My sister Sandi and I played a little joke on my dad, who’s new to FB, his iPad, and Siri. While they were on a trip, he discovered Facebook chat. Sandi messaged me to say he was FB-chatting by dictating to Siri, so I sent him a chat message saying hello. So did someone else. My dad’s a grumpy delight when he’s struggling with too much input, and Sandi started telling me everything he was saying, starting with his reaction to getting messages from two different people at once.
He’s a good sport though, so he decided to reply to my message. Sandi updated me:
I thought it’d be funny to tell my dad I could “see” him dictating his message.
Sandi sent me a transcription of his IRL response–the “is that you?” is directed at her:
and then my sister and I had an idea. me to Sandi:
now you’ll recall, we left off here:
at which point Sandi filled me in with what was happening:
here’s what he wrote to me:
Sandi to me:
My dad took measures to defend himself against my prying eyes.
He is disconcerted.
I asked my sister for more:
To my dad:
Sandi updates me on what he’s telling her:
So I ask Sandi what she’s wearing:
My dad and I chat about his trip, which was long–he had to leave for the airport eight hours before his flight, but his ride from airport to hotel was a bargain $9. I interject:
He goes silent. I wonder if it was too much, but it’s probably a technical difficulty–sometimes screens disappear on him. Sandi fills me in on what he’s telling her:
I reply as if I can hear everything he says:
Starting to believe in my powers, he answers me without using FB. Sandi tells me what he’s saying.
My dad’s a resourceful dude. He’d just come from Brazil, where he’d more or less taught himself Portuguese. His impression of technology, however, is that it sort of absorbs its surroundings in ways he appreciates but doesn’t always fully understand. Since he can’t find me on FB, he suspects Siri might have either become contaminated or code-switched.
Me to dad:
We finally reconnect and I tell him about a TV show I really love–Fortitude:
(In the meantime, Sandi’s giving me more material:
Dad takes my dumb marriage joke on a delicious detour:
and I deploy the latest:
He plays it cool, though:
Sandi chimes in to give me her side:
I tell my dad to make her get off her butt and help him, using some more of Sandi’s info–remember, she’d told me what she was wearing:
Sandi to me:
Dad to me, pretending all is well:
Sandi to me:
I’m a little worried about what “freaking out” means.
(I check in with Sandi:)
And I drop the next one:
Sandi to me:
But he covers it well:
Sandi is touched:
He starts telling me about tiradentes, a Brazilian dentist who was quartered–he saw a painting of him. I ask Sandi to confirm the information re: the painting in their room, since it seems relevant.
Sandi fills me in:
so I clarify to Dad:
Sandi chimes in:
At this point I’m starting to feel bad.
What I said to Dad:
He replied with a mix of goodbyes and efforts to ask Siri to look up Pivot again:
Sandi wrote to tell me I hadn’t been clear enough:
But the thing about my dad is that he always, eventually, gets the best of me. The next time we chatted, the blue-black/gold-white dress came up:
And he drops this on me:
and then he drifts away.
I found a diary from when I was six.
nothing very exciting is what we did
today I have a school day darnet. I have to get up at 7:00! It is tiring to have to do it almost every day I hate getting up so early its no fun but, have to.
well first today I brushed my teeth, and did that stuff. at school today I went to my seat Ryan makes me nervous every time he comes to sits next to me. nothing very exciting was what we did. we played at lunch recess to spin I’m sorry Diary let me go here were home now I want to sleep.
Liliana goodbye Liliana
Today we watched Discovery the spaceship land, it came down gracefully and successfully. We also played a game called Break the Bench, I had to jump as hard as I could on it so it might break, and we could get new ones, this was in Didion because we didn’t like the benches and the principal said that if a few more benches broke (three were already broken) we would get new ones.
[addendum, smashed in at the bottom of the page:] and I got sent to my room.
The name erin
(sticker: Patty O’Green)
Today I went to the park in school. We played about five games of Bingo. Tomorrow it will be Game Day and I might win lots of prizes. We did do some work at school. But we did take a contest. And I wished I won. But somebody else did.
