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The wily best cited in 2009

Best of 2009.

A best is a wily creature indeed. As surprising as Sasquatch or even a hummingbird, a Northern Cardinal, a new bud burst and clinging simple to its branch at the kitchen window. And as difficult to trap and keep.  Impossible to tame.

Perhaps that’s why citing a best is as thrilling as it is…. The chase we cannot call a chase, the capture we cannot call a capture. Just the utter, what?, shock of meeting it so we can recall it, share it with someone. Call it love. Call it epiphany. Call it miracle. Or, just point at the happy accident, a nanosecond of surprise and awe running up the backside of recognition that changes us forever. Whatever it is, call it also great inspiration for writing.

Grace does it to me every time. Disappears floors beneath my Keds and raises my awareness, connects all my parts to Right Now. Reminds me, really, how weird and cool and crazy it is to be human. To yearn. And also to be satisfied, cured of all my lumbering and fumbling, for an instant anyway.

And so. Between the wars and full-time jobs with benefits I sit, longing for better in the new decade, and presenting for you a few bests I can cite from oh-nine. Some are playful, others not. Some down-right soul-fucking. Or down, down, lower-down depressing. I don’t mind. One of my best years was the one that started by stealing and killing my mother (1981). Another stole but did not kill two lovers. (That was 2000, it turned me 28.) Don’t get me wrong. Those years sucked, hard. And that’s the thing.

When the colors and sounds and sense drain from the world and stay gone for so long, you you can’t help but feel every twitch, remember it in your muscle and bones when it comes rushing back at you all swinging sticks, reverse avalanches, and noon sun on every diamond top ocean. Then’s when you catch the small stuff: the crackle of leaves beneath Sasquatch (or some other mysterious thing, like maybe the local white tail). The heartbeat-hum of the Calliope. That flash of redder than red you (hey!) happen upon. The flutter of love come back. So delicate it hurts.

Anyway, here they are, some bests of 2009. Many are tied in my writer brain to good reads. Anything to make the good pain last longer:

:: Taro Yamasaki ::

I stumbled onto this collection of Taro Yamasaki Pulitzer Prize-winning photgraphs this year while I was rooting around the web for something else. They’re from a series the photographer shot in 1980 for the Detroit Free Press, but the feeling I get from them–especially, in context, the sixteenth print–is immediate and long-lasting. Like a good pummeling.

They put me a bit in mind of Jill McDonough’s collection of sonnets HABEAS CORPUS, and Hubert Selby Jr’s work, especially his painful and anything-but-beautiful THE ROOM.


:: “Frozen in indifference: Life goes on around body found in vacant warehouse” ::

This. Heart-breaking. It’s whisper-close to the most meaningful moments in my life. It is my Detroit. Not good. But strangely, yes, a best.

Joyce Carol Oates’s National Book Award-winning novel THEM puts me in mind of this image. It’s a sustained aria really, of pain and lack and gone, and their lover, empathy.


:: Delhi, India, 5pm ::

A best is grabbing, unrepeatable, near unbelievable. In a word: true. In another word: surreal.

I caught this image, as the caption indicates, at 5pm in Delhi, India. For an epic example of the novel life that surrounds this real foot, read Aravind Adiga’s THE WHITE TIGER.


:: “Homemade Penguin Light Box,” by Mike Young & “Books? Fall Apart,” by Shya Scanlon ::

When it come to writing–the work of it, the ache and joy–the conversation goes necessarily to inspiration. And, laying bare the heart inside the heart of the matter, it also goes to criticism and plagiarism. The two discussions above (one at htmlgiant about and between the authors of PEOPLE OF PAPER and LIGHT BOXES and issues of “borrowing”; the other a criticism of criticism here at Big Other concerning Tom Bissell and Jorge Volpi) mine the issues. Perhaps not gospel, they’re surely a living testament to our craft–one that still and always rubs the skin off and gingerly salts the wound.


