Category Archives: nihlism

Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović

Walk Through Walls is Marina Abramović’s extraordinary story. I mean, of course it’s extraordinary–it warranted a book. And it did. Abramović gives the account of her tumultuous and abusive (my word, not hers) upbringing, replete with political upheaval and familial strife–inexcusable even given the PTSD and OCD that pervades the family dynamic.

Image result for Abramović walk through walls

image from amazon.com

I continue to be interested in reading about powerful women, women who live lives that are very different than the ones they grew up in, women who were able to imagine and create a way for themselves with the degree of freedom and autonomy that their art requires.

Recently, in an interview, I heard Patti Smith say that the artists path is a spiritual path, that pursuing it and making art is a spiritual experience. In that the making of art puts me in a meditative state, which is a spiritual experience, I agree.

Abramović writes honestly, even self critically, about the spiritual and emotional experiences of her life, and the relationships in which she engaged, and even contributed analysis on her painful patterns and what they might suggest. It was all very honest and real and shed some light into my own painful patterns and what can be done about them (hint: probably not a lot).

So many of the artists I’ve been reading about have traveled extensively and have sought esoteric (at least to a Westerners view) spiritual rituals for self growth and healing, engaging in shamanic treatments in Brazil, learning telepathy from Aboriginals in Australia, and completing months-long meditations in India.

Lately, I’ve wanted to have more meaningful interactions in my work. Abramović’s work empowers me to do so. Her art is really weird, and many might view it as sensationalistic, existing only for the sake of shock and awe, but in reading the book, I was quickly and easily persuaded that performance art is very much art. It’s complex and provocative and does all of the important things that more traditional art does.

For as much as her most intimate relationships brought her pain and betrayal, Abramović heals these wounds for herself and others (her audience and her students), time and time again. Perhaps I can find ways to do more of the same in the work that I do. At least I can try.

After reading the book and being inspired by her story, I felt more emboldened to live my life in a way that was more fully authentic to who I am. So currently I am working hard to change a few things about my life, bringing it more into accord with my essential self, trying to set things up in ways that are more conducive to my well being, and wearing these big sunglasses that fully protect my eyes on the top bottom and the sides. (I wore them yesterday while browsing a plant nursery, and it felt great, and zeros effs were given.)

I thought I marked more passages (I know it did!), but in the end, this is all I could find:

“Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do” (182).

“If animals live a long time together, they start loving each other. But people start hating each other” (290).

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

I needed to read something artistic, and so I finally read Bluets by Maggie Nelson. I read it quickly. (It did not need to be read slowly.) It seemed like I’d read this book before. It reminded me of Coeur de Lion by Ariana Reines, but not as beautiful as that in terms of the sentence. It was beautiful, though, and smart–one of the best books I’ve read in the genre. I had little patience for the sexual aspects of the book. That’s me though. Lately, those inclusions seem cheap. I used to “get it.” Adding the sexual gave writing that perfect blend of raw and mystery. Anymore I only want to think about birds and botany.

Bluets - Maggie Nelson

image from wavepoetry.com

 

Lines I liked:

“My Thought has though itself through and reached a Pure Idea. What the rest of me has suffered during the at long agony, is in describable” (Mallarmé 2-3).

“Now I like to remember the question alone, as it reminds me that my mind is essentially a sieve, that I am mortal” (62).

“…the blue of the sky depends on the darkness of empty space behind it” (62).

“For some, the emptiness itself is God; for others, the space must stay empty” (86).

“…ask not what has been real and what has been false, but what has been bitter, and what has been sweet” (86).

“As a rule we find pleasure much less pleasurable, pain much more more painful that we expected” (87).

“She is too busy asking, in this changed form, what makes a livable life, and how she can live it” (88).

“Imagine someone saying, “Our fundamental situation is joyful.” Now imagine believing it…Or forget belief: imagine feeling, even if for a moment, that it were true” (89).

“When I was alive, I aimed to be a student not of longing, but of light” (95).

