Node 382

(An Explanatory Note: The following went up on the blog that I started after this website went down, in mid-July of 2007. It's been on that blog since, but now that my website is operational again, I thought that I'd repost it here.)

27 February 2007 - 27 August 2007

Let’s start at the start. I posted the August Poker Report (APR) on 21 February 2007. It was entitled I Was Halfway Home: The August Poker Report. It was up for about thirty-six hours before it ceased to exist.

I’m not kidding. It’s disappeared entirely. There’s no record of it on my website’s administrator log. It’s almost as if it had never existed at all. I know that I did write it and that it was posted. I even have the original address ( for the post, but pasting it into the address window of your browser will only get you to a page with what became Node 382 after the original disappeared. This page, cached by Google on 22 February 2007, is all that remains of the APR. (More tragedy: As of 17 April 2007, that link only takes you to the most recently cached version on my Poker Blog, which means that the last little bit of the APR that had remained is also now gone.) Unfortunately, clicking on the link for the APR just bounces you to my website as it currently exists: without the APR.

I should also say fairly early in this post that my head’s pretty disordered right now. I’m quite aware that this post might not hold together very well, might not be sensibly constructed, and might make “sense” only to me, and even that’s not guaranteed. Also, it will probably not be very funny, but that’s true even when I’m trying very hard to be funny.

(And that crummy joke is as funny as this thing’s going to get.)

The ironic thing is that I haven't been writing too much lately. Not because I don’t want to. Because when I sit down to write, nothing’s happening. I open up a document, stare at it, stare at it some more, die a little inside, add a sentence or two (though probably only really one), freeze up, feel mildly worried (like how you feel when you remember again how much you want to get done with your life and know that you’re, maybe, a nineteenth of the way there), feel great waves of existential dread (like how you feel when you remember again that one day you are going to cease to exist), die inside a little bit more, and, next thing that I know, all of the cruel seconds of the cruel minutes of the cruel day have slipped unhappily by.

That’s been going on for months now, maybe close to a year (though I don’t want to think of it in terms of a year just yet because then year gets me thinking about years, which could be a possibility [because it happened before, for a period of about three of them where I wrote hardly at all], and that’d be too much to have to deal with [again] because I didn’t deal too well with it the first time around). It had gotten so bad that I had gone fifty-two days without posting any new content on my website.

But I had gotten it together enough to finish the APR on 21 February 2007, the day that I had posted it. How did I manage to pull it together? No idea, but the thing was done.

It was done and it was posted and there was some good stuff in there, stuff about a racist teacher who truly traumatized me (but I am easily traumatizeable), stuff about scary hotels (where I memorably described one particularly iffy hotel’s floor as being partially made up of “7% despair” and “4% Doritos bag chip dust,” [the finest of all chip dusts]), stuff about a workout (I had gotten into great shape [you should have seen my arms]) that almost got a little too graphic at the end, and stuff about getting offered coke when what the guy meant by coke was stab you in your delicate vitals and then steal your money.

There was this Editor’s Note that explained the full title, which was based on the Style Council’s Shout to the Top, a song that is, of course, forever ruined for me. You know how it is: you connect a certain song to a certain place or a certain time or a certain person, and that connection will never be broken, much like Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever (now that song was a jam) will always remind me of Stephanie M., a girl from my college bio class on whom I had crushed for an entire semester. That song was playing as she drove the two of us up to Millerton Lake on a bio field trip and I chickened out on making a move.

There was this other Editor’s Note that made a connection between Robert Palmer’s I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On and Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (And, yes, it actually made sense, and, no, it wasn’t some ironic hipster nonsense; irony, as we all know [even if we pretend not to know because it’s so easy to try to get by on irony] is for cowards and losers and those individuals who don’t trust in their own taste. I’m not dismissing irony completely, however; it’s just that I think that being able to say [or only to say] about a poem or a story that it’s ironic is a small triumph and one of the least meaningful ways that a literary work can be said to have been successful. Oh, that was ironic, and then you walk away from the engagement utterly unmoved or unchanged, so who cares? Who cares, when there’s so little time to be moved?), and, of course, that song’s ruined, too.

