K.S. ANTHONY: 10/01/2016 - 11/01/2016

27 October 2016

The Great Gatsby: Not A Love Story

The Great Gatsby is a lot of things a sharp look at the divide between the haves and the have-nots; the difference between 'old' and 'new' money in American society - but it's not a love story. That various movie versions have depicted it as a glamorous tale of star-crossed lovers meant for easy consumption by status-anxious audiences doesnt change that fact.

According to Andrew Turnbull's biography of the author, Fitzgerald once said of the book that the whole idea of Gatsby is the unfairness of a poor young man not being able to marry a girl with money. This theme comes up again and again because I lived it.

In 1916, Fitzgerald either overheard or was directly told at a party that "Poor boys shouldn't think of marrying rich girls." At the time, he was dating Ginevra King, a beautiful Chicago socialite who served as some of the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan, as well as characters in some of his earlier stories.

Despite whatever images of Fitzgerald persist now - the Princeton man, the observer of society, a symbol of the Lost Generation - he was not of the classes that he wrote about. He may have been solidly upper-middle class, but he was still an Irish Catholic in a WASP world. Moments like the one noted above were a constant, humiliating reminder of that.

Fitzgerald channels some of that here, as he describes Jay Gatsby looking at Daisy on her porch before he goes to war. Even with a cold she seems to him to be nearly otherworldly:

Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.

Turnbull again quotes Fitzgerald towards the end of his life, when he wrote of his insecurities among the monied, That was always my experience a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boys school; a poor boy in a rich mans club at Princeton. I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored my entire life and works.


 Gatsby is about the kind of nostalgia that represents a yearning for a past that never existed. Its about life in the conditional; the subjunctive: the if I hadthen we would have speculations of a dreamer whose dreams led him to trespass outside of the iron boundaries of class and power in early America. Gatsbys crime isnt that he is new money, its that he mistakenly believes that its only money that separates him from the Tom Buchanans of the world. More so than that, however, Gatsby believes in the one thing that has little import in the world of the Buchanans: love.

Its not that Daisy doesnt love Gatsby or that Gatsbys affections arent genuine. Its that both have very different understandings of the relationship between love and marriage. In a flashback that happens while Gatsby is away at war, Fitzgerald describes Daisys restless need for stability: a need to see where her life is going:

She wanted her life shaped now, immediately and the decision must be made by some forceof love, of money, of unquestionable practicalitythat was close at hand.

Her life is shaped by the arrival of Tom Buchanan. Buchanan brings money and unquestionable practicality. Love is no longer wrapped up in Gatsbys passion, but becomes an ambiguous affection: a social nicety given lip service, but not really performed. These are not star-crossed lovers torn apart by circumstance. Daisys choice is made. That she has an affair with Gatsby and entertains the idea of leaving Tom is just another luxury, afforded to her by her status. In The Great Gatsby, adultery is only punished in the lower classes. Myrtle Wilson, whose affair with Tom Buchanan ironically becomes Gatsbys undoing, dies. Tom Wilson kills himself. And, of course, Jay Gatsby is murdered by Tom Wilson after attempting to take the blame for Myrtles death. Tom and Daisy go unscathed. Their lives will go on. Their reputations will be untarnished. Their marriage will continue. Fitzgerald understood that the spectrum of morality changes within the confines of class.

Jay Gatsbys dream is impossible. He seeks acceptance in a world that is entirely insular. While Daisy Buchanan may socially trespass into his world, he is barred from living in hers. He dreams of inclusiveness in a society that is fundamentally exclusive, set up to keep people out, except as novelties or hangers-on. While he may wear the right costumes and have some understanding of the codes in place, he remains an outsider looking in... and he always will be.


Oscar Wilde once wrote that society often forgives the criminal. It never forgives the dreamer. Nowhere in American literature is that as sharply true than in The Great Gatsby.

25 October 2016

Upon The Shores Of Lethe, Beneath A Scarlet Sun

One by one, each star dimmed and flickered and, finally, went out, leaving me in darkness.

I closed my eyes and slept. For longer than I had in weeks, months, I slept, occasionally opening my eyes to find light beginning to pull back the curtains to caress the bare shoulder of the woman I didn't dare to touch.

The storm subsided. New stars lit the night. New constellations to learn, new paths to find. I gave over to loss what belongs to loss and let those dimming stars extinguish themselves to light other skies. My Pleiads departed one by one.

Bit by bit, the darkness retreated like the tide after a storm. When I opened my eyes, she was still there: I had washed up on her shore again, Lethean water still sweet on my lips, forgetfulness starting to mend what time could not.

I watched as she slept on the gray flannel sheets in the pale cedar dawn.

(I, your troubled writer. You, my dark muse.)

Words began to ache against my lips and I could not bear to give them voice, to break the perfumed silence as she slept.

I wandered into the cold October morning, streets bedecked in gold as the leaves surrendered to fall. The sun was scarlet, shrouded in silver, and I walked along the banks of a newly-found river, disappearing into a dream undimmed.


