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Archive for the ‘thinking’ Category

It seems that this is what loneliness is designed to do: to provoke the restoration of social bonds. Like pain itself, it exists to alert the organism to a state of untenability, to prompt a change in circumstance. We are social animals, the theory goes, and so isolation is – or was, at some unspecified point in our evolutionary journey – unsafe for us. This theory neatly explains the physical consequences of loneliness, which ally to a heightened sense of threat, but I can’t help feeling it doesn’t capture the entirety of loneliness as a state.

A little while after I came home, I found a poem by Borges, written in English, the language his grandmother had taught him as a child. It reminded me of my time in New York, and of Wojnarowicz in particular. It’s a love poem, written by a man who’s stayed up all night wandering through a city. Indeed, since he compares the night explicitly to waves, ‘darkblue top-heavy waves … laden with/ things unlikely and desirable’, one might literally say that he’s been cruising.

In the first part of the poem he describes an encounter with you, ‘so lazily and incessantly beautiful,’ and in the second he lists what he has to offer, a litany of surprising and ambiguous gifts that ends with three lines I’m certain Wojnarowicz would have understood:

I can give you my loneliness, my darkness, the

hunger of my heart; I am trying to bribe you

with uncertainty, with danger, with defeat.

It took me a long time to understand how loneliness might be a gift, but now I think I’ve got it. Borges’s poem voiced the flip side of that disturbing essay I’d read in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine on loneliness’s consequences and mechanisms. Loneliness might raise one’s blood pressure and fill one with paranoia, but it also offers compensations: a depth of vision, a hungry kind of acuity.

Oh my goodness I am so enjoying Olivia Laing’s writing. This is from “Mw, myself and I” in aeon

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This is really interesting! From “What does it mean when we call women girls?” by Robin Wasserman in Literary Hub.

Here’s how Louis CK draws the distinction between girl and woman:

[22-year old girls] might say, I’m 22, I’m totally a woman… Not to me, sorry. To me you’re not a woman until you’ve had a couple of kids and your life is in the toilet… when you become a woman is when people come out of your vagina and step on your dreams.

If it’s easy to see how the girl label attaches to unmoored millennials, it’s less evident how it applies to women firmly rooted in the adult phase of life. But it makes sense if we read the “girl” narratives as corrective to the Louis CK threshold, the “girls” as women who refuse to let a little thing like people coming out of their vaginas ruin their dreams.

All the Single Ladies, journalist Rebecca Traister’s recent take on the rise of the single woman, opens with her childhood conviction that the marriage plot was less fairy tale than Shakespearean tragedy. “It was supposed to be romantic, but it felt bleak,” she writes of the nuptial trajectories of her girlhood literary heroes. “Paths that were once wide and dotted with naughty friends and conspiratorial sisters and malevolent cousins, with scrapes and adventures and hopes and passions, had narrowed and now seemed to lead only to the tending of dull husbands and the rearing of insipid children to whom the stories would be turned over.”

The girl books crowding the nonfiction shelf are written by and about women who insist on sticking to that wide path, women who refuse to Jo March themselves into a supporting role in their own life: girlhood as a state of mind.

The word attaches itself with special frequency to women in music and the sciences—not as diminishment of their achievement, but as its trophy. Girl in a Band, Lab Girl, Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl, Rise of the Rocket Girls: these are women who followed their girlhood passions into male-dominated fields and triumphed. Their stories speak of subverting gender expectations, breaking barriers, and—at least on the page—prioritizing work and art over the role of domestic caretaker.

In Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon pauses—briefly—in her tale of Sonic Youth’s rise to acknowledge the birth of her daughter: “Yes, she changed our lives, and no one is more important to me. But the band played on.” Gordon spent the first half of her career answering journalists’ inevitable question about what it was like to be a girl in a band; the moment she gave birth, they instead wanted to know: “What’s it like to be a rock-and-roll mom?” Her daughter might well be the most important thing in her life, but she’s nearly irrelevant to this story, which is about music, ambition, and the need to create. Gordon writes about her difficulties expressing her true self, relieved only by art: “For me the page, the gallery, and the stage became the only places my emotions could be expressed….Art, and the practice of making art, was the only space that was mine alone.”

