Bamboo Spine Notebook
Nov. 7 2012 – Jan. 17 2013
for Carolyn Lazard, in arms
The body is no longer an ally, but has become an obstacle, and it's from this body that I move forth into my vocabulary, slowly pulling a variety of previously inaccessible scenes and actions from the sand
―Liliane Giraudon, Madame Himself
Aside from the final seven fragments, this sequence of journal entries was written while at work from November 7, 2012 to January 17 2013. At the time, I was living in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I had moved the previous June and begun working four nights a week, alternating as an ID-scourer and dishwasher, a stone's throw from that small town's main intersection. Some friends of friends had slipped me onto the roster, and I enjoyed the gig in their company during the warm season: taking IDs, sitting on the barstool out front on the sidewalk, and chatting with whomsoever beneath the brick facades of the main drag as it loped uptown from the train bridge, over which freights rumbled slowly by at night. I like talking to strangers, so it was perfect. And I had so much time that I got to read full books or more in single nights, like when Andy lent me Jean Day's The I and the You and A Young Recruit, and I couldn't help but trick myself now and then into thinking that I was getting paid to read these books and write however much I cared to in my notebooks, so long as I could remember how many people were in the room over my shoulder.
With the Fall, however, came a pain at the base of my back. Deep in a part of my pelvis I had never before paid any mind, called the sacroiliac joint. My job required me to stand or sit in close quarters for hours on end: was it my posture? There came the inability to sit up: doctor after doctor – no solutions. There came the need for a cane to walk. There came the 1800 mg daily prescription of Ibuprofen. There came the diagnosis, tentative, of ankylosing spondylitis. Then came blood tests, and as definitive a diagnosis as can be with that condition. There came the inability to work, at twenty-three, and the posing of certain questions to myself that still, and will for who knows how long, remain unanswered. These journals, then, chronicle the oscillations of a body and mind accustomed and acculturated, first, to ability, and second, to work, at a moment of psychological juncture: the moment of their first failure to find, or remain in, union. Each entry is nothing more than a manner of flight into and/or away from pain, at the site of the labor this pain was quickly rendering impossible. In the year since, the pain has returned with the Fall, but I have found ways to alleviate the symptoms – certain stretches, almost nightly Epsom salt baths (thanks for the rec, Simone), and the same unhealthy load of Ibuprofen. Behind my liver, which I've heard joked would read to any doctor like an alcoholic's, my spine can crack in ways more satisfying that I ever dreamed. I cross my fingers and wish it all away.
I leave them no choice but to trust me.
Or, is it that I have been left with no other choice?
(Is this a question of activity – of passivity?)
With 1 leg over a threshold, and 1 over a seuil. In the winter, which demands a more moving vision from the eyes I use to peer through the O's I have scratched out of the word “fraud.”
Able-bodied or disabled, I'm still unsure.
Asking for trust. (There's nothing else to ask for.)
I could fight, defunct, to remain the center of my own internal processes, or cede to the emergent role of this new version of myself.
At first, quitting for medical reasons was easily confused with shirking responsibilities.
(i.e. I've learned to work. To quit: to "regress.")
Would I rather keep clocking in at work (my hip screwdriven by sciatica), or lie in bed for a month in stillness and uncertainty? Or would I rather simply lie?
(But how can I lie if my body won't let me speak for it? When there's actually no excuse being made? This isn't hooky; not putting a hot rag on my six year old forehead before mom comes in to check my temperature.)
As my joints inflame. As my muscles overstretch.
O don't I feel bad for my friends, how they have to listen to me moan and groan . . . but . . . maybe there's some way I haven't found yet to avoid the pain? Or to just avoid speaking of it? And then I think, is there even a reason to avoid speaking of it, if that would mean I'd be assumed able and put to work and lose my voice through that instead? To work! To work – from work – I am voiceless, either way.
Throwing around all those 40 lb stools at the end of the night . . .
