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Inside, Outside & Jimmy
I was having an exchange online with a friend about a book of essays I just published and in response to him saying he was enjoying reading it I gave a short essay in reply about my suffering. How utterly hard this book was . . . not so much to write but to put together. It was a monster. Every time I read publicly from this book I make similar allusions to the martyrdom of the process. It’s a book from of lot of moments, I mean like 80s and 90s and ought’s thus it’s also a lot of formats and decisions and untold agony throughout. When I teach one of the things I generally tell students is that often things that feel utterly great when you are writing them prove to be terrible later on whereas things that I have slogged through with a thick burden of self loathing and ill feeling, bad weather and existential humidity manage to yield something really great – not always but often enough to think there is no relationship between how a piece of writing turns out as opposed to how it feels to write it. Writing might feel bad or good but that doesn’t mean it’s good or bad writing. Weird, right. The reason I mentioned Jimmy is often think about the great poet James Schuyler who I had the good fortune to work for a while in the late seventies and eventually we became friends. I spent a lot of real time with him in his room in the Chelsea because of the nature of my job. He struggled with mental illness for a big part of his adult life and he was nearing another bout it seemed one autumn afternoon in New York. In the midst of it he was writing a poem. He was wearing a dark red orange flannel shirt and he was sitting at a table by the French windows that faced 23rd St. and I was aghast because in my time of knowing him I had never observed him writing one though I sometimes arrived right after and he showed it to me. This time he was in the throes of writing it and I knew he was very agitated and he seemed like I said very close to having a nervous breakdown. It was that thing of knowing a person to the extent that you can feel their vibe and his was thick with something. Later when I saw the poem he had been writing it seems exquisitely calm, meditative and peaceful even. I wondered if the act of the writing a poem was a kind of balancing for him. Creating a world that would hold the agitation he was feeling even as he was passing through it.