Cover 14


Naomi Washer

Who is being addressed?
Write my passions instead of living them
At 25, struggling to become an adult out of necessity, how do I feel about my body? After 19 years of dancing, all the pain endured for dancing, now, at 25, this desire to go easy on my body, to let it be simple, and yet the knowledge that I am only 25, that I look much younger than I am, that there is, as they say, supposedly, “so much life left.”
I remember the beautiful, tiny, fierce girl who was my best friend in grade school, who did ballet with me but then became a wrestler, who used to laugh when we were young and say, “Naomi’s so fragile, she bruises when you touch her,” and all the later years of wearing a back brace made me afraid to let anyone get close.
I have read this exact story before but by a different writer.
I’ve never found a four-leaf clover and thus have always believed myself to be unlucky.
The stories we tell ourselves when we are very young cannot be undone.
You were still a child but the inner dialogue had begun.
Reading Hopi tales to you in those rented rooms in Oakland, our first days in California, and how you fell asleep inside your breathing, and your body shook and convulsed in turns, always
only one body part at a time, a shoulder, a knee, an elbow, then finally, before your breathing changed, paused, and then got deeper, slower, so that I knew you were truly asleep—your teeth.
When you grow up experiencing the intermingling of life + art, can you ever separate them?
“the effect of the real” –Sebald
You remember the man who approached you while you were sitting on a bench in Berkeley reading Paul Auster, and he called you Miss Writer because you were underlining so hard, and he said I can tell you got something extra, something in life brought you here and you got something extra in you, I can see it, I can tell.
Does he hold guilt? What is it worth without also giving something to make up for it?
“Find redemption where you can.” –Mark Wunderlich
couldn’t put it in the box.
favorite colors, ice cream flavors, and other things that don’t exist.
but would we feel more comfortable in a concrete reality?
no objective truth, only experience.
locate self within story.
writing was always easier than talking.
forgive me, I don’t want anyone to take care of me.
Not “what happened”—searching for the stories.
Begin with the illustration of the concept. Why I paid a man to etch mountains into my skin.
When I send you pictures of my daily existence—the couch, the bed piled high with books, the forsythia finally in bloom—when I tell you to look at the moon.
“Acts of heroism are in keeping with everything I know about you.” –A.
How does she accomplish the universal through the vague/unspecified?
Are all routines ways of hiding?
That wasn’t me. It was written already in my secondhand copy.
writing, love, colorado.
Marriage: the word shines. A wound that gives off its own light. A wound shines.
What do we not need?
S. finished reading the book before me. I asked him what happened at the end and he said it was lame, a let-down. “He goes back to the painting and feels nothing,” he said with a shrug. So I shrugged too. And when I got to the end myself, I read with the reaction previously held by him—so different than the reaction I would have when I reread it years later.
moment of intimacy—doesn’t have to talk about it, it’s just a feeling they both had.
death makes things more alive—more real.
“Science is sexy” –David MacLean
If you could see music, that music would describe the poetry of the painting.
We transfer our love to a worthy object. I transfer my fears of intimacy with people to an intimacy with objects and rooms. I’m the only one who can leave or get rid of them. They can’t leave me the way a person can.
Doty needed the essay for this inquiry, not a poem, because he needed to be able to show the questions, not the results of them.
love = tenderness toward experience.
palimpsest: a document that has been written on more than once.
not the right question—the question is how and how and how?
I didn’t even recognize this as my experience until after my rude awakenings.
Checkpoint→is this where you are, too, at 30, Naomi, so incapable? Will it frighten you that you wrote this to yourself in the margins at 22? In Chicago, 2013, on the Kimball bus after play rehearsal, en route to dinner at Dave’s house.
“To be witness, rather than storyteller” –the lyric impulse of the essay.
martyr means to witness (greek root). related to sanskrit root—to remember.
Reading this essay on my back porch, red stairs, blue walls, one neighbor playing guitar and one smoking above, while I smoke below, and I never look up to see if he can see me, the still life of my book and pack of smokes and lighter and ashtray, cigarette propped in the groove of the dirty glass while I pick up the pen to underline. Now, running water behind the door.
I read without stopping, without even much breath, I take the book to the bathroom, I pull down my pants with one hand with the pen in my mouth, I walk out of the bathroom with my pants still down around my ankles, I pull up my pants again but leave them unbuttoned just a little.
I’m in bed now after a morning of reading Koestenbaum on the train, in a bagel shop, on my back porch. I’ve been devouring K’s prose and now, the first essay that deals with the erotic, the first essay of his that I am reading in bed, I have this intense desire to call up my boyfriend who lives a few blocks down the road and demand that he come to me immediately to satisfy my Koestenbaum-induced desires. I resort to satisfying myself instead. (Will, one day, he read this?)
When I hear my train stop approaching, sometimes I do not want to get off, I want to keep reading, keep moving, consuming movement, the world, this book and this train car now.
What does it mean to form a shape of someone you’ve only heard about from someone else’s formed shape?
Why did I inherit only these two aspects of Judaism—questioning and revering all things old?
The way she reveals this at the end so the reader inhabits the threshold of the essay and does not fully see it until they have passed through.
always, essays live near lampposts.
Segmentation allows her to contradict herself, get at the real truth.
Everything she writes is a letter.
I begin to feel the same nausea that stunned me on the night I made you leave my room, and for many weeks afterwards.
I am always searching for the last note at the end of the scale. Experiments have proven that even those who don’t read music feel, when they hear the scale return to middle C, a sense of coming home. There is agitation when we are left hanging on a precarious D. This is why I end my sentence not with “after” but with “afterwards.”
How Z felt I’d be ashamed if he wrote descriptively about my ass but did it anyway.
Still showing us that this exploration is not going to be what we’d expect.
Not delving into her own story at first, but research—saying it’s not going to be that simple.
subverting the idea of self-exposure/disclosure.
Instagram: composing visually the way you do in writing—framing the thing in your own unique way, with your own choices, so other viewers see it the way you do, the way you want them to.
Initial descriptions + scene setting, then: the question, then: the essaying.
The third person: is this not what Tsvetaeva and Pasternak told Rilke he was to them?
A class taught where each student researches, discovers, untangles, and puts the pieces back together of a person’s life.
All the pieces that propel your story in all directions, leading ultimately to placing yourself in an unexpected lineage.
In California I lost my vocabulary—it all being tied to weather and seasons and landscapes that didn’t exist there, and so I found it very hard to even speak to people, not knowing what to say.
We give up meaningful things before we know their significance.
Not about knowing the way but gaining and using knowledge.
The overabundance of literary allusions to the orange light.
Why I feel I only want certain kinds of people in my home and why I prefer to live alone than with someone who does not feel about objects the way I do.
My loft, my letter-writing desk, I don’t open them every day.
I don’t want to turn into something else—I want to turn back into myself.
This is an essay. How is it not?
At 17, I wrote on my bookshelf: “our sleeping selves form shelves in a museum.”
Read this February 2018 in the poor secret house in the country where I came to live.
This is the process of allowing yourself to begin the essay.

Naomi Washer is the author of a chapbook, “American Girl Doll,” forthcoming from Ursus Americanus Press. Her essays, dance films, and translations have appeared in The Account, Interim, The Boiler, Essay Daily, Blue Mesa Review, Homonym, and other journals. She has received fellowships from Yaddo and Columbia College Chicago where she earned her MFA in Nonfiction. She lives in Chicago where she is the Editor and Publisher of Ghost Proposal.