And there was poker talk as well (obviously), though, as time’s gone on, I've found that I've written less and less about actual hands because I sort of knew from the beginning that the poker stuff was only really interesting to me and to my poker buddies (but maybe they were just being polite) and to those who like to see people complain a lot about how cruel life is.

But, you know, all of that’s in the past now, and, for my emotional health, I should probably just let it go.

I should, but I’m not. This essay is me not letting go.

One way in which I am not letting go is in my continuing to want to try to reconstruct the Poker Report. I think that I might be able to partially pull it off (yes, I just split an infinitive, and, no, it’s not the end of the world), but it was so long (Did I already mention that it turned out to be thirteen single-spaced pages long? In twelve-point Times New Roman? No? Well, it was thirteen single-spaced pages. In twelve-point Times New Roman.)

And now I’m remembering one of the books of selected letters between James Laughlin (the founder and editor of New Directions) and one of his poets. I can’t remember which poet it was (I read the Rexroth. the Williams, and the Schwartz letters, so it was definitely one of those three), but this poet had sent a completed manuscript to Laughlin. Somehow, Laughlin never got it, and it was the one final version of the manuscript in existence. The only one.

There was, obviously, much confusion and much despair on everybody’s part. It turned out that the manuscript had been stuck under the floorboards of a mail truck (I’m serious; if anybody more clearly remembers the anecdote, please let me know, but don’t be mean about it; I’m working from memory here) and the manuscript eventually turned up and everything worked out.

If only the APR had been lost in a mail truck, to be discovered one day. That would have been sweet. But it wasn’t and it won’t.

Which gets us to the second problem, which is probably really the first. Does it really matter that the APR disappeared? It was only up for about thirty-six hours, so it may not even have been read by anybody but me. Does that matter?

Isn't the whole point of writing to write? I mean, right now I've got 104,362 words of completed short fiction, another 43,833 words in three short stories that aren’t that far from being complete (and I’m pretty sure, by the way, that one of those three stories is pretty hot and that another one is at least moderately warm, like maybe you could hold it in your hands on a cold day while you waited for the bus and you would be grateful and somehow comforted and you would feel not so alone), and 45,116 words in a novel that’s about sixty percent done (75% done if I cut out the mostly-imagined-but-only-sketchily-written epilogue that’s going to go meta-fictional [I know, but I couldn’t stop myself] and that’s going to go far into the future [trust me, it might work] and that’s probably going to wreck everything that came before).

Of those 104,362 words of completed short fiction, roughly 23,000 of them were written when I had no idea what I was doing (not that I have all that much more now of an idea now, but, really, my God, are those first stories absolute disasters). Still I love those semi-coherent/badly structured botches. (Okay, I shouldn’t say that I love them. It’d be more accurate to say that I don’t hate them any more than the most recently completed stories.)

What I really should say, though, is that I loved writing them, all of them.

Language is my thing. Phonemes, morphemes, words, phrases, clauses, the whole deal. Trying to get words to live together semi-harmoniously, trying to get them to mean and to simultaneously sound beautiful, is sort of what I live for (which means that my life’s misery when I can’t get the words to come, but that’s a whole other thing).

And don’t even get me started on punctuation. If there’s anything more lovely than a well-used semicolon, it’s probably too lovely for a mere human being to comprehend or to endure.

(Now I’m thinking of Rilke’s First Elegy, where he writes that Beauty is only/the first touch of terror/we can still bear because my man, Rilke, understands that sometimes something beautiful is somehow just too much, probably having something to do with the transformative/transcendent [and, thus, scary/terrifying] power of beauty. Anything that changes you radically and irrevocably is killing the older version of yourself, and that’s serious business.

