Reenactments: Notes on Form

Repetition compulsion: remembering, repeating, and working through

Carole Maso, Anne Carson, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich

Returning to our (literary) mothers

What if the book contains: its false starts, its hesitations

You think you know what a reader wants: a good old-fashioned story

I want this to be everything

What if the book contains

Susan Sontag, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

You think you know what a woman wants:

Almeida: Reproducing something is not the opposite of productivity

a good old fashioned—

There is something still that haunts me

The language, word by word

She was working on an erotic song cycle

She was working through it

A moment of discovery. The pulse. Missing something that was never there

Now tighter

A flatness here, in the middle

And Gertrude Stein, again

Of a country. Of an undoing.

What if a book contains—

Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Renata Adler

How, in this city of men

This flattened middle

A knowledge that comes too late

But pierces

What if the book contains

Kapil: I wanted to write a novel, but I wrote this instead

Dream with the force of a wish

What possible use is there for certainty

wish with the insistence of memory

Carson: I merely know where to stand to see the lines that are there

What if the book contains

“It’s only love,” laughing

There is something left to say

Adler: She kept patting every sentence along the line with a little crazy laugh

There is nothing

But look: It’s happening again

what I'm reading now

I got to write about the five books I'm currently reading for Tarpaulin Sky. The list:

Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, Viet Thanh Nguyen
If They Come for Us, Fatimah Asghar
The Arrangements, Kate Colby
The End of Peril, The End of Enmity, The End of Strife, A Haven, Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint
Feminaissance, Christine Wertheim (ed). 

You can read my column and more at Tarpaulin Sky


Remember when I convinced myself that the man I was in love with would meet and promptly fall love with my best friend? I heard something — that he was in New York for the summer, or that she was. The idea that they might cross paths. And then, the conviction that they would. How I spent long summer weeks tearful, alternating between longing and rage. That the two people I loved most in the world would choose each other over me. That I would be shut out. 

It starts in the body. The stomach flips. Or is it the heart.  

Sometimes an inkling. A hunch. Sometimes you know someone so well, or think you do, that you believe you can predict their actions. Sometimes, you see a thing and are convinced you can trace it back to its source. Sometimes, you are right, and you think I am so good at being right. Sometimes, you want very much to be wrong. 

A dream of high school, again. Is it because I always think of her around her birthday? Late summer, suffused with melancholy. The shapeless days coming to an end, but not quite yet --

There are things I still want to do in these final weeks. The grave and the trivial. Where has the summer gone? 

Let this be the record of these days passing. Let this be the document of hours spent in doubt, in curiosity, in wonder. A little joy. 

On the ends of things, she said: “There is grief, and there is gratitude. And grief. And then, there is embracing your new life.”

what is the bear

I dreamed about a bear in the woods behind where I was walking, with my friend, to get groceries. 

She saw it first. Told me, in a panic, there’s a bear, we have to run

She ran on ahead. I couldn’t run. Then, I was lying flat on the ground, trying to move forward, but I could not. I was completely immobilized. 

We were on a grassy hill and I could see the road from where I was. She was running back and forth, yelling for me to run. But I couldn’t even stand. 

I could see my own arm, reaching forward. A motion like swimming. 

It’s too hard, I thought. I can’t.

What is the bear? Is it my past? My future? I’m stuck, unable to move. I can’t take any action. 

The threat is closing in. 

There are things I think I want, and I can see them now, their proximity. 

There are moments I feel a deep, unnameable terror. Not panic, but a fear so profound, so bodily, it precedes language. 

interview at New Books Network

It was such a pleasure to speak with Eric LeMay about Litany for the Long Moment for the New Books Network.

From the introduction: 

In 1974, a two-year old Korean girl named Mi Jin Kim was sent from the country and culture of her birth to the United States, where she was adopted by a man and woman who would become her American parents and where she would become the artist and writer Mary-Kim Arnold. Her new book, Litany for the Long Moment (Essay Press, 2018), is her attempt to grapple with that history and its aftermath, to understand the experience of that girl she once was and how that girl shaped the woman she would become. Arnold writes:

“I will never know for certain what transpired in those first two years of my life. I only know that I am continually drawn back, tethered to the whispy, blurred possibilities of the mother I will never know, a language I do not speak, the life I will never have.”