I can't even pick up the rubber mats off the kitchen floor and carry them out to hose them down on the back stoop without getting screwdriven.
I can't even fill the mop basin with water and pick it up.
(What does it weigh? Ten pounds? Fifteen pounds?)
The conversation I've been avoiding, or the one my employer has made me avoid, as if I'm afraid he'll be jealous of the “leisure” I would “find” in quitting.
What I'll say: "There isn't much waiting for me on the other side. I hate to tell you. I wish there were. Wish I were coming out on top, I really do. But, no. Months in bed, maybe? Lying on the right side of the bed, by the heater along the base of the wall?"
They could build me again, surgically, but would it be worth it? (As in: they could build a car with much better mileage, but how much more energy would it take to produce that motor? Little enough to merit ditching that earlier model?)
I would throw away all those athletic years when I was a kid . . . I would gladly always have been the "last one picked," if I could only have my gait back, painless and slow as ever need be.
Some fixate on youth by way of childhood's inverse-nostalgia dreams of adult vocations (firemen, construction workers, taxi drivers),
some by recollecting impossibly gentle childhood memories (being warmly bathed in the sink beside the window by mom and Karen),
some by referring always to grades (“back in 9th grade, Shawn fixated on . . . Shawn listened to Graceland a hundred times or more in a month, no exaggeration . . . ,”)
and others yet by permanently counting time in units called “years” that in fact last only from September to May,
leaving Summer wrenched open, so useless and douce,
that forever sweet and timeless void.
After an hour or so of work, I realize that my focus has dulled, but before this my drive had weakened, and before that my energy had diminished, and before that my willingness to work had veered off somewhere else, and before that my drive to live had set to seas of uncertain return, and before that my love had grown confused, and before that my confidence had held the broken mirror up to my bony shoulders, and before that my sensibility of beauty had been shamed by (it seemed like) everyone, and before that my parents had often helped me pay my rent, and before that, and still now, I wonder what it means to be "too young" for something.
So, you can't stand the name of your employer, either? I wonder whose is worse . . . what's the name of yours? Mine: The Dirty Truth. The name bugs me, actually, because I feel like I'm always having to explain the fact that I don't work at a lingerie or sex shop.
I'm like, “Yeah, I work down at that place, The Dirty Truth, you know – it's that bar downtown, that bar, the one that's a little snobby.”
Even here, on this page that no one will ever read, I still feel embarrassed about it: The Dirty Truth.
The "Gross Confession." The "Sordid Reality." The "Filthy Fact."
Playing around now with the name like that, I wonder if finding synonyms for each word of a phrase, and replacing each of its terms with an “equivalent” (synonymous) one, might be a way test the worth of the idea behind a phrase. (I.e. Does the integrality/integrity of its meaning withstand the transference?) But no, that's not the right approach: the very words, and not their synonyms, determine the ensemble. The Filthy Fact would, of course, not be equivalent to The Dirty Truth – but actually far . . . Fuck. How tiresome! You know this already. How old am I? I shouldn't be boring you with it. I shouldn't be boring myself with it.
So, phew, I'm not going to be working there much longer. I have this terrible hip pain that radiates down my legs and up into my lower back and it's aggravated by sitting in that stool I've been sitting in since June taking IDs, that extension of or replacement for my legs, or standing on that sidewalk out front of the bar, checking cards or talking with the chatty people walking by.
I remember that lonely alco- geezer with the John Waters mustache, who came through town one night in the late summer and talked to me a few times about money ("the ching," as he put it) when he passed by the bar: "Ya like yer job, kid? Huh? So why do ya do it? The ching?" And, "I forgot my keys up in my room at that hotel – what's it called, again? – ah, the Hotel Northampton, right! So I went up to the nice young lady at the desk, see, and I said, 'Ey, I ain't got my bag, and I ain't got my keys, but I've got a pocketful'a ching and a will to have a good time."
