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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

An American Lyric

“You take in things you don’t want all the time. The second you hear or see some ordinary moment, all its intended targets, all the meanings behind the retreating seconds, as far as you are able to see, come into focus. Hold up, did you just hear, did you just say, did you just see, did you just do that? Then the voice in your head silently tells you to take your foot off your throat because just getting along shouldn’t be an ambition.” -Claudia Rankine, Citizen

I heard a lot of people talking about Citizen when it came out, and understood it to be somewhat genre-bending while at the same time a powerful discourse about race in America. I bought it, because I like books, and because I especially like poetry books that push the boundaries of the genre, and also especially because I consider myself an ally of the Black Community, as in, 100% definitely not racist. And yet.
It took me a few months to pick up the book and read it. It’s worth mentioning that my partner, whose mother is black, read the book in one sitting at the bar while I was working and he loved it. He said, “the way it was written gave me a renewed sense of validation for my feelings, like of course I feel like this but it’s refreshing to see it in this language. The only surprising thing was that fucking tennis photo.*” Why did it take me so long to read it? Obviously, because I was afraid of feeling bad, or guilty, or complicit. Reading the book doesn’t change the fact that I’m already complicit in racism, because I both benefit from white privilege and also occupy space as a white person. These are things that I can’t change. I can however, check myself and not worry about how I’m feeling in order to listen to other voices- no matter how uncomfortable it might make me. I finally read the book, and I’m glad I could recognize both why I put it off and why it was important for me to read it.
The book is subtitled An American Lyric which seems appropriate, at a time when it seems like every other day a black person is killed by police in America (let’s be honest, this is nothing new, but the populist power of things like twitter and the direct political action of groups like Black Lives Matter has brought acute attention to these tragedies). As Claudia Rankine says in the book, “because white men can’t police their imagination black men are dying.” Split into 7 parts, the book takes on different forms. Some of the writing reads like poetry, and sounds like lamentations,
“To live through the days sometimes you moan like deer. Sometimes you sigh. The world says stop that. Another sigh. Another stop that. Moaning elicits laughter, sighing upsets. Perhaps each sigh is drawn into existence to pull in, pull under, who knows; truth be told, you could no more control those sighs than that which brings the sighs about.”
These are ephemeral poems, oscillating between emotion and observation. Some are placed in daily reality, but some of these, like the “sigh” lines above could be from any part of her life. These are emotional and felt, in stark contrast to the way she objectively writes about the aggressions of her day to day life in the other sections,
“When the stranger asks, Why do you care? you just stand there staring at him. He has just referred to the boisterous teenagers in Starbucks at niggers. Hey, I am standing right here, you responded, not necessarily expecting him to turn to you.

He is holding the lidded paper cup in one hand and a small paper bag in the other. They are just being kids. Come on, no need to get all KKK on them, you say.

Now there you go, he responds.

The people around you have turned away from their screens. The teenagers are on pause. There I go? you ask, feeling irritation begin to rain down. Yes, and something about hearing yourself repeating this stanger’s accusation in a voice usually reserved for your partner makes you smile.”
There are examples like that of “everyday racism” (which I put in quotes because it’s so foreign from my life, what looks like “everyday racism” to me is just “everyday” for someone in a non-white body) in the book as well as the absolutely lunatic-crazy narrative of Serena Williams, an incredible tennis player- literally probably the best in the world- who has had to put up with an incredible amount of verbal and physical violence in her career, and then told not to overreact or respond to it. That chapter in the book doesn’t read very poetic, not like the scripts she wrote for the Situation Videos (a collaboration with John Lucas) that Rankine puts together about Katrina, Stop-and-Frisk, Trayvon Martin and others, which read, without the video accompaniment, like poems. The Serena chapter instead serves to illustrates the swallowing of anger, the diminishing of a person in the face of this kind of aggression. The game always continues.
There’s another type of encounter in the book, the microaggression of either casual racism or just the invisibility of the body, not that they’re mutually exclusive.
“In line at a drugstore it’s finally your turn, and then it’s not as he walks in front of you and puts his things on the counter. The cashier says, Sir, she was next. When he turns to you he is truly surprised.