Through a dazzling range of literary strategies, from the use of archival documents and family photographs to primers on the Korean language and the work of her fellow Korean-American artists, Arnold explores these wispy, blurred possibilities. She takes us into her need to know this never-realized self and this life she never lived. By stunning and poignant turns, her book reveals the complexities of the lives we do end up living, the hauntings that make us who we are, and the unexpected way in which great art and artists pull us apart and pieces us back together.

And the book has an excellent trailer, which you can find here.

You can listen to the whole interview here

eventual arrival

"Where every student [of fiction] eventually arrives is a place where the formal problems of the work are the same as the psychological problems of the student and the philosophical problems of the student's worldview. And that's a good place for students to arrive; it also shows that the formal problems of the work are now deeper." –Jane Smiley

thank you River River!

Spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at 9 1/2 Main Gallery in Nyack, New York to read with Suzanne Parker for River River.  

Anu and Donna are founders of River River, a literary journal, writing community, and more. It's been such a pleasure to reconnect with Donna, an old college friend. We lost touch after our children were born, but then found each other again when she and I were both published in the same journal. 

Suzanne Parker has written two stunning books of poems, Feed and Viral

 L to R: Anu Amaran, (me!), Suzanne Parker, Donna Miele at the River River reading in Nyack.

L to R: Anu Amaran, (me!), Suzanne Parker, Donna Miele at the River River reading in Nyack.


Came across an unexpected reference to my past in a book I am reading for work. A name leaps from the white page and transports

How unnerving that time can shift like that. 

Writing is slow, slow, but an occasional line or phrase that even if useless in itself as a line, provides a point of departure: 

One comes to love, inexplicably, the places they first found love. 

Carried all morning like a koan. 

The morning’s labors: meditation on train stations as sites of desire. 

Emerging from a few immobilizing doubt-filled days. Circling the fallow ground. 

On the one hand: I am too attentive to the moment-by-moment shifts in my own mind. On the other: my own mind is locked cabinet. 

From my notes, from the news: A litter of kittens taped into a cardbox box and buried.

From the news: The body of a Georgia man who was found dead, rolled up in a gymnasium mat, exhumed for the second time. 

The morning’s (other) labors: 

I am here to be with my father. The father I barely know. I get up early. Run through the village and down by the quarry.  He sleeps. His wife boils water in an ancient kettle, stirs coffee powder into it. I don’t know how long I will stay.  

We fight about the weather. “I wouldn’t call that a light rain,” he says. 

At night, he takes me down to the tavern where his friends gather around a table in the back. They drink, play cards, tell stories about the war. Sometimes I stay. Sometimes, I take a stool at the bar instead. There’s always a pile of old newspapers and magazines and I scan through them idly while Kit, behind the bar, pours the gin. 

In the news: a box of kittens taped into a cardbox box and buried. A kid walking through the woods heard mewling. I’m languishing here, but I am not yet ready to leave. 


After seeing the Dutch film The Vanishing a few years ago, I have become aware of an intense fear of being buried alive. I suppose the fear has always been there, but the film’s final scenes gave my fear specificity and detail. I tell this to a friend one morning as we ride the train to New York. I tell her that for reasons that I cannot quite articulate, I find that knowing this is among the most common phobias oddly comforting. As if to suggest it is not unreasonable for me to feel panic when I think of it (which is perhaps, more often than I’d care to admit).

This morning, I wake from a dream where I am witness to a woman being tied to the side of a train car. I don’t know why, or what I have to do with it. There’s a cartoonish sense to the scene and I wake just as in the dream I am walking away. 

I have always said I am afraid of heights and I believe this to be true, although I have not had occasion to test this out in some time. Aside from the fear of being buried alive (specifically in a coffin or box), I don’t think of myself as particularly afraid of small spaces. I have, a few times, caught myself in behaviors that might suggest compulsivity. I often find myself doing things and not knowing exactly why. 

I remember an essay I read years ago about a woman who moves to New York and experiences profound loneliness. She goes on to detail the harmful effects that sustained loneliness can have on the body and on the mind. She suggests, as I recall, that pain — psychic pain — can be a call to action. In her case, she moved back to England. 