24 October 2016

New York, November

New York, November –

I have written you love
poems in autumns before,
my lovely darling—
the longed-for hours of the honeycrisp months
are those we know to be best, sweetest still,
for you too wrote of cold coffee-mornings,
my books nestled among your books,
love-note napkins and bundles of letters crowding
the shelves of you and I.
This is the season we know
now, when I no longer walk through street markets
alone
and your wrists, your nose, your hands
are not far from me—
I need not remember,
name the color that is your skin
or find reminders of your face along familiar streets—
nor shall I forget.
Your sweet unrest I shelter as my own
as this November falls into
sweet, returnable death
and my soul folds into you.



I didn't write this. I was written to me by a girl I knew once in a November that has come and gone during a season of letters and long distance and later, pain and loss. 

20 October 2016

Caffe Reggio: July 10

10:00 pm
Chateau du Nord

I just got back from Greenwich Village where I had a light dinner at Caffé Reggio - the birthplace of espresso in New York City and the home to various works of Italian Renaissance art, a bench from one of the palaces of Lorenzo de Medici, a portrait of Cesare Borgia, and an espresso machine from 1907.

I read about it in "Counterintuition," an essay by Andre Aciman in which he recounts a brief love affair in his 20s that started and ended rather painfully for him. In it, he confronts Stendhal's advice from On Love that states that in order to win a woman's heart, one must be counterintuitive: cold, rather than warm; distant rather than interested. Aciman points out that this never worked for Stendhal... and it didn't work for Aciman either. For Aciman, Caffé Reggio becomes a symbol of his experience: the pain and memory and bittersweetness are all still embedded in this walls, the benches, the art... none of which has changed since at least 1973, when Aciman was first stood up by this unnamed woman on what was to be their first date.

He ends the essay thusly:

"And yet, as I hurry on my way to the Peacock, I am grateful beyond words that I can remember, grateful even to known that, despite the far better things life has given me many years since, the one moment I'll never be able to live down is when a girl, whispering from across a narrow table in her mother's kitchen, offered me a blank check to life that I, almost without thinking, turned into a rain check. Perhaps I would do no differently today. And therein lies both comfort and sorrow. To measure time by how much we've lost is to wish we hadn't changed at all. There are ledgers that stay open all life, there are scores we'll never repay. And to stare at these is to wander on Prospero's island, where strange spirits speak with a forked tongue when they aren't lying to us, but where each truth about ourselves is a tongue-twister meant to trounce everything we know. For the tempest is not just what brings us to the island. The tempest is the island. It is the insoluble knot we can't leave behind, but bring with us wherever we go, it is who we are when we are alone and no one else is looking, please: it is how we tussle with the one person we can never outgrow but far we'll never become. It is, in the end, how we make sense of our lives when we know there is no sense to be made."

I sat there for about two hours, drinking an espresso and eating a sandwich (mozzarella, pesto, roasted pepper panino), then drank a pot of Earl Gray tea.

I wanted to share it with you, but hesitated before eventually sending you a few snapchats. It is the kind of place I want to share with you, the kind of place that I could see us making our own, the kind of place that, should I lose you now, will always be imprinted with you, if only for my want of having been able to give you a larger slice of it in this tempest that, one way or the other, will pass.








Written, as the title suggests, on July 10, 2016 as personal correspondence here. 

09 October 2016

Unpacking Your Life

Packing for a move isn't a positive action: the verb seems wrong given the result, or at least the initial result. You're unpacking the space you live in and packing what it contained into what amounts to temporary space. Think about that for a moment. Placing things into boxes to be moved or stored is only half--if that--of what it means to pack. Packing is about sudden displacement, the rawness of shift, the sharp edges of transition, transience, and impermanence. It's like watching the block you live on suddenly change all at once: seeing the corner store turn into a Starbucks overnight and waking up to new neighbors who have repainted all the houses and buildings. It's about uprooting yourself and the precarious, frail hope that you'll be able to be replanted somewhere else...and that the soil there won't reject you.

I'm thinking about that after having just carefully stacked dozens of books--and there remain plenty more--on top of each other in various Tetris-like configurations in boxes. Some are books I've had for a long time. Others were meant to be discarded, but kept because of the notes I've made or the far-off fantasy that I'll wake up one night and realize that I can only be comforted if I read the essays of T.S. Eliot or that I'll suddenly feel some inexplicable urge to read Coriolanus again. Some of them I keep for vanity's sake: I imagine guests coming over to some imaginary, tastefully understated apartment and examining my bookshelves, nodding approvingly at my intellect and wide-ranging interests while I feign humility, secretly reveling in my piles of social capital. That's never actually happened, mind you, but the thought crosses my mind and that's why I pack C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy and The Maxims of La Rochefoucauld next to poetry anthologies and The Writing Life. Did I mention I've packed a copy of Flaubert's A Sentimental Education? Insurance.

It's more than that, though. I keep my books as a reminder of who I am and who I used to be: or, at the very least, of who I have imagined and imagine myself to be. I'll probably never re-read some of them, but I remember what they meant when I opened them and felt the surge of recognition that comes when an author's dead hand reaches out with some dead cliché that you've never heard and you capitalize it as Truth. I'm not mocking that: I'm not that cynical. Those are great moments, maybe the best moments, in reading. Those are moments that count.