Oh my God, I didn’t see you.

You must be in a hurry, you offer.

No, no, no, I really didn’t see you.”
There is a theme of invisibility. Of diminishing. Rankine’s body in these stories, as both author and character, is someone who is adjusting to make the people around her feel comfortable. She addresses this with a quote from Judith Butler, someone who has written a lot about the body vis a vis the world,
“Not long ago you are in a room where someone asks the philosopher Judith Butler what makes language hurtful. You can feel everyone lean in. Our very being exposes us to the address of another, she answers. We suffer from the condition of being addressable. Our emotional openness, she adds, is carried by our addressability. Language navigates this.

For so long you thought the ambition of racist language was to denigrate and erase you as a person. After considering Butler’s remarks, you begin to understand yourself as rendered hypervisible in the face of such language acts. Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present. Your alertness, your openness, and your desire to engage actually demand your presence, your looking up, your talking back, and as insane as it is, saying please.”
This book is both poetry and sociology. It’s incredibly well-written, and thoughtful, and also unexpected (there’s a soccer sequence that mixes photos of a fight with Franz Fanon quotes, it’s fantastic). At the end I think it also reminded me to be alert, open, and to have that desire to engage that Rankine has. Required reading for sure.


*the photo depicts Dane Caroline Wozniacki, a tennis player, with towels stuffed down her skirt and shirt to depict Serena Williams, on December 12th, 2012 two weeks after Selena was named WTA player of the year.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

An Unconventional Life

“This is even a disquisition on the maladies of the life of art, if Writer says so.”*
*David Markson, This is Not a Novel

I’ve been a bartender for 5+ years, so I’m pretty used to this conversation, the one where people ask what you’re doing, or want to do, or if you’re going to school...some nice thing that starts the conversation that abruptly eclipses into something unfathomably rude like, “oh you play music but like, what do you really do?” or “you’re going to school for POETRY? Wow, your parents must be proud,” or just simply, “huh” or “why?” These are actual things people say to me while I’m serving them drinks. I can’t leave. I can crack jokes, “oh well I’m strictly studying poetry to make money” or lighten the mood, but I can’t be a jerk, or “overreact” because I need their money, it’s literally my job, it’s why I’m there. If I’m really lucky, I still have the energy to go home and write about it. This week I almost didn’t. After an especially awful conversation with someone, and not that it’s my place to judge but someone who despite his nice watch and black amex didn’t seem all that happy either, where I worked my butt off till 4am all weekend, to pay rent, and then woke up monday to go to my internship (which I love, they make me coffee and let me sit down at their kitchen table, oh the simple pleasure to be in someone else’s life even for a morning) and I came home and got into bed and didn’t get out of it for two days. I missed my favorite class at school. I didn’t write. I didn’t eat. I just stayed under the covers and lamented, for the first time in awhile, my unconventional life.
Maybe ten years ago I thought I would lead a conventional life. Maybe be married. Hopefully have my dream job, of a journalist, before the print bubble burst from the rise of internet publications...all that stuff seemed pretty real, for awhile. But then I played in bands for years and touring made more sense than graduate school. Working in bars and restaurants is an easy way to have time to leave town. I was happy with the music I made. I even got to travel more- my unconventional life was pretty privileged, and I’m not sure if I would trade it out (except for maybe that elusive, perfect dream job). Now though, at 30, that life doesn’t feel as privileged. I’m accepting the real fact that I won’t ever own a house, or probably ever have children. I’m going to be in debt from my MFA for a long time, and even aside from that, it’s hard to have quiet nights at home when you’re working in bars (there’s tequila in there you know) until 3am or later most nights. I have good weeks- with the “joy of writing” (credit: Donna Brook) and the affirmation I get from my friends who are also like me- banded together at shows or dancing or any other place regular people wouldn’t be at 2am on a Wednesday. Then there’s weeks where I feel permanently incapable. Where it’s tangible: real failure. Since I worked all weekend I didn’t have time to start an assignment for class, a class I really like, until Tuesday where I finally began to read David Markson’s This is Not a Novel under the covers of my bed.
It’s not, not even “not strickly” not a novel. It is very much not a novel. It’s a list of facts produced by the writer, who describes himself as the Author every now and then, but mostly it’s facts about writers. You don’t have to know the people in question, and it all start to blend together anyway, but when you do recognize a name or a reference it makes you feel triumphant. A ha! A familiar face. An anchor in the storm. The passages are like this:
“A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility.
Aristotle himself added, re tragedy.

