excerpt from alejandra pizarnik’s diary

Empty happiness. I spent the day reading poems. Trying to learn the technique, in a miserly and premeditated manner. Sometimes it makes me nostalgic to think of children, for whom every action is play. For me, to read poems is work, a great effort. To manage to focus my attention on other people’s words and feelings is a battle against myself. I made two poems. And yesterday another two. I think I won’t ever be able to make a novel, because I’ve nothing to tell in many pages, and even if I had something to tell, but no, I’ve nothing to tell.

Read more at Music & Literature (found via The Blog of Disquiet)

See also: Extracting the Stone of Madness, Pizarnik’s first full-length collection of poetry in English, which was just published this week by New Directions.

sociologist zygmunt bauman on social media and community

Q. You are skeptical of the way people protest through social media, of so-called “armchair activism,” and say that the internet is dumbing us down with cheap entertainment. So would you say that the social networks are the new opium of the people?

A. The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.

(from an interview in El País earlier this year)

the passing of time

You know two months have passed when it’s time to buy dog food. You know six months have passed when it’s time to visit the dentist. And speaking of the dentist, against your will you have now endured another session with the aggressively chatty hygienist. What happened is that the dentist’s office called you up while you were out birding on an (extended) lunch break, looking for an elusive Sora to be precise, and so you were distracted and had trouble understanding the person on the phone but managed to grasp that there was a cancellation and did you want to come in tomorrow. You weren’t sure, not particularly liking to make such decisions in a rushed manner (or at all), but also not particularly wanting to continue the conversation, so you said sure, okay, tomorrow is fine. You hung up and another birder pointed out the Sora which was good but then you went to the dentist the next day and it was the chatty hygienist instead of the one you prefer who has a Polish accent and does not barrage you with personal questions while probing between your teeth for plaque, but with whom you did have an enjoyable (short) conversation with six months earlier regarding the hospital seen through the window that as you were sitting there was being torn down, literally at that moment, and you both laughed about how you hadn’t even noticed when you sat down that it was now mostly gone, but after which you were made aware of it provided plenty of visual entertainment during your cleaning while a worker repeatedly employed a wrecking ball with vigorous effort in the demolition process. So now six months later there you are in the chair again and the chatty hygienist immediately begins her assault of questions, growing quite sassy in no time at all, perhaps a new record even for her, necessitating an accompanying increase in sass on your part, for one must maintain a similar tone in this type of repartee or else it swiftly fails, making the situation rather awkward and, let’s face it, if this person is going to have her hands in your mouth for the next 30 minutes it’s best you go along with the banter even though its personal nature is now increasing at a furious pace, as if she is now testing her ability to raise your ire, but your ire will in fact not be raised, it will actually refuse raising altogether because your ire is not easily raised and she is beginning to sense this and clearly it intrigues her, leading her to make verbal note of it, and so she keeps upping the ante, as they say, to the point where it does begin to grow rather tiresome leading you to hope very much for the appointment to end soon so that you can exit the building, get on your bike, and ride in the late afternoon mist the four miles uphill through the gathering traffic to your house where you must walk your dog, prepare dinner, eat dinner, brush your teeth, read a few pages in whatever book you’re currently reading, and go to sleep. And finally it does end, this intense scraping session with accompanying interrogation into your flossing habits coupled with theorizing on topics such as whether you are perhaps a mouth-breather at night because that tends to harden the plaque on the back of your lower front teeth and did you say you do use an electric toothbrushyes, you are eventually freed from this verbal bondage, but not before a certain amount of psychological damage is incurred, though nothing permanent, just enough to make you wish that the stealthy Sora had not distracted you in the first place leading to a split-second decision without full consideration of the possible ramifications, namely that you may, in fact, by taking someone else’s appointment other than your own, be unwittingly sabotaging yourself, directing yourself onto an alternate course whereby you are now penciled in for the duration of time with the overly chatty hygienist, after having just extricated yourself from somehow getting onto her schedule and having subsequently returned yourself to your proper place on the reticent Polish hygienist’s schedule where you in fact had long been penciled in, literally for years beforehand, and still can’t understand how you had suddenly been removed from in the first place. But alas, you won’t know your fate in this matter until another six months have passed, during which time you will have purchased another two, possibly three, bags of dog food, depending on how the calendar asserts itself.

r.i.p. john stabb

John Stabb, the iconic singer of Government Issue, has lost his battle with stomach cancer.  G.I. was one of those punk bands whose initial caustic sound grew and evolved through a number of stylistic shifts, some of which prefigured popular bands to come, but not all of which were embraced by fans of the band’s early raw hardcore songs. But I loved everything they wrote. John’s lyrics were always poignant, cutting to the heart of what it means to be human in this modern world, particularly when you feel at odds with it.

You will be remembered, John, for all the joy and inspiration you brought to punks everywhere. You made good use of your short time here and your musical legacy and influence will live on for many years to come. Rest in Peace.

when, if not now?

Dear sister, Christa T. wrote, in summer 1953. When, if not now?

You know how it is: the time passes quickly, but it passes us by. This breathlessness, or this inability to draw a deep breath. As if whole areas of the lungs have been out of action for an eternity. When that is so, can one go on living?

What presumption: to think one could haul oneself up out of the swamp by one’s own bootstraps. Believe me, one doesn’t change; one remains everlastingly out of it, unfit for life. Intelligent, yes. Too soft; all the fruitless ponderings; a scrupulous petite bourgeoise . . .

You’ll certainly remember what we used to say when one of us was feeling forlorn: When, if not now? When should one live, if not in the time that’s given to one? It always helped. But nowif only I could tell you how it is . . . The whole world like a wall facing me. I fumble over the stones: no gaps. Why should I go on deluding myself: there’s no gaps for me to live in. It’s my own fault. It’s me, I’m simply not determined enough. Yet how simple and natural everything seemed when I first read about it in the books.

