Posts Tagged ‘Zombies’

This morning, I sit in the car, listen to the famously homespun man from my home state reciting a poem called “Lonely Lake.”  Reportage of a beautiful, silent experience with an unnamed Other, every moment soaked in that familiar longing for God knows what and humorless attention to the world’s detailed confirmation of nominal meaning, the poem recalls nothing so much as poems like it.  Busy not working, the poet has noticed the world around her, sponged it all up, contemplated, tested experience against its anticipated description.  She has crafted something carefully small, flawless as a photograph of sunlight in water.  Still, I sit in the car, in the air busily soaking up the lukewarm rain now that the air conditioner is off, let the careworn voice chant the poet’s last few lines, my breath chuffing protest of predictability.  Stepping out into the street, I look across the park at the sun holding up the rain clouds beyond the trees, thrusting daylight toward me, at the water birds stalking the grass.  Everyone else spends the moment somewhere dry and out of sight, as if the scene is mine alone.  Is there a more tempting way to look at a landscape?  As if I’ve come so far for good reason?  As if I’m supposed to do something about all this.

Do not, I repeat not read that interview with the writer instead of not reading it.  And don’t go back to Google when you’re done, don’t see there’s another farther down the page that might be better.  Do not read the other one since maybe the first is just him responding to the wrong questions.  Yeah, the second has better questions, more interesting answers, but he’s still keeping the magic all to himself, and the inspiration you thought you’d get from hearing how a book you loved got made will only reveal how shallow that love is.  Don’t think that maybe the book wasn’t so good after all, that it maybe says that same thing over and over, that we’re just who we are and that’s it, since the world doesn’t allow much else, and certainly don’t waste any time worrying that your own book might not even say that much.  Don’t realize away your innocent experience of the story when you experienced it, now that you begin to see the mind that made it, and don’t worry about the politics of your own unwritten story.  Do not, not now or later, wonder what he would think of the people in your world, the ones struggling to live on the page, the others still unimagined.  Do not confuse his book that exists with yours that wants to, don’t make that confusion an excuse to stall progress.  Don’t imagine anything but more things happening in your own world.  Don’t have a conversation with the writer, and do not, if you do, turn it into an argument.  Don’t try to parse his faux humility, actually certainty that some just got it and some just don’t.

The best poem I read all week, new graffiti appears in the bathroom of the coffee shop.  A rectangle of Sharpie ink holds a heading, Petition To Kiss The Jonas Brothers, and three entries in the same hand.  The first is obscured by crayon or lipstick, some waxy stuff the color of a new bruise.  It’s hard to imagine anyone but whoever is under the substance being the one who put it there, satisfied then that the joke is no longer on her or him.   Names two and three, Angie B., Airplane, stay slapped onto the wall in plain view, apparently unnoticed, or undamning, or still eager for those fraternal kisses.  Then, underneath, in some shakier hand’s pencil, two more additions: Excited PedaphileSex.  Like some British comedians’ absurdist sketch, the list has quickly careered out of control, the penciled genius turning the joke inside out, into infantility itself, a destructive commentary that assembles some new form.  It’s hard not to imagine the thoughts of other coffee drinkers who notice me walking out of the bathroom, then right back in to linger on the names one more time, making sure I have them right in my mind.


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1.  We first noticed him in the park.  As S and I followed the dog into the clovery meadow between groping oaks, he was off to the right in the shade, bent 90 degrees at the waist, agitating his torso like a washing machine, outstretched fists churning a blurred menace in the 90-degree air.  Was this preparatory exercise for capoeira?  What else explained the juxtaposition of these movements with his odd get-up: forest green cargo pants, a black T-shirt and thick-soled boots?  His close cut hair, a uniform length all around his skull, made him look both militant and outside any organization.  The dog chased his tennis ball and did circles around us in the sun, finally flopping onto his side while still in motion so that he slid to a rest on his back, panting beside us.  When we looked up the man was gone.