Bookshelves don't just hold books. Don't worry. I'm not going to hit you with some asshole metaphor about the magic of memory. Bookshelves hold stuff that doesn't really fit anywhere else. In my case, that stuff includes an engraved Zippo, some marrow spoons made of whalebone, various snuffboxes, piles of letters from friends, a book ribbon from a rare edition of Harry Crosby, a Yugoslavian bayonet that still smells of cosmoline, and two cacti named Fred and George. For a while, when I fancied myself an aspiring lit professor (because tweed, that's why) I imagined that these things would end up in a tenured office with a window, where curious students of the future would gaze admiringly on things from a world that would seem exotic to them. My nephew was fascinated by a replica deck prism I had, so I gave it to him. I had a young cousin fascinated by a lucite skull that sat on my dresser for many years so I gave it to her. By then, you see, those things didn't mean much to me. They were souvenirs from travels: things packed and unpacked many times over that filled up corners of bookshelves or watched me drink coffee or stumble in drunk. I would like to think that they'll move around a bit more, but even that desire is probably just my refracted desire to be seen through things. That's not something I mock either: I think that has value. What we say--or don't say--to ourselves and the people we allow into our sanctum sanctorum through the objects we surround ourselves with is important.

I don't think myself especially unique in that regard. We place things--position them, adjust them--in our homes where we can see them or where people can see them...or where we can keep them from sight, conceal them from the world. I'm not talking about sex toys or anything so uninteresting. I'm talking about the the things people disavow, deny, renounce to themselves...yet keep, if at a distance. I have my share of those things, too. Journals from my 16 year old self that I find hideously embarrassing, but cannot bring myself to destroy because of some sympathy, some affection for the person I was. There are single pictures of people whom I have all but forgotten, people whom I have destroyed all other trace of. I run across them sometimes and I wonder what all the fuss was, why all the bother, why all the drama. I admit that sometimes those pictures are spared because I like the way look in them. Other times, I think it's because I like having control of that tiny specter of memory, caged up in a photo album, stripped of its power to wound or even evoke. I wonder if other people have the same kinds of pictures of me. It always frightens me a little when I consciously shift things into that category: when I put them into boxes that I never reopen, when I pack them away for good. The horror increases when I admit to myself that the reason they exist in the first place is because they once anchored some piece of affection, just as some things anchor pieces of affection even now. Would it be better to cast off our what we think of as our relics of indifference, set them free? Would we feel any more free? I don't know. I never think about those things except when I move and sometimes not even then.

The changing of personal space when you pack is disconcerting. I now have a nearly-bare bookshelf, kept cheery with pictures of my girlfriend and I and all but blocked in by boxes. Sometime this week, I'll pack up the stuff on this desk and begin throwing away papers that I don't need anymore. It'll be a mess for awhile here--tape and cardboard and boxes and newspaper--and then, suddenly, it will all be bare except for the Columbia-owned furniture, whose hospital greens and blues have, over time and acclimation, become rather comforting to me, much as I hated them at first. My couch will no longer be my couch. The table will be naked without my lamp. The shades will be allowed to go all the way up for the first time in two and half years. The space will be just that: space. In all likelihood I will never hear my key slip into this lock and latch the door again. Some of this essay is rehearsal for the inevitable. The strangest drama in life is the one that takes place when the curtain opens on a bare stage and the actor turns his back to it and exits. I don't know if anyone ever gets used to it.

Somewhere in Los Angeles, there is a space that my books and I will occupy. There's a wall where a bookshelf or two will stand. There's a spot of ceiling I'll look up at and windows that I will watch the dawn and the dusk through. There's a new cashier who I'll make small-talk with and, more than likely, a bartender or two who will eventually know me by name and drink. There are people who I will call acquaintances and, if I am very lucky, friends. I don't find any comfort in that, not just yet. There's only rawness and worry and loneliness and excitement and longing and suddenness and love and other things that I will pack and unpack.

I Do Not Drink From Lethe. I Do Not Look To Ithaca.

I liked that you liked me. What was it you liked? Tell me. Yes. Again. As you bite your lower lip and try to keep your mouth from going dry.

Your eyes make me ache. They are like sea glass.

I am embarrassed at how domesticated we've both become, you more so than I. Much more fun when you crawled across my body like a cat, limbs long and hot, your pale skin smelling of the liqueur of your perfume and buttery champagne, as sweet as summer. My sheets smelled of you for days. You didn't get dressed until well past 2 and I enjoyed every moment of your smooth, soft skin mingling with the air, with the linen, with my touch. I wanted to know every square inch of you.

I liked how you smiled when I kissed your arms; when I kissed your neck.

Lover.

Had we continued past a single night, we might have become lovers. We might have written a mythology, signed it with lightning and sweat and pretended it was something new.

I, your troubled writer. You, my dark muse.

(My love is as a fever, longing still)

But if we had, then I would not have this. I would only have you and you would only have me and we would soon forget how the other's hands felt, how our fingertips once touched, how the night was blue and gold.

The waters of forgetfulness surround Elysium. We drink from them before we cast away our paradises.

Then I would not have you and then you would not have me. And we would have quaffed the black wine of Lethe after our thirst for each other was satiated and disappointed and damned.