Wittgenstein had nephews fighting on both sides in World War II.

Meyerhold was executed by the Soviets.

He dug a grave of the same length as Pakhom’s form from head to heels- 
three Russian ells- and buried him.

Ruben Dario died of cirrhosis of the liver.

Diderot died of coronary thrombosis while sitting at dinner.

I used to say them, Go boldly in among the English, and then I used to go boldly 
in myself. Said Joan.

He could not get rid of the idea that he was damned, and he would have 
drowned himself if he has not been prevented by force. Says the chronicle from 
the monastery where Hugo Van der Goes was a lay brother.

He was know to drink, which made things worse. Says the same.”

It’s a whole “novel” like this. Facts and quotes and the interspersed speculation of the Author- who insists he’s not a character. It’s an unconventional novel, from someone who wrote many novels, including a crime novel, and several books of poetry. It’s a testament to creativity and what’s possible, in the face of critics and criticism who follow conventional paths.
It’s also a testament to an unconventional life. These facts about writers, mostly all how they died, mostly of syphilis and diseases of the heart and liver, somehow cheered me up. Anecdotes of bar fights, being kicked out of schools, lover's quarrels, infidelity, etc were able to get me out of bed. Most of these people weren’t just interesting characters, they were bad people! Nazi sympathizers, womanisers, and usurers. That’s a good way to feel better about yourself, even if you don’t trust your own writing. There’s also the heroes (Sarte and Borges still hold up very well in these facts, much to my relief). But! Still! Morality aside, this text- novel, poetry, messy dictionary of lives- cheered me up by reminding me that while often not in good company, at least I’m not deserted on an island (as I think John Donne would agree). So yes, even a litany of deaths can cheer you up sometimes, and it takes all kinds of things to get people out of bed and to work every day, but at least in my case, I can sleep in a little bit later than most.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Interiors

"#179 When I imagine a celibate man-especially one who doesn't even jerk off- I wonder how he related to his dick: what else he does with it, how he handles it, how he regards it. At first glance, this same question for a woman might appear "tucked away" (pussy-as-absence, pussy-as-lack: out of sight, out of mind). But I am inclined to think that anyone who thinks or talks this way has simply never felt the pulsing of a pussy in serious need of fucking- a pulsing that communicates nothing less than the suckings and ejaculations of the heart."

Be careful carrying these books around with you. They’re small, and perfect for casually reading, a few minutes at a time, when you find yourself commuting on the subway or waiting for someone to bring you food in a small cafe. Perfectly sized for your handbag, or to carry to work, and spaced out evenly so that you can pick them up, put them down, and even read out of sequence throughout the course of your day. The caveat though: you might end up crying in public. It’s an odd sight, at 3am, on the L train heading home after work to see someone crying holding a book of poetry. It even makes the drunk young people uneasy. Especially alarming to the people sitting next to you in a cafe, watching big, heavy, mom-sized tears rolling down your face. 
Bluets by Maggie Nelson is a perfect read for anyone who’s ever had their heart broken. Or has had to break someone else’s heart, or has been in love with the world too sharply, or fallen out of love with it, or even been in love with a word, as something as simple as a color. Her meditation on Blue is a compelling exercise with theme: each bluet is numbered, and while one might mention flowers, the next will pull the thread, maybe it will be about the painter who talked about the flowers. So there is extreme precision of flow, of each short prose block (or poem) leading into the next. As a whole, it should still be considered a book of poetry, but alone, each bluet could be a poem or a short essay. There are things I always think of as being blue, but Nelson also brings up all these other blues, like the underside of her friends foot after an accident. 

