My Life and Times

Stories of Excess

Stories of Excess

Turn on the Bright Lights, fifteen years on

Turn on the Bright Lights, now experiencing a well-deserved fifteen-year anniversary celebration, is an album that could definitely while away a wistful witching hour or two. I don’t mean this to sound like bragging: though I was one of its composers, I now feel more like a confused participant, or a survivor of PTSD.

Beat the Clock

Beat the Clock

I can tell he is not used to a woman standing up to him, to a female player who understands contract law.

The life of the female athlete overseas is scattered and obscure, a private and difficult endeavor experienced by only a handful of people at a time. Most of us are not on a national team, and cable TV cameras are rare—so rare that they don’t usually appear at all.

Cankerworms

Cankerworms

Mothering is not only gathering together; it is also letting go, dropping one’s grasp—accidentally, ideally, but dropping it nevertheless.

“Here I was, enjoying a continuity of being.” The big sphere of my baby’s head was very much like a circle, and when he felt like he was falling, his little arms and legs jerked upwards, like their propulsion could push him back to his starting point. Because I was not a not-good-enough mother, this didn’t happen very often, but I winced every time it did, nevertheless. The difficulty of maternal gathering is that it is always going to fail. To grow—to become a person—the baby must get past his earliest, balloon-like self. He must separate himself into a head and a body, then a head, a body, and arms. The project is not solely separating the baby from his mother; it is separating the baby from himself. Building a version of self that can acknowledge its hands and feet. Its mind, within, and its skin, without.

No One Thinks of Rilke in the Recovery Room

No One Thinks of Rilke in the Recovery Room

All mothers die eventually, but it doesn’t follow that motherhood is like dying.

But while birth can lead to being close to death, it seems wrong to think that the crisis of birth is anything like death. All mothers die eventually, but it doesn’t follow that motherhood is like dying, even if one almost dies—or does die— while becoming a mother. What makes the comparison inviting is that the work of laboring is such that the versions of yourself you held dear until labor begin to dissolve. There’s no quality to the thought or feeling while laboring or immediately after giving birth. One just is. No one thinks of Rilke in the recovery room. The child, once born, is human, no more, no less. No one is truly quiet giving birth.

A Thin Place

A Thin Place

Truth is you were ransacked and you will never cease to know that.

You drift gingerly out of the clinic. The air flaps and you quiver. You linger a minute at the squat wall between the carpark and the pavement—over there is the old St. Columba’s graveyard, where you always meant to go. This town was a “thin place” that pilgrims came to, in the belief that here the margin is finest between heaven and earth. You can’t fathom that. Heaven’s only a sweet con to mollify and defer you, an excuse for why some days here get so painful. No reason, no good reason. Would it be better or worse if you had reason to feel this joyless? Nothing matters and you’re meant to keep on going on.

Isn’t America a Dream?

Isn’t America a Dream?

Book Tour Diary

Something is always breaking down on the New York subway, and when the loudspeaker announces it to the ladies and gentlemen, you have to invent a new route to your destination. On one occasion, I found myself walking back and forth through a subway station with a group of Chinese people, Latin Americans, and Europeans. None of us could manage to figure out a new way to get to Queens, where not a single train seemed to be going.

Writing for Rejection

Writing for Rejection

And reading Doris Lessing.

Of course I’ve owned feminine clothing all my life. But I wore it in public only as a gesture of deference toward my hosts or my audience—never as a way of being myself. For reasons I struggle to comprehend, The Golden Notebook made me feel that a woman can be as valuable as a man, as limitless in her potential, with the same right to drape her body in a lot of extra fabric. (Maybe you know Umberto Eco’s 1976 essay on the emasculating effect of putting on jeans when you’re used to a suit. He should see the jeans they have now.)

Woman Problems

Woman Problems

One moment, walking. The next—am I real?

When my son was almost 4 months old, I was walking down the street with him strapped to my chest. He was big—nineteen pounds—and alert. I was walking slowly, in loping, elephantine strides, trying to take as long as possible, and to walk as securely as possible. It had taken me a long time to get this confident—if that’s what you could call it—walking with him, but the thread of fear still lived in me. I was still anxious. Then, all of a sudden, I couldn’t tell if I was real or not. That was how rapidly it happened, and this is what it was like. One moment, walking. The next—am I real?

The Last Last Summer

The Last Last Summer

Donald Trump and the fall of Atlantic City

All along the Boardwalk, the sun-bleached, tattered banners read do ac — the city’s latest marketing catchphrase. The Boardwalk was a scrum of such imperatives, with Trumps on every side issuing edicts and diktats, offering bargains. Trumps in toupees and with their guts hanging over their change belts, out on Steel Pier, out on Central Pier, trying to get me to try the ring toss, though the rubber rings always bounce off the rubber bottles, or to try the beanbag pitch, though the lily pads they’re supposed to land on are kept wet and slippery with a shammy. Try Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy, which contains no saltwater. Step right up and I’ll guess your weight, or at least I’ll make your wallet lighter. What American literature taught me — what Melville taught me in The Confidence-Man, what Poe taught me in “Diddling,” that imagination or fantasy can be a form a greed, even a uniquely American form — the shills and carny barkers taught me first, at $2 a lesson: I would never win that stuffed elephant.

