Hey there. As promised, this edition of I Don't Hate It is brought to you by Anna March, whose work has appeared in the New York Times Modern Love column and the New York Times Magazine and many other places (not all of which are connected to the grey lady!). She writes a weekly books column, "Anna March's Reading Mixtape," over at The Rumpus. I am delighted to have her share her recommendations here. Take it away, Anna!
Allison was so generous to invite me to guest write her newsletter. Of course, she expected me to be sane when I sat down to the page and instead it’s been hard times. My husband, Adam, and I moved in October—for the fourth time in two years as we work to find our right spot—and I left for a three-week trip in the midst of it. While I was away, and sick, he got called back East for his job. I came home and thirty-six hours later he left. The next day an intruder came to the door and stuck an arm in, terrifying me. But it appears our ferocious-looking yet timid-as-hell black lab scared him away. I’ve been nervous and rustling around in fear ever since. Truth: I am lonely for Adam and anxious and afraid of the dark, just as the days keep getting shorter and shorter. Adam and I have been unsettled and at a distance in every way as his stint has been revealed to be one that will last months before he’s able to return. I’ve not yet unpacked and yet now am packing again. I’m headed East myself for the holidays and then I’m on work travel for weeks in January and February—and then we’ll figure out when we’re coming back. When we are again driving the dogs across the country and finding a new home, since we’re giving this one up. The good news is that we know we both love L.A. So...we’re getting closer to being settled. But right this second it seems elusive.
In the spring, once back in Los Angeles, I hope to get my own art studio set up. A room to write in peace and some space to paint. I long to paint. I think of taking a PT job at the Whole Foods to pay rent on a studio if we don’t find a house with one. In high school I worked at a grocery store, a union shop, and it was a great job. Fun. Yesterday buying eggnog and then cutting my finger with a carton at the salad bar, bleeding all over, I imagined working again in the bakery, handing out cookies and slices of pie and taking orders for cakes. Ten hours a week would rent me a great studio. And really, wouldn’t it be a better use of my time than arguing with strangers on Facebook about abortion and guns and what is and isn’t sexist? Earning the money for a studio with a nice light to paint sounds dreamy. Dreamy. Uh huh.
Thinking of painting reminds me: I’m lucky. These troubles of mine are not the real problems of the world—which are brutal and ugly as ever and I worry that we the people are numb and inactive. Yet, it’s been a hard time. Though I’m feeling better physically, my writing has been slow and I’ve a huge project to finish and I miss my husband and the bed seems ridiculously big without him and the mornings too quiet without his shifts and groans. I miss him. I am Sappho and it is tough to finish my weaving. My comfort has been art. The imagination. Stopping to appreciate the generosity and love of those who have offered bits of their own tattered hearts to me. People are beautiful. I need to wallow in gratitude and consider my craft and read and listen and watch and light the candle in the darkness of my own difficulties and fear. I try. Some days I don’t fail. So many folks are struggling—fears of homelessness, kids off the rails, a blurry patch on the scan that needs further investigation—and of course people are dying, starving, and expiring because of the tragic accident of their births in a place that not enough people bother to value. I should get a grip. The refugees are wandering, teeming, and the planes are being shot down and still, we manage to go on. Isn’t that splendid? People paint and sing arias and write books and try to translate the mess of civilization from one generation to the next and offer up some shiny bits to guide everyone whose own stars are faint, or even extinct, out of the night that seems to go on and on. So. Here I am, not quite sane, but not altogether mad. Art and love are guiding me. As the days get shorter, it can be nearly impossible to remember that light and spring will come again, that art is longer than the days.
