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I’ll never forget the first time I stayed up late enough to watch Johnny Carson. I must have been eight or so, and it must have been summer so I must have smelled like watermelon and bug spray and stuck-on chlorine. There in the TV-blue of the night, I watched as Johnny rolled out walls on wheels, and on the walls: giant ears; then more walls with noses, eyes, chins. My mom laughed, so I laughed too. The walls have ears, she said, and I laughed again. And noses, I said. But then she explained to me that it was a saying. Oh, I said, the walls have ears!!!

These days the walls don’t just have ears; they have lawyers too. An article in this week’s Time magazine devotes itself entirely to the sticky topic of Facebook and divorce. Apparently, lawyers around the country are monitoring various social networking sites and bringing the information they find to trial. These lawyers have a clear message: if you’re going to claim you’re “broke,” don’t post pictures of yourself on your new Harley, and if you’re leaving your man, try to refrain from telling the world that you’re “free at last (!!!) and gonna get every penny I can from that sorry son of a…” Well, you know what I mean.

And I completely see where they’re coming from. I’m often wowed by how much information people give on Facebook. Just last week, I met up with two friends for lunch, and one–before we even looked at the menu–said to the other, “Okay, spill it! I saw your Facebook status. What’s going on?” And things were going on, big things. And when I got home and pulled up her Profile page, it was there, clear as day, word for word.

But, at the same time, there’s this gulf–this ginormous gulf–between what’s really going on and what we’re writing on our walls. Right now, if I click on my Facebook tab (not that I’m looking at Facebook when I should be writing!), I find that one ‘friend’ is “meow, meow, meowing;” one is “chillin in chilly New Jersey;” one is “getting her drink on after the babies go to bed,” and I guess I’m left feeling the gulf even more; I’m left thinking that just because at any given moment I can find out what my ‘friends’ are “doing,” I still don’t know them any better than I did months ago, before I joined Facebook, before my summer nights were lit by the white of my computer screen.

I guess, though, there aren’t any answers. Unless, of course, we can make the wall have legs and those legs can walk on over here, and then, make it have hands, and in the hands, a good bottle of wine, and then slap a big, pretty mouth smack in the center of the wall, and after that, we can sit out back and talk all night long. Until then, I think I’ll turn off the computer and do whatever it is people do when they’re not sitting around trying to figure out the writing on the walls.

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TBD: Titles

Possible Titles For My Unfinished Novel

The Ages

The Endless Journey

Living A Lost Cause

The Book That Didn’t Save Him

A Labyrinth Of Wondering

Words In Hiding

Swallowing Darkness

How To Be (Bad At Being) Alone

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Potential Titles For My New Novel

Blood Gun

The Spy Conspiracy

Unswerving Action: A Dirk Gambles Mystery

The Sexing Of Minerva

Desire’s Apex

The Notebook*

The Soul-Seller

Money To Burn: A Prescott B. Baines III Thriller

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Increasingly Unlikely Titles For My Autobiography

Unbridled Bravery, Endless Lust

Milton Reborn

A Life At War With Caution

The Library Filler

His Always-Moving Pen: A Star Of The Page And The Stage Of Life

Son Of Greatness, Father Of Followers

Success Story: Thriving Against The Odds And Ends Of Literary Life

Who Needs Glory When You’ve Got the World In The Palm Of Your Hand?

Author Of The Ages

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Titles Of Web Pages I’ll Visit In Lieu Of Writing Today

Gamefaqs.com/castlevania/zombie-soul-cheat-codes/manufacturing-time.htm

Amazon.com/how-to-books/writing/plot/that-is-of-any-interest-to-readers/

Huffingtonpost.com/megan_fox_has_toe_thumbs/seriously

Twitter.com/carrot-top/

Plasma.org/getting-money-for-your-blood/FAQS/how-often-can-I-give?

Hulu.com/Old_Episodes_Of_Knight_Rider.htm

Google.com/search/50859/software+write+for+me+free/results

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New Title For This Blog Post

Quitting Time

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*Titles cannot be copyrighted

There’s a poem by the late poet Jane Kenyon that runs through my mind on mornings like these. “I got out of bed/on two strong legs,” Kenyon writes. “It might have been/ otherwise.” She goes on to write of flawless peach and birch wood, of laying down for a noontime nap with her love, of having dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks, and finally acknowledges how one day—in spite of her plans and the dreams she has in her bed in a room with paintings hanging on its walls—it “will be otherwise.”

