In a moment of intense Bari-Weiss-fueled antipathy

I tried to log into my deactivated Twitter account but it’s lost forever.

That’s the spirits talking, saying, do not make your offering to Bari Weiss. However… it’s clear that offerings do not come abstract and though they also do not come contingent, they must become something to mean anything.

There are, unfortunately, an abundance of unreflective people hired to inform. Aloof readers, hired to write. Excitable relations who do not listen.

The spirits say, the healing is yours to receive, and only then will you know how to give. They say, I’m happy to share with you that we have deleted your account.

And I was always taught in a series of arguments—of But, However, And, Still. And never No. And never silence. I learned Hmmm just in time but

It seemed, on landing upon Bari Weiss’s latest pronouncements, I had entered a vortex of hot air flush to my cheeks, none of the energy my own or shared. (I don’t know her.) I had to remember my lessons. Call and response. You, yes you. What the fuck “Don’t judge, notice” actually means. What the fuck it doesn’t mean.

Had to remember I learned it means it means it means you do not have to take everything you’re offered. Yes, say it again. You do not have to take what you’re offered. In fact, to thrive at all, you will have to breathe, notice, say No so often, it will become mantra. (Even to yourself.) You’ll be floating in cross-legged position, your hips not even aching (spiritually speaking), and you’ll be saying resounding NOs as an abundance of Mmmm Yeses.

They don’t teach critics this.


“No” by Anne Boyer :

“Exit West: An Interview with Ismael Reed”:

“On the Issue of Roles” by Toni Cade Bambara

Financial counseling

There’s no money in poetry………

What to say except that when you contemplate the best thing to do with the one life you have, as it were. That there’s no money in it.

There’s no money in anything good. Anything worthy of time.

I go around telling this to anyone who looks hopeful. “Know that your hope is a poor person.” Most people take this the wrong way.

Think I mean “Your hope is poor,” bereft, even. No, actually I mean

Your hope is a poor person. Your hope is a person. Who is poor. Your hope has no money. Does not break even in this economy.

You have to do what you can to nourish it or you’re nobody. Because there’s no money in it, you have to give it whatever else you’ve got. You might look around a little, alarmed, and think, what could that be?

Everyone thinks that, does not make you special to think that. Most people approach life at a loss. Even rich people, plenty of rich people look around and think, but what do I have?

There’s no reason in this, no wisdom to take from it, nothing I can or will say to make you empathize with this thinking no matter who expresses it because actually it does matter who expresses, how much money they have, net.

Matters if your parents are rich, if they don’t have debt, matters if they have a second home, matters if you partner is rich, matters if they’re poor and you’re rich and they’re still poor. Matters, even more than poetry matters, but they won’t tell you that on the admissions webinar.

There are people who wage success on poetry, not just Rupi Kaur or Billy Collins (bad poets if it has to be said, though for different reasons, it has to be said) but, for example, whoever has tenure and is worshipped by the students, that poet waged success. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but in this economy, it is mostly bad.

They say don’t trust people who don’t read but I say don’t trust people who read bad books. That’s worse than not reading.

Not worse for the person who reads bad books but for everyone under their influence.

This is the thing, it is easy to pity people without taste or intelligence but often it is the people who think these people have taste and intelligence who would benefit more from pity. A loving condescension.

Can condescension be loving? Yes, parents mastered this.

Parents don’t want their children to be poets because their children will certainly be broke if they’re any good and certainly parents want their kids to be good, so better not to be a poet.

They never say this outright, it’s supposed to come through.

Plenty of parents themselves are or were broke or poor or some teetering combination of both or all and in fact it depends on who you are, what neighborhood you come from, whether your ancestors were slaves or slaughtered somewhere, depending on those things your parents may or may not secretly want you to be a poet.

You spend your life hoping they’ll tell you which it is.

Three phone calls

Everyone who thinks they're a listener is a talker

There’s not enough of a difference between what I do and what I don’t, to me. Every day I walk on a rope I can’t perceive, and I just keep going. There are days when this feels romantic, and in my mind’s eye is a representation of this stringy mass of life that is signifying nothing real, nothing I could open my eyes and see.