This is not the point of her essay, but it seems to me that there are some kinds of psychic pain that simply must be endured. I am thinking about grief. The loss of a loved one. I don’t know that there is much to be done in response, save perhaps the typical platitudes — take a walk, write in a journal, etc. I would like there to be actions to take. To change the situation. To (metaphorically at least) move back to England. 

When my mother died, I found the rituals around death — the funeral, the burial, the luncheon, the notes that needed to be written in response to the kind words of sympathy that came from friends and acquaintances — to be a comfort. Tasks to be completed, decisions to be made. I find myself reaching for rituals of one sort or another, but I don’t know what to do. A friend of mine told me that her family acknowledges the anniversary of her father’s death. That they make his favorite foods and tell stories about him. I think of this as such a lovely idea, but the person I am grieving most acutely (if grief can be described in degrees?) is someone I know nothing about. There are no stories to be told, no memories to share. No favorite foods to reproduce. 

I wonder, can I, occasional writer of fictions, simply make it up? An adopted friend of mine who is also a painter went through a period of painting self-portraits as an attempt to imagine his own father. I have myself envisioned recreating a traditional Korean home and courtyard, imagining the home, the artifacts I might have had. I suppose in a way this is some of what we do as writers, as artists — create spaces to accommodate our grief. 

evanescent joys

Walked the track again with my son this morning. Early, before the heat. We didn’t stay long — three times around, plus there and back, the whole excursion takes about 40 minutes — but I like to think I am perhaps offering him some small, everyday rituals to remember. The quiet, shapelessness of cool mornings in early summer. Occasional companionable chatter. 

Sometimes we talk about our plans for the day. He’s working on a little animation project. I’m juggling a meeting or two in an otherwise open-ended day. By the end of the month, the rhythms we’ve acclimated to will change again. But for now, I’m trying to make the most of the time, mostly formless, punctuated by little bursts of activity. 

The early spring blossoms are all gone now — the forsythia, the cherry trees, the irises. The peonies are peaking, but they won’t hold on much longer. Now, the roses. Sweet pea vine. Astilbe and lavender. Purple salvia in abundance. Honeysuckle. 

For better or worse, I’ve spent some time these past few weeks going through all the notes I’ve kept for the past two decades now, tracing the origins of certain lines of thought, ongoing preoccupations. Although most of what I’ve kept is useless, uninteresting even to myself, there are occasional lines or ideas that will spark something in the present. A note my past self did not yet know that future self might need. There is a certain kind of pleasure in this traveling back and forth in time. This reconciling of past and present lives. 

In the museum, in an exhibition hall filled with ancient armor and weaponry, I asked my son whether he thought he believed in past lives. I find myself often thinking of this when confronted with the unfamiliar, ancient world. I find it difficult to imagine all these eras have passed without me — without even some version of me. I suppose it’s a kind of “fear of missing out” on a protracted, epic scale. How else to explain the odd twinge of recognition when entering the reproduction of a darkened, medieval dining hall? Or the study of an 18th century Chinese scholar? 

Many ways to explain it, I suppose. But for the moment, the hushed reverence and the chilled, mostly empty exhibition halls, lend an air of magic and mystery to our wandering. An openness to possibility, to the inexplicable. 

“I like the idea of it,” he said. 

I said, “Yes, I like that too.”

The last gallery we enter is a reproduction of a 19th century Japanese ceremonial teahouse. There is a group of schoolchildren there, sitting on the little stools they have carried in from the hallway. Someone standing in front of them with a clipboard is asking questions and a few children raise their hands enthusiastically. 

As we leave, we see the sign, informing us that the name of the teahouse is Sunkaraku, “which reflects the spirit of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony as a temporary refuse from the complexities of daily life.” 

Sunkaraku, meaning “Evanescent Joys.”

nor was it less

A found note: “In interviews, years later, John Hawthorne will say, ‘Her life was not any more important than anyone elses’s, but certainly, nor was it less.’” He was speaking of his wife, Alice Hawthorne, killed when a bomb exploded at Centennial Park during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. I have carried around this fragment for decades. This simple statement about the significance of a single human life.

“She was loved and now she is gone. And it matters.”

