Today marks the first day of the Sneaky Feels' weeklong residency at Awst Press's website! They'll be posting one a day all week.
Here's Monday's, #12, in which we go on the road, or On the Road, as the case may be.
When you finally got to ride an open boxcar, a freighter creeping slowly between refineries on the Mississippi River in New Orleans at 3am while you were there looking for the home of Buddy Bolden in 2004—looking inside it expecting to find homeless drifters and songsters with old guitars, but only finding grain and sugar in its old, dirty corners and getting a little nauseous from the bumpy ride, then jumping off and walking the half mile back to Jackson Square and eating beignets at Café du Monde, thinking about how wrong you’ve been, how miserable it would have been to ride a freight train across the country not for adventure or freedom but simply because you had nowhere else to go, how consuming art created out of hardship is not hardship. And you’ll never again claim to have the blues.
When your writing becomes at least as much memory and time travel as immediate documentation—pressed by the tidal flow of bringing children to and from school, keeping your family safe and entertained, and managing the completely normal and boring small-scale conflicts within your marriage, you find refuge in your mind, sorting through the family you’ve left behind, past lovers, the drama of being young that the young survive and the old romanticize, repeating dreams you’ve had—still have—since you were living these memories, like the one last night of not falling but sinking endlessly in water that has no bottom but being able to breathe and see everything, feeling all these vague glimpses and notions in the oceanic press of time and tide, transcribing them into words and sentences that can only approximate—never capture—them. This is the closest intimation you’ll ever get of immortality.
When you were thumbing around Kansas City the summer of '95 on your way to Louisville, and a college kid picked you up and told you he was on his way to a Spin Doctors show and he had an extra ticket, and you piled into his car with your canvas bag and oversize jacket and told him to call you Wild Bill. Tell him you were in ‘Nam, and show him your ID: William Hickok. Spend most of your time at the show handing out flyers at the marijuana legalization booth, then after the show when he asks you where you want him to drop you off, say, “Louisville.” When he offers to drop you off at the next gas station, refuse to get out. When he stops at the gas station, tell him to shut off the fucking lights. When he asks you to get out tell him to listen—you hear them? When he tells you again to get out, tell him you don’t see no bluegrass. When he asks you if you’ve even been to Louisville, ask him if he’s stupid. Then ask him if he’s ever been shot. Then tell him you’re a cheap date and sidle out of the car, and drift hazily from mortal threat to a romantic backstory this kid will tell and retell, until you only exist as an archetype, a phantom, a fiction.
I'm ultra-excited to announce that some lucky Sneaky Feels will have a special place with the wonderful Awst Press during the last week of October! Five special, all-new Feelies have been assembled by editor Tatiana Ryckman for a limited (read: into online perpetuity) run that week, one a day Monday through Friday. It's a Halloween Spectacular (that really has nothing to do with the holiday)!
When you’re a 17-year-old girl visiting your 40-year-old brother in New York City and he decides to take you to a Lorde show so you’ll think he’s cool, and you get really creeped out by all the people in the crowd huddled so close to you, pushing their way in front of you, and your brother notices this and somehow thinks the best thing to do is to tell a group of girls who are a little older than you and a lot younger than him, “Please don’t move in front of us,” and one of the girls in the group replies, “Well, now we have to stand in front of you, just on principle.” Text as many people back home as you can, post something passive-aggressive on social media, tell him to stop acting like he’s your dad—the dad you both share, who was a teenage criminal when your brother was born and is now a tired, depressed old man. Everyone in your family just seems so old, and you just want to be in New York City, at this show, with someone who understands you. Only no one understands you. Not even you.
I can't wait to tell you about it! In the meantime, here comes another one!
I know, this "locker talk" stuff has been worked to death, but...
When I was in high school, I was on the football team. I didn't play much, but I was on the team. I remember plenty of "locker room talk," whether it was in the locker room or at the lunch table or wherever. One guy, in an intimate moment, confessed that he'd lost his virginity the previous weekend by raping an unconscious girl at a party. (He of course didn't use the word "rape.") I remember being deeply disturbed, but saying nothing; he was a big guy, and no one else seemed to think he did anything wrong. But I still think about that guy. In fact, when I hear Donald Trump and his "locker talk" I think of him and hope he feels a deep remorse that Trump seems incapable of.