I picked up the phone, which I don’t do, and I accepted all your ideas, which had nothing to do with what I had done. I think you get that now, that I will accept your ideas to show you how I listen. But you understanding this doesn’t teach you how to listen. I can’t remember when it became noble and attractive to be quiet and let others talk but I know this in fact happened in my lifetime. Now I have a hard time accepting that everything I did to be physically beautiful is overshadowed by my interpersonal grace.

No one wants to notice it. My friends don’t say, “Wow!” Instead, they compliment my attitudes. I flip through all the best portraits in my head and feel sad that anyone tried to be relevant. You just are, aren’t you? You meet the moment because you were already headed there or you conscript yourself to some dumb fate. And that’s OK!, I tell absolutely everyone. It’s OK because both can happen to you over and over again!

(I should say that it’s OK as long as both can happen to you over and over again, but I don’t because I am a listener.)

(I talk this over with you, a different you this time, and we agree that I should say everything I mean aloud, but even then, sometimes it’s not worth the responsibility. So theoretically, I am good if I say everything I mean aloud on the phone, but in reality, I won’t, because I can only take so much, and that’s OK!)

(It’s conversations like these that always make me feel so close to you every time, this you, who lobs the ball back and forth, who comes up with little ideas for us, who doesn’t know what to do but is happy to imagine it’s possible to know. I feel like a child now because I never did. I sidle up to everything you know which makes me love you so much. This, I can open my eyes and see in the way you wear your shirt, hold your head, stand in photos.)

And there are days when I panic, when I look at every object and see nothing in them but the demand to signify. And this is why I write, but don’t call you.

I dreamt of nothing (but when I was awake)

Love stories as a sequence of non-events

She asked me how it all began. “Well, it didn’t all begin.” “Well, when did you realize? What was your first thought?” I spoke to my friend like I hadn’t spoken to anyone, ever, before. (I felt that I had so much to give, which I learned in a song or movie.)

I thought about everyone I had ever spoken to. I must have been in the seated area of a big grocery store—an embarrassing kind of place to identify as a place. Maybe like the back of a parking lot, where you start to wonder if everywhere is a kind of parking lot. Where you start to wonder if everywhere is just trying, desperately, not to be a parking lot. It’s impossible, as a thinking person, to encounter yourself in these places without experiencing emotion, racking up every encounter like the montage before your long-awaited death.…..

Everyone had had enough of me. Christina now looked to other people for confidence. “Christina.” I had lost friends. I thought about if the friends I had made in their absence were sympathetic frauds. Or was the consensus that we were supposed to keep our friends no mater what? I forgot. So, to be safe, I kept the ones who kept calling, and who I kept calling. But Tina’s voice rattled with echo and undercurrent, never direct. Or so I said. A sexy voice that had no business. I would never do anything about it, I said, almost aloud, in the grocery store chairs. Tina, (Tina), on her part, relished the round, wispy sounds she made. She didn’t know exactly their effect but she felt something, that they did a thing. But who would confirm it to her? So this became my torment.

I thought there must be other things to worry about. (And there were, and I knew about them.) But it was nice to rest here, at the edge of nothing and nothing. And once there was a guy, even. Fred. Or some guy Fred. Or Rex. Or Tex. No, I guess Tex was wrong—still not over that. But there was an abstract kind of objectification that remained undeniable in my own mind. The taut, unapologetic guy’s body that was smoothed, toned, condemned to hell, glorious, writhing with an energy I sought from coffee. I dreamt of nothing but when I was awake.

No one hated me because no one knew me. I called the travel agent back. I felt bad about how I had treated her, she needed a tip and in a panic, I had booked a different route directly through the airline. I thought, pathetically, maybe said, aloud—oh, if I just could’ve cared for you. No one you know is right about what that means. But some people make you “feel safe,” make the world feel right from a certain angle. So you stick by these people and if all fails, yearn for the ones you made up.

Nothing is so dramatic! my little sister screams. She screams! She has a big face full of ugly honesty and one day she’ll have great taste. OK! Yes! Nothing I care about so much matters, except that wouldn’t make me an artist. She laughed at that, as if it meant something, and I think it was nice of her to give that, of all things, meaning.

The sun rises or whatever. I look at it and it changes everything again. It’s devastating to wake up only to be so touched by it all. I looked at the face of things: only the ones in front of me matter, only the ones who respond. A self-love, a narcissism that worked. There had to be people in other places who liked the idea of knowing me, someone like me (which now brings nothing to mind). It can only be the ones who must be around me, today, who figure into any kind of appraisal of who’s who, who’s hot, who’s not. (Took me a few stubborn months to move on from this.)

