I lost a blog entry to the mysterious cyber-shadows. It was about David Foster Wallace. I won’t recreate it, it was a difficult entry to write, heavy with his loss on the occasion of the publication of D. T. Max’s Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, and Wallace’s last, unfinished, posthumously released novel. I’d spent much of the day on Sunday, reading about that biography, reading about DFW’s wife, Karen Green’s artwork, about DFW’s lifelong struggle with depression. It got me thinking too much about the close interweaving of the sensitivity necessary to making art, and the vulnerability which can make it a fearsome burden, diagnostically labeled or otherwise. And it’s not exclusive to people in the arts. I know talented people in other fields who possess that same volatile combination of intensity, brilliance, and permeability, the condition I have written about here before as skinlessness. That very brokenness which provides a portal for light, sometimes at too heavy a price.
Stephen Elliot‘s newsletter made me laugh the other day. He talks about being sick of social media and how the internet in general can suck time and energy that you need for other things–like writing. Sometimes I think it’s just me, again, being a stick in tne mud, and then I find out lots of other people are feeling just the same. I’ve been thinking about jumping onto Twitter or Tumblr or some other additional social medium, but if I wait a few minutes the next new thing will come along and I can just skip a couple iterations…
I had to step back a bit from work, the past few days. I was drained and exhausted and it wasn’t improving with a good night’s sleep, or more exercise, or eating better. Sandwich generation stuff, and it hasn’t let up a whole lot this past year. It seems somebody is always having a crisis or recovering from one, and by somebody I mean mainly one person who’s not very rational about health and safety needs, and keeps winding up in trouble. I’m the proximal backstop for some of those crises, so even when things are quiet a part of me is thinking about it, waiting for it, sorting through it to see if there isn’t some better road to take. A lot of people have someone in their life–a kid, a parent, a sibling, a friend–for whom they are the proximal backstop. It can grind you down.
So when I got snagged by the DFW thread on Sunday I followed it a little too far, got a little too blue reading about his depression, laid awake a couple hours too long thinking about sensitive, brilliant souls, and the cost they pay. When I’m worn out things come at me without the benefit of much filter.
On a somewhat related subject, I took a phone call yesterday from two writers in New England who wondered if I had any information about Pudding House. Because I took over one line of books, Poets Greatest Hits, two years ago, my name is linked to PH and I get a lot of these emails and calls. I don’t have any new information about the status of that press. Last I heard is the same everybody heard, hopes for a new publisher taking the helm. Jen Bosveld, the force of nature who ran that press so formidably for 30 years, is in poor health and no longer able. Many, many lovers of poetry and small presses are rooting for that publishing house’s revival. I told my callers yesterday what I always say: it’s the nature of independent literary small presses. Most run largely off the enthusiasms and sweat of a single individual and when that person comes on hard times, the press is vulnerable. I know plenty of stories of books that were accepted by various small presses that went under before the book could be published.
The Anisfeid-Wolf Book Awards are presented this evening. This morning on the radio, I heard two of the nonfiction winners, David Livingstone Smith, author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others; and David W. Blight, author of American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era. Yesterday I read a quote from Bob Dylan, that America has been ruined by slavery, and in particular by the fact that it was not ended peacefully. I think we always want to pretend that horrible acts have been put behind us and need no further explication or expiation, but the ghosts won’t let us. It’s like trying to keep the family secret buried. Somehow what festers always breaks surface.
In the early 1960s a white friend traveled from NYC to New Orleans. She took a Greyhound bus and at one of the rest stops she got off and headed to the restroom. A long line of other passengers followed, as she headed straight to the Colored bathroom. Nobody was paying much attention, the other white passengers all followed her in there. A small, quiet act of resistance.
Jim Crow laws in this country did not end till 1964. Just think about that for a minute. We have quite the mosaic of historical racism in this country. My dad moved to Washington D.C. around 1950, and when he drove out one Saturday to the eastern shore, he saw this sign on the dunes of Rehobeth Beach:
No Jews or Dogs Allowed.
On another disturbing note, check out Slate’s article on the TPP, a transnational agreement under secret review by signatory governments including our own, which threatens internet freedoms among other things–that is, we think it does, but the actual draft document is so secret we don’t know much beyond last year’s leaked excerpts.
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