You must sleep before you die

Sent on December 1, 2018

A few days ago I found my great grandfather’s grave in an American cemetery in Belgium. I set out to find it with the plan to take a photograph and surprise my grandmother with it. The photo is being printed right now so she doesn’t know about it yet. No one tell her.

I don’t think anyone has ever visited his grave before because it was so far away from Oakland, California, where his parents and wife lived. It’s a coincidence that I also live in Oakland now when I have no family here except my cousin Marty from the other side of the family, and it is another coincidence that I visit Belgium often, where I also have no family.

My great grandmother was still pregnant with my grandmother when he went off to war, so she never got to meet her father. She displays his photo and medals every Veterans and Memorial day.

My great grandmother bought me my first good computer when I was in graphic design college. She also took my to Hawaii, her favorite place, when I was sixteen. She was a very generous and funny person.

Anyway, I have a lot of scattered thoughts about this experience and will probably work out a personal essay, but it’s a little overwhelming right now.

Seems like society is still recovering from this massive loss of a generation. And we’re continuing to add on to that debt: Vietnam war, AIDS crisis…

“History is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past...history is literally present in all that we do.” —James Baldwin in “The White Man’s Guilt”

Or in more simple words: History is right now

They should stop wars.


One of the first places I visited in Belgium this trip, by accident, was another cemetery. This was a small one attached to a catholic church and some of the plots had signs saying they were going to be removed and placed elsewhere because the plot payments hadn’t been renewed which is crazy to me. Capitalism after death.

I found a family plot for three unmarried sisters. They stood out to me because it seems rare, but cool, that all three sisters remained unmarried, especially in those days.

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It’s also fascinating how many terms there are for unmarried women past a certain age (usually 25 which is ridiculous because that is still basically childhood):

Old maid

Spinster

Cat lady

Bachelorette

Catherinette

Husbandless women

Sheng nu ("leftover women" or "leftover ladies")

Christmas cake

There are definitely more, but you get the point and I can’t think of so many for men… “The closest equivalent term for males is 'bachelor', but this doesn't generally carry the same connotations in reference to age and perceived desirability in the marriage market.” (Wikipedia)

The following copy/pastes are from the Wikipedia article for Medieval singlewomen:

"In medieval Europe with its strict classification of women as virgins, wives, and widows, any woman who did not fit into one of three categories risked being equated with a member of the only identifiable, demarcated group that did not fit: prostitutes."

An independent woman, both symbolically and financially, threatened the established patriarchy. This marked a shift in the perception of singlewomen that followed them into the early modern era.

"Strong and healthy single women under the age of fifty were forbidden to rent houses or rooms, but to go into service; women with a bad reputation were to be evicted by their landlords. Such regulations were a further pointer to women's worsening employment prospects in the early modern period."

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The irony is the footnote number is my current age.


That’s all I have to share this time. I’ll end on a new custom poem featuring the word “sleeper” submitted by Pete Gamlen.

you must sleep before you die

I’m a sleeper
nothing special
unassuming exterior
a potential
high performance asset
if activated
if not asleep

 

:0)
Cortney

A funeral in my brain

Sent on November 20, 2018

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I feel like I took Georgia O'Keeffe for granted for most of my life because she was "so famous"  for "just paintings of flowers", I was extremely wrong and I regret being so dumb. It wasn't until I saw this photo of her by Alfred Stieglitz that I finally realized how interesting she was. Now I try to absorb as much of her as I can:

In 1933, O'Keeffe was hospitalized for two months after having suffered a nervous breakdown, largely because she was heartbroken over Alfred Stieglitz's continuing affair with Dorothy Norman. She did not paint again until 1934 and she returned to New Mexico. In August of that year, she visited Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiú, for the first time and decided immediately to live there; in 1940, she moved into a house on the ranch property. The varicolored cliffs of Ghost Ranch inspired some of her most famous landscapes. (Wikipedia)


You can watch her garden all year round on a webcam.


I just learned that someone who has migraines is called a migraineur, which sounds like a person who is an expert in The Migraine. I am a migraineur. For some reason it's validating to know some of my influences also had migraines, maybe it's like how we try to catch a glimpse of ourselves in every reflective surfaces we walk by, but instead of a window/mirror, it's a person.

Here are some people who have written about their headaches: 


First is Georgia O'Keeffe again, I found a book of notes she wrote on some of her drawings in the Ghost Ranch library:

Here are some lines I underlined with a pencil in Joan Didion's 1968 essay "In Bed" published in The White Album (1979):

Three, four, sometimes five times a month, I spend the day in bed with a migraine, insensible to the world around me. [I wrote "SAME" in the margin]

That in fact I spent one or two days a week almost unconscious with pain seemed a shameful secret, evidence not merely of some chemical inferiority but of all my bad attitudes, unpleasant tempers, wrongthink. 

