Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Writing Lesson for Pres. Greenwood of UH, with an homage to F.T. Marinetti

I have set aside this morning to read the Futurists (for one class) and grade papers (for another), but an article in this morning's Honolulu Advertiser, coupled with a mass email from the president of my institution yesterday, has me wanting to use my pedagogical skills in other ways. I mean to offer a lesson to our state educational administrators, with the help (in closing) of one of these Futurists, F.T. Marinetti.

This morning's paper has an article about parents in Aikahi (Kailua, windward side of O`ahu) who are getting together to see if they can't hire their kids' public school teachers to work on furlough Fridays, of which there will be 17 in coming months. The president of the PTA there is quoted as saying, "What are we going to do? Either our schools will be privatized on Fridays or a private entity will end up educating our children on Fridays on we're all going to end up taking our kids to work with us." The "private entities" mentioned in the article all cost money--the YMCA, Diamond Head Theater, and so on. Well, for those of you who don't know O`ahu, Kailua is one of the most prosperous neighborhoods. Consider places like Waimanalo or Waianae or Kalihi, neighborhoods where parents are working class, and where there are significant problems with homelessness, unemployment, even hunger. Parents in these places can't afford even to consider privatizing their children's Friday education. They'll need to find childcare somehow, lunches somehow, and help their children pass the notorious standardized tests delivered to us from the custodians of No Child Left Behind (whose title grows more bitterly ironic by the day).

Now I'm not one to assign blame to all administrators of my own institution for the dire straits we're in; like the rest of us, they're trapped in a downward global spiral. But the memo we just received en masse from President Greenwood (who began her job only four months ago, straight from the California system), is as infuriating as similar memos we've received from other administrators, like Virginia Hinshaw (whose one memo I put into a William Burroughs machine a while back). The tone of it is wrong.

After an opening that includes three uses of the word "aloha," one of which ends with "spirit," and which refers to "the sense of shared purpose" we have, the President asserts that none of us is at fault for the current economic woes:

"None of us are individually or even collectively responsible for the fact that the State of Hawai`i, our mainstay funder, has experienced severely restricted revenues this year that will most likely continue into at least the next year. As a consequence, our share of state funding has been greatly reduced and we must find an unprecedented amount of savings to meet our budgetary needs."

Leave alone words like "savings" (for "slashing") or the phrase that absolves all of us of blame for anything, what is missing is an ethical, nay moral, language to gather us into community against this inevitable cut. Instead of "we must find an unprecedented amount of savings to meet our budgetary needs," how about, "after we deal with this crisis, we must confront our state officials with the absolute moral right of every citizen to a public education and demand that they honor the social contract"? My own rhetoric is growing too bureaucratic here, but the bottom line is that this is not simply a budget issue, something to learn about in accounting school, but a MORAL issue.

The President goes on to explain the situation in quantitative terms, offering some choice statistics (if we don't get stimulus money, for example, we will need to cut upwards of $100 million dollars from the university's budget; at the same time, UH is "facing a record increase in enrollment" and so on). There's a postscript with more stats and reassurances (based on what, one wonders) that faculty salaries will not remain cut, that payroll lags won't hurt us, that the university does not "anticipate" any retrenchment in the near future. (No stats for that last one.)

Let me harp some more on the ending of her memo. The openings and conclusions of such memos are always meaningless, cliche-ridden, statements of solidarity and purpose. We are probably not even meant to read them, except as flags that our administrators know a few Hawaiian words and wish us all well. I would propose a different kind of ending. So allow me to quote, and then translate, President Greenwood's final paragraph to us:

"In these unprecedented times, I continue to believe that the university is, indeed, a powerful agent for economic improvement, educational advancement, and cultural good and that there is no better investment for the future of our state than in higher education and the University of Hawai‘i. I strongly support a competitive environment for faculty salaries and benefits; improved support for teaching, learning and research; and increased access for more students, particularly those who have been underserved, to succeed in our university. I know you believe this as well, and I urge us all to unify our voices so that when better economic circumstances allow, we will be persuasive as our state leaders consider how to sustain and grow our ‘ohana.

