Lost! 1 Mead Composition Notebook—the really fat kind (four hundred leaves—is it possible) filled, filled to the gills with entries and poems and drawings—in particular a series of childlike drawings of a dog (“Rosie,” now departed) and a list of questions for “Sadie” (Benning, artist and video maker) both bleeding into an essay entitled “Play Paws.” The notebook spanned the period of January 2006 to July 19 of the same year. Was my name in it? I poke through a random sampling of notebooks in a drawer and no clear pattern emerges—so, no, I cannot guarantee that.
I tend to think I lost it on the plane. But I’m not sure. I flew Northwest Airlines from San Diego to Buffalo. I don’t normally take any drugs but I did on that plane. I was going to arrive in Buffalo in the morning and drive across the border. Exhausting.
This method of travel was not so much cheap as it was last-minute. I frequently forget where I am going—I don’t mean I forget that I am going but I do forget to make it happen. I booked the flight late. And the plane made changes in Minneapolis. And I think we even had to deplane (why is that such a beautiful word—English doesn’t normally get to do such beautiful things—announce its own negation proudly) there, which only added to the suds of this fading memory. The story of my lost notebook. I mention drugs because it is a hallmark of me that I don’t even have a beer but I’ve been convinced by horrible suffering and insomnia—by being forced to be awake for days when I only want to be utterly unconscious someplace, snoring away—snoring during some of the most supposedly important moments of my life—the things I’d traveled for—instead I now totally resent being awake. Like it’s an intrusion on my sleep, my life.
Yet I was so excited the night before the thing—this thing. Happily convinced that going on a plane or getting away I am going to die. I am always going to die. So I stay up trying on different clothing combinations in front of a full-length mirror, the colors getting weirder and weirder into the night. Later I’m at a computer sending to magazines who asked for a poem or two in a really pleasant, flattering way six months before. So of course I ignore them until the dead of the night before I’m getting on a plane for Canada—to go see Paige, but we’re not there yet. So I wound up sitting on the plane on the runway in beautiful San Diego looking like someone who’s just had all the blood removed from her body. Plus I’m gay and in my fifties so the combination of whiteness and gayness just turns me into a scary freak. This is travel for me. And yet it makes me entirely hot. Hot like a kid. Travel makes me feel like I am watching Superman on teevee at a private snack table with a giant plate of spaghetti just fucking on top of the world like only a six-year-old with big ambitions can be.
Once I get over how other people are looking at me (or am I paranoid. How would I know—I’m so overtired), I scrunch down into the one true repository of my joy and inanity (the notebook!), the only site for true and simple appreciation of my own handwriting—though
I also feel horror that even when I go really slow and pay attention I can’t make my hand conduct itself in a smooth, handsome manner. That capacity somehow melted away maybe twenty-five years ago. I can’t remember the day but it seems to me that life is just such a series of long, jagged peaks of joy—accompanied by a brooding and enduring sense of loss—of powers, of love, of favorite shirts, of moments and opportunities and notebooks that together constitute the passage of one human, me, bobbing floating skipping like a flat stone down the river of life. It’s massive, this sense of things; it’s anonymous yet it feels personal from “here.”
I like a plane for its massive shared overview. It’s the biggest teevee tray in the world. You giggle at the snakey mountains or the relays of sparkling lights that denote cities. Clouds bust around, having fun. Sometimes you watch the sky’s colors go down—its tremendous orange and sadness befalling the world. I will write! Cracking open the notebook that has been shoved into the pouch in front of me. I don’t like the person to my right looking but it doesn’t matter. I resolve something. Each tiny time I decide to write (in my notebook) it’s exactly that. The resolution is not in what I write, but to write at all. So my notebook is the sum of all these tiny decisions. The rest of writing is after that.
And I think about the fate of writers’ notebooks. Lucky ones will wind up in an acid-free file at NYU, or Buffalo or Chapel Hill. In San Diego they’re on the second floor of the Geisel Library. Dr. Seuss funded this building. Think of that. A visitor strolls in. Dodie Bellamy, for example, writing a piece for the local paper about what they, the Geisels, got.