[In purple marker and big letters, apparently added later:]
The name Erin. And I never won any of those games.
treats of good bye
Today it was game Day! And we did more games than work. We got treats of good Bye. And I won FOUR prizes And I am very happy.
[In purple marker:] I had a good time.
[In pencil:] I got Three erasers and one marker the kind you put in books with a treble clef decoration.
white as fudge
Today I went to school and I like a boy named Rian Eliasberg and He likes me His moms name is Lisa E. and today we made gohsts That spin I won the contest of spinning. I named my gohst Fudgy because he’s white as Fudge and I know three Rians Rian Elias Berg Rian Wunch and Rian Olairy or O’leary I don’t know how to spell it after that we did a little math then it was time to go. And then I wrote recipies and now writing in you. And I watched The cosby show and then I practiced the piano then I went to bed and went to sleep.
(sticker: gold star)
Today I am very excited we are having a Halloween party even though it’s Friday tomorrow it’s Saturday Halloween! I am so happy. today I went to school I sit next to Rian Elias berg he loves me too Today he saved me from his friend Jeff JEFF Jeff wrote on a piece of paper GIRLS I HATE
Rian also said to Jeff: if you put Lili’s name on there I’m going to kill you and he said in secret to him Jeff that he wanted to Marry me when I heard Jeff tell me that I was shy after school Rian called me and kissed me on the phone and now it is time to say goodbye
(extra sticker: blue irises)
press a leaf
Today is Tuesday. I went to school and had a lot of trouble getting up,
[In blue marker:] first, Beatriz came, woke me up. But I fell asleep.
Then I went to school I sit next to Ryan Elias-Berg.
Today I went to recess, nothing very interesting we got reminders to press a leaf. Ryan Elias-berg loves me and some I like him in a matter in fact he’s nice but his friend is just horrible. now I got home from school.
and then to sleep
(sticker: pastel bluebird carrying a red book in its talons)
I keep getting itchy blisters on the arch of my foot.
I read Alison Bechdel’s Are You my Mother? for Mother’s Day. Started it Sunday in the pool, finished it today in a storm.
It reminded me–tangentially, because of how it uses Adrienne Rich and Woolf—of how much of what we write about television has been written before—about books, about women. Frustrating to know it’s all out there, better done. But we all forget and forget and forget, and so (here’s my feeble rationale) since tv compels “our” attention, it’s an occasion to rehearse and remind. But there’s nothing new we’ve said. If it’s worth writing, it’s not because it’s original but for the more humbling reason that it’s still true, no matter how much the reminder raises a rash on the love we want to lavish on True Detective.
I go home Wednesday.
I learned today Hillary died after her second lung transplant failed, that she knew she was going to die, that she got her Ph.D anyway, and a job, and that her poetry on the pain is beautiful and prosy. Her last Tweet was to Aaron the day before she died, congratulating him on his student’s grasp of gradatio. Her last retweet was Lindy West.
Bechdel’s book is full of Alice Miller. I’m afraid of Miller, I think—Bechdel presents it as a seductive explanatory weapon that could suck a person up whole. It nearly swallows her. But Are You My Mother? floats on a sea of coincidence: the spider that appeared in the office while Bechdel was narrating her mother’s fear of spiders, the plays her mother starred in that happen to be about mothers. She thematizes coincidence in a way any diary-writer (or child of a diary-writer) will recognize; it’s the most natural thing in the world to organize your days around the literary webs no one wove. (I keep resisting writing entries in my “diary” because it feels self-indulgent and wrong, and because I don’t enjoy reading it afterwards, but I recognize that I go impulsive and compulsive without it: I read threads about sociopaths for an entire day, or haunt the internet forums of waiters, or dream of dogs who are imperfect clones and speak in refined Oxbridge accents.)
