age keeping thing. i'm pretty sure my brother has asperger's. among other more serious manifestations, he's always been one of these people who can retain strings of odd dates (the day judy burned the pizza: february 13th, 1991) and sites every personal recollection with at least a year, if not a month and a date and some very odd personal detail. i can't imagine i didn't escape with a little bit of something like that myself, given the many problems my siblings have had to surmount over the years. i think in my case, at least, it just opens up enough of a weird vortex for me to have to think my way around it creatively. i think probably brother will get there himself, too, once he's sorted through some stuff and stepped back a bit from the video games. :-)
disenchantdisenchant on February 27th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
ah, tess. loved portable kisses.

love tess.

what ever happened to carol? anyone speak to her at all?
selva oscuraanonymousblack on February 27th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC)
i haven't seen carol since the last writers conference (i attended? that there was?) in my early twenties. there was a retirement party apparently, a few of her other students have mentioned it, but no one knew where i was so i only heard about it a year or two later.

aaron released a second book a little while ago. i've wondered about him, too.
secret ways of beingmuted_rain on February 29th, 2008 04:10 am (UTC)
i am either not a poet at all or i am nothing but a poet.

i never quite bought into those black&white definitions of artists, romantic though it is to think of them that way: the man who is nothing but his paint, the woman who is nothing but her words, defined wholly and succinctly by their work for the benefit of the world despite their single-minded and passionate torture. i suppose it's true sometimes, but how dull! more fundamentally they are all people - just people - and everything else is incidental. quantity of work, popularity of work, quality of work, ratio of work to regular life... they're all such subjective and indefinite measures. and at the root of it all, artistic pursuit is really just the pursuit of being alive, albeit with a particular vocabulary. the trap, in my opinion, is becoming too concerned with the attributes of the product rather than the inspiration. of course it always happens at various points and is inevitable, but a good shock of reality/enlightenment is beneficial at those moments. so what are you? you're a person living your life, expressing that any number of different ways, depending on the specific circumstances. sometimes you are a poet. sometimes you are a face in the audience. sometimes you are scripting industrial safety videos. sometimes you are watching tv with popcorn.

i'm sorry... you were saying something there, before i interrupted...
translucentflowerfalls on February 29th, 2008 06:34 am (UTC)

please disregard the email i sent you and listen to this man.

very naive me
selva oscura: blueglassanonymousblack on March 1st, 2008 03:40 am (UTC)
email?! ah... with at&t's latest strategy to bury prodigy deep into the land of time forgot, my webclient got all wonked around again and i'm still reteaching the filter system. you got bulked. thank you for mentioning it, though, otherwise i wouldn't have caught it.

heh. i think both ben and you took the poet paragraph a lot more seriously than i did. i was being ironic, teasing myself, not that you could hear it in my voice. poetry is a fine supplement for me and i need to keep those senses sharp because a functioning poet's ear strengthens my fiction. right now, however, i am a prose writer: i can write good poems, but i write much better prose. i haven't actively focused on poetry in quite some time, though i do bits and pieces: have a whole other account dedicated to poetry, in fact, rare and briefly updated though it might be.

ben and i have discussed the matters in his comment a couple times. he's preaching to the preacher. your life is 10,001 aspects converging to different degrees by the minute. there is no way to refer to yourself by one of them solely--not art, not relationships, not career, not favorite television shows, not addiction, not age, not sexuality, not health issues, not religion--as much as we may sometimes want it to be that way. we are made of different materials, we survive on different matters.

strictly responding to your letter, though, i disagree with you on one point in particular: we gotta give props to the tick-tock. you're 24, and that's young. i'm 32, and less young, though far from old. thing is, the tick-tock starts gettin' faster the higher your numbers get. i got eight years on you, but by my count 24 doesn't seem like it was eight years ago. went fast. you only got so much time to be who you are, you only got so much time to do something with that. that's... sort of where my aforementioned compulsion comes in. what's not helpful about my counting is that i'm doing it in comparison to other people and that never fails to depress (there's always!! going to be someone in your peer group who is more successful on your chosen path)--i need to be plugging that counting energy productively, not destructively. but, see, compulsion or autism or no, it's why i caught myself doing it and made the note. it's rarely the stuff i talk about here that i need my head straightened out about. by the time i get it up on a screen or down on a page, i've got a handle on it. it's the stuff i can't even talk about that's the real work for me, or the stuff i write but DO NOT DARE post on the world-wide web--or even commit to a bound journal page. :-)
translucentflowerfalls on March 1st, 2008 06:46 am (UTC)

maybe it's better if the email was left in the bulk email folder.

i don't know you. and i think i screw up sometimes because i respond and i don't even realize its inappopriate in scale to you, what you're really writing in relation to your real life. i am responding to how i would to any of my rl friends if they had written this. maybe i'm not the best of friends, for that. i just have heard enough times from people a few years older that they are now "too old" and then i hear from my dad, whos just turned sixty, that he's wondering what new job to take on next. so it's kindof a flash point for me.

does that make any sense? i will try to learn from this, try to learn from those around me that make decisions at different paces, to be more patient and understanding. i guess i'm just frustrated, in my every day relationships with certain people too, of not knowing when a decision has been made, when a little push is needed, when a big one would be welcome, or when nothing at all but time is asked for.

and shit, i'm no good at all with figuring out what the hell i'm supposed to do when i'm sick.

i'm trying to say i'm sorry, and please forgive me. how dare i try to tell you what to do with your life!

ah, but i am the one that can never seem to resist chiming in... and for some reason you've put up with me for this long!