Lydia Davis writes that the project of Michel Leiris’s long autobiographical essay collection The Rules of the Game is to “write himself into existence,” and that in doing so he is following Michel Foucault, who said in an interview that a writer is “not simply creating his work in his books, in what he publishes… his principal work is in the end himself writing his books.” (Essays II, 392.) I remember sitting across from the extremely cramped little card table in M’s apartment, where we worked on our laptops and ate mostly silent meals, and her saying, in response to some story I had told about growing up or about the years of writing and loneliness immediately preceding that it was like I had written myself into existence, which was true at the time especially because there was very little of me outside of that writing. One of us—I forget who—imagined it as pulling myself out of the muck. I thought of Fernando Pessoa and The Book of Disquiet, which I imagined as a similiar project, working so hard to build form out of what seemed impossibly various.In many ways this blog (over so many years) has been the most obvious example of that long effort, and my hiatuses—or times when I have substituted more confessional writing for something more difficult to parse—are examples of times where I have, for various reasons, put that project on hold. Or at least publicly done so.

Similarly, in Thomas Hoccleve’s Complaint the speaker (who we can safely assume is Thomas) complains about what it is like to return to society after suffering a long mental illness, with few believing that he has regained his sound mind. He looks in a mirror, practicing appearing in control, and imagines that if people just saw him like that they would believe that he was alright again. In his poem Dialogue, which follows immediately afterwards, a friend—who may or may not be fictional—arrives and Thomas tells him about his desire to cleanse his body (of its “guilt… foul and unclene”) through translation of the consolatory Latin treatise Lerne for to Die. The friend is worried about this project, since he believes Hoccleve’s mental illness already to be the result of “overstudy” (which may be true). Perhaps the job of the writer is balancing the need for rest with the desire to transform oneself. Writing is magic, in that its concerted practice can effect change not only on the world which receives it (as in Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius) but also on the body and the mind of the writer. (I have my own translation project that I imagined clarifying or cleansing me.)

Every so often—when I feel at my worst—I imagine that I don’t have time for the writing that I like to do, or that in order to do it I have to wait for circumstances to be perfect. This is never correct—more often I write myself back into sanity. Therefore I am writing this post in the middle of the night, on the eve of a short trip. Soon I will go to bed. I am nurturing the most urgent part of myself, one sentence at a time. 

Down Shaw, at the Pits

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Down Shaw, an old man sleeps on his porch, head back and mouth wide open. His arms are spread like on the cross, one arm down either side of his couch. It’s not dusk, but the day is getting on and the sun, while its presence is still felt, while one can still feel it, and see it, is gone, or going, or some combination of both. In the amber light, dark green leaves hang low from their trees, like fruits.

Passing Christie Pits, baseball diamonds and soccer fields sunk in what looks like a former quarry, I pause before a park bench to watch a single loop into centre field. Beyond the park bench, I watch the hitter become runner, and then a thief, as he goes from first to third on consecutive pitches. I find a spot on the grass along the hill, somewhere up the third base line. More hits follow, and the runner scores. More hits and many runners. For the opposing team, the inning must feel endless.

In a previous entry I wrote about having “the calm of an adult” only moments after confessing thoughts that were murderous. I don’t have that. My “calm” is not the calm of an adult. My calm is tentative, like those of the squirrels I fed in that same entry. It relies on whether I am left alone or offered a crust of bread… and what the crust of bread asks of me in return.

Across the field a loud, abrasive teenage girl shouts about vodka and the viability of “Coca-Cola” as a chaser vs. a mixer. Now she’s singing a song. The lyrics are hard to ignore, for many reasons: “Fuck me now… Fuck me later… Faggot! Faggot! Faggot!” is all I can make out, but I’m not certain whether the song is real. She plays with the lines, acts with them… her recitation seems genuine, but it’s also pointed, and her male partner laughs when she enunciates her “faggots”.

“Who wants a shot? Who wants a shot?” Though I’m a good distance away, she turns and offers me cake icing. “Come on! It’s yellow! And lemon flavoured.”

“No thanks.”

My calm is Pessoa’s calm. Calm to observe and to dream, or to allow oneself to get carried on the current of the day… to be it and to feel it, rather than to live it. The smell of cut grass cooling in the dying sun. Shouts across the park. The leather metronome of a pitcher and a catcher warming up along the third base foul line.