And now I’m thinking of Brian Wilson, about an interview of his that I saw [In 1995, while I was staying in this cheesy/vaguely pagodaish Seattle motel out on the hookery end of Aurora. Now that carpet was up of at least at least 11% despair, 7% tears, and about 3% semen.] where he talked about the first time that he heard the Ronettes’ Be My Baby [Give me a second while I get it going on iTunes. Oh, yeah, there it is.]. He had been driving around in So Cal when the song came on over his car stereo. The song was kicking his ass so badly that he had actually had to pull over [which is sort of what happened to me in 1991 the first time that I heard Thelonious Monk’s Misterioso in Dr. Schick’s Blues/Jazz class; I was walking from the class to the student union and I had to stop and sit down for a little while, my head between my legs, maybe hyperventilating a little bit]. And I’ll always remember what Mr. Wilson told the interviewer: that the song had revamped him while he had sat there, stunned in his car. Revamped. What a great and exactly perfect choice of words. Remade. Reconstructed. But, again, the older version of yourself is gone, like doing a teardown on a house, but then building on the same foundation, or on the same location at least. And then Mr. Wilson went and wrote Don’t Worry, Baby, another brilliant song. [Give me a second while I get that one going on iTunes. ]

All of this talk about the transformative power of art reminds me of three movies that I saw on VHS pretty close together in the late 1990s, all of them having a scene where a person encounters something of beauty and is then radically changed. There’s Pleasantville, the scene where Jeff Daniels sees that big book of art, and, because he lives in an artless and safe and empty world, he is moved nearly to tears. There’s Shall We Dance, where the male lead looks up at a dance studio window and sees a woman dancing, and you can see in his face that his life just beginning. And then there’s a scene in Still Crazy, an English film about a rock group trying to get back together after a brutal decades-ago split, where the wife of the lead singer, a wife who is not down with the idea of her husband being back in the rock and roll business, reluctantly attends one of their concerts and then ends up climbing up some scaffolding and then rocking out because, hey, that’s what the fucking music does, it makes you lose your mind and then climb stuff and then dance wildly. That’s what art is for. Forever and ever, amen.

And now, apropos of nothing, I’m thinking of the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony [one of the best songs of the late-1990s], when Richard Ashcroft sings I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me. That’s great, right? But where are the covers? If Gillian Welch can do a stunning version of Black Star [probably miles better than Radiohead’s original version {and I love the original}], then somebody can at least do a decent version of Bittersweet Symphony.)

But I digress.

So, like I said, I've got almost 150,000 words of fiction written, which isn’t bad for a poet. But there’s a good chance that nobody will ever see any of it.

Let’s go back to poetry. I read Walt Whitman in Dewayne Rail’s American Lit class, something broke loose in my chest (maybe that was just my soul being born [and I’m defining soul very broadly here], but it might be corny to say that [even if I’m pretty sure that it’s true]), I started reading poetry to my patient and bemused roomies (Hey, guys, listen to this, and then I’d read them a poem and then I’d look up expectantly/hopefully at their mystified faces.), and then I started writing poems of my own.

I wrote them and I never cared if anybody ever read them. I wrote because I couldn’t not write just like I couldn’t not sleep or not eat or not breathe. There was a good chance, in other words, that not writing would be the end of me.

But then you remember that poetry broke something loose in your chest and that it gave you your life and then you realize that none of that would ever have happened if all of the poets who had ever written hadn't had their work published so that you could then be lucky enough to have read it. You understand that art isn’t a solitary act (or isn’t just a solitary act). There’s the maker and the art object, sure, but there’s also the reader, the person who gets to be moved, the person who is lucky enough to get to be moved.

It’s about connectedness, finally. (Maybe finally is too strong a word, but not by much.) You feel like you’ve entered into a giant family that stretches back from the first person who got a kick out of how words sounded and meant (and meant more through how they sounded and sounded more through how they meant) and that stretches forward to who knows when, maybe to when our current crop of languages dies or to when we finish pickling the environment and we’re on a dead planet (Probably, though, they’ll store the collected human texts on a hard drive the size of a penny [because those bastards are getting smaller and more powerful by the day] and shoot it out there on a rocket, and that work will get to live until the universe dies.), and you want to contribute while you can. An artwork out in the world makes that world lovelier, less lonely, less cruel, more survivable, and you want that for the world, and you’d be honored to contribute. You’d be grateful.

But you are terribly shy. Tragically shy. You’ve never been good at hanging yourself out there, for anybody or for anything. You just don’t want to be a bother or an imposition. (Yes, you’ve let so much slide by, so much that you wanted [maybe even needed], but you can’t talk yourself out of being who you are any more than you can talk yourself out of having brown eyes.)

You have some good people behind you, however, and some of them told you that it was time, that it’s part of the deal. So you fight your natural inclination to not work a hustle, and you remember/hold onto the idea that you want to make your contribution the great body of literature.

