The Shoes of the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace

Once I dropped a spoon in the snow and when I couldn’t retrieve it I was tempted to view the matter as a comment on my life.

I imagined a balloon-like God who’d seen me groping in snow.

In general it helps to think of God as a Macy’s balloon.

In general one’s groping has no meaning.

Still, poking in shadows is central to blindness.

I search for my shoe in a strange hotel.

Perhaps a sighted person finds the shoe instantly.

I lie on the floor spreading my arms like a diver.

Shoe. No shoe. Shoe of the mind. Platonic.

Fingers scrabbling under the inauspicious bed.

Carl Jung said: The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.

What of the lost shoe?

Are not all lost shoes equal?

To find a shoe in a foreign hotel.

Eyes evolved for only this…

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Rain in a bucket and the hours spent listening….

After arguments with books
I often lie on the floor

That’s how it is and of course the rain

**

Oh that Monteverdi
Oh the radio

**

Dreamt last night something something discarded clothing someone leaving

**

Lumen pelko—Finnish for the fear of snow

**

Meanwhile asks himself
Do you remember the magnificent feeling
Sneaking up on shadows?

Childhood blindness….

**

Most readers of poetry haven’t lain on floors listening to day long rain
It takes privilege to be stripped productively

You old damned Bohemian you….

**

Orfeo….peeks out from behind the birches

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Of Ableism and the Lucky Rabbit’s Foot

Life proceeds without plot no matter you went to a good school or studied well—a matter which Americans have difficulty absorbing. This is why people in the United States don’t generally believe in luck.

I’ll venture in some circumstances I’m fortunate. I married well; I’ve more than a few scrupulous friends; I’ve a job. The job is no small thing given the unemployment statistics with regard to disability.

Still I will say I’ve been lucky. I did not make my own luck. This I do not believe. This I do not believe it at all. As Christopher Hitchens once put it: “It’s one thing to be lucky: it’s another thing to admit that luck has been yours.” This is the other thing.

You may have talent. Perhaps you imagine it was your inheritance. Your skill with musical composition comes down from your great great grandmother. It’s all a matter of epigenetics. You imagine this DNA bequest isn’t luck until things go badly and when they go very badly you curse your ancestors. As a general rule Americans only curse their ancestors when they become ill. The greatest American irony of all—each unassuming citizen believes he or she is secretly bred monarchial, a thing Huck Finn encounters when he meets the Duke and Dauphin.

So health isn’t a matter of luck; fortune less so; skill of any kind is scientifically deterministic. Karl Marx never had a chance in the USA as Americans hold that capital is not acquired on the backs of the less fortunate. Fortune was always yours even when it wasn’t apparent and admissions of luck take the hind most.

I am on about this, I admit, because I’ve had it with academics and/or artists who can’t admire the sheer improbability of their success and thereby think the disabled are not only malformed but should be seen as figures deserving (or not deserving) charity.

Ableism is the consequence of a broad misunderstanding or disavowal of luck which is why it’s dangerous for all, not just the disabled. It’s not a far jump from “I earned my money by the sweat of my brow” to “I absolutely deserve to have a designer baby and a designer death.” To dwell on luck is to admit life proceeds without plot as we’ve already noted which is a terrifying idea. Life is life and not what we may wish it though wishes can be admirable and striving is noble.

Now I’ve said I’m lucky. Forty years ago a teacher saw my talent for writing. Professor X encouraged me. I wrote. More professors encouraged me. I wrote some more. Kept at it. Was blind and scarcely employable but writing I could do. People who were not me or my parents said I had writerly capacities. My professional life has been the product of a village, not a matter of tirelessness or Bohemian ambition.

Ableism imagines the singularity of talent or health—beauty or success is the de facto state of affairs of embodiment. If you’re not in the group you’re not of the elect. This is important: not of the elect means the wrongness of you is ordained—either by God or DNA. Ableism imagines that the good body is the proper one; the deformed body is a poor inheritance. Ableism can only admit luck when the healthy say upon seeing the disabled: “there but for the grace of God go I”.

Bioethicists now argue whether disability viewed as a social construction and therefore a component of all humanity “should” or “should not” be so conceived. If disability isn’t exceptional and is part of the “new normal” then the utilitarian prospects for all humankind are diminished—so the argument goes—for we’ll stop trying to cure diseases and poor health will be perfectly OK. The few opposing bioethicists say, “disability ye will always have with ye, isn’t it best to include it in our best thinking?”