M.R.C. Greenwood"

becomes . . .

"I am shocked and appalled that the state of Hawai`i--its legislature, its governor, its citizens--are willing to sit by while our social contract is destroyed. Public education is not a luxury in the state of Hawai`i; it has been, and must be, an absolute right. Good educations require money, money to pay good teachers, to maintain buildings, to sustain libraries. Once this crisis is past, I promise to get on every television station, op-ed page, and travel to every legislator's office to demand the support of the community and its leaders. In fact, I will start today! If we do not succeed in saving public education, the word "`ohana" will mean nothing.

Yours in solidarity,
M.R.C. Greenwood"

While my assigned reading for the day, which includes F.T. Marinetti's "The Manifesto of Futurism," includes such unhelpful stipulations as, "We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind," I find many of his calls to arms good counter-weights to the passive pablum of administrative discourse. So let me paraphrase some of his points and offer them to the administration, the government, ourselves:

2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our mission to save our educational system.

3. Up to now the university has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy [well...], and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer's stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.

7. Except in struggle, there is no more beauty.

We are in a crisis, but the crisis is not one of budgeting only. It's a moral crisis. Let's start talking that way. We need to put up signs, get out our bullhorns, lock horns with our reps, even send our children to the capital on Fridays.

And by all means, use active verbs!!!

[editor's note: just noticed this choice bit off Ian Lind's blog.]

Monday, September 28, 2009

Creativity summit in Waikiki (of all places)

This past weekend I attended the 16th Manoa Forum at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. The forum, organized by Vernon Char and Dick Dubanoski, brings together professors from UH and members of the community--business people, lawyers, artists, organizers--to discuss a central issue. This year's subject was "creativity." We had all been given a large packet of readings inside of yellow covers, ranging from Plato and Aristotle to New Age considerations of right and left brains, to biographies of "creative geniuses," to part of a memoir by a neuroscientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, about suffering a massive stroke. We sat mostly at round tables, watched presentations, and then talked to each other before reporting back to the group. There were performances, a skit (very silly), and much sharing of stories and ideas. I was pleased to be connected to a larger network of friends and co-conspirators in Hawai`i. Especially compelling to me were a presentation by the Honorable Dan Foley, the first lawyer to bring a gay marriage case to court in Hawai`i in the early 1990s; James Koshiba's efforts to organize community in Waianae and elsewhere; Dr. Brad Wong's plea for help with the Aloha Medical Mission; Maenette Ah Nee-Benham's story of her struggle to win equal footing in the academy as a Native Hawaiian woman; Tom Coffman's description of the moment he discovered he had to go on his own as a political writer and documentary maker; Kalei Kanuha's complaint that the only thing the "geniuses" achieved was that they were all "jerks"; the O'Malley's vivacious performance-driven discussions; Laura Ruby's valedictory for her late husband, Tony Quagliano; Kealoha's comment about how groups have to "suck it up" and contribute to the whole. There was more, but.

What struck me the most, perhaps, was our venue. While we spent most of our time in a conference room around tables, we resided in the Tapa Tower of the Village, a 19 floor building with a view of other buildings, higher and lower, that make up the urban sprawl of Waikiki. My heavily air conditioned room was large, and looked out over the roof of a parking structure to another huge building. From the lanai, if I craned my neck to the left, I could see the mountains past another bank of buildings; if I craned my head to the right, from the far right side of the lanai, I could just catch a glimpse of the ocean. Several hours into my stay, I noticed a curtain behind my large television set. When I opened the curtain, I discovered an ocean view (past the main Hilton Hawaiian Village building and its painted rainbow); I could see the artificial lagoon, the marketplace area (full of shops full of bad art and better jewelry). In the farther distance, a pod of surfers sat looking out to sea in anticipation of the next good wave.

