Run, Sally, Run!

My piece "Girl Body" is available online in the latest issue of Action Yes Quarterly. I wrote it at the prompting of Lara Glenum for a gurlesque section she was editing, but in this published layout the gurlesque material—my piece, Aaron Kunin's "What if the citizen is a girl?" and Lara's own essay "'From cosmos to cosmetics': A Note on Aase Berg’s Guinea Pigs & Girly Kitsch"isn't a section at all, but merely distributed among a variety of other contributions. Who knows, maybe there's more Glenum-inspired gurlesque pieces woven among the long list of contributors. In December I talked with Aaron about his essay on "the sovereignty of girls," and have been looking forward to it ever since. It did not disappoint. Exciting to think about it, this merging of the girl body with the nation body—Brenda Coultas working with the figure of Abraham Lincoln, and so on. I won't get all reductive and summarize it. Read it for yourselves. I've printed out Lara's essay on Aase Berg to stick in my bag and savor when I'm out running around tomorrow. I recently read the manuscript of Berg's forthcoming collection With Deer (translated by Johannes Goransson), and I remember wishing some wise knowledgeable person would give me some feedback on whether my hit on this mysterious violent visceral strangeness was on or off base.

In "Girl Body" I'm exploring girl sexuality. The age of my girl is never given, and seems to shift from section to section. Originally it was just supposed to be about childhood sexuality, but I was having problems conceptualizing the piece. Then I went out for coffee with Bhanu Kapil when she was in town and Bhanu suggested making the girl's age indeterminate, and that freed me up. I used a reading I was giving with Cedar Sigo at John Sakkis' house as a deadline and wrote furiously on the piece for a few days, did my final edits a couple of hours before the reading, which created a lot of nervous energy for the reading. I knew that the audience would be mostly friends who it would be okay to be that vulnerable in front of. (Ouch, what a sentence.) They were amazing—they got every nuance and layer—I've never felt so "gotten" in my life. It made me feel good about living in the Bay Area poetry scene, changed my relationship to it. I realized that even though there are some individuals I'd prefer to never see again, the scene is amazing. So much incredible work has come out of it. When they had the poets reading at the Chicago MLA a little over a year ago, it seemed that anybody who read who'd ever lived in the Bay Area had been touched by at least a bit of genius. I felt proud for all of them. The specific regional cocktail of support and competitiveness—and openness—has been wonderful for honing raw talent.

My complaining about the Bay Area scene has been reduced by at least fifty per cent since my reception at John Sakkis' apartment.


Great Companion: Robin Blaser

a white shadow there on the glass,
the white T-shirt turns that

are no longer an end
less meaning leans forward to the

shaping, to find it, a flutter of the
darkness, but it ducks back

from the open slit of the window,
a cinnamon moth enters
and amorous, the lamp takes
it came from the back

garden planted with pale flowers
that might show in the dark it
mocked, tripped, then toted its
image, having no past, unprepared

the moth-kiss has two languages,
the one everyday, dusty, habitual,
and part delight, the other
an unexpended myth washes against

the glass, to be abstract, untied
by the friendship, the moment caught

This poem, "it it it it," is from Robin Blaser’s serial work The Moth Poem (1962-1964), reprinted in the “revised and expanded” edition of Blaser’s The Holy Forest (2006), edited by Miriam Nichols. (Some of the lines above should have extra spacing inserted, but I'm not blogger-pro enough to figure out how to add them.) Those of us who have been reading and listening to these incomparable poems have been living in “two languages,” just as in “it it it it”: one everyday and taken for granted, and the other, something that takes your breath away when you find it anew. Like living here in San Francisco, we grow used to the city’s beauty, but then every once in a while it reaches out and shakes you up like you’re seeing it for the first time. Having Robin as a friend has been an uncommon blessing, his vitality, his breadth of knowledge, his great kindness, his delight in human nature and his hearty laugh that I can hear in my head any time I need to.

Helen Adam's photo of Robin Blaser was taken in San Francisco in the early 60s, right before he started writing The Moth Poem.

