Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Do You Know How Diamonds Get to Us: my life and Green Girl.

Not a review in the classic sense. This is why my life is a good place for this text to hang out/vice-versa:

When I was first starting reading (in life) I only read about the psychology of trauma and film theory. Anything that takes me back to these days gets me on an indetectibly sentimental level. I would have loved Green Girl even if I came to it a different way.

Nothing has been as good for my state of mind as discovering that the things I think matter weren't flash-in-the-pan. Like writing. There is no evidence of this around me. No literary activity that engages the community. I didn't do anything for a long time but stay in my room watching movies. A long incubation period. I had to get wrapped up in the editing, the decisions made with sound, the use of actors to get my mind off things. It is still the only way I can get my mind off things. It still makes me yearn for context. Mostly I feel remote, like no matter how much reaching out I do I will not touch anything.

I live in a rural village. I ride to work at dawn. Since graduating I've been switching jobs and focused so intensely on getting to this point that I work in the city for a living wage that I stopped doing a lot of things that give me pleasure, like listening to Amanda Palmer. I have been catching up on her album Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under. There is a song on the album called "Australia" with a torrential sweeping wistful refrain where, after she asserts that instead of doing some mundane deadening chore that feebly reinforces her competency, she says, "or I could go to Australia." It looks totally powerless. You have to hear her sing it. When she does I cry thinking of curling up in my room watching Michael Haneke's Seventh Continent. A family flushes all their money down the toilet in a long unbroken take with no faces. They lethally inject their daughter. They react strongly before doing so to themselves. They tell everyone they're emigrating to Australia. I don't mean to do that to myself every morning. I want to feel very strong about all my decisions and appreciate my luck. I can take dozens of interviews for amazing jobs that I don't get. I should be able to take the odd observation that I am settling by taking the job I have, that I am not lucky but lazy. I know this isn't true.

So I want to hide in something. I used to sit up and read Amanda Palmer's blog for nights and nights. I still do. It was the resemblance in tone and power to hers that I started to read and love Kate Zambreno's blog. Getting an ARC copy of Green Girl was one of the best parts of this past year. Because of the gesture, because it is an important work, because of the horribly subjective phenomena I'm addressing here in my online diary. I persist in habitually referring to it as my online diary. I only call it a blog in job interviews.

Green Girl is a tactile pleasure, first. Not glassy like plastic. If I am at all gross it will show up on this book as I handle it. The first thing learned is consideration, close scrutiny, the imparting of recognition from a figure fixed above. Glass, Irony & God holds the same texture, figuratively, literally.

Green Girl takes place in London, but it isn't right to start out that way. It takes place pretty strictly in moldy rooms where men are not allowed and department stores. Something Kate Zambreno has down that has a tremendous impact on the book is what she emphasizes on and off the clock. It is like you are in two different spaces. This is very subtle. It IS like you go from room to room and your outfit changes like Helen Mirren's in the Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover. This kind of sophisticated relationship to space acknowledges way more the complexity and intelligence and strength of yearning possessed by Ruth. Ruth is your girl in the book, and there is nothing protecting her from the infiltrating army of intoxicating friends, a mortifying sales job, and her own forebearer.

(from Anne Carson)

For someone hooked up to Thou,
the world may have seemed a kind of half-finished sentence.

The same things that alienate me keep me safe in another color. When I was working in a bookstore I would hide in the backroom dripping and red in the same black dress every day and I would go to other bookstores and pretend to do research, would point out the anthology edited by my old employer, would fawn over Bettina Rheims monographs with black coffee in heels and gloves and I was obsessed with this. With proving to myself that I could be more than a wreck breaking espresso machines and selling zero rewards cards this quarter. When my strengths are buried under a pile of barren opportunities strictly in sales. Watching Ruth go from Horrids to Liberty made that recognitive click that I get when I know this girl I've just met, she and I can be friends, she possesses a central necessity. It is she in the space, how she feels in the space, that matters. Not the trite detail of how they are both department stores. It is all about context. I wonder how other people feel about this. Hypothetical girl probably does not know this.