Down at ground level, one could hear music piped in; that it was usually Bruddah Iz's music carried a certain irony to it, as Bruddah Iz favored Hawaiian sovereignty. The concrete jungle was filled with pink Australians, young Japanese couples with adorable children, and local workers in their standard aloha wear. I wandered down to the beach during one break, past the gaudy wedding chapel nestled between towers, the artificial pools of water surrounded by lava rock, the display of penguins, the Starbucks, through an open air lobby, and toward the ocean. A wedding party wandered by, bride in white, holding onto the hand of her military groom, trailed by men carrying beer bottles. The beach is wide (this takes a lot of work to maintain, as erosion is at odds with the Tourist Bureau), covered by people; just around the corner of the high buildings, I could see the edge of Diamond Head. Music wafted from the ocean side restaurant.

Thinking back on this, I want to ask how our conversations about creativity either reflected or pushed back against this version of Hawai`i, so unlike the Hawai`i those of us live here know. Clearly, this space was created; it took imagination to put these simulacra of Hawai`i together. The website of the resort alludes to "perfecting paradise," after all. And it takes real energy (electrical power!) to keep the place running smoothly. Bryant, who spent some hours with the group and me, was astonished by the wastefulness. Does luxury need to be wasteful? Do we need to equate free time with luxury? Luxury with operating outside of time in a place that isn't even itself? I think not, but here it is. On the other hand, as we noted that the bias of our reader was toward the intellectual and the western and the dichotomous, we sat in an air-conditioned room and conducted intellectual conversations, while the tourists at least attended to their bodies on the beach.

It was good to get home to the family, the messiness, the Koolau. I hope to think about what these discussions of creativity mean to Tinfish Press's efforts to reach out to community, sometimes to form it. Brad Wong's dilemma was telling: he argued throughout for a notion of creativity that was not public, did not require an audience. At the end he gave an eloquent plea for help with his medical mission, as community is the theater in which healing takes place. That seemed a good place to stop, or to start again.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My name, which does not belong to me: Olivia Rosenthal, Paul Valery, and Dr. Alzheimer

My pen pal/copain, Alain Cressan, sent me two books in French the other week. The first, Je me souviens, by Georges Perec, was a pleasant surprise, especially after teaching Joe Brainard's I Remember again. The second book is one I can't get my nose out of, namely Olivia Rosenthal's On n'est pas la pour disparaitre, published by Editions Gallimard in 2007. (Please excuse my lack of diacriticals.) The book is what might be called a documentary novel. It's about Alzheimer and his disease, in voices that range from that of Monsieur T, who has Alzheimer's and dreams of America; his wife, whom M. T. stabbed; their daughter, toward whom the father has made sexual advances; and the author's (is it?), who meditates on writing about a disease she hopes not to acquire. She, who does not have children, also contemplates what it might mean to be a descendant of Dr. Alzheimer, given such a name, a blood-line's memory of the disease that denotes memory's extinction. It's a busy book, but one that can be turned (metaphorically) to many angles, like a sad diamond. Then there are dialogues like this one:

Combien avez-vous d'enfants? [How many children do you have?]
Plusieurs. [Several]
Pouvez-vous dire leurs noms? [Can you say their names?]
Oui, bien sur, ce n'est pas de leur faute. [Yes, of course, it's not their fault.] (47)

Such are dementia's non sequiturs.


This was the week my introductory level students wrote documentary poems about a relative they do not know well. One women wrote hers on the backs of photographs of her grandmother, doctored ones (as it were). Her grandmother suffers from Alzheimers. One photograph is of her grandmother's face, cupped inside two hands. The documentary method is not simply about presenting facts in a form usually divorced from Wikipedia, but also about creating room for the poet and her audience to feel for their subject, even feel they are their subject (by blood or adoption). Monsieur T. stabbed his wife; Monsieur T. cannot be condemned for this act because he does not have even the wherewithal to "act" as an Alzheimers sufferer; he is one. Demented people cannot act.


