I, too, remember the temperature of stones

Dear J–

It’s silly that you worry melodrama will cloud your intelligence or purpose in your writing, in your previous letter and everyday, when the truth of it is that it should be the nexus for criticism. Rarely do the subtle pangs of everyday sentiments tumefy to the point of providing clarity. When skin is distended it often leaves a mark, right? A lesson. I think it’s time we moved away from such an exclusionary discourse–are we done with hysteria already? can sentience be recognized for its power?–and started thinking about the pragmatism of emotion.

Your Eve Sedgwick is my Joan Didion. This week there has been a lot of ruckus over the article on Didion in the Atlantic. The debate among Didion readers, it would seem, is over her sensibility: it is either transcendental or deeply narcissistic, depending on the interviewee. The author argues that Didion’s “eternal-girl impulse, the one that follows us into adulthood: the desire to retreat to our room, to close the door, to spend some time alone with our thoughts and our feelings”, this practice that we both indulge and rue, has gotten old and cliché–but I profoundly disagree. There is a shadow of permanence there.

Didion is, to me, so much more than mohair and typewriters and leopard skirts. Yes, she articulated the melancholy of growing into ourselves in ways that generations of women never could, and yes, decades later her writing is still tidal, but with each iteration there is a deeper truth. She is rigorous. She is disciplined, and at times, she is austere. I think of Joan Didion when I am grieving, when I am sad beside myself, and this repetition – this “gimmick”, this “tic” they called it – is where the strength is found. With each pounding, a straighter sheet. And then you go on.

But while we’re indulging the topic of sentiment, I want to share a poem with you. I haven’t read or written poetry in a long time – a love expired, but never extinguished – but this came to mind when I read your letter. Her name is Marty McConnell, and she would never call your feminism bad feminism.

Excerpt from Survival Poem #17

recite
the strongest poem you know. a spell
against the lonely that gets you
in crowds and on three hours’ sleep.
wonder where the gods are now.
get up. because death is not
an alternative. because this is what you do.
air like soup, move. door, hallway, room.
pants, socks, shoes. sweater. coat. cold.
wish you were a bird. remember you
are not you, now. you are you
a year from now. how does that
woman walk? she is not sick or sad.
doesn’t even remember today.
has been to Europe. what song
is she humming? now. right now.
that’s it.

Love,

T

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