Looking For An Alaskan Poet

And so Davis’s submissions to the canon are anti-submissions; her title poem fantasizes a work that “wasn’t / influenced by homer or blake or yeats” and “contained no anxiety” and “hadn’t even heard of / louise glück franz wright billy (budd) collins.” The poem she didn’t write isn’t “The Poem She Didn’t Write”: of that imagined, nonexistent poem, Davis informs us that she “did not read [it] to anyone” and “did not send it out ‘for publication.’ ” That poem preëmpts its own rejection by never existing in the first place; it is the recessive version of Davis’s canonical aspirations, whose namesake will carry its torch.
- from You And Me Both, a review of Olena Kalytiak Davis's third book of poems by Dan Chiasson at The New Yorker

I am extremely insecure these days. I don't have any confidence left. I've turned 29 and felt like I haven't achieved anything: all I have is a tome of Fiction He Didn't Write and Other Poems, although in my case there were no recessive versions: it was never ever written. My food blog is gathering cobwebs. A while ago I read a review of Wu Tang Clan's 2015 album by Sasha Frere-Jones and a review of Olena Kalytiak Davis's third book of poems by Dan Chiasson. I liked the latter so much because the poet is so flawed and just as insecure:
Davis, who was born in 1963, in Detroit, to Ukrainian parents, has for years lived in and around Anchorage, Alaska, where she works as an attorney. From the evidence of her poems, she is a single mother who drives—or once drove—“a 1995 red toyota 4-runner with racing stripe,” listens to loud Dylan on the way to pick up her kids, falls in and out of love, and, above all, reads. The poems are paved with outbursts and literary touchstones. They feel like quickies, rough liaisons where “sex meets books,” sometimes, as in “Francesca Says More,” unhappily
The New Yorker is one of the few places where I find hope and inspiration, and my mind functions again, each article like applying oil to rusty gears. Each time I find myself alone - always in bus rides, or whenever in transit - inspiration strikes. But as soon as I open the gate of the house, I shed off the words like leaves blown by a sudden gust. I envy people who can juggle parenthood and writing all at the same time. How can they do it? How can they keep it burning? The mere sight of the laundry heap snuffs out all the possibilities writing has to offer. At home, I have lots of excuses:

  1. I don't have a personal laptop/smartphone: Although I am lucky enough to have a workspace that doubles as a stockroom (we call it the "other room"), I have the gall to make this as an excuse, when most people write on their smartphones or pad papers.
  2. I need to cook, to do laundry, to clean: Apparently it's a classic move of a procrastinator who works from home most of the time. Before I start writing, I do all the chores I can do until I feel sleepy. 
  3. I need to read an inspiring book: This is funny, because I've been desperately trying to read books - I juggle How to Be Alone by Franzen and White Nights by Tolstoy, among other things - and I still end up not writing at all. It's odd why I personally find reading reviews (The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The LRB and the NYRB and the LARB) rewarding, but that's probably not helpful: each time I read one, I arm myself with criticisms to strip each and every piece of my writing bare, exposing the undernourished, uninspired layers.
  4. I need to go somewhere else: Another excuse, because even if I go to Starbucks and chug expensive coffee, I can barely concentrate and write 50 words.


I was cleaning my browser tabs when I stumbled upon a story I couldn't let go: a restaurant review of Asakusa's Pegasus from Asahi Shimbun magazine. The Google translate reads that it's a series made possible by a collaboration between Mitsu Satoshi (actor, commercial model) and Hana Yoshino (photographer). It's a very fresh way to review food: sure, the cafes are interesting (anyone heard of pizza toast before?) but I like how the people in the shots always seem like they're in a B-roll of a movie, operating the same way as those glossy fashion ads of Gucci or Bottega Veneta: a theme and a story. (For a moment it reminds me of that wonderful music video of Mount Kimbie, parts of which are also shot in Japan. Maybe the place has a say on the shots?) Combine it with a feuilleton/causerie and the possibilities are endless...