A few days later we saw him in the park again.  While the dog yanked me toward some urgent odor, the man ran past us a few dozen yards away.  He was dressed in the same clothes as before.  All around us, joggers, bikers, rollerbladers and walkers wore activity-appropriate outfits, often clumped in chattering pairs or groups, smiling at each other and proud of their dedication to their own fitness.  Next to them, this man, all alone and stone-faced, overdressed in street clothes with skin-head overtones, seemed more than out of place. He looked dangerous, or at the very least crazy.  Over the next weeks we saw him a few more times, always identically dressed, always running or performing combative exercise with the air.  When we saw him together, S or I would point him out, careful not to look like we were looking.  “There’s your friend,” I would say.  “He’s your friend,” she would say.  “Go ask him where you can get some of those pants.”  Pulling up to the apartment building in the last light of another hot day we caught the finale of his routine.  He was galloping sideways down the sidewalk across the street like an overgrown child.  He stopped at the corner and calmly walked away from us down the block.  As if this all was all perfectly normal.  As if he had done what he had had to do, preparation for some great physical undertaking yet to come, and for now it was time to go back to the sorts of things the rest of us all did, blending in to bide time until that inevitable confrontation.

Yesterday evening, S and I brought the worn-out dog home from the park, and crossing to our block with the sun in our eyes, we saw the man walking toward us.  There he was, in his makeshift fatigues, enlarging himself in my vision with every steady step.   My muscles tensed and my mind raced.  Had he heard us snickering at him, noticing us gaping at him in the park?  I looked down at the dog as if he needed my surveillance.  Just as the man came past me, I looked up and met his eye.  I was shocked by what I saw before he shyly looked away: the sweet dark eyes of a tentatively curious young man, much younger than I had seen, much more gentle than I ever would have suspected.  “He’s foreign, right?” said S when we were safely down the block.  I agreed.  Something in that facial stucture suggested he was seeing the strange details of everything, everyone around him with a kind of reverence.  As if he saw the rest of us just as amusingly inexplicable as we saw him.  But more generously, with much more hope and kindness.

2. I got up yesterday and made my way out into cyberspace.  On a site probably best known for its porn clips and jokes in horrible taste (they also always have a few things that are pretty amazing that few others have publicized yet, and the porn is pretty easy to avoid, so, yeah, I’m a regular) I saw an image of two men crouching in the street beside someone who appeared to be bloody and struggling, with the caption, “Woman standing aside with her father watching the protests was shot by a Basij.”  At first I paused to marvel that the webmaster of this apolitical site thought the name of Iran’s now-not-so-secret police was well-known enough that his visitors would understand this description.  Then I began to study the image.  These people could be anyone.  Nothing in the image made it look like Tehran.  I considered the possibility that this was a joke/snuff clip, ridiculing the violence on the other side of the world while turning it into a Tom and Jerry-like spectacle.  The site had done this before.  I had accidentally watched motorcyclists crushed by tractor-trailers and other caught-on-video deaths, tricked by a caption or an image that didn’t give away the grisly scenes.   The possibility that this Basij video was a snuff clip from Tehran piqued my curiosity though.  A scene from that conflagration that would make it to this site was just too strange a cultural crossroads to refuse.  What scene from this struggle was so spectacular?

In the video, the woman is in the arms of a few shouting men as the person holding the camera shakily circles the scene.  Suddenly her eyes loll to the side and the shouting increases in rate and volume.  Something blossoms at her mouth, and then across the rest of her face like a dark ribbon.  Even though I knew what I was watching, it took me a moment that I was seeing blood seeping out of her mouth, nose and eyes.  That’s what I remember seeing.  I could only watch it once, and now recalling it in detail, I don’t want to see it again.   In the last few seconds of footage, the sound drops away and the mourning, frantic crowd scrambles silently around the body of this woman whose life has disappeared right before them and now us.