Returning to the tasks of domesticity after a few days away is difficult. The piles of books and papers around my desk seem somehow more chaotic than when I left, and I feel a bit wearied, to have to make my way through them. I suppose I am feeling a bit overwhelmed this morning. 

Here in my chosen city, I have come to live at a particular scale. Mostly, what I need is at arm’s reach. Philadelphia is vast and sprawling. More than 1.5 million residents, compared with 200,000 in Providence (and 71,000 in Pawtucket). I know myself well enough at this point to recognize that wherever I am, it is rarely where I want to be. But still, I wonder about the tradeoffs we have made for a certain kind of ease, a certain kind of comfort, the knowability of this place I have lived for nearly thirty years. 

Over the weekend, our friends threw us a “soiree,” as they called it. A dinner party so that we could meet the people who populate their daily lives, and they could meet us. They hosted it in a renovated church that now housed offices and co-working space. Next to it, what had been the church’s rectory was now the stylish home of the church’s owners. All the children found their way over there while the parents sat around a long, gracious wooden table covered with the dishes people had brought to share. There were some Providence connections and we talked about the people we knew in common, shared news of them. But mostly, it was the usual questions, what do you do, where did you live before, what are you working on now. Chatter about children and cats. 

And the evening passed like that, laughing and talking in the company of people, for the most part, we had just met. Something about that experience — the newness of it, the way it required a kind of presence, a particular kind of attentiveness, alertness — that was buoying. 

there all the time

I went back to the art museum alone yesterday, was able to linger in the galleries, wander aimlessly. I was rewarded for my return by Cy Twombly’s 10-part series, Fifty Days at Iliam, based on the last fifty days of the Trojan War. These ten canvases are large — most about sixteen feet long and ten feet high — and nine of them are hung in a small gallery that perfectly contains them. 

When I entered the gallery it was empty, and the feeling that washed over me — reverence, awe, surprise — was as sudden and intense and it was unexpected. I don’t know much about painting or how to speak or write about paintings, but my response was visceral and immediate. Hand-scrawled text, bold, fierce strokes, minimal color, except for the dark red that dominates a few — all immediately suggested the chaos and violence of war, its aggression and confusion. All at a scale I could not help but be moved by immediately. I was reminded of hearing Eileen Myles talk about the painting of Joan Mitchell — the way she took the world in through her body and her painting became the utterance of the experience. I find the notion of painting (or of other forms of art?) being the transfer of the energy of experience through the body — the way its performance becomes a kind of utterance, a kind of language — appealing. 

There were other pleasures to be had. An exhibit of Agnes Martin’s drawings and writings (notes, artistic statements, correspondence) provided quiet insights on sustaining a working life in art. She wrote on beauty and inspiration: 

As I describe inspiration I do not want you to think I am speaking of religion. 

That which takes us by surprise — moments of happiness — that is inspiration. Inspiration which is different from daily care. 

Many people as adults are so startled by inspiration which is different from daily care that they think they are unique in having had it. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Inspiration is there all the time

The poet Ralph Angel introduced me to Martin’s writing on beauty some years ago, and then, as now, I am struck by the complexity in it that resists my easy understanding. Her statements are at once straightforward and elusive. I think I understand it, but then question. I find I must return to it, consider it for a while. Think about it in the context of her meticulous, meditative drawings and paintings. Their repetitions, their spare, quietly-controlled gestures. 

There is more to say about the glorious hours I spent there in the galleries. But we are packing up now for the trip home. 

in the morning it was full again

I called the suicide hotline once, but — and I swear this is true — I got a busy signal. I tried several times. This was in 1998. I was calling from a landline. A slim beige receiver. The buttons glowed green. I got the number from a telephone book, which seems unimaginable now. I remember my heart racing. In those days, I did not do well alone. 

I tried to call a few more times, each time, hung up sobbing. I left the television on all night. I knew I just had to make it till morning. I watched The English Patient. When it ended, I watched it again.

“Every night I cut out my heart. But in the morning it was full again.”

At the museum, the thing I love best is a small exhibit of works by Korean American artist Jean Shin, called Collections. Using mostly discarded materials — broken umbrellas, old sweaters, worn shoes — Shin painstakingly reconfigures the abandoned objects of everyday life to highlight the individuals who have used or worn them, the intricate interconnectedness between people, and the traces of experiences and stories that inhabit these objects. I felt an immediate kinship to the work and the thinking that seems to have inspired it. 

