Disruptive Juxtaposition

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

David Foster Wallace, January 11th @ The Strand, 6:30 PM

Even more than I want to play a game of catch with Jonathan Franzen and David Means (who're best friends), more than I want to play Hemingway to an addled F. Scott as we drive France (I've never been to France), even more than I want to walk around this city with Campbell McGrath as he reminisces about bars and the angels of Manhattan, I want to have a pitcher of quality beer with David and hash out whatever it'd be we ended up hashing out. As to the reading, if you can be there, you should be there.


I'm having a devil of a time writing more words for Good Ground. I've spent about a hour and a 1/2 sitting here, rereading some sections, thinking about which section to write next. Perhaps I need a more rousing soundtrack (Iron & Wine's Our Endless Numbered Days is beautiful, but something of a soporific.) As I've just finished rereading The Great Gatsby, to write anything in my developing Frankenstein of a novel seems like an act of especial sacrilege. There are more characters than I know what to do with, for one. That isn't quite true: I know what needs to be done with (and to) them. But I don't know which story, which character, to attend to first. There's just so much to be done.

Bellyaching about it never gets novels written. So enough.


Jon liked to peel out of our driveway, no matter where he was going and whether or not he was late. Our driveway's steep and somewhat long, as the house sits on top of a small hillock; there's an elevation gain of about 2 ft. as you walk up to the house. So Jon would rocket backward in whatever car he'd wrangled the keys to, and upon hitting the gutter and street would jounce the car as he turned it, looking something like the driving exercises stunt drivers must practice as they develop the spin-the-car's-front-end-around maneuver, and once he was in the street with his vector set he'd floor it. Rarely did he actually set down any rubber, but he tried. Mainly he did this to rattle my mother, who knew he would do something like this. Which makes it something of a chicken / egg situation: would he have peeled out without my mother watching? Would my mother watch if he didn't peel out? I don't know why this came to me. Something about speed, maybe; something about getting somewhere; something about being seen going.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A new and entirely possible approach to this whole rigmarole of grieving

Feeling a gnarly, phlegmy rawness in my throat today. I blame Hector, who was sick left and right yesterday in the bookshop, but, I bear him no ill will. Just blame. Plus I can’t tell if I’m over- or undercaffineated. It’s 10 A.M., I slept in until about 9 or so, I wrote a baaaad poem and not bad in the way that means good, and my spirit is diffuse and discontented.


Here’s why, and you can take it as the guiding theme of this post: I hate the fact that I am not beside myself with grief more often.


Most people would say that this grief isn’t something that can be inspired artificially. That you need to proceed with your life as it had been before the Event, or that you must try and get your life to look and feel as near to how it had been before the Event as you can. It’s not a large or unfamiliar claim to say that this is what people mean when they refer to Being Strong and Moving On. You have to “be strong” in order to get back to work, interact normally with friends, strangers, and postal carriers, to sleep untroubled sleep.

What I’m feeling is that I don’t want to be strong in this case. I feel as though being strong—I basically quoting an earlier post of mine—is betraying Jon. The more competent I act, the madder I become. Because I feel as though I didn’t know him, because I didn’t know him as I feel a brother should know a brother, I feel an obligation and even a need to get to know him now. It is difficult to do that when I’m here in New York, when I haven’t sorted through his items, haven’t really assembled the facts of what I know into a coherent picture. And yes, yes, it may never add up into a coherent picture. But the fact that I haven’t actively worked that out to find out for myself is a rather large thorn in my side.

I HATE the fact that I’ve seemed to’ve “gotten on” with things in the wake of Jon’s suicide. (FN 1)

Even writing “Jon’s suicide” brings the Event and its upstate aftermath to mind in vivid ways that I just don’t experience on a day-in, day-out basis anymore.

When I got an email from my mother last night, which touched on the Event in all of its particularity and its ramifications for us, I felt these sorts of mental phase waves go from me and from the computer screen with the email on it, and amazingly the waves were synched up. I haven’t felt this synchronization since leaving home. Granted, this is natural: only the immediate family members are going to a) understand and b) want to discuss the particularities of what happened, and the natural affinity and familiarity family members have with each other is going to be preternaturally heightened in the wake of a profound horror like the one we’re dealing with here.