Don't Be Scared, Homie

Don't Be Scared, Homie

“My sternum hurt for, like, almost two years“

There are of course many dedicated MMA news sites, and ESPN has ramped up coverage, but the best discourse takes place elsewhere. Half of what I’ve learned has been from podcasts like Heavy Hands and Fights Gone By and pseudonymous YouTube analysts and a Twitter user handled @GrabakaHitman, who’s devoted his life to GIFing every last fight anywhere anytime. Exemplary tweet: “Can someone find a Fuji TV One stream so I can watch a Russian hand-2-hand combat expert fight a Mongolian wrestler on a moat at 4am? Thanks.”

Old Ship

Old Ship

What did you think, that joy was some slight thing?

You asked for philosophy and I am bringing it, late-night dorm-basement style. But I’m not just splitting hairs. This variety in our actual experience suggests — I think — that Camus got the question wrong, or that the question itself is the problem. The only important philosophical question isn’t why we each, individually, might choose to live. It’s how to live with each other, given that the facts of our lives are contingent on the facts of others’.

In Tbilisi

In Tbilisi

”It’s forbidden to be sad in Georgia.”

Most of Günel’s reports deal with women’s rights in the South Caucasus.

“The lives of Azerbaijani women living in Tbilisi are different from those of Georgian women,” she said. “Azerbaijani girls are taken out of school by their families in the ninth grade and married off at the age of 14. If Azerbaijani girls resist, it’s suicide. Our child’s nanny became a grandmother at 32. Talk to her.”

Their nanny, Renka, agreed to pose for a portrait and talked a little bit about herself.

She was married at 13 and had a daughter when she was 14.

Every Body Goes Haywire

Every Body Goes Haywire

It’s inconceivable to most people that this is it—there is no other, underlying condition. The headaches are the condition itself.

A migraine attack blurs the distinction between “sickness” and “health.” Headache, dizziness, nausea, trouble concentrating, fatigue, poor verbal skills—these symptoms could just as easily result from a hangover or a bad night’s sleep. That the same symptoms can result from irresponsible decisions gives patients an air of culpability.

The Last Last Summer

The Last Last Summer

Donald Trump and the Fall of Atlantic City

All along the Boardwalk, the sun-bleached tattered banners read do ac—the city’s latest marketing catchphrase. The Boardwalk was a scrum of such imperatives, with Trumps on every side issuing edicts, diktats, offering bargains. Trumps in toupees and with their guts hanging over their change-belts, out on Steel Pier, out on Central Pier, trying to get me to try the ring-toss, though the rubber rings always bounce off the rubber bottles, or to try the beanbag-pitch, though the lily pads they’re supposed to land on are kept wet and slippery with a shammy. Try Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy, which contains no saltwater. Step right up and I’ll guess your weight, or at least I’ll make your wallet lighter. What American literature taught me—what Melville taught me in The Confidence-Man, what Poe taught me in Diddling, that imagination or fantasy can be a form a greed, even a uniquely American form—the shills and carny barkers taught me first, at $2 a lesson: I would never win that stuffed elephant.

Uncanny Valley

Uncanny Valley

I would say more, but I signed an NDA.

The meeting begins without fanfare. They thought I was an amazing worker at first, working late every night, last out of the office, but now they wonder if the work was just too hard for me to begin with. They need to know: Am I down for the cause? Because if I’m not down for the cause, it’s time. They will do this amicably. Of course I’m down, I say, trying not to swivel in my ergonomic chair. I care deeply about the company. I am here for it.

Burn Scars

Burn Scars

Elegy for a wilderness

Those of us with long experience sitting watch over the Gila sometimes joked that we were not so much fire lookouts anymore as morbid priests or pyromaniacal monks — officiants at an ongoing funeral for the forests as we had found them when we first assumed our posts. All of us had come seeking solitude, adventure, the romance of wild mountains, and a taste of the sublime; we got everything we had hoped for and more, including pyrotechnics on a landscape scale. The job never lasted long enough — six months maximum, more like four or five in a typical season — but it beat working down in the neon plastic valleys.

Stories of Excess

Stories of Excess

Turn on the Bright Lights, fifteen years on

Turn on the Bright Lights, now experiencing a well-deserved fifteen-year anniversary celebration, is an album that could definitely while away a wistful witching hour or two. I don’t mean this to sound like bragging: though I was one of its composers, I now feel more like a confused participant, or a survivor of PTSD.