"#198. In a 1994 interview, about twenty years after he wrote, “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Cohen admitted that he could no longer remember the specifics of the love triangle that the song describes. “I always felt that there was an invisible male seducing the woman I was with, now whether that one was incarnate or merely imaginary I don’t remember.” I find this forgetting quite heartening, and quite tragic, in turns"
 

So many people are represented in the book, from Cohen to Thoreau, and not just Americans but also French painters and Greek philosophers. An incredible amount of research must have gone into Bluets, and yet the book reads as simply, and is as digestible, as a perfect, light blue macaroon. 
Perhaps a more traditional book of poetry, but still following a much longer narrative than it might appear for such a small book, is Kimiko Hahn’s The Narrow Road to the Interior. In Bluets there’s a loose narrative of a heartbreak, of a severed relationship, but the narrative in Hahn’s book is her as a mother, and even her as an adult woman balancing divorce and lovers, how that still reflected on her motherhood. Most of the poems are incredibly simple, “I’ve decided to climb the rocks beyond the stand of pine to find the insect that clicks like an old-fashioned toy.” Highly steeped in nature, most of the things written in this book are thoughts she’s had while outside or while apart from her daughters. This is a form of Japanese poetry called Tanka, single lines and the use of seasons and nature. Most of the writing seems to be reflections of Basho, Kawabata Yusunari, and Shikibu. Writers I’m not familiar with, but understand to be tied in very closely with the author's identity as a writer. It’s a beautiful collection of poems and often left me in tears late at night, too late to call my mom. 

"This afternoon H heard something in my voice and asked me, What’s wrong? Anything wrong? And I said, I miss my mother. But I think I’ve always missed my mother. Sometimes I just lie down on the floor and cry, Mommy Mommy."

As a woman with a close relationship with my mother, and as someone who doesn’t know if they will be able to have children (timing, not biology) the book resonated with me. It’s an amazing portrait of a complete woman, with her desires, her annoyances, shortcomings and loves. And just as all these things are complicated, different, incongruent, so is the style of the book. Poetry, journal entries, private and public thoughts, and prose, all complete the final picture. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Moving Across the World on Horses

“Moving across the world on horses / body split at the edge of their necks / neck sweat eating at my jeans / moving across the world on horses.”*



Out in the country. The real country. The middle of Florida, in the Ocala National Forest, where the only restaurant is a Kangaroo gas station. You could stay barefoot for a whole week and no one would notice. Humidity like a blanket. White sand and forest and Coca-Cola lakes.The guy that owned the ranch was a horse thief. Really. He sold people horses and then took them back in the middle of the night and then painted them different colors. They would come back to the ranch and he would say oh no, you’re mistaken. I think he was one of my dad’s only friends, and we kept our horses there. I spent weekends there for maybe two years. I was twelve, at one point, for sure. We would ride our horses all day under the giant oak trees and through blonde fields and sometimes across lakes, and come out dripping and relieved from the summer heat. Horse dust in my mouth. The smell of horses in everything. Even now if I smell horses, driving through the country with the windows down I have this homesick feeling for them. Then I was just a kid, I thought it was totally normal and granted that I would spend my days and nights outside forever. When my dad would go to sleep I would walk around the little ranch. The black lake looked blacker, and even I knew better than to swim in it at night. Horses aren’t afraid of snakes, they have a natural immunity. That’s true. But they are afraid of hogs and pigs. Avoiding the lake, I would walk (barefoot) up the sandy road to the pasture and stay still, wait for the horses to come to me. We smelled each other. When I walked back to the little cabin I would hear them, very quietly though, walking along the pasture, following me. That was our friendship. Recognition and presence. I would go back and sit on the porch and listen to all the bugs. A whole world of creatures making one noise in the night. In the morning we would go ride out again, my dad usually leading the way trying to find some trail he made up in his head. In the afternoons it might rain and I would walk to where the horses were just to see the steam coming up off them, to put my head against their neck and rub their wet fur, both of us probably thinking: I am here. 

*The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ongaatje 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Books I Snuck In

This is in no way a list of great books from 2015 (check out last Sunday’s article in the New York Times book review for a good and comprehensive list of new literature) this is just a list of my favorite books that I’ve managed to read since I moved to New York. I found most of them at used book stores around the city, but a few I found new in paperback. If you’re in NYC check out Better Read Than Dead in the alley off Broadway and Spoonbill and Sugartown off Bedford Ave. 