I woke remembering a scene from a film I saw several years ago. It was Memorial Day weekend and I was alone. I went to a matinee showing of Of Gods and Men, which ends with a devastating scene of several Trappist monks being marched to their death in the snow in Tibhirine, during the Algerian Civil War. I remember emerging from the cool dark theatre to the bright afternoon. The sorrow for these men, the blinding snow on the screen, the humid air outside. 

Downtown, the city was preparing for the evening’s celebrations — the holiday lighting of Waterfire amid Brown’s commencement festivities. I was to be there later myself, circulating among the artists and administrators for one purpose or another. 

But that snow. How I remember it filling the screen. Beautiful, pristine, silent. Then the footsteps of the men as they trudged through, knowing how it would end. I was overwhelmed with sadness, thinking of it again this morning, all these years later. 

not drawn to scale

Drove down to Philadelphia, arrived in late afternoon. It was a bright and beautiful day. In the car, M played a podcast series about Charles Manson. Mostly, I drifted in and out of sleep. Would wake periodically to some disturbing story or gruesome detail. I don’t remember dreaming. 

One of M’s oldest friends lives here. I recognize places we’ve been before, over the years. Before the children and jobs. It’s a perfect evening for walking, so after decadent pizzas (truffle and pecorino) and happy hour wine (just me), we walk through downtown for gelato and then sit with it in the park. 

This morning, I wake feeling anxious. There are a few things I should have done before we left, a few emails still unanswered. And gradually, I start to see how quickly the time here will go. Already, plans with friends today and tomorrow. Any vague notions I might have had about stretches of time to read and write now dissipating. I have a busy week ahead — appointments and meetings I will need to have prepared for. It’s wearying at times, but I remind myself: This is in fact the life I have chosen. 

Among my various notebooks, I find one I kept during the week-long summer writing course I took at Brown nearly ten years ago now. I was finding my way back to writing. Workshops in the morning, writing time in the afternoon, which I mostly spent in the sciences library. (I think I put myself in an unfamiliar place, so that I would remain in a state of heightened alert.) Readings in the evening. I remember it being a good and productive week. Wayne Koestenbaum was one of the visiting authors. He read from what would become Humiliation, and my notebook is filled with things he said about living as a writer. The long game of it. 

On reading voraciously and widely: “What if you haven’t even yet discovered the nationality of the writers who will become most important to you?”

On finding your form: “You’ll write a novel, and then a second, and then a third, and maybe then you’ll find the right form, which will all be informed by the three novels.”

“Become an activist of your own sensibility,” he said. “Become a cultural sleuth.” I wrote all these things down, sensing their importance, even if I did not then know what they meant. I think I am understanding a little better, now. 

One of the assignments that week was to draw some sort of map. I don’t recall exactly what the prompt was anymore, but it must have made some reference to childhood or to memory. After a few false starts (my drawing skills are extremely limited) I came up with this. 


What I love about discovering this scrap (I’ve written “napkin map” in the upper corner, just beyond the frame) is seeing how I am always attempting to express something about longing. About wanting some other thing, about the emotional charge of desire. I see myself existing in this liminal state — here, but not here. Here, but looking back. Here, but awaiting the next thing, just around the bend, following the curve of desire. 

it does not bring them back

Last night after dinner, we walked down to the river. The evening was bright and mild. There were geese and their goslings and we approached, but carefully. The river ran fast. The air was sweet. Peonies and rhododendrons in bloom everywhere. 

I am thinking about the passage of time. How in midlife, these years pile up so quickly. Was it already two years ago that I wrote to you from the desert? Has it been three years since Montpelier in winters so cold my hair froze as I walked? 

Thirteen years since we moved into this house, embraced its decaying grandeur? We had only one child then. Your parents were both well, with no hint then of what was to come. 

I’m working on something new, something difficult. It’s going slowly. It has sent me back in time — to old notebooks, old notes, false starts. I find a bit of something — a line or two, a question — and sometimes will not recognize it as my own. Mostly, though I have found that themes emerge. Ideas and questions I have been circling for a long time. I find this pleasing. Like I am approaching the same central questions of a life from different angles, at different points in time. What else is a creative life, if not that? 

