I was looking for something else on my computer and found a file called “after agee” from my first semester of grad school. It’s a less-than-page-long document about living alone and the farmers market and cooking - I don’t even know what class this was for. I don’t remember reading any Agee in grad school! I see how little bits of it snuck into an essay I wrote a year later, how I’d been getting words ready for their ideas. But it feels like a stranger wrote this, too. This is how it ends:
There is a cat sleeping in the window, and my knife slices through stems, heavy and deft. Cutting into smaller pieces, down and down, and I am alone in the room and alone in my home, but I am alone in my head and the inside of my head is vast. I had never known this place before I spent so many hours quiet, knocked on some door with the rhythmic hits of my knife blade on the cutting board after it’s sliced through a stem.
The whole piece is in italics and I have no idea why.
Happy ten-show-iversary to all! This episode brings you two awesome pieces of nonfction: Matt Gallagher reads an essay about getting back in uniform, but in New York City instead of Iraq, and Leigh Stein reads an excerpt from her memoir-in-progress, Land of Enchantment. The memoir is about grief…
Today’s Catapult is full of awesome nonfiction. You should listen to it. You’ll like it.
“It’s unusual — in fact (why be coy?), it’s extremely rare — to come across a first novel by a woman writer that concerns itself with such quirky, philosophical, didactic explorations; a novel in which the heart and the brain vie for the role of protagonist, and the brain wins.”—
Ooh, A+ sexism buried in this old Times review! The sentence before this is, “No, this is not chick lit.” Every review of a man’s book should have to include the caveat “No, this is not a car repair manual.” Unless, of course, it is.
“[The reading] is packed with about seventy-five well-dressed twenty- and thirty-somethings, many of whom are carrying tote bags from bookstores and magazines like Harper’s, magazines that I’ve never read but that seem really impressive. I remind myself that coolness is just a characteristic people ascribe to people who they only observe from afar, and that nobody is actually cool once you get to know them, and especially not people who are really concerned about how they’re dressed, but knowing that something is true and acting on it are different obviously.”—
“There’s a certain standard-issue pose for the young person of literary ambitions in New York. Cynical and slightly bored-seeming on the outside; thirsty on the inside: disillusioned with the whole idea of “believing in anything,” exhibiting a generalized scorn of government, religion, politics and philosophy, as well as a set of received feelings about women, and about “respecting” women. Very rarely will anyone venture one syllable outside that SOP for fear of imperiling a nascent career. And understandably so, perhaps: in the fishbowl of New York media, the slightest deviation from conventional thinking is so easily magnified that the risk of being blackballed is real.”—
Major pause in a piece/review/essay I otherwise am really into—Is this true? It feels very untrue, but maybe I, a, do not have literary ambitions, b, do not know people who do, c, am again falling prey to failing to see that there is the “book world” and the “media world” and they overlap but aren’t the same. But Maria says “literary” and then says “media.” But this thing she calls standard-issue sounds completely alien, from real life, to me.
that if I work every day of a three-day weekend, the instant the pressure lets off, even if there is still work I want to/should do, my brain will refuse to work, so I should let it chill.
that my brain and I are actually on the same team, are actually the same person.
that the nailpolish on my thumbs will always bubble, but no one will see or care.
that “freelancing life” might always feel overwhelming or scary, but I am being paid to write and teach, so this is a good thing.
that I am choosing this life.
that I can do more work than I think I can. That stamina can be built, focus can be built, developed over time. (That last one is a hope, more than a thing for acceptance.)
that even with zinc and gallons of tea, I caught Tanner’s sinus thing.
Things I am celebrating: ice pack on the neck, working on the couch, how the sudafed you can make meth from (pseudoephedrine) actually works, as opposed to the sudafed you can buy without showing your drivers license.
Tanner’s gone for a week, and I’m excited to try sleeping with the AC off for the first summer in four years.
“Her story is like a hologram. Tilt it, let the light hit it from a different angle, and the dead girl we’re talking about is me. We’d both gotten cited by police at 14 for drinking beer on the beach. At the height of our friendship I matched her drink for drink, inhale for inhale. If I’d had a little less luck, or she’d had a little more—how would this story go? In my memory, yes, I’m the sidekick, yes, she was the one always egging us to take one more step into the shadows, where we could really get hurt. But wasn’t I holding her hand, encouraging her with my willingness to follow?”—She’s Still Dying on Facebook - Julie Buntin - The Atlantic
Last year a non-American asked if I consider myself patriotic. After many ums and ahs and caveats, I said yes. I told him that I feel about America the way I feel about family: I didn’t choose it, I can’t control or endorse everything it does, but I do love it.
This is an important 4th of July distinction:
pa·tri·ot·ism: love that people feel for their country
na·tion·al·ism: a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries
jin·go·ism: the feelings and beliefs of people who think that their country is always right and who are in favor of aggressive acts against other countries
Patriotism doesn’t ask that you establish a hierarchy and rank your country above others. Patriotism doesn’t demand your pride or even your loyalty. Patriotism doesn’t require aggressive demonstrations of your power. Patriotism is just love. And that, for all of America’s flaws, is something I feel.
“The question kept repeating in my head. I couldn’t get it to stop. I was shocked; had I buried my true feelings all this time? I grabbed onto the bathroom counter as if to keep myself from falling. I was scared, and even now it scares me: Words are just words, but if they don’t leave your mind, they can feel like truth.”—
If you were sick of our themed episodes, then have we got an episode for you! Mira Jacob reads the opening of her new novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, with a mother and daughter figuring out long-distance family life, and Filip Noterdaeme reads from his book, The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart, a pastiche/homage/re-creation of/to/of Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, about renegade art in the contemporary art scene.
If you can come up with a good theme from that, email me, I will 100% honestly send you a prize.
I just biked to Cobble Hill (Boerum Hill? I cannot keep that area straight) to record a writer for the podcast. It’s a ten-or-so ride from my apartment. I am sweaty as fuck right now, in case you were wondering. But as I was locking my bike to a street sign, a utility worker said to me, “Twelve o’clock?” I froze for a second. “Do you mean I have to move my bike by then?” “No. Where are you gonna be?” I stayed frozen. “The game!” “Oh!”
I told him that at twelve I’d be about to get on the subway to go teach, and that I’d be teaching after that. I will be underground or in a classroom for the whole game. He suggested I listen to a little radio, but I didn’t think that’d make a great example for the high schoolers?
But mainly I’m glad that we’re this united as a country right now that I should’ve known what “Twelve o’clock?” meant.
“How did Margaret understand the world? Who did she love, and how? And who was I to her? I could not answer this question, and it haunted me as a child. And because I was scared, I stepped back while my parents leaned in. I remained aloof while they sang to her and held her and stroked her hair by the window that looked out onto the handicap-accessible playground in the distance. While they struggled to interpret her gestures and express their love for her, to make it known through touch and sound and warmth that she belonged to a family, I hovered along the back wall and waited until it was time to leave.”—
“I’d love to be Jami Attenberg for a day to see what she sees. The next best thing is to read the touching, funny, and wise Saint Mazie, which is as difficult to categorize as the hard-living, heart-breaking, soul-saving ticket-taker it is about.”—Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat
I know this is heresy, but I really didn’t like the Joseph Mitchell piece (be teased by your inability to access it if you’re not a New Yorker subscriber here) that Jami’s Mazie comes from. But that’s a big part of why I’m excited to read this book.