I would not have kept you as I have kept you: a pulsebeat steady. A silver and onyx shudder. A wine-fresh sigh. A wind.

I would not have you tucked away in a heart's sanctuary, your hair fanned out like a dark puddle upon the pillows, your lipstick worn pale by kisses, your breasts beneath the cool sail of the bed, your jeans peeled free in a hot storm of hands and caresses and legs, left in a soft tangle at the foot of the bed.

The storm subsides and here you lie where it is always 3 am; where I am always your troubled writer and you are always my dark muse in a dream I wish I could disappear into, in a dream of an unfound river, in a dream that will not fade, sophisticated and feral, still hungry for another night.

08 October 2016

Glances, Glasses


"There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature."

--Lawrence Durell

There's no room at the bar except next to a thin brunette in a black dress, so I ask if she's waiting for company or if the seat is available. She says it's open, so I sit down. I'm somewhat uncomfortable when the trio of women who were sitting next to me then decide to get up and leave because now I'm not sure if I should move or not. I don't. The problem is solved when a man who looks like the bastard offspring of Dennis Miller and Jeff Goldblum sits on the other side of me.

The owner asks me what I want and I ask her for a glass of red wine. I'm not picky, nor am I much of a wine snob, and I trust what she pours for me: I know her. She pours me a cab and it's a big, chocolate cigar of a wine.

The woman sitting next to me asks if I speak French. I just say a little. She pays me a compliment, I thank her. I ask how her dinner was and she says she hasn't had it yet.

Her lipstick is the color of garnets.

I take a sip from my wine, then slide it towards her. Try this, I tell her. It's like a chocolate cigar.

Are you sure, she asks.

Yes, of course.

She takes a sip from my glass and smiles. You're right, she says. Like a chocolate cigar. Here, try mine.

I do. It's a merlot. Young, green--the wine needs some time and some air.

The conversation turns to the same thing conversation always turns to when people have nothing to say: the question of how one earns a living. She's in medical sales, with a degree in biology from UT Knoxville. I am a reckless layabout in Nantucket reds and a white cotton button down with the sleeves rolled up. I offer to buy her a drink, which she politely declines, partly because she has to get on the road, partly because the jackass to my right has joined our conversation. I thank her and she leaves.

She leaves her napkin on the bar, it is blotted with her lipstick, wine red. I wonder what it would be like to press my lips to hers. I will never know. There is something about that thought that secretly delights me. I am not sure why, but the abrupt disconnection makes me very happy.

The fellow next to me asks why I didn't press for her phone number or offer her a card.

The reason I didn't is because there is something far more beautiful about a napkin, well-kissed, than a number I won't ever call. There is something much better about watching a lovely woman's long fingers caress the stem of the glass you pass to her and the traces she leaves. To try to hold onto her would smear the traces; crush the delicacy of the moment.

The reason I didn't is because she was a perfect stranger.

I wanted to keep her perfect.


Written mid-2010.  This ended up as a part of a piece of fiction that I workshopped at Yale Summer Session. The temptation is to edit all the pretentiousness out of this, but it is what it is: a short, guarded essay by someone who still hasn't gotten past his own need to stay "perfect." 

You Don't Have To Go Home

It’s late and you don’t want to go home. You want to drive around or walk around because you don’t want to leave her, not yet. Leaving her will mean the feeling of terrible apartness. It will mean watching her fade into the distance, disappear dragging a long shadow under the streetlights, fade into the spill of headlamps with only the lingering taste of a kiss or the touch of her perfume or some other thing that will wear off (yes, wear off) as the days—the endless days—that seem to somehow go on without her, but are empty of the things that lend days any sort of form, meaning, substance…joy.

You don’t want to go home, no.

The night begins to pale and even though your eyes burn and you’re both tired of the incandescent blaze and the hungover feeling that comes from drinking coffee past midnight, you let it pale because even though it’s late, you don’t want to go home.

That’s how it starts.

Somewhere at some hour, when it’s late.

The phone calls go on into the night and suddenly oh fuck I have to be up in an hour and you’re stumbling into work with red eyes and your face hurting from laughing.

Maybe you drive around, find a hill, look at the city burning up with light. Millions of lives. You consider these things out loud because this is what feeling known evokes: a feeling of knowingness. You kiss her or you don’t. It doesn’t matter. Even if you don’t, you imagine kissing her. The world around you smells like wet grass and exhaust and gravel and auto air freshener. And even though it’s late, you don’t want to go home.

You sit somewhere. A porch. A balcony. A scratched table in a restaurant in the middle of closing, ignored by a waitress who just wants to finish her shift and leave but has other things to do before she kicks you out. Don’t order a refill on your coffee. You want to know everything. Every detail. Broken hearts. The names of first pets. The first boy she kissed. And it’s all a cliché and you both know it and still, still, you don’t want to go home. Not yet. Park in an empty lot and kiss until your mouths are sore.

Her name will be on your lips long after she is gone, after she is in bed. Does she think of you, too? Stare at the ceiling and ask yourself. The other numbers that come through on your phone will become nuisances. They will become distractions. They will become the great mass of everyone-who-isn’t-her and you will resent them for not being her. Your pulse will throb with declaration and the delicious fear of finding that your affections are unreturned and you picture it like a cartoon of someone dropping a heart on the ground. You think these and a thousand other things while you sit and stare at her in the silence and you don’t want to go home.

