The trouble is a feeling

I noticed last fall in Philadelphia that my attention was on the wane. Sudden blocks of time were disappearing from my memory — simply because I wasn’t noticing or really engaging the world around me. This was made pressingly clear to me as I was riding the blue line to work. I suddenly noticed that I was on the train — and no matter how hard I wracked my mind, I couldn’t recall how I’d gotten on. My entire morning was lost. Getting up, dressing, walking to the station, waiting for the train, finding a seat — all of that was gone from me, as though I had never done it at all.

Just before that experience, I had read an article on how the human mind feels as though time passes more quickly in middle age because there are fewer novel experiences for the mind to attend to. For many weeks before moving from Philadelphia early last summer, I remember feeling each night that it was impossible that it was already time for me to sleep. I was plagued by this sense that I had only a moment ago just risen, just begun the day…but the day itself was of no matter, unremarkable.

And some people want to live forever. If only each day could be as various and surprising as the very first of life.

To stop this terrible disorder, this sapping of my days, I realized I needed to attend to something each day. Something novel, but also consistently so. And so I’ve re-learned to take just a few minutes to notice the sky each day. In some ways, this is a sad lesson. As a child, I used to love cloud-gazing. I’d lay in the lawn for long periods and simply listen and observe. This memory bites me with its small teeth. What else have I forgotten that was precious to me?

The Sky Boiled Over, and I


Driving down to northern Virginia from Philadelphia this afternoon, and the sky looked like this. It hung over, too closely. I felt consumed by it.


Losing someone makes the world feel tart, bitter, too close, fragile, heavy. The suddenness of the universe hangs over like this. Ponderously. Intrusively. It doesn’t even care to point or remark on our smallness. It is.


This holiday is for gratitude. I am grateful and obedient. Obedient to the tenet of life — that it is far greater than I may ever be.


Disaster and History

Re-reading some of Anne Anlin Cheng’s work on Theresa Cha, and was struck by this statement:

“A painful distance lies between memory and historical event. In hindsight, in history, it seems as if disasters never cease to speak: in papers, journals, histories. Yet one’s ‘own’ relationship to that disaster (one’s ownership of that memory) can express itself only in description. Even ‘experience’ cannot guarantee authenticity for the event. For no one can be at the center of an ‘event’; its ‘eventness’ is its historicity and therefore at some level it is unavailable to personal experience or possession…., the ‘I’s relationship to historical trauma is always inherently journalistic.”

I was thinking about Underground National, and how that text was so personally painful for me to write. I have previously very much felt that span between historical event and myself, this wide gulf of unknowability that I felt I was asked to span in order to have a claim to my heritage. Who or what was asking? This sensation, this request—or rather this demand—felt outside of myself but deeply personal, like shame. More should be said and explored of this some time. Looking back, I did tend towards a documentary approach as a means for navigation. There was something journalistic about the process…of fact-finding, collecting, shaping in order to re/present this field that was my reaching for.

But there’s something that feels off-kilter about Cheng’s remarks when I compare them to my own experiences. Is the “I”s relationship to historical trauma always mediated through the process of description? Many historical traumas have been distilled down to me as a sort of psychological aftershock I contend with without knowing what it is I contend. A blankness that swells. My father’s childhood, for example. I know very little about it, but it presses down on me through him, the way he communicates with me. And that is intimately bound up in the trauma of war. And the way I express my relation to that—that skirts description, it fails to say. It rises like a mood.






Spring, for Pak Hyun Sook.

How it all turns, travels, unravels, splits, cuts, plants, and throws. So much this past month. Have I lived it? Am I still living now? And the way I move about. I see myself in it. I observe my feelings as though they were a stunned rabbit on a lawn–outside, in its own universe of sensations and alertness.

We turned our clocks back an hour, but I feel myself jetted *towards*. Into and into again. The day, its turns. These rotations of the seasons, our own orbit around the sun, the wheeling solar system, too. These designs echo. She’s gone. She’s elsewhere. She lived a full life, thoroughly, and was wrapped by her little ones as she turned. And just as she passed, I’ve passed into knowing. I saw death intimately, I shared in it as a suffering witness. And this knowledge, it stings. It grows, it is incomplete, yet it has entered me. And in this way, life eats itself and staggers onwards.


North of Invention Conference at the Kelly Writers House

Hello! It’s 2011, and it’s phenomenal.