My ice girl. I carve her into a swan.

I can't believe I found a copy of Bookforum with James Greer's review of Green Girl (in the capital area). He says the affection the narrator demonstrates for Ruth transcends the tone of her comments, the punishing tableaux. He says right. This part of the text turns the infrared on my massive insecurities. You know the ones that are never a problem and never a problem and one day they are the trash-filled sinkhole of your psyche, bringing the property value down, full of the weirdest things. Lately the thoughts I have given to the person in my life who has provided me with the greatest guidance have contributed to some mental disintegration - not to paint a portrait of myself as in crisis, but I am tremendously vulnerable. If I dwell at all I should dwell on how I have been strengthened and armed and ready. This is not about seeking approval. I have the attitude about approval that a television show would reconfigure into an eating disorder or academic perfectionism.  Once I got the approval of a person I respected and per our professional relationship he did not know me. Not beyond what he needed to know. I am ejected from nightmares as if by a livid shake, in a state of emergency, when I dream about him being disappointed in me. This is not a real-life scenario. He would not condemn me. He would not harm me. This is internalized pressure. And the intense yearning of guidance that stringent. That I did not/do not believe I deserve. But I got it. I should get over it. Get in transit. Watch my reflection. Don't think about it.

I went to see Melancholia this past weekend. The first I saw of it was the poster on Kate Zambreno's briefly-lit tumblr. I was done unto as the rogue planet Melancholia did unto Earth.

I was going to be the maid of honor in a wedding this past summer. I was so close to this girl. I loved her so much. She was in a lot of pain the whole time. She is a tough person. She was muscling through it. I was not. I was caving everywhere. I didn't have any money. All my free waking hours were dedicated to getting myself out of disaster upon disaster. I was printing her save the dates and invitations and I kept encountering problems with the printing service. My computer had full motherboard failure in the middle of this. Other things. When I'm not performing to the standards of others - unwilling to talk, financially naked, falling asleep - I don't go out. I wasn't in good shape. She got very angry. We went to the beach. She and I and others. I spent the entire time in my room, crying. I didn't want to put anybody through me. 

Many of the reviews I've read of Melancholia seem to have been written by people who have no frame of reference with regards to depression. That Justine's behavior comes off as dissatisfaction with the opulent wedding makes me feel even more grateful that art exists. All I could do when my friend - even if she did understand, that didn't matter - terminated our association with each other was watch Last Year at Marienbad. Why should I try to articulate what's wrong, Delphine Seyrig says, when I can show you, when I can turn all your words against you with the power of my images. There is a great power struggle between word and image in that film. She is unsure, though, of her kingdom. When she has a little downtime, she reads. She wishes she could be in control of the words, too, even though we're watching a movie, even though by controlling the image she wins (I believe she does). If I knew Ruth I would try to take her to see Last Year at Marienbad. If I succeeded, she might never speak to me again, but I'd feel good about succeeding.

In my own things I think of the refraction, the image of the self, as - because for me it is - a social anxiety, a yearning for solidarity, friendship, compassion in the minefield of girls. Control the image. The consistency is maddening among the faces, especially when it is all you. The quality of Ruth and Agnes' friendship is captured so exactly. I think it is stranger to yearn for friendship than for a sexual relationship. There is more at risk, more to alienate. Less is socially acceptable to articulate. When someone is after you for sex/intoxication/validation, that is so black and white to me. Friendship is so gray as to be sinister.

All I want desperately in the world is to hear someone else sing this song when they think they're alone in a hallway, on the bus, any place around me:

(from the Jane Austen Argument, "Bad Wine and Lemon Cake")
I want to rent a wife
then rent a husband to keep her for life.
The three of us, we could be so happy -
them, with each other,
me, with company.