It’s a strange thing, perhaps, but I like to encounter references to events and people I can no longer remember. “Spoke with P about the Brooklyn debacle” and I will puzzle with it for a while. Who is P? What debacle? I like to think that at some other, future point, I will remember it with perfect clarity. I like to imagine my past self, making this note, confident that no further explanation would ever be needed. Writing from a time when P is so present, so alive, and the Brooklyn debacle so all-consuming that I cannot imagine that it could ever be another way. 

Mostly these days I am thinking about suffering. For the past few years, in one way or another, I have been reading about and thinking about the Korean War — and by extension, other wars — and its aftermath. Not only the death toll, which is significant and unimaginable, but of those who come home from war. The silent suffering they endure, the ways in which their suffering infects their homes, their families; the long shadows of war falling poisonous and suffocating over us all. 

My father served in World War II. I ask my aunt about it and she says, “Something happened there that we don’t know. When he came home he was not the same,” but she doesn’t say much more. She didn’t know him then, of course, didn’t meet him until ten years later, after his first marriage had ended and he was courting my mother. Whether she never learned what he saw or did in the war, or doesn’t want to talk about it, I am not yet certain. But she will say, on occasion, “He had a lot of baggage.” 

Over the years, I have heard suggestions. My sister claims to remember that he told her once that he had seen someone step on a landmine. “Blown up in front of him,” my sister will say. Our father left when we were so young it’s hard to imagine under what circumstances this conversation might have transpired, but I am no expert on memory. 

This note, from 2016: “We wage war, build monuments in the names of our dead, but it does not bring them back.” 

And later: “In war, don’t we do things in the names of our ancestors that they would not want us to do.” 

We are down by the little ampitheatre the city has built along the river, and my son runs across the stone stage, mugging and striking poses. He is drawing an extensive collection of characters for a game he is creating and he tries out the poses to know how to draw them. Of course, the characters will inevitably battle each other, so their identifying poses are stances of attack, meant to hint at their power. There is little respite from the ubiquity and insistence of war. 

The light fades. We can feel the temperature drop. It is still comfortable, but we know we will be heading home soon. We can hear easy chatter of people walking to their cars. The streetlamps glow, and now a row of white lights illuminate the bridge. 


In the morning, we went on a walking tour organized by my son’s school. It was led by a local activist and public scholar who pointed out a series of markers that had been erected in the city on sites of significance to African American history — the site of the Olney Street Riot in 1831, a plaque commemorating the site where Sissieretta Jones lived — and as we walked, he talked about his own work a bit. His daughter, charming at inquisitive at 3 or 4, trailed behind among us. It was a perfect day to walk. Trees in full bloom, the air warm and faintly perfumed. 

Later, with friends, we spoke about creative work — dedication to it, making the time, putting in the hours, as it were. I have been working steadily, if slowly, on this new book, trying hard to stay out of my own way. 


Yesterday, I copied a series of first lines from Renata Adler’s Speedboat, to to try learn something about her sentences. There are countless examples I can point to but something about a line like: “There is a difference, of course, between real sentiment and the trash of shared experience” that gets to the heart of the matter with speed, precision, and the recognizable clipped tone I have come to associate with her. 

This morning, I returned to W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Each time I pick it up, after some time away, I expect and fear that it will not be as I remembered it, that it will have deteriorated over time. And each time, I am surprised anew by its intelligence, its lyricism. Its ability to string together events and ideas that at first seem so disparate — with such ease. 


The places we walked were not unfamiliar. We began at an intersection I drive past nearly every day, and none of the sites where we lingered were wholly unknown. Walking the streets however, in this particular configuration — from the east side to downtown and back — was not something I have done many times before, and certainly the route was winding and without the purposefulness with which I would usually be traveling. 

There are obvious messages here — about slowing down, taking the time to truly observe what we take for granted, to attend to the familiar to see it anew, and so forth. But part of the purpose of the tour, I think, is also to remind us of what is suppressed or missing in the way we understand our surroundings. Every historical marker, every sign, every wayfinding system, every street name, every building erected, does so in a certain context and is laden with a particular set of values and assumptions about its use and usefulness. 