Long after the night has died and you’ve joked about weddings and names for children—and nearly every wedding and child’s name has started off as joke—you’ll wonder, well, what if? Leave tomorrow’s details to tomorrow. Tomorrow is hours off, and though it feels like the seconds have found a way to triple their speed, you may rest assured that they will drip like amber from the branch until you see her again.

The sun will rise. Drink the last dregs of night from her lips. Be fevered. Be resolute. Be brave. Feel her eyes on your back and don't be afraid to turn back to look.

You do not lose her to the streetlights, nor to the spill of headlamps.

The night ends because even the Hesperides must sleep. Even the stars must climb elsewhere and light the skies for other lovers staring out at other cities, not wanting to go home.



Written October, 2014 (?). An inferior version/edit appeared on quarterlifecircus.com: my own damn fault for tinkering with it.

06 October 2016

Star.

It's June. She stands on her deck staring out at the Hollywood hills, freckled in orange stars
expanding into galaxies in the flatlands. Her mascara is perfect, though her eyes are wet. She fumbles with the cellophane on her Marlboros and then again trying to pull a cigarette from the box, lacking a true smoker's dexterity.

Some nights make you want to smoke, even if you've never really had the habit; even if you know the pack will sit in the bottom of your purse, crushed and smelling of coins and chewing gum, until the next bad night, the next night when you want to cry but don't want to give the world the satisfaction, even if no one's around to see you. 

The matches won't light and when they do, the snapping winds swallow the flame before she can hold it to her lipstick stained cigarette. Nothing is going right today, not even this attempt at something as simple as smoking. She can smell the acrid fruit smell of the neighbor's marijuana in the air and the irony isn't funny. It's frustrating. 

It's midnight. That means it's 3am back home. If she calls anyone, they'll pick up in a groggy panic. If she doesn't, she'll scroll through her phone all night until she falls asleep or gives up or, more likely, digs deep into self-pity that refuses to admit itself the occasionally necessary indulgence of self-pity and exhaust herself to sleep with anxiety and loneliness and missing.

The moon is a sliver, but even the north star is dimmer than any plane leaving Burbank or LAX. The night is nothing like it was when she was a girl; when her father told her stories about the seven sisters and Aphrodite and the hunter in the sky. 

She turns and looks at the gold statuettes and globes that glitter inside, housed casually around her cavernous marble and oak and glass cage and wonders what it is she's won in this place so high above the city; so far from the nearest star.



Written May, 2014. Hollywood, California. 

The Flowers That Take Root In Rain

"We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken."

--Dostoyevsky

I remember the scent of sweat on your neck and our lips sore with too much kissing and the way your mouth tasted.

I remember how you tasted like the sea and how the rain was as silver as Chicago. Your shampooed hair. Taking you in the cab. The beery pulling at your clothes. Your mouth. Your long, smooth legs. Every inch of you like a dream to be mapped and explored.

Every second of you left me wanting more.

There were golden bubbles that sparkled the night. Your luggage everywhere in my hotel room. Your hands freeing my cufflinks. Your fingers in my mouth. Your oceanic eyes and your hair like silk and coffee.

A circle of black clouds above you in December.

How I loved the way you looked at me. How I saw you on the street and knew that we would never be this young again and so we said yes to everything, to all of it, to everything that the night offered, to everything that the champagne poured into the new year.

Crumpled sheets and gray light. The warmth of your naked body entwined in mine. January rain jeweling the windows and not a leaf on a tree anywhere. A light sigh of snow and hope. A new year.

I liked kissing you in the morning.

I remember the curl of your handwriting on your luggage tags and how soft you looked in a gray t-shirt, hair wet from the shower.

The perfume you left on the sink.
Half empty: a reminder; a fragrant memory.

A signature upon the urgent December wind.

A trace of two hearts beating fast in the fading winter night, quickening like footsteps; quickening like city rain.



About a fling with a girl that I literally met on the street in Chicago on New Year's Eve. We were inseparable for three days and then I never heard from her again. I hope she is well. 

House of Transience

This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.

--Billy Collins, Aristotle
I remember my first night in this apartment. I had no sheets, so I slept under my blazer on the plastic-covered foam mattress and used my duffle bag as a pillow. I bought an expensive comforter, but no cover for it, and a cheap set of sheets at Laytner's the next day or the day after. The orange-pink light from the street easily cut through the shades that I left drawn for the next two and a half years and the sirens didn't ever seem to stop screaming down Broadway.

I didn't decorate this studio for over a year. The walls stayed bare. A few framed pictures sat on bookshelves. The books provided some semblance of geographical commitment, but by and large, this place had the feeling of a temp worker's cubicle: transience. I was lonely here. It was only after meeting my girlfriend that I moved furniture, hung pictures, bought a mirror.

The same three bags that I moved here with are all that I have here now. The books have all been packed and shipped. All that remains are the pieces of ugly furniture loaned to me by Columbia and bare walls where picture hooks hint at where one might anchor a memory. In leaving this apartment, I've had the opportunity to leave other things: dishes I've moved too many times, pieces of paper containing ideas that I've discarded, relics of former selves as useless as molted feathers or dry snakeskin.