But there was another guy on the football team who was at that lunch table, or locker, or wherever it was this rapist made his disclosure. That other guy, who is still my friend, would be embarrassed if I named him, so I won't. But I remember him waiting silently until the talk died down and he had their attention. "She's very young to have gone through that," he said, and got up and left. That moment of empathy for a person we'd collectively deemed just a body that got raped - I didn't say anything, so I was complicit - has stuck with me for twenty-five years as an act of courage and civil disobedience against a male culture intent on justifying and perpetuating its own violence.
Everything I told you is just talk, just like Donald Trump says his "locker room" conversation is just talk. But speech is action, just as silence is inaction. Not speaking out against a man running for our highest office who brags about sexually assaulting women is complicity in propagating rape culture, and it's not something for which we should easily forgive ourselves.
4YO: You've got bad blood pressure.
ME: Oh no. What do I do about it?
4YO: I don't know, some medicine? Maybe?
ME: For my broken arm?
The sad thing is, substitute a broken arm with pneumonia and blood pressure with high cholesterol, and that's pretty much my last visit with my previous primary care physician.
When your earliest memory is of holding up a sparkler, high up to the darkest sky, some Fourth of July spectacular, and you shook it with an urgency you’ll neverever be able to repeat, and at times you could be accused of being painfully nostalgic, but as of late you’re looking forward to the future though you’ve never been much of a planner, and then you realize this isn’t a memory but the lyrics to a song written by Vic Chesnutt, who OD’ed on prescription drugs after trying to kill himself at least three or four times in the previous twenty-six years, and sung by Kristen Hersh, whose memoir about recording Throwing Muses’ first songs after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder sits on your bookshelf waiting to be read.
When you clean up after our dog and put it in the toilet, clenching your mouth in the irrational fear that it will plop just so that some water will splash up into your mouth, and then remember cleaning fish on a dock in Belize with a pelican flying overhead and the guide telling you, “Never look up with your mouth open.”
When you read Rebecca Solnit’s words, “It’s the job of writers and explorers to see more, to travel light when it comes to preconception, to go into the dark with their eyes open,”* and want to live within their dicta, to wander through your own mind without a flashlight, inviting the demons to jump up, the spirits to move, the pigeons to rattle the vents—and to write all the words in the dark into your own skin, and to hope in vain to remember the feeling of the words penetrating you in the cold light.
* from her essay "Woolf's Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable"
I had signups for revision meetings today in my freshman classes. I haven't really figured out a democratic way of ordering them, so I just put the signup sheet on my desk and told them to have at it. One of my students jumped out of his desk, hurdled another desk, and grabbed the paper to sign up.
ME: (In what I thought was a perfect meme voice) Damn, Daniel! (His name is Daniel.)
ANOTHER STUDENT: You already got some cred, Professor. But...Don't say that again.
When you were a middle distance runner in college and you most enjoyed when sports physiologists talked about your body—its fat content, the reasons you hurt, how to improve its mechanical efficiency so you could run twice around the track in ever-increasing seconds below two minutes—and now when you're a middling writer and you want more than anything for a neuroscientist, or even a mere literary critic, to talk about your mind with the same intuition and technical proficiency—to tell you and others the merit of your words and the thoughts they encase, to elucidate how your mind is both representative of and different from the prevailing zeitgeist, to tell you how it is you do what you do and how you might do it better. To love these parts of you—your mind and your body—without knowing you at all.
A student of mine who’s on the college baseball team just stopped me on the quad.
PLAYER: Hey, we’re meeting in the library today, right?
ME: No, the librarian’s coming to our class.
PLAYER: Oh yeah, that was in that email you sent, right?
PLAYER: I have you in like two classes today, right?
ME: No, just one.
PLAYER: Ah, yeah. <Does that snap/point thing in my general direction while walking backwards away> See ya, baby.
When you watch footage of police sic’ing dogs on protestors at Standing Rock, hear that Officer Daniel Pantaleo has been given a raise and overtime in the year after he choked Eric Garner to death for selling cigarettes while more police are responsible for more black deaths in Tulsa and Charlotte, go on sports discussion boards and read all the comments from randos who think that a second-string professional quarterback should be tried for treason for having the temerity to protest the flag of a country founded on suspicion of government, and you stop retreating into not-all-of-us defensiveness and admit that you, male and/or white, have received so many benefits of so many doubts that you want to sob for every one of them, knowing you didn’t care to notice the time the cops merely laughed at your drunken ass rather than tasing, choking, or shooting you when you accused them of harassment after they pulled your friend’s car over with you in it when your friend did a donut in front of the club at 2am. Go ahead and sob, even hate yourself a bit, and decide you should do something. Then do something. Or don’t. The self-loathing will remain either way. If the self-loathing ceases, you’ve ceased in doing the something you set out to do.