Observations

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Fire may be the only cure for a deformed protein zombifying deer all over the country. Liquid crystal film charged by ultraviolet light can wave without wind. Apparently, Uranus opens and closes every day to bathe in hot particle beams. Alpha male mountain gorillas care deeply for young gorillas in their group, regardless of kinship. Somewhere in Washington, DC, thirteen white men tried to cut healthcare to millions of working class and poor Americans that voted them into office. It is becoming more and more plausible that someone could fabricate an event. “It could be there is a there there after all,” said a woman to her son in their hallway — as pale mid-morning light crept into the picture frames, a haze cast over their eyes like gauze and neither knew what to do with her hands.

Harassment from males reduced fecundity in one of three morphs of female polymorphic damselfly. It turns out there are three kinds of snow leopard and some may be less endangered than others. Unfrozen bioregions of Antarctica are expected to increase by 25% over the next 80 years. A retired woman watching MSNBC on her smartphone at an Amazon processing facility in Arizona spent three unauthorized hours producing a thousand greeting cards to accompany her day’s shipments. The cards said, “It’s always spring somewhere…” and they were covered in crude drawings of flowers she thought she remembered. It was 118 degrees outside and the facility gleamed like the sun.

As many as 17 million Americans think chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Urban ecologists want to spend a lot of money studying rats, which cost the world’s economy billions of dollars, and are apparently not well understood. A philosopher in Tennessee concluded that since it is difficult to establish how much of a person people in vegetative states are “we should go ahead and treat these patients as if they are persons.” The New York Times devoted some of its Arts Section to explain the origin of the Milkshake Duck. A child in Nebraska noticed water drops in a row of corn sprouts — when she realized they did that on purpose, everything seemed to get a little wider, like there were eyes all over and she could see out the corners of them. And when she asked her daddy where the rain comes from he said, “I don’t know.”

plzplztalk2me: Abby Norman

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Welcome back to plzplztalk2me, an occasional series in which I talk to folks who want to talk to me! This time around, I talked to Abby Norman.

Abby Norman is the author of ASK ME ABOUT MY UTERUS: My Quest To Make Doctors Believe In Women’s Pain, out from Nation Books in March 2018.  Abby and I talked post-election, when we were miserable but still in shock. The interview is short, mainly because I’m a bad interviewer and spaced out our email correspondence over the course of several months. Abby discussed the X-Files, ballroom dancing, and surviving.

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Abby Norman: It has been the STRANGEST of times. I might be a little FRANTIC AND MELANCHOLY. In general, but today specifically because of the Senate vote.

But like fuck me, right!?

p.e. garcia: Frantic and melancholic is the current state of the nation, I think. Things seem to get worse each day. What’s helping you survive?

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Norman: Yeah, it’s a strange time. . .I’m not sure I feel like I am surviving. The last few weeks I’ve found it progressively harder to work in every sense. I should consider myself lucky, I have a manuscript due to the publisher in one month, and therefore there’s always at least a small chunk of my day that MUST be devoted to that and nothing else (i.e. news twitter). For me, there’s always the physical factor because I’m ill, and that I’m used to. I’m not used to being, like, spiritually exhausted. I’m used to wanting to work and finding it challenging because of illness. I’m not used to the feeling of just. . .not wanting to do it in the first place. I don’t know if it’s coming from a place of futility, or exhaustion, or both.

So, I find myself taking my dog for longer walks. Which is probably good for both of us. I live on the Maine coast so we can spend a lot of quiet time in nature which I’ve found particularly helpful. I’ve found myself harkening back to what made me happy as a kid, too: new books that aren’t work related, watching The X-Files before bed, dance lessons. I do ballroom and had gotten to the point over the last few months where I really couldn’t afford it anymore. After the New Year I finally said, you know, fuck it. I’ll find the money. Because I can’t give this up. It’s literally the only non-work related thing I have. It’s physically good for me. And it’s fun. And I’m good at it. It’s not something I show up at and fail at, which is probably a good confidence boost. It’s not like waking up and getting on the internet and having people call me a feminist slut and telling me to kill myself before 9 AM, you know?

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garcia: Would you like to talk about your illness? I don’t want to push you to reveal anything you may be uncomfortable sharing.

I understand that feeling of futility and spiritual exhaustion quite well, I think. Lately, I think I’ve become more fatalistic. I think to myself: we will survive, because we must, or we will die, because we will. It’s made me feel like I have less to lose, and thus I feel more open about how I’m feeling and what changes I want in this dumb world. I’m not sure if that attitude is exactly survival, but it’s something.

