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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Magical Thinking

On Friday evening, I got to watch Vanessa Redgrave embody Joan Didion. Her physical presence, as has been pointed out by the New York theater critics, was antithetical to something about how one pictures the fragility of Joan Didion. But as simple as it was, it was theater afterall—she was a body representing a voice. Her physical presence was in many ways like Didion’s writing—austere, feminine, haughty, commanding and curvy. At some moments, she still looked like an ingénue, at others she aged before our eyes; she held our attention with confidence and authority throughout.

The set—a bare wood floor with different vague, lonely seascapes in the background—evoked the photograph on the back of the book, which was projected at the close of the play. In the picture, Didion looks on whimsically from the corner at John and Quintana, who both face the camera. A glass of white wine taken for granted in her hand, a seascape behind them. A bare wooden porch, something like the one at my Dad’s house where I read the book with M, who had given it to me, inscribed with the word hopefully.

For ten months we tried to carry that hope, which was mostly about the right things: that love could sustain us, that money shouldn’t matter too much, that wanting the same things was more important than timing. The moral authority in Joan’s voice is almost scolding, of herself as much as the reader, for being human, fallible, and living outside the real world. Trying to teach the book last year at a state university made me aware of her class blindness and privilege in a way I hadn’t been. She’s a little snotty, they’d say, doesn’t she know this stuff happens to everyone? But the sparseness of the set, the humanizing of the moral authority (and its flaws) made it clear that, despite her matching drapes and preciousness, in the end, she really didn’t expect more than anyone expects: to love one’s family, to have true companionship, to get to say goodbye.

I saw the play with a family friend whose husband had died the same year—the scene was frighteningly similar; it had been orange juice, not scotch, that she handed her husband before he clutched his heart. It was the kitchen, not the living room. But the suddenness, the life changing in an instant, had been the same. She wrote about her own experience, sent it to Joan, who wrote her back. After the play, I realized I’d forgotten my umbrella and Mary encouraged me to go back and look for it. Predictably, it was not at my seat, not in the bathroom stall, as I hunted around, I became increasingly sure it was at the restaurant where we’d eaten hours earlier. It had stopped raining anyway. I got caught behind an elderly couple trying to make it down the stairs. Already having made Mary wait once that evening, I was impatient at first, but the man and woman were taking their time, making sure they had their footing at each step and that the other was by their side. When I reached Mary, she told me that in the time I'd been gone, something magical had happened. Joan Didion herself had emerged from the theatre, glowing and self-possessed. They’d introduced themselves before Didion was whisked away.

It turns out love isn’t enough to sustain us. The pressures of the less than magical world close in on us before long, but if you fear this too much, you lose track of those moments in the sun, on the porch, on the stair. Those moments when you can’t think about the end because the vastness around you is too big. It turns out that’s all we've got. The trick that I have yet to learn is how to hold on to it without squeezing too hard, how to be on the step I’m on without worrying too much about what’s at the bottom.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Poetry is Dangerous

Just ask Kazim Ali.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Question Mark

The detail that struck me the most about Cho Seung-Hui:

"...on the first day of a British literature class last year, the 30 or so students went around and introduced themselves. When it was Cho's turn, he didn't speak. On the sign-in sheet where everyone else had written their names, Cho had written a question mark.
"Is your name, `Question mark?'" classmate Julie Poole recalled the professor asking. The young man offered little response."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Primum non nocere

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"Do you still need the handkerchief? No,
just a permanent address."

from Ashbery's "The Recipe"

Monday, April 02, 2007

There should be a personality test that determines your psychology based on how you use punctuation. The ellipsis reveals hesitation; the question mark is overly enthusiastic. What does it mean if, like Barack Obama, you are heavy on the comma in your verse?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

My first book review just came out.

Can you tell what had just happened in my love life when I wrote it?