I recently found and featured an essay, “Stripped for Parts,” by Courtenay Bluebird at Bluebird Blvd. I really loved this part in particular:
You see, writers tend to steal little things off of people—
a complete set of figured naval buttons on a man’s patched pea coat; a certain way a woman pushes back her bobbed silver hair; a child that can whistle with two fingers like a man.
Writers pocket these moments and pull them out to look at later under a lamp with a notebook. This is fine with me—it’s magpie stealing. It is general and gestural and often sweet.
There’s another kind of stealing that happens, though, where a writer will pick the lock on your life story, touch a couple of wires together, and roll your life down the driveway before you even know your story is gone.
I love books, and I can’t imagine how I’d have ever gotten into woodworking, let alone kept developing skills, without libraries and magazines and television and the internet. But I can’t help thinking we’re hamstrung by relying so heavily on all these visual and intellectual means of instruction for what is, after all, work of the body.
— “Some thoughts on learning together”
After googling something garden-related, I discovered the blog of David Walbert. There’s thoughtful writing here on a variety of topics — cooking, woodworking, history, and more. But this bit in particular has really resonated with me, as I’ve never been very good with my hands and making things on my own, and am learning each day while out in my vegetable garden.
I enjoyed this interview with Teju Cole in The Millions, in which he talks about Blind Spot, his new book blending text and photography. I always like his insights on photography, and in one part of the conversation he talks about his experience with Big Blind Spot Syndrome, which caused him to lose sight in his left eye for a time — and ultimately changed his photography process.
I was already looking intently, but I started to look more intently, more patiently. My photography got a bit more meditative and mysterious. I began to pay attention to the ordinary in a more focused way.
Having eye trouble made the ordinary glorious. It’s just the way the sun falls across concrete or, like you said, a hanging tarp. It’s almost like William Carlos Williams’s poetry.
I stumbled upon a post from 2015 on a blog, Chiller, that I’ve read and featured in the past. I remember the writing here to be always compelling, intriguing, bold. But anyway, this bit popped out at me, and now I can’t stop thinking about it:
I let go of the stories, too tired to hold them any more, and now most of them are gone. I don’t have a map of myself any more, there is just this moment. I exist, persistently.
From the Atlantic’s June cover story, “My Family’s Slave”:
To our American neighbors, we were model immigrants, a poster family. They told us so. My father had a law degree, my mother was on her way to becoming a doctor, and my siblings and I got good grades and always said “please” and “thank you.” We never talked about Lola. Our secret went to the core of who we were and, at least for us kids, who we wanted to be.
After my mother died of leukemia, in 1999, Lola came to live with me in a small town north of Seattle. I had a family, a career, a house in the suburbs—the American dream. And then I had a slave.
It’s a piece by Alex Tizon about his family’s secret slave in the Philippines, and who remained their slave when they moved to the US. Tizon, who struggled to write about Lola, passed away in March.
I read Chris Heath’s GQ profile of Nick Cave this weekend, while on a plane. I’d heard it was a good read. And it is. It covers a lot of things, including dealing with the death of his 15-year-old son Arthur, who fell off a cliff. One line in particular really got to me — just beautifully expressed:
“I think that Susie and I both just stepped into an alternate reality, you know, but that you could slip a cigarette paper between the two worlds, both in terms of the time that it took for us to change and its closeness to reality,” he reflects.
From “A Mushy Love Letter About Blogging” at From the Fringe:
“I don’t work with brands, I don’t have things to sell, I just like writing things down. So, whilst I’m not going to pretend that I don’t care about numbers and followers, I’ve learnt that, for me, blogging has somewhat transcended all of that.”
Today, while hunting for longreads, I came upon “Classics Never Die: What It Means for DJs to Grow Old,” a Pitchfork piece by Jonny Coleman from 2015:
“François K got lost when he got really caught up in dubstep and commercial techno,” Englehardt and Paul Nickerson write in an email, referencing the 61-year-old house mainstay. “Unfortunately a lot of the music he plays just doesn’t have the depth or emotion he says it does—it’s all very superficial and you can feel that when he plays now.
“It happens because calculation takes the place of inspiration,” they continue. “When you first start out, it’s all fresh and that is your driving force, but as time goes on see you see that everything is just someone rehashing something that was done better 15 years earlier. It can make you can become bitter quickly. So people like François K make a calculated decision to try to stay relevant, and that is a big part of why music is so terrible right now. Instead of speaking out against the mediocrity of everything, these ‘legends’ assimilate themselves to the current situation and lie to themselves that these new half finished, do-nothing tracks are what people like these days. Whereas 20 years ago, that same person would have said this shit is wack and pushed themselves to go further.”
Also: EDM sucks.
From Elizabeth Spiers:
One of my resolutions is to get in the habit of writing more frequently, and part of that is learning to write shorter. When I first started blogging in 2000, this was not a problem. A paragraph-long post felt like enough, if that was what was warranted. Now I feel like I have to write a complete 1500 word essay every time I sit down to write something, and it’s not good for my writing . . .
Yes. This. Exactly.
Recently, I’ve found little ways to trick me into “writing” — whatever that entails. Sometimes it’s crafting mediocre haikus on my blog about my new home or publishing tiny poems in Instagram captions. Other times, I’ll start a blog post and then abandon it, which I realize is just another way to free-write — and totally fine. And while I’m not a goal-setting enthusiast each January, I do like Elizabeth’s idea from her blogging resolution post: no posts over 300 words. She states a concrete, firm goal. But it’s totally reachable, even for someone as currently apathetic about writing as me.
As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes I think the writer’s block is due to something as simple as my theme on my main blog; how can a lapsed writer motivate herself to write if her blog is set up as a magazine-style site that best showcases longform writing? Perhaps I set myself up to fail, each time. And I think this is why this theme, on the site you’re on now, has been working somewhat well. It’s a blog, plain and simple. No bells and whistles, no photos, no time ever spent pruning and customizing it. A digital piece of blank paper that doesn’t care — doesn’t judge — when I scribble unformed, unfinished crap on it.
For a moment, I’d considered changing things up here, or migrating all of my followers from my other site, but I think both would be a mistake.
So for now, it’s just me and (the very few of) you. Hello and happy new year.
What if nobody reads me? But every young, hungry Pinay who crosses your path. Their eyes are so wide; they have never seen a Pinay like you before. You are a brown woman of letters. You speak like you have forgotten the fear of speaking, the harm speaking brings to brown women like you.
— “Winter Solstice: Pinay Writing Hard Truth”
I follow over 950 sites in the WordPress.com Reader — something that has happened over the years working at my job. But I’m only email-subscribed to several internal team blogs, and don’t email-subscribe to anything else. I’ve tried my best to keep my personal GMail inbox tidy.
But a month or so ago, while I was compiling stories for a possible Longreads reading list on being Filipino American, I subscribed to the site of Barbara Jane Reyes, a Filipino author and professor raised in the Bay Area, quoted above. So I receive her new posts in my inbox, and while I haven’t read every single post, I’ve felt lately that I’m not breathing all the air that is available to me, that my eyes are shut, that part of me has been asleep. I feel I need to follow a writer like her right now, for reasons I can’t quite articulate. Yet.