Which is easy to say and to mean, but then you find that nobody’s interested. Nobody. You send those sad little poems to some of the best journals in America, but no go. Then you send them to some of the decent-but-definitely-not-the-best journals in America, but they must have gotten a heads-up from the best journals. Then you send them to any place that has Review in its name, but they don’t want to get down with your work, either.

Oh, the mortification. So now you're back to where you started: unpublished. But the cruel joke is that now you want to be published, but, year after year, you come to see that you won’t.

You deal with it. You remember why you wrote in the first place: because you had to. Once in a while as you write, you are aware that what you're writing will never see the light of day, and the hopelessness of knowing that makes it feel as if your insides are disintegrating or are turning into fine dust. But you push that hopelessness down or away or, in the classic American style, you try to ignore it.

You ignore it, and it seems to work. You fall into a standard adult life (not at all what you had imagined for yourself, but there it is), and you write poetry when you can. And after all of that writing and writing and writing, there were your poems (and you read them to yourself sometimes), and there was comfort in that, comfort in the fact that those poems existed, either as hard copies or stored as data files on your computer. Not complete comfort, certainly, not all the comfort for which you had hoped would come from poetry, of course, but some. Nearly enough.

Later, much later, after some maybes and some not quites and some almosts, you get lucky and you find a publisher for your manuscript, but you had already made your peace that you wouldn’t. Sure, that peace was sometimes made up of willful delusion and was sometimes interrupted by dark hours in a dark room which consisted of your looking up at a ceiling and trying your hardest not to think, because thinking was unendurable, but you had always found a way to get through.

Which gets us back to fiction. I've got tons of it written (as I've already said twice before, but, hey, I’m pretty proud of having put up the kind of word count that I did), but there’s a good chance that nobody will ever see any of it. The reason’s pretty simple: If I’ve never been good at working a hustle for the poetry, then I’m even worse at hustling the fiction. (At least with poetry, I’ve taken many workshops with many different instructors, so I have a pretty good idea of knowing when what I’m writing is turning out okay, so it’s not too tragic to send the poems and manuscripts out into the wide and cruel world.) Yes, a select few have had the utter misfortune to have had some of these stories arrive in their e-mail inboxes, but that’s as much as I've done to disseminate the stories.

Mostly, I write the stories and work on the novel (back when I was actually writing stories and working on my novel, which is a while ago now, but we’ll get into that some other time; I will say that I know that there are people who can write under any circumstances, but that, apparently, I’m not one of those people [not even close]) because, like I stated previously, language is my thing and I had had some ideas that I didn’t think could work as poems (but they were ideas of which I didn’t want to let go) and I couldn’t not write them. Again, the writing’s the thing.

But writing’s not the thing entire. (By the way, that thing I just did where I inverted the standard English adjective-noun word order by writing the thing entire instead of the entire thing is a move that Li-Young Lee makes in Furious Versions, a poem that I first read about sixteen years ago and that I have since loved. Here’s the relevant line: the birds have stripped my various names of meaning entire…) If it were, I would write a story, make it as good as I can make it, think of one of the drafts as the final draft, feel a nice little sense of accomplishment, and then delete it from my hard drive.

That’s never going to happen. And not for the poetry, either, or even for my website posts. A finished work is also a record of it’s having happened, of its having come into being, of its having come fully into being, and it’s the only record that’s accurate.

So what? I agree. In the abstract, so what? It’s not the record of an event that’s important, it’s the event.

But I’m not talking about the abstract. Why do we have cameras? Why do people keep journals? Because we want to hang on to those events, to our experiences of those events. Because we want to keep our experiences alive, as alive as we can. Because those experiences are always in danger of dying, and our experiences are what make us.

And we can bring back those experiences in two ways. One is through whatever records that we have managed to gather to ourselves: photographs, data files, the different types of texts that we can generate. Not that those records are perfect (although that would be great; no kidding), but they’re the best that we have.

The other type of record that we have is our memory.

Stephen Dunn, in his poem, The Vanishings, one of my favorite poems of the mid-1990s, writes, One day one thing and then a dear other/ will blur and though they won't be lost/ they won't mean as much, and the reason that these dear things are blurring is because they owe their existence, their goddamn survival, to memory, and memory, as we all know, gets worse and worse with the passage of time. With every second that we are alive, they die a little more, just like we do.