I love that in the moment the Green Girl sex scene is just what would be made note of in that mindset, suddenly aware of your body as a performing body, of so many rules and shallow details. When Ruth walks past a phantom train, when the cold air baptizes her, that is when the naked Olly looked through her at Agnes. Only at Agnes. I've read/watched/overheard a lot of sex. This is the first depiction of a sexual incident in which I beheld anything really of my own experience that was not intangible. Not just a feeling. I feel days like a character of Dennis Cooper's. I feel days like Alfred Hitchcock. These outnumber the rare cool nights I feel like Catherine Deneuve in Belle de jour. Like Catherine Deneuve in Belle de jour's fantasies. Really it is just like Green Girl. Really Green Girl is so dead on.

(Anne Carson again, as Catherine Deneuve)
Do you know how diamonds get to us? Three hundred miles underground are heats and pressures that crush carbon into sparkling shapes, driven for months or days or hours along hotel corridors called diamond pipes until they erupt in a pile of taffeta and chocolate some moonlit afternoon...

I wish I could write reviews like Jeanette Winterson. I wish I could say something about Green Girl with the concise impact of her assessment of Djuna Barnes' Nightwood:

...reading it is like drinking wine with a pearl dissolving in the glass. You have taken in more than you know, and it will go on doing its work. From now on, a part of you is pearl-lined.

These kind of feelings from me are never concise or so elegant. I wrote a real grown-up review of Green Girl that was rejected by several reputable publications. This was a really special lesson in humiliation. But it didn't say what I wanted it to say anyway. I wanted to address the intersection of my life and the book.

My life isn't even in perfect condition to receive the book. Instead of Amanda Palmer, I should be listening to PJ Harvey. Nothing penetrates me like White Chalk. I have to be careful about listening to it. Certain songs make me useless because they for their duration just live for me. They take care of everything and feel the last shred of feeling I've got to such an exact extent that I'm like, whatever. Like "To Talk to You." "To Talk to You" is about a girl's dead grandmother. She says she wants to talk to her because she has always been lonely. All my life - so this is not a single isolated incident, I am not freaking out over nothing. Says the narrator. She tried to give herself to someone and it didn't work. She wishes she was with her grandmother. She would have something special to impart. If they were talking, she would come up with something far more profound and cathartic than just this wish for this conversation the quality of which could never exist. Grandmothers are great platforms for projection. Kate wrote a post addressing a central challenge of the art form that is the blog before she erased it. There is no aesthetic distance in the blog. The internet is so interior. The impact when there is one is so atomic. In the times of Melancholia when one is in need of the planet-colliding power of someone's words, Kate Zambreno's blog really does it. And I think it was Amanda Palmer who says - who works so impossibly hard to keep her career she and the fans forever, who sweats blood for the people who buy her brilliant work - she says she wishes people would say "I love the album Who Killed Amanda Palmer" or "I love 'Good Day'" instead of "I love Amanda Palmer." I think it bears repeating that it is the artist's work that we need to be in dialogue with, that we need to hold up and praise. That would be easy if all the work produced by artists matched Green Girl in magnitude.

Get Green Girl in your life. This is my conclusion. I was forever failing easy papers in school because I cannot produce conclusions. In the writing of literature, meanwhile, I feel like conclusions are much more concrete things and it is a matter of finding that logical end as opposed to finding some false way of closing an argument. There is no argument here, to me, you should be reading Green Girl. The ineffectiveness of this is a great testament to why I write fiction and not criticism. If this were a story, it would end with me limping into a far-flung designated break-space in gigantic hyper-corporate agency headquarters, exhaling with a force to fog up my glasses, opening the book, resting on my dewclaw, exiting my life and entering Green Girl.


  1. this is so beautiful, kari. i love how you incorporated so many different things- film, music, memory- into this. does such justice to the book, perfect. xox gina

  2. Thank you so much, Gina! I'm so glad it made it out of me alive.

  3. I loved reading this so much, and a couple of moments are aligning with some I've been writing lately too . . . the "three," the limping. Thank you for your dark and glimmering words.

  4. Oh Amina! That makes me feel so wonderful. I cannotcannot wait until your work shifts into my orbit.