Duly Quoted

"A library is a hospital for the mind."

“He is constructed entirely of the stories he tells, like the scaffolding around a building still unbuilt.”

Book: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, by Nick Flynn

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as a winter-type person. Not of the winter-type color palette—that’s a different measurement, and I think I’m an Autumn—but of the variety of person who thrives in Winter and survives in Summer. Maybe it’s thanks to all the Texas summers—after 18 years, I considered myself very “over it” with regards to warm weather; I preferred rain, fuzzy sweaters, and burrowing.

I still appreciate those things in moderation, but after the great winter-that-wouldn’t-end of Portland 2k10, I’ve been rethinking my commitment to this “winter-type” label. Because dare I say it: I’m kind of enjoying the sudden and long-awaited extreme-heat wave, or at least am grateful for its displacing the chilly gloom. Plus, I like flip flops and slurpees. I like not having goosebumps and damp hair. I like it when the livin’s easy and I can indulge in sappy country music, mindless chick flicks, lots of driving, and not much wallowing. It’s a very fluffly mindset, this “Summer” thing, but I think there just might be something to it.

Thus, I’m basically on a mission to have a wallow-free July. God knows come the rainy season I’ll need all the practice I can get at avoiding the doldrums.

However, this book did not really fit into my new lifestyle-mission. This is definitely a winter-type book. It’s gritty. It’s depressing. It’s dark. But it’s also poetic, and fascinating, and definitely worth my time! Like a lot of addiction memoirs, it started to drag and/or feel redundant in parts (comparable to James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces) but actually really picked up towards the end. I appreciate that he ended it with neither an angsty yell nor a perfectly packaged/tied-with-a-bow/add-a-cherry-on-top/kiss-and-make-up Happily-Ever-After—rather, he offers a more Buddhist, open-ended “conclusion” that resolves itself with more questions than answers.

In some ways it offers a case study of the US homeless “system” (and also the prison system, come to think of it) so if you have any interest in that field, it could be right up yr alley. On the other hand, the narrative’s primarily driven by Flynn’s relationship with his crazy-ass father, so if you tend to like family-related memoirs, this is a prime example. Even if neither of those topics particularly interest you, if you like compelling writing separated into pretty experimental vignettes, it’s still worth a shot! The guy can definitely write circles around most people. I also think Flynn seems to challenge himself in writing it–he’s not out to make himself look good. Oh oh & it also carries the writing-about-the-process-of-being-a-writer thread, which is always interesting to me. And a lot of water metaphors. So many water metaphors. They’re cool though! Finally, if you get ¾ of the way in and are bored, power through! I rarely say this because I am a very lazy reader, but I think this ending was worth the lag.

Comment! If you’ve read the book, or if the quotes are interesting to you, or if you have questionzzzz, or anything to say.

Sunshine and blackberries,

Emilie

————-

“The phone beside hers never rings, like a toy, like a prop.”

“If I let him inside I would become him, the line between us would blur, my own slow-motion car wreck would speed up. The slogan on the side of a moving company truck read TOGETHER WE ARE GOING PLACES—modified by a vandal or a disgruntled employee to read TOGETHER WE ARE GOING DOWN. If I went to the drowning man the drowning man would pull me under. I wouldn’t be his life raft.”

“Mirrors are screwed to the walls along the benches the guests sit on while they undress, only these mirrors are made of stainless steel, not glass—glass could break, become a weapon. Someone might punch the face looking the wrong way back at him. The screws that attach the metal to the wall cause slight indentations, the indentations cause distortions, creating a funhouse effect. Your head in this mirror, if held at a certain level, becomes massive. Your chin vanishes. Move slightly and you can have superman arms, or a belly that takes over your body. You can open your mouth and it keeps on opening, becomes your whole head. Some of the drunk guys, some of the psych guys, you see them, halfway naked on a bench, staring at their reflections, open-mouthed—When did I become a gargoyle?”

“Sometimes the psych guys will start drinking, some call it “self-medicating” but it looks like clinging to an anvil in the middle of the sea.”

