When laid bare, stripped away from layers of barricades of everyday normalities, dust of compressed emotions that were trodden under the feet rise above the atmosphere. Faced with memories you thought were long overdue and therefore desirably lost, to your own surprise, you find they are still gummed, clinging under hidden crevices and fastened under split fissures. To stand and observe your baffled and bewildered face, full of dazed confusion and pained bemusement in front of this sudden attack of confrontation, is, as much as it is hard to confess, a delight. Yes, admittedly a perversion to your rightful basal sentiment, but what of it- if it helps you get rid of your dusty I.
'I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.
All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene. It tells you. You don’t tell it.’
- Why I Write by Joan Didion
I personally connected a lot with this theory of hers. That what drives me to make art- making pictures, writing, illustrating, and whatnot- is purely derived from the necessity of figuring out this ‘image’ in my head by writing them into words or pictures, into something tangible, and punctuating the specific allure of the shimmer of this image, ‘the grammar in the picture.’ There is a physical relationship between the act of photographing and writing. I see a peripheral image in both of them. Recognizing the physical attributes of the composition of a photograph is like recognizing the actual physical shape of words and sentences, in a literal sense. The photograph needs to be beautiful; the syntax needs to look beautiful. Because I myself too have always fallen short of ideas and therefore have always landed on the peripheral ground, the act of voyeurism can never be avoided. Maybe a witness would be a softer word. It’s like the image of the bevatron she talks about that’s burnt into her mind for twenty years in which she eventually was able to let go only after using it in her novel decades later. You collect these pieces of witnessings, then you create the whole with them after you have enough. I’ve always wondered why I, moving between illustration and photography, get stuck with the narrative. But alas, a moment of delightful epiphany after reading this essay: I think I write pictures.
Here’s the link to the essay.
It is one thing to post the incorrect version of “Illiterate” out of ignorance and laziness—the sort of dismissive apathy and indifference to source fidelity that causes this error is pretty common in the age of one-click reposts. But to knowingly misrepresent my work while still affixing my name as if I claim it as my own, and then to profit from that misrepresentation without nary a link in return seems like a pretty big insult to an author you claim to admire.
Here is “You Should Date an Illiterate Girl” in its original form:
Date a girl who doesn’t read. Find her in the weary squalor of a Midwestern bar. Find her in the smoke, drunken sweat, and varicolored light of an upscale nightclub. Wherever you find her, find her smiling. Make sure that it lingers when the people that are talking to her look away. Engage her with unsentimental trivialities. Use pick-up lines and laugh inwardly. Take her outside when the night overstays its welcome. Ignore the palpable weight of fatigue. Kiss her in the rain under the weak glow of a streetlamp because you’ve seen it in film. Remark at its lack of significance. Take her to your apartment. Dispatch with making love. Fuck her.
Let the anxious contract you’ve unwittingly written evolve slowly and uncomfortably into a relationship. Find shared interests and common ground like sushi, and folk music. Build an impenetrable bastion upon that ground. Make it sacred. Retreat into it every time the air gets stale, or the evenings get long. Talk about nothing of significance. Do little thinking. Let the months pass unnoticed. Ask her to move in. Let her decorate. Get into fights about inconsequential things like how the fucking shower curtain needs to be closed so that it doesn’t fucking collect mold. Let a year pass unnoticed. Begin to notice.
Figure that you should probably get married because you will have wasted a lot of time otherwise. Take her to dinner on the forty-fifth floor at a restaurant far beyond your means. Make sure there is a beautiful view of the city. Sheepishly ask a waiter to bring her a glass of champagne with a modest ring in it. When she notices, propose to her with all of the enthusiasm and sincerity you can muster. Do not be overly concerned if you feel your heart leap through a pane of sheet glass. For that matter, do not be overly concerned if you cannot feel it at all. If there is applause, let it stagnate. If she cries, smile as if you’ve never been happier. If she doesn’t, smile all the same.
Let the years pass unnoticed. Get a career, not a job. Buy a house. Have two striking children. Try to raise them well. Fail, frequently. Lapse into a bored indifference. Lapse into an indifferent sadness. Have a mid-life crisis. Grow old. Wonder at your lack of achievement. Feel sometimes contented, but mostly vacant and ethereal. Feel, during walks, as if you might never return, or as if you might blow away on the wind. Contract a terminal illness. Die, but only after you observe that the girl who didn’t read never made your heart oscillate with any significant passion, that no one will write the story of your lives, and that she will die, too, with only a mild and tempered regret that nothing ever came of her capacity to love.
Do those things, god damnit, because nothing sucks worse than a girl who reads. Do it, I say, because a life in purgatory is better than a life in hell. Do it, because a girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent as a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder. A girl who reads lays claim to a vocabulary that distinguishes between the specious and soulless rhetoric of someone who cannot love her, and the inarticulate desperation of someone who loves her too much. A vocabulary, god damnit, that makes my vacuous sophistry a cheap trick.
Do it, because a girl who reads understands syntax. Literature has taught her that moments of tenderness come in sporadic but knowable intervals. A girl who reads knows that life is not planar; she knows, and rightly demands, that the ebb comes along with the flow of disappointment. A girl who has read up on her syntax senses the irregular pauses—the hesitation of breath—endemic to a lie. A girl who reads perceives the difference between a parenthetical moment of anger and the entrenched habits of someone whose bitter cynicism will run on, run on well past any point of reason, or purpose, run on far after she has packed a suitcase and said a reluctant goodbye and she has decided that I am an ellipsis and not a period and run on and run on. Syntax that knows the rhythm and cadence of a life well lived.
Date a girl who doesn’t read because the girl who reads knows the importance of plot. She can trace out the demarcations of a prologue and the sharp ridges of a climax. She feels them in her skin. The girl who reads will be patient with an intermission and expedite a denouement. But of all things, the girl who reads knows most the ineluctable significance of an end. She is comfortable with them. She has bid farewell to a thousand heroes with only a twinge of sadness.
Don’t date a girl who reads because girls who read are the storytellers. You with the Joyce, you with the Nabokov, you with the Woolf. You there in the library, on the platform of the metro, you in the corner of the café, you in the window of your room. You, who make my life so god damned difficult. The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am. You will not accept the life that I told of at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied. So out with you, girl who reads. Take the next southbound train and take your Hemingway with you. I hate you. I really, really, really hate you.
That time of the year again to play my favorite from Lady Day.
Treatin myself with affogato and a book with some Louis and Ella. What a great night.
Digable Arts Festival! Scroll over.
Z for Zebra, acrylic paint, 2010