The video had been posted in the morning.  By midday the Times was reporting that a funeral for the woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, had been broken up by the Basij, and that the video of her death had become a sensation over the weekend in Iran.  Now Iranian state television is saying that her death was staged.  The opposition describe her as a martyr.  She is beautiful in the photo that accompanies the article on the Times website.  “Is everyone in Iran really good looking?” S asked me last night as we watched a lame Daily Show report from Iran.  It’s hard, looking at the photographs from Tehran each day, not to suspect they all are.  I suspect part of the attraction is how full of life the faces of the protesters appear.  These people who flaunt death, who put their lives in the street to demand better ones, they look nothing like us but appear exactly as we hope we would in such circumstances.  No wonder the Republicans identify with their oppression.  No wonder they look beautiful to all of us.  In a connection world, everything is a mirror.  And maybe that’s why this footage is so moving: it doesn’t really allow identification.  In the video of Neda’s death – everyone just calls her Neda now – she is beautiful, and her expiration is not exactly ugly.  But watching that video one is overcome not so much with the tragedy of a life cut short in its prime, but by the terror of how much is unknown and undocumented by the amateur photographer.  Seeing those black ribbons suddenly appear on her face you are horrified by how little you understand what is going on.  How was she shot?   Where did the bullet enter her body?  What was this life that you have seen ended?  What would it have been?  Why are you the one watching it disappear instead of the one lying there in the street, unable to hear all those people silently wailing all around you?

3.  These days I avoid writing my novel by reading a draft of one my friend has finally finished writing and by doting on the small dog with whom I live.  It is surprisingly comforting to read page after page of this story, the making of which I have been witness to for six years, a story that is so much better put together than it was in pieces that reencountering each previously read scene is like being reunited with a presumed-dead loved one.  It is unfathomably gratifying to speak to a creature who hangs on every word I say, cocking his head for better comprehension, a look of such eager love on his face that I find myself speaking to him all day long.  Together, the dog, the pages and I, help each other believe we understand each other and ourselves.

Reading E’s book I begin to see again how I will be able to write my own.  I recall conversations we had in which he described wrestling with passages, and then I see them there on the page, mostly wrestled through.  I think of my own comments over the years about particular moments or habits of the structure, and then I see them accounted for or rightfully ignored.  He has created a whole thing, 550 pages of a story that needs reading.  The lively insights of his characters, the purity of their voices, the places where I see the mechanics of the plot reflect the tenderness of E’s own mind – all of these are not just impressive.  They are beacons of hope.  Sitting down to read these pages that few others have seen, and I believe many will love, I am buoyed by the people I see in the scenes and the person I can detect behind them.  My friend and his characters are better than I had previously suspected.

Walking the dog, I am aware of the eyes of others upon me.  A couple weeks ago, when my sister was visiting, she overheard a woman say, “Look at that man walking his Chihuahua.”   I’m not sure if I was more disconcerted at being perceived as the kind of man who walks a Chihuahua or as a man at all, since the feeling adulthood always seems to elude me.  Besides, he’s only half Chihuahua.  Half rat terrier.  S tells me that I have stolen his heart away from her, and for now perhaps that is true.  He sleeps by me, sits on my lap when he can and stares me in the eye when he wants to know what is happening next.   I am in love with this little dog, because he is smart and adorable and good natured and obedient, but also because he so clearly is a person underneath that little fur tuxedo, because you can see, as you can with a great character in a novel, the way his mind works, how he considers his position in a room, why his particular life happens to belong to him.  And every day I love him more because my heart breaks that he can’t tell any of it to me.

If I notice, I am always caught in the tidal awareness of what I do and do not know about others.  I concoct back stories and conduct possible conversations in my head.  I ache for details of the lives out of my grasp.  I revel in their unwillingness to be my own.

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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


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


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


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









New Title For This Blog Post

Quitting Time


*Titles cannot be copyrighted

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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.

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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.


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,



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,

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Where was I?  It was a barbecue.  In Brooklyn.  We were on a roof where you could see a lot of the city.  We could also see that we couldn’t see a lot more of the city.  Bigger buildings occupied significant swatches of the panorama.  If you got up on the structure housing the spiral staircase down into the apartment you could see the Statue of Liberty.  Otherwise, you couldn’t.

Someone said, “That new Filet-O-Fish ad?”

Someone Else said, “I know, right?

Someone Else’s Girlfriend said, “When that comes on?  I have to stop everything.”