Limassol - Yishai Sarid - “I’d gladly drink a shot of whiskey now and end the day before it started.” Dark, dry, detective noir from Israel. 

Unforgiving Years - Victor Serge - “If I’m still alive, it’s because I realized that we misrepresented the grandeur of conscience. You don’t have to tell me about the deformed or rotten or spineless consciences, the blind consciences, the half-blind consciences, the intermittent, flickering, comatose consciences! And spare me the conditioned reflexes, glandular secretions, and assorted complexes of psychoanalysis: I’m all too aware of the monsters swarming in the primeval slime, deep inside me, deep inside you. There’s a stubborn little glimmer all the same, an incorruptible light that can, at times, shine through the granite that prison walls and tombstones are made of; an impersonal little light that flares up inside to illuminate, judge, refute, or wholly condemn. It’s no one’s property and no machine can take the measure of it; it often wavers uncertainly because it feels alone- what brutes we’ve been, to let it die in its solitude.” Disillusioned in Europe after the horrors of WWII with fascism, and then bearing witness to the fascism of the Communist Party, the characters in this book drift around Europe and then later in Mexico, looking both inward at their own conscience and also over their shoulder. 

The Mersault Investigation - Kamel Daoud - “Night has fallen. Look at this incredible city, doesn’t it present a magnificent counterpoint? I think something immense, something infinite is required to balance out our human condition. I love Oran at night, despite the proliferation of rats and of all these dirty, unhealthy buildings that are constantly getting repainted; at this hour, it seems that people are entitled to something more than their routine.” Incredibly precise in its writing and also poetic in its language, this novella examines The Stranger by Albert Camus from the perspective of the dead arab’s brother. 

Carte Blance - Carlo Lucarelli - “It was an old farmhouse with charred, crumbling walls, without any more roughcast, almost in the countryside, in an area the city has reached before the war transformed it into a suburb. So black, solid, and squat was the building, it almost looked like a convent, isolated from the other houses. On the wall, low, far from the door, there was a message painted in red smudged letters: Get ready, murderers.” A detective tries to do his job faithfully while the country changes hands from the fascists, while also dealing with anarchists and communists struggling for power at the end of the war. 

Train Dreams - Denis Johnson - “He laid his head back, and opened his throat, and a sound rose in the auditorium like a wind coming from all four directions, low and terrifying, rumbling up from the ground beneath the floor, and it gathered into a roar that sucked at the hearing itself, and coalesced into a voice that penetrated into the sinuses and finally into the very minds of those hearing it, taking itself higher and higher, more and more awful and beautiful, the originating ideal of all such sounds ever made, of the foghorn and the ship’s horn, the locomotive’s lonesome whistle, of opera singing and the music of flutes and the continuous moaning of bagpipes. And suddenly it all went black. and that time was gone forever.” A haunting recollection of one man’s life in the wild, empty places of America in the 1800’s. 

The Vorrh - B. Caitling - “Dawn, like the first time. The lead-grey clouds are armoured hands with the weak sun moist and limp inside them. the night still sits in the high branches, huge and muscular, rain and dew dripping to the pungent floor. It is the hour when night’s memory goes, and with it the gravity that keeps its shawl spin over everything in the forest.” Still kind of unsure about this book, because there’s a lot going on in it (i.e. biblical references that went over my head, some historical references and also a lot of references to Heart of Darkness, maybe?) but every sentence is pure pleasure. There’s a mysterious forest, a few different hunters, a cyclops, and robots. 

Crush - Richard Siken - “Chemical names, bird names, names of fire / and flight and snow, baby names, paint names, / delicate names like bones in the body, / Rumplestiltskin names that are always changing, / names that no one’s ever able to figure out. / Names of spells and names of heces, names / cursed quietly under the breath, or called out / loudly to fill the yard, calling you inside again, / calling you home.” Punch drunk poems of love and despair from a young gay poet in America. 

