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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Dear Tracy,

Are you talking about taste–that elusive measurement of class as well as, we hope, individual penchant and personality? A while ago, we read Carl Wilson’s glorious musings on Celine Dion‘s schmaltz. That was the first time I really considered taste as something beyond the residue of my own exquisite appetites — as, indeed, even something unconsciously insincere. Maybe this is different, though, since we’re trying to draw out how certain materials secure our identities dialectically. The idea of an originary essence or nature only seems to get me so far these days. The climax comes when what I thought made me so uniquely me comes up against–or, rather, beside–that which ultimately forces a change or rerouting of past defining tastes.

Over this winter holiday I developed a sudden infatuation with whiskey. Half a dozen of my tabs now open to sites on whiskey and its rather snobbish demands from its fine drinkers. I consider this “studying.” After much research, I decided on a gaelic whisky today (along with some drinking glasses–very pretty!) and had some with dinner. For one who rarely imbibes alcohol of any sort, it’s not my usual style. I currently feel a little lightheaded from the high percentage proof, but maybe tomorrow I will have whisky again with dinner. Maybe the night after that too. Or, then again, maybe not. Maybe it will, or maybe it won’t, become part of my running tastes.

Though, the glasses are lovely. And I like how the malt liquid floats on your tongue as though hesitant to get too close to that sensitive, judgmental organ. I like how unskillfully I hold it suspended at the back of my mouth before it spills down my throat and sends little strokes of warmth across my chest. I like how it makes me feel both very sophisticatedly old and very, very young.

Friends of mine were joking earlier about how I approach people at the liquor store with questions:

Me: “Where would one find the sherry? Or is it just everywhere?”

Him, with a half-smile: “Is it for cooking or drinking?”

Me: “Drinking.”

Him: “This is very dry; this is medium dry.”

Me: “What’s the difference really?”

And so on.

Oh right, and I bought some sherry too.

With love,
Jane

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Dear J,

These days run rampant with indulgence, and I am happy to oblige. I have even made you an occasional participant. The common thread in my online flâneuse behavior is this: the search for the idea of signature. Perfumes, looks, the kind of vocality that extends beyond one’s wits or appearances.

This craving for material self-definition begets the thought that there is an absence of one in the meantime. What am I searching for, beyond overpriced leather and Italian oils? The urgency with which desire becomes necessity is symptomatic. This reminds me of the childhood decisions that we make about the type of person we want to grow into. The specificity is poignant: I wanted to be the kind of writer who loved flowers, materials and California. This is still at odds with my east coast upbringing.

Something about this same upbringing has made me Platonic. Perhaps the notion of a fulfilled American dream pinpoints its own possibility, but also molds it — to gain an essence of value, one must know the value of the essence. That’s what I think I’m (still, ruefully) looking for. With each purchase, each addition to my vocabulary or repertoire, each idiosyncrasy that I domesticate, I am looking. Are you still trying to find something to make yours (by nature, not possession?)

Love,
T

Dear Tracy,

I made a vow last night to leave the house when I woke up and, so far, it’s on. I’m sitting at a coffee shop with tepid coffee, which is a disappointment (apparently the theme of the holidays?), but what I’m currently reading (GE!) is, fortunately, never a let-down.

Someone sitting close to me is speaking on his cell and discussing his flight on the 29. (The same day as my flight!) Now he’s advising his interlocutor to “rest up.” Now he’s discussing the suit he will pack for New Years’ Eve. I should probably stop eavesdropping, but his words and tone and laugh are a total comfort.

My copy of Daniel Deronda is now covered with marginalia that indicates how “George Eliot Anticipates Modernism” (–dunno how to speak about these things unobnoxiously yet, and perhaps I should just stop thinking about them in such terms). This particular passage–about a return to hut culture–hit rather (literally) close to home. Mopey Rex is talking to his sister after having been romantically rejected by Gwendolyn, who herself was left crying to her mother: “I shall never love anybody. I can’t love people. I hate them!” Poor Rex! But, oh, poor Gwendolyn too!

“I’ll tell you what I’m thinking of, Nannie. I will go to Canada, or somewhere of that sort.” (Rex had not studied the character of our colonial possessions.)

“Oh, Rex, not for always!”

“Yes, to get my bread there. I should like to build a hut, and work hard at clearing, and have everything wild about me, and a great wide quiet.”

Empathy is abounding today, apparently. Do you feel for me with my lukewarm drink?

With love,
Jane

Dear J —

This year’s Christmas has been the least dramatic, and yet layered with disappointment. I had stopped considering the holidays as a source of creating memories, but instead looked to it as a well of anecdotes to recount  to incredulous friends. If my family was to be atomized, not nuclear (a nuance worthy of distinction), I wanted the stories, a way to connect to them intellectually to supplement the lack of familial affect.

But this year, nothing. This year, the sense of disconnect that one experiences when falling out of love, disbanding from previous friends, growing older. It feels comfortable but not enriching, like neural synapses that exist without making connections. The memories are translucent, already fading.

In a few days I’ll be in Montreal, we’ll drink something together, and it won’t be the same but maybe better. When I left the city my best friends left each other, picked up and built new lives for themselves without each other. Now, each gathering is a chore, a miniature reunion one debates internally before begrudgingly dressing up for. If this is adulthood, I don’t want it – when I think about being a grown ass woman, I think about the strength (internal) and support (external), not the strains of trying to bandaid a temporal gap, trying to find the words behind your tongue that are appropriate for small talk and people to whom you owe the familiarity.

But if anything, there is this — we learn to build homes in thought, and thoughts can be erected anywhere.

Love,

T

Dear Tracy,

I’m inspired by my favourite writer-duo to try some entries in epistolary style. (The forum gets more intimate, allowing more space for confession. It makes writing these a little less daunting.)

What would happen if I wrote all posts during the wretched hours of sleeplessness? Each year I find myself enjoying the actual event of Christmas less and less, even if my fondness for the idea of the holiday continues. Any semblance of a healthy sleeping or eating schedule gets impossibly vaulted off track upon returning to my parents’ home. I’m not resting during the night, but still wake up too early to meals far too large and incohesive. Then there’s the napping. Each day I say I’ll get up, get dressed, leave the house, but really coming home is like revisiting an adolescent memory of exaggerated depression. It’s low and bleak and, worst at this time of year, disappointing.

Less than a week before I return to Montreal. Which only makes me frightened of what happens after school in Montreal. When does life stop feeling like a perpetual escape from becoming stuck in a past that no longer contains the resources to hold you? And who says it should anyway?

With love,
Jane

T and I are crushing on Helena Fitzgerald (what a terrific writer’s name, hey?!) in a big, big way. It’s a crush of the highest order — she’s a feminist, intellectual, and writer after our own sod hearts. Tonight, she not only reminded me to listen to more Patti Smith, and then brought on this very much-needed  kick to the head:

Masochism is a kind of self-annihilating narcissism. Unremitting narcissism is a kind of masochism as well; the narcissist denies him or herself the relief, the gratification, of unselfconsciousness, of getting up and walking away from the mirror. Finally, when understood simply in terms of sexual experimentation, masochism is someone choosing to experience pain for the purpose of entertainment. There it’s sexual entertainment. When applied to our experience of the internet, it’s emotional entertainment. We hurt ourselves in the hope that it will be interesting. One’s own pain rarely fails to hold one’s own interest. If the internet is causing you emotional pain, then there’s something on the internet tonight.

This year I’m trying to grow up in the right ways, which means cutting certain things out.