At first I thought this conversation was headed toward hating the ad.  I would not be surprised to learn that some people find it annoying.  In the ad, bearded white guys, (maybe hipsters, maybe regular guys, probably some frustrating new hybrid), hang out in a garage while a Big Mouth Billy Bass look-alike sings/raps/laments that one of the beardos is eating McDonald’s only sandwich invented to combat declining Friday sales during Lent (see History here) while he, the bootleg Billy, isn’t eating one, said incantation accompanied by what I believe is the tune/beat that the old Casio SK-1 used to play when you pressed the “samba” button.  At once, you are awash in uber-hip trends you didn’t even know existed and nostalgia you didn’t think it was possible to feel.

It’s a pretty obnoxious piece of video.

But it’s also got a lot to love in it, that love being of the “I can’t believe all of this stuff I know about is happening at once” variety.  This is like a strange dream that takes place in my parents’ old house except it’s not because there’s a pool in the basement and for some reason all of my coworkers are sorting the recycling to pay for my walkathon, you might think, while watching it.  Except you can’t think that, because the ad is so absorbing that you cannot think anything, cannot do anything except be enveloped in the insane collage of half-remembered tropes that really only point back to themselves.  That kind of love.

My barbecuing someones, two out of three of them beardos themselves, of course, loved it.

“That is my favorite thing to watch in the world,” said SEG.

“She punched me in the neck to make me stop talking when it came on last week,” said SE.

“Yeah, I get really happy whenever it comes on too,” said S.

They weren’t, I note now, speaking of poetry.  And maybe they couldn’t have been.  But  I think ads—and I’m talking about good ads, ads that verge on being works of philosophically important works of art—take up a lot of the space in our minds that poetry could these days.  Part of the issue here is the “coming on” that ads do.  (I’m resisting an unfortunate extension of the unintended sexual metaphor embedded there.  Please award me two points for restraint.)  The opposite of verse, advertising seeks us out.  They come to us (knowledge that makes searching for ads on YouTube an uncomfortable business, by the way).  But more problematically, good ads prey on our love for unexpected allusion, dream-like images, and just-out-of-reach ideas.  They satisfy our craving – promising even greater satisfaction down the line, granted – for momentary sublimity, or, to be less grandiose, novelty.

As I’ve said before, using pixels far below these words on this very page, I’m not the first person to point this out.  In fact the Germans are already up to something.  And as much as I think the Late Capitalist ship is going down, I am a pretty big fan of consumerism.  In fact, my little brother and I once bonded importantly over the short-lived Messin’ With Sasquatch Ads, a moment that entailed a nearly identical conversation to the one I recount above.  It was he who, at the age of 13, posited: “ads are better than TV now.”  He meant that they are funnier. And that they have better learned the lessons of juxtaposition and gesturing toward what is hilariously not on the screen we can see in the early seasons of The Simpsons and the late ones of Seinfeld (when they mostly abandoned the studio audience and thus the pace-murdering laugh track).  In fact, the ads probably taught those lessons first, and they stepped up their game when real storytellers appropriated the techniques.  The gist of all this is that those “groundbreaking” Dove ads are crowding Sonnet 41 out of our minds.  Not because, as the standard logic goes, ads are so mindless that they stupefy (I think this is an acceptable usage) us through mere exposure, but because they are such sensational delicacies.

I filled up on tastily carcinogenic flame-broiled sausages and left the rooftop barbecue early to come home and grade papers.  These days I find this task more difficult than I used to do, I think because my episodic TV drama addiction has gotten way out of hand.  And true to form, after two disappointing essays in a row, I sat down in front of Hulu to catch up on the few remaining episodes of Rescue Me I haven’t seen.  Dennis Leary’s fireman character, regular viewers know, just keeps encountering self-creating problems and I was eager to see which ones he would face in the episode entitled “Pussified.” Ahem.

The episode kept being interrupted by the same spot, an Ad Council PSA warning teenage drivers to pay attention while they drive.  In the ad, Fred Willard, in top form, plays a poor imitation of typical teen.  I know the thing by heart.  When I say that I believe Fred Willard’s deadpan is a true invention of beauty, my tongue is well away from my cheek.  Murder probably is not on the long list of acts I would commit to be able to deliver words the way he does, but it’s close.  Watching the PSA, I recited Mr. Willard’s lines along with him, just as I sometimes used to do with my recording of Dylan Thomas reading Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, practicing the cadence that wrings the perfection from words and images we’ve heard and seen before.

