some books i have been reading lately


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I won't lie to you: I spent the first days grief-sodden, subsumed by a dense, benthic despair. Crying and or drinking and or unable to get out of bed. In the days after the only thing I could read was a terrible thinly-veiled autobiographical campus novel by a man that was bad with such stunning predictability that I found it strangely reassuring: now the beautiful coed will fall in love with Our Hero, but he will be unable to commit! Now he will speculate speciously on the Fragility of Human Relationships! [Interlude for tedious philippic on Great Literature (Nabokov, Fitzgerald) and its impact on the human soul.] In the end the girl he was in love with the whole time left him for a lesser specimen of a man--a fellow bovine in aspect and temperament, whose animalistic physicality strongly contrasted with Our Hero's noble aspirations and superior intellect--sending him into grievous ruin, surely never to Truly Love Again. I felt rather badly for the author's wife, whose photograph I looked up online, and who has a stunned expression about the eyes. In between chapters I sent text messages back and forth with everyone I love, sometimes things like We need you, I need you, please don't die right now, sometimes things like So help me god they will have to come through me to get to you, sometimes just I love you, over and over again. I love you, I love you, I love you. I cried on the subway, sometimes with strangers; I cried in the street when I managed to leave my apartment; I cried walking the long corridor in Union Square Station that's layered now with thousands of post-it notes, nearly every one a message of love and resistance interspersed with the odd plea to check out someone or other's instagram account. More than one person has told me that New York in the aftermath feels very much the way it did in the days after 9/11. Everywhere you go, scraps of conversation float past you: Did you hear what the Did you Can you believe the registry Yeah I can He said Vader and Dick Cheney--

I read some of Anne Carson's Float before I had to take it back to the library and I read Certain Dark Things, which is a fun book about vampires in Mexico City. I tried to write things and felt stupid trying for a while. Who cares! But it feels a little more now like I might try again. Sometimes when I open the internet I have to go throw up. I go to work, I make food. I’m not sleeping very well. I remember that a lot of people have already been doing this work for a long time. I am reading The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution and Sarah Jaffe’s book Necessary Trouble and the Feminist Press biography of Valerie Solanas and taking notes. I am eating dinner almost every night with people I love. We can't talk about anything else. We say, We don't have to talk about it, and then we talk about it. I am remembering the things I used to do a long time ago, under a different administration, in a different dark time, and stretching those long-unused muscles; I am thinking about who I know and what they're good at, thinking of things that will be useful to have and do, thinking about what to start stockpiling and who might need shelter and who can teach what. Maalox and water. Cheering the protests surging up Fifth Avenue, day after day after day, to where the new-minted emperor perches perilous in his gold-walled skyscraper surrounded by his scabrous cronies. I printed out Jenny's piece and put it on my wall. I made a list of things I can't do if I'm dead to remind myself to stay alive. A couple of nights ago I went to my favorite restaurant with J just a few minutes before they closed and we got the prime spot at the sushi bar in front of the owner, who is in the habit of bestowing various small delicacies on the persons facing him, and refilling their sake glasses with abandon. The table behind us (a little tipsy; I think everyone in the restaurant was a little tipsy; it was eleven o'clock at night) ordered the Obama roll (very tasty, avocado and I think yellowtail and something quite delicious referred to on the menu as "crunch") and when the waitress brought it out the recipient cried out in a plaintive wail OBAMA and everyone left in the restaurant--staff, customers--chorused back OBAMAAAAAA and it was probably the most Brooklyn moment of all time but I am all in favor of collective mourning regardless. I know Obama is problematic, don't worry. Problematic feels extremely manageable right now. As opposed to literal Nazis, for example. As opposed to people for whom internment camps are definitely not off the table. The owner reassured us that the Obama roll shall never leave the menu, not ever, and poured everyone shots. J and I speculated that the Trump roll would be human feces covered in gold leaf. Who would order it? Only monsters dressed in person suits, surely. Except that's not true, of course; that's too easy. The people who ordered it are my family. The people who ordered it look exactly like me.

Right now I am reading Lee Billings's Five Billion Years of Solitude, which is not about revolution or resistance at all; it is a book about the people who are looking for life outside our own solar system, and how they are going about searching. It is not a book one would necessarily expect to be beautiful, or about love and faith, but it is beautiful and in many ways about love and faith all the same. Are we alone in the universe? Maybe. Maybe we are alone right now. Maybe there were people like us or unlike us so far in the past of some other, distant galaxy that we will never come across the signature of their history. Maybe there will be people like us again. Maybe it is the eternal fate of intelligent life to annihilate itself on a timescale that is immense when compared to the span of a human lifetime and an infinitesimal flash in terms of geologic time. The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. Human beings, not so much. Perhaps somewhat predictably, my favorite among the planetary scientists and astrophysicists is Sara Seager, whose early work changed the entire landscape of the search for other Earth-like planets and who undertakes expeditions into the Canadian wilderness in her spare time. Her husband, who she met when she was 22—they spent two months canoeing through the Northwest Territories, a landscape so remote they did not see another living human being for the entire time—died of cancer in 2011, two days after her fortieth birthday. When Billings interviews her at home in Concord, Massachusetts, where she’s a tenured professor at MIT, she explains—over a dinner she’s made herself, after putting her children to bed—the work she is doing now and her single-minded search for a world like ours hurtling through space around some other, distant sun. In between discussing her research partnerships with tech pioneers and billionaires, she does laundry. I probably don’t have to tell you which parts of that passage don’t occur during Billings’s conversations with gentlemen astrophysicists. Remember? A lot of people have been doing this work for a very long time. Am I hopeful? No. But I think, We are a species that chooses many things and one of the things we choose is to ask What is it that makes us alive; what is it, very literally, that makes matter. That matters. We are a species that has taught ourselves to find worlds flung far across our galaxy by looking at the faintest pulses of their stars. We are a species that chooses to make art, tell stories, sing. We make each other dinner and put our children to bed and face down police armed with water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures on the plains of North Dakota, we hide one another from genocidal regimes, we link arms in the streets, we make poems, we build telescopes, fall in love, fight, grieve. We are a species that chooses to go out into the breathing world, find our way through the deep woods, look past the luminous shoals of our own galaxy to the wall of light that marks the birth of the universe we know.

Last night I went to see Arvo Part's Kanon Pokajanen performed at the Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was as miraculous as it sounds. For a moment I forgot my horror and sorrow, forgot how terrified I am for the people I love, forgot my to-do list and my resolve and my own self; for a moment I forgot I was human; for a moment I believed, wholeheartedly, in a huge and glorious and all-forgiving god. I was still myself after it ended, only myself remembering how beauty is also an act of resistance in and of itself; how beauty is necessary, because it is necessary to remember why it is we survive. On the train home I happened to sit amongst a group of classic older Brooklyn Jewish ladies in jewel-toned jackets and statement glasses and thick broad Brooklyn accents. There's this tweet going ahrawnd, one of them said to the others, 'First they came for the Muslims and I said Not this time motherfuckers,' and the other ladies agreed that this was a good tweet. They had preferred Bernie but had to admit Hillary had some good ideahrs. You're welcome to join in anytime, one of the ladies said to me. I said, We're going to pull him out of his tower and eat him alive. They liked that, too. I get read as Jewish regularly in New York. Hang in there, honey, they haven't killed us all yet, one of them said to me, cackling, as I got off the train.

We are here and we are still alive. Take care of yourselves and take care of each other. I am sending you all the love in my crooked blackened heart. And remember this: We fight hard. Sous les pavés, la plage.