“For almost twenty years, since high school, he has identified himself as a writer, but he has yet to write much, beyond notes scribbled out on cocktail napkins, titles for his novels-to-be.”

“I crawl toward my father’s face as we lay on the grass beside a whitewalled tire—a snapshot, an artifact—evidence that at some point, at least once, I was an infant in his arms. The father as ship, as vessel, holding the child afloat. But there was a parallel father as well—the drunk, the con, the paranoid. The father as ship, but taking on water, going down.”

“By the time I’m nine I know the world is a dangerous place.”

“Fact: In 1878 Benjamin Disraeli said: You are not listening now, but one day you will hear me.

“Most of the job consists of learning how to hide, of how to appear busy, of killing time. In this way it’s a continuation of my twelve years of public high school. Hiding seems the point of everything.

I’m going nowhere, and not very fast.”

“I see no end to being lost. You can spend your entire life simply falling in that direction. It isn’t a station you reach but just the general state of going down. Once you make it back, if you make it back, you will stand before your long-lost friends but in some essential way they will no longer know you.”

“Water can be a symbol of purification, to stand naked before someone a sign of truth, of nothing to hide. A chalice can hold a sacrament, a chalice can hold poison. Nakedness can be both a threat and an offering. Archimedes lowered himself into a tub and formulated the laws of mass and density. Eureka! Water is the universal solvent! But water also drowns, rivers rise and breach their banks, fields become mud, family photo albums fatten, teacups float from cupboards.”

“Some inner radar keeps them alive, they stagger through the storm, blind drunk and goofy until they find the steam and then they fall. Like coming upon an oasis in the desert, their bodies melt into the grates, the steam seeps into their coats, into their pores. It’s another prison, these blowers, because once you’ve landed you cannot leave, not if there is nowhere to go, not without a destination, because one step off the blower is cold, hypothermia cold, now that you are sodden. Blankets rise off your body in the fan’s heat, hang above your sleep like a dream before sailing off into the slush.”

“Wake up on the grass, soaking wet. Dew is the piss of God. Another bullshit night in suck city, my father mutters.”

“Writers, especially poets, are particularly prone to madness. There exists a striking association between creativity and manic depression.

Why are more creative people prone to madness? They have more than average amounts of energies and abilities to see things in a fresh and original way—then because they also have depression, I think they’re more in touch with human suffering.”

We arouse pity by cultivating the most repulsive wounds.”

“An affair is a room to disappear into for a few hours, another place to hide.”

“As shelter workers I suggest we print up t-shirts that read, THE HOMELESS PAY MY RENT, but no one else things it’s funny.”

Read as much as you can. Write only when you feel the inner need to do so. And don’t ever rush into print.

Eventually he made a business of being a failure—if he was close to success he would sabotage it. The one role he held on to was that of being a great undiscovered writer—it allowed him to lash out in anger, it became his job to straighten the world out, to point to exactly how he’d been mistreated. The art world allowed him to get away with extravagant and excessive behavior, it encouraged it. His life became a raging performance piece, scripted by Jonathan Flynn. This allowed him to stay in control of something in his life. It became all presentation.”

“He is constructed entirely of the stories he tells, like the scaffolding around a building still unbuilt.”

“Is there one essential story, is it the story of his masterpiece, as yet, forever, undone?”

“but, like his life, it soon falls apart, dissipates into incoherence. What would I do if it was a masterpiece, an overooked classic? What then? Would our blood be redeemed? Would time be made whole? Would I still have such ambivalence about calling myself a poet?

“Perhaps the story of his masterpiece is his life raft, what he’s invented to keep himself afloat.”

“The shelter was meant to be a waystation, a halfway house, but halfway to where wasn’t specified. The cot and the roof and the plate of food were only meant to tide one over. It was never meant to be a life raft. Even a life raft is only supposed to get you from the sinking ship back to land, you were never intended to live in the life raft, to drift, years on end, in sight of land but never close enough.”

At least there is one?

At least there is one?

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