One of Hillary’s poems:
Creature of occasion, remember where you have been, which leaves have teeth, which leaves are shaped like a pair of lungs. The closed landscape glitters. My name is Acutifolius: having sharp edges. Underside of each frond like a powdery line of Braille. Air stuttering with leaves. There’s a night inside the night inside my chest. Forest air cool as a plum’s dark flesh. The hand goes black against the low green. I’m Candicans: looking white or frosted. Or Sylvaticus, Californicus. In the crowded wood, I see the several eyes go down. Black air folds around low ferns. Asleep, I laid my hand on the tree until my skin turned to bark.
The air gets thin just reading her. Bronchials branch and there’s the night, closing.
I finished Bechdel’s book and stared at the ceiling. (Achy back, easier to read on floor.) It’s pouring outside. Pepi shelters from the thunder in her blue house, peers fearfully out, and my phone has just scritched eerily that there’s a flood warning in effect till 1:15 a.m. I’ve been reading Eikon Basilike today, which—coincidence—is full of storms and floods: “O Lord by thou My Pilot in this dark and dangerous storme,” writes Charles I (or his ghostwriter). He defends his decision to step away as both courageous and prudent, a function of the tides:
“Some may interpret it as an effect of Pusillanimity for any man for popular terrours to desert his publique station. But I think it a hardinesse, beyond true valour, for a wise man to set him self against the breaking in of a sea; which to resist, at present, threatens imminent danger; but ot withdraw, gives its space to spend its fury, and gaines a fitter time to repaire the breach.”
It’s not as unexpected an analogy once you realize he thinks of the people as weather: here’s his account of the Earl of Stratford, whose execution he authorized despite his loyalty, and Charles can’t get over his guilt (oh, I like him, I do):
“Whereof he could not but contract good store, while moving in so high a spheare, and with so vigorous a lustre, he must needs (as the Sun) raise many envious exhalations, which condensed by a popular odium, were capable to cast a cloud upon the brightest merit, and integrity.”
My foot stings.
I don’t like Freud, but I’ve been watching In Treatment in the off hours when the muscles start their strangle. Only the episodes where the analyst gets analyzed, I’m not interested in the others. He’s bitter and damaged and angry. It seems to be the time to think about how I stall in ways I haven’t thought to think. I’ve seen the therapist twice now. It feels like it might help. That worries me. I’m too easy a sell. I haven’t been great at striking the balance between getting lost in the luxury of self-examination and being cynical (its own kind of luxury). Useful and a little miraculous to see Paul get torn up on television.
I finally decide to look up “athlete’s foot blister” since my creams aren’t working. It turns out what I have is vesicular athlete’s foot, an allergic reaction to the fungus. Charming. That allergic response is called—it’s almost too good to be true—an id reaction. Just when I start feeling superior to Bechdel, who knits her coincidences the way I do, secretly, as if there’s a secret filmmaker or something equally absurd, BAM! a theme bubbles up in he arch of your foot.
Here’s my worry—this is Charles writing about the revolutionaries, but it resonates with something that happens in Jacqui Shine’s “The Quiet Room” and In Treatment and Are You My Mother? (All this week. Theme.)
“If some mens Hydropick insatiablenesse had not learned to thirst the more by how much more they drank; whom no fountain of Royall bounty was able to overcome; so resolved they seemed, either utterly to exhaust it, or barbarously to obstruct it.”
Therapy might lead to hydropick insatiableness. I’m afraid of the vainglorying self; God knows I have and fear and fulfill the tendency right here in one ugly jump: too fascinated with the self, everything becomes a poetic kind of self-regarding, and all I see in Charles’ analysis of the people who will cause his death is my fear of therapy.
But Hillary—who I didn’t know well, and whose departure should not be this hard to accept—was a better person, a better writer, and she benefited from it. That feels like a very, very small license. Here’s another of her poems.
The route within is familiar—
prefer circuits, only sentiment
dictates a frontier.
So there is a way-chapel
of cell gray stars, there
a nucleus of wet pebbles,
laid in moss—
twigs crossed in an arrow
must, after all, mark.
Your hand is a furrow pressing
out a darkness and in the stuttering
breath, a portal—
Nimbus cloud lung
shuddering toward the gash
of morning, remember:
pioneers slash only toward a territory
The vein is an intimate thoroughfare.
