Reading now I

Earlier this year I finally finished the six tome work My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I cheated during the last book. There is a long essay on Hitler among other things, and I just couldn’t get through it. If I didn’t skip that section I don’t think I would ever have finished it. It made me depressed, and brought out my anxieties every time I sat down to read it. I figure I’ll just leave it for now, and read it later. Or not. More about that later.

I recently also finished The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. What to say? It crushed me. I read Middlemarch when I was pregnant, as I needed something that wouldn’t make me plunge into another period of existential crisis. I swallowed that book whole, and declared my undying love to George Eliot. The Mill on the Floss has a smaller scope, and is more tightly bound structurally. I liked it at least as well as Middlemarch, especially when I got trough the beginning. Obviously the real drama/tragedy begins when Mr. Tulliver goes bankrupt. From then on I couldn’t put it down. Yes, there was some ugly crying involved when I finish. I couldn’t believe what I’d just read. I’m still heartbroken. Wondering if George Eliot is my new Henry James. I just bought “The Life of George Eliot” by Nancy Henry. Looking forward to reading it, have heard its good. Soon I will devour another one of her novels.

Since I’ve been slightly obsessed with Knausgaard the last few years, I have spent quite some time on youtube watching interviews with him. There is this one where he’s being interviewed by Zadie Smith. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read one of her books. Shocking, right? Around the same time I read a Lenny-edition where Lena Dunham was interviewing her. White Teeth has been on my “list” more or less since it was published. I continued watching talks and interviews with Smith, and now I’ve become slightly obsessed with her . Her eloquence, her intelligence, the scope of her thoughts, the fact that she allows herself to write about popculture as well as literary theory and politics, are some of the reasons why I’m smitten. She is quite impressive. Now reading: Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays. Loving it. Reminded me of the Kafka-altar I used to have next to my bed when I was fifteen. Made me remember my earliest literature-crushes. Have yet to read one of her novels thought. Looking forward to it. Or wait. What I mean is that I’m so impressed with her persona after all the interviews I’ve watched with her, that I’m worried I’ll be disappointed with her novels. No comparison what so ever, but I have made a big effort to like Siri Hustvedt, but the only thing I’ve really liked is her essay “The Shaking Woman”. She is obviously highly intelligent, and a good writer, but I don’t get her novels. Now I’ve given up, but will definitely read more of her essays.

I wasn’t sure if I should admit it, but I’ve also just bought Infinite Jest. I’m terrified, because it’s such a seminal work, and it will be the first thing I read by Foster Wallace. There is no way one can avoid this book. I read somewhere that most readers give up within the first 200 pages. Will this happen to me? Frankly, I don’t think so. I have a lot of tenacity when it comes to this reading stuff. And if I made it through À la recherche du temps perdu, this shouldn’t really scare me that much.

At last, but not least, I have to mention another important reading milestone of 2017 (the others being The Mill on the Floss and My Struggle): The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. That book blew my mind from its very first paragraph, where the narrator 1) Gets fucked in the ass 2) by someone who has Molloy at the side of the bed and 3) and then, in the next paragraph goes on to quote Wittgenstein: “Before we met I had spent a lifetime devoted to Wittgenstein’s idea that the inexpressible is contained  – inexpressibly! – in the expressed. This idea gets less airtime than his more reverential  Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent, but it is, I think, the deeper idea. Its paradox is, quite literally, why I write, or how i feel able to keep writing.” At the beginning I was “What the fuck? What is this? This is fantastic”. And as you keep reading, and the “story” becomes clearer, it just grows even more on you. I need more of these experiences, and I owe this one to Z. Smith and K.O Knausgaard for talking about it in an interview. Now I write down any new title I read to find the next book to blow my mind. I suppose I like the academic streak of her writing. It’s intelligent, complicated, provoking, and quotes all the feminist theory you need in your life. I sobbed myself through the end. I will definitely need to read it again, and soon. I don’t have anything more to say about it, nothing intelligent anyway. It lead me to Barthes, who I will try to read again soon.

 

The idea of being “frozen in an age”

I just read this in an old theatre review in the NY Times: “It could be argued that all of us are frozen internally at some age or another.” I had never thought of this before. It’s an interesting idea, and I started to wonder when I was frozen. Was it in my teens? Was it in my twenties? Often I feel that I, in certain respects, haven’t changed a bit since I was 16. That a change occurred when I was in high school, one that I have never been able to heal from. Sometimes I think it boils down to something this passage in Maggie Nelsons “The Argonauts” pinpoints in a very accurate way:

Shame spot: being someone who spoke freely and passionately in high school, then arriving in college and realizing I was in danger of becoming one of those people who makes everyone else roll their eyes: there she goes again. It took some time and trouble, but eventually I learned to stop talking, to be (impersonate, really) an observer. This impresonation led me to write an enormous amount in the margins of my notebooks – marginalia I would later mine to make poems.