But you see, it’s the same luck argument all over again. Who gets to be lucky? How much should we acknowledge it? Isn’t it best to imagine you’ve made it on your own?

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Book Reflection: Autistic Disturbances by Julia Rodas

By Ralph James Savarese

It’s a rare day when someone publishes a book in the subfield that only you and a few other scholars work in. The University of Michigan Press has just released Julia Rodas’s Autistic Disturbances: Theorizing Autism Poetics from the DSM to Robinson Crusoe (with a fine preface by Melanie Yergeau). It’s an important book that makes significant contributions to the study of autistic language in the humanities and, in particular, literature. For one thing, it adds to the project of critique that is at the core of critical autism studies, aggressively countering the impulse to pathologize neurological difference. It does so by ingeniously revealing the extent to which literature, a prized form of cultural expression, relies heavily on linguistic features that, in another context—namely, medicine and science—are marshalled to demonstrate impairment in autism. As Rodas writes in the introduction, “This book recognizes echoes, tones, patterns and confluences between autistic language, which is typically devalued…, and language used in culturally valued literary texts.” “Pointing to the existence of an autistic expressive fingerprint,” she seeks to give autistic utterances, like a pair of scuffed shoes, a new contextual shine.

Rodas begins by presenting the writings of Elaine C. These writings, one of “the earliest published expressions of a professionally recognized autist,” appear in Leo Kanner’s landmark 1943 study, whose title, “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact,” Rodas redeploys to great effect.
“Dinosaurs don’t cry”; “Crayfish, sharks, fish and rocks”; “Crayfish and forks
live in children’s tummies”; “Butterflies live in children’s stomachs, and in
their panties, too”; “Fish have sharp teeth and bite little children”; “There is
war in the sky”; “Rocks and crags, I will kill” …; “Gargoyles bite children and
drink oil”; “I will crush old angle worms, he bites children” …; “Gargoyles have
milk bags”; “Needle head. Pink wee-wee. Has a yellow leg. Cutting the dead
deer. Poison deer. “Poor Elaine. No tadpoles in the house. Men broke deer’s
leg” …; “Tigers and cats”; “Seals and salamanders”; “Bears and foxes.”
This young woman’s language not only disturbs but also “challenges ordinary communicative expectations,” Rodas claims. “It repeats and ricochets, suggesting a potential listener beyond the clinical recorder.” Elaine’s words are “striking and forceful and beautifully, queerly concentrated…, a profound achievement of repetition, order and chaos.” In short, they are much more like a modernist (or postmodernist) poem than ostensibly pointless, solipsistic babble.

And yet, the focus of Rodas’s book isn’t such utterances themselves. As she says explicitly, “My project asks not about autistic authorship, but about autistic text, and it imagines autistic voice as a widespread and influential aesthetic, with distinctive patterns of expression…running through an array of texts, sometimes broadly visible and in other instances as a fine thread.” Rodas wisely avoids the rather common, and perversely diagnostic, gesture of finding autistic characters in literature or of sniffing out autistic proclivities in authors. Instead, she fixes her attention on the way that literature behaves, the way that it eschews strictly utilitarian forms of communication in favor of something more indirect, formally resonant, and mischievous. The effect of her argument is less to undermine a sense of autistic identity (either neurological or cultural)—she’s not saying that anyone can be autistic—than to establish a correspondence between distinctive orientations to language. And so, we’re treated to marvelously inventive and subtle readings of Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to Be and Back Again, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and poems by Raymond Carver, David Antin, and Georges Perec. Even the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is found to be autistic, what with its commitment to—nay, its perseverative obsession with—listing and systematizing.

The significance of this move—showing that nearly every purported defect in autistic language use finds its corrective match in literature—cannot be overstated. For more than a decade, I have been arguing in my own work that literature, especially poetry, constitutes a kind of linguistic haven, a place of neurocosmopolitan hospitality, and I have devoted myself to teaching creative writing to aspiring autistic writers.1 Yet even more important than such training is the book’s implicit recognition that autistics bring the literary to everyday linguistic encounters. I will never forget my autistic son, DJ, typing one afternoon on his text-to-voice synthesizer, “Why don’t you all [meaning, nonautistics] use language creatively when you’re doing simple things?” He meant, for example, asking for a glass of water or reporting on the day’s events. He found most neurotypical language flat and boring, without any sensuous appeal. (Literature for neurotypicals is like a zoo—the literary kept largely in its effete cage.) If DJ wanted a glass of water when he was young, he was apt to say something like, “Thirst floats in the tiny aquarium” or “Tongue tongue tongue needs a bath.”

