The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘loneliness’

Tao Lin on Bed

August 18, 2015 | by

Inspired by our famous Writers at Work interviews, “My First Time” is a series of short videos about how writers got their start. Created by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling, each video is a portrait of the artist as a beginner—and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

Today’s featured writer is Tao Lin, whose first collection, Bed, appeared in 2007. Tomorrow, we’ll hear from Sheila Heti about The Middle Stories, her debut collection from 2001. In the meantime, you can watch the first set of “My First Time” interviews, published in May:

Sing It, Walt! and Other News

May 19, 2015 | by


Whitman at age twenty-eight, 1848.

  • After seventeen years, Judy Blume is publishing a new novel—for adults. “In so many of Blume’s books, her main characters’ bodies insist on their inherent, primal messiness; they crave, they ooze, break out in rashes as strange and humiliating as desire itself. The body is reckless, but telling.”
  • Walt Whitman, pop-music critic: in 1845, the poet published a brief review in Broadway Journal, where he pays a hearty compliment to a family of singers: “The sight of them, as they are, puts one in mind of health and fresh air in the country, at sunrise—the dewy, earthy fragrance that comes up then in the moisture, and touches the nostrils more gratefully than all the perfumes of the most ingenious chemist.”
  • Herman Wouk turns one hundred this month. Give the guy a break. “Readers under forty know Wouk, if they know him at all, as a name on the spine of a paperback shoved into a cottage bookshelf at the end of someone else’s summer vacation—or perhaps as the supplier of the raw material for Humphrey Bogart’s epic performance as Captain Queeg of the USS Caine. What they don’t know is that Herman Wouk has a fair claim to stand among the greatest American war novelists of them all.”
  • “Often when I’m home alone, only the thought of how my dead body might be found helps me act proper … I thought of this while going to the local deli to buy a carrot and a couple of onions. A long time ago, when I started living by myself, before my wife-to-be and I moved in together, I used to be very careful when I went to the grocer’s for a carrot or a courgette to buy more than one—for who, when cooking for one, ever needs more than one carrot?—in case the grocer thought I had improper designs on the vegetable … These days, I do not give a damn. I am too busy palpating my solitude, as the tongue probes a gap in the teeth.”
  • Paul Ford on “No Manifesto for Poetry Readings and Listservs and Magazines and ‘Open Versatile Spaces Where Cultural Production Flourishes,’ ” a new collaborative poem: “My own opinion of whether the poem is good or bad doesn’t matter. The poem makes me squirm; it makes me roll my eyes; it makes me angry at the world; and it makes me tired. I keep coming back to it. This poem indicates a lot of things at once about how cultural work is done now, in form, content, and means of production.”

Theory and Practice

March 25, 2015 | by


Walter Gramatté, Trinker (detail), 1922.

Let’s say you’ve had a long day, have a rare evening to yourself, and decide to treat yourself to dinner out. You sit at a restaurant bar with a good book, a glass of wine, your own company. You choose your meal, start to disappear into a story, and then—bam—it’s spoiled by the intrusion of a chatty neighbor. You give your book a regretful, longing look and resign yourself to the opposite of pleasure. 

There are few moments more purely happy than those dedicated to uninterrupted reading, and few more galling than those in which that peace is shattered, abruptly, by a stranger. Read More »

A Dance to the Music of Time

March 6, 2015 | by


Do the Twist!

Back when I was at my loneliest, I decided it would be a good idea to force myself to do all sorts of things alone. It’s not that I had an aversion to solitude: I’ve always enjoyed, for instance, dining solo, and I like watching movies without the pressure of other peoples’ reactions. But that was not enough; that was too easy. If it was not galling, if it didn’t make me feel acutely self-conscious, somehow it didn’t count. Accordingly, I started singing karaoke and riding carousels and seeing bands with grim determination. I won’t pretend this phase lasted long, but it was horrible while it did. I still can’t hear the song “Veni, Vidi, Vici” without a pang. 