(The things that stay in the mind . . .)
I wasn't fired, nor did I quit, but came to an agreement with the bar that I may not be able to work for a long time, while I get this hip problem under control – and, shit, I can't even say how long it will be, they say the whole thing might be the beginning of an autoimmune disorder called Ankyling [sic] Spondylitis, which can result in the fusion of the spinal column known as "bamboo spine." (See related cartoons on Wikipedia.)
Their response: "we'll have to hire a replacement, but if there's ever a spot, it will be yours if you want it."
Look out! Winter's coming: first hurricanes (Sandy), then snow.
It's about leaving traces
in the barn where NASA built its first primate astronauts
out of leather and human hair and glue
before all the numeric fonts drifted down over wall st like wet snow.
It's about following the suggestion to replace all written words with their misreadings,
and it's true that what fucks us up also enriches our sympathies – until things get out of hand and we're giving away all our money to strangers who don't need it, and riding buses out of the city to find the cliffs halfway across the country, where, in the light of the Viagra sunsets, we will lie and enmesh and bring even more life into this supersubjectified world in which every last one lays claim to special giftedness.
The act of writing: patience required:
lostness: uncertain of form: which to use, with which to SPEAK:
seeing that devotion to inner-listening may take months for a single message to come through: being (n., not v.) not immediate: unimmediate being
to speak of a photograph as a unique form of surface: the photograph as pure surface:
resist looking through: resist the through of photographs:
the sea slightly tilted: the sea so dark: a deep blue trash bag stretched from horizon to horizon, with creatures thrashing below it: a deep blue surface:
within a surface/a surface within: a word as surface:
a book of handwriting in replica: a word as surface:
a book of handwriting in replica: to forego typeface:
to personalize the surface: to temper the LOOKING THROUGH:
the “scream of the I”: whose hand is writing these notes?:
the typeface as impersonal as the world's image made surface:
hand-writing: the most personal of language surfaces: shapes as personal as an abstract painting:
handwriting as a deep surface: a mark left by hand as unavoidably deep:
is a photograph, like handwriting, a personal mark?:
however personal its content, can type actually bear a personal message?:
disruption: is type ever a deep mark?
PHOTOGRAPH, PAINTING (FIGURATIVE/ABSTRACT), TYPEFACE, TYPE, HANDWRITING, MARK (DEPTHLESS/DEEP): trace left by the hand, DEPTHLESS: does not bear the communicator, DEEP: bears the communicator, EXPRESSION: attempt to convey a semantic material, viewed as preceding/existing beyond language, determined or not.
Present poems as HANDWRITTEN objects – eventually, if anyone ever does want to make a book of mine, would it be worth printing them in handwritten facsimile?
This would mean: start submitting poems in facsimile? even if it takes a lot of effort? maybe by New Year's: have a few sent out?
Or then again I don't want to waste time writing here about PLANS.
Day by day, rather . . . just get writing.
Or forget this whole idea:
Let it slick off – .
But is a mechanically reproduced handwriting actually a viable means of overcoming or combatting the impersonality of (the text in) type/font? Of keeping the scriptor there behind the surface? Would such a combat be an offense to the typesetters like Art [Larson], who devotes his days to letterpress work?
Does he consider every discrete little lead slug (having been cut, after all, to a determined shape) a miniature plate, with the same singularity as a woodcut?
Where, then, does that leave handwriting? (I think of cursive, where no letter is meant to be discrete . . . )
handwriting → voice △ mechanically reproduced handwriting → a recording of a voice △ type → automated voice capable of pronouncing text △ speech recognition technology (?)
On reading a book for the second time:
Another season, another year, another place, another lover, another diet, another kiss, another self that, being lonely, soars off to the far corners above and fills the dark sky with its light.
Your annotations stop before the end of the book. You refuse to admit you never actually finished it the first time around.
An extremely unamusing comic series in which the protagonists, named Curt, Frank, and Ernest, embody the qualities implied by their names.
