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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


On Sunday I had an argument with my father. There's a fraction of a second, before any argument gets in full swing, when I realize that the conversation is headed toward conflict and that I can't stop the momentum of the words. My stomach and my breath tighten; I feel the energy of battle coursing through my body from head to toe. This is not a response to the fact that a fight has become inevitable, but that I cannot escape a clash between ideas, no matter how verbally civilized I and my partner in the conflict manage to make it. At bottom, I suppose this is a moment of profound seeing that I am different, and that this difference cannot always be passive. Sooner or later my encounter with the Other is bound to be explosive. It's like putting in close proximity two chemicals that, by their very nature, cannot help but destroy the other.

My relationship with my father isn't volatile; we have too many things in common for that: love of reading and reason, curiosity, perfectionism, a tendency for overwork. One thing we don't agree on (any more) is money, and this is what our argument was about. Its details don't really matter. Often they don't. I've started to see with more and more clarity that arguments are fundamentally about ways of looking at the world -- expressed, of course, in the minutiae of everyday life, but these minutiae are not the problem, only shapes of the problem -- and that once you get to the bottom of this, once you begin to think about what your underlying beliefs about yourself and the world are, that's when the argument either dissolves into nothing or cannot be resolved despite your best intentions. At this level, you cannot change the other person's mind; that kind of change can happen only from within the person herself.

But getting to this point, delving deep enough to reach what's underneath the words or at the very core of the words, is what fascinates and troubles me. It's enormously difficult because it's not simply an intellectual effort that you have to exert. Love of reason isn't enough to save you from anger and resentment and spite. I don't know what to call this other thing that's necessary; it's an intuitive connection, a trust in the other person's good intentions, an affection for him that cannot be explained or quantified. I feel this for my husband, and it's the reason we haven't had a fight in more than five years of marriage despite the fact that we've disagreed fiercely on certain issues. And yet I find, even with him, that the civility of our conversation sometimes hangs by a thread; the emotions run so strong, at least for me, that they almost completely obstruct the ideas we're talking about. These ideas interest me deeply, but it feels as if my brain has no room to process them; all I can think about is: if you really cared about me, you wouldn't have trouble understanding what I'm telling you and seeing that I'm right. It's an absurd thought and yet it feels more real to me at the moment than anything else.

I think what I'm trying to say is that it's impossible to take emotion away from language. Even behind the most dispassionate writing or speaking there's a thinking mind, a tangled fabric of experience -- thought and feeling together -- that the written or spoken words inevitably carry inside them. Sometimes they do so with grace, sometimes clumsily, sometimes shrewdly, sometimes artlessly. But by necessity words are imbued with the tangibles and intangibles of what it means to be a person separate from other persons.

This is the reason -- what a relief to finally see it -- why it's so hard for me to believe that my writing here matters to someone other than me. It's also the reason why some poems make me shake with fear as much as love. They speak to the Other as if she weren't the Other. Inside such poems impassable barriers are passed. I wonder if this is why very few people read poetry. Words stop being just signs on the page, sounds in the air. They get at you. They bring you back to yourself. They force you to see yourself as one, alone, in the vastness of the universe, standing next to many other ones, also alone. And yet they establish a connection; they spin a momentary web in which all these many lonelinesses are tied to one another. I wonder if they do so not only with their words but the silence that their words break. In my experience, nowhere is silence as present among words as in a poem. It's as if speaking the poem is not the point, only a prelude to the silence that comes after.


Blogger Maven said...

I just want to let you know how much I like reading your posts. Your writing gives such clear evidence of the way your mind works, and every post illuminates something interesting. And I completely relate to all of this stuff about conflict.

April 24, 2007  

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