We’ve been hearing sad news from Vancouver this weekend about Blaser’s failing health. Early last week I heard from Rolf Maurer at New Star Books that Blaser had been taken to the hospital after complaining of a numbness on his left side. And later in the week, we got home from the reading of Jules Boykoff and Kate Pringle, to hear the voice of our friend Scott Watson on our answering machine with details of visiting Robin in the hospital. Today Peter Quartermain wrote and it’s like the other shoe has dropped, alas. “Robin Blaser was diagnosed with a brain tumour about a week ago,” he writes. “Meredith and I got back from Vancouver General Hospital about an hour ago, and the news is not good. The biopsy results came in Saturday morning, and Robin’s tumour is aggressive and fast-growing. It is not treatable in any, um, meaningful sense, and the prognosis suggests he has about two months to live. Over those two months of life, the left side of his body will increasingly shut down, and he will spend more and more time sleeping. He will probably die in his sleep.” As Peter tells the story, Robin—and David Farwell, his heroic life partner—have been coping with this diagnosis, and viewing it as more, what, evidence of the extraordinary.

“By all means tell others who you think might want to know,” Peter urges. “This is not a private or confidential matter, and Robin wants people to know.”

Thank you Peter! If anyone would like to send Robin or David a card or note or whatever, tell him how you feel, let me know. “Words,” Blaser wrote (in the late piece, “Wanders”), “are bits of our bodies,/ big and little,/ and the really/ Big one is god./ [...]/ that’s what/ the ‘eternal/ return’ is/ going on about,/ bits of our bodies/ caught up/ in it.”


My 25 Things

(In this picture, the slice of Victorian on the left is the building I live in.)

I never planned to do the Facebook 25 Random Things About Me, but this week's topic in my Irresponsible Essay class at CCA was the list. We read the preface to Foucault's Order of Things where he talks about Borges' Chinese list. We also read list pieces by Joe Brainard, Brian Kim Stefans, Pamela Lu, Sei Shonagon—and 25 Random Things from the Facebook pages of Wendy Ortiz and Ellen McGrath Smith. The students each wrote a piece in which they explored the possibilities of the list. The results were fascinating in their variety and invention. They delighted me. Of course we talked a lot about the construction of self on Facebook. Are these lists self-glorification? Are they speed revealing rather than going through the slow process of getting to know and be known? Are they interesting? How mediated is their randominity? Can they be considered literary texts? So I did one, inspired my recurrent thoughts about Todd Haynes' film Safe. The loneliness and horror of our relationship with objects.

25 Random Things About Me

1. This morning I slept until 10:45, which I feel guilty about.

2. This morning in the bathroom I picked up an open New Yorker and read, “The lilt of Mom’s voice in his head cheered him.” Turning back a few pages I discovered I was reading a story by George Saunders, which made me think of a student I worked with at Mills many years ago who loved George Saunders. This was before I understood the whole student teacher boundary thing, and things got fucked up between us.

3. Then I made my bed. After my mother’s cat Quincy came to live with us my cat Sylvia started peeing on the bed. Online I bought these waterproof cotton bedspreads. They don’t look bad, and should Sylvia pee on the bed (which is very rare after a year+ of Quincy, though lately, to my dismay, she’s switched to peeing on the couch) the down comforter and mattress are protected. My whole life I’ve never made my bed, but now I do it regularly because of Sylvia.

4. My duvet cover is blue, a hand-blocked print from India, which I bought last summer on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, B.C. I was staying in the neighborhood with Scott Watson, and Scott had a similar duvet cover and I loved it.

5. The green tea I drink in the morning is also from Vancouver. It’s called Genmaicha Gold and I order it online. I get a mild allergic reaction to most green teas, where my skin itches, and if I keep drinking that tea the itching will get worse until my eyeballs itch as well. But this tea doesn’t make me itch.

