occasions that induce half-heartedness

I wake in the middle of the night convinced I have forgotten to do something important, but what?

The windows all are open so the sounds of traffic drift in, always cars and trucks speeding by. It is comforting to know that even as I sleep, a certain kind of progress is being made outside this room.

I lie in bed for a time in the dark. I try to sleep. Finally, although it is too early, I rise. I drink water. I sit upright in a chair.

In the evening I drive down to visit a friend and we sit on her porch overlooking the marina. The sky is gray; fat clouds hover. A break now in the rain that has fallen for days. We talk about our work, our children, the friends we have in common.

She tells me about the man she has been dating now for the last year. How much she enjoys his company, how infrequently they are together. His work schedule is erratic, the demands on his time are complicated and unpredictable.

“We don’t talk about the future,” she says. “It’s fine. It’s fine.”

There is a sudden streak of blue in the sky. The white sailboats docked in the distance are awash in it.

“It’s good. I’m happy. It’s fine.”

I am up early enough to hear the first birdsong of morning. A cheerful, expectant call. I wonder about his companions. Where are they? When will they come?

Inventory of desk(top):

  • Printout of first 30 pages of Keith Waldrop’s The Silhouette of the Bridge (Memory Stand-Ins) for a class I started but will not complete;
  • Spinoza in Her Youth, Norma Cole;
  • Exercises in Style, Raymond Queneau;
  • A green, hardbound notebook, the first entry of which is from July of last year:

    the brown pod of the praying mantis
    they emerge tiny and fragile their bodies
    black dots for eyes and voracious
    we all know this hunger
  • A printout of a short essay by Noy Holland called “Everyday Magic,” for class, as above
  • A printout of a short essay by Matthew Goulish called “The Example of Glass,” ibid.
  • A printout of my 2013 booklist (100 books) compiled at the end of 2012, reflecting great (and largely unrealized) ambition;
  • A book-length manuscript of terrible poems (which should not be confused with an earlier book-length manuscript of terrible poems that I have abandoned);
  • Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell, Charles Simic (I borrowed this from M. weeks ago and have not yet returned it);
  • The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer, Peter Gizzi, Ed.
  • Nine Ways to Disappear, Lilli Carre (an unexpected gift from a charming friend);
  • The Book of Men, Dorianne Laux;
  • Holding Company, Major Jackson;
  • A Whaler’s Dictionary, Dan Beachy-Quick;
  • And my Anne Carson stack (a special corner of the desk reserved for her, the thinking being that I could need any book of hers at any time, best to be prepared and to have her within arm’s reach): Eros the Bittersweet; Glass, Irony & God; The Beauty of the Husband; Autobiography of Red; Plainwater; red doc >; If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho;
  • Pocket Oxford American Dictionary & Thesaurus, Third Edition;
  • The Elements of Style, Strunk, White, Kalman;
  • Madness, Rack, and Honey, Mary Ruefle (as with Carson, could need this at any time);
  • Stack of articles, stories, and poems I have printed from online journals or torn from magazines. At top of stack (one I have already read, but want to save for future reference): Colin Dickey’s “We Will Bury You,” from the LA Review of Books, an essay about Michael Kammen’s Digging Up the Dead; Bottom of stack, George Saunders’ “Chicago Christmas, 1984,” from The New Yorker, December 22, 2003 issue.
  • Files for two projects I have brought home from work;
  • Stack of bills, unopened (awful) mail.

I look up from making my list and see that the sky is now light. The birds are quiet. Where have they gone?

Here is something I have been thinking about: Do I want too much?

My friend and I talked about wanting. About ambition, professional and creative. “It’s important, that wanting,” she said. “The striving. It’s how you know you are alive.”

But is it? I think I would like, if it were possible, to want less. The wanting is often nameless and inarticulate and so disappointment and heartbreak are sure to follow. How to mitigate disappointment? How to protect oneself from heartbreak?

Last summer, I was reading The Pillow Book of Sei Shonogan. I had listed, in the hardbound green notebook referenced above, the first lines of each entry, which served the function of titles. There were 229.

Here are some of my favorites:

(9) The eastern side of the temporary palace
(21) Women without prospect
(22) Dispiriting things
(23) Occasions that induce half-heartedness
(30) A priest who gives a sermon should be handsome
(42) Unsuitable things
(100) A branch of plum from which the blossoms had fallen
(116) Deeply irritating things
(117) Miserable-looking things
(145) Times when someone’s presence produces foolish excitement
(177) People who feel smug
(186) It’s very unseemly for a man
(229) It is lovely to see, on a day when the snow lies thick

Later are my my notes from reading Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. I had started responding to each of the 240 numbered sections of the book. Some notes were a line or two; others as long as a page. I stopped at 86. That entry was:

86. Women always underestimate their pain.