The point was not to meet anyone; I shunned company. It was some combination of self-improvement and self-punishment. One June evening, I determined that I would go dancing. I didn’t want to—of course I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to do any of it. Read More »

Security Guard

November 12, 2014 | by

Duane Hanson, Security Guard, 1990, autobody filler, polychromed in oil, mixed media, with accessories, 71" x 26" x 13". © The Estate of Duane Hanson. Photography by Robert McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Duane Hanson’s Security Guard is on display at Gagosian Gallery’s Park and Seventy-fifth Street location through December 3. Hanson, who died in 1996, is known for his doggedly realistic sculptures of Joe and Jane Sixpack: the paunchy, unremarkable janitors, shoppers, joggers, tourists, and deliverymen of the world. Hanson’s working-class men and women are always in some form of repose, wearing expressions that range from the melancholic to the merely phlegmatic. These are people with whom the world has had its way—people used to being seen through. They have body hair. They have hangnails and bruises, varicose veins.

Hanson’s sculptures, given the commonness of their subjects, are almost suspiciously accessible, and so the temptation is to dismiss them as condescending or facile—or just tacky, a bid for the same kind of gee-whiz mimesis on display at Madame Tussaud’s. They are, after all, uncanny likenesses, and it’s easy to get tripped up on that, or to marvel at the painstaking craftsmanship. Hanson made casts from real people, and for maintenance he’d send envelopes of human hair to museums with instructions on how to attach it properly; he went to great lengths to produce convincing skin tones. All that’s very impressive, but it’d have you think the sculptures are just workmanlike forays into photorealism.

And in the wrong setting, they may well be. I could imagine how a roomful of Hanson’s work might register as taunting rather than haunting—in aggregate, the statues could lose their subtlety, all but daring you to appreciate their lifelikeness. But Gagosian Gallery has done a shrewd thing with Security Guard: they’ve put him on his own. He’s leaning against the wall of an otherwise empty space, patrolling nothing, alone. You can see him in there from the street.

“My art is not about fooling people,” Hanson once said. “It’s the human attitudes I’m after—fatigue, a bit of frustration, rejection. To me, there is a kind of beauty in all this.”

By himself, hand in pocket, walkie-talkie at the ready, surrounded by white walls and looking at none of them, Security Guard evokes the whole spectrum of Weltschmerz. Stare at him for sixty seconds and you see a bored, stoical man, an intimate of blankness, maybe solving a Rubik’s Cube in his head or thinking about supper. Stare at him for three minutes and you think, Maybe a widower. Stare at him for five minutes and you want to jot down the number of a suicide hotline, press it into his breast pocket. Take lunch, you want to say with a clap on his shoulder, Go out and get some air.

But he won’t move. As the critic Sebastian Smee wrote of another Hanson piece, “He is not waiting for death, exactly. But death sure is what his life has in mind for him. And for us.”


Once and Future

October 24, 2014 | by

White-in-Boston-CollegeII copy

T. H. White. Photo: Burns Library, Boston College

Perhaps you’ve read Sylvia Townsend Warner’s short stories, or the volumes of poetry she wrote (some with her partner, Valentine Ackland). Lolly Willowes, her best-known work, is a sly novel about a spinster who takes up witchcraft, and well worth seeking out. But my favorite, and the one that’s been on my mind lately, is her 1967 biography of T. H. White, a small masterpiece of humanity.

White, born in 1906 and known to his friends as Tim, was the author of the Arthurian epic The Once and Future King and a number of successful sci-fi titles. A former teacher, he was prone to passionate enthusiasms—falconry, snakes, plans—and wrote a memoir about his experience training a goshawk. Townsend Warner captures his boundless excitement about these things, his humor, his kindness. But more than anything, this is a portrait of loneliness. White had no known relationships with men or women. Townsend Warner speculates that White was “a homosexual and a sado-masochist,” although others disagree on the question of his sexuality. In any case, he was profoundly alone; Townsend Warner wrote, “Notably free from fearing God, he was basically afraid of the human race.”

He did love his dog, an Irish Setter called Brownie. Townsend Warner writes extensively about his bond with Brownie, the love he could not express in other facets of his life. Upon Brownie’s unexpected death, he wrote the following heartbreaking letter to his friend David “Bunny” Garnett, presented in its entirety on the Futility Closet blog. Read this only if you are feeling emotionally tough: Read More »