I don’t know what I’m living for. Can you see what that means? I know what’s wrong with me, but it’s still me, and I can’t wrench it out of myself! Yet I can: I know one way to be rid of the whole business once and for all . . . I can’t stop thinking about it.

Coldness in everything. It comes from a long way off; it gets into everything. One must get out of the way before it reaches the core. If it does that, one won’t feel even the coldness any more. Do you see what I mean?

People, yes. I’m not a recluse. You know me. But I won’t let anything force me; there has got to be something that makes me want to be with them. And then I also have to be alone, or I’m miserable. I want to work. You knowwith others, for others. But as far as I can see my only possible kind of activity is in writing; it’s not direct. I have to be able to grapple with things quietly, contemplating them . . . All of which makes no difference; the contradiction can’t be resolvednone of this makes any difference to my deep sense of concurring with these times of ours and of belonging to them.

But then the next blowif only you knew how little it takes for anything to be a blow to me!might fling me up on the beach. Then I won’t be able to find my way back on my own. I wouldn’t want to live among a lot of other stranded people; that’s the one thing I do know with any certainty. The other way is more honorable and more honest. And it shows more strength.

Anything rather than be a burden to the others, who’ll carry on, who are right, because they’re stronger, who can’t look back, because they haven’t got the time.

—Christa Wolf, The Quest for Christa T.

goth juice

eastern chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk, © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Eastern Chipmunk

the p.r.o.b. pronoun affair

It was a confusing time for the citizens of the People’s Republic of Brokenistan, or PROBers, as they are commonly known. The Ministry of Identity had banned all personal pronouns amid a general frenzy of disillusionment over who was who and what was what. I happened to be passing through P.R.O.B. on business and overheard the following exchange take place in the square outside the offices of the Ministry, where a multitude of PROBers had gathered to debate the recent decision.*

Bork took a vow of silence, said an ancient PROBer who was wearing an enormous velvet stocking cap.

Unheard of in this day and age, replied Stocking Cap’s interlocutor, whose tight pants were patterned in an intricate black-and-white geometric design.

Indeed, though the reaction is understandable.

Maybe, replied Pattern Pants. Though Bork never says much anyway.

True. Bork’s reticence is known throughout P.R.O.B.

A protest of sorts?

Perhaps, said Stocking Cap, nodding slowly while stroking the velvet cap, which seemed to elongate in response, though I may have been hallucinating due to lack of sleep on account of the drunken Amway representatives who’d kept me up all night during my train ride through Brokenistan’s stark, extensive Flatlands region.

Where’s Bork living these days, asked Pattern Pants.

In a hut on top of Mount Uncertainty. Been gone for about a month now.

Huh. That’s a long way from the capital.

Several weeks by yak, is what Bork reckoned before leaving.

Just then a commotion broke out near the steps of the Ministry building. The noise shattered the spell cast upon me by Pattern Pants’s pants, the lines in the design of which had begun fluctuating in length and width to the point of extreme distraction. Though, again, a possible hallucination.

Oh look, the Minister is coming out, announced P. P., whose exceedingly long legs afforded an unobstructed view of the action.

The Minister stood on the marble steps looking nonplussed in the face of so many PROBers staring back with pupils dilated to unsettling proportions, a side effect of the herb commonly known as divinium, which most PROBers chewed all day to relieve anxiety.

The Minister made a throat-clearing sound.

Attention, citizens. As a result of emergency subcommittee proceedings convened in light of communication difficulties following the ban on personal pronouns it has been concluded that the populace shall henceforth and until further notice be permitted to now use the personal pronouns ‘you’ and ‘I’. Future decisions on whether to reinstate any or all remaining personal pronouns into everyday speech will be forthcoming, should they be deemed necessary by the Ministry and its associated governing bodies. That is all.

The Minister returned to the Ministry’s inner sanctum and I looked around to gauge the reaction to this doubtlessly monumental proclamation. However, most PROBers had merely returned to quietly murmuring among themselves. In front of me, Stocking Cap turned to Pattern Pants.

Say, would you like to go on a divinium harvesting excursion? I found a secret patch out near the edge of the Flatlands.

Yes! I would. I’ve almost used up what I have on hand and I can already feel the old nerves acting up.

I watched the pair set off toward the city limits, the one’s shiny velvet cap undulating in the late afternoon sun and the design of the other’s pants shrinking and expanding with each of its wearer’s jaunty steps. When the two were only tiny dots in the distance I turned and walked back to the train station, my step light with the knowledge that the Amway representatives—passed out cold in a sleeper car when I disembarked—had continued on toward the mountains, where in a tiny hut perched on a crag of Mount Uncertainty, the lone PROBer Bork maintained a silent vigil, unaware of the latest news about ‘you’ and ‘I’.

*Since I am not a citizen of the Republic and I am also writing this report from outside its borders, I am not bound to follow this ban, though you will of course see its effects reflected in my transcriptions of PROBer dialogue.

friday birds (with bonus turtles)


Fox Sparrow (Red), © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Fox Sparrow (Red) – my favorite sparrow


Wood Duck, © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Wood Duck


Hermit Thrush, © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Hermit Thrush


Eastern Painted Turtles, © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Eastern Painted Turtles taking the sun at Black Marsh.

william t. horton

The Wave by William T. Horton

The Wave by William T. Horton

The Strange Case of Mr William T. Horton: a new essay by Jon Crabb on the proto-modernist illustrator William T. Horton published in The Public Domain Review.

Read Horton’s A Book of Images (with an introduction by his friend W. B. Yeats) at the Internet Archive.

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