Forcing myself to shut up, pouring language onto paper instead: this became a habit. But now I’ve returned to copious speaking as well, in the form of teaching.

I thought, wow, I know that feeling – of being the one people rolled their eyes at. I was a “speaker” in high school. I spoke with passion, and great interest, on all kinds of different subjects, and was never afraid of disagreeing with anyone. I still feel like this kind of behaviour should be allowed in any social setting, as we are all allowed to our opinion, but high school is about fitting in. Fitting in means finding your place in the social hierarchy, an  idea always used to piss me off. Why should anyone submit to anyone elses social reign, teenager or adult? Aren’t we all important enough to be heard?

As an adult I have often thought that I should have learned to shut up, and avoided to be put in a situation where your ideals are more important than being liked. Now I try to shut up as often as I can. But in a lot of ways I still think this is wrong, I just don’t see any other solution. I was never good in a crowd.  If I could have only been more like Maggie Nelson, my life might have been different now. We share a shame spot, but at almost forty, I still live with mine.

From Mother to Daughter

I spend a lot of time these days thinking about what I might be passing on to my daughter without even knowing it. I would definitely prefer it if she was more like her father, who I feel is better than me in almost every sense there is. I’m exaggerating a bit, but unfortunately it’s more true than I’d like it to be. His favorite moments are when I say “you are so much more intelligent than me” (which happens from time to time). Then he holds his hand out, like he’s holding an invisible microphone and is interviewing me, and with a gigantic smile he says “I won’t forget you said that”. And he never does, of course.

One of the things my mother passed on to me, and that I’m cursing every day, is my need for everything to be clean around me. I cannot stand dirt, and to have stuff lying around everywhere. A dirty kitchen can have me go out of my mind. When my anxieties get bad, I can feel it on my need to clean, and on the effect a messy apartment can have on me. As I clean and clean, and never feel like things can get clean and shiny enough, the tension rises as my hands scrub even harder, and the nervousness reaches its peak before I explode in tears of rage and frustration.

As a little girl I used to clean my room thoroughly from time to time. Well, actually, that is a big understatement. I used to remove every single object from my room until my desk, every drawer, even my mattress was out, and then I would scrub everything before putting everything back in its place. I suppose this doesn’t sound so bad in itself, but if you keep in mind that I was nine or ten it becomes a bit too much. Children are supposed to play, not clean excessively.

It’s obvious that I use cleaning as a way of gaining some sort of control, but this control I think I gain is no more than an illusion. I especially don’t like the fact that I use cleaning to get out of doing other more important stuff, like writing or playing an instrument. I’ve come to look at this cleaning urge to be an extremely powerful anti-creative force in my life, and I would love for it to be toned down. But it’s difficult.

At home it’s what makes me and my partner argue the most. He’s messy, and I’m not. He doesn’t care, I care too much. It’s the source of a lot of yelling and name calling. Therefore I’ve started to work on my ability to accept a certain level of disorder. Let the “dust bunnies” lie another day, let the kitchen stay dirty until tomorrow etc etc, and I’ve become better at letting go and just breathe through it. If my mum wanted to spend her time ironing everyones jeans it doesn’t mean that I have to do the same. She was also the person to tell me that “no, you don’t have to clean your apartment EVERY week, it’s ok to relax a bit”. So there. What shock. I didn’t expect that one coming.

A lot of the people I respect artistically are very messy people, and it makes sense to me that they’re messy. How can you follow a train of thought, or concentrate on creating something when you worry about the dirty dishes all the time?

It will be interesting to see what she picks up and what she doesn’t. I would like her to help out at home, set the table, clean her room, fold her clothes when she goes to bed, but I hope she doesn’t inherit the obsessive compulsive sides I have to my personality. I hope she becomes happy, relaxed, messy, and playful and that she feels that she deserves to spend time doing what she loves the most.

My Struggle (Reading, Reading, Reading)

Can’t get enough of this novel. I read day and night. I have almost finished tome II, and still have four more books to go. Hurrah!

It’s like reading about ones own life. I guess everyone feels like this, and that must be why it has become so immensely popular.

I feel inspired to read, to write (well, mostly to read) to study.

It also makes me anxious, as it cuts right to the bone on every page, in every phrase. Much of what it talks about is stuff I’m trying to forget in my everyday life.

I try to breathe through it, it’s only words. It’s only fiction.

Oh wait, actually it’s not.

Defining Yourself – A Self Fulfilling Profecy

I have identified myself as a looser for as long as I can remember, but I also think that I’m maintaining this image of myself, and maintaining my position as the person who just “can’t get anywhere or get anything done” by having identified myself as a looser in the first place.

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are powerful, and it is difficult to change them once they have been constructed.

I look at myself, a woman of almost forty, and I don’t believe I can change the story. That is most definitely the main reason I’m still stuck in the swamp of self pity and negativity and anxiety that is my life.

It’s a shame.

I don’t know why we spend so much time hurting ourselves, punishing ourselves.