"Each moment exists at the center of an incalculable confluence of things. Some of these factors we have singled out and called by different names (sociological factors, political, psychological, spiritual, etc.) but some remain nameless. In the same way that physicists have not yet determined all the components that make up matter, we do not completely know what creates and makes up 'the moment.' What we do know is that the moment has a texture, and that in memory it can also be experienced as a weight--can press against the flesh." (Ellen Hinsey letter to Uta Gosmann)


And yet among the heaviest moments are those spent with Alzheimer's patients, those whose memories are lightest, have flown, whose bodies seem to have supplanted their memories, like containers that take the place of what they contained. The textures of forgetting are dense, heavier than the furniture in the "home," the solid entertainment centers and Ethan Allen chairs, the suburban couches. Forgetting occurs (can it occur, really?) in comfort. But it's stubborn, immovable.


Rosenthal asks us to perform exercises. One is to calculate the number of persons to whom you refer in the past tense, but who are still alive. (And how about those to whom we refer in the present who have died?) My strongest piece of advice to a student recently was to ask her to "change the eternal present--experiment with other tenses." Dementia offers us the conditional, the provisional tense, the not-present or not-past or not-future tense. Invent a new tense for those who have forgotten you. It changes you, to be forgotten so.


It becomes harder to believe in memory once you've seen someone lose it. Paul Valery writes of "Memory heaping and building in the dusk of our souls holds itself ever ready to restore to us what the universal flux withdraws from us instant by instant." (I'm teaching from Poems for the Millennium, Volume 1.) Is that like the restoration of an old house? Or like the restoration of a monarchy? Those restorations are not to what was. I had acquaintances in Williamsburg, Virginia who thought they were living in a restored colonial house, but really they inhabited a reproduction of such a house. Who could not say they had the better plumbing, the stronger walls? Better than memory is a new construction like that. Reproduction in the age of.


Yet it is harder to believe that we are other than our memories when we see someone lose hers. She is alive, her voice (which is also crucial to our sense of her) remains much the same. But her voice has lost its words, except a very few. It is memory that furnishes Crusoe's island, according to Valery, "malleable memory, pliable to the moment's needs." But her island is her voice, and its shorelines have been eroded and eroded more. She says little beyond how nice it is to hear that everything is ok. To what part of her is that a solace? Perhaps some memory of her worries, those that fueled her, before she forgot how to fret.


Rosenthal devotes nearly a chapter to the names of diseases named after people, diseases you/she/I do not want to die of. The names are markers of anxiety; simply to call them out is to raise one's blood pressure, begin to imagine end games, pains, self-losses. There is violence at the moments of recognition that one is related to Dr. Alzheimer by brain tissue, by forgetting. Monsieur T. tried to kill his wife. My mother attacked a caregiver. This (or that) is the moment when all agency is taken from them. The name, violence, and then "home." We care give, we assist live, we take care of them. You can see memory, like a dream of violence, draining from their eyes.


Quel est votre prenom? [What is your name?]
Il ne m'appartient pas. [It does not belong to me.] (9)d

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Middle Sources: Some Memory Works

"To have an adopted identity--which is for me an identity based on the desire to know--is thus to include in that very identity the way in which it has been denied. To be adopted, then, involves including in being those processes of becoming which not only affirm who we are, which not only give us the means with which we can assume an identity, but which also make the articulation of an identity possible'" (169). Kimberley Leighton, "Being Adopted and Being a Philosopher"


"What is original is whatever returns us to displacement as a source, not a claim to a source that is original. The source is the outwardness of displacement itself. This is not an originary return in itself; it takes place as s a response to things only recently made available. Everything depends on how the original, once claimed, continues to be invoked." Barrett Watten, The Grand Piano 7, 108


The one time I met my father's brother, the one who stayed in Romeo, the one who drove a truck and married a woman who worked in the seat belt factory, he pronounced the word "PIE-ANO."


