Saturday, August 4, 2018

Jennifer Firestone : My Writing Day

Where I write I look out my window directly at a bright yellow diamond street sign that says, “Dead End.”  When I set up this room as a place where I would write I did not notice the sign. When I pulled up a desk to the window where I was planning to write I did not notice the sign. But now that I sit here and try to write, I wonder how I missed this sign, which is in my line of vision and so ostentatiously yellow.

I don’t know how much I am a believer in signs, particularly ones mandated by city bureaucrats to promote the infrastructure, but I find myself wondering: will this sign encourage writer’s block? Or am I already “blocked”-- so blocked I didn’t notice the sign in the first place? I admit I spend time thinking about the words “dead end--the phrasing is a bit redundant, no? Or does “end” act as a modifier, emphasizing the finality of “death?” Is it possible that it’s a matter of fate that I recently moved to this new location in Brooklyn after having published a book, Gates & Fields, which investigates death, dying and grief?

In doing some research about the etymology of “dead end” I came upon this quote by New York City Commissioner of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan, who said in 2008 that "[w]e hear that some towns use 'no outlet' instead of 'dead end' because they think it sounds less morbid. We tell New Yorkers the truth: it's a 'dead end', and we think that motorists get the point quickly." 

Because I value disobedience, distractions and interruptions I have spent the beginning of this essay “detouring” (to use some more street sign lingo) from describing “my writing day” to speak about this “dead end” sign.  This act more than anything else might give one a sense of “my writing day,” which if it is not interrupted by my teaching or parenting will most definitely be interrupted by my thinking, which is restless and lunging.

I have a few select books on my desk, which I use when searching for a certain quality of sound, though more often than not for a certain textual appearance--I like just looking at poems. Right now, I’m working on a book, Story, which was in part inspired by Leslie Scalapino’s That they were at the beach. I love the pink medicine look of her cover.  I’m also writing a poem that‘s about wading in the Neversink river with Marcella Durand. I’ve been looking at tons of photos from my jazz colleague Evan Rapport, as we’re trying to collaborate on a twitter project of his where he documents trees.  And I’m writing a review of Eileen Myles’ latest book, Evolution.

I don’t have long periods of time to write so I have trained myself to memorize lines, words, a bunch of them, so when I sit down I usually write all of this pretty fast. I also keep note pages for each manuscript-in-process, where I track research points, evolving themes and such.

I am a devout list writer and write lists often. They are my palate cleanser, my key procrastination tool and my quick illusory sense of control.  I collect all kinds of listy looking paper for my list writing. I have “big lists” and “daily lists” and “summer lists.”

I have my father-in-law's old desk as my desk.  Bill passed away a year ago and I miss him.

He was a beautiful letter writer.  He would write me letters via email and I could hear his sonorous voice, his old-fashioned charm and sincerity coming through as I read them. His desk has a glass surface and underneath it there is a lattice of walnut wood.  On his desk I have mini black scissors sitting in a egg-colored stone bowl that Karla Kelsey gave me when she read at a salon in my old apartment. I have a tremendous upright paper clip holding three pieces of paper, a pencil sharpener (I don’t use pencils), and a ceramic pencil/pen holder with the word “write” on it that feels so wrong I’m sort of into it. I think of the romance of the writer, the desk, “where it all began,” and I want to muck it up a bit. It reminds me of some colleagues who tell me about their crack of dawn writing or their wee hours of eve writing. I’m just tired.

Iris, my seven-year-old is at home sick. She enters my office and says “I hear this is the working area. I’m going to get everything situated.” She pushes away a stack of my papers and books and places a faux pink laptop next to mine. This laptop was given to her by Karen Weiser’s youngest, June. It is hot, a humid NY day and now our elbows are sweating as they touch each other as we work side by side. Iris bends her whole body over her “laptop” like some crazed pianist and says, “Look I’m writing like this so I can write in secret.” I go back to try to finish My Writing Day piece and she puts one leg up on my desk. She begins to read a book out loud and asks, “do hamsters eat slugs?” I respond, “You can’t read out loud because I need my thoughts.” She looks at me puzzled. She goes down and gets water and bring me back a glass. Hers is more ice than water and mine has two sad little ice chips melting at the top. She tells me she didn’t know if I wanted ice so she gave me very little. We clink glasses, cheers! 

Jennifer Firestone is the author of five books of poetry and four chapbooks including Story (UDP, forthcoming), Ten (BlazeVOX [books], forthcoming), Gates & Fields (Belladonna* Collaborative), Swimming Pool (DoubleCross Press), Flashes (Shearsman Books), Holiday (Shearsman Books), Waves (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs), from Flashes and snapshot (Sona Books) and Fanimaly (Dusie Kollektiv). Firestone is collaborating with Marcella Durand on a book, Other Influences, about Feminist Avant-garde Poetics. Firestone is an Assistant Professor of Literary Studies at the New School’s Eugene Lang College and the Director of their Academic Fellows pedagogy program.

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