:: Bad Sweater Guy ::

Sometimes it takes a guy wrapped in something woolier than Sasquatch, busier than that hummingbird, more shocking than the cardinal to unwrap us from the mundane intensity of this writing life–the thinking, thinking, weighing, translating, metaphorizing, thinking some more. In those moments Bad Sweater Guy is just the salvation I need. Perhaps you’ll agree. . . .


Feel free to share some of your own bests with me here or at stacymus@gmail.com. Because bests, like just about everything else fleeting and life-changing, hoist us highest on their crooked shoulders in the sharing. . . .

Here’s to many more citings in 2010.

11 thoughts on “The wily best cited in 2009

  1. I was thinking about that Plascencia exchange recently. I wonder what became of it–whether Salvador was ever mollified. I haven’t read either book, but it did seem that there was real evidence to back up the claim–didn’t Jones admit as much in a later post or something? I seem to remember him coming out and saying he owed PoP a debt.

    I don’t know. Anyway, that exchange sure was was tense.

      1. I’m pretty sure some comments have been erased. I seem to remember like two or three comments by Plascencia before the the conversation was taken “offline.”

  2. (In)tense, indeed. I appreciated Steven Gillis’s addition to the PoP/LB discussion, in which he broaches that strange and strong word, “integrity”:

    “I have been following this exchange for a while now and as the waves seemed to have stopped crashing for the moment I cant quite get out of my head what PHM wrote the other day, to wit:

    “What I’m saying is, so what? How does this harm the author of People of Paper?

    “I could write a book – ha – in answer to your question. Let me state simply this, the creative process begins with the individual, begins with the integrity of the author and his/her ability to put pen to paper and create their own work. Influence is not only alright, it is all but essential. But influence is quite different from stealing someone else’s work. What harm you ask? The damage is so fundamental, so extreme, that the mere asking of the question insults the entire arena in which art is born. You may say ‘Come on Gillis, get off your high horse,’ and that is your right. For me though, as a writer, and publisher, the very idea of taking someone else’s work and adopting it as my own is so antithetical to why I write and publish as to make your question shocking. What harm to the author of People of Paper? The harm is that this author sweated and sacrificed and put his heart and soul into a book and then someone came along and lifted his work product, his effort and integrity, and took a short cut to creating a second book based on POP’s sweat and blood. The harm is immeasurable. It undermines everything that we as artists and writers are supposed to be about and speaks all too clearly to the ‘me first’ and shortcut and soundbite society that we have unfortunately come to live. The harm is off the charts. The harm is already done when the very question can even be asked.”

    1. I thought his comment was interesting and wish somebody had responded.

      But I think it’s difficult to turn a conversation about a specific individual’s book, esp. somebody lots of folks in a community are connected with and care about, into a broader conversation abt these issues, even tho that broader conversation is what everybody in the thread kept saying they wanted.

    1. I’d like to as well — w.o, th

      “Light Boxes” was one of my favorite books of the year. Plascencia sounds great as well, and I would like to read.

      Without having read both, I feel like I can only experience the comment thread as human drama and can’t really engage the other issues.

    2. What was that thing Warhol said…. haha. Thanks for this collection Stacy. I am looking forward to reading LB. I appreciate here that you cite dialogues within this list of visual and textual “bests”.

  3. One last thing )perhaps( on the “borrowing” issue in this 2009:

    George Harrison said he never intended to rip off the melody of the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” when he wrote “My Sweet Lord.” He had just forgotten he’d ever heard it. And when a young Helen Keller cribbed from Margaret Canby’s “The Frost Fairies” in her story “The Frost King,” Canby herself said, “Under the circumstances, I do not see how any one can be so unkind as to call it a plagiarism; it is a wonderful feat of memory.” Keller claimed she was forever after terrified. “I have ever since been tortured by the fear that what I write is not my own. For a long time, when I wrote a letter, even to my mother, I was seized with a sudden feeling, and I would spell the sentences over and over, to make sure that I had not read them in a book,” she wrote. “It is certain that I cannot always distinguish my own thoughts from those I read, because what I read become the very substance and texture of my mind.”

    (from Joshua Foer, in Slate–http://www.slate.com/id/2140685/)

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