Still, nothing comes first.
The heart expands in circles:
both gather at the core—
one tearing out the bright veins,
one tending their short light.
meeting and deciding the outcome with their swords
turnus ran to the city walls through the broken ranks
(where the soil was most drenched with blood)
hearing the name of turnus, aeneas left the walls
and exultant with delight clashed her weapons fiercely
vast as old apennine
himself when he roars through the glittering holm-oaks
they both dashed quickly forward
the earth groaned
they redoubled their intense
sword-strokes, chance and skill mingled together
turnus leapt forward thinking herself safe, rose to the full height
of her body with uplifted sword, and struck
[but the attack fails; turnus’ sword breaks against aeneas’ mighty armor]
turnus ran madly this way and that over the plain, winding
aimless circles here and there
aeneas, no less, though her knees (slowed at times
by the arrow wound) failed her and denied her speed,
pursued and pressed her anxious enemy hotly, foot to foot
aeneas pressed on, brandishing her great spear like a tree,
and, angered at heart, she cried out in this way:
‘why now yet more delay? why do you still retreat, turnus?
we must compete hand to hand with fierce weapons, not by running
like a black hurricane she flew on
bearing dire destruction, and
passed through the center of the thigh
great turnus sank, her knee bent beneath her, under the blow.
She lowered her eyes in submission and stretched out her right hand:
‘I have earned this, I ask no mercy’ she said,
‘seize your chance.’
aeneas, blazing with fury, and terrible in her anger,
buried her sword deep
and then turnus’s limbs grew slack
(See a description of the #433rds project here.)
Little Miss Spider Muffet
An idiot day, mostly, noir with deep shadows and Pepi curled into my butt, but! Progress! The mental judo it takes to get oneself to do a thing. Sometimes the lovely book-miracles happen. Today in the tub, it was Jane Tompkins on Westerns. Not my book and I chose it at random, but the first page I opened to! Truth opens in the bathtub heat!
Forget the corner mildew. It’s the gospel of Jesus’ wife, exhumed! (Not a forgery, they think. The inclusion of a single woman is probably not a forgery. And Jesus might be a fish, but Stanley Fish isn’t Jesus.) Hooray! Hip hip.
It is 1.6 inches by 3.1 inches, that gospel is. We haven’t lost all sense of proportion. Still, many congratulations to Karen King, who is brilliant, even if she didn’t think the title “Jesus wife” would be inflammatory. She said, back in 2012, that if the fragment was proved not to be a forgery, it would be “cherry on the cake.” Cherries on cakes is new to me. The expression, I thought, was icing.
First course: Sara Lee strawberry cheesecake. (I chose it over the cherry.) Second: avocado on a tuffet of greens. When it comes to articles of faith, I do not believe in dessert putting a lien on dinner. Pudding first, meal last and lots of salt and lemon.
The day was mostly muscles aquiver with pain, but a few vigorous elbowings later, some fe fi fo fumming, and they’re cello strings now instead of screaming violins. Today’s headache was sponsored by Key and Peele, whose Continental Breakfast sketch helped ratchet my neck a few clicks loose.
The Pepper-Spray Cop got $38,000 for his emotional distress. Hard to be a meme. Two rappers fight over their bitches on Instagram but one might have been hacked. Robin Williams walks around looking angry. Craig Ferguson might lose his job. It’s all to do with faces, isn’t it: the detail with which we look at one and the story we’re willing to see.
(See a description of the #433rds project here.)
programmed to receive
Our handyman likes to call the toilet “the commode,” and it makes me happy every time he does it. He lies a lot: about when he’s coming back, about how much things cost, about being sick. (Heart attack one week, cancer another–he doesn’t do things by halves. Says he’s jaded, says he drinks 16 V8s a day.)
I’m talking in present-tense even though it’s been months since he’s visited. The bathroom is done and I miss him a little every time I look at the uneven plane of the floor.
