Wednesday, April 27, 2016

'a rehearsal for the yet more impossible losses still to come'

In the Metamorphoses, there is a myth in which Baucis and Philemon, an old married couple, are the only people hospitable to Zeus and Hermes when the gods come to a town in disguise. As reward (along with destroying the town), the gods offer the couple any wish they want granted. They ask to die at the exact same time. On their death they become two entwined trees. The older I get, the more this story haunts a central room in my brain. I used to wonder why they didn’t ask for youth or beauty or riches. Now I don’t question the choice at all. When I think of my parents, I always end up at this story, the pleading humanity of it. Surely, it must happen this way for them, I think. Surely that’s the only way it could happen. Then I remember that this is as likely as them transforming into trees, and I close the door on the thoughts entirely.

Our culture has celebrities in place of myths, and we have grief twitter instead of byzantine lore about the journey to the underworld and the proper ways of burial. When celebrities die and we mourn them in a massively public way, this is a safe way to practice mourning for our parents and our partners and our friends, to try to force ourselves to make the unthinkable familiar. The generational quality of this grief comes from the fact that, as the celebrities with whom we grew up die, it signals that we are at the age where people are dying, and we look ahead to the inevitable disasters, the wave that grows larger on the horizon. If our public grief is a performance, it’s a performance in the way that a disaster drill is a performance. Our grief at losing an icon who meant a great deal to us is a real grief but a bearable one. But that bearable grief is a test-drive for future unbearable ones. We practice together in the hope that we can be prepared, so that the idea of loss does not seem so alien. Complaints about the inappropriate nature of grief on social media -- that it’s a circle-jerk, a joiner’s club, an obligated performance -- are as defining a part of these mournings as the remembrances themselves. But to call this grief a performance is to miss the point – it’s not a performance, it’s a rehearsal. It seems right to me that grief be public, and messy, and inconvenient, that it make everyone in its path uncomfortable. Small amounts of discomfort, after all, increase our tolerance for large amounts of pain. Mourning celebrities who mattered to us is a way to remind ourselves that no one is spared, not even those who seemed immortal, larger than a human being with petty little organs doing their pedestrian little jobs inside their skin. Speaking things aloud removes their terror, dulls the power of their unfamiliarity. We speak this over and over to try to come to terms with something that cannot possibly be made familiar.

- "Forever"

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"White Kimono," Mark Doty

Sleeves of oyster, smoke and pearl,
linings patterned with chrysanthemum flurries,
rippled fields: the import store's

received a shipment of old robes,
cleaned but neither pressed nor sorted,
and the owner's cut the bindings

so the bales of crumpled silks
swell and breathe. It's raining out, off-season,
nearly everything closed,

so Lynda and I spend an hour
overcome by wrinkly luxuries we'd never wear,
even if we could: clouds of--

are they plum blossoms?--
billowing on mauve, thunderheads
of pine mounting a stony slope,

tousled fields of embroidery
in twenty shades of jade:
costumes for some Japanese

midsummer's eve. And there,
against the back wall, a garment
which seems itself an artifact

of dream: tiny gossamer sleeves
like moth wings worrying a midnight lamp,
translucent silk so delicate

it might shatter at the weight
of a breath or glance.
The mere idea of a robe,

a slip of a thing
(even a small shoulder
might rip it apart)

which seems to tremble a little,
in the humid air. The owner--
enjoying our pleasure, this slow afternoon,

in the lush tumble of his wares--
gives us a deal. A struggle, to narrow it
to three: deep blue for Lynda,

lined with a secretive orange splendor
of flowers; a long scholarly gray for me,
severe, slightly pearly, meditative;

a rough raw silk for Wally,
its slubbed green the color of day-old grass
wet against lawn-mower blades. Home,

we iron till the kitchen steams,
revealing drape and luster.
Wally comes out and sits with us, too,

though he's already tired all the time,
and the three of us fog up the rainy windows,
talking, ironing, imagining mulberry acres

spun to this unlikely filament
--nearly animate stuff--and the endless
labor of unwinding the cocoons.