If you’re in Philadelphia this week, you MUST go check out the North of Invention Conference, hosted by the Kelly Writers House and organized by Sarah Dowling. It’s going to be fantastic–a celebration of Canadian experimental writing. Wow! Some incredible  writers will be participating, such as Lisa Robertson, Nicole Brossard, Norbese Philip, etc. I get to introduce Christian Bok, whose work always blows my mind!

It’s going to be a packed weekend (starting on Thursday) that spans two cities–starting in Philadelphia and ending in New York. The itinerary is below!

Thursday, January 20: Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia

Friday, January 21: Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia

Saturday, January 22: Poets House, New York City


  • 2:00PM Welcome with Charles Bernstein & Sarah Dowling
  • 2:30PM A Conversation with M. NourbeSe Philip & Fred Wah
  • 4:00PM A Conversation with Stephen Collis & Christian Bök
  • 5:30PM A Poetry Reading with Stephen Collis, Sarah Dowling, M. NourbeSe Philip, a.rawlings & Fred Wah

Sunday, January 23: Poets House, New York City


  • 1:00PM A Conversation with Jeff Derksen & Lisa Robertson
  • 2:30PM A Conversation with a.rawlings & Jordan Scott
  • 4:00PM A Poetry Reading with Jeff Derksen, Christian Bök, Lisa Robertson & Jordan Scott

Review of Kim Ji-Woon’s The Good, The Bad, and the Weird (2008)

My friend May-lee was asking my thoughts on this film, so I thought I’d post this as a note to initiate a conversation with any other folks who have seen this.

The Good, the Bad, and The Weird is the 2008 film by director Kim Ji-Woon. He also did A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and A Bittersweet Life (2005). The Good, The Bad, and The Weird is a re-imagining of Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, this time with 1930s Manchuria set as the Wild West. Three money-driven outlaws–a Bandit (the Bad), a Thief (the Weird), and a Bountyhunter (the Good)–face off over a treasure map that allegedly details where an ancient Qing dynasty treasure is buried. The Japanese (funding the Bandit) want this map to fund their failing war efforts. The guerilla Korean Independence movement have hired the Bountyhunter to also steal the map so they can thwart the Japanese and fund their own independence efforts. The Weird happens to foil all these efforts when he robs the Japanese banker with the map while on a train. He later makes a short-lived (and unwilling) allegiance with the Bountyhunter, who seems vaguely sympathetic with the Independence movement but is ultimately driven by some unnamed desires–in a scene where the Bountyhunter is about to tell the Weird what he fights for and what he wants out of life, the Weird cuts in with a loud snore, leaving us forever in the dark about The Good’s motivations.

To illustrate just how bad the Bad is, **SPOILER ALERT**, he executes his Japanese handler in order to go after the map himself. When he finds out that the Weird possesses it, the film implies some previous bad blood between the two men in order to justify the Bad’s obsessive fixation with beating the Weird. At the climactic moment of the film, the movie devolves into a three-way Mexican Standoff/pissing contest to see who is the best gunslinger around. Just as in Leone’s film, the Weird really wins out in this movie. His goofy posturing, earthiness, and bumbling heroics make him a focal point of almost every scene. He also serves to deflate the grandstanding, uber-action antics of the Good and the Bad. A favorite moment of mine was when the Weird dons an antique undersea helmet during a gunfight, illustrating his common sense wits, whereas the Good soars like Tarzan on a rope over the action, reloading and shooting his shotgun with one arm. The Good might *look* good, but as far as surviving a gunfight goes, I think the Weird has it right.

There were some glaring anachronisms, like the fact that The Bad was dressed like Prince, the Good was dressed like a cowboy, and neither seemed to have any actual roots in the 1930s. Overall, the movie took itself too seriously to be just a comedy, but as an action flick was kind of goofy and didn’t hang together very well. The action sequences were a beat or two too long, and the epic chase scene, in which Manchurian Bandits, the Japanese Army, and the Bad’s goons are all chasing the Weird across the desert, felt like it lasted for years. The film also made insistent Korean claims on Manchuria–though those moments were meant as plot devices, they seemed quite earnest, and betrayed more about the film than the film perhaps intended. Lawless Manchuria, where all this takes place, represents the hopes and desires for two national imaginations–the Japanese and the Koreans (the Manchurian barbarians don’t have any dreams in the film). The “richness” of this space seems to lie in its possibilities–the way its desert spaces withhold secrets rather than fulfill desires. The ocean can appear over a ridge without any warning, just as oil can gush up from an abandoned well, only to recede again, inexplicably. As a contested territory, Manchuria doesn’t seem, well, worth it. It’s dirty, dusty, and dry. It’s true value, the movie suggests, is underground, unrecognizable, and ultimately forgotten by the film’s heroes, who are more interested in fighting for fame and prestige rather than material or spiritual reward.