Would you like to look at the Myles bin, giggles a graduate student. Some of “the notebooks” are pretty good. There’s poems sure but also a lot of pronouncements like “I feel fat” and then serious planning goes on for pages to you know eat smoke drink less.
Once when I was at Buffalo, Robert Bertholf, famed curator of their Special Collections, proudly trotted out James Joyce’s cane from the bowels of their collection. It horrified me. And I think of an air cast that should really be in there with my papers. Given me by Sally (Egbert, painter) when I had broken my ankle jogging around the outside of the apartment building of someone I met at the MacDowell Colony and had a great affair with. Our affair brought on the end of her relationship so now she wouldn’t see me so I was running. I thought she would feel my presence somehow. My proud urgency. I twisted my ankle on Sixth and C. It was like an earthquake of pain and two junkies who had just copped were standing there nodding right into my eyes. I’m howling in pain and they’re thinking wow—pain. It was like we were in a museum and I was some Egyptian thing. By the time she would speak to me I felt ashamed of my infirmity, the crutches. So my friend Sally said use this. Handed me the air cast. It looked like a plastic knockoff of one of those polio braces kids wore in grade school with their high brown shoes. I’m not so great with infirmity. I run. But my vanity is strong. Now ten years later one of my legs is skinnier than the other. The air cast needs to be in with my papers. You think Joyce loved his cane.
The problem with writing on the plane is not your neighbor. It’s your own growing sense that these mango-toned reflections at dawn over Buffalo will be read by someone you never met. They will meet this. That realization hovers for a few years—or maybe for the rest of your writing life if I believe accounts of how much getting mail from ______ changed once she sold her papers to ______. But that might be a temporary disturbance. A writer reclaims her aloneness and a notebook returns to being like it was when she leaned on the counter in Barcelona stirring her coffee with a churro, moaning, “I’m depressed” or huddled in her underwear under the light at the top of the stairs of her aunt’s house when the writer both got to masturbate in her own room for the first time as well as do this—fill a page, and another, the page becoming an exact register of the duration of self and body. I began to be alive, to be alone, and think. As long as I do this—nobody reads this.
A notebook is the definition of private writing—private living. It’s precareer and postcareer in that it’s the only writing only you know as long as there is a you. And that excites me anew. There being a space of knowing apart from any selling, sharing, even making. Just sketching out—OK, I have to use my favorite new theory word: episteme, which I visualize as a big shaking hunk of steak, a filet mignon sliced wide open, its muscles twitching with juice and taste. The word felt like god. It means the possibility of discourse. The promise of the steak. This richness that will never end. Until you do. It’s all that my notebook gets told.
I was effusing the heel of my palm across the paper. I was drinking water, getting up and peeing as much as I could. I sit on the aisle so I can enjoy this constant motion of getting up, fooling around with my hair in the bathroom, god I’m getting old. Sitting back down.
Earlier I was building up to telling you I have acquired a new power. Like Adam Sandler in Click I cannot bear my life. Because of the sleeplessness and the morbid cast of mind it produces. I take Ambien when I fly. And it really fucking works.
I had popped one. Maybe a half. I vaguely remember my tin of candy clattering to the floor when the plane took off. Ginger-flavored Altoids. I could talk about ginger for a really long time, but I won’t. We enjoy that square little tin, don’t we? It fell through the back of my seat, slid a row back, and I had some pleasant exchange with the blond woman behind me and her husband. I offered them both a mint and she said no but laughed and it was the kind of normal adult exchange that a gay person might cherish usually being the only person on the plane the stewardesses won’t look at when they say hello or offer you a drink. Thank god for gay men—stewards, cause some of them get down with you right there and you have a friend on the plane. So laughing I dropped off to sleep sliding (I think) my notebook into the side of the seat, between the armrest and the wall. I’m not sure. This is possible. And it brings me to an episteme. Cause I called and wrote Northwest Airlines again and again. And while I called I began to imagine a room. And I really want to go there. (Is there a room in Minneapolis? I believe Minneapolis is their hub.) A room that feels like World War II, but not tragic. Kind but sad, like your and my and everyone’s families. And one room is glasses, and one room is scarves and hats. And one room is books and magazines. And how often do they empty these rooms out. And where do these things go. And there is a room of notebooks. Can you imagine the smell. It’s not a smell of feet. What is it. Little hands. The smell of something sweet, the chocolate and coffee that people spill on notebooks. The sugar, the powdered stuff. If I was a man I suppose I would shoot come all over my notebook. Once in a while. A smell of crackers. And of foam. Of waves that crept up to the blanket and soaked your pages, blurring the ink. An old paper smell. Like trees and flesh and time. The thing that libraries where the good notebooks go won’t let happen, happens here. It’s like when the Smithsonian had to give the pots and bones back to the Native American tribes and the tribes left the stuff on the top of a mesa so that the sun and rain and animals could assault the debris slowly, not spoiling it in a day but in the length of time it takes a cup to melt, a skull to turn to foam and stain, a leather strap become writing in the sun.
