bad vocation

Now ten years out of high school, I’m fortunate to have a continued friendship with my English teacher from then. I’ll always think of him as Mr. Whiteside, and we kind of compromise on familiarity by just calling each other our last names. I’m Watson, he’s Whiteside. We hang out. When I was back in North Carolina for Christmas we had dinner together and talked about writing and work and life, like you do. He said offhand something I found striking. I’m a little worried that I might be misremembering it, or I might’ve misheard, but it was about not having the time to figure out what he wants to be bad at. This was a new way to frame something that I boringly struggle with over and over again: the way my time erodes away and I wind up with nothing to show for it.

For example. I never find the time to be bad at writing: I’m too hung up on wanting very badly to be good at it.

There’s a difficult balance to strike between taking things seriously, which validates the time and effort you expend doing them, and taking them too seriously, which makes them become overwhelming and punishing. I’m returning (of course & always) to the theme of failure.

I’m reading Inferno by Eileen Myles right now. It’s wise and funny and well-observed; I’m finding a lot of subtle things to learn from it. (I keep noticing other things by and about her now, like this interview and this class I could take with her if I had a lot more disposable income right now.)

A bit I would’ve underlined if it wasn’t the library’s Inferno is:

In a way, poetry really does require failure, because failure produces space. That nobody else wants. Poets as a group hate success.

I keep wondering over this idea of producing and inhabiting the space that nobody else wants, diving into it and bringing up moments to put on display like an elegantly-lit jewelry counter of poetry. That’s a way for poetry to be.

Whiteside has a copy of No Experiences that might be more heavily tape-flagged than my own, so that was really something to see after living with boxes of it lying casually on my apartment floor for months. The lines he liked best weren’t often the lines I like best, but (being a very good English teacher and reader and person) he had well-articulated reasons for what he liked in each of them. (None of them were lines of Horse_ebooks’, which was a small relief.)

He read my words back to me and, recalling how that was, I’m thinking of the time when I saw a bunch of Gerhard Richter paintings and an Andreas Gursky photo that blew up a tiny bit of a Richter painting at two different museums on one day. My writing and his reading were both documents of the same things, focused differently. That delighted me. And I know I only got there because I did poetry badly for a while before polishing out 24 bits of it maybe worth having. I should get back to work, diving and polishing.