All of this dovetails with my more general life upheaval. I’ve allowed my “lease” (if you could use such an official word to describe this just-no-good living situation) to lapse, and that means I’ve obligated myself to move out of this place by Feb 1st. My immediate options are basically these:

One: to find another place here in New York City.

Two: to rent a truck and get myself and my belongings up to Camillus.

With some help and some connections from pals of mine, I’m making some exploratory in-roads on One. Two will be easy enough, if that’s what I decide to do. And some of you might be interested to know that Option Two, if I opt for that one, contains within itself several additional Sub-Options, some of which are a) Las Vegas, b) back to the Pacific Northwest, c) stay home and be with the family in Camillus, d) road trip it to parts unknown and set up shop somewhere completely new.

But the rub is this: the question is this: given my frustration, my anger even with the fact that I’m not actively grieving, it seems like a very attractive thing to be home such that I will be able to see Jon’s things, pictures of Jon, talk about Jon with those who knew him best… it makes a certain amount of sense to put myself right up face-to-face with the house where we all lived with Jon, the stuff Jon left, the pictures of Jon Jon didn’t care for, the food Jon stored and won’t eat now, ever. Beef jerky, for example. No one’s going to eat that stuff now. Bags of it in the cupboard beside the refrigerator (unless Mom or Melissa’s moved it).

There’s a form of therapy like this—or rather it’s a hallmark of many kinds of therapy—in which the person in therapy is gradually reintroduced to the site or the substance from which the trauma sprang. I read about this in the Times when about a month ago a young man tussling with his friend went onto the tracks along the 7 line up in Queens, and died. Subway conductors who are at the switch when a passenger falls under the train – in subway lingo it’s called a 12-9 – go on leave and undergo a pretty established system of reintroduction to the work of driving the train: first allowing months to pass with the standard therapy ongoing, then boarding the train only as a passenger and only with an accredited therapist as an buddy or escort, then riding the train in the cockpit (or whatever it’s called), and finally manning the switch themselves. It takes months if not years, and like any profound trauma the processing never really stops. But: I don’t recall if 12-9’ed subway drivers are ever asked to revisit the station where the 12-9 happened; it might be that they transfer to another line, and never drive through those tracks again.

It’s true that I’m advocating a more full-on, dive-back-in approach.


It’s beginning to seem like that’s the real question here. Is it possible to actively grieve rather than passively? If it’s possible, is it a good idea?

Effectively, I’m wondering about advocating for myself a brand-new approach to grieving: Not Moving On.

We hear this often: “it’s time to move on.” “Life goes on.”

Of course it does. But that does not mean that it has to go on right now. It will go on eventually, as it must. But what if one consciously decided to keep it from going on, if only for a critical little while?

I submit that this form of conscious, taking-life-by-its-bull-horns and telling it to hang on, is very different than the "wallowing" Joan Didion and the larger culture warns us against.

One could say that keeping it, life, from going on - which might seem like stasis and water-treading - is actually forward motion.

Friends of mine have been canny and right to indicate the danger in going home, especially for a twentysomething with two literary degrees of somewhat spotty workplace value. Might going home make it difficult to leave again? That’s a good question, and I think the answer is no: I’m pretty good about getting a move on when I need to – this past summer being a possible exception. And there are of course some financial and emotional benefits to being home, which should be obvious to anyone who’s in or been through their 20s. But the larger reason would be the match-to-the-palm effect of being near everything Jon had touched and existed within, and having that effect, I don’t know, wake me up.


Recently acquired:

The Go! Team, Thunder, Lightning, Strike!

Currently playing:

DJ Shadow, Endtroducing…

Room temperature:



A very brief run around the neighborhood. Which’ll probably make me late, but meh.



FN 1: I realize that the very fact of this post and this website in sum is proof that I haven’t “gotten on” with things entirely. This post and this website When I say “gotten on with things”, then, I suppose I mean more the fact that I’m working and being cheerful to friends new and old and generally being a competent well-put-together young person. I hate being such a person. It feels disingenuous, even if it isn't in a technical sense. Somewhat oddly, this issue seems to be a monkey wrench in my 100% Honesty Project, because one could make a case that I’m hiding something from myself IN ADDITION to hiding something from others. Which means that the Communication Project is also imperiled.

