The Long Say

Bringing back the long-form essay before it’s too late.


Occasionally you have a terrifying burst of creativity; terrifying in that in that moment you feel most truly efficacious. You’re not productive anymore, you’re a three-year-old grinning, happy in a pile of mud, building the universe, feeling the sweetness of the summer-warm sludge between your fingers. Terrifying also because this moment has nothing to do with professionalism. Every tree your coat bumps as you walk by; you feel like you’ve touched and ignited a tiny light at the tip of each branch. Not because you inherently have that kind of potency, but because you’ve by some repeated, lucky accident discovered the reciporical nature of yourself and the world outside you. You pull the thin plastic off the roll to make a kite, the wind carries the kite and tugs at the string, saying hello.

These moments in your (and of course I mean my) life are difficult to ignore. It’s no accident that you’ve been turning “This is Just to Say” around in your head more than usual lately, in that place just behind your throat and tongue. The poem is a talisman by a man who divided himself, as an obstetrician and as a writer.

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

It’s an ism that finds its way into your speech patterns has for a long time and will as you get older. And of course, it wasn’t *just* to say. William Carlos Williams worked long and unexpected hours. He saw the beginning of life on a regular basis. He asked for forgiveness. And the depth of the silence in this poem is easier to perceive every time I look at it. The silence resonates more heavily than each steadily constructed stanza. It’s a beautiful poem.

The strange world of self-hood, it doesn’t have much value closed. To keep from closing, we tack sayings on the fridge, near the plums. To keep ourselves from closing, we collect and share what we can, the way my friend and I used to collect junk and put it on top of our dressers, above our clothes, forcing ourselves into a relationship with the outside world. We used to collect empty mustard and tea tins and liked them if they were old-looking. We were in awe of the appearance of age; we were fascinated by the idea of life that came before ourselves. This is a lot of extrapolation, but I know that those knick-nacks were of the utmost importance to protect and defend against the degradation of time, because now I have to figure out what to do with a bunch of childhood junk that I loved.

As people we collect and present objects to each other. And when there aren’t any objects, when motion and time are our escape hatch from the closed self, we sculpt these into recognizable ideas, and when time and gravity pull against the ideas, we salvage what we can and adapt.

We don’t quite have a word for why we do it. It makes us feel whole. The Sistine Chapel depicts the creation of Adam, but we more popularly see the connection between man and God. Rather than God in the moment of creation of Adam, we see ourselves (as a white dude) reaching for something in a way that we know very well, and that we reach for, further and further, all the time. And this painting has become another one of my talismans. When I think about what I want to be, I’m stuck on the fact that it feels so damn good to be caught in that electric moment of creation, wherever it is. And so I know Michaelangelo had his Sistine Chapel and he did that. But don’t we all want to be working on our Sistine Chapels? That’s what I mean by talisman. We are reaching for that point of separation. The talisman is where we put our other hand when we want to feel steady and strong while we reach.

In the daily living of our lives, we have learned to confuse words for the reality of things, and maybe this is why words have a particular taste and richness, and we know that any academic could tell you that language is an arbitrary system, but where the fuck do you get arbitrary from words like “ballooning”? Or “joy”? Or “she saw who I was”?

I am pulled into myself again by language and the permission I’ve given myself to throw words in the air like pizza dough. I do want to tell you this. I want to touch your finger to say hi across time and space, an old trick I learned from Walt Whitman. It’s arrogant, I know. But mostly, I hope it’s warm and friendly, full of affection and overflowing with screwups. Aware of the rich and varied landscapes of consciousness, all so dark and deep.

Filed under: Essay

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