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So many writers, past and present, have been alcoholics. Why did you choose to focus on Cheever, Carver, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Williams, and Berryman?

Olivia Laing: I liked them, is the simple answer. I knew when I set out to write about alcohol and writers that I’d be dealing with very dark elements of their lives, and I didn’t want to produce what Joyce Carol Oates has described as pathography, or to be cruel and punitive, or to take pleasure in exposing them. So it was vital that it was people who I liked, and whose work I thought was extraordinary. That’s why traveling the physical landscape was so important too. All six of these men were deeply responsive to landscape, and wrote about it in very beautiful and heartfelt ways. It seemed to capture what was best about them, and I wanted to keep returning to that, as a respite or contrast to these incredibly bleak stories of drunkenness and degradation.

What is it about landscape that you’re drawn to? It’s definitely a theme in your first two books [To the River, a book about the river Virginia Woolf drowned in, and The Trip to Echo Spring] and the book you’re currently working on.

OL: Things happen in places. And when they’ve stopped happening, the place remains, though sometimes in different forms. Which means they’re ideal for a writer who is interested in assessing loss, which I guess is my true subject.

Is there a reason you stuck with American authors?

OL: I knew Tennessee Williams was central, because Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was the first thing I ever read about alcohol. And then I slowly sifted my way through the ranks of other alcoholic writers. It became clear pretty quickly that the story I was interested in was about America, about men and alcohol and writing in the America of the 20th century. There are no doubt other books that can and will be written, about different countries and different times. You didn’t ask directly about gender, but I’ll answer anyway: I stuck with men for a more personal reason, which is that my experience as a child was with a female alcoholic and the subject was just too painful for me. That’s a book I hope someone writes. Patricia Highsmith, Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras — such fascinating characters. But I didn’t have the necessary critical distance to do it. It leaves a legacy, fear in childhood.

From “The myth of the alcoholic writer: an interview with Olivia Laing” by Michele Filgate in Buzzfeed.

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In 1974, the sociologist Richard Sennett worried that “the more a person concentrates on feeling genuinely, rather on the objective content of what is felt, the more subjectivity becomes an end in itself, the less expressive he can be.”

This quest to understand and cope with our own feelings and desires – the current term of art is “self-care” – can lead to what the writer Christopher Lasch called “pseudo-self-awareness”. It can leave us too preoccupied with personal satisfaction to see the world clearly. “The new narcissist is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety,” Mr Lasch wrote in his 1979 book “The Culture of Narcissism.” “He seeks not to inflict his own certainties on others but to find a meaning in life.”

In her 2001 book “Race Experts,” Dr. Lasch-Quinn (who is Christopher Lasch’s daughter) argues that the vogue for therapeutic self-help has steered the American left off course, encouraging well-meaning activists to push for sensitivity training seminars instead of real gains in racial and economic equality. The phrase “I feel like” is a mundane extension of this pattern, a means of avoiding rigorous debate over structures of society that are hard to change.

From Molly Worthen’s “Stop saying ‘I feel like'” in The New York Times. 

It must be said about Lasch that while he did highlight the importance of unpaid care work, he was not always so very popular with feminists for good reason. But I like the idea of pseudo-self-awareness. (And I love Richard Sennett).

 

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.. is even better than the purposeless walk.

 

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It takes at least seven minutes to see how a conversation is going to unfold. You can’t go to your phone before those seven minutes are up. If the conversation goes quiet, you have to let it be. For conversation, like life, has silences — what some young people I interviewed called “the boring bits.” It is often in the moments when we stumble, hesitate and fall silent that we most reveal ourselves to one another.

From “Stop Googling. Let’s talk” by Sherry Turkle in The New York Times. 

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for once

I choose to love this time for once
with all my intelligence

– Adrienne Rich

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This, “What the essayist spills” by Maria Tumarkin in the Sydney Review of Books is a truly wonderful essay.. and gave me much peace with the time a top publisher pursued me with fascination and then started “wrapping up the meeting the minute” I pitched “a single-authored, adult length essay collection – they reckon it will tank”.