In the evening, we went to the opening of a friend’s installation, which, among other things, documented aspects of the experience of the earliest Colombian immigrants in Rhode Island. In the interviews he’s conducted and recorded, there are stories that have not been heard before, which would otherwise be disappeared, erased. 


Our guide ended our tour talking about the kinds of projects that have yet to be undertaken, for the usual lack of resources, time, and will. I think of my own eagerness to start things and how quickly — at signs of adversity — my energy flags. 

Along the way, our guide made a reference to one of his own teachers, an anthropologist who had made an offhand comment about recent archaeological discoveries in Egypt. “Oh, they’ll be finding stuff there for years,” he said. Our guide mentioned this for the perspective it brought — that we are constantly in the process of discovering new truths, unearthing new stories that have been — intentionally or unintentionally — untold, silenced. There is something there for me, I think, about taking the long view on work. Longer, perhaps, than one might imagine possible. 

For when there is time

I’m working on a novel now and thinking about how I use my time. It is not as though I have not worked on long-term projects that have spanned years. But it is fair to say that perhaps I didn’t know at the outset how long I would work on it, how long it would hold my attention, sustain me.

It is clear to me, every time I take notes, or identify a research question, or think about a character’s backstory, that to do this, I will be in it for a long time.

I have always tended to work on multiple projects simultaneously. At times, this can feel generative, exciting. At others, I wonder, am I diluting the work? Short-changing it all somehow? At this point in my life, I think maybe some modes of being are too deeply rooted to change significantly. Even now, as I write this, I have interrupted myself to take a note for some possible future thing.


A workshop leader once opened the class with the question, “What poem have you read today?” When no one rushed to answer, he made some comment to the effect of, “Well I hope you enjoy your hobby.” His point being about seriousness, engagement with the “craft.” I took his point, certainly. I think of it often.

I wonder whether my anxiety about claiming identity – artist, writer, poet, etc. – is at least to some extent, gendered. I have not discussed this much with men, so it is only an open question for now with suggested likelihood implied.


How many installations must I complete before I can call myself an artist? How many poems must I write before I can call myself a poet? Does formal training make the identity? To what extent, really, does it matter?


I remember a former mentor who talked about his file drawer of possible projects. Sketches for book projects, workshops, courses he might teach. Some were fairly detailed, other just hastily-scribbled concepts. He was nearing retirement at the time. We’ve since lost touch but I wonder whether he’s been able to attend to any of those file folders now. That drawer full of promises to a future self. For when there is time. Don’t we always think there will be time?

"I remember everything"

I will try not to give anything important away, but there is a point in Call Me by Your Name when one character says to another, “I remember everything.” It is so moving because contained in this simple statement is the declaration that the love, even if impossible in the present moment, or in the future, is held.

People will often ask what memories I have of Korea. I don’t have many and that lack feels to me like a particular loss. But I think what often can feel like a greater loss is not having memories of me, reflected back to myself.

Remembering someone can, of course be an act of love. When I tell my son that he was born with a tuft of hair that stuck straight up off his head, or that when he was little, we dressed him in a fuzzy blue winter coat that made him look like Cookie Monster, or that the first time we took him to the beach, he didn’t want his fat little feet to touch the sand, and every time we tried to lower him, he’d fold up his legs and cry – I think these stories, perhaps, give him an insight into how we love him, how our love was expressed, how we attended to him.


The dress project started with an idea to attempt to “re-do” some element of the adoption process. That if I could “re-dress” the children who were sent from one life to another, what might I give them, what might I want them to have?

I thought I would want them to know that they were loved. And so I thought about how I could inscribe, in the fabric itself, a message of love. But this feels simplistic, non-specific. I can, after all, understand that I might have been loved as a child. I was healthy, well-cared for when I arrived. I think I might want to know – on some deeper, more subconscious level – how love might have been enacted.

That perhaps more than the statement of love, I would want the memory of having been loved:

Every day, that summer when you were two years old, we walked up and down the street where we lived and brought treats to the neighborhood dogs.

In the mornings, your brother fed you persimmon on a spoon.

You had a favorite pillow. It was blue and you carried it everywhere.

There is still a bit more dreaming to be done. But I think this is where I am headed.