What strength and subtlety in these hues.
Doesn't rain make a memory more intimate?
We're pleased with our own calm privacy,

our part in the work of restoration,
that kitchen's achieved, common warmth,
the time-out-of-time sheen

of happiness to it, unmistakable
as the surface of those silks. And
all the while that fluttering spirit

of a kimono hung in the shop
like a lunar token, something
the ghost of a moth might have worn,

stirring on its hanger whenever
the door was opened--petal, phantom,
little milky flame lifting

like a curtain in the wind
--which even Lynda, slight as she was,
did not dare to try on.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

you don't have to be beautiful to turn me on

The “Kiss” video confirmed it: slim and made-up, this singer was challenging our limited sense of “man,” yet he was the manliest thing I’d ever seen—in an asymmetrical half-top. Moving in a way my young self couldn’t place as masculine or feminine, he was singing about someone being ‘his girl’ and there was a badass woman—fully clothed in a red suit—playing guitar. He was dancing half-naked around her (Wendy Melvoin). It was Derridean recognition at first sight. Not just of androgyny or gender-bending, but of sheer queer possibility.

- K.T. Billey

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q&A with Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, Spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department

The heroin crisis has affected your family?
Yes. Two years ago, my older brother passed away from a heroin injection. An overdose. He was 44. It was incredibly hard. I found out about it while I was up working in Oso during the landslide. We were close all our lives. As we both grew into adulthood, he struggled with addiction. It was hard to watch. My brother didn’t have much of a criminal history. He’d been to treatment. We didn’t know he was using heroin. I suspected it. But I also worked in drug court. I worked with people who struggled with addiction. I saw hundreds of people like my brother.
And based on what I experienced, which was eye-opening, people need to make choices about their lives. You can direct them, you can prod them, you can plead, you can coerce. But they have to choose. You can’t make the choice for them.
I couldn’t choose sobriety for my brother. So the best thing you can do in the meantime is make sure you’ve got sound policies around the issue and make sure it’s a compassionate approach. It’s a deeply personal reminder of how vicious and unforgiving and awful the heroin epidemic is. Police see that all the time. Firefighters see it. The public sees it. It’s not something that gets talked about.
Under Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s leadership, we’re finally able to say that SPD bike officers are going to be able to deploy naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, to people in need who have overdosed. It’s a relatively inexpensive drug that police can use during an overdose to save someone’s life. It’s a big commitment, but it’s time. It absolutely would have saved [my brother’s] life. He died in a restroom in North Seattle.
What else should people know?
The Good Samaritan law grants people immunity when they’re reporting an overdose to 911. People still think they’re going to get in trouble, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. In a state of overdose, seconds count. You have to get the person help right away. It has to get into the collective psyche that you need to call for help. It’s very risky to inject. We’ve said it before: If you’re going to inject, at least do it with someone else in case something goes wrong, so they can call and ask for help.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


My mother died of mesothelioma last month, so I might not be around for a while. Her music is still here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

books read in April 2016

Fiction is in red. Date of first publication in (parentheses).

11. The Madwoman Upstairs, Catherine Lowell (2016) (poorly written, and DREADFULLY inaccurate in nearly every Bronte detail)
12. Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS, Martin Duberman (2014)
13. Maskerade, Terry Pratchett (1995) (first reread in quite a long while)
14. Downfall of the Gods, K.J. Parker (2016)
15. Daughter of Hounds, Caitlin R. Kiernan (2007) (reread)
16. Them: Adventures with Extremists, Jon Ronson (2001) (v funny but ultimately too shallow for its subject, just like the public shaming book)

all 2016 booklist posts

hush your mouth

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

two quotes

I listened to people say consoling things to my mother, and I was glad that my dad's family had turned up, had come to where he was. I thought I'd remember everything that was said and done that day and maybe find a way to tell it sometime. But I didn't. I forgot it all, or nearly. What I do remember is that I heard our name used a lot that afternoon, my dad's name and mine. But I knew they were talking about my dad. Raymond, these people kept saying in their beautiful voices out of my childhood. Raymond. 

- Raymond Carver


We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there. First we were sitting up, then one of us lay down, and then we all lay down, on our stomachs, or on our sides, or on our backs, and they have kept on talking. They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet, with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of night. May god bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away. After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.

- James Agee