I miss him enough, despite not liking him much, that I decided it meant I needed people. If I’m lonely—and I’m not sure that’s what this is—go to the library stacks to work around other bodies. So I did. It was perfect. Then a young man sat down at my table in a nostalgic mood. He was playing “Hotel California” on his iPhone, loud enough that I could hear its tinny strains through his headphones. By the fifth replay the air had become a Tiffany-twisted hellscape of wheedled beats.
Luckily the library’s bathroom is nicely architected. Solid, five stalls. Anteroom with a cushioned bench. Full-length mirror. Soap. Bathrooms are like fax machines in that technology should, by any reasonable definition of progress, have evolved beyond them, but nothing has replaced their almost unhackable concreteness. Their longevity is Victorian. It’s queenly. They’re better at what they do than headphones, and the few high-tech improvements we’ve attempted—circulating plastic on seats, automatic flushes, hand dryers–only mar a perfect thing. They’re singular and virtuosic, saxophones in the orchestra of rooms.
When I returned, the young man was packing his things to go. I could have stayed—the window light was beautiful, the stacks were full, some Fanny Burney letters were tempting me—but enmity is a point of connection, however marginal. We left together.
(See a description of the #433rds project here.)
A nut and bot walk into a bar. The nut says, “hey, yew,” and the bot turns into an iron chicken. I slept for all but three hours today–the only exon in a day of junk DNA. Sugar hours, underwater mindjuice with tedious neverending storylines. I pried my eyes up with showers, a swanky belt, a tiny castle university, but I was Jonah and the jaws kept snapping shut. A nut and a bot walk into a bar. The barkeep is Mark Twain, who thinks he’s in an Austen novel because everyone in the bar is a Presbyterian. He tells the nut and bot that her characters are detestable. The bot asks him to tell them a story with a likable protagonist, so he tells them Sleeping Beauty. The nut’s into her cups by the time Twain finishes. She says, over her fifth white Russian, that she’d do a better job cutting through the thicket than the bot. They bot says don’t bet on it. Mark Twain offers to judge the contest. The Presbyterians rise up and kill Twain dead.
(See a description of the #433rds project here.)
the piano teacher
The wasp from this morning still isn’t dead, but I’ve discovered the perfect breakfast: it’s three beignets and a coffee.
Things weren’t good before it. I remembered, the way you do when you’re climbing out of sleep and fall off a cliff, that I still hadn’t answered her invitation. It was issued indirectly, to my mother, which makes it hearsay. I never got it, I can think, or pretend to think, but it’s this: Be a guest of honor. Play at our concert. (The answer is a no, a wretched no, but how do you say “I can’t” to someone to whom you have never been able to say “no”, or “I have forgotten why we fought”, or “my life became sloppy without you”.)
To breakfast! What a mess our car is. Of course the radio is playing Liszt. Of course it’s a child prodigy. I shut the radio off before I can hear his voice.
We find a space. I scuff around in the gravel pit next to it while Aaron wrangles the parking meter and I almost drown in the drowsy pleasure of scuffing. “That’s like your version of a Japanese garden,” Aaron says. A bit of gravel surrounding a half-dead tree. There are cigarettes in it. Of course, I think, because before breakfast I exude self-pity and think in absolutes: it’s the undiscipline that set in after her. Ten years of regimented practice, of bows and drills and trips to Japan. I think I was once good at raking perfect rows in clean white sand. I know I was once good at balancing on curbs.
Childhood is sitting on curbs waiting for things. Fifteen minutes for a table, the waitress says, and we sit obediently. I used to go the three blocks to Linda’s for my lessons walking on curbs, counting the steps between the sidewalk slabs.
Over breakfast I think of grenadine, of Shirley Temples drunk at the bars where—as a kid—I sometimes played.
After breakfast we passed three liquor bottles in a tidy row in the gutter. The gravel next to our space is less magical now: the man who lives in front of it is raining angry blows on his window.
We get in the car and drive home with perfect stomachs.
The wasp is still dying. The dog still wants to fight it. I want it to die so I can light it properly, take some close-up shots of its flawless spotted eyes. These are the only circumstances in which a person can really enjoy coffee—heaps of powdered sugar on the dough next to it, to cut and cut the taste.