At the library I read about Frank O’Hara’s life. I knew he died young (at 40) but I didn’t know that he was run down by a beach taxi on Fire Island. (Aside from Barthes, have any other famous writers been struck and killed by an automobile?) (Foucault was also hit by a car, but he survived and later remembered the incident fondly.) It wasn’t immediately known, when O’Hara died, just how prolific he was—he stuffed many of his poems into closets and drawers, and only rarely published. He worked as an assistant curator at the Museum of Modern Art (not formally trained—working his way up from ticketseller) but poetry was his life. It is refreshing to hear of a poet resisting scrambling and desperation, dedicated to the art but not consumed by it. That’s the kind of poet, and writer, I’d like to be: someone working silently and diligently and carving out space alongside a different kind of life—it suits me, and the work I’d like to do, best.
O’Hara was always surrounded by artists. He would go with other members of the New York school and sit in artist cafés and bars and write poetry while the artists argued and talked, his poems moving easily across many registers, high and low. At the library I shelved without listening to podcasts again, felt calm and fine working in the silence. I read about O’Hara’s life, revisited an essay by Anne Boyer, and wrote in a little journal I made out of scrap paper (a long time ago I had a habit of making these because of how cheaply they can be made and how easily they fit in your pocket). I felt like I was returning to something, an outright rejection of how I have otherwise misplaced my energies.
Writing daily, here and elsewhere, concentrating on observation and reflection, has helped return me to who I am. And running, a practice that I’d thought—for a long time—I would have to give up. My emotions are, generally, closer to the surface than they were just a few months ago. I notice where I am—even if, lately, that’s been anxious, it has been nice to give myself permission to feel that way. To not be so threatened by it, or by anything.
On Instagram someone says: “the full moon in Gemini, the last of the decade, is an opportunity to reset your karma. Now is the perfect time to shift your habits in the direction you’d like to go.” I don’t know about any of that, though I like thinking of the cosmos giving us an opportunity. I also like thinking of O’Hara at the bar writing poetry, and all of these changes that have been recently wrought in me, and thinking of 33 as the year of my conversion—when I shifted my habits, clarified them, and realized what I most need to be.
My parents have started playing badminton together. I learn this on the phone, where I was trying out a new conversation technique—though I don’t want to be, often I am guarded with my mother, worried that I will somehow lose too much in our exchange (this is an old problem, one that stems from a time when I had much more to lose). So often when I call, rather than volunteer information, I learn about my mother’s life, sometimes in a way that makes me upset because of how little it seems I am asked about what’s going on with me. Ironically, I replicate the exact situation I mean to avoid.
But offering is a different thing entirely—I am strong enough, of course, to volunteer. I talk about what’s making me anxious. And in the meantime I’m happy to have learned about this new hobby my parents have taken up, this new means of connecting. It is exactly the sort of thing I would have wanted for them decades earlier, when I think it must have seemed impossible to my father that space for such things could be made.
Earlier in the day my mother, who has been diligently reacting to all of my Instagram stories (even the ones I’m sure she doesn’t understand), responded to one in which I posted a video of myself wearing digital neon glasses. “I wish I had a pair of glasses that could electrocute me,” is what I think I wrote as caption. “That would devastate me!” she replied. I didn’t mean that kind of electrocution, but even still it was sweet to be reminded that between us there is care, and love, even if it’s sometimes difficult for me to see.
Usually when I’m shelving at the library I listen to a podcast to kill the time. But yesterday I hadn’t brought my phone with me, so instead I walked through the perfectly silent basement without distraction. It felt peaceful—almost meditative. I didn’t understand why I had been so intent on listening to podcasts before, in filling my head with mostly empty chatter. I liked to hear the sounds the building made as I walked around filing books.
I’d already determined earlier that evening that I was no longer interested in any of the websites that used to help me kill time—I wrote a single long poem, which probably made me more emotional than necessary sitting on the circulation desk, and wrote a sullen blog post, and could think of little else to do. I worked, here and there, on an essay I’m writing (it’s due today and I’m ignoring it now). Perhaps the fact that I’m almost done the project I’ve been working on for the last eight months has helped me realize the futility of procrastination. Perhaps it’s a reorientation of my priorities. I think it’s a little of both.
When my shift was over I got on my bicycle and rode home, slowly, through streets long familiar to me. Last night there were no wrong turns. Some friends were out, at Handlebar, but that seemed to me too far. Without my phone, coordination was much more difficult. I might have stopped if they were on Bloor or on my way home.
As I was getting ready for bed, I leaned down to plug my phone into the wall. Only the charger wasn’t where it usually is—in the past week I’d moved it across the room. For some reason this led to the thought, “Oh, I’ll miss her.”
It was like being shot by all of that quiet from earlier. Suddenly I was on the bed, heaving, burying my face in my hands.
I have wasted so much time on false infinities (social media, a feed of any kind), letting myself become susceptible to their imagined mores, believing and abiding in their lies, allowing myself to become consumed by nothing. Nothing. Hiding from my self in something that is not real. (This is not real community, which requires risk, and vulnerability.) And then, when I lose what is actually important to me—these infinities reveal that they were nothing worth keeping, not even worth a second glance. I do not care for them. They do not occupy me. I will excise them from my life. Whatever happens, I know that there is much of value remaining. I know I have more to give and to receive. But I have lost one of the few things that truly matters (love). Perhaps not forever (or at least I can hope this is the case). Sad to find your way to the truth only after losing it. Sad to speak farewell in bed, remarking still on how well you fit together. What an idiot I was to ever let it go.
Studying meditation. In the seventeenth century, a writer of “centuries”—books of one hundred meditations meant to bring one closer to God. His books have been discovered in antiquary bookstores, in personal libraries, in archives, literally pulled from junk heaps, rescued from imminent fires. Because he was virtually unknown, no telling how many were written, or how long they took to write. Some were unfinished, perhaps indicating roving attention, perhaps only death (even the observant eventually die).
Concentrated attention, such as meditation, brings you closer—closer both to a distant object and closer to what is nearer at hand (your beloved, your life together). Attention is grounding, meditative. It is part of the practice of love: observing the other, being careful. Nourishing a spark. But also loving the self. Slowing down. Paying attention to what is outside you; seeing and respecting its boundaries. Feeling its limits as well as the joy of those rare moments where limits seem to be surpassed.