“My quarrel comes when I turn back to the preface and read this, ‘Vincent van Gogh was one of the world’s loneliest souls.’
A common mistake. This preface-writer-editor is however, sadly enough, one only of many who have taken that superficial, somewhat patronizing, wholly impertinent attitude to the artist. […]
Just as a remark and the sort of thing to get the reading public, I repeat this ‘loneliest soul’ touch is a commonplace, hardly vital enough to be noted. Yet the accumulation of these public-mind-forming sentences does, in time, heap up such a cotton-wool of false padding between the reality of creative impulse and the, so to speak, receiving station of the reader or, in the case of pictures, the spectator. The trouble was, I think, with Vincent, he was not lonely enough. A spot of loneliness might have kept him from splitting in the middle, going mad, as they called it, in the midst of his most vivid period of creative output. If he had been comfortably lonely, he might have gone on painting carefully until he was eighty. As it was, he painted madly, five pictures in one week now and again, breaking in to the world of reality, his reality, Mr. Stone’s illusion. The dream.
The dreamer isn’t lonely. Not when, like van Gogh, he has reached that level of spiritual perfection. The dreamer, the artist, the saint, the monk on the snow levels of Tibet, are frightfully and dynamically and electrically unlonely people.”—H.D., “Vincent van Gogh” (review of Dear Theo, An Autobiography from His Letters, ed. Irving Stone)
It’s raining lightly, and I feel A sudden desire to hold my breath, Like I’m a child again, can only pass through a graveyard With my cheeks bulging. (But I’m not in a graveyard.)
The heat is oppressive. The t-shirt of the man in front of me is soaked In a V down his chest. His hair is matted strangely, cowlicking in the dampness. He smells of stale beer. We both drink in the rain; And I am experiencing a quiet epiphany, a realization that I am not dead, that I am feeling, thinking, breathing.
(It may not seem like much, but it’s One of the only things—the only thing— I know for sure: That I am.)
The wall stretches out on my side, Dark granite gleaming—it burns to touch But I do so anyway. It’s only five hundred feet But it seems endless, like the edges of infinity Have lined up next to each other.
My fingers skim the ridges of names And I’m reminded briefly of other ravines— Deeper and more geologically permanent The Grand Canyon, the Great Rift Valley— But it still feels as if earthquakes organized these rocks Too, (with just as much care, just as much strength).
And my eyes, for some reason, look to the shine of a single name Claude J. Crawford—a human being that had a story Nobody wrote down He was once was—and now is not. And here I stand in a world that did not shake Or shudder from that transition.
I close my eyes and try to imagine the jungle Humid and tumescent with meaning it did not deserve, And the boundless ebb and flow of a desire to go home To somewhere, anywhere, where I did not Smell like rotting meat, A time when I’d never seen grown men Cry— (I bet Claude J. Crawford did not die heroically, And that is why he died heroically).
I feel really ugly today, and not just in body. I feel like I weigh more than all the love poems and blue whales in the world. I feel like my face is scarred and battered like an old book at a yard sale. I feel like my soul has no direction, no passion, no talent. I feel like the entire world sending me roses won’t help. I feel like I just want to break all the dishes in the house.
In 1989, she moved here from San Francisco. That alone was exotic and, therefore, fascinating to us. Most of us had never traveled any further than Milwaukee.
It didn’t matter where she’d lived, though, because even if it wasn’t some place glamorous and colorful and unknown, she would still be all those things. We were in raptures. (How could you not be?)
We can try to describe her, but in our words we remind you that these are only words, and we’d never really realized how short their meanings reach. And we’re wrong, anyway, even if we could describe her—blinded by our female jealousy and held captive within our human senses, never to understand deeper or further than our speckled eyes, protruding ears, reddened noses…
“She’s like a willow tree,” I remember one of us saying dreamily, and the rest of us laughed but only because it was true. Jan Baker had a weeping willow tree on the edge of her property, by the lake, and in the summer between elementary and middle schools we would spend hours underneath, watching it, trying to imitate its motionless motion, the way its hair tangled in the breeze, while its body stood long and staunch and serious. We thought that if we could be like the willow tree we could be like her. But she had never even seen a willow, we’d discovered this in seventh grade when we read The Wind in the Willows and we all kind of uttered a collective sigh because she was so effortless and never based any of herself on anything else. We felt like leeches, desperate to latch onto something to fill ourselves up. (When we looked in the mirrors over our childish vanities all we could see were girls with blood-stained lips).
She was blond too, that special blond color of angels and child movie stars that cannot be replicated unnaturally. But believe me, we tried—I remember around Christmas when we were twelve, all of us holed up in our scarves and mittens pouring over the display at the Walgreen’s, all scrambling to find the closest shade her to hers as we could, to dye deep into our own follicles—and it would look so wonderful, we theorized, our mothers would not even mind.