I think of the waifs I used to dance with, out of fervor out of desperation, to make the right one notice, though there wasn’t much to be done with them. Parties in basement apartments dotted with the searching eyes of people who, whatever. It’s not enough to finish a sentence, I liked to tell the most attractive people, trailing off. Actually, no one danced. That was the problem.

Then we shared a drink and that was it. And that was it. And I just had to do it again.

The kind of people

A battle of self-defeats

No one talks like that anymore. She says it and means it, but you look at her with opened-up eyes of curiosity as if to ask Like what? And, Since when? And also, probably, Who, exactly? Everything is ambient now, the armchair she sits on, the couch you’re caressing the arm of, the big carpet that must have cost at least a thousand dollars, which is not to mention the price of the couch and armchair, which are both in excellent condition. There’s even an ottoman, leather, which could have also cost a thousand dollars—it looks well constructed and is modern. Nothing is stunningly beautiful as an individual object, but the sheer number of the right things in the small space has you thinking, in the ever-expanding arena of her non-response to your half-response, She’s rich, isn’t she?

In the moment, it’s something that makes you feel attracted because she’s pulled it off so quietly, which is perhaps the foremost skill that rich people pass on through generations. The big tech guys and girls at your local gym double down on it to a point of alienation. They trudge along in their gray Asics, hideous to the point of offensiveness—they don’t realize that, as she would say, people who are actually working class, broke, in deep debt, whatever would never wear Asics, even if they found them at the Goodwill, on sale, on a stoop. Maybe they would, actually, but they would not have finagled a gym membership at the place with the nice towels and then show up in their saddest sneakers, you think. That kind of melancholy is reserved solely for those who love their office “communities.” You hate yours, use its name in vain, and take Tabata in Nikes.

But she is not like this. Would she even ever take an office job that was not fondly and somewhat ironically steeped in nostalgia? It comes to you now, in this blank and freaky moment of disconnect between you and her, which is not the first one but the most protracted, that the money explains the principles, which had been confusing up to this point. Why wear the editorial assistant stamp for the rest of her relative youth when she was self-admittedly brilliant? Why toil for bitter superiors who always seemed to have the right clothes for the right season unless she already had the money she needed for probably the rest of her life?

You try to form the words in your mouth now, Hey, are you rich? But you don’t even talk like this. You’re not sure what you talk like. Everyone in your family yells over each other and seems mostly OK with it. With her, you’re careful to wait your turn to talk but also, crucially, to listen. To make a face like you’re listening because your actual listening face looks both bored and troubled. You make sure that when she’s speaking, her complete sentences are met with a rapt but thinking attention. And when she’s done talking you tend to sit back as if you’re turning the ideas over though you’re able, usually, to do this while you’re listening, or at least to let words land in the parts of you that can digest them, and then gradually, mid-narrative, eat them up. So, “Hey” is never how you begin an earnest sentence. Nothing just occurs to you, until now.

You say instead that you love the ottoman. She looks at you a bit annoyed but as if she’ll never tell you that she’s annoyed and says Yeah, it’s cool right? I got it from my brother. And thank god you manage to ask, Oh wow, is your brother rich? You include a chuckle in there—or what you imagine is a chuckle since you don’ think you chuckle—on the “Oh wow” as if to say, This could be a joke if you would like it to be. And she says, He likes to show love by endowing comfort. And you scream! Out loud? Unclear now, but she went baritone on “endowing”. You’re having what people probably are describing when they say “out of body experience” though were you ever in your body? Now you start to wonder.

Where are you? In what room in what city? Is this the part when you kiss her on the mouth. Her sweater is exactly the kind of red that means she has had boyfriends her entire life. You get up to go to the bathroom because you’ve always loved mirrors and you look at yourself for a long time, making different faces. You have a bit of salt under your bottom lip, you have a generous face and the ability to turn it on a dime. You have a steady stream of income to ward off your undulating debts. You would, in a moment of weakness and defiance buy the fucking ottoman for yourself, in installments. You’re not sure who this makes you and you would like her to tell you. You flush the toilet which goes slow and quiet and takes everything with it.

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