For I had no brain tumor, no eyestrain, no high blood pressure, nothing wrong with me at all: I simply had migraine headaches, and migraine headaches were, as everyone who did not have them knew, imaginary.

"Why not take a couple of aspirin," the unafflicted will say from the doorway...

There certainly is what doctors call a "migraine personality," and that personality tends to be ambitious, inward, intolerant of error, rather rigidly organized, perfectionist.

Susan Sontag wrote down the sequence of a migraine in a journal entry published in As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964–1980:

Loss of perspective (flattening out) > ‘fortification phenomena’ (white lines—zooming in from side; one-sided)> nausea and vomiting > acute hemicrania
(holding site is always part of acute pain)

And this entry in which she describes herself in bullet points:

  • Tall

  • Low blood pressure

  • Need lots of sleep

  • Sudden craving for pure sugar (but dislike desserts—not a high enough concentration)

  • Intolerance for liquor

  • Heavy smoking

  • Tendency to anemia

  • Heavy protein craving

  • Asthma

  • Migraines

  • Very good stomach—no heartburn, constipation, etc.

  • Negligible menstrual cramps

  • Easily tired by standing

  • Like heights

  • Enjoy seeing deformed people (voyeuristic)

  • Nailbiting

  • Teeth grinding

  • Nearsighted, astigmatism

  • Frileuse (very sensitive to cold, like hot summers)

  • Not very sensitive to noise (high degree of selective auditory focus)

Simone Weil had migraines but I don't think she wrote about them, or at least I haven't come across anything yet. I think I may have learned about her migraines in Aliens & Anorexia by Chris Kraus.

Virginia Woolf found headache pain difficult to explain. In her essay "On Being Ill" she said:

English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache. It has all grown one way. The merest schoolgirl, when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry.

Historians believe Emily Dickinson, who wrote about feeling “a funeral in my brain,” suffered from intense headaches and migraines.

Khloé Kardashian tweets about migraines a lot.

Why is this migraine so obsessed with me!!! Leave me alone!!! I hate you migraine!!! #Stalker

I was at a restaurant and the extremely young hostess asked for my name to add to the waitlist and she started spelling it with a K by default; a result of Kardashian Kulture.


Last week I aired a new installment of Cortney's Corner on Lower Grand Radio as part of DJ Sweatpants 60-Minute Total-Body Workout The Radio Show. The topic is headaches. My segment series is new and I think it's just going to be about things I don't like. The topic of the first episode was snakes which scare me.


I received several word submissions in response to my previous tinyletter, it will take me some time to write all the poems and I will email-publish them one at a time. 

I am still accepting words: if you give me a word, I'll put it in a poem. This one features the word "cough" submitted by Jorge de Cascante. It doesn't have a title yet.

I am not strong enough 
to hold in a cough 
as I breathe in
burning homes and bodies 
the drugstores 
surged the cost
of respirator masks
as if they even had any.
And the utility company
will make us pay more
for power
because they got in trouble
for starting the fires again. 
It reminds me
of my homecoming dance
that no one asked me to
but I found the after party
where someone threw
the rich kid’s mom’s pills 
from the second floor landing 
and we swallowed them up
with our beer-before-liquor
without asking
what kind they were.
We watched
an orange line grow 
along the black ridge,
far away in the night 
behind the window
and our reflections 
it was the last thing
we saw as we drifted
into our medicated sleep, 
not waking until
the next afternoon
when the urgent pounding 
on the windows
turned us into kids
with their first hangovers 
learning to evacuate.

I hope you don't have a headache after reading my newsletter. Sorry it was long. 

:0)
Cortney


Straddling the Fringe

Sent on October 30, 2018

In 2013, I visited Belgium for the first time and while I was there my friend Eva took me to visit an old beguinage which was once home to what I call medieval feminists (beguines). They looked like nuns and they lived in a community like nuns but they did not take formal religious vows and they did not "retire from the world."

Beguines belonged to no religious order, so they made their own rules. They lived apart from society in beguinages—self-sufficient clusters of individual houses grouped around a church—but could enter the town at will (though they had to return at dusk). That allowed for an exceptional degree of independence, unknown by their medieval sisters, whether wives or nuns.

Here are all the pics I took at the beguinage in Leuven. It's been completely restored and is now campus housing.

Here's the wikipedia article and some other website with cool photos. I have also been collecting various other forms of unmarried women in an are.na channel.

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The short stories of Leonora Carrington are surreal and absurd but this line from “Waiting” (1941) absolutely makes a lot of sense.

How can anybody be a person of quality if they wash away their ghosts with common sense?