Beat the Clock

Beat the Clock

I can tell he is not used to a woman standing up to him, to a female player who understands contract law.

The life of the female athlete overseas is scattered and obscure, a private and difficult endeavor experienced by only a handful of people at a time. Most of us are not on a national team, and cable TV cameras are rare—so rare that they don’t usually appear at all.

Cankerworms

Cankerworms

Mothering is not only gathering together; it is also letting go, dropping one’s grasp—accidentally, ideally, but dropping it nevertheless.

“Here I was, enjoying a continuity of being.” The big sphere of my baby’s head was very much like a circle, and when he felt like he was falling, his little arms and legs jerked upwards, like their propulsion could push him back to his starting point. Because I was not a not-good-enough mother, this didn’t happen very often, but I winced every time it did, nevertheless. The difficulty of maternal gathering is that it is always going to fail. To grow—to become a person—the baby must get past his earliest, balloon-like self. He must separate himself into a head and a body, then a head, a body, and arms. The project is not solely separating the baby from his mother; it is separating the baby from himself. Building a version of self that can acknowledge its hands and feet. Its mind, within, and its skin, without.

No One Thinks of Rilke in the Recovery Room

No One Thinks of Rilke in the Recovery Room

All mothers die eventually, but it doesn’t follow that motherhood is like dying.

But while birth can lead to being close to death, it seems wrong to think that the crisis of birth is anything like death. All mothers die eventually, but it doesn’t follow that motherhood is like dying, even if one almost dies—or does die— while becoming a mother. What makes the comparison inviting is that the work of laboring is such that the versions of yourself you held dear until labor begin to dissolve. There’s no quality to the thought or feeling while laboring or immediately after giving birth. One just is. No one thinks of Rilke in the recovery room. The child, once born, is human, no more, no less. No one is truly quiet giving birth.

A Thin Place

A Thin Place

Truth is you were ransacked and you will never cease to know that.

You drift gingerly out of the clinic. The air flaps and you quiver. You linger a minute at the squat wall between the carpark and the pavement—over there is the old St. Columba’s graveyard, where you always meant to go. This town was a “thin place” that pilgrims came to, in the belief that here the margin is finest between heaven and earth. You can’t fathom that. Heaven’s only a sweet con to mollify and defer you, an excuse for why some days here get so painful. No reason, no good reason. Would it be better or worse if you had reason to feel this joyless? Nothing matters and you’re meant to keep on going on.

Isn’t America a Dream?

Isn’t America a Dream?

Book Tour Diary

Something is always breaking down on the New York subway, and when the loudspeaker announces it to the ladies and gentlemen, you have to invent a new route to your destination. On one occasion, I found myself walking back and forth through a subway station with a group of Chinese people, Latin Americans, and Europeans. None of us could manage to figure out a new way to get to Queens, where not a single train seemed to be going.

Writing for Rejection

Writing for Rejection

And reading Doris Lessing.

Of course I’ve owned feminine clothing all my life. But I wore it in public only as a gesture of deference toward my hosts or my audience—never as a way of being myself. For reasons I struggle to comprehend, The Golden Notebook made me feel that a woman can be as valuable as a man, as limitless in her potential, with the same right to drape her body in a lot of extra fabric. (Maybe you know Umberto Eco’s 1976 essay on the emasculating effect of putting on jeans when you’re used to a suit. He should see the jeans they have now.)

Woman Problems

Woman Problems

One moment, walking. The next—am I real?

When my son was almost 4 months old, I was walking down the street with him strapped to my chest. He was big—nineteen pounds—and alert. I was walking slowly, in loping, elephantine strides, trying to take as long as possible, and to walk as securely as possible. It had taken me a long time to get this confident—if that’s what you could call it—walking with him, but the thread of fear still lived in me. I was still anxious. Then, all of a sudden, I couldn’t tell if I was real or not. That was how rapidly it happened, and this is what it was like. One moment, walking. The next—am I real?

The Last Last Summer

The Last Last Summer

Donald Trump and the fall of Atlantic City

All along the Boardwalk, the sun-bleached, tattered banners read do ac — the city’s latest marketing catchphrase. The Boardwalk was a scrum of such imperatives, with Trumps on every side issuing edicts and diktats, offering bargains. Trumps in toupees and with their guts hanging over their change belts, out on Steel Pier, out on Central Pier, trying to get me to try the ring toss, though the rubber rings always bounce off the rubber bottles, or to try the beanbag pitch, though the lily pads they’re supposed to land on are kept wet and slippery with a shammy. Try Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy, which contains no saltwater. Step right up and I’ll guess your weight, or at least I’ll make your wallet lighter. What American literature taught me — what Melville taught me in The Confidence-Man, what Poe taught me in “Diddling,” that imagination or fantasy can be a form a greed, even a uniquely American form — the shills and carny barkers taught me first, at $2 a lesson: I would never win that stuffed elephant.