Words/concepts that inspired further study:

  • the male satin bowerbird
  • International Klein Blue
  • samsara
  • the jacaranda tree
  • the Tuareg
  • The Oblivion Seekers

Willfull Disregard by Lena Andersson

At last I’ve found a book that I really, really like. (!). It’s Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson, and I can’t remember how I found it, but I’m very glad that I did. I read it quickly because it’s a library book, and I’m at the end of summer semester, and so I’m busy grading, but also busy getting ready to hit the ground running, which is what I do every summer since adulthood and even now in order to escape my current city and state. (Gorgeous state. Currently insufferable.) So, I only had a week to read this thing.

image from amazon.com

When I first learn of the title, I knew Willful Disregard was going to be my kind of novel. It is funny and smart and good in exactly the way that title is funny and smart and good. It’s the kind of book that makes me glad to learn that the author (Lena Andersson) exists in the world. It gave me hope for humanity.

It’s funny, but it’s also devastating. It captures the analysis and the over analysis and the helplessness of unrequited love. It captures how long it takes. It captures the intense meaning read into every single event and adverb and sideways glance. You think you’re better and smarter than all of this, only to see (years later with the clarity of hindsight) that you were insane, that your precious friends and onlookers were gentle with your…willful disregard of all evidence and reality suggesting otherwise than your well laid plans, intentions, and interpretations.

And even if you have been strong enough or numb enough to have never fallen into this type of stupid, full-body kind of love, you’ll probably still enjoy the deep insights into humanity, the smart philosophizing, along with mocking pretension that Andersson offers up in this novel. It’s her fifth book and first translated into English. With any luck, we’ll get more from her.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

As you know, one of my favorite genres is a memoir from a female comedy writer. It’s like hanging out with a really funny best girlfriend all weekend. Is it weird that I artificially fabricate this experience through reading? Maybe. I don’t care. I read Mindy Kaling’s first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? during a frantic “pleasure reading” phase I went through between the time I submitted my dissertation and the time I graduated.

This time, I am realizing (perhaps late) that Kaling writes, plays, (and maybe is?) just one character. But, like Jack Nicholson and James Franco (maybe I’ve only seen his stoner films?), nobody cares because it’s such a good character. The Office’s Kelly Kapoor, The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahiri, and the identity Kaling develops in both of her books are all basically the same person. She’s a myopic, worst/best basic bitch kind of person, and it’s hilarious. She’s always simultaneously doing great commentary on gender and femininity. She describes the persona best: “Mindy is…a combination of Carrie Bradshaw and Eric Cartman” (75).

image from books.google.com

Here’s the take away of Why Not Me: First, you will want to eat McDonalds. And yes, there is some filler content. All of these books have filler. Like, okay, I’ll read a script that’s not going anywhere and a commencement speech that you gave. And, yes, the book was probably written by a ghost writer (but that ghost writer does a great job maintaining Kaling’s voice throughout!) And regardless, Kaling writes some grade-A jokes for these books, and even inspires her reader a bit toward the end. I was thinking, “Hey, yeah, why not me?!” Then, laced up my running shoes and achieved my dreams.

Here are some of the lines I loved:

Real Talk

  • “I’m skrilla flush with that dollah-dollah-bill-y’all” (4). This is the single best description of me on payday.
  • “[T]he gulf between a friend and a best friend is enormous and profound” (27).
  • On breakups: “So, the only decent way for him to have broken up with you is to not break up with you and stay with you forever” (39).
  • “As someone who enjoys secrets, exclusivity, and elitism…” (40).
  • People don’t say “Give me your honest opinion” because they want an honest opinion. They say it because it’s rude to say “Please tell me I’m amazing” (125).
  • “[R]ecycling makes America look poor” (139).
  • “[H]ard work must be rewarded with soul-replenishing gossip” (139).
  • “I have a terrible habit of impulsively sending text messages that reveal my true feelings” (140-41).

On Body Image

  • “One of the great things about women’s magazines is that they accept that drinking water and sitting quietly will make your breasts huge and lips plump up to the size of two bratwursts” (10).
  • “I cannot imagine a life more boring and a more time-consuming obsession than being preoccupied with watching what I eat” (194).
  • “But my secret is: even though I wish I could be thin, I don’t wish for it I don’t wish for it with all my heart. with all my heart. Because my is reserved for way more important things” (202).