And then there were her eyes to think about, so wide and startling that every boy in our grade wanted to take her to the annual school dance, but even the football star, Mickey Myers, didn’t even have the guts to go up and speak to her. She was too beautiful to touch—too ethereal, too other.
On the first day of school in ninth grade, we noticed that she’d started chewing sunflower seeds. We came home with our pockets full of the tem the next few days, and our mothers yelled when they saw all the shells that would grow in piles, littering the countertops. “Sunflower seeds are for poor farmers and drug addicts,” one of our mothers said (or maybe it was all of them). Regardless, we all remember that or something like it, so afterwards the sunflower seeds would have to remain secret, hidden underneath a loose floorboard or a mattress alongside our booze and diaries.
(Incidentally, one of our seeds fell into the ground, some dirt patch near one of our backyards. And would you believe it, the next spring it bloomed? It was small—you could tell it had been half-chewed—but isn’t that remarkable? I wonder if she grew sunflowers with any of her seeds, or maybe they grew in her stomach, a whole garden of them, and tried to reach up with their petals through her throat to reach the sun and that was why she—)
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
I don’t feel things correctly, I just don’t feel things much at all, is the main issue; and I think—often—that I’m some human experiment gone wrong, a scientist’s life’s work that has produced the best, most lifelike robot in history—look at its reading ability, the friendships it has formed, its adaptations to not only trials but tribulations!—but in the end, still a robot.
She held the shell up to her ear because her whole life the ocean had been the answer…she felt like there was more of herself when she was alone with it, on the beach, too early or too late for other people to find the edge and expanse important or worthwhile…(because most people, she theorized silently, did not like looking for meaning in unlikely places, because it is so unlikely that one will find it, but—oh! when you do—). She stood there, listening, desperate for the summer within winter and all the poetically resonant shit that she had been taught herself when nobody looked twice at her at school—(but T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, they might have).
Her feet stood soldier-like in the mucky three-day-old snow; she found herself thinking of Valley Forge, how they starved and bled but also smoked cigars over snow just like this—the same snow, maybe, and maybe this is also the water Jesse Owens drank after winning a gold medal or maybe it’s the piss Isaac Newton tried to turn to gold. We think we’re all connected by some greater form of consciousness and humanity but maybe we’re just connected through our piss. Can we allow that to be enough? (It’s sort of beautiful, you know, when you think about it—the water cycle).
The neighbors probably thought she was crazy. What was she doing, out there in the yard with a shell and a black dress and rain boots? No jacket, even. Just blind faith and youth and the invincibility of those two combined, even if it is just in the name of response to the weather. But she had found the shell, it had been tucked away deep in the recesses of her closet but she’d found it and now, now she needed to hear the ocean, because that was also the sound to her of purity of mind, of self-awareness, of the no-bullshit, no-pretenses side of personhood no one really wants to talk about. She heard something in the shell, but it was probably just the blood rushing through her ears. (Just herself, not the ocean).
She went back inside and dug her feet into the worn spots of her blankets, desperate as always, for some foothold, some knowledge of the way in which she was climbing, something to keep her steady so she wouldn’t awake with a start in that extra-step sensation she so often felt at the beginning of her dreams—(unsteady, steady).
I’m not sure if I want to want the things that I want. They scare me, it’s not only that I can’t control my wants it’s that they control me. I’m impulsive, stupid, and really don’t care about anything and anybody else besides what I want. I always thought that it was empowering, that I saw what I wanted and reached out and took it. Now I’m not so sure.
I posted this a year ago. You think you change in a year but you don’t really. Circles, circles, circles…
For Schwartz this formed the paradox at the heart of baseball, or football, or any other sport. You loved it because you considered it an art: an apparently pointless affair, undertaken by people with a special aptitude, which sidestepped attempts to paraphrase its value yet somehow seemed to communicate something true or even crucial about The Human Condition. The Human Condition being, basically, that we’re alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not.
Baseball was an art, but to excel at it you had to become a machine. It didn’t matter how beautifully you performed sometimes, what you did on your best day, how many spectacular plays you made. You weren’t a painter or a writer—you didn’t work in private and discard your mistakes, and it wasn’t just your masterpieces that counted. What mattered, as for any machine, was repeatability. Moments of inspiration were nothing compared to elimination of error. The scouts cared little for Henry’s superhuman grace; insofar as they cared they were suckered-in aesthetes and shitty scouts. Can you perform on demand, like a car, a furnace, a gun? Can you make that throw one hundred times out of a hundred? If it can’t be a hundred, it had better be ninety-nine.
‘Of course I was drugged, and so heavily I did not regain consciousness until the next morning. I was horrified to discover that I had been ruined, and for some days I was inconsolable, and cried like a child to be killed or sent back to my aunt.’
-Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor
Even so distant, I can taste the grief, Bitter and sharp with stalks, he made you gulp. The sun’s occasional print, the brisk brief Worry of wheels along the street outside Where bridal London bows the other way, And light, unanswerable and tall and wide, Forbids the scar to heal, and drives Shame out of hiding. All the unhurried day, Your mind lay open like a drawer of knives.