I've started a new season of my podcast about every single vampire movie ever made. I'm trying to watch them all. I'm not obsessed with vampires or anything, I'd consider my interest to be average. I like buffy, etc. The origin story is that I tweeted long ago that I'd seen every vampire movie and now I'm trying to do that so no one finds that tweet and calls me a liar. Anyway, season 2 episodes are probably better than season 1 episodes because this is DIY podcasting and I'm learning as I go.


Listen: vampireti.me or itunes or google play or stitcher.


I am now accepting word submissions. Send me one word and I'll write a custom poem. The following poem is the first in this experiment and it was hard because it was a word I had never used in my life. The word is alpenglow submitted by CW.

Straddling the Fringe

step one:
look it up in the dictionary
al·pen·glow
the rosy light of the setting or rising sun seen on high mountains

step two:
make an erasure poem out of its wikipedia article

no direct path
to reach normal
generally confused
straddling the fringe

step 3:
dedicate the poem to [redacted], using a pseudonym

Dedicated to CW

Send me a word and I'll make you a poem.


:0)

Cortney

Just another day at the office

Sent on Oct 8, 2018

Here are the first five CDs I owned and sang along with in my bedroom (ages 10-11). I just wanted to see what they all looked like together in an attempt to see myself explained, and I think yes, this explains a lot. I am very grateful for the year 1995.


This headline from 1910 is relatable and is also a very beautiful poem.

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I saw it on a tumblr called yesterday's print which posts found headlines and photos from old newspaper archives. I think it shows us how we really haven't changed much even though we're in the future with flying cars and liquid food and instead of sending letters and opinions to The Editor about how depressed we are, we just tweet.


I recently read Debriefing, a collection of short stories by Susan Sontag, I found most of it not that interesting but did I really like this little vignette.

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Ok and now for something by me:

just another day at the office

I pass a woman crying to herself and think, at least it’s not me, but also my time will come. The woman cries until the last of her body drips onto the sidewalk. The coworker who stopped answering her texts after a couple happy hours and a night in his apartment walks by. He notices the puddle and decides to stomp through it for fun because he likes a splash and his boots are waterproof.


:0)

Cortney

Self Sabotage

Sent on Sep 26, 2018

I just learned about a 17th century European spiritual and cultural movement called Rosicrucianism that found a resurgence in one of my hometowns (Oceanside, California) in the early 1900s. (I have more than one hometown because I moved a lot as a kid, but in my hierarchy of hometowns, Oceanside is at the top). The international headquarters in Oceanside is called Mount Ecclesia and is "noted for its singular architecture and the preservation of nature grounds and gardens, offering a unique meditative walking experience. Accommodation and vegetarian meals are also provided during the winter and summer school activities." Yves Klein studied with this sect via the mail lol.

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I once had a weird coincidental back-to-back reading experience in which two different pieces described a 15th century portrait of a Flemish woman. First, Patti Smith wrote about it twice in her book, Woolgathering:

Above my desk is a small portrait—Flemish, fifteenth-century. It never fails, when I gaze upon it, to produce a shudder, followed by a curious rush of warmth, recognition. Perhaps it is the serenity of expression or perhaps the head-covering—a fragile habit framing the face like the folding wings of a large, diaphanous moth.

She then repeats it later in the book about another Flemish portrait she sees:

I tried to focus on a portrait behind the brass cash register. Flemish fifteenth-century. I had seen it somewhere before, perhaps in the hall of a local guild.

Patti is a very sentimental writer. OK, then I read True Stories by Sophie Calle right after. In Sophie's story called "The Dutch Portrait" she also writes about a 15th century Flemish portrait:

...a fifteenth century Flemish painting entitled 'Luce de Montfort,' which portrayed a young woman in a pink bodice, her face slightly turned to show her left profile while her eyes looked straight at you, her features framed by a white, starched linen coif.

I don't know what to do with this information but I know it's weird and maybe means something. In an effort to not forget this experience, I am collecting as many Flemish portraits as I can in my casual online searches. They're all in my are.na channel called Flemish Hats.

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I'm working on a very long poem / short story titled Self Sabotage, here is how it starts:

She was born as no one and now she is no one and now she is not doing anything. Eating, sleeping, nothing, just like everyone else.

I would show you her photo but she doesn’t have a face and I forgot what it looks like. I haven’t bothered to look at her sad features through a glass half-full in a while. She keeps her face in her pocket for moments when people expect to see it. It reminds her of the other faces, the ones who made her and then left her.

She is an abandoned child, and she is an abandoned adult.

Like the two children, a brother and a sister, who saw a cross on the side of the highway, a memorial for a man who died there. On it was the same name as their father’s and they realized, Oh, that’s where he went. And then they laughed.

Something’s not right.

Her laugh turns into a sob then back into a laugh. Again. Once, as she watched Vine compilations on YouTube. Once, while she tried to eat lasagna with a cloth napkin draped over her head. Once, as she listened to a program about molested children, through her headphones: “You are not alone.”

