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Archive for April 1st, 2009

rust

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Via wood s lot, a series of 100 photos by Kevin Bauman of abandonned houses. I’m guessing they’re from Detroit from the look of them and from the photographer’s biographical statement.

It’s hard to explain to people elsewhere about America. Can’t ever hit that sort of tragic pitch, the one that works just right without false tears and advertising tactics. It’s gotten even harder, I suppose, since the celebrity cities that people are likely to have visited have completed the great shift that happened just at the start of the bubble – that was in fact the run-up to the bubble – with the creatives leaving their parental suburban homes to bed in “post-Giuliani” Brooklyn, get advanced degrees, have children, and start worrying about the local primary schools and complaining about the graffiti on the swingsets.

I remember my first night living in the rust belt, the elsewhere of the place, not at all unfamiliar to me for reasons geographical, macro-economic, biographical, and familial, but still thick after Brooklyn. I lived in a house not unlike the one pictured above, at least structurally. Beautiful hardwood, a crazed Swiss theme to the outside, overlooking a large circular park in the center of the city.

A feral cat with one eye lived in the bushes by the front door. Kids re-enacted scenes from The Wire in the park in front; my wife would watch them as she breastfed in the baby’s room. A car would pull up to the circle, idle on the median, and a little black kid would come bounding around the corner, hand something to the driver through the passenger-side window, and then sprint away in the other direction. When we called the police about this, they said they knew – said they were working on it. They never came.

You could walk to a supermarket that opened the week we moved in and closed ten months later. But it wasn’t a nice supermarket, so we drove out on weekends to one in the suburbs.

When then pipes clogged the basement filled to ankle depth with raw sewage. The place felt fuller of narrative, narrative potential, than any place I’ve ever lived before. That first night, fearful and panging already for Brooklyn, I thought to myself, This is the sort of place where one sinks back and writes. There are things, even in the little backyard, the house next door, to write. Be calm, or panic if you must, but there is work here.

And then I left for England, almost exactly thirty months after I arrived.

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April 1, 2009 at 10:35 pm

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daily lunch order

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I’ll take one everyday but you can hold the Heideggerian inauthenticity, the pastoralist/primitivist fallacy, and the surrealist merveilleux. Plain, yeah, that’s how I want it.

So hard to find a place that knows how to make a good one, know what I mean? Basically, there’s nowhere – even Chef Lefebvre spends half his career saucing salading it in fantasies about organic agro-villages and the good old days. Further, this is why it’s really important to read Raymond Williams’s The Country and the City if you want to work on the everyday… or really work on anything at all.

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April 1, 2009 at 10:56 am

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“my own lavatory and a daily copy of The Times”: larkin on work, bunnycide

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Ah, two weekdays mostly at home and suddenly the infarctional insanity of work is thrown into stark relief. This is so civilized, gawd. Wake up, walk my daughter to school (I’m usually on the bus an hour before she goes), sit at my kitchen table with newspapers and novels and coffee.

Anyway, here’s a nifty thing from the TLS about the earliest interviews with and articles about Philip Larkin to appear in the press….

I was particularly struck by Larkin’s loathing of work, including, I suspected, his job as a librarian, although he carefully did not specify this. We discussed his career and much of what he told me I included in my profile. He said that on going down from Oxford he could have taught or gone into the Civil Service. “I did not want to teach because I stammered and the Civil Service turned me down. I even considered journalism but I could not write to order.” I omitted, for obvious reasons, what he told me about his first job at Wellington in Shropshire. “I saw and applied for a job as librarian at Wellington”, he said.

“The last man had scrubbed the floor and stoked the boiler but I refused to do this. I was accepted nonetheless. This was a stupid choice that has determined the course of my life ever since but I didn’t have the courage to chuck it up. My two-and-three-quarter years at Wellington were the most unhappy of my life – and the most creative.”

(I did not know then that it was while he was at Wellington that he met and broke up with Ruth Bowman, the only woman to whom he was ever formally engaged.)

“I hate work. Libraries are a quite pleasant way of earning a living. Dismal prospects though! Jobs connected with books like publishing are not good for creative writing. That’s why libraries, all technical and administration, are so good.”

He added wistfully: “It’s too late to change now”, and, only half in jest:

“I’d like to have been a solid, uncomplicated, second-rate novelist producing a novel a year. And not ‘Crouch in the fo’c’sle, stubbly with goodness’. My only ambition now is to write more, to write better and to live without working, which is immensely distasteful to me. I’d like to earn enough to retire on from football pools, which I do every autumn.”

I asked him if that really was his only ambition. His answer was that, as he had spent most of his life in bedsitting rooms and was still in one (“the only life I have known”), he would also like to achieve his two private symbols of luxury, “my own lavatory and a daily copy of The Times”. Greatly daring, I asked him if he contemplated marriage (I knew nothing then of his tangled love life or of his difficulties with girls). He said he certainly intended to. “I’m not a confirmed bachelor but I rather enjoy the rattlesnake image.”

Ah, so you see? I’m starting to think, more and more each day, that these sort of stories are worth thinking about. Duh. OK – I’ll put it this way. Do you know when you teach lit (if you teach lit), we always end up starting out with some sort of capsule biographical description before heading on to the Heavy Work of close reading or whatever? Well, I’ve rejiggered my capsules to focus on this sort of story and not the other one. The story of “creativity” is the story of finding space, time, and market. It’s sort of a more materialist, matter-of-fact, less mystical-abyssal, Adornoism, btw btw btw, before anyone hits out at me for being, well, something about all of this.

Harumpf. Bonus poem time:

Myxomatosis

Caught in the center of a soundless field
While hot inexplicable hours go by
What trap is this? Where were its teeth concealed?
You seem to ask.
I make a sharp reply,
Then clean my stick. I’m glad I can’t explain
Just in what jaws you were to suppurate:
You may have thought things would come right again
If you could only keep quite still and wait.

Nice, geez. Have never read that one before. And am facinated by mixy bunnies, so there you have it. But it’s also a decent enough poem about work, if you squint at it, no?

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April 1, 2009 at 9:08 am