Slums, years, have buried you. I would not dare Console you if I could. What can be said, Except that suffering is exact, but where Desire takes charge, readings will grow erratic? For you would hardly care That you were less deceived, out on that bed, Than he was, stumbling up the breathless stair To burst into fulfillment’s desolate attic.
I crawl towards sleep, I fall like Alice into it I think I am dying, Mother Papers are too thin to fit people inside But still, I write poetry And try to explain things; I am a thief Standing on a roof, with my arms held wide, I attempt to steal the world
To hold it in my grubby hands. The world— It is not utterly beautiful, or utterly broken, but I want it For myself, all to myself. I am a thief Because others deserve it more, Mother, But I don’t care. A question: are you proud of me when I write poetry? I think you are; you think it means there’s something inside
My head, that I’m useful for something. Deep inside, (And you pretend this isn’t true) you hope I see the world Exactly like you, just that I have found the poetry To write of it; but that isn’t true (I’m sorry), it Just isn’t. I wish I was like you, but I can’t be, Mother, Because I write, and that means I am wrong inside, a born thief
I create lettered patterns and codes but they’re distractions; I’m a thief And I don’t know anything but how to convince you there’s something inside Me that makes me something more, it’s a good act, Mother, But in the end just an act; what I want in the world I always steal. I don’t earn anything. And it Eats away at me, a little bit, this disease, this poetry
Because the thing they don’t tell you about poetry Is you can never stop stealing emotion once you’ve succeeded; once a thief, You’re always one. As I stand here naked in this refrigerator light it Dawns on me that you think if I can write I can feel inside; But when I die young as I’m bound to in this world That I want to take (that wants to take me), I think you’ll find, Mother,
That my skin will leave my bones faster than most. I’m not connected, Mother, I’m not one cohesive unit of a person, and it’s not even the poetry That is to blame, I’m not really sure what it is. It’s something in this world That makes it enticing and exciting for a young human to become a thief Of emotions when it is born empty inside. I wish I could understand it.
I’m sorry, Mother, that I am this brand of thief And I’m sorry for this, I meant to write you some poetry but the truth inside Out came from my mouth—my world—instead; I should have restrained it.
I am a twitchy person, a nervous person I play with my split ends, the edges of my eyebrows often because I hate when anything is overgrown in my appearance (Because I can control it) The truth about me is that everything I can’t control is overgrown It’s like my stop-growing gene never kicked in in childhood I’ve grown extra arms, hands, and I use them to touch people I don’t deserve The problem with growing too much, though Is that it’s difficult to fill out all the way to the edges I’m not really a full person at every point of my body, because The personhood thins out when it has so much Area to cover
“I’ll say God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about. I’m pretty much anti-death. God looks by all accounts to be pro-death. I’m not seeing how we can get together on this issue, he and I…”—David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
Writing is supposed to be the easy thing, the stabilizing thing, the thing that takes the pressure and anxiety and depression away but now it’s causing them and I don’t know what’s wrong, all I know is my life has all the ingredients that are supposed to cook up some sort of solid happiness for me but I’m just not I’m just not and I keep thinking that maybe if I wrote more again, every spare second like I used to (even if it’s bad) it’ll come back, the happiness, but every time I sit down and try to write it’s not like I feel sad or like it’s hard it’s just like there’s nothing there—literally nothing—and the blank word document is a completely accurate representation of my mind and my emotions so I just decide to sleep and hope things will change in the morning, that I’ll see myself in the mirror as I’m brushing my teeth like I used to (I don’t)
(You know there’s something wrong with you when you read about that British girl with sleeping beauty syndrome that causes her to sleep for weeks at a time, and all you feel is this twinge of jealousy…that people let her. You know you would too, if you had a brain glitch as an excuse.)
The room is warm; we have no fans or an air conditioner. The curtains seem to sweat slightly, they shimmer, hypnotic; I feel like my vision/consciousness is going in and out, and I’m not sure whether my eyes are open or closed.
Albany is the capital of New York, but I don’t believe it. So it’s not true, because things are only true if people believe them.
Alice:It's a lie. It's a bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully, and... all the glittering assholes who appreciate art say it's beautiful 'cause that's what they wanna see. But the people in the photos are sad, and alone... But the pictures make the world seem beautiful, so... the exhibition is reassuring which makes it a lie, and everyone loves a big fat lie.
“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world, but then I thought, there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this, know that, yes, it’s true, I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”— Frida Kahlo
I painted my toenails blue and thought to myself that maybe emotions aren’t meant to be captured, or even explained, they’re just meant to sort of float around on all sides of you like little fairies, suggesting that you do things that you sometimes do and sometimes don’t do. It’s harder when you don’t understand the whys of your emotions, but it really shouldn’t matter, should it? That’s still the way you feel, regardless. Just because I don’t have a reason doesn’t make it any less like, there, sitting inside me and hurting.