I want to stand in that smelly repository of notebooks left on a plane and wallow. Will I find my notebook. I might not even look. I’ll be like a boy on a mast, climbing. I’ll climb up the ladders that lead to the second and third tiers like in Home Depot. I dream it to be like that. Balconied, terraced. A mildewed old used bookstore that should cave in from the weight on its walls but hasn’t—yet. It sweats and aches and is alive. Is that my cat outside crying. Hold on. I want to pick lemons off my tree and sell this house and go everywhere. And I can remember every poem and notebook and story I ever lost. The person stands outside of a building, or walks down the street like an actor. The person is crouched inside of a poem. It looks like the mesa a few paragraphs back. But the lighting is better. It’s red, a little yellow too, and somehow it’s night. In the poem I have just proclaimed to the woman I love that if I can’t live with her I want to be dead with her. I offer her that. The landscape of the afterlife (where the poem takes place) seems to look like Monument Valley on the moon or Mars and she hasn’t come and I am enjoying the sad beauty of my loss, waiting for her. Who will not leave her husband and her kids. I think I actually left that poem at their house and he destroyed it. Sometimes I think it will turn up in his papers. He was a sneak but he was my friend. I wanted her.
Once I had a flat red notebook with a very firm back that was very useful because it had a good surface to lean on. You always had an airplane tray table at your disposal. There was some event at St. Mark’s (and I was the director!) and I remember running inside the gates and out, taping posters up—an activity totally not within the realm of my job description but what I learned was that the bigger the job the more likely you will be putting up the posters unless you learn how to get other people to do things. I didn’t. I was walking around in a leather jacket thinking about the job in relationship to my writing and thinking well rather than a flame I’m a cigarette lighter. I can allow that for a few years. And then the notebook was gone. I remembered seeing it on some stone. Like alongside one of the blocks of granite the metal gates were stuck in. There were park benches right around there and cobblestones. I imagined a homeless person picking my notebook up and thinking they could sell it or maybe they wanted to write their memoirs in it. This is the ’80s so there was a lot of burning trash in cans on the street and people warming their hands around them and especially in Tompkins Square Park. I walked my dog, my sweet pit bull Rosie, among these people. I prefer my notebook went like that. Up in smoke. Sadly what was in it was the original of a story called “Tom’s Grey Pants.”
