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


Anna K. Jonsson

Ambition that is not supported by skill or by the ability to envision systematic implementation is idiocy. Or at least that is what spending too much time as an Information Masters’ student might lead one to believe. However, I am nothing if not ambitious without the ability to execute.

About a year ago, I decided I would build a kayak. This event was to take place sometime in my lifetime, and I was about to move into a place with a backyard, so this was good. I researched kayak construction fairly extensively (the authoritative source appears to be The Strip-Built Sea Kayak by Nick Schade).

Wanting to build a kayak stemmed from my desire to construct something that was the nexus of utility and design, to really make something, to have something tangible that marked that time period of my life.

I suppose my lifespan should instead be measured by haphazard and wreckless ambition.

The other day my roommate asked me “how do font designers do what they do?” As in, how do they translate the image of the font they envision into a codable piece of information? I didn’t know, but I immediately felt like I wanted to find out. I asked my mom, the typographer. She confirmed what I had vaguely suspected, but she’s not a font designer, so she didn’t clarify: fonts are designed in illustrator as vector files.

I have no experience in typography. To design a font would be a fool’s errand at best, stupidiful at the worst (yes, it would be so dumb that the derogatory term for my prospective task doesn’t even make sense). Yet there comes that ambition, daring me to figure out how to make it happen. The sheer scale of the task, the research involved, the skill needed to be developed, this is what draws me toward ambitions like these. It’s the idea that I can, with the proper application, still accomplish anything.

My life can be measured by a series of failed ambitions. And this is not a bad thing. It speaks of the mind’s will to put ideas into action, which is one of the most remarkable aspects of life on earth. No, a pile of failed ambitions is nothing I fear. If I manage to record 1/3 of them, I’ll be happy. Some of my happiest and most fulfilling moments have been the nights I couldn’t sleep because I decided I was going to make a movie (11th grade), learn a foreign language (10th grade), write a comic strip (6th grade, and again in 2006), start a T-shirt company, etcetera, etcetera.

I actually think I’m hitting my stride in Human-Computer Interaction, too, because it’s an avenue of channeling my ambition to do exciting things into a tangible and cost-effective format. If I believe that something is important enough, I can effectively communicate how and why it could be used, and having that perspective is useful.

Be prepared to hear of more unscalable projects from Yours Truly in the coming years. Maybe I’ll figure out a way to pull something off, but if not, I bid you “Go Not Gently.”

Filed under: Essay

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