I am teaching Eleni Sikelianos's The Book of Jon to my introductory level poetry and literature students. The book represents Sikelianos's search for her father, a man who left her life early and returned to it only infrequently, then died from chronic drug use. I ask them to write one or two sentences about an event that was crucial for them. Then I ask them to write one or two about a crucial event in the lives of their great-grandmothers. The young woman who shares my mother's maiden name looks at me, her eyes huge. "But I don't know anything." "Write it down," I demand.


"If there is an analogy to music, it is not to duration or flow or synaesthesia or expression but to an experience of the incompleteness of one's knowledge." Barrett Watten


I am more what I fail to remember than what I do. The incompleteness of memory is my knowledge.


Sikelianos uses different kinds of writing: letters, a family tree, documents, photographs ("he looks so happy," my students say, "and affectionate"), lists, stories (parts of), an obituary, poems; she wishes for more than she remembers. "It matters that there are holes in a family history that can never be filled, that there are secrets and mysteries, migrations and invasions and murky blood-linens"(x). Eleni S.


"This is a difficult book to read, physically to read. // The fact is that my grandfather did die in the space of this book (i.e. the feeling his ribs, t-shirt etc, birds from the neighbors yards and the rest). // Undoubtedly a number of typographical errors // You know, I've thought long and hard // This is a deeply flawed text and experiment // anything else would be dishonest." Lance Phillips, Imposture Notebook


I ask my aunt what her parents were like. "They were just like me," she responds.


"I do not remember listening to music. I do not remember hearing it as it passed me by. I remember music, but I do not remember listening itself. Listening to music again, I remember having listened to it; this is the evanescence of its knowledge . . . Music becomes an example of all one knows of oneself, a necessary record. It is a kind of forgetting, remembering that to forget is to live." Barrett Watten


I typed: "remembering that to forget is to love," and I wonder if that is not also true. Is the line about "forgiving" and "forgetting" most possible in English, where 'giving" and "getting" are necessarily "for"shadowed by that three-letter preposition? What I have needed to forget in order to love.


Jon had very little in his pockets when he was found dead in a motel room in New Mexico. Cigarettes, combs, matches, glasses, no family photos. These things, which were of use to him, rendered symbolic. "The things are not what count," reads the Hallmark card I gave my mother-in-law for her 78th birthday. It was the best I could find. To what extent is this statement true?


One guy talked about his cap, the one with flames on the front; a young woman talked about her cell phone; one guy talked about his slippers. I'm making this up now, as I can't remember their objects, the ones that told us who they are. Local, in constant touch.

[Editor's note: it was a pinkish ukelele the one student held up, taped at the bottom where it had broken.]


"Culture is the preservation of memory, its overlapping reinforcement." Barrett Watten


> "pg 10. Memory Box. Do you refer to a real object here or is it entirely metaphorical ?" Email from A.M.


How do we find out about our great-grandparents? Marriage certificates, immigration papers, photographs. "We find them in ourselves," says the student who speaks only pidgin. A sign not of origins but places inside of them: not the Philippines, but also not the 50th state's respectable middle class.


What of them do we find "in ourselves"? Culture or blood? Blood as incipient act, like a gesture? Or culture as a learned behavior, like a gesture?


"She has lost her culture" (L.W.) This morning my mother sounds "better" on the phone. A clarity of sound, perhaps. I ask about the weather, talk about R's birthday, ask if she's eating well. I pass the phone to my husband, who has the same conversation with her. When he passes the phone back, we begin again, but I do not have the heart to do it all over. "I'm glad you're ok; that's what's important."