When I stopped drinking, around this same time, I met a man named Tom who had AIDS. He was a very sweet guy and he wore a red baseball cap and the last time I got drunk I told him and he cried because I was killing myself. He bought me an egg at a restaurant, he was a maternal man, and later when someone broke into my apartment and took my teeshirts he made me follow him home and he gave me this pair of grey cotton pants that had turned up in his laundry. And when he died about a year later I wore them to his memorial, and then I wore them to Ted’s funeral and then I wore them to my stepfather’s and my mother attacked me for looking queer and because I didn’t shave under my arms and I smelled like an onion. My mother can be cruel. I had already typed the Tom story out and first I lost that, the typescript, and then I lost the notebook. It was uncanny. I threw the pants away out of shame. They were very nice, probably belonged to some professional dyke in the West Village who wore them on her weekends in Orient.nce I had a flat red notebook with a very firm back that was very useful because it had a good surface to lean on. You always had an airplane tray table at your disposal. There was some event at St. Mark’s (and I was the director!) and I remember running inside the gates and out, taping posters up—an activity totally not within the realm of my job description but what I learned was that the bigger the job the more likely you will be putting up the posters unless you learn how to get other people to do things. I didn’t. I was walking around in a leather jacket thinking about the job in relationship to my writing and thinking well rather than a flame I’m a cigarette lighter. I can allow that for a few years. And then the notebook was gone. I remembered seeing it on some stone. Like alongside one of the blocks of granite the metal gates were stuck in. There were park benches right around there and cobblestones. I imagined a homeless person picking my notebook up and thinking they could sell it or maybe they wanted to write their memoirs in it. This is the ’80s so there was a lot of burning trash in cans on the street and people warming their hands around them and especially in Tompkins Square Park. I walked my dog, my sweet pit bull Rosie, among these people. I prefer my notebook went like that. Up in smoke. Sadly what was in it was the original of a story called “Tom’s Grey Pants.”
When a notebook or a poem goes out of my world there’s already a hole. One so big that one hole goes out of the other and forms a series of nonconcentric circles that slightly resemble the Olympics logo but are more of a target than that. If a target weren’t pointed but bubbling like foam. Like an opening. Each circle quaking out of the last. A sadness, sure, but also producing an angelic calm.
I lost a notebook from Russia one day when I was riding around on my bike right after I got back and my overriding feeling was that though I had come home I was still in some danger. That’s how it felt. I was riding around doing something and I had the notebook in my back pocket and the pocket had a hole and the notebook could just about slip out but not entirely. And I knew this. I remember the action of pedaling, raising my ass, jogging the notebook just a bit and after that a bit more, pushing it more or less out of my world and into yours. Into anyone’s. It landed out on the world of the street, not Northwest Airlines. I put up small purple signs in the East Village. Like this one, a long sign, really, a 3,600-word advertisement for my lost notebook. A requiem. Someone I know saw the signs and wondered if I was OK. I wasn’t. Someone else saw me riding around and knew the notebook was going to fall out. I kept calling you, he said, but you didn’t hear me.
When Paige and I got to the B & B on Toronto Island I already had a creeping sense that something was wrong. And when Janice, my dogwatcher, called to say Rosie had just had an incredible seizure—what should I do? Finally I knew that that was what was awry. I mean, there was a little something about the notebook, an account of a year that was also possibly gone. We had gone to Niagara the afternoon before. After Paige picked me up in Buffalo.
We saw the most beautiful Ferris wheel in the world like an enormous snowflake spinning in the north. We got on and it was marvelous, but nothing like seeing it erupting from behind the trees. We took a boat that went under the falls. We took some stuff, not all, out of the trunk, as we gathered ourselves for the walk. The day was overcast. So I may’ve tossed the notebook in the trunk at that moment and it’s funny how something visible like a spotted notebook can be invisible in a grey trunk when you’re in a rush to get to the next leg of your train. The one going forward to a boat, to an island, to every place else. Why do I think that everything is foam, and snowflakes. We got to the appointed place, Jean’s on Toronto Island. It immediately became clear that I had to go back. So the notebook might have fallen under the bed at Jean’s, or remained in the trunk, or even slid along the wet surface of the boat as it went under the falls.
It took half a year for Rosie to die, during which time I sent Northwest a number of letters, certified and others, and I kept receiving better and better notification that indeed they had received my letter, as if that was my intent, to be heard. I never called Jean to see if anyone found my notebook when they were cleaning our room. I asked Paige at least once whom she rented the car from so I could call. But I forgot, and if there’s a way to turn a notebook into nature, I have. Paige and I just broke up. Over these seven months my notebook became increasingly lost, farther and farther away as I began to fill a new book. And it’s done. And I have two new ones, one black and one green, and I’m loath to touch them. I don’t know why. And my dog is a rose-stained box of ashes. But I haven’t looked. And her paw is a round medallion of plaster. That they actually took Rosie’s dead paw and made her do that is the strangest puppetry to me. And that is death, I think. All these things. And my notebook is gone.
January 19–February 23, 2007
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