I’m glad to hear, though, that you have small pockets of self-care. It’s strange what a radical act self-care has become. What books are you reading? What made you interested in ballroom? Where are you in the X-Files (like what season)?

I think there’s been such a strange attitude lately–mostly of people in positions of privilege–of being consolatory toward folks who would literally tell you to kill yourself. But fuck those people. Fuck anyone who would say such vile things to you. You’re better than them, infinitely, and you can take some satisfaction in knowing that their pathetic lives will be spent rotting neck-deep in the viscous garbage that is their own opinions. I would like to place those people on a bicycle, push the bicycle into a lake, and then hurl the lake into an active volcano. I don’t like them.

That’s probably little comfort, of course, but I do hope at the very least you know that you have a supporter in me, and that I will personally challenge anyone who is mean to you to a fist fight.

Norman: Well, I’ve practically built my career on being transparent about my myriad health problems, which were initially of repro nature. I was diagnosed (rather: fought to have the diagnosis I determined confirmed by doctors who thought I was hysteric) with endometriosis several years ago. That’s the subject of my book. Over the last year or so, after struggling with it for about six years, I’d finally started to feel as though I had a handle on it. Then I got shingles, which really fucked me up for a few months. After that, in the spring of this last year, I started having trouble thinking/speaking. My left side went numb. I was terrified I’d had a stroke, which can sometimes happen after you’ve had shingles. Long story short, 9 months worth of testing, and the doctors I’ve seen think its MS. I have some shit going on with my spine that looks freaky as hell, but of course no one has taken the time to explain it other than to call it demyelination. Naturally, being a writer with a proclivity for investigating things at 2 AM, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Annals of Radiology trying to disprove their theory, but also not liking the looks of the alternatives.

How this shakes out in my day to day life is that I’m very tired and in a lot of pain most days. While the numbness resolved over the course of a few months and is now intermittent rather than constant, I’ve still struggled with certain neurological quirks that’s really given me a crisis of self. I’ve always heavily identified with my intellect, particularly as it pertains to my ability to write and speak. Having that be so imminently threatened has depressed me beyond measure. Imagining that I will soon likely lose my insurance, and no longer be able to experiment with medications that have given my glimpses of normalcy and relief, is beyond depressing. It’s put some of that fatalism in me, too.

But, so too has it put a fearlessness in me. I haven’t got anything to lose except everything. My quality of life, first and foremost. The course of the disease is unpredictable and there’s no way to know, for sure, what particular iteration of it I’ll have or not have. I’ve been told by one specialist that I likely won’t know anything about its progression for at least ten years, because it’s all assessed retrospectively. So, I figure I can’t count on anything. But y’know, no one can really. I guess I just have a more deliberate framework of uncertainty in which to operate.

Self care has always been somewhat radical for me, I think, because it often is for women. I’ve always felt guilty about it. Now it’s just more en vogue to feel guilty about it. As sick as I am, I still feel guilty about even doing things that are arguably quite necessary to my well-being, to my ability to function day in and day out. I often think I’m making things worse by trying to “hold out” and “grin and bear it” as long as possible. I think prevention and proactivity has been cross-wired with indulgence somehow.

Continue reading “plzplztalk2me: Abby Norman”

Dispatch from a Seattle Poetry Scene

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I’ve been here since mid-April and there’s plenty of poetry all over. Some of it I see in person and some of it I see on the internet. More about internet poetry stuff later, I hope.

The places I go to see poetry in person, so far, are Vermillion (a bar and gallery), Elliott Bay Books (most prominent independent bookstore), and Hugo House (a writer’s organization).

I came to Vermillion for a cozy late-afternoon reading. It was either a Wednesday or a Thursday. I entered through the long white gallery. The audience was small and old and very supportive. I sat in the back and listened while smiling. The commercial space is in a nightlife area, across from thrift store that is animorphing into ugly condos even as I sip the $4 tequila-soda, in a religiously-calm moment after the performance.  

Continue reading “Dispatch from a Seattle Poetry Scene”

They’ll have a music of wet streets / and lonely bars where piano notes / follow themselves into a forest of pity and are lost.

When I was 17, I saw a man on cable television chase a green Volkswagen Beetle until he slammed headfirst into a pole. He didn’t see the pole because he almost had his hands on the car. He was almost as fast. Also as big, almost. The shot of the man falling after he runs into the pole is full of beautiful slants and heights—leafless branches, latticed tower, streak of cloud, dazed knee—that can only feel as much like winter as they do when propped on top of all that flat. Flatness of a color that might introduce itself as green, and you’re like sure, dirt, whatever you say, we already met but don’t worry about it, this time you’ll get your act together.