Imagine if medical professionals were compelled to read Rodas’s Autistic Disturbances, if training in literary study could improve patient-doctor encounters, to say nothing of parent-child or teacher-student encounters. Listen to how Rita Charon explains the value of “narrative medicine”:
What narrative medicine offers…is a disciplined and deep set of conceptual
frameworks—mostly from literary studies, and especially from narratology—
that give us theoretical means to understand why acts of doctoring are not
unlike acts of reading, interpreting and writing and how such things as reading
fiction and writing ordinary narrative prose about our patients help to make
us better doctors. By examining medical practices in the light of robust
narrative theories, we begin to be able to make new sense of the genres of
medicine, the telling situations that obtain, say, at attending rounds, the ethics
that bind the teller to the listener in the office, and of the events of illness
themselves.
Charon presumes a (largely) neurotypical patient, but we don’t have to, and her focus is narrative. We might speak of poetic medicine and imagine similar reforms. As Dora Raymaker and Christina Nicolaidis have demonstrated repeatedly, access to adequate healthcare continues to be a significant problem for autistics. Appropriately trained, a doctor might know how to receive a remark such as Elaine C.’s “Butterflies live in children’s stomachs, and in their panties, too.” Is the girl referring to anxiety, which is a huge challenge in autism? Or maybe to puberty and the changes it brings? She does refer, after all, to “pink wee-wee.” What if the doctor’s opening gambit were something like:
Thou spark of life that wavest wings of gold,
Thou songless wanderer mid the songful birds,
With Nature’s secrets in thy tints unrolled
Through gorgeous cipher, past the reach of words,
Yet dear to every child
In glad pursuit beguiled,
Living his unspoiled days mid flowers and flocks and herds!2

Or even better, this poem by the above poet’s now infinitely more famous and reclusive correspondent:

A Bird, came down the Walk – 
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw, 
 
And then, he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass –
 
He glanced with rapid eyes,
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. – 
 
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers, 
And rowed him softer Home –
 
Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim.3 

Autistic Disturbances is a splendid book, but I would be remiss if I didn’t quibble with something. (That, after all, is what academics do!) Rodas is far too defensive about her decision to focus on classic literary works instead of autistic memoirs. Anxiety about identity politics, about appropriating autism, finding it everywhere but in the published works of autistic authors, compels her to mount a number of less than credible justifications for her decision. At one point, she claims, “So much autism memoir presents a strangely nonautistic vibe.” She sweeps aside a long and varied list of autistic life writers with arguments about market expectations (“the requirements of publishing”) and a push toward normalcy (“rhetorical colonization”). “Geared as the genre is to audiences that are overwhelmingly neurotypical and vetted by publishers with an interest in commercial sales, autistic autobiography,” Rodas argues, “typically adopts surprisingly commonplace rhetoric and language, effectively translating autistic experience and identity into largely conventional terms.”

I would strenuously object to this sweeping generalization, even as I concede the impact of these very real pressures. The work of Tito Mukhopadhyay, Dawn Prince, Donna Williams, Larry Bissonnette, and Ido Kedar, to name just a few autistic writers, is more than sufficiently autistic to shoulder the search for literary autism. Prince and Williams, two authors whom Rodas explicitly dismisses, may not line up perfectly with the rhetorical features that she emphasizes, but they evince others—others that I would foreground, such as a wild lyricism and a deeply synesthetic understanding of distinction and relation. Moreover, both Prince and Williams, after finding initial commercial success with their first books, went on to write subsequent books that were published by smaller, independent presses. These books are quite quirky and literary.