I first read the poem in the late-90’s when I was a graduate student and teaching poetry at Goldwater Hospital. It was the first time I had been around so many people with physical disabilities, and the presence of all those disabilities unnerved me. My first months working there, I often found myself on subway platforms walking in tight circles and being fully aware of the strength of my legs, of the tightening and lengthening of my hamstrings and quadriceps, of the give of my calf and the arch of my foot. “Two strong legs,” I would mumble to myself, over and over, disappointed that for so many years I had taken those legs for granted.

It was around this same time that I traveled down to Washington D.C. to visit a friend and went for my first and only time to the Holocaust Museum. We had walked around the city for hours and hours, and we made it to the museum just before closing time, allowing ourselves not nearly enough time to take it all in, or maybe it was just enough time; maybe all the time in the world would not have been enough, would have been too much. The museum’s impact was heart-wrenching, so heart-wrenching, in fact, that I still find myself caught off-guard—my breath catching in my throat—when I think about it.

It is the shoes that have stayed with me, thousands of them, shoes from the Nazi’s victims—piles and piles, large and small, ornate and simple, men’s and women’s and children’s, leather, cloth, hardly worn, worn through the soles—and I remember standing in the empty place between the piles and thinking of all the feet that had been in those shoes; feet that had blistered, that had been rubbed by a lover; feet that had kicked balls and had turned back home; feet that had soaked in the tub and walked through strange streets and gotten damp from puddles; feet that had danced; feet that belonged to legs; feet that had bones with marrow, that had veins with blood pumped from a heart.

And that is where it always ends for me: the heart.

On Wednesday, Stephen Tyrone Jones, a security officer at the museum, went to hold the door open for an elderly man. The 88-year-old, James W. von Brunn, who as a self-proclaimed white supremacist had a history of anti-Semitic efforts, then opened fire on the museum, fatally wounding Jones. A photograph outside the museum depicts the inadequacy of mourning: a few lilies stuffed inside a water bottle, their petals already falling. I think of those who will walk by that water bottle today, think of the legs that will carry them, of the breakfasts they ate, of the rooms they sleep in.

My husband kissed me when he left for the office just a bit ago; my daughter is napping; my hands are lemon-y from the sponge I used to wipe the counter; and now, like Jane Kenyon, like Stephen Jones, I do the work I love. These days—especially with the death of a dear friend’s husband a couple of months ago—I am more aware than ever that it will some day be “otherwise,” but it makes my heart sick to think that sometimes that happens because of the sheer disregard for human life displayed by von Brunn and far too many before him.

PLUS, another great poem by Painted Bride Quarterly contributor Arlene Ang:

What Happens to the Postwoman When She Stops Delivering the Mail

~@~

Vegetable Garden with Donkey, 1918, Joan Miró

Vegetable Garden with Donkey, 1918, Joan Miró

Slowly unpacking from a weekend trip to Tuscaloosa, I had iTunes play an On The Media interview with the New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones and my browser on a Slate article worrying that JD Salinger might have been writing all this time and, worse, might be getting ready to burn it all.   I sat down to a piece of cheese toast and browsed Ron Rosenbaum’s article while SFJ explained his use of jargon and allusion in various publications and formats.  Salinger had a right, like Nabokov, to keep us from reading what he considered to be unworthy of the public, according to RR.  If we didn’t want to encounter phrases we didn’t know, we shouldn’t follow SFJ’s tweets.  The microwaved cheese had over-softened the toast—no toaster oven.  Where is my phone charger?  Maybe still in the wall below the Glade plug-in.  RR went to Salinger’s house once, just stood in the driveway.  Once, a New Yorker editor wasn’t sure if enough people knew about Echo and the Bunnyband. Sic–that’s the kind of joke you get if you’re as worldly as SFJ.  He sat in a Denny’s down the road and wrote the author a confessional letter, then went back to the driveway and slipped it in with the mail.  The green underwear with the gray band: I hadn’t worn them, but they’d acquired a bad smell packed next to my running socks.  I got up to get a sharp knife for the rubbery toast.  What is it that has always hardened my heart against Frere-Jones?  That note of pride in his voice confirms whatever it was.  The dog cowered under the coffee table as I dug in the bag; I was planning to leave him behind this time, wasn’t I?  Too many people misreading Catcher: that’s why he had retreated into Live Free or Die obscurity.  Twitter, and a New Yorker article for that matter, they’re instruments, and he wants to see what they can do.  He wants some cheese too, I see, as he licks his chops sheepishly, ears turned down to a driver’s ed ten and two.  What did Emerson say? That there’s no worse feeling than finding your great idea in print under someone else’s byline?  Is it the same thing, or some sort of opposite, discovering a shared love for the wrong reasons?  Don’t tell me what to like and how to like it if that’s why you wrote that. Have a bite, boy. This cheese isn’t that great anyway.  Nabokov, he was a perfectionist, sure, but at least he published eventually.  Pharoah Monch: you couldn’t expect anyone to remember him decades hence, and isn’t it delicious to know what that means in the mean time.  Maybe it’s his knowingness, his eagerness to avail us of his definitive empiricism.  And about what?  A mash-up of a song that wasn’t punk rock enough to begin with?  Maybe it’s seeing what you hope isn’t your reflection extended into a landscape of cheesiness itself overlayed upon a real place with too many important particulars, some gray leaf-strewn driveway on a gray near-winter afternoon.  Who writes that letter?  Who writes about writing it twice?  Some version of me?  If I don’t write my version, I’ll comfortably never know.  Maybe if you write as much as Emerson you have that feeling seldom enough that you can steel yourself against it, instead of letting it bombard you with the bone-softening recognition that you do not really yet know how to talk to the imagined many because you talk to yourself so much about yourself.  Enough.  That’s enough, boy.  Don’t whine.  This bag is just to go to the coffee shop so I can work on a new chapter.  Where are the keys?  I’ll sort the laundry later.

As I remember it: first there was God, and then there was Oprah. Then for maybe a week or two there was Dr. Phil, but Oprah from her very, very high place in the blue, blue sky saw she had created a beast (think: fallen angel), and so finally, there was just Oprah again.

And she was the Word.

And no one questioned the Word because the Word was powerful and fun–spunky even!–and when we thought about it, we’d love to have the Word over for coffee (we’d serve it from a silver urn!), and if the Word wanted to stay for lunch maybe her chefs would come over and whip up some sort of deliciousness (truffled egg salad on multigrain!), and if lunch bent into evening, and the Word wanted a white wine spritzer, who were we to question the Word?

Word?

Well, questioning the Word is exactly what’s happening. Newsweek‘s latest cover story claims that the Word abuses her influence to spread wild health claims. Don’t want to age? Take these 60 daily supplements recommended by the eternally young Suzanne Somers. Don’t want your child to be autistic? Just say no to the life-saving vaccinations your doctor is forcing on him. And–possibly my favorite–are you fat? Well, woman, it’s because of a thyroid dysfunction caused by a lifetime of “swallowing” the words you’re aching to say!

(Frankly, the only words standing in my way of being skinny are a polite “No, Thank you” when the waiter offers the dessert menu. But that’s a whole nother post…)

I guess our only hope for redemption is Angelina Jolie who just yesterday stripped the crown from Oprah and now reigns as “Forbes Most Powerful Celebrity in the World.” If only Jolie could do for the lit mag world what Oprah did for the novel. Can’t you see it: the masses reading PBQ on the subway? Start: here. Or here.  Or here.

Ah, Words. What do you think, reader? Oprah: Word or Wash? Jolie: Capable of filling such big, mythic shoes or will she go the way of…the way of…well…of…far too many words?

Dear Heat Rash,

I’ll just come out and say it: what gives, Ms. Rash?  I thought we understood each other.  As our days together now add up to a full week, however, I feel it necessary to write to you in an effort to clear the air, as it were.  My understanding, before making your acquaintance, was that you were looking for kind of a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am thing.  If you’re hoping for something more long term—and I think it’s pretty clear you do—I’m going to need some more information.  Like just what the hell you want from me, for instance.

I am well acquainted, having neglected to wash my cross-country ski socks and underwear for my entire sophomore junior varsity season, with your cousin Fungal Infection.  Fun, as I called him for short, stayed with me somewhat longer than I would have liked, frankly.  But we got on well enough after the initial friction.  Once I did what he wanted, he was pretty content.  And, after a short time, Fun seemed to grow bored of our relationship.  I guess that’s the nature of any sadomasochistic fling; you make a habit of something kinky—like rubbing all sorts of humiliating creams on humiliating parts of your body several times a day—and eventually your partner wearies of what once enflamed him.  If we’re being perfectly honest, I wasn’t that sorry to see him go.

