I have always had a hard time composing a notebook worth sharing. So I decided to use Aaron Kunin’s Grace Period: Notebooks, 1998-2007 (recently and beautifully published by Letter Machine Editions) as a model and interlocutor. Thanks, Aaron.
AARON KUNIN’S NOTEBOOKS (by Anna Moschovakis)
I cannot write in bed. It isn’t sleep that tempts me, but dreams. In the country, I rise in a panic as the tall buildings out my window give way to trees I cannot name. I dream of writing so often the circle closes to a point. A tattoo on my wrist that vanishes when I wake.
Last evening: After dinner at a formal farmhouse in the country, writers of different generations and nationalities gather to sing folk and protest songs around an unlit fire in the den. Many bottles of wine later, I overhear an argument between a Belgian, an Indian, and two Americans about which singer-songwriter has had a greater influence worldwide: Cat Stevens or Dolly Parton. What do their choices reveal about them? Are their impressions contingent more on geography, age, or gender? I can only make out portions of their debate over the strains of “In the Pines” still emanating from the couch.
The names of thoughts.
Being faithful. Having faith (“I have faith that she’ll come around”). Losing your faith / Faith No More.
More Than a Feeling.
More than a feeling. The form of feeling (“it felt so real”). Real/fake. True/false. Do you have false consciousness? Lady, be true! Truly hungry, truly outcast, truly unpopular. True to you, true that. “She was truthy.” Blue? “Truly.”
I have the impression that we understand each other completely, having seen his tattoo and shown him mine.
I think there was a thing when I stopped listening to his answer, when I was thinking about what I expected it to be, or wondering how he knew exactly what it was I wanted to ask.
Is that why I can’t remember what he said?
Are there things you wouldn’t mind losing?
There are things that I have lost
Well ones you wouldn’t miss then
I’d mind the missing
My novel reads something like his; therefore
I don’t like to hear it dumped on.
I don’t think of Melville as a maximalist. Not in the way that I think of myself as a maximalist.
The Journalist: “There’s nothing wrong with having a business plan.”
What happens, though, when you stray from yours? When I stray from mine?
How could you get excited by a reading of a rough draft?
There are going to be some sexy sentences in this book, so we’d better start off with some tame ones.
But isn’t the psychological always personal? I told you I was a maximalist. There is more to say.
In this sense I’m not flirtatious: because “flirtatious” means using everything at your disposal to entertain and intrigue an other, whereas I constantly underestimate the limitations of a will to please.
Failures of taste: Wagner. Italian food. Contemporary realist fiction. Prog Rock.
Problems with her novel.
Delusion: “That was pretty much all she could come up with.”
Mystification: “Nobody’s face was melting.”
Fact: The narrative imagination, an unfamiliar place, has made her more aware of herself, allows her to recognize aspects of herself (somatic privilege) previously unexplored.
In her “true place” she can’t think because she can’t sense: the alphabet is unyielding.
Lie: “She could never predict when it would come back to annihilate her.” (E knows very well that it will come back at any moment.)
Fact: People generally know how their evening will turn out, but this makes for boring fiction.
This list could be much longer.
She often adjusted her clothing to reveal features that hadn’t come out clearly in the first arrangement. This tended to give her appearance a nervous aspect; there were chinks in it, revealing of every anxiety, and slivers of skin at the points where the articles of clothing met, as though they had lost their way.
The halo of uncertainty around each of your gestures.
The mantle of self-consciousness that your body wears.
“We’ll break through this mantle of self-consciousness yet!”
Question: how has her writing changed as a result of her new word-processing program (since, after all, all processors really are different).
—She writes much more freely; tends to make outlandish claims (substituting one logical argument for another); poetry and research have a tendency to join in the middle; the projects become bigger, rounder, but sometimes deeper in the chest, almost an EKG; takes up more memory but may not be easier to edit. The new word processor may also have affected her appetite.
No wonder the characters complain of disingenuousness! She has condemned them to the impunity she cannot arogate to herself.
She types as though her life depended on it.
