A Note to Susan Sontag

January 11, 2018

 

OK, Susan. 

Bear with me,

 

     Because, after stumbling onto your 16 years of journals and notebooks (dated 1964 to 1980), I know that you’re the one who can help. Your wisdom is accessible, eloquent, and beautiful, crafting a detailed route from point A to point B and, more importantly, I cannot disappoint you because you are dead.

 

     Susan,

I’m contacting you because I

have become

obsessed with loss. 

 

     You, as a dead person, obviously understand. Dying is the ultimate loss. In death, you have lost your son, your lover, your body. In life, I have lost depth perception and keys, a pancake recipe and memories. There is a difference in scale, Susan. my keys can be remade, pancakes rediscovered, and yet these losses already pain me: I worry that my memories are drifting into my veins, into my lungs, into my bowels, and floating out on an exhale or a shit, gone forever down the toilet or on a breeze. I need your advice, your methods for coping.

 

Susan, I have questions,

and I need answers

And I trust you, Susan. I trust the dead.


     I’m sorry if using your first name is weird, but calling you by your last name feels awkward, it’s like calling my mom “Cindy” and I know we haven’t met in the standard humyn sense, making eye contact and small talk about weather and cats (I’m a cat person), but could you expect one who has watched your inner monologue living and breathing for sixteen years to simply forget about the living and breathing and act like they know nothing about you?

 

     Sorry if my language was insensitive, but I don’t have a word for the act of being dead that can be used in place of “live.”

 

     Anyway:

 

     What follows are respectively a question, a dream, and an observation.

 

{the question}

        My parents owned a brick-sized Betty Crocker cookbook with a red-and-white plaid cover and browned crinkly pages that smelled like old food and dust. It was thick, the size of a sexy airport novel. I memorized the pancake recipe contained within and returned to it for years, making perfect flapjacks till I was 22 when the page vanished. After that, the corner of my mind previously devoted to how much baking powder was put into a two person batch was soon colonized by politics, bills, and a sense of loss. 

       Susan, have you seen this recipe? I assume lost things go the same place that dead people go, but I’m not sure because where do your lost things go? I have not seen any of the people you mentioned in your journals, but maybe I should stop lifting rocks to look for them.

       I don’t know, but you and me, we can figure this out together.

 

{the dream}

     In the ditches, there were carrots, bones, stones and roots.

 

     In the puddle, there was an ocean (In it, everything: the stars, the moon, the truth, and

myself with my head in a puddle.)

 

     In the hollow of an old oak, there was a browning page that blew away.

 

     I know I should want it, want to grab it, crumple my fingers over the crisp wrinkled edges, but I don’t remember how to “want,” how to “chase.” I only remember things that “chase” and things that are “chased.” Wolves chase deers. People chase dreams. I don’t think I’m a wolf and I don’t know what people feel like so I must be the subject of pursuit.

 

I must be a deer.

I must be the dream.

 

{the observation}

 

     Susan, there is a passage dated for 8/7/68. At the end, it reads:

 

“I want to be good.”

“Why?”

“I want to be what I admire.”

“Why don’t you want to be what you are?”

 

     End passage.

 

     There is no follow up to this.

 

     And I imagine your mouth gaping open, the wisest person I know emptied, drowning, drawing on nothing in particular. This passage casts doubt. It makes me think you stumbled. It makes me think that you are performing, to make us believe you are a certain way, that you are an endless well of analytic thinking, that your journals are worthy of another’s reading, that you hate yourself in the mythic, artistic way, that you think it would be easy to be bad.

 

     And, Susan, it is easy. It is easy to be bad. I get mad at people for walking slow on the sidewalk and it’s nobody’s fault. I think about spines cracking like steps on a stairwell and it’s nobody’s fault, but sometimes bad is easy to envision in a world of the fallible living. And I remember that you were once the fallible living.

 

     So, I watched an interview of you.
     It was from 2000, four years before you died.

     I don’t know you, Susan. I don’t know you. I only knew what you wanted to be from your youth, and you wanted to be better, to understand the world better, to fall in love better, and in this interview, you looked like somebody who was satisfied with the ivory tower and the pedantic changeless energy of academic thinking, somebody who was satisfied and complacent. I understand this,

 

but
     Susan,

 

     I trust the dead because they don’t care about their fucking reputation, they have nothing to lose or gain, they have no bills to pay or food to eat or books to write. They simply are until they are not and once you were not but in my mind now you are again and I have done the most terrible thing, searching for life in a graveyard and now I am hurt because I have dug up bones.

 

     When I was younger, I assumed everybody had some secret that I was not privy to: they moved confidently, I stumbled. They were all truth, I was true hollow. I went to the mirror and mimicked their faces till I felt like I could pinpoint the furrow of “angry,” or the bloom of “joy” or the blank pain of “loss” believing that if I painted that picture, I would be that picture. Like living in the shape would let me live in the truth, like living in houses that are not your home. You learn different ways to live, but you do not learn to live.

 

     Susan, I forget that we can be trapped by life and even if I want to be better, want to make the world better, I forget that I am alive and sometimes I worry that I am limited by life even as I see the limitless nature of the world.

 

     As I get older, as I learn more, my thoughts mangle and mutate, flowing seamlessly from point A to point C to tree to leaf to veins to blood to James Baldwin to Susan Sontag to Small Gods to pangolin, a marvelous mammal like an armadillo crossbred with a chameleon, poached and traded by the ton to be medicine or pets for people who are scared and lonely, if not for us they’d live most of their lives in isolation like an isoceles triangle, a three-sided shape with two sides of equal length.

 

     Please don’t worry about responding immediately. I understand that you, as a dead person, have many obligations as well as a difficult time gripping pens and may need time to sort through papers and think. Your answers, I hope, will come to me on the wind, like  knowing the directions without looking at a map because yes, you take walk two blocks south to Wrightwood and turn right into the alley where the asphalt turns to red brick. Take ten steps in, then twenty. Make sure nobody is looking except for the moon. There is a long puddle. Drop into it.

 

     Like a blink of the iris. There and then not.

 

     Susan, I think death is a form of wisdom that the living aren’t ready for.

 

Love,

J

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