Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden, 1938
photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe
creepy saints and slimy sea creatures and garage rock and sopping words: this tumblr 2012
St Bartholomew, an early Christian martyr who was skinned. If you look closely, you’ll notice that’s not a robe, but actually his removed skin hanging around him. by Marco d’Agrate, 1562 (Duomo cathedral, Milan-Italy)
For though at this moment at least a hundred professors are lecturing upon the literature of the past, at least a thousand critics are reviewing the literature of the present, and hundreds upon hundreds of young men and women are passing examinations in English literature with the utmost credit, still — do we write better, do we read better than we read and wrote four hundred years ago when we were unlectured, uncriticized, untaught? Is our Georgian literature a patch on the Elizabethan? Where then are we to lay the blame? Not on our professors; not on our reviewers; not on our writers; but on words. It is words that are to blame. They are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all things. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind.
i am trying to keep simple lines, simple thoughts. it isn’t working but i am still trying. i will still be trying tomorrow. i will still keep trying after that.
i refuse to idolize audrey hepburn in any single way. i refuse to settle for the known. i will always walk until i’m haggard to find that exact smørrebrød shop i read about, even if i pass three other places i researched, even if i walk around a castle twice, even if i run out of water, even if i have to sit down to catch my breath on hour two: i will find it and when i do i will order five different types of sandwiches, eating all of them with a knife and fork, and drinking eight glasses of water and two cups of coffee to help get myself back to my bed.
all the notes from the trip are still unread from the days i wrote them, save for one day. i’m not going to tell you about that day but let’s just say it gave me something necessary, reminded me of a particular challenge i set for myself at the age of seventeen.
"the questions are always the same, except when they’re not i don’t know how to answer them."
"here is where i’ve considered: … "
"i’m telling you to do this."
"that’s stupid. that makes me angry."
"you know what you want to do."
there is more to see. i want to see more. i want to eat more. i want to know more.
i want to devour, to scour, to moor myself against the ancient anchor of words and see all the tides of the world, hear all of their fallible tongues, and see where i eventually wash up. sometimes it is a dream that i never set foot on land again.
none of these ideas are new but they’re mine.
simple does nothing and everything.
today i purchased a dress. it is in two parts. the first is a thin gray jersey piece of cloth that clings. the second is a piece of woven fabric, resembling lace but wider: it actually resembles Gorgonians all linked together in a super-colony covered in soot. these sea creatures were the first to develop the ability to take advantage of larger prey. also, if one part of the colony is hungry it is linked by germs to a separate but linked part which can share nutrition to the weaker bit. Gorgonians that grow in shallow areas with stronger currents are usually flexible and fan-shaped, while Gorgonians adapted to darker and calmer habitats tend to be stiffer and taller. They are named after a Saint Gorgonia who was miraculously cured twice by her own thoughts being relayed to a higher idea. Once she was trampled by a team of mules from her own chariot, crushing her bones to bits and her organs to mush. The second was a mixture of almost all known bodily ills from ache to freeze to woe, she cured herself the second time using the bread of the consecrated Eucharist and her own tears spread over her flesh. She was known for her utmost piety, so the creatures bearing her name are sometimes so linked with the creatures for which they provide housing. the pygmy seahorse is so adapted to living within a specific type of Gorgonian that it is hard to tell where one begins and one ends.
i don’t think i need any cures, but maybe there is a problem with wanting to be simple. maybe i do need to embrace the mess instead of asking all of these questions, investigating the doubts. i attempt to understand everything, even the defiant and the dark, even the ill and unwell. yet i remain afraid of the answers, and my fear is not of outrunning the truth but never coming to fully understanding it, falling just short.
i am going to run. i am going to move. i am going to get more. i am going and going and going. i will end up as some kind of new creature. i will let you know.
Most Gorgorians available for purchase are unhealthy or damaged from shipping, as they are quite delicate structures which gives their reputation as finicky or fussy beings an undeserved one.
For now I am failing at simplicity, but I’m trying. I’m okay with everything right now, I am fanning and feeling.