Baguettes cut into “loafers” . . .
Is it a juncture?
It is not a juncture,
whether to focus on prose/theoretical writing or poetry –
both can be done, and – if I write often – both WILL be done, together and apart, as their moments come and go, converge.
It's rather a choice of ROLE MODEL and not genre, that guides:
which model will I follow –
or, more fundamentally: WHOSE model?
And in choosing models, how will I process (proceed with) their forms?
How will I reconcile my own voice (= habit/s) and its needs, with the form and content of these role models?
Genre as distinction is false – language doesn't work that way:
the questions instead should be,
whose rhythm do I work with? Whose shape? Whose tone? Whose line? Whose humor? Whose recul?
I said off, as in turn genre off,
or off-genre, (off-kilter?)
because under the pavement was a bus full of sleeping swans,
because in movement, perspectives shift according to principles of heart (to skirt the law of the dark prism) . . .
the wheels that slump through my accident . . .
so I said off again, as if I were in your coat, or a link along your chain,
because and because and because: it leads me back home.
One section of the journal ends.
The next is given thought, but not written.
An idea comes and goes, unwritten, and another, and another until many have come and gone, and, not a single one having been written, the act of writing has led to thought, but not a single word of writing.
Back in the doctor's office,
thinking of narration while waiting for the appointment to begin.
Biting my nails,
(This could be the moment they find out for sure.)
A journal as narration of epiphany and downtime.
Narration as a means of passing the time,
a means of enriching (redeeming) idle time.
– I'm sorry.
– I'm sorry.
– I'm sorry too, but aren't you glad?
meet you where the weepers peep / up for air
I live in a place and I love it, and I try to love it, and sometimes I do, until the windows fog up and red light gets caught in the dew again.
I mistake the playground seats in snow on the cover of Static Prevails for something supposed to be handled by an electrician,
so I unscrew a lightbulb,
and I lick the inside where the copper runs through,
and I stuff my tongue in the live socket,
and I close my eyes and take the voltage –
my fists tightening, my neck bulging, its muscles and veins –
because they said no,
because it would raise their disability premium
Something about the election and a speaking dog.
I don't fucking get it.
The fruits of overheard conversation.
The fruits of following a story too far, til it turns inside out and all its graveness becomes humor and all its characters and events:
the prolapsed entrails of language, the "pink sock" of storytelling, of narrating.
The trick is finding the recul (the "remove"): for every story has its native proximities.
The next trick, then, is finding (a) way(s) to make language change it's focus (+/-) in a way that doesn't depend on the physical (e.g. “zooming out” from a freckle to an image of the entire globe,)
but rather, engages a focusing procedure for metaphysical observation, that is:
how to “zoom in and out” of the nonphysical, to convey the sense of the freckle in proximity and its sense from the distance of the moon?
started physical therapy today for my sacroiliac joint / possible Ankylosing Spondilitis [sic] –
the PT asked me what my goals are in coming to therapy –
it felt emotional, or I felt vulnerable, answering the question. Muttered some stuff, then said somethingthat felt then earnest & true:
that I'm tired of having a sense of distance-distortion (cartographical dysmoprhia) that comes from having spent the majority of my time living in this town in pain,
such that the distances of this town have been infused with the perspective I fostered while in the worst of these medical problems –
and anyhow, it felt good to get that out to her,
that I hope to shake those perspectives on the distances of this town that make me feel like a walk across its tiny center is as daunting as a hike through a range of alpine mountains
Oh, wo--, body, out of time, order,
KIT SCHLUTER is translator of Marcel Schwob's Book of Monelle (Wakefield Press). A bit of his writing can be found in Boston Review, BOMB, Elective Affinities, The Disinhibitor, Poor Claudia: 10 Sources, and the forthcoming first volume of Inpatient. Kit lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where he coedits O'clock Press and curates the monthly house reading series, Wild Combination.