She pummels the keyboard in a way that recalls illicit desires.
But all poetry isn’t like this. They know it the way they know anything, like falling down stairs.
A decentness that slips in at certain moments of your story.
Something about your slipperiness that asks me to slip up.
There is no room in this commune for continuity.
No membership in perpetuity, no dedication to perpetuity.
Instead, write of the charge.
The novel lies under its own unlovable waters.
Comedy and food may be a masculine combination.
The feminine shies away from comedy and from food—double indemnity.
You sign it “as ever,” but you do not feel at all steadfast.
Sometimes a little pettiness would be a relief. Sometimes pettiness can save the day.
Not so petty.
He only responds to the question “what are you thinking” in moments when you have not asked it.
“But I’m not a doer. I’m a feeler.”
“There’s a difference.”
Most mornings, when they are trying to appear neutral, begin with a minute of calm, but you shrieked.
Worried that I would not find the right thing to say.
Worried that I would.
When a child dies by suicide, the parent must and must not ask, and the friend must and must not ask, and the friend of the parent must and must not ask. Nature, nurture, and what comes after.
People who know you from an impossible situation don’t know how to behave when the situation no longer obtains.
“Are you also?” “And now?”
Like being crushed by God.
ANNA PARSES HER PARSNIP WITHOUT PREMEDITATION.
In what terms has he been influential?
How did I know his marriage was arranged?
(Turning a professional question into a cultural one.)
What was he thinking when he sang one too many about grief?
The patterns in relations are never a choice. Nor are they compulsions, nor coincidence. They are the traces of a collaboration in the dark.
You have a manipulative side.
—Actually, I don’t. You may think that I know what I’m doing, but in fact, I am like the child who cannot guess at the results of his actions. I believe there is a stage for that, one I should have surpassed long ago. Or, perhaps, you are right.
When I wrote that letters are gifts, what I meant was that letters are obligations, but of the sort that operate outside the rule of law. When I apologize for sending a letter, I am really saying: Join me in this trespass that bears no punishment, no reward.
The desire to close off a dangerous path.
To take the question from his tongue, turn it inside-out, and eat it before he becomes enamored of its taste.
With some people, teasing leads to knowing. With others, it’s the other way around. And then there are those who do not suffer either.
She liked to talk and weep, so they put her in the girls’ room.
Economies are in the girls’ room.
How can it be a moment of stasis if nothing is momentous?
Not only the most private gesture. Not only the reception of the most private gesture. The role of the memory of the most private gesture in the construction of a public self.
They profess to be indifferent to each other in a way that suggests that each is reluctantly relieved by the apparent restoration of the other’s contentment.
His image, a hardness that takes the form of a defense.
Harden your heart on my defenses.
They approach the limits of language from opposite sides, so they cannot meet in conversation; there is an abyss.
A maker of spectacles: developer of vision technology; director of the exceptionally shared; picturer of lines or sentences and paragraphs; speaker of pictures: not a writer; a writer.
Some people have the touch to right you.
Why would the feeling be the same? It wouldn’t. The question, I believe, is why we expect that it would—different bodies, different cities, different genres and genders, etc. Between the desire to connect and the impulse to differentiate: I am with you, against you. Oh, look: I am with you again.
“I love his vigilante stories” (dream expression)
“It isn’t something you’d want to keep in mind, though, while making out in a darkened car!”
A month later. Not so happy, now, to have been apprised of another way.
Because it frightens me, I think it describes me.
I should be wary of you because there is something breezy, something not very self-aware, about the way you approach a group af heterogenous souls.
An example: Some friends have given me countless fresh eggs, the surplus production of their expensively raised chickens. I lost my taste for any other eggs, to the point that I went on an unconscious egg strike between gifts. Now, as a result of periodic deprivation, my desire for eggs has waned, and my friends’ rooster, who was a pain in the ass, is dead.
He demonstrates his favorite aspect of ultra-femininity. Using your voice.
Taking him down in a way that is almost tender.
Each utterance was unconventionally inflected and had to be perverted in order to become legible.