Transience, as always, triumphed over the illusion of permanence. My living space is as informed by what has happened (on a lark, I applied and got into Columbia and now have a job waiting for me in L.A.) as it is by what didn't happen (I didn't get into graduate school here). The apartment that I am sitting in right now is as strange as it was on that first January night and, despite the ugly New York swelter of late May, was just as cold on my last.



Written May 2013 before moving to Hollywood. After serving out two years in Southern California's dark underbelly, I returned to New York City.

The rest is still being written. 

03 October 2016

Why We Love Certain Books (Alain de Botton)




02 October 2016

Seat 6F.



"The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions - the little, soon-forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heart-felt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling” --Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"Home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in." --Robert Frost

Seat 6F was a window seat in the first class cabin on American Airlines flight 333 going from LaGuardia to O'Hare on Thanksgiving Day of 2010. The food is complimentary in first class, as is the wine, and of a slightly better grade than that sold in coach. There are little comforts on an airplane, so when I am able, I take what I can get. There are fewer comforts on an airplane when you're hung over after a night of too much gin at too many bars--the Ritz, the Oak Room, Sky Bar--and too many cigarettes smoked with bored-looking models. It's not glamorous. It's painful. It's boring. It's all bullshit that I pretend is more entertaining than it is because I will improve upon all of it when I write about it. 6F is just another place 30,000 feet above the Earth where I am trying to get over the pain of simply being alive. As far as places go, it's certainly better than the alternative: a tiny seat tucked away in the back of the plane amidst coughing Chicagoans and screaming babies.

I have been traveling so long that you might think the pain of coming home has been abated by repetition.

It hasn't.

I rehearse it. The plane will touch down after a 30 minute descent. I will turn my phone back on. There will be no messages, no missed calls. I'll pull my backpack from under the seat in front of me and my duffle from the overhead and walk down the jetway into concourse C at BNA. Because it is Thanksgiving, the airport will be empty. I'll walk through concourse C, down the stairs to baggage claim, and then down another set of stairs to the taxi stand. It will be raining. I'll get in a cab and sit quietly as the driver takes me to my suburb.

And all the while I will be pierced with the loneliness of someone who has no real place; of someone who travels because he doesn't feel at home anywhere, who moves because home is long gone: neither in front of him nor behind him. And when I walk through the concourse or up the stairs to my apartment, I'll imagine for a moment that I have someone else's life, which someone will be waiting for me in the terminal, that someone will have waited up for me at home. I can see her clearly for a minute. I imagine her standing there near baggage claim and smiling when she sees me tired, exhausted, walking toward her.

But there is no she.

It's what we want when we travel. We want to be able to come home. We want to hear someone say I miss you and be careful and please come home safely. We want someone to call when we land. We want someone to care if we come home. We want someone to wake up to.

But I do not live someone else's life. I live my life. And my journeys never bring me home. They bring me up the stairs, in the rain, to a half-packed apartment and laundry that needs to be done, emails that need to be attended to, TV dinners. Coffee that has sat in the pot for too many days. They bring me back to a life full of regret and things that I stupidly let slip away. Every move I make leads me right back to that life. You cannot outrun yourself.

I try to find home when I travel. And sometimes I succeed in finding it, but only for a moment. Long kisses from a beautiful girl on a sidewalk are glimpses of home. Lingering cups of coffee are a window to the life that is not mine. The first time you feel a new body in your arms feels like home. Every cliché is, I think, a sort of longing for home. Her sea-glass eyes. Her hair like fine-spun strands of gold. The way she makes you tremble. Silly. Yes. Poignant, also.

Imagine, though. Imagine.

So when it's 3am and I am in some hotel room in Midtown or on the Magnificent Mile or in San Francisco and I'm drunk and feeling the homesickness that defines me, shapes me, breaks me in the night, all I can do is think back on tender kisses and caresses from some other life and try to remember what home feels like; what feels safe and calms the storm. All I can do is long for home and imagine another life, not my own.

And this is what I think about in seat 6F as I choose between the chicken fajita salad and the burger and enjoy the warm chocolate chip cookie and hot towel.

I am sitting in first class and longing for home. The memory of it makes it possible to get back on a plane and come back to a place that holds nothing for me so that I can leave it for another place, that I hold out hope--stupid, painful, broken hope--will, like Robert Frost has written, have to take me in.

Fragment from "Tapestry."

The following is from the original version of "Tapestry:" a life-long love letter. It is the only thing I have written that I really feel anything for. It was bound by Wayne Bertola in an edition of 50. I also hand bound one copy in quarter leather. It is not for sale.


1. The first time I saw her, I was wearing a gray houndstooth suit, my only Hermes tie, and vintage spats from 1919: a carefully crafted anachronism, found on eBay and adopted as part of a history that I longed to absorb. I was nervous because I didn't want to disappoint her. The moment I met her, I feared that I had: her words were as sharp in person as they were in writing so even though she smiled and said "you look better in person than you do in photographs," I felt something inside of me crumple.

The fall was still young that day and our time together had just begun.