A facebook friend asks for three words as writing prompts. I respond "for, then, but." Each of these words suggests a future where something happens because or in spite of or in addition but in opposition to. If punctuation is the musical notation of performance, then these monosyllabic sounds punctuate our memories by insisting that they exist.


"pg 12-13 - All these references to various women have intrigued me. At times they seem like different women at other times the same. Or do these women represent plural selves of a single disintegrating woman ?" Email from A.M.

Write about your first memory. I dare you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tinfish gets discovered

Kyle Semmel of the Writer's Center in Washington, DC has posted an interview with me about Tinfish Press here. He's a fellow Cardinals fan, so chalk it up to baseball connections!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ceci n'est pas un blog; or, Notes Toward a Definition of Blog Lit

Recently, I found a couple of reviews of my book Dementia Blog on social reading sites. Negative ones. The temptation is to answer them, I suppose, but I don't want to do that here. The book, which began its life as a blog and maintains the form (moving backwards from the present into history) works well for some people, not at all for others, and that's how it will be. But I do want to consider a common thread in critiques of the book, which involves assumptions about the blog as a form. What these assumptions are is what interests me here, as they are not elaborated by the writers of these critiques.

Reviewer one liked the concept, but added, "like all blogs, it was too blousey and boring. There's no there there."

Reviewer two wrote, "This is a worthy subject, but seems too blog-like to work as a book."

[italics are mine]

Clearly, these writers know what they mean when they write the word "blog" (according to Wikipedia, "blog" comes from "weblog," by way of "we blog," a term coined by one Peter Merholz in April or May 1999), but they're not defining their term. Political bloggers are often angered by the the dismissive use of the word "blogger" by members of the mainstream media, those journalists who follow leads dug up by bloggers, but then use the word "blog" to mean something akin to "opinionated speech based on nothing in particular." Bias against blogs as sites for objective reporting originates with the blog form's origins as personal, subjective writing. "The modern blog evolved from the online diary, where people would keep a running account of their personal lives" (Wikipedia).

Joseph Harrington, a fellow blogger, wrote to me a month or two back to ask for examples of "blog lit"; one of his MFA students wanted to start a blog as her project. She has since done so. Joe, like Mark Scroggins, occasionally remarks on a boundary between his blogging and his "real work," however obliquely. I'd be eager to know more about their distinctions, which may be institutional ("we do not get promoted for blogging") or personal ("my blog is more diaristic, less rigorous, than is my other work"). There are certainly dozens of poetry bloggers, though most reserve their blog space for critical considerations of poetry, rather than for poetry itself. Ron Silliman's blog is the ur-example. Poet's blogs are also used to publicize work, the poet's own and that of others, and to stage spirited dialogues via the comment function, about rifts in the poetry world (mainstream vs. experimental, white vs. non-white, flarf vs. conceptual). But this is not what Joe would call "blog lit." Linh Dinh posts photographs on his blog; Jonathan Morse writes about photographs on his. But again, not what we'd call "lit." And, before we evacuate that term, let's investigate a bit more.

So what is blog lit? In order to get to the answer, we need to think about what a blog makes possible. Rather than defining blogs by what people have done with them (written diaries, outed racist politicians), why not think of them as a kind of genre? Just as "the novel" or "non-fiction" or "book" contain multiple generic possibilities, so does the blog. It's simply a container for writing, but a container that is limited and enabled by its rules and those of the software that helps the non-computer literate to create one. Let's enumerate some of these rules:

1. It Must Go Backwards

Or, less simply, it must go forwards within a container that moves backwards. The blog's reader will begin with the present and move into the past. The future is what will appear above the text that's now in place. (Let's call this the "future is up" rule.) This temporal construction is not "natural" to us, but creates possibilities, both literal and metaphorical, that "chronological order" or "flashbacks" do not.

2. It Must Fit Inside a Box

I use blogger.com, which provides me with a narrow box (half the distance across my computer monitor) in which to compose, or dump, my writing. Blogger does not do formatting well, so paragraphs are what work best. The paragraphs work best as boxes, since reading on a computer monitor is easier if there is more white space, not simply indentations at the start of each paragraph. You must think inside the box.