FN 2: Can you see how the whole “active approach to grief” thing might leave a rotten taste in my mouth? Does it remind you of anything blogged about here on this site? That’s right, I thought of the same thing: the Video Tribute. Should the one in grief try and force behavior on oneself in the manner of the VT, which was akin to a big cartoon mallet that kept bopping anyone who viewed it for more than 10 seconds on the back of the head, and you could almost hear its inventor yelling “Cry!” at us from somewhere.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Poem for today

What were my hands dirty with?
I would sit in my grey office chair
with no vocation, just elaborate plans to burn
all these matches in an end-to-end
world record trick like that of an S
of gunpowder a cartoon character
wouldn’t know about, but he would know.
He would be ready. It would begin
at the foot of our parents’ canopy bed,
which was docked for the duration
of the day, and cascade downstairs
to the befuddlement of the dogs.
Each domino would be a spoken word
and according to the rules of that game
only matching words or rather quantities
would count, and so it was good each
point of transfer was the same blue flare
linking the links, the match heads words
as unremarkable as they were crucial.
To the completion of the trick, anyway.
It snaked around the upright arsenal
of BB guns and duck calls, also
stored upright like a bass band’s instruments,
and under the feet of the table
where we had built labyrinths and forts,
which are historically related. Clacking
lines of fire under the dry Christmas tree,
I would lay under it staring at the pine-gold
boughs and bunting, which receded from me
and tapered in the manner of a vortex.
But that was always a rather solitary job.
I’d resolve to not do it anymore as the plan led
around the yucca he’d hide behind,
back downstairs — I’d be sweating, thinking
of these exertions, this search, the carpet
crisscrossed with precise black lines I would repair
much later, maybe, if I cared and if
the trick was successful. I had planned
to find him in his basement room, the fuse
at the jamb waiting patiently to advance,
and when he asked with an adult’s scorn
what I thought I was doing I’d indicate him
with a flourish and say the most astonishing thing.

Cpyrght 2006 W.M. Lobko

Revellers' letters to those dead

Found this while nosing around. It's a photo from this year's Burning Man. I include it - at the risk of copyright infringement-related consequences which I hope to dispel by sending Scott London both my goodwill and some web traffic – because it made a little twinge of emotion shutter my throat for a bit.

Buddhists have a practice by which they set up handwritten prayers on wheels – pretty obviously, they’re called prayer wheels. The wheels and the prayers attached to them are spun by the wind, and apparently this practice is akin to praying aloud. Buddhism, perhaps the most understanding of the world’s religions, is full of such quirks. You can either pray yourself or fund the local monks to pray your prayer on your behalf. You can either pray yourself or set up a prayer wheel and let the wind pray for you. Why didn’t Buddhism with its forbearance of involvement-via-non-involvement take off as the de facto religious of late capitalism? Praying w/o praying would seem to dovetail well with 20th century pacing.

But about the throat shuttering. The notes and papier-mache-y items pictured here are missives to the dead, it’s pretty clear. I had a thought of writing something like this to Jon – “I’m pretty pissed at you, but not so much that I’m not going to talk to you or hold it against you” or “I have been toasting you whenever the opportunity has come along” or “I wish you’d been thinking of us that Saturday morning” or “I – and still, well, this affects me.

It also doesn’t escape my notice that the written notes in the photograph contain nothing but kindnesses and reassurances: “I am here for you.” “I am being strong for you.” That kills me firstly because it’s just so goddamn touching. It kills me secondly because it tells me that there’s a disparity between these simple expressions of love and affection on the one hand and on the other hand my own expressions to the dead, seen supra, which statements while springing from love and affection, aren’t yet advanced to the point where they can jettison the anger and frustration that I still feel in addition to or on top of the basic affection and love. It’s telling that when I composed that paragraph a moment ago it didn’t occur to me to write something simple and pure to Jon like “I miss you” or “I am being strong for you.”

And whoops I just went cross-eyed. I’m getting too “meta” again.