I think the good reviews this film received were in part due to the novelty factor–of how it imagines Manchuria as the Wild West. It IS doing something interesting with its lack of emotional substance/mythic posturing, yet *insistent* historical context. Some critic called it a “cartoon of a cartoon,” and I think that is quite apt, in both good and bad ways. I loved the old Spaghetti westerns for their mythic handling of something as base as human greed. There really isn’t anything mythic here, just a lot of grandstanding over emptiness.

One STANDOUT aspect of this film, in my opinion, was the actor who plays The Weird–Kang-ho Song. Mr. Song is now certifiably one of my favorite actors. I’ve seen him in The Host, The President’s Barber, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Thirst, and now this. He is really QUITE transformative. I just watched Thirst a few weeks ago, and seeing that and then this film in quick succession just made me marvel at how he really became two different people for these films. In Thirst, he prowls about the screen with a guilty restlessness. In this film, he bumbles about with earnest self-interest. Wow and Wow.

Saving daylight?

I was wondering when daylight savings was this year, and saw that it’s not for another few weeks.

The concept of saving daylight amuses me. Isn’t it an always-expenditure?The end of the world is purportedly in three years. The sun might send out a giant flare that eats our entire planet. After the poles switch polarity.

What is true about daylight.

What is true about day.

The advantages of measurement–may I one day have the tally.

Whiteness + Behemoth = Mortal Exhaustion = Cataclysm

I saw Tristin Lowe’s “Big Mocha Dick” at the Fabric Workshop a few weeks ago. You can see one photo of it here.

I don’t want to really describe it, since I don’t think I’d do it justice, but the effect it had on me was stunning. Maybe because I wasn’t expecting to see it, I’m not sure…but I was filled with a real sadness. I felt like I was personally witnessing an extinction. I have a theory about this–I think it had to do with its immense size, and its whiteness. It wasn’t a gleaming industrial white, but that soft natural white of hemp. The fact that you could see various filaments of fibers in the felt impressed on me its made-ness, how it was crafted out of something else that had a life in the world previously.

The days of true prophets might have ended, but the terrifying mortal exhaustion that loomed over them and motivated their calls still hovers in our atmosphere. Does it wear the outline of a beached whale?

The greatest things ever known to man have been lost

I’ve been so happy. My housemates came down with me to spend a long weekend at my mom and stepdad’s place, I saw my sister’s brilliant show at the DC fringe, and just wrapped up a party celebrating her successes.

And yet, one thing I’ve struggled with lately is memory loss. I know there are things I’ve forgotten, and there are many things that I experience regularly that I know will disappear to me in a short period. I remember things said to me, but not by whom. I remember some events, but not who was there. Maybe on some fundamental level I recognize that, as humans, we are transients. If I have ever forgotten you, forgive me. And know I love you as dearly as my own self.

I know that I won’t remember most of the details from this trip. But I’ll remember something of my state of my mind, such as my peace and happiness. For those of you who filled it, thank you.

Writing this, I know I”ll lose it. I’ll have only this minor record.

Is this how one feels–at the very end?

And what else has been lost to us all– to mankind, in our totality?

Aren’t those the fragments we wash up against daily? Some thoughts feel like my own, and others feel thought for me.

Friendship = Yay = Cupcake = Mango

I’m with my friend Tim this morning on a study hall date. We get together once a week and do dissertation-y type work. He’s up against a tight deadline, and I’m up against my poor work habits. I’m also full of poundcake, which doesn’t help the brain. Boo.

Lovely Stan put up a post with some of the poems that were shared at my book release. I LOVE the poems. And not just because they were written for me. Check it out here.

There was an article in the New York Times online today about how widows tend to be better at maintaining relationships and therefore don’t feel the need to remarry. It’s kind of a sad statement on masculinity that men are far more likely to kill themselves. But, talking with my significant other and other guy friends I have, this is not a phenomenon limited to old age. Many of my male friends seem fairly emotionally isolated, though they have friends.

If I didn’t have friends, I think I’d be a very strange person. I’d probably talk to myself a lot.