Great sentence from Graham Greene’s The Human Factor: “He felt like a man who was departing into a long exile and who looks back from the deck of a ship at the faint coastline of his country as it sinks below the horizon.”
(My other favorite part of this 1978 spy novel, by the way, is that it makes reference to a mail-in computer-dating service, a la Harold and Maude. Also that peanut mold can be used to make aflatoxin, a poison that causes necrosis and hemorrhage in the liver and makes it appear that the victim died of cirrhosis or some other boozy mishap. Wikipedia says there’s a dab of aflatoxin in peanut butter but not in the quantities necessary for a good covert assassination.)
My new favorite line in Lucky Jim is when Jim Dixon’s boss hands him “the smallest glass of port he’d ever seriously been offered.”
I’m sure everyone has a list of clichés they especially hate. Mine is “tongue in cheek.” Particularly when it metastasizes into something like, “I wrote that with my tongue planted firmly in cheek.” Planted, you say? Firmly, you say? For other people, it’s something else. A reporter friend noted the other day that “tea leaf reading” (and variants thereof) really rattled her molars. And I like to imagine how everyone with these little hang-ups has a long-running intimate personal history with the catchphrase in question, spotting it in an article here, overhearing it in rivulets of conversation there, and they stop and linger over the phrase, letting time slow down as they let their outsized irritation quietly fill the room. And it’s not the sort of thing you can usually share with anyone else. Who wants to hear about your inner crusade against some cliché no one else even notices? I like to think that everyone has all sorts of unshareable moments like this every single day—say, there are little corners of the Internet you click on and explore and which you’re almost ashamed to be fascinated by they’re so dull and unremarkable but for whatever reason the neurons in your head are firing in a pleasurable manner and if someone were to ask you what you’ve just been doing you might be able to explain, but perhaps you couldn’t, or you might just prefer not to say, and those unshareable moments just stack up and stack up and fill the day. Ostensibly boring people probably have more such moments than ostensibly interesting people. Who says that’s so wrong?
“Things happen, people change,” is what Amanda said. For her that covered it. You wanted an explanation, an ending that would assign blame and dish up justice. You considered violence and you considered reconciliation. But what you are left with is a premonition of the way your life will fade behind you, like a book you have read too quickly, leaving a dwindling trail of images and emotions, until all you can remember is a name.
—Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City
Here’s an article-type thing on regulating and suppressing emotions:
“One reason we’re so attuned to others’ emotions is that, when it’s a real emotion, it tells us something important about what matters to that person,” said James J. Gross, a psychologist at Stanford University. When it’s suppressed or toned down, he added, “people think, damn it, you’re not like us, you don’t care about the same things we do.” …
Suppression, while clearly valuable in some situations (no laughing at funerals, please), has social costs that are all too familiar to those who know its cold touch. In one 2003 Stanford study, researchers found that people instructed to wear a poker face while discussing a documentary about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made especially stressful conversation partners.
In another, published last year, psychologists followed 278 men and women as they entered college, giving questionnaires and conducting interviews. Those who scored highest on measures of emotion suppression had the hardest time making friends.
I was just trying to count up how many people have ever told me, “I never know what you’re thinking/feeling” (the most recent, pixie-ish variant of this was “I just can’t read your energy”). There’s a great bit in Richard Price’s Samaritan where this cop, Narese, is talking to her friend Ray Mitchell and trying to get a feel for his current emotional state, and all of the sudden, Ray starts yapping on about a past stint as a writer on a TV show that is kind of relevatory and personal, but Narese rightly senses “a deflecting performance coming up, designed to both keep her here and keep her away.” That’s perfectly put: a deflecting performance. I have all sorts of animated, seemingly super-personal anecdotes I resort to when I want to keep people both close and far. Deflecting performances. But people can usually tell what you’re up to and, as that guy in the article above says, it can be seriously off-putting. Anyway, fuck off, all of you.
Zeigarnik, n. The tendency to remember unfinished or interrupted tasks more vividly than finished tasks.
Other favorite z words:
zenography (the study of Jupiter)
zetetic (proceeding by inquiry)
zither (watch The Third Man)
zoetrope (not the journal)
zoic (containing signs of life)
zoolith (a fossil animal)
zwitterion (ions with a + and -)
What the flies in my kitchen were thinking this morning:
At first, we didn’t know what the sound was. WHOP! WHOP! George was the first to go, exploding into a hundred pieces on the glass. WHOP! Bob, dearest Bob, was caught in midair and his eyes went blank as his body fluttered to the floor. WHOP! WHOP! Oh dear god help us! We tried to flee to the sunny comfort of the windows, but it was of no use. The demon found us there, too. WHOP! What was this monstrous force shattering our lives? What had we done to provoke it? Eventually we learned to hide in the shadows, to stay away from the fruits and vegetables, but by then there were so few of us left, so very few…
What I was thinking this morning:
Man this fold-up map of Ohio is really fucking good at killing houseflies.
The Benjamin Franklin of Monogamy
Reminiscing in the drizzle of Portland, I notice
the ring that’s landed on your finger, a massive
insect of glitter, a chandelier shining at the end
of a long tunnel. Thirteen years ago, you hid the hurt
in your voice under a blanket and said there’s two kinds
of women—those you write poems about
and those you don’t. It’s true. I never brought you
a bouquet of sonnets, or served you haiku in bed.
My idea of courtship was tapping Jane’s Addiction
lyrics in Morse code on your window at three A.M.,
whiskey doing push-ups on my breath. But I worked
within the confines of my character, cast
as the bad boy in your life, the Magellan
of your dark side. We don’t have a past so much
as a bunch of electricity and liquor, power
never put to good use. What we had together
makes it sound like a virus, as if we caught
one another like colds, and desire was merely
a symptom that could be treated with soup
and lots of sex. Gliding beside you now,
I feel like the Benjamin Franklin of monogamy,
as if I invented it, but I’m still not immune
to your waterfall scent, still haven’t developed
antibodies for your smile. I don’t know how long
regret existed before humans stuck a word on it.
I don’t know how many paper towels it would take
to wipe up the Pacific Ocean, or why the light
of a candle being blown out travels faster
than the luminescence of one that’s just been lit,
but I do know that all our huffing and puffing
into each other’s ears—as if the brain was a trick
birthday candle—didn’t make the silence
any easier to navigate. I’m sorry all the kisses
I scrawled on your neck were written
in disappearing ink. Sometimes I thought of you
so hard one of your legs would pop out
of my ear hole, and when I was sleeping, you’d press
your face against the porthole of my submarine.
I’m sorry this poem has taken thirteen years
to reach you. I wish that just once, instead of skidding
off the shoulder blade’s precipice and joyriding
over flesh, we’d put our hands away like chocolate
to be saved for later, and deciphered the calligraphy
of each other’s eyelashes, translated a paragraph
from the volumes of what couldn’t be said.
I fucking love this. It was sent to me a few days ago, and I was underlining bits of it compulsively while riding the train down to Alexandria. Especially: “I’m sorry all the kisses / I scrawled on your neck were written / in disappearing ink.” Also: “and when I was sleeping, you’d press / your face against the porthole of my submarine.” Buying his books just went on the ol’ to-do.
New favorite sentence in Finnegans Wake: “It is the circumconversioning of antelithual paganelles by a huggerknut cramwell energuman, or the caecodedition of an absquelitteris puttagonnianne to the herreraism of a cabotinesque exploser?”
Heh heh. He said “huggernut cramwell.”