My strategy as of today is to focus as much energy as possible on the beauty of existence.

Music. Literature. Movies. Astronomy. Nature. Good food. Good friends. Planning a trip. Taking the trip. Love. Most of all, I’m trying to focus as much energy as I can on the beautiful miracle that is my child.

Still cannot believe I have been given such a gift from the universe.

(This post was triggered by googling someone from the past, and marveling at their success. So happy for her, but unfortunately it made me feel small. It is a goal to be able to stop this kind of dynamic).

 

Cut/Delete/Edit

Today I bought a hard drive. I didn’t have one, and I have been increasingly worried that I will lose the contents on my Mac. There are photos of my daughter, texts I have written, memories from way back when I worked as a volunteer at a feminist radio station and produced literary criticism for their book program. I am planning to edit this content. Save what is important, throw away what I don’t need, or don’t wish to remember anymore.

How do you edit your past? I’m in the habit of getting rid of the proof of bad memories (the proof meaning physical evidence such as letters, e-mails, diaries etc. ) I remember myself at twelve or thirteen wanting to eradicate my past, meaning my childhood, which seemed to me filled with the most embarrassing and ridiculous things. I am still astonished when I think of how I burned my diary because I wanted to start afresh. At almost forty I still do this. If I could live certain parts of my life over again, or erase certain parts, I would do it. What is it in my psyche which clings to the past in such a desperate way, which uses it to torture myself, to go over and over the stupid behavior, the bad choices, the shame, all the times I came up short in one way or another? I don’t know. Maybe this desire to edit is a way to save myself, save my sanity. Being so hung up in the past that you cannot move forward is terribly unproductive and also kind of destructive. You are not allowed to be destructive anymore when you become a parent. Those days are over when a child comes into the equation. So the answer is: Edit.

I cannot decide if I would want my daughter to see the whole ME one day. I have often reflected upon the possibility of her reading my diary, and I must say that I don’t like the idea of it. Should I burn it like I burned the diary of my childhood? Probably.

My mother’s constant self-criticism has never done me any good. I know I have inherited it, and I do my best to keep it on a low volume, but sometimes it just wants to come out. I do absolutely not want my daughter to inherit what I received from my mother. Sometimes I wish I could make myself a blank sheet, and start coloring anew, so that she can see someone she can be proud of. I know that’s impossible, so I will edit.

Now that I’m to bring up another human being, the problem of “content” has come more and more in the foreground of my thoughts. I don’t know how to edit, without becoming bland, and without becoming a false version of myself. I don’t believe in honesty at all cost but falseness sickens me. I hope to bring her up to become someone who can look kindly at other people without judgement, and to have an open mind. Most of all, I want to bring her up to look kindly upon herself. Maybe then she can accept her flawed mother as well.

 

Bjørk: Legend/Inspiration/Feminist

I woke up at 4.30 am. Finding it difficult to sleep these days. I’m not sure if it’s the baby kicking or my bladder that’s waking me up. Some nights I wake up every hour to go to the bathroom. This night, I woke up having had a strange dream, and was kept awake by intrusive, negative thoughts about the past and worries about the future. When I couldn’t take it anymore I got out of bed and made myself a sandwich. I started reading the paper, and found my way to this piece about Bjørk’s new album Vulnicura in Pitchfork. It documents a breakup from a longtime partner. This part of the text is an echo of the thoughts I’ve been struggling with over the last months:

As much as this record is about him, it is also about Björk returning to herself. In motherhood, one quite literally becomes a vessel—a role that often continues postpartum. The young family takes precedence, and ambition takes a back seat; a mother can become the net around her loved ones, their needs veiling her own. It is the natural exile of domestic life. And it is a strange and powerful thing to imagine that one of the most singular vocalists in modern music could lose the tether, just like any of us. But here, Björk opens up about coming back to music from such a scene, filling her house and her days with loud songs.

She also touches upon the fact that the press rarely gives her credit for her own work, but rather give it to male colleagues who in reality only do the fraction of the work. A lot of female musicians must be in the same situation. It also warmed my heart to hear her talk about Joni, Chaka Khan and Kate Bush, three musical goddesses who have been important to me in my musical life. Wishing this incredible artist all the best in rebuilding her life from emotional ruin. It’s moving to read something so honest and personal for once. Her story is something many of us can relate to. Thank you for easing my 5 a.m anxieties, Bjørk! It made me write. I wonder if I’ll be able to surmount this overpowering need to erase myself and my creativity while this baby is growing inside me.

I hear you Joni, I got the message…

Joni Mitchell on fame:

The people that feel the music… The trick is, if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music, and you see yourself, it’ll probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself, and now you’re getting something out of it. You know? And those are the people… those, those are the people, you know, that, my communication is complete. Most of them, they know I’m famous, they know I’m this, but there’s no real communication, there’s just a phenomenon there, you know? And people will flick their bick at anything.

Interview from CBS Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEJuiZN3jI8

Joni, forever my intellectual and emotional godmother.