If only she could be like a theory (arrangement of strokes and landings).
PART TWO: Won’t everything turn out fine (if it turns out the way I want)!
I think my problem is that no matter how much I return to original sources, I don’t totally get what people think we should do about ideology.
I think my problem is that no matter how much I dig people who do, I don’t see this as a totally ignorant position.
Heightened sensitivity. Conversations that produce this condition.
Does ideology heighten sensitivity?
Does the internet?
His confidence in rhetoric. “Enlightened people know it because enlightened people argue it.”
Couldn’t you say: “Ignorant people know it because ignorant people argue it.”
How well does argument represent enlightenment?
How else do you figure lessons learned?
I regret my participation in any public discourse on politics.
And I also regret my failure to participate in many public discourses on politics.
I, too, am prey to old affects. I, too, am at the mercy of outdated emotions. In addition, I find old beliefs I never acknowledged I held influencing my current behavior. I find beliefs I don’t believe in speaking through me.
“If she was dumb enough to ask herself ‘who am I?’ she would fall flat on her face. Because ‘who am I?’ creates a need. And how can you satisfy that need? Those who wonder are incomplete.” (The Hour of the Star)
Dumb: a way of thinking that stumbles in the sun.
Dumb: whereof one cannot speak ― silence ―
Debating: example of complicity between superego and id.
The way he cupped his hands over the phone!
How those cupped hands took me!
Anna: short for Annihilate.
I would like to say that I seldom fall prey to jealousy. I am possessive of everything in my orbit: conversations, things I am reading, the privilege of attending certain events. How to keep jealousy uncharacteristic?
How are you going to narrate our present condition?
The condition you have not ventured yet to name?
Why do you close your imperatives and open your hands?
He made the face of a person trying to stifle a smirk.
When we say we’re going insane, we mean something different from what we say. When we say “insane” we want you to hear “pummeled by life.”
I have never understood what people are talking about when they talk about taste. To have, lose, or acquire a taste for something: these are experiences I have had and understand. But to have good or bad taste has always struck me as a misnomer.
When she is away, she thinks about what it means to be home. When she is home, she longs to be away. She can occasionally conjure the feeling of awayness while at home; this is when he feels the closest to her.
There’s no room for autobiography in this book.
Given that the information is occluded, and given that the occlusion is of a kind that mere thinking cannot penetrate, and given, moreover, that the space of occlusion is a most fertile space when fear of the dark is held at bay, she determined that even if a price were set to bring the information out into the open, and even if she were able to afford, by virtue of good timing or the generosity of others, to pay that price, she would choose, voluntarily and in full control of her faculties, to remain in the shadows.
That’s not an argument they would choose to replay without an audience.
She shifted, wiped her convictions on her sleeve, sniffled; the ground groaned; and none of this is intended to suggest confusion.
The center of understanding is melancholic.
Arrive at the center of understanding; find it melancholic.
“I didn’t want this understanding, after all. What I wanted was different.”
“This understanding does not give me the differential I wanted.”
“Does anyone understand the differential I wanted? (Who determines the understanding that stands under me?)”
A degree is a thing you can get. But you cannot get a degree by degrees. If you don’t get the whole degree, you haven’t gotten any of the degree. Parents, but not banks, understand degrees this way.
Not because half-gotten degrees are meaningless, but because in their meaningfulness, they describe a relation to ideology. Some parents, some banks, are also implicated in this relation.
She could forget ideology because the banks could not.
Because the banks were fluent in ideology, the dropout could not speak it to save her life.
As though she had learned nothing from the system.
And had to find a different way to resist its ranks.
She never shows her hand.
“Just the usual self-abnegation.”
“You mean the sensation of being a fraud?”
Was his shock at her sensation or at the affect of its expression?
Because he never doubted the authenticity of his ideological embrace.
And he assumes that she identifies with her lot.
Self-doubt, self-worth. Self-doubt, self-worth. Self-abnegation. Self-worth. Self. Difference. Self. Self. Self.