She was nowhere near the autumn of her life, even as the summer of mine faded like the crisp gold and scarlet leaves that floated to the ground, settling and surrendering to the pale earth. I do not remember what she wore and the signature of her fragrance that day has long since left me, but she was fair and beautiful with chestnut hair and dark maple eyes. I knew that to love her would be to suffer for her, and I knew that because as soon as I saw her, I loved her... and as soon as I loved her, I feared losing her because I already longed to become part of her history, to absorb her, to be loved by her.

My love was still young that day when I wrapped it in a fragile layer of hope and silence and wondered when I might be closer than her powdered cheek against mine, nearer to her than a shared cupcake and champagne would allow, a part of her life, a piece of her heart which even then I knew to be secluded and remote to outsiders.

01 October 2016

I Am Dreaming.

- Etait-ce donc ceci ?
- Et le rêve fraîchit.

-Was it this?
-And the dream breaks afresh.

"Veillées I" -- Rimbaud

I am dreaming.

As rain comes down on me, matting my hair slick, molding wet folds of black cotton to my chest and arms, you are miraculously dry, standing in the sun.

You've always stood in the sun.

Your hair is the color of sand high above the tideline, sparkling summergold. Your eyes are still sea-gray, chilling your smile.

I have kept you like this behind glass, tucked in the pages of a much-loved book, framed in silver, folded away in a battered leather wallet, corners wearing white and thin even though handled by the edges. I have carried you with me. To San Francisco. To Chicago. To Paris.

I know you. I have known every inch of you. But only because I am dreaming.

I know the length of your fingers and the soft lines of your palm; the shape of your nails and how they seemed to me like opal shields, gleaming with wet adularescence, the color of the wind in April, your touch like spring.

You are every image that I want to capture but only cheapen with words.

You have been every golden-eyed heartbreak, every dark lady, every woman who did not tread softly upon my dreams. I was my beloved's. My beloved was not mine.

Your lips have grazed mine a thousand times in the waxing anticipation of a kiss that vanishes like so many stars in the thieving pale dawn. The morning and its scarlet and purple curtains of damnation: the day chained to memory.

But here you are again, ribboned in diaphanous sunlight as the rain comes down on me in cold waves. There are the smooth curves of your legs. And there is your hand touching my cheek, your lips the color of apricots, grazing mine awake to sharply curse the dawn and the disappearance of a dream.



Written May, 2011. 

The Next Day.

I didn’t sleep the night before. I had never been so aware, so conscious, of another person. Her every exhalation, her every movement, her every shift in sleeping position was new to me. When I closed my eyes, all I could see was her face, surrounded by words that I knew I would have to get up and write. When I would open my eyes, there she was. Sometimes curled against me. Sometimes with her head on my chest. Sometimes with her legs thrown over me. Sometimes with her hand resting in mine. But always there. So…present. I finally fell asleep just as the windows outside began to silver with the dawn and the sound of her alarm made me hope that it was, for some absurd reason, a reminder to go back to bed.

The next day I would write to a colleague and friend who asked “how’s it going?”

I'm sitting in a Starbucks hoping my nose doesn't start bleeding again.

I lost my ID on the train.

It's very cold and I don't have a hat.

My plane tickets for Saturday don't actually include seats.

I have no idea what to say to her or what she's going to say when I leave in a few days.

I didn't sleep at all last night.

But this morning I woke up holding the girl that, despite all reason and argument, I love. And regardless of whether or not she loves me back or how long it takes me to get used to the way she shows her affection, at least I know that I didn't let that moment escape.

The day before I had gone through five states, fueled on coffee, beer, and hope, just to see her.

The next day I woke up next to her.

And that alone was enough for that day.




Written as part of a series of private letters and essays to the woman I wrote 'Tapestry' for. 

Engaged II.



As I mentioned in the introduction to "Engaged," its sequel was really meant to be kind of a talisman to ward off my fear of abandonment. So far, it's only exacerbated it: I can barely read this piece without having a full-blown panic attack.

I wrote it in September 2013. I was working at A Plus and I remember looking out the windows in our temporary office in Century City and imagining a life not my own. This is what I came up with. As it turns out, my life -- at least when it comes to relationships -- is kind of a intersection between this and its predecessor. An intersection where one's heart is run over by buses, trains, and the occasional tractor. Such is life.

That said, here it is. Enjoy.

Engaged II

She'll call you at work at 10am and tell you she has something to show you. The excitement in her voice is always contagious. There's something that still warms you deep and full when you know she's smiling wide enough to show her dimples. Check your email, she says. I just sent it. So you do.

It's a picture she's taken with her phone of a page from the newspaper's Weddings and Engagements section. You know she's cut it out already and carefully placed it next to the one she clipped from last month's Town and Country. Same picture: the two of you staring at each other, lost in each other. Her slender hand curled around your lapel, tugging you toward her. Her smile as she said you under her breath just as the shutter clicked.

Yes. You.

He and She of Here announce the engagement of their daughter, Her, to You, son of He and She of There. The bride-to-be is a graduate of...

And you stop.

Because you remember that once nothing seemed as easy as any of these words make it sound. She was another's and you wondered if you could ever be as much to her as he seemed to be. You wondered, sometimes, if it was him she thought about when she looked past you with faraway eyes and a sad smile after late quiet dinners. You wondered if you'd ever be standing in the picture you're staring at.