I mention ol’ Fun because you often get compared to him and from everything I’d heard, you are supposedly the “milder” of the cousins.  This is what I get for depending on public reputation, I suppose.  I can’t help but feel that some of the deception is your fault though.  When we first met you were mild.  Your little love bites weren’t exactly my cup of tea, but they weren’t a big problem either.

A week later, there are parts of my body I wouldn’t show in public for money.

Since Fun liked the creams, I tried that.  How was I to know this would enrage you?  Look, I get that I did the wrong thing, but the way you treated me after that was nothing short of abuse.

Next, and I’m not proud of this next bit, I did a bit of cyber-stalking to find out what you do like.  (BTW, those pictures really don’t do you justice.)  So, yeah, that’s how I came up with the soapy washcloth and the fan-drying.  And you seemed to like that.  For like a day.  But even devoting myself first thing in the morning, last thing at night and even in the middle of the day, to you, solely to you, doesn’t seem to be enough now.  Just what the fuck is going to satisfy you?!

Here’s the thing.  I don’t see how this can last, and I don’t think you’re accomplishing anything by dragging the situation out.  I really think it’s best if you just tell me what I need to do so we can end on the best terms possible and go our separate ways.

Sincerely,
N
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Dear Al,

You are the best.  I know we haven’t been spending as much time together as you would like.  Believe me.  The feeling is mutual.  I would tell you I’ve been busy, but honestly, I haven’t been busy at all.  Most of my time these days is eaten up here at this desk where I’m writing to you.  I try, not hard enough mind you, to get words on the page.  Yeah, yeah, I’m back to the novel.  And, I realize this is an activity you have long suggested we could do together.  I know, know.  You have done this sort of thing with plenty of friends.  And yeah, I get it, a lot of them are famous.  (Actually, Al, I think the name-dropping is getting a little old.  And really, have you read any of Bukowski’s poems lately?  Not sure you should keep going around bragging about that.)  The thing is, I need to do this by myself.  I know you think you’d be a big help, but every time we’ve tried to work together it just hasn’t gone very well.  We seem to be best for each other in festive situations.  Okay, you’re right.  You have been very comforting in some of the hard times too.

All of which is neither hear nor there.  I’m writing for a few reasons.  First and foremost, I wanted to invite you to dinner tomorrow night.  My sister is coming to town and we’re going to go out.  I know you guys don’t get along all that well these days, but I’d really like you to be there.  Even if we have to keep you on opposite ends of the table, I think the meal will be a lot more fun with you there.

Second, I want to apologize for last weekend.  I know we’d planned to stay out all night on Friday, but I was just exhausted from the week.  I’m not exactly sure why I’m apologizing since you and the whole rest of that goddamn frat bar seemed to have formed a mutual admiration society.  But a broken promise is a broken promise, so I apologize.  You really could have come home with us like I suggested though.

Finally, I think we may have to mainly hang out on the weekends from now on.  Staying up with you is great, but I kind of hate myself in the morning every time.  And then my whole day is wrecked.  No offense.

Okay, I have to go meet up with Smoothie now.  Do you guys know each other?   I feel like you could be the best of friends.

All my love to Mrs. Cohol and little Zima, Boont, and Vanilla Extract,
N

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Dear NOLA

I think I love you.

Normally, I wouldn’t be so forward, but sometimes I get the sense you don’t even realize I exist.  I feel like if you took the time to really get to know me you’d see how much we have to offer each other.  You get a lot of attention from people like me, and I’m sure that you’re really looking for someone who will stick around and make a real difference in your life.  I get that.  I do.  But I can’t help that I have to go back to New York at the end of the summer.  And unlike a lot of those other people, I care about every part of you.  I bet a lot of people tell you they think your Garden District is beautiful and your jazz scene is totally unique.  They are right.  But I am even more entranced by your rusting riverside cranes, your ripped-apart crawfish shells littered everywhere, and the way you smell just before the sun goes down.

I know we don’t actually know each other very well, and it’s probably too soon to be saying so, but it seems like you’re maybe trying to shut me out.  If you just let me into your heart, you’d see how well I could get along with the others in your life.  And eventually, I think I could, truly, become important to you too.  If we only ever hang out by ourselves though, I don’t see how this can go anywhere.  I’m not trying to pressure you.  Really.  I’m simply saying that you and I could be so much more.

This isn’t an ultimatum.  I’m going to stick around for a while no matter how you feel about all this.  However, few things would make me happier than some sign that you love me too.  I’ll see you in Audubon Park, at dusk.  If you fee like it, put on all that Spanish Moss.  I love the way you look with your hair down like that.

Love, really,
N