And I think that he’s wrong, by the way, about these dear things not being lost; as soon as they begin to blur they are a little lost, and a little lost is still lost. They’re certainly not going to un-blur. In fact, they’ll just keep blurring and blurring. The first blurring is just the beginning of all of the blurring, all of the loss, that is to come. It’s the signal that a part of you, the most essential part of you, is dying.

(Mr. Dunn’s also wrong about our memories not meaning as much as they blur. Probably, they’ll mean even more because we’ll know that what we have left isn't all that there used to be. He also writes in this poem about memory’s out-box, open on all sides, but if I think about that image for too long, I’ll have to go hide in a closet and rock myself until the terror subsides.)

I want to hang on to things. Everything. Every last, little, goddamn thing. The fact that I can’t makes me mourn every moment as it passes and then falls away from me. It’s like every day is made up of a thousand little deaths, and it’s unbearable.

We are aware of this loss, and we want it to stop, we want to stop it, we want to be able to stop it, and, still, we lose.

We love memory because it’s how we keep the past alive, but memory is betraying us, moment by moment, and is leaving us bereft. We want to keep our memories alive. We want to keep our memories alive because we want to keep ourselves alive. It’s one of the ways in which we fight the battle against death. Death, as we all know, is undefeated, so it’s a losing battle, but so what?.

Which leads us back to the APR. As I stated in the second paragraph of whatever this thing is, There’s no record of it on my website’s administrator log. It’s only in my memory, and it’s fading fast.

I started writing this essay at the end of February, days after the APR was posted, and I’ve lost more and more of it since. It’s late August now, and I can recall hardly any of it, though I spent hours and hours writing the thing, however many hours it would take to come up with thirteen single-spaced pages.

But I wouldn’t have to worry about any of that if there was a record of it out in the real world. I mean, there are poems in my book, especially the early poems, where I can’t at all recollect the circumstances of their writing. Not where I was, how old I was, how I felt, what was going on in my heart.

Sure, of course, that’s a reason to be a little sad (as if I needed more reasons to be sad), but there was solace. There was a record, and it gave me solace.

I wrote the Poker Reports and if nobody else read them, then at least I did and I could again, later. Whenever. The Poker Reports are just like the poems and the stories in the sense that the writing was the thing, but I also wanted to hold on to them.

(Of course, I wanted everything that I wrote to be as beautiful as I could make it. I stated earlier in this thing that language is my thing, but so is beauty. That which is beautiful and true is that which sustains us.)

I’m not saying that those Poker Reports were built for the ages, but they were built.

And the fact that this one is gone is kicking my ass up and down.

The records are gone. Gone. No document in a folder. No web page. The only record that is left is my memory. And memory is an out box, open on all sides.


The End.
So, in summary: I write poetry, and I want readers (for good reasons and for bad, but mostly for good, I hope), but even if there hadn't been any, poetry had saved my life at a bunch of different times and in a bunch of different ways, so I didn’t care. Or I cared a little bit, but not so that I’d have to throw myself under a bus if I had never gotten a book The poems were on my hard drive, and I could read them whenever I worked up the courage to look at them again. Even just knowing that they were on there was a comfort to me.

I write fiction, and, readers or not, just writing it and then keeping it in the material world is enough. The same is true about the APR, and all of the rest of the writing that I’ve done for my website. I just want it to keep on existing.

Finally, yes, I know that a file or a web page is just a record of something that’s already happened, but it’s part of all that may remain of me, and it’d be nice to take up some of the space on that penny-sized hard drive that will one day be floating in space, waiting for everything, for every beloved thing, to end.



Great post

It's a good read, Manuel. I liked the part about the Dorito dust, which is what hooked me into reading the rest of the post. It made me self reflect. I do want to mention one thing. I have the habit of checking under the mattresses of any hotel I stay at. Here is what I have found so far:

  • a 10 dollar bill
  • a pack of baloney
  • a Hustler Magazine
  • 2 slices of pepperoni pizza
  • a kazoo

Do not attempt to look without latex gloves...