I want to say some more about the body image stuff. So, I can work to get the sick body, the one with that weird vein between your lower ab and hipbone, but it does require me to think about what I’m eating and get regular exercise. It takes time and mental energy–time and mental energy I’m not always willing to give. Take graduate school, for example. I knew I would take four years and focus my energy on learning. And, so I didn’t think much about what I ate, and I taught and practiced yoga several times a week. I gained weight. I felt fine. This lasted four years.

Now, I can focus more time and energy on my body. Most people I know who pour 100% into looking good look great, but aren’t very interesting to talk to. Additionally, I simply have the kind of brain that requires me to spend time thinking about the meaninglessness of life and experiencing existential angst. I simply can’t/don’t want to transfer that energy into diet and exercise. I liked when Kaling wrote, “I don’t wish for it I don’t wish for it with all my heart. with all my heart” (202), and I think that’s a healthy approach. Anyway, I certainly haven’t found a balance, and I sort of don’t think a balance is possible (for women), and that sucks…is the way I’m going to end this post.

brains

For most of my life I’ve felt relatively happy and well-adjusted—this despite a few run of the mill traumas and dysfunctions. Some of my beloved friends and close relatives, some with genius IQs and crazy good artistic abilities, have not always faired so well mentally. They struggle with addiction and various mental illnesses, i.e. depression, anxiety, a bit too much paranoia, et al. They are all wonderful and funny and great to be around and to talk to, except when they are not. They have brains they all contend with daily. I love them. They are wonderful people. The best people. Though, being around them, I’ve often wondered how I got so lucky to feel pretty good most of the time. Well, here’s the answer: I don’t.

This is a surprise to me because it’s a fairly recent discovery.  I’ve had a few dark periods in my adult life, but they were situational and could be measured in months. I was always able to improve with simple things like exercise and time. What I’m realizing, though, is that my sanity may have been a direct result of keeping my brain very very very busy. Basically, I’ve noticed that if I’m not keeping busy by practicing yoga, falling in love, playing the piano, or earning a PhD, my brain gets bored and tries to take itself to crazy town.

When I completed my PhD, I thought I was done with school forever. Now, I’m not so sure. After ten years of school, I wanted to develop other aspects of myself besides just my intellect. These days I have to practice piano, I practice yoga, I make art, and I volunteer with work that (sometimes) seems meaningful for my mental health. (Though several times in the past year I’ve been tempted to stop the volunteer thing.) Meaninglessness in everything is one of the tricks my brain plays on me, and so finding meaning in life is crucial to my happiness. Basically, I have to work at keeping this brain of mine happy. I love my brain, but I’m learning I have to give it what it needs or else it will punish me.

my (new to me) piano

my (new to me) piano

My Body Is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta

image from amazon.com

image from amazon.com

For those of you who miss the bygone days of the grad school creative writing workshop, My Body is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta is going to be your jam. It fostered in me nostalgia for those rapid cycling days of pushing myself to the psychological and intellectual limits to produce the wildest new thing imaginable only to discover it’d already been done, and better, and then I was back to the drawing board, and I did this on repeat for a couple of years until maybe (maayyybee) I really did create a few new things.

Washuta’s book has the messy feel of a creative writing workshop. In many of the sections, you can almost imagine the writing prompts to which she’s responding. Readers unfamiliar with this kind of (independent?) prose could very well be put off by this book. And to be fair, even as far as independent presses go, this book has some clunky, first effort moments. As a reader, I was okay with these moments because I was just so glad to be reading something new and different and good and incredibly personal and raw. Maybe too raw.

It’s difficult to write about one’s own mental illness without seeming off-puttingly self-indulgent, and Washuta is aware of this problem and bravely soldiers on. Her themes are so smart—a beautifully nuanced commentary on interactions between race, gender, government, and society. It’s weird. Life’s weird.

Interestingly, both Lena Dunham and Washuta published their books last year and both sometimes use a footnote method, where they break down a piece of text (such as their online dating profile or food journal) with footnotes. The footnotes are so great and so real. It feels very intimate. The only downside (and it’s a big one for me) is that you’ll get vertigo from going back and forth between the original text and the footnotes.