Asakusa's net cafe "Pegasus" A long-established master talks about the memory of the Olympics and the finest pizza toast

Leave your desks

Does this mean that TMIs are raise, factitious or simulated illnesses? Here we arrive at the central question of Hacking’s book: ‘Is it real?’ Hacking asked himself the same question in his recent book about multiple personality, only to add immediately: ‘I am not going to answer that question. I hope that no one who reads this book will end up wanting to ask exactly that question.’ Great books of philosophy teach us to stop posing certain types of question, or to pose them differently, and it may be that Mad Travellers is one of these. Certainly Hacking provides us with all the elements we need to understand that the question ‘Is it real?’, applied to TMIs, is pointless. The real is in a constant state of change, and it does not follow from the fact that ‘mental’ illnesses are transient that they are any less real than, say, an infectious or neurological disease.
- From What made Albert run? published at the London Review of Books

Interesting stuff about dissociative fugue, one curious mental illness of the 19th century that I couldn't get out of my head in my Abnormal Psych class, since it's all about leaving your office desk without any itinerary and forget your passwords and personality. (I'd like to have one!) In the book review, "dissociative fugue" is categorized as a TMI, a transient mental illness - transient because the book maintains that mental illnesses "change from one place and time to another, undergo mutations, disappear and reappear."

Perhaps the best part of this article isn't about the verity of TMIs as it is about showing the dynamic between patients, psychiatrists, institutions, culture, etc. and how each and all "accommodate to create a TMI, just as the elements of an ecosystem accommodate each other to create a particular plant, animal or virus." Not everything fits within "fake" or "real".


So I dropped off a friend Z at her office (I borrowed her boyfriend's coat for an upcoming wedding) and talked to the Grab driver. He left his night-shift job four years ago to pursue what he loves the most: driving. He was so passionate about it (he used his word 'passion' to describe his love for driving, a rarity nowadays, save for that faccon) that he drives when he's stressed from work, or at every chance he gets, usually by tagging along his officemates. Driving calms him down, improves his mood, stabilizes his blood pressure, heightens his immune system... Although he didn't sell it this way, it's like he's found the elixir of life or something. I said I only know another man who has the same passion, a deputy court administrator (Mr. Y.) that I had to interview for my work: we're writing him a feature, and one of our questions was, What does he do during his downtime? Mr. Y. said the same thing; he gets excited with long drives to Quezon Province, for example, where he grew up. The Grab driver shares the sentiment: He particularly loves it when a customer books him to drive to far-flung places like Bulacan or Nasugbu with his Spotify playlists in tow. (A good tip: he even chooses playlists depending on his customer's mood: his previous customer was very sleepy, so he tuned in to a classical playlist. A TedX talk with piano at the background...

I asked: How was he able to stick to it for four years? With a very positive mindset. He said he starts his day (his daily schedule is 5PM to 3AM) with a positive mindset. He's also traded off his 'toxic' set of driver friends (those who rant about the traffic, I guess?) for friends with similar outlook and goals, friends who are supportive of each other's 'daily targets', etc. It also helped that ever since he was a kid, he already dreamed of having a car: he was a working student when he bought a scooter, then a second-hand car, and then a brand new car. He also collects toy cars and magazines about cars on the side. (He's a regular at Filbar's and Booksale.)

The conversation left me baffled as soon as I got to my destination. Just by the way he talked and shared his story, you can sense that he's contented already - he's very happy - and it's contagious. I couldn't put the feeling into words, but that brief, thirty-minute conversation from Madrigal to Tunasan just energized me. I never got to ask him his plans after, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's going to keep on driving, taking care of his family and collecting toy cars on the side.

What a breath of fresh air (and a great start to 2020) - I didn't know I was in for a brilliant TedX talk without all the buzzwords and the minimalist presentation. The message, however, is crystal clear and simple: Do what you love. I'm sure this driver went through a lot of pushbacks and detours along the way, but he persevered because he knows his goal. No wonder: He already was able to buy two cars and a house and lot after four years of driving! What a lucky guy.

What I couldn't forget was the story he shared: that awkward shared ride when a girl and her supposed boyfriend at the back was talking about the guy who just got down - apparently it was the girl's boyfriend... ("It felt like the longest ride of my life.") 


Overheard at UPLB carinderia:

G: Pre, gulay?
H: Ayoko, pre. Ayoko ng mahabang buhay.
H: Gusto ko ng maikli pero makabuluhan.