Bluets - Maggie Nelson - “For to wish to forget how much you loved someone- and then, to actually forget- can feel, at times, like the slaughter of a beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat of your heart. I have heard that this paint can be converted, as it were, by accepting “the fundamental impermanence of all things.” This acceptance bewilders me: sometimes it seems an act of will; at others, of surrender. Often I feel myself to be rocking between them (seasickness).” Half poetry, half prose, this small book contains 240 short meditations on the color blue, love, loss, and self. I think anyone who has ever been heartbroken, or fallen in love, or been in love even with just certain colors of the world, should read this. 

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen - Tadeusz Borowski - “I think about these things and smile condescendingly, when people speak to me of morality, of law, of tradition, of obligation...Or when they discard all tenderness and sentiment and shaking their fists proclaim this the age of toughness. I smile and I think that one human being must always be discovering another- through love. And that this is the most important thing on earth, and the most lasting.” A series of short stories the author wrote while in concentration camps in Poland and Germany. Published in Poland when he was released, he became a model artist for the communist party. When his same friends who were arrested by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp were later arrested by the then ruling communist party, he put his head in his oven and killed himself. 

Simone - Eduardo Lalo - “Writing. What other choice do I have in this world, where so many things are forever beyond my reach? But I’m still here, alive and irrepressible, and it doesn’t matter if I’ve been condemned to corners, to cupboards, to nothingness. I’ve taken the blows and I’m still standing. That’s about all I’ve accomplished. That is what writing or reading is good for, and I’ve devoted nearly my whole life to it. Now and then, I’ve known something akin to grace.” Just started this book that was recently translated from the Spanish (it takes place in Puerto Rico) about a writer who is being stalked by a student of his. It’s dark and funny and exactly what I wanted to be reading around the holidays. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Dragging Anchor

When a sailboat drags anchor you wake up in your berth you wake up with the wood around you but you know something isn’t right you’re still in your berth but it’s like when you sleep with someone for many nights and when they turn you turn with them and when they breathe you breathe with them when they get up in the night to pee you feel that they’re missing and you know something isn’t right

so you wake up in your berth and you feel the wood around you and the smell of canvas which isn’t just salt air or age or sunlight it’s sails that carry those things but also time

you know the smell it’s the smell that all your father’s sweaters had and all the beach towels laid out for you in the summer it’s the smell of years on the boat but also something else

you’re in your berth and there’s the wood and the canvas but also the sense of time passing, too quickly, maybe you see the stars moving too but mostly you just feel it, so you get up and leave everyone else asleep you go outside and even in the middle of the summer there will always be that first chill of you alone, above deck, with the rest of the world sleeping and you see that the bow has turned around the wrong way starboard so you pull up the chain and it’s so easy, so light in your hands, and you pull it in and feel the boat really pull with the current now, it could just float so easily out to sea but you look forward and throw really throw the anchor out the other way left to the channel and wait for the anchor to catch and it does- the boat makes a small tug and you’re awake and everyone is still sleeping so why not slip

into the water with the chain, hold onto it and let your body also float along with the current, held against the steady weight of the anchor and see all the little creatures around you light up like magic, your mom taught you the word, phosphorescence 

your first moment that you can remember that was completely yours and years later

your mom is remarried and you aren’t in a ship but in a small house on another river and you want to go into the town to buy pickles so you ask your mom if you can drive and you’re driving and you ask about the journals, the years you all spent sailing, and why her voice isn’t there and why you can’t read them, and it’s not the first time you asked and she says

I burned them 

it terrifies you and you’re afraid to ask and you think about nights you spent awake at night alone, other nights where you’re sure someone should have been awake and who knows

what really happened

but your mom got remarried and you like him and you can all have dinner together in that little house on the river and at night you go to bed and you hear the wind howl and it’s a sound you almost remember and early in the morning she calls your name and you answer, that’s a sound
familiar like the wind, pushing against wood, against canvas, pushing the body of a boat out to sea. 

The wind on the river is different, fierce and Northern and it carries with it the smells of evergreen trees and the haunting mating calls of Loons, their red eyes glowing on the river which you can see from your small window in the house, so like a ship

and you wake up in the middle of the night to its sounds and walk downstairs and the rest of the house is sleeping and still and you know that’s it’s impossible for a whole house to drag anchor. 