Here are some words I loved:

First, the title: My Body is  Book of Rules is genius.
Next, a chapter title that she should’ve saved for the title of her next novel: “Faster Than Your Heart Can Beat.”

Her descriptions of bipolar:

“…decreased social judgement” (12).

“…a window left open to let the murderers in” (13).

Commentary on Cosmo’s “sex tips”:

“…definitely don’t forget his sack” (18).

Her literary criticism:

She nails her analysis of Catcher in the Rye (a book with which I was previously enamored) like I’ve never seen before when she writes that it “Talks about what’s wrong when that’s not really what’s wrong” (63).

Her insights on life:

“Hope is the thing that comes before the very fucking scary thing” (135).

“do it because you want to, so badly, because you can’t not” (176).

“I am enough” (177).

“Nowadays, when someone else wants to reach me, they get a perpetual busy signal while I whisper sweet nothings to myself late into the night” (177).

“Perfection is hard to stomach” (183).

compulsory new year message and ruminations on entertainment

In the past few days, I’ve had some pretty dire thoughts about human existence, which is just that it is a pointless string of entertainment, that is horrifically toxic to all living things, and then you die, having killed countless other living things along the way.

pointlessness of existence

pointlessness of existence

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been caring for my nephew quite a lot. Now, understand that he is the cutest and best kid. I’m not used to being around children, but this one is wonderful. He is kind and friendly and curious and smart and just generally a wonderful blessing to be around. As wonderful as he is, caring for a young person has me thinking some deeper, more existential and nihilistic thoughts about the pointlessness of existence.

A friend once told me that 10% of the population is creator and 90% of the population is consumer. I am not a huge consumer of entertainment. In part, that’s because I grew up in the backwoods of Eastern Oregon, where “entertainment” was not readily available. As a result, I’ve always been a builder and a creator. Even if just in small ways. Even if it is just with these blog posts. I’d rather spend my time creating than being entertained.

In caring for a young child, I am struck by how everything is geared toward entertaining the child. There are the movies that play on repeat, of course, and the toys. I even find myself planning crafts and cooking activities. And, while they do provide an avenue for artistic creation and even some usefulness, I find that lately I’ve been thinking about them as entertainment as well—some way to pass the time between nap and bedtime. How profoundly pointless.

In the past year, I have created. I wrote a poem. I wrote some scholarship. I had some meaningful conversations with people from whom I had something to learn. I wrote articles. I wrote these. But more so than ever before, I entertained myself as a coping mechanism to deal with some heartache and some loneliness and some general and newfound directionlessness. To fill the void, I’ve entertained myself with pointless distractions that are not really in accord with building and creating, even if only in small ways.

Last night, for New Year’s Eve, I fully intended to stay in (subzero temperatures also made this appealing). I wanted to take some time to read, write, and reflect on 2014 and see if there were any insights to gain based on my actions. Unexpectedly, I was invited to join a small soiree of my mom’s new work colleagues. I had to drag myself out of the house (as usual), but I am so glad I went. These people lived in a home they had built on a mountainside many decades earlier. The walls were covered with paintings, macramé, brocades, and batistes that had been carefully gathered from around the world. Guitars, a harmonica, and books were lying throughout the home, and cozy couches and chairs circled an open fireplace. It was a space conducive to wine and intimate conversation. It was a home I might aspire to create for myself one day.

The people were a generation or two older than me, old hippies, academics, retired doctors, all passionately interested in ideas. One retired doctor, in an old shirt so awesome it had come back in style, pulled me aside for an impassioned conversation about memory. “I am my memory, but memory is undeniably fallible. So, then, what am I?” I love this man, I thought. This is what Z will be like when he is old, I thought. In the end, on New Year’s Eve, I was surrounded by my people. I was not entertained. I was engaged in conversation. I was staying focused. I was learning. I was enriched. I spoke with several women, with beautiful white hair and wrinkled faces, who told me about how they’d done things a little differently, and how it had all been for the best and that I could do things a little differently too. I felt encouraged. I have to remember that.

It was a beautiful, life-affirming evening, and I hope it is a harbinger of things to come in 2015.