The girl has just described getting drunk, at a recent party, on a cup of water she thought was vodka. She turns to me again.

“What are you writing? Are you documenting the game?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Being alone is against human nature! Come and have a shot of vodka!”

There’s a reason so many movies, novels, and songs feature protagonists propositioned in a similar manner, by some kind of morally ambiguous, fascinating character alien to the protagonist’s sensibilities… it’s because the authors of those narratives have been similarly propositioned, only, contrary to their protagonist, the author didn’t take them up on it.

“Sometimes it’s nice to be alone.”

It’s better not to take them up on it because the consummation of such an offer is certain to be a disappointment. Better to avoid it and think up something better yourself– along with a more fascinating character to go with it. One just as fearless, but with more sense, and more mystery as well… to put it bluntly, one less common. A girl you didn’t know, because you’ve known dozens of the girl sitting across the lawn, but one you’d wished you had.

A foul ball lands outside the fence. The girl, of course, goes down to get it.

“Do you want your ball back?”

One of the players: “I don’t know, do you want me?”

“Can you believe he said that?” (Later)

“It must be your ass.”

A running joke? She’s wearing tight pants.

(Laughs) “You’re right! It must be my ass!”

Later, as it gets darker, I leave.

Heteronym Explanation / Yorkville / Queen’s Park

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A heteronym. That is the best way of explaining it. My name, my real name (here somewhere, undoubtedly, in the archives) is itself a heteronym, a multi-faceted glass jewel. Reflecting all of the people I have known and inhabit. None of these people are dangerous (you’ll excuse me for saying), they are all illusory, and some have stronger opinions than others…

I wander back and forth, back and forth. Yorkville is a venus fly trap. It is a spider and it unfolded its long legs, capturing and devouring Lisa’s bike whole. Where did she park it? Yorkville isn’t the spider, I am. I am a cockroach. Who are these fancy people? A bed of pansies watches me like a nest full of angry owls: purple-yellow eyes, deep-creased blue foreheads. One day I’d like to keep pigeons. They coo in front of me, picking through the gravel: from their clawed, red feet, it is easy to see they are dinosaurs…

Today Pessoa makes my eyes wet, though not with tears. I sit at a table in the gravel on the south side of Cumberland, my metal chair tethered to my metal table. Growing out of the gravel is some kind of sparse willow with bark like peeling cedar– a kind of birch, perhaps. The men and women that pass me look over and seem to say “You don’t belong here,” and I look back and they are unashamed to hold my gaze, and I think something unnatural and out of character to these well-dressed people who openly gawk at my appearance (what is so wrong with it? is my pen offensive? my bicycle helmet?). What I think is this: “I could kill you.” I can’t write, which is why I find myself staring at the people who pass me. The shade from the buildings is gloomy and I wish that I was in the sun, across the street on the patio of the restaurant, where they will begrudge serving me and offer repeated, insolent suggestions that I should leave… A man wakes up from sunning himself on a rock and screams something in Polish.

A while later.

There the atmosphere was bad, and so I changed it. I could feel my internal barometre relax as soon as I stepped off the curb on the north side of Bloor, and it relaxed completely when I passed the Gardiner Museum and its packs of school-children, their calm teachers, a little boy in a Dodgers uniform sitting in the freshly cut grass.

And here, in Queen’s Park… I can hear children shout in the distance– I can smell the trees. I remember coming here, five years ago– a child. Now I do have the peace of an adult, even if that peace is only the knowledge that nothing matters and no one is really interested in anything outside themselves… The world can be mean, and coarse, but it can be nice as well. A squirrel, convinced I have some food, comes to my hand and nibbles gently on my middle finger. Years ago, with bread crusts, I could not get the squirrels to come closer than across the table.

I can write about life or I can live it, and the two are opposite sides of the same coin. I shouldn’t be disappointed if I do as Pessoa did, walking in the streets of Lisbon, the first sunny day after a period of storms: he saw the open-air fruit sellers and their resplendent yellow bananas soaking and reflecting all of the sun– he felt greatly cheered by the bananas, but refused to buy one. He didn’t want to spoil the scene by interjecting with the voice he knew the vendors would find funny, or his worries about whether or not the old fruit vendors would properly handle or pack his bananas…

Of course it is better to buy the bananas, but if you don’t, don’t worry about it. It’s all the same, either way.

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