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The shot was directed by Alison Maclean, whose cinematographer was Adam Kimmel. How they made that shot was first they read Denis Johnson’s book Jesus’ Son. I bought the book after I watched the movie to make sure it was Billy Crudup’s voice that was annoying and not the words.

In the book, the words were in sentences full of glow and ache and the proud civility of the self-fucked, the calm leak of “Excuse me, there’s a knife in my eye.” And also of course the weeping and calling bartenders your mother. They were words about clouds that looked like brains, but they were also words like “help” and “stay” and “save.” Those little words forever hitchhiking back to church and never making it all the way. Paragraphs would interrupt themselves to turn to you. I was 17 and hadn’t read Levinas or Buber, and yet here was the “you” that knew the face on the other end was always dark. Little words like “search” and “name.” Paragraphs that interrupted their description of a shriek to tell you they have gone looking everywhere. For the shriek, they mean, but mostly it’s the gone, and the looking, and the everywhere.

A voice smart enough to hear its own narcissism but still stuck at the age where it can’t believe all the things it gets to feel and hear and see to the point where it doesn’t care at all how slurry it sounds to use a word like “glorious,” a voice that slackjaws around in a sheepskin coat calling everything terrible and beautiful like Oprah’s and-you!-get-a-car-and-you!-get-a-car. Back and forth between wide arms and self-hugging and shivering the whole time and I was 17. Even though I knew the Goo Goo Dolls singing “and you bleed just to know you’re alive” was kind of stupid, it didn’t feel that way. Here was an unironic hallelujah named after a song by a band I went out and listened to because of this book. Here was a blurb from some guy named Barry Hannah, so I read him too. Hallelujah. Continue reading “They’ll have a music of wet streets / and lonely bars where piano notes / follow themselves into a forest of pity and are lost.”

Marina Started to Wish: Rachel Bell’s Loving the Ocean Won’t Keep It from Killing You

Rachel is a cool person who moved into the room I recently left in Brooklyn, NY. This room has been the home of at least two other HTMLGIANT-adjacent writers in the past.

She gave me a copy of her new book Loving the Ocean Won’t Keep it From Killing You on Hello America press. It’s a small paperback with a sleek typographic cover. I had met Rachel previously–when we shared Adam Humphrey’s video production help two summers ago–so I knew there was something worth paying attention to inside the cover. Rachel is a driven, focused writer-artist and who is also fun to be around. We smoked cigarettes together. We went to the deli across the street. Continue reading “Marina Started to Wish: Rachel Bell’s Loving the Ocean Won’t Keep It from Killing You”

“Mystery and Mortality,” Paula Bomer’s book of essays

Bomer Mystery CoverMystery and Mortality: Essays on the Sad, Short Gift of Life is, as the title says, a collection of essays. In this book, Paula Bomer (author of the powerful and unflinching books Nine Months and Inside Madeline from Soho, and Baby from Word Riot) looks at the work of writers ranging from Tolstoy to Ferrante and Kathy Acker to Brian Allen Carr. She combines her reflections about this literature with her mother’s dementia and her father’s suicide and, through this, she runs some painful thought experiments about why we are what we are and do what we do.

It’s very generous, for a writer to expose so much. It’s humbling to publish it.

Here’s the first paragraph:

Yesterday, I walked by a mirror and I stopped and looked into it and thought, or maybe said out loud, as I’m prone to talking to myself, being one of those writers who spends far too much time alone, “I am not my mother,” repeatedly. Then I walked away.

A few of the 15 essays originally appeared here at HTMLGiant before the turn of the decade, when Paula was a contributor here known as “pr.” Some readers might remember her being lauded for all that scholarship on Flannery O’Connor.

There’s an introduction by Meg Tuite where she says there’s:

no milquetoast in … anything she’s written. Straight on ferocity that doesn’t reek of the formaldehyde of sodden decorum and martyr-esque, flushed vaginas that pop out babies with a smile and a song. Bomer’s work rakes through brutality.

Plus, check out this cool spine:

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The book is available now from Publishing Genius, and right now it’s still just $10 (+ $3 shipping) through this week.

Retreat Left

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This is going to be long. I will discuss politics in the dangerous context of business and try to compare Seattle and New York, but I will go astray. You’re warned. I spent a long time to fix the structure of this essay. This first bit is about my vocation and leads into a bit about leaving New York. I think I wanted to give the political parts a level of context. It’s hard to read about politics if you don’t know what it comes out of. 

Continue reading “Retreat Left”