Where was I?  I was here in my chair where I type these words now.  And I was, ludicrously or not, out there somewhere in the landscape of possibility we see, patchily, when we encounter and reencounter real poetry.

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This blog is not supposed to be personal or confessional.  I know this.  And I know that I’ll probably regret admitting what I’m about to admit for reasons bigger than breaking blog rules.   But I must confess, I, personally, have been having a low-level anxiety attack for about a week now.  When I think back on it, I’ve had many of the symptoms for longer.  Since the end of January or so.  But no, now that I think of it, I felt this way back in September, October and November too.  Being a certain type of person, I’m probably always on the verge of high anxiety.  However, being on the verge of it and in the midst are very different states.  The distinction between then and now is a kind of heart-burn-restless-sick-to-the-stomach-weariness.  I don’t sleep very well.  I pace.  My conversations with people are strange and drifting.  I eat both more and less than I should.  I procrastinate in such a way that my skin dries out and my eyes sink farther back into their sockets.  Little things set me off.  Mostly they have to do with imagining someone else thinking something unkind and, worse, accurate about me.  That I am not up to snuff at work.  That I am not a particularly good friend.  That I will  never amount to much.  My mind gets much more specific, but I’ll spare you the detail.

The excuse for the unpleasantly personal confession is inclusion of myself in a larger trend.  I am, apparently, not the only one.  I am trendy.  You know, the economy and such.  It’s f@#$ed and so is our place in the world.  We’re all in the midst of this shared feeling, and I use the term midst deliberately, because the mood is palpable, as if the air has become soupy, or maybe granular.  We are walking around pushing our way through this stuff, and when we stop to rest more of it settles on us.  I was telling my friend Eric about my ailments and he reminded me of Planet Money’s report about the increase in broken teeth.  We are all biting down harder these days, it seems.

All of this, except maybe the procrastination-eyeball thing, is something Anderson Cooper could tell you.  And as I tell my students, any issue that CNN thinks they know how to dissect is one in which we’re going to have a hard time finding the pancreas and the precious, precious bile inside.   But I’m thinking of another angle: a new literature of anxiety.

Stick with me a moment.  For a while now, we have seen a lot of stories about the apocalypse, and even more stories about the shadowy conspiracies behind the guy behind the guy who runs everything.  Our worst fears seem to cause us to retreat to fantasies of survival (McCarthy’s The Road, anything with Zombies) and malevolent Wizards of Oz (The X-Files, Lost, etc.).  Surely anxiety about the precarious and delicate nature of late capitalist comfort and the void left in a godless universe are at the root of these horror stories.

The anxiety we’re all feeling is a bit different though now, I think.  We are worried about the end of all this, of course, even if some of us think that it – and I’m referring to whatever it is that’s closest, for you, to that over-generalizing phrase The Way We Live Now – has already outstayed its welcome.  We are still titillated by our own plans for what to do at the apocalypse and we are still comforted by the notion that all this badness in the world is someone else’s fault.  These days, however, feel closer to the good old hide-your-head-under-the-desk-when-the-A-bombs-coming-raining-down-even-though-we-know-it won’t-help days.  We feel completely naked to whatever the world has in store but also somehow complicit in both our own exposure and letting what is out there in the dark get so big and toothy.  I’m not saying that anything has fundamentally changed in the world this past year.  Most of us are still hurtling deeper into debt and box office receipts are bigger than ever.  I am claiming that a lot of people, a lot of American people in particular, feel as though something big has shifted though.

And so, I suggest that we need new literature for this moment.  We need old literature too, of course, and there are plenty of classics and also-rans that apply to this moment.  I suppose all I’m saying is that I’d like to get something out of all this heartburn.  I’d like some poems and stories that tell me the truth, literature that aches with its own complicity, heart-racing for the nothing behind it, darting eyes seeing the same old stuff anew.

I ask you: what would that new literature of anxiety look like?

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