everything in the world
“I have a lot of feelings about…” is what I keep saying lately. Mostly I have a lot of feelings about some piece of media: a book, a song, a poem. My favorite band reunited; I biked down my street shouting about my excitement. I tweeted ”I’M THE HAPPIEST!!!!”; it was true. I have feelings about the person I was when I first heard them, and the person I’ll be when I see them again, eight years after the first time. My throat choked up when I opened my enormous box set of records – records I already owned in different pressings, after years of collecting – and read Carrie Brownstein’s essay about having “Dig Me Out” tattooed on her ribs. And I had a lot of feelings that overlapped with this brilliant, loving appreciation from Lindsay King-Miller. I had the feeling of wishing I’d written that, trumped by the feeling of gratitude that someone did.
I have a lot of feelings about the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante. I finished the third volume and threw it on the coffee table, gesticulating. I wrote Goodreads reviews that break Goodreads’ CSS because I kept typing “AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH” until it exceeded the permitted line length.
I moved around too much as a child to have any consistent lifelong friendships from childhood like the one in My Brilliant Friend. But I see myself, my friends, and our choices in Elena and Lila, in the dissolving boundaries between them. (As does this writer, it looks like.) The brilliant Lila is often described “narrowing her eyes to slits” and I’ve noticed my own eyes slitting when I’m thinking hard these days.
I have a recurring mental image of myself crashing bodily into a big pile of my feelings like they are crunchy leaves, or snow. Something physical, something as big as the weather.
And I have a lot of feelings about the Lydia Davis story “What I Feel.” I think about it almost every day; it’s a kind of meditation. It begins “These days I try to tell myself that what I feel is not very important.” I repeat to myself “off to the side, one of many things” when I’m upset. What I feel is one of many things. What I feel about “What I Feel” is affection and need, a need to see myself and to hope that I can be unburdened from the weight of the pile of feelings.
There’s a Sleater-Kinney song called “Everything.” It’s one of my favorites; it’s on the setlist I snatched up when I saw them in Nashville and which I keep framed on my wall as a talisman. One of the feelings I have is being overwhelmed by everything — by oppressive political realities, by a new job I love and which challenges me, by growing older. “Everything in the world,” says the song. What I feel is this chorus and the way Corin Tucker’s voice sustains it. What I feel is everything in the world.
And this brings me to what I shorthand as “permateen.” I think of permateen as a stance or a strategy, rather than an aesthetic. Permateen is holding yourself emotionally open to earnest experiences of delight in consuming art. It’s loving things the way you loved your favorite album when you were sixteen. (Did you fall asleep with it in your headphones every night? Did you write the lyrics on your notebook, around the soles of your Chuck Taylors? Did you cover your bedroom door with pictures of that band? Me too.) It’s Rookie calling a new thing every month “literally the best thing ever.” It’s clumsy, maybe a little inarticulate. It’s feeling like your favorite book just saved your life.
The permateen stance takes work to maintain. Getting older, experiencing more things, it’s easy to get jaded. Maybe you start to think that art was just better when you were younger. And/or: you might think there’s just too much to know and see, and anyway the only point to consuming media is to show off how cool and tasteful you are. This is a trap of capitalism. This is a pattern of thinking based around scarcity (only a few people can be cool; only a few people can be rich).
Permateen thinking rejects scarcity; it revels in abundance. And maybe I’m reaching by saying that loving things with your wholeheartmindbody is a small rebellion against a system that pits everything against everything else in a zero-sum battle for attention or money or whatever. But it feels that way. Art is useful: it’s useful for healing, for survival, and for imagining better things.
Political sadness is one of the hardest feelings to articulate. I’m angry silently every day, and I don’t know how to make my voice useful yet. I am starting to learn how to be a better ally and advocate. To do that in a healthy way, I’m learning to experience that feeling of political sadness, instead of avoiding it.
Sleater-Kinney, Elena Ferrante, Lydia Davis have all helped me start to understand my political sadness. (I dig through analyses of City Council meetings and think of the narrator in the Ferrante novels, studying the European student movement like she studied Greek.) This art that I love is “about” feminism, but it’s off to the side, one of many things. It’s how feminism looks in the imperfect scope of a life. I got defensively annoyed at this reviewer who wrote that One Beat is the Sleater-Kinney album he can’t replay: it wears its politics too openly, he claimed. But that’s the point of One Beat. That’s what makes it a permateen classic; it’s earnest and strident and beautiful. It makes some sense of the political sadness that was so enormous after 9/11. Having art that makes sense — even if its message isn’t exactly what you want to hear — is how you can persevere in a sad and dangerous place.
I have a lot of feelings and I’m often stumbling over them, using songs and books I love to make them make sense. When I write, it’s from this impulse. I want to make art that can be of use. I’ve been writing a lot on my poetry email list about poems’ usefulness. And I’m proud of that writing. But it’s a step back from full-throttle permateen poem-making. I want to make a poem that feels as necessary to someone as “Everything” or One Beat or My Brilliant Friend feel to me. Something that pushes you right into the leaf-pile of feelings. Something to contain anger and sadness, to hold it usefully.