You wondered once if you could ever love anyone else. You looked at her once and you knew you couldn't. The first time you saw her, you just knew.

Knowing was the worst of it. That's not anywhere in the announcement.

You wondered if you ever really knew how to be loved.

Long before you could shape I love you anywhere but in the recesses of your heart, she was just a friend. Long before that picture, there were warm pastries and endless cups of coffee as you tried not to stare at her across the table at the coffee shop, burying your face in a book you never ended up reading. Sometimes there were drinks and she'd tell you about the guys who stumbled and fell for her and declared it and went away embarrassed and you promised yourself you would not, would never, could not...

But you knew you wouldn't be.

You walk to your window and look out over the city. From your office you can see the world that you feared would break your heart. But you survived that first long summer after you told her and she filled the aching silence and loved you too. She had Paris and another year of school, but somehow, despite the distance and longing and fear and new friends and old loves who'd call out of nowhere, out of the night and the miles that separated you, you held on to each other, remembering, knowing. Winter nights passed. Fall days went. Unshared. But always shared.

Long-distance bills and fuzzy Skype conversations. Your hearts lived in two different time zones. You remembered what it was like to hold each other, to fall asleep and wake next to each other, to fall in love again and again, every second of every hour.

You go downstairs and buy the paper, then carefully tear the picture out and put it on your desk. You know she's waiting for you to call her back and that tonight, you'll kiss her and tell her for the millionth time that you love her and she will smile just as widely as she did the first time you did.

She is more beautiful now than she was even then. She will be more beautiful still tomorrow. And in a year, there will be more things to clip from the paper. More kisses. Because she chose you. From among every option she had, she chose you.

You.

But not yet, not yet. Those things will be, but not now.

Put them away, then, and tell the truth.





Originally written 9.8.13 3:52 pm EST. Hollywood, California.

Cover photo: Mahmood Salam/Flickr

Engaged.


This isn't a new piece of writing, by any means. I wrote it in November or December of 2010, just before heading to New York for school.

People always ask me who I wrote this about. I didn't write it about anyone. It was inspired by a rather awkward (but really, what in my life isn't slightly awkward?) goodbye in a New England coffee shop one morning. There was a pile of newspapers between us. The colors of autumn had returned. I didn't know what the Hell to say to her. I suppose I loved her in a very damaged way. And that was that. I never saw her again.

I have no idea if she's ever read it or not: we haven't spoken in years.

Its predictably sad history aside, "Engagedreflects a fear that I've carried around with me for as long as I can remember: a fear of living subjunctively under the burden of the past conditional, of considering what might have been, of regretting some decision in such a way that I might wish for a do-over, another chance. "Engaged" both entertains and resists that...but it doesn't exorcise the fear of being forgotten, made obsolete, becoming replaceable.

Knowing that doesn't change that fact that I tend to do that to myself. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I wrote the second part of "Engaged," -- which is arguably a better piece of writing -- as a way of trying to ward off that tendency. There's actually a third part, as well. I don't have a copy: it was scrawled into a notebook that belongs entirely to someone else. I remember writing it, but I don't remember a word of it. I'm not sure I want to. 


But enough of that. Read it and consider the ones closest to you, then put this away and remember it. 

KSA


Engaged

The engagement will be in the New York Times or in Town and Country, maybe both. The typical society engagement announcement.

She, the daughter of He and She of Here, is marrying Him III, the son of Him II and Her, of There. She is...

And you stop.

Because you knew her once. No more, of course. The woman in the photograph bears only the slightest resemblance to the girl you knew. She's changed her hair. You don't recognize that dress or the way she holds herself in the posed picture, turning towards the camera, smiling as she places one hand on the lapel of his jacket as he looks at her the way think you might have looked at her once, too, before he turns to the camera, beaming as the shutter clicks.

You looked at her once and adored her.

She is older certainly, but not old. She's still young and when you do the math and read the cold black copy you realize that it has been eight years since you spoke to her and that she went to Harvard Law instead of becoming a painter and that somewhere you really did lose her without really knowing you did or how or why. You had Paris for a season and she had London and Rome for a year, but even before that, the letters became less frequent and the emails became shorter, more sporadic, and finally you realized that you hadn't talked or heard from her in weeks.

And that is when you realized that you would never be standing in that photo.

And you sit there with your coffee and your croissant, just a few streets from where you'd meet for tea, a block from where you kissed her the first time, and you wonder, not for the first time, if she ever thinks about you. That's what you're thinking about when you leave the magazine or the newspaper on the chair and walk out into the fall remembering that you loved her once.

Realizing that you love her still.

You sit in the park and unfold the photograph torn from the page. You fold him away and look at her and remember. Her lips have not touched yours in nearly a decade but you know what it feels like to kiss her. Your hands have not curved around her waist as you pulled her toward you in some lost November, but you know what it is like to hold her.

You know this because you hold her still, but mostly you know it because you cannot hold her and you will not hold her again.

But not yet, not yet. Those things will be, but not now.

Put them away, then, and feel her fingers circling yours.

And kiss her again. You have no time.