trying not to fall asleep on a rainy saturday afternoon

IT IS one o’clock in the afternoon and I feel like sleeping.

Outside, the clouds are heavy and unmottled. The rain’s frigid grains cover the city in water, from the concrete roads, to the balcony rails, to the corrugated roofs. Today, the city is grey and dull. The sun is hiding behind the clouds, so there is no glimmer nor sheen. There is no light to kiss some shine onto the water’s skin.

Seated on the couch, I wrap a blanket around my back. I feel like sleeping. But I must not sleep! It is too early to fall asleep.

So I write. I write this. I write freely. I think about work. I think about writing about work, about the invisible clamp around my heart that tightens up every time I think about work. Think of something else, Jolens, think of something else

I read Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. I read it again, and I will read it for the third and the fourth and the millionth time, in parts and in full, in moments of joy and sadness and whatever lies in between. It is hauntingly beautiful.

Sitting in my office before teaching a class on prosody, trying not to think about you, about my having lost you. But how can it be? How can it be? Was I too blue for you. Was I too blue. I look down at my lecture notes: Heártbréak is a spondee. Then I lay my head down on the desk and start to weep.—Why doesn’t this help?

– From Bluets, by Maggie Nelson

LAST WEEK I read Weike Wang’s Chemistry and Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age.

I observe: debut novels by young writers are almost always autofiction. The main characters are almost always the writer, or a fictionalized version of the writer. Writers I personally know are quick to disagree. “My characters are not me,” they say. Maybe I’m wrong and maybe they’re right. Oh, wait, no. This isn’t even a question of wrong versus right.

What do I read next? I am partial to starting Suah Bae’s Untold Night and Day, Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Iliac Crest, or Won-pyung Sohn’s Almond. This is me trying to step away from the oh-so-pervasive American bubble. Ha, ha, hu, hu.

YESTERDAY I went to one of the biggest Asian supermarkets in the city to buy frozen goods. Frozen corn, frozen fish balls, frozen wheat buns, etc. I now have enough food to last me two paychecks, hopefully more.

Should I do some chores to stay awake? I write a list.

1. Wipe the tables; 2. Vacuum the floors; 3. Put the dishes in the dishwasher; 4. Throw the trash out; 5. Replace the bin liners.

I do 1, 2, and 3. I peek outside; the clouds are still weeping.

I’ll do 4 and 5 later.

I HAVE a new textbook: Ted Gioia’s The History of Jazz.

No, I am not a music major. Yes, I read textbooks for fun.

I read the first chapter, and I learn that traditional West African music isn’t the homogenous slab that it is often generalized to be. It is expansive and colorful and diverse, but Gioia notes some unifying traits:

  1. the call-and-response form;
  2. the integration of performance into everyday life;
  3. the cross-fertilization between music and dance;
  4. the heavy focus on sounds instead of notes; and
  5. the “extraordinary richness of rhythmic content.”

In high school I learned that the contemporary divide between audience and performer does not apply to traditional Filipino dance. Members of a community dance and sing and play music together, thereby blurring away the roles of audience versus performer. Songs and dances are also integral to our people’s rituals and routines so, in certain ways, and maybe to a lesser extent, points 2 and 3 above may also be said about indigenous Filipino music.

Also, further to point 5, below is a little something-something for me (and for you) to muse over:

Theorists of rhythm often dwell on its liberating and Dionysian element, but the history of rhythm as a source of social control and power is far less well understood. The historian Johan Huizinga hypothesized that the introduction of drums into the ranks of soldiers marked the end of the feudal age of chivalry and signaled the beginning of modern warfare, with its coordinated regiments and precise military discipline. Perhaps the uplifting playlists and background music of modern office life and retail environments—our contemporary equivalents of the work song—serve today to exert a subtle control over the employees of post-industrialized society. In any event, both aspects of rhythm—on the one hand, as a source of liberation and, on the other, as a force of discipline and control—make their presence felt in African American music. The work song was the melody of disciplined labor…

– From The History of Jazz, by Ted Gioia (emphasis mine)

IT IS almost 6 in the evening and the rain has stopped. I put on a bra. I wear a jacket. I take the trash out.

Soggy orange leaves pile at the bottom of the building’s main steps. I think of my parents’ house. I think of my father who meticulously sprays out the bunched-up leaves stuck along the roof’s gutters. I miss my parents.

These words come back to me: You cannot live your life for them. Eventually they will die. I hope they never die because once they do, I will be alone.

– From Chemistry, by Weike Wang

-s

I cross the parking lot and walk to the middle of the empty road. There are no cars around, no police sirens roaring as they usually do at this time of day. From a distance I see a young couple walking their dog. I look around. I see no Jesse Pinkman lookalikes digging up the trash bins for empty bottles and cans. I listen to the hushed rustling of the leaves. I hear the wind whisper and I feel its icy breath brushing up against my face.

Some days I feel safe around this neighborhood, and some days I feel like I’m smack dab in the middle of a slightly sanitized Gotham City. If you never hear from me again, I beg you to please be my Batman and beat the crap out of the creeps who murdered me. Woah, that escalated quickly.

Anyhow, it is time for supper. I better eat.

It is 10 in the evening and I haven’t eaten yet. Poof! There goes half of my weekend.

4 Comments

  1. Gabriela

    Hey, at least you didn’t fall asleep! I commend you for it. I loved your essay with its slow rhythm, like raindrops methodically tapping against the windowpane. It’s like your words were seamlessly getting mixed in with the overcast weather and your weekend readings. We are what we consume?

    Liked by 1 person

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