3. It Must Encourage Spontaneity

There are blogs that read as finished products, yes, but most blogs retain the feature of "flow," of "surprise." This is where I think the anti-bloggers feel least comfortable. Blogs are in the tradition of Williams's Kora in Hell, not in that of William Butler Yeats's "Sailing Toward Byzantium." Process is paramount, even if the blog is highly edited, redacted, futzed with. The blogger arrives at thoughts, rather than starting from them. And the finished product is still anti-chronological. Old forms of organization don't work as well. The new ones can be confusing.

4. It May Include Anything

Bakhtin didn't have anything on the blog. While intricately formatted poems don't work on blogger, what does is a sense of wild play, in which the writer may run through Bernadette Mayer exercises until she's giddy. Forms don't work mathematically on blogger, but they do work conceptually. Hence, the blogger can write an ode (in prose), epigrams, elegies (in prose), emails, lists, documents, insults (see Ron Padgett). The form of the form is gone, but the import of the form remains.

5. It Must/Will Be Read Quickly

Here's one I don't much like, but seems inevitable, considering the ease with which the reader can hit a link and hightail it away from your site. (Links are important to blogging.) Reading on-line is not the same as reading on the page (even after the on-line material is printed out). This is not to say that the writer cannot write interesting thoughts, but Montaigne's essays are a better example of what is possible than is continental philosophy. You need to try to get your reader to think, as well as to click.

6. It Must Invite Responses

The comment box (another box) can be a significant part of the blog. As most poetry blogs are critical in content, the comment box offers a place for argument, sometimes in ad hominem fashion. But blog lit holds out the promise of collaborative writing, not simply with one's friends, but with the occasional stranger who approaches the blog post as a launching pad to his or her own writing. Cindy Franklin writes about this in her new book, using Michael Berube's blog and memoir as an example.

7. It Must Confuse Public and Private Spaces

The memory I write onto my blog is no longer private; it has jumped the box. Although there are obvious analogues to any published writing, the blog-memory cannot be closed off in the way the memories in a book can be closed, between covers. It enters an archive or concordance, call it google, that recirculates the memory in ways never imagined by the author, and to readers in places unimagined. The ways in which my memory "rhymes" with those of others becomes a space that needs to be thought about more. Many such rhymes are made by machines (WordPress often suggests posts on similar themes). Again, collaboration comes to mind, perhaps even the construction of new memories in the chaotic legislative chamber we call the internet.

These are not my "Notes Toward a Supreme Blog," because

8. There Can Be No Supreme Blog.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Generous Grammar: Joe Brainard's _I Remember_ and the Shared Sentence

Yesterday, my introductory class discussed Joe Brainard's I Remember, that hypnotic, impolite, relentless book, at once memoir and long poem, assertion and invitation to participate. A couple of the students remarked on how long it takes to read the book because it awakens the reader's own memory centers. No theory of reader response should exist without a public performance of this text; call and response would be best. Gospel choir even better.

"I remember" is starkly present tense. Memory is what takes the place of the present because we can't live in it while we're remembering things. It's the moment when all the tenses jostle for position, like small children at the fun fair, angling for the next ride. Brainard's book is no ode, but it performs the activity of calling into being something that is not there. Oh parental rubbers! Oh movie theater molestation! Oh Marilyn Monroe! Oh house keys!

The students do not remember what Brainard remembers--the ice box turned refrigerator, the death of JFK, 1950s fashion moments--but they recognize themselves in the structure of his memories, which are sentences. We may not share the content, but we share the grammar of the sentence, "I remember peach fuzz." (You won't find that in the book, that I remember.)