6. My chiropractor told me about the tea. She’s in Vancouver a lot, studying osteopathy there. In the US you have to be a medical doctor to become an osteopath, but not in Canada. Sometimes my chiropractor attends osteopathy seminars in the US by pretending to be a doctor. She practices her osteopathy on me, and it’s been very helpful. I had a painful rotator cuff issue for months, and she used osteopathy to make it disappear.

7. To make my green tea I boil the water and then let it sit for 3 minutes. I put 2 teaspoons of tea in my 15 ounce yellow teapot (I had a blue teapot just like it that I liked better, but it broke, and when I went to replace it there were no blue teapots, so I got the yellow one), pour the water over it, and let it steep 40 seconds.

8. To time my tea I use an OXO timer. My OXO timer got mixed reviews on Amazon, but I didn’t know that when I bought it at Bed Bath and Beyond. My cat Quincy’s acupuncturist uses the same timer to time how long the needles have been in her back.

9. My yellow teapot was made in Japan.

10. Both my cat's vets are named Dr. Fong, but personality-wise they couldn’t be more different from each other.

11. For breakfast I ate a leftover salad from Crepevine and a leftover raw buckwheat cracker from Cafe Gratitude. This is not a typical breakfast for me.

12. I also made a glass of juice this morning: beet, apple, celery, lime, parsley, dandelion, ginger. All organic, of course. My juicer is an Omega 8300, which is great for juicing greens, but it’s time consuming. I have to chop all my produce up in to small chunks and feed the chunks through a narrow tube.

13. My new air purifier arrived this morning, an IQAir HealthPro Plus. I got it for many desperate reasons. It’s giant and cost a fortune, but it seems to work well.

14. For lunch I had what I’d typically eat for breakfast: buckwheat cereal cooked with currants and cinnamon, mixed with a spoonful of cashew butter, a rounded tablespoon of ground flax seed, and enough almond milk to make it soupy. I grind the flax seeds and make the almond milk with my K-tec blender. This morning I tried stirring in a tablespoon of whey protein powder, which tasted gross. I ate it anyway, but wouldn’t do that again. I think it’s better to mix the powder in water and chug it down quickly.

15. I have mixed feelings about whey protein powder. It’s processed, it’s not vegan, and, like I said, it tastes gross. I’m taking it to support my Phase II detoxification, which I’d never heard up until recently when I was told I needed to support mine. I’d be lying if I said I really understood what it was.

16. I’ve been feeling despair a lot lately.

17. Writing number 16 made me cry.

18. I took a shower at 3:30 today. I used a bar of soap made out of Dead Sea salt. It’s the only thing I’ve found that doesn’t irritate my skin.

19. There’s a water filter on my shower and kitchen sink. Of course.

20. I borrowed Kevin’s bamboo robe. It’s great, you step into it soaking wet and it sucks off all the water. Monday night at Cedar Sigo’s birthday party I was going on and on about this robe to Colter Jacobsen. When I paused, Colter said he was imagining me wearing thin strips of bamboo wood held together with thread. I said, oh no, it’s like terry cloth, and Colter shook his head, confused. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the mystery of bamboo stalks becoming terry cloth.

21. After the bamboo robe sucked up all the water, I put on Crystal roll-on deodorant, facial toner I mix myself, and 7 different creams, lotions, oils and salves: 3 for my face; 2 for my feet; 1 for ear canal, lips, and genitals; and 1 for everything else.

22. I put on black organic cotton yoga pants (I’m planning to go to yoga, but I’d have put them on even if I wasn’t) and a red striped knit top I bought at the seconds sale at Cut Loose on Valencia Street (it cost $8 and has tiny holes in it somewhere).

23. I bought my underpants at the Target in Boulder. When I taught at Naropa last summer I forgot to pack underwear, so one of the Naropa staff drove me to Target to buy some. They were on closeout, and I got a week’s worth of underwear for around $10. They’ve become my favorites.

24. I got my tweedy beige crew socks on closeout at Nordstrom. They’re the best crew socks ever, but Nordstrom doesn’t carry them any more.

25. And now it’s time to brush my teeth.