But she is alone, everyone else in the office went to lunch.

Ok that's it for now, thanks for listening. If you want to read all of this poem/story let me know and I'll send it to you. You can even tell me you hate it.

:0)

Cortney


It is time to stuff my body with pasta again

Sent on Sep 18, 2018

A year ago I released a set of emoticon faces as stickers for iOS and I've recently started making a new collection of faces. I've just been uploading them to an are.na channel because I don't know what I'm going to do with them yet. Making stickers for messaging apps is hard, I don't think I can bring myself to do that again. If you have any ideas of where you would want to see them or use them etc, let me know. I was sort of thinking a mood journal/calendar thing with a physical sticker pack that you can use to document your moods throughout the year. Might be helpful to find patterns in your mental health.

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I installed a browser plugin that surfaces quotes from The Creative Independent every time I open a new tab. This one from Claire L. Evans is very comforting:

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We are all literally as good as we're gonna get for us at our level right now. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


My life is really a complicated affair of mirrors I look nice in and mirrors I don't. Just like Jean Rhys in Good Morning, Midnight:

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There's nothing I do more than eat pasta and scroll through various social media feeds. So, I will end with my poem about just that:

It is time to stuff my body with pasta again

and browse the feed
and look in the mirror
and expect to see the same:
         a feed of pretty things

instead i see me:
         dense
         round
         uncooked

:0)

Cortney

Still Life

Sent on Sep 10, 2018

Sorry if I was a drag in the last tinyletter. I find sad things funny, and funny things sad. I laugh and I cry and they feel exactly the same to me. I wish there was a better term for "funny and sad at the same time" other than "tragicomedy" which just doesn't capture the sentiment, in my opinion. Anyway, I recently started blogging about life through book reviews, for example:

Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews (1979)

i secretly read the entire series when i was eight and this is how i learned about sex.

more: cortneysreadingblog.tumblr.com


I'm currently watching Sex and the City for the first time. I decided to watch it after I got a chocolate chip cookie that I immediately threw away because I remembered sugar goes straight to my curves. I ended up getting it out of the trash and eating it anyway. Someone told me Miranda does the same thing in an episode, so now I'm watching the show for more relatable Miranda moments. Carrie is unbearable. Here is a list I've started about Carrie Bradshaw's capitalism, I expect to add more by the time I finish the series:

carrie bradshaw is not registered to vote

carrie bradshaw spends beyond her means

carrie bradshaw borrows money from her best friend's engagement ring

carrie bradshaw does not consider selling her shoes when money is tight


I recently came across Overlooked which is an effort by the New York Times to include obituaries for extraordinary women who never got one. I also love Feminize Your Canon, the new column in the Paris Review exploring the lives of underrated and underread female authors.


I'll end with a poem I wrote that is inspired by moments when I sit so still, I can see the pulse in my wrist:

Still Life

nothing moves except my pulses
it grosses me out

eyes pass over me, uninterested
where is the mona lisa, they demand.

i want to shed the stillness from my body
but i remain on the sofa
Slouching Towards my laptop
with another empty bag of cheesy puffs


:0)
Cortney

Just going to keep doing this until I die

Sent on Sep 4, 2018

For the past few years I haven't had much luck submitting my poems and other writing for publication. In fact, I have only had one submission get through (out of many), but right after my two poems went online, the whole online publication got archived. Rejection is good because it pushes me to get better blah blah blah, although most of the time the rejections have nothing to do with the pieces submitted and everything to do with the high volume of submitters. For every writer who gets published online, there are hundreds maybe thousands more who deleted a rejection email from their inbox so they could pretend it never happened. And I'm tired of deleting those emails from my inbox, I just want to take a nap. They're not as motivating as I've been pretending they are. So, in the spirit of my previous self-published efforts (which proved too difficult to self-distribute), and to take a break from getting rejected, I'm going to stop submitting and just circulate pieces here via my personal newsletter. Otherwise they'll just sit in my google docs which is not what I write for, I write to share and I can't hoard my art like Vivian Maier even though I do admire that approach way more. To start, here is a poem l built out of some of the rejection emails:


just going to keep doing this until i die

we appreciate the chance to choose you
unfortunately
you are not chosen

we’re glad you thought of us
unfortunately
you are not for us

we appreciate the opportunity
to consider you
unfortunately
we can not use you

good luck
we’re passing
you were not selected
place yourself elsewhere
we wish you
the best of luck


In other news, I have launched another project: a concept shop that will feature artist collaborations one at a time until they sell out. The first product is a watch I designed (for watching all the hours of your anxiety) in an edition of 200 and photographed by Amanda Jasnowski. Follow the instagram to keep up on current and future releases.

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And finally, here is a very good Sylvia Plath poem I just read in her collection Crossing the Water that really resonated with me:

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:0)

Cortney