Which brings me back to what matters about the loss of memory. If my mother remembers the phrase, "I'm glad you called and everything is all right," I presume that she remembers what that phrase means. Am I right? When she forgets how to say it but says "I understand," what does she understand? Can understanding be anything but past tense, even if that tense has a short duration? Is memory important because it endures, or seems to, even as it changes like oral transmissions of history? Yet lacking a memory makes one seem especially static. Are stasis and endurance the same? Maybe, maybe not. There was something creative about the act of forgetting, when one person's life story came to inhabit another's; in later Alzheimer's there is no creation, only erasure, or what has been erased. But something endures, the body of the person who held onto memories and can be remembered by us. Person as memory box. Memory body.

Tenses: when I see my two small classes, I think I will remember enjoying them; I know they will have been among my last small classes. We are losing seven colleagues to retirement this year--the first of many such years, our demographics being what they are--with no funding to replace any of them. Write ten "I will have remembered" phrases. "I would want to have remembered," "I will have tried to forget." These will have been the days. And yesterday an email came to us about massive cuts in the UH Library.

My other (400-level) class, which is currently in Shakespeare sonnet boot camp, performed sonnets in groups with rhythmic accompaniment (an ipu, some sticks). We talked the first week about the significance of the little words in the sonnets, the words that indicate a turn in argument and whose importance is signified by a change in rhythm or tone. "When . . . then . . . then . . . but if" forms the skeleton for sonnet #30, a sonnet about memory, judgment, economics, recompense. The art of the little word did not begin with Gertrude Stein; Shakespeare was there with his quiver of one syllable articles both definite and in- . One of the groups pointed every time they got to a reference to "him" (in another sonnet). That's what the words do. They point, appoint, posture, gesticulate, perform for and in us.


I met a retired woman at Kaiser the other day whose parents had lived most of their adult lives in the South Pacific, sending their daughter back to Hawai`i to be educated. She was telling me a story about going to an education conference over a decade ago and meeting a woman who separated everyone into groups--Asian American, African American, Mexican American. My interlocutor's question to this woman had been, "do you consider yourself German American? Your name is Schultz." "But my name is Schultz," I said to her.

Her mother lived so long on atolls that she told her daughter to bury her where she could not see the ocean. Not wanting to say, "but you'll see nothing in any case," the good daughter buried her mother where she could see the Ko`olau.

Our names came up on the board. "There we are," she said.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Reconsolidated Life

Re-memory. Word by way of Toni Morrison's Beloved. Re-collect, re-call, re-consolidate.

"Reactivating a memory destabilizes it, putting it back into a flexible, vulnerable state." Kathleen McGowan, "How Much of Our Memory Is True?" Discover Magazine


"Neuroscientists say that what we remember bears a resemblance to what actually happened in inverse proportion to the frequency with which we remember it. That is, the more often we remember something, the further it is from the truth." Kit Robinson, The Grand Piano, Part 5

"Do you remember how he first came to your attention?" DG, about an author I published.

"As often as not, I don't know what to make of what I remember. In this regard memory and dream bear a striking resemblance. Not that it's a problem. In each case, the specificity of the phenomenal somehow satisfies me. This cannot be laziness on my part. How then to account for these pearls from the deep?" Kit Robinson

"When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste" William Shakespeare, Sonnet 30

"The era of memory treatment has arrived. For Rita Magil, who got just two doses of propranolol over the course of a single day, the results were encouraging. Her heart rate and muscle tension eased while the drug was in her body. She sensed the different too. 'I felt more detached from it,' she says. 'I felt that I was relating a narrative rather than describing something right in front of me right now.' After the study was over, the flashbacks returned, though with less intensity. For her, the only real cure was time." Kathleen McGowan

"In writing from memory, I suffer the persistent sense of hitting wrong notes. By persevering I hope to make it all come out right. And if not, tant pis. Or so much the better!" Kit Robinson

"(You will not be tested or graded on this material–it's recherche du temps perdu.)"


Through the mail?" DG