What are essays for? They are for thinking about things that need to be thought about yet don’t get thought about much, or at all, or interestingly, or for long enough. They are for picking up ideas, feelings, forces in the air, still unnamed and amorphous, and giving them a foothold in language. Whatever is in the air and whatever is disappearing – unnoticed, unmourned. They are for resisting choices offered to us that are not true, yet made to seem inescapable. Are you for this or for that? Do you treasure this or that? Identify with this or that? Will be undone by that or this? And they are for picking sides of barricades when it is morally imperative to do so. In an essay, you can take something that happened to you, or to the girl / cat / tree over there, and make a larger space for this experience, so that it may connect up with the experiences of others, but also with the flows of history, politics, culture, science. Essays of this kind are usually not written backwards from a generally agreed-on conclusion (poverty is debilitating, refugees are 100% human), or from some unassailable personal truth (my head hurts from smashing it on an invisible glass ceiling). They are written forwards, into the dusky, marshy lands, into outer space.

 

Which reminds me…

The longer I live the more I mistrust
theatricality, the false glamour cast
by performance, the more I know its poverty beside
the truths we are salvaging from
the splitting-open of our lives.

From ‘Transcendental Etude’ by Adrienne Rich.

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My brother sends me poems he’s reading.

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Wild the Sea by Arron Krol.

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This year my resolution involves more beauty, more connection. That is, for just a year I will try prioritising both in my life, like they are needs. Like it is not enough to notice and enjoy them as they occur but that I may choose a direction or a moment over others simply because it will deliver either beauty or connection to me. That sometimes that choice would otherwise look frivolous or even reckless.

Fittingly, I then spent the beginning of 2016 travelling around Tasmania, me and my two children and the boyfriend that I now have. Doesn’t it sound strange to say you ‘have’ someone and doesn’t it seem strange to say boyfriend, at this stage? And who knows what else you find strange about that declaration. He’s appeared here and there on the blog already but this is still something of a coming out.

Some of the trip was also spent with family and friends and some of it was just the four of us, going happily crazy together in a little car.

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Picnic dinner outside a cabin with my brother. These nachos I cooked us tasted stupidly good after a day hiking in Cradle Mountain.

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Tasmania being, generally, ridiculously beautiful.

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Lauca and the boyfriend are two of the dots over on that rock island in the centre of the photo.

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And then because it is Australia, a wallaby comes up to the boyfriend on the beach.

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The boyfriend and I discovered Tasmanian Pinots. We drank them by fires in cabins, we drank them skinnydipping in an indoor pool at night, we drank them in caravan parks, we drank them on beaches.

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Lauca looking out to sea.

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And then I found Cormac looking out to sea, too.

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We did a lot of hiking. Big walks and big views are some of my favourite things in the whole world. The children mostly claim the same. And apparently, the boyfriend also acquired a taste for hiking somewhere along the way on our trip.

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And we swam a lot, even if it was cold. We found completely empty beaches and then a little more patience for the next leg of the trip. Cormac also found an incredible number of sticks that he in love with and amassed in the car as imaginary weapons.

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We also visited Port Arthur and the kids were, in turns, fascinated by and heartbroken by the history. We had lengthy discussions about inequality and the justice system and oh, how we did homeschool.

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Even now, with Lauca aged ten and Cormac six years old, I am still amazed by the powers of goddamn craft with my kids.

They were both quite tired, and frankly, rather shitty to be with until I squeaked them into the last convict peg doll making session available at the site and then, woah, little powerhouses of pep and gratitude after that for the rest of the day.

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The boyfriend proudly presents pizza he made and Internet he obtained for me one evening when I am feeling particularly wretched about the lack of solitude I am experiencing  while road-tripping with kids.

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The boyfriend sleeping.

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The wedding we attended at the MONA of one of my best friends. Cormac in the foreground watching the dance floor.

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Lauca with grown up hair at the wedding. Aw, little button.

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Oh, how MONA loves come and dicks and pussies and shit. Fortunately, Cormac is in a peak toilet humour stage.

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