But we didn’t communicate like that; it would’ve been weird to say. How did we communicate? Mainly, along lines of what –

I’m struggling to even know what to say here. I don’t know what we talked about. I’m trying to recall a representative story about a conversation we might’ve had. I can’t really remember one. It’s possible that it’s been years since we’ve had a serious, substantive conversation. Maybe we never had one. No: that’s overstating it, and as sentiments go it’s more than a little shoegazing. But the struggle’s the same. Jesus. Our motions in the house were always so kitchen-centered, so in-and-out. Drinking a glass of milk before he went to work a night shift at the dispatcher’s office. Coming in from a run as he was coming up the stairs in a taut white cotton T-shirt and board shorts, regardless of season, jonesing for a cup of coffee as I downed a glass of water from one of our family’s signature eight-sided water glasses. These details are tangible and recalling them helps me out, here, this morning, but I don’t like at all the fact that they, the details, aren’t interaction-centered. I can see his face in the scene of the kitchen, I can see where the players are placed, but I see his mouth open to speak and I don’t know what he was about to say.

So, in the photograph, what you’re apparently supposed to do is set flame to the assembled notes, which are typically set at the foot of some 30-ft wooden effigy: thus, Burning Man. It corresponds with some Buddhist practice I haven’t been able to find in my morning Googling: does anyone know the name of this practice? In which you set written prayers or holy items aflame such that the prayers, the words, thereupon inscribed rise and disseminate throughout the atmospheres?


Let me allude here to the beauty of Andrew Bird’s The Mysterious Production of Eggs. It’s this week’s Come On Feel the Illinoise!


Recently acquired:

Andrew Bird, The Mysterious Production of Eggs

Calexico and Iron & Wine, In the Reins

John Coltrane, Crescent

De La Soul, Three Ft. High and Rising

Death Cab For Cutie, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes

fIREHOSE, Ragin’ Full On

Andrew Hill, Black Fire

Echo and the Bunnymen, Siberia

Echo and the Bunnymen, Ocean Rain

Husker Du, Flip Your Wig

Woody Guthrie, Muleskinner Blues: Vol 2 of the Asch Recordings

Kitchens of Distinction, Death of Cool

Keane, Hopes and Fears

Radiohead, Kid A

DJ Shadow, Entroducing…

Duncan Sheik, Humming

Shout Out Louds, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff

Stone Roses, Stone Roses

McCoy Tyner, Echoes of a Friend

Laura Veirs, Year of Meteors

Yo La Tengo, Elect-O-Pura


River Styx rejects my poems again. This makes for four rejections from them. I never hold it against them, however, interestingly, because Richard Newman (the head editor) usually handwrites his notes. I’m not sure if this is because he a) likes my work but just not enough to publish it, b) feels guilty about having taken so long with replying to my work with a negative, or c) writes handwritten notes to all of the poets whose poems River Styx won’t be publishing. Having worked in a capacity similar to this one, I can say with assurance that it isn’t c). Unless R. Newman has like literally incredible amts of time with which he can reply at length to all of those who get a thanks-but-no.


It’s possible I’ll stay in the city after all, just not in this Brooklyn hovel. It’s possible I’ll go home to Syracuse for a spell. It’s possible I’ll go to Las Vegas. It’s possible I’ll go someplace in the Pac Northwest.


I must work on Good Ground. Then a run, and time to bake some chicken. It’s what my weird schedule demands.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Wading back in

More than anything, I want to convey to those friends of mine who've started to use this site as a way to keep tabs on me that I am back in contact. I've been without an Internet connection over the last 3 days or so and that's why I haven't been able to post or write emails. My silence hasn't been for lack of will. Pun somewhat intended. I've been crashing at good friends of mine's houses here in the city - not so much out of need (although the families o'erhead remain an intractable aural presence) but rather out of a desire to be with others. Esp. certain others.

So if I haven't written to you emailwise or if you're wondering what's going on Jon-grief-wise or otherwise, know that I have firm plans to write about these matters in the A.M. once I've slept, awakened, had coffee, and written a poem. And I'm going to wade into my email inbox as well, answering all of the emails I've received in the order I received them.

The Communication Project soldiers on.

Listening to Laura Veirs's Year of Meteors. Fans of the Postal Service, Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Death Cab For Cutie, and Duncan Sheik should get it asap.