“Nobody’s serious when they’re seventeen.”
—Arthur Rimbaud, “Romance”
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This blog’s spirit text, of sorts (the source for my title & epigraph above), is Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. It reads like a prose poem, animated not by plot but by the rhythms of the sea, the seasons, the moments that pass between the characters—indistinct. The characters (who can keep them straight) reside in waves; they are waves, flooding one into another, indistinguishable. Liquid subjectivity. Every sentence is arresting & asks to be re-read (a slow cyclical read, this book, back and forth; the words wash over you), but you can’t stop. Time does not exist, which is why I’ll say that I’m moving through space. I don’t believe in time. I am, in Woolf’s words, “immeasurably receptive.”
This place is a strange one (worlds spring to life; identities fail), and my question has to do with this thing, “myself,” and everyone else, myself, washing over me, staining, shaping, illuminating. My sense (blurry) is that myself is not in any way mine. “We are not single,” Woolf says. “We are edged with mist. We make an unsubstantial territory.” It’s true that I’m thinking of myself (the mark of the millennial generation—narcissism—always taking pictures to shore up shattered confidence that nothing has been lost; that we are whole & complete with a pair of eyes and lips and nose and aura of youthful abandon), but I’m also thinking of something larger-than-myself.
So much depends upon something.
A pot-bellied man mistook me for a boy today on the boardwalk. I was sitting alone along the railing, the furthest spot from the sand, for lack of sunscreen and want of shade. Was it my short haircut & Phillies t-shirt & sunglasses? What about the lip stain? He might have mistaken the red for food coloring, fruit punch, a popsicle. Was he wrong?
“I am not a woman, but the light that falls on this gate, on this ground.”
I’m beginning to grasp it—what my brother has been trying to tell me for years…and Margaret Vandenburg too…the interconnectedness of all, all instead of each, “fin in a waste of waters.” It’s raining now; I’m coming to the point.
“I came to the puddle. I could not cross it. Identity failed me. We are nothing.”
My goal of heightened consciousness (see Mrs. Dalloway) has been misguided or misdirected—I don’t want to feel (to swallow; to apprehend; to capture) the world inside my own head (there is no own; the sea has swallowed all). I want to break open the head, wherever the I resides. I want to know that my head has already flowed into and out of your head, his head, her head, our head.
It is for this reason that I am unable to think about my future, my applications for graduate school, my academic aspirations. Because I am shot through & suspended & saturated with this present, this not-myself, this everything-and-everyone-around-me. I am suspended, not floating, not thinking, just feeling; taking time (I refuse time) to sit quietly, to listen, to note the inadequacies of my perspective.
I could barely make out the ocean for the mist. Pedestrians were staring at me.
“I do not know myself sometimes, or how to measure and name and count out the grains that make me what I am.”
The point of this is to say that what it feels like to be tossed about like a bottle full of air (and a message, too, somewhere) back and forth in the waves of this tiny world in Brooklyn, in the kitchen where I earn a few dollars & smile for luck, in sleepless nights & quiet mornings—what it feels like to accept & diffuse (not contain) the vitality of others, the others that have made and are making myself; what it is to feel myself molded and formed easy like a pebble made smooth (I might slip through your fingers; they are strong enough) by all that surrounds me, our sea—that this is what it means to be a part of something larger than a self. A different kind of self.
The old-ness grows in me. I say this because I don’t believe in time. I remember a picture of me sitting in a diner age 17 probably with dark hair & make-up & innocence, and I laugh. In those days I couldn’t read Rimbaud. I couldn’t read Ginsberg. I wanted to cry. I have yet to earn “the privilege to witness my existence” (Ginsberg).
And yet—I don’t want to hear that my feelings will fade.
I don’t want to wake up having fallen, having abandoned myself.
I want to expand myself.
Sometimes I forget that people eat the food I place on plates, in bowls. Other times I stop what I’m doing and take a breath and listen to the sounds of a raw kitchen & smile a little because I’m so fucking lucky.
(No wonder she has butterflies in the stomach.)
At last, away from “books” and “poets” (was it Dylan who called himself a farmer?) and in love with it all again, this feeling of floating, in-between, and most of all the sense that I is someone else—that I is the milky haze of almost-full moon between the curtains last night when I couldn’t for the life of me sleep. What are the odds that the moon would occupy the precise sliver of dark sky that interrupts my curtains set rippling by the air conditioner. A vulgar poem. That’s me, glowing weakly like last night’s moon, insomniac, not lost, but barely remembered. Desire survives the night.