Te Amo by Los Saicos
I only brought one book with me on this trip, at least for the most part. I originally brought two, the second being Infinite Jest for a re-reading but after three nights of nightmares about being trapped on a city upon a hill where all the buildings windows were layered with advertisements in foreign languages I could not even guess as to what they were. I blamed it on him, but I know it was me.
But this book was suggested to me a long time ago, a professor now friend lent me her copy and I devoured it. Copying almost all of the poems into a notebook because at that time I had little money for new books and knew this would be difficult to sort out in a used section. But obviously the feet and the food kept me coming back, kept a tab on Ilya as I’ve now seen him read on both sides of my city in his wonderfully arching voice that has the complexity of a game meat. So when it came to deciding what to bring, a text about traveling from a home to a new place was obvious. But the more I read this, the more I walk from cobblestones to metal staircases above waterfalls, the more I sit as I realize four full weeks of motion are draining and frightening but still wholly necessary.
I keep seeing pictures of feet or even finding myself documenting my shoes (they started off as a new shade of cream white and now have strange mars and marks all over them), a cliche I have tried to avoid since high school when a perceptive teacher scolded us at our first darkroom session that if we, “ever bring a negative strip of just your cat or your feet”it will be an automatic fail for this course.
Her husband was a member of the Hell’s Angels. Her work used to be nudes but when she started teaching and had two children, instead she would do long exposures of her two daughters at night. She would often wear a cape and make sarcastic quips back at her students.
I liked her quite a bit.
I am not a ghost here, nor do I feel like a ghost back home. Those that are keys have remained in use; I have been opened and relocked. I am not impossible.
But the feet, and the idea of resurrection as I visit these cities built over ashes of ideas and blood keeps coming back. That should incite more nightmares than tennis and advertising, but I mostly don’t sleep well here. My bunk mate is loud while she sleeps, struggling to leave things and gather up the old once more. But I can not fully blame her, it is my worry that lingers while voices shout in Czech outside the window or while Paris taunts me from the bottom of the hill or even back in Copenhagen where the sea tried to smother me into a sickness for a known love. It is my own worry about sinfulness and sensations long gone, those unharnessed moments that I worry can never be retraced. But that is what this expiration is for, to invite me to preserve more, I remember the sound of shoes in the rain and how tires all make that woeful shooshing sound, to recall how my hair felt after standing in front of the most water in a falling motion in all of this continent.
I have been thinking a lot about feet and about hair this entire trip. Both of mine are long, at the longest they’ve both been no doubt. In Bruges, there was a portrait of when the sinful woman washes Jesus’ feet with her own tears, drying them with her hair and then washing him with perfume. That story was always one of my favorites, the image of bare feet being washed by compassion and impulse. The reception of forgiveness to one that owes a debt that is intangible and indecipherable into monetary terms. I have forgiven myself a lot this year, accepting my faults and pasts as I move into the future by first exploring the past left here. I can’t ask anyone to forgive my sins, not even myself. I am only working at attaining more love and life in the future.
In Prague many of the metro stops underground feel like unfulfilled promises. They are often empty, left to themselves with decor from a regime who believed themselves entitled to growth and blooms. But they fell from greed, as most do. So where am I left? I have all of my belongings in two bags, one on my back and another at my feet. I have a train that is taking me to the next bed, soon a next city, and then to regain my copy of Infinite Jest before flying home to the rest of my things and keys and beginnings.
This trip was not to tell me what I wanted but I ended up remembering anyway after a two hour long conversation about Biblical narratives and Goethe, how much I crave that and know it is attainable for me again. I also know that I have to pursue that goal in time, that like this trip I have to research my options from place to professor to program. There is always more to think about, more streets to discover, more smiles to recall.
To move from feet to hands, my favorite quote from this book has been morphing from smaller moments about soup and shoulders to this arching wisdom, “hands learn from the soil and broken glass,/ you cannot think a poem,” he says,/”watch the light hardening into words.”