Here are some reminders:
One thing that’s fabulous about living here in L.A. is that so many people here are connected to art and creating. My next-door neighbor is a painter. My dog walker is a filmmaker. Her partner is a rapper. She asks me about thinking in character and talks to me about unwritten facts and their presence in scene. My house sitter acts in experimental-theater productions, does PR for a band, makes music, was off to see Patti Smith and Jonathan Lethem the day I met her. So many people here live partly in the land of imagination. Sometimes there does appear to be the fetish of commodity here, but mostly, the art, the art, the art. It makes the city hum and I am grateful for that. When I think of imagination and its power to transport us I think of the novel Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, which is one of my favorite books of all time. It is not an overstatement to say that it touches on nearly everything I hold to be important. Activism. Justice. The power of art. Love. Feminism. Class. It tells the story of two teen boys sent to be “re-educated” during Mao’s cultural revolution in China and the love affair they embark on with literature and that one of the boys has with a local girl. When my life is bumpy and I need to remind myself of the articles of my faith, I re-read it as I have just done this past week. It is a gorgeous paean to literature and imagination and a deeply feminist work, exalting the need to hold all people as equals and blasting a klieg light at the subjugations and negation of women and state control over women’s bodies. It also venerates the power of art and literature to sexually liberate and transform women within oppressive societies—by which I mean the world.
Sex and literature and transformative power—yes, always. I moderated a panel last month on women writing sex and sexuality which featured LaShonda Katrice Barnett. I wanted to sit next to her for a month and just listen to her speak in her majestic voice and soak up some of her vast knowledge—about love and writing and sex and the world. At one point she talked about the opening masturbation scene in Their Eyes Were Watching God and in those moments I came to know what it was to swoon. Her novel, Jam on the Vine, takes a hard look at history—what we think we know versus what we know, both as a people and for a person—and explores both activism and sexuality with passion and ripe vigor. The novel tells the story of journalist Ivoe Williams and weaves her tale with the history of the early twentieth century in the United States. I read it the first time with full attention, but I came back hungrily for a second time after my panel with Dr. Barnett. I wanted the book’s tongue to devour me—and it did.
A little band of women from their twenties through their seventies have been surrounding me with love lately. It is awesome and overwhelming. They have been by my side and helped me through the dark night. They stay overnight, walk the dog when it’s dark, take in the mail when I’m not here, come to visit, check-in, let the dog come to stay. They surround me like a coven. Their energy fuels my aesthetic. I take Adrienne Rich to bed. I have been listening to Fiona Apple, Ruth Brown, Jonatha Brooke, Irma Thomas, Joni Mitchell, Roberta Flack. Maria Callas is on most often. Opera matches my cravings. I’ve been thinking about women making art and how lucky I am to have been moved and changed by that art and how it’s still too fucking hard for women to be artists and what a goddamned outrage that is. I have been surrounding myself with the work of visual artists and keep coming back to Grace Hartigan’s paintings. Her beautiful and powerful medleys of abstract and figurative forms. I am writing under her aegis somehow. She kneads out the last bits of my faith in my own art that I have left for this year. I can’t wait to read the new biography of her, Restless Ambition, over the holidays. This review had me breathless. Restless ambition indeed. I met Grace once at a show at Louie’s Bookstore in Baltimore, where for a time in my youth I would hangout and read and think of my life and what it would be like and if I might write. A student of hers was having a show there and my date pointed Grace out to me. This was in the late eighties and she was in her late sixties. “She’s fucked everyone,” the guy I was with told me. Not a word about her paintings. I am here, Grace, and I have fucked everyone too, though not that guy who didn’t mention your work, because fuck that, not him. Thanks for the inspiration, Grace, in every way.
There are things I want—to be near my husband again, a little rain, justice, my grandmother to live forever—but my days are filled with the love of so many good women and words and art and artists and writers. I’ll see my gran and sleep next to my husband later this month and the rains will come, they always do. The pursuit of justice remains a drumbeat. I think it’s getting louder and that is the finest sound. Meantime, I am listening to sublime blues and writing. The new year is coming. What will we make in it? I am looking at Grace’s paintings. Thinking of her name. A promise on my teeth. Grace.
*Ed. note: Holy hell, my TBR pile just got bigger. Thanks for bringing your fierce intelligence and creative genius to us, Anna. I knew you'd inject some light into this dark December. May it reflect back at you.
As always, art by the illuminating Jen Deaderick.
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