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Notes From 30

“The enjoyment was just from the too intense consciousness of one’s own degradation; it was from feeling oneself that one has reached the last barrier, that it was horrible, but that it could not be otherwise; that there was no escape for you; that you could never become a difference person; that even if time and faith were still left for you to change into something different you would most likely not wish to change; or if you did wish to, even then you would do nothing; because perhaps in reality there was nothing for you to change into.”* 

 There’s a thing on the internet right now where it takes pictures of you and tells you how you’ve changed over the past ten years...yeah. I don’t want to fuck with that. Every year around my birthday I spend enough time going through pictures and trying to figure out how I’ve changed. I’ve looked the same for so long...but there’s been subtle differences, it can’t just be a hair cut, right? The tattoos add up. My breasts got bigger (how). My shorts and dresses, shorter, as I got comfortable in my body. Usually the same boots, the same half grin, two dimples before I broke my jaw, then just one after. 

 The constant in most of my pictures, as I look at them now, almost 30, is the people in them. The same friend in front of a band, or playing in a band, or in a van. It’s usually Austin, Scott, or Adrien. Two friends I met at a funeral for another friend (I still remember your name Doug, even though I can’t remember most) who I ended up playing in a band with, after high school (we made it though). I had a drink with Austin the other day. Scott texted me. I called Adrien. We are still connected, by our memories and our lives, for better or worse. We grew up together. I am not sure, a hundred years ago, if we ever would have known each other. We certainly wouldn’t have had the experience of playing in a punk band together, and we wouldn’t be talking now, after I moved across the country (up the country?) to go to graduate school. I am grateful for these things. 

 I understand that turning 30 as a woman is kind of a “big deal.” Like we’ve reached some age where society usually at some point dictated something for us...but I’m pretty lucky to live in an age where that isn’t true. At 30 my mom was sailing a 36ft sail boat around the south pacific, about to finish a trip around the world, and was two years from having me (I was born in South Africa, toward the end of the trip). She raised me, with the privileged of the age we live in now, to focus on books and school and “doing my own thing” so that, over the past several years, I haven’t felt pressure about getting married or having kids. I understand that I’m lucky in that regard. I got an IUD a few years ago, which has worked great for me, and has helped me, during my various relationships to prevent becoming pregnant. I could never have been the kind of mother I wanted to be, and despite wanting to be a mother now, I doubt I’ll ever be financially stable enough (student debt, the horror!) to have a child before it’s “too late.” I’ll be 32 when my IUD expires, the same age my mom was when she had me. And I’ll probably get another one. A mix of privilege and luck. 

 So these are the things I’m grateful for. My friends and my mom and I recognize that a lot of my agency is a product of privileges most people aren’t afforded. But I’m also grateful for a sense of understanding and sympathy that I have now at thirty that I didn’t have when I was starting my twenties. I know what I like, and who I am, but I don’t find the opposites threatening to me. I don’t view things I don’t know as “the other” and I have come to understand that everyone, mostly, has something to offer. As a young punk kid I thought the teller of the bank was my enemy, now I realize she just made different choices than me. I’m happy with the choices I’ve made, and I don’t resent regular everyday people for theirs (cue Pulp’s “Common People” please). 

 “Sure, we’re poor in some surface, dirty clothes way. But I stake faith in our instincts and intuition, our abilities and the strength of our friendships. If this isn’t progress or wisdom, at least it’s survival.”**

 There’s friends who aren’t around. People who committed suicide...or just got married or had kids and took different directions in life. I haven’t really grown up yet. I understand both choices. I don’t look on other people with disdain like I did at nineteen. I try to be understanding. I try to have sympathy even when I don’t understand. I’m incredibly proud of turning thirty this year, for feeling like a smarter person. And also, happy that I’m still connected to my friends. When Travis killed himself a few months ago I ended up at a punk show, crying and getting drunk, and then spent all night in bed with my friends, crying and laughing. The simple pleasure of a band, and a shoulder to cry on. I still find comfort in these things. 

 *Dostoevsky “Notes From Underground”
**`Travis Fristoe America #12