One real danger in claiming that autistic memoir isn’t autistic enough is that it leaves no room for autistic development, for complete immersion in the world. According to this framework, either you’re Elaine C. or Richard M., linguistic spectacles deprived of an education and accorded no life opportunities (let alone civil rights), or you’re Raymond Carver or Daniel DeFoe, recognized artists. The cost of what I call a neurocosmopolitan or (hyrbrid) identity can’t be the loss of “autistic voice” or, worse, a devastating, socially imposed “aloneness.” We’re all acculturated. Nonautistic poets lose the elastic language of childhood and then, as adults, recover some portion of it in their work. Better to imagine, for those autistics who seek to be writers, the possibility of capitalizing on a potential literary advantage. Otherwise, we’re practicing a romantic and uncritical primitivism.

And anyway, I’m not convinced that autistics entirely lose their linguistic difference when they’re included in life and publishing. Once, in the midst of an interview with Tito Mukhopadhyay, I spoke of his fondness for the trope of personification, and he forcefully interrupted me, typing, “It shall be called pan-psychism by me!” He rejected the easy domestication of his vital engagement with non-human entities. It wasn’t a conceit, or, rather, his conceits were so much more than mere conceits. When I looked more closely at his work, I realized that I had reduced what I read to what was familiar to me. Said another way, Mukhopadhyay was simply using the tools at hand, the way someone fluent in a second language might use them: with great skill but also with a difference.

One final quibble. Rodas’s chosen texts—she says that she could have picked other ones—have the unfortunate effect of reinforcing the idea that autism is a “white” disorder. She analyzes no works by writers of color. An ungenerous reading of Autistic Disturbances might claim that a universal “autistic voice” is speaking here—universal, as in a privileged white voice that includes everyone while elevating itself and effacing all difference. Yet that critique would be unfair, or at least incomplete. Rodas hasn’t worked out the implications of a transhistorical autistic “fingerprint.” Does neurology trump culture and all other identity positions? Does it trump unique literary traditions? She’s generalizing about autism, and she’s generalizing about literature: each marks a linguistic departure from the norm, and each seems to reflect the other. The next step, in this tremendously illuminating project, is to introduce the concept of intersectionality. How might autism interact with the myriad other pressures and influences to which it is subjected? And how might we welcome that interaction?

1See “What Some Autistics Can Teach Us about Poetry: A Neurocosmopolitan Approach,” https://www.academia.edu/6347978/What_Some_Autistics_Can_Teach_Us_about_Poetry_A_Neurocosmopolitan_Approach?auto=download; see “I Object: Autism, Empathy, and the Trope of Personification,”
https://www.academia.edu/6428705/I_Object_Autism_Empathy_and_the_Trope_of_Personification; see “The Critic as Neurocosmopolite: What Cognitive Approaches to Literature Can Learn from Disability Studies,” https://www.academia.edu/7788443/_The_Critic_as_Neurocosmopolite_Or_What_Cognitive_Approaches_to_Literature_Can_Learn_from_Disability_Studies_Lisa_Zunshine_in_Conversation_with_Ralph_James_Savarese_Narrative_2014_.

2“Ode to a Butterfly,” Thomas Wentworth Higginson

3”A Bird, Came Down the Walk,” Emily Dickinson

Ralph James Savarese
Grinnell College

Ralph James Savarese is the author of Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption and the coeditor of three collections, including the first on the concept of neurodiversity. In October, Duke University Press will publish his new book, See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor.

Alone in Boston, Guide Dog Notwithstanding

I’m alone with my guide dog Caitlyn in the back bay of Boston. Tonight we’ll take in a ball game at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. Dog and man going solo to a stadium. Sometimes in this blind life I worry in advance: how will it go? Will everything be OK? Will I find my seat? Will I find my way back to my seat after searching for a hot dog? Will strangers be helpful? Will I experience kindness? Then in occurs to me, these questions are ordinary—everyone has them, blindness or not. Will this day receive me? How will it go?

There’s a song by the late great Lou Reed that I like which has the refrain “it takes a bus load of faith to get by…” I’ve always liked Lou’s employment of “faith” which he offers with a hint of irony to be sure. A bus load of faith is a crowd’s worth of faith—we will get where we need to go without mishap. And we’ll manage it because we all had the proper thoughts. We kept that bus on the road with our individual and collective magic. Faith is hard work.

I think this is why I like to just take off and go places by myself. Or with just my dog for company, I feel the skin of my faith grow tighter. I step out into the unfamiliar. I’m alert to the mysteries of being alive and the sheer improbability of having a consciousness. I walk down Boyleston Street and feel how provisionally alive I am and how lucky. And I don’t know precisely where I’m going.

I’ve been teaching this week at a wonderful low residency creative writing MFA program called “Solstice” located at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hills. As a nonfiction writer I’m often talking about the essay—how creative prose can help us shape experience, make sense of the blooming buzz as they say. One may think of the essay as a soothing corral for the mind. Here is a shape in language within which we can rest, survey, feel a bit less panicked by the wideness of perception. Sometimes a horse, upon entering the corral is instantly calm.

And then there’s the horse who gallops into the shadows and sun beams with no idea where she or he is going.

I think that’s me just now. Enter the day. Get a little lost. Feel again the ache of amazement, that transverse cross of body and mind.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Wittgenstein for Breakfast

From a Notebook circa 1990: 

Comic irony: the condition of knowing what you didn’t know just seconds ago or years back and then, knowing how to think about it. 

Tragic irony: the condition of not knowing the above while others do. 

Morning irony: understanding you’ve the blues and knowing you’ll have to work with them all day. 

Evening irony: seeing how the blues at 6 AM were correct or incorrect. 

Luck stands between the above like an 18th century lamp lighter. 

“What did the president know and when did he know it?” was not, as many believe, a political or juridical question, but one connoting either comic or tragic irony. Nixon is one of the few public figures to have had both. He knew he’d broken the law. He didn’t know quite how he came to be a law breaker. His answer, deflective, was to say “everybody does this….”

Whenever you hear someone say, “everybody does this,” remember the double tragic irony of not knowing which camp above you fit into. 

I’ve always liked James Tate’s line: “curses on those who do or do not take dope.”

**

Memory

I loved my mother

She was always a such dark person

I see her everywhere in the woods

Muisti

Rakastin äitiäni

Hän oli aina tumma henkilö

Näen hänet kaikkialla metsässä

**

I guess there’s another category: forest irony. Where you recognize the animism of your subconscious. 

**

I think of Ludwig Wittgenstein some mornings. Isn’t that odd? He occurs to me very early. 

Usually it’s this quote that pops into my waking noggin:

“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in the way in which our visual field has no limits.” 

Oh I like this for lots of reasons. As a visually limited man I admire the temerity of the utterance, insofar as all humans have some kind of visual limitation. Wittgenstein posits the power of imagination to declare anything, and then, with a smear of logic, to cement an idea into consciousness. I suspect this is how he survived the trenches in WW I. And I know for certain its how the disabled survive. Look at the nouns: 

Death. Event. Life. Experience. Eternity. Duration. 

In my sophomore year of college I was fascinated by Boolean algebra. In mathematical logic, Boolean algebra is the “branch of algebra in which the values of the variables are the truth values true and false, usually denoted 1 and 0 respectively.” (See Wikipedia.) 

The quote above is pure Boolean logic. One may easily draw a Boolean equation for the proposition eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Then there’s a leap—Wittgenstein says our visual field has no limits. 

If eternity = timelessness then the present (time) also equals timelessness. Good. 

If timelessness is related to mindfulness (we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration) then the operations of mind become our vision. Hence our visual field (anyone’s) has no limit. 

You can see where the poet in me would like this. You can see where the blind person in me also admires it. 

As logic it is unimpeachable. The trick is to live it. 

Early. Wittgenstein for breakfast. 

 

 

   

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Of Book Tours, Antonio Gramsci, and the Unmade Bed

A friend, characterizing a mutual friend said: “he has a mind like an unmade bed” and trust me that’s how I’m feeling. Of the unmade bed I recall an episode of the television version of “The Odd Couple” when Felix discovers a half eaten submarine sandwich in Oscar Madison’s bed. Oscar didn’t say it, but I will: “detritus ye will always have with ye” though one must surely admit when his defenses are down. I’m finding it difficult to concentrate.

This isn’t listlessness. It’s not the blues. (Though I know I’ve got them—a blind guy’s slumgullion of concerns from genetic testing of fetuses (rooting out probable disabled babies, think eugenics 2.0) to the race baiting narratives of American cleanliness espoused by the United States government and increasingly large parts of the industrialized world (Reich 4.0).
Or I worry about your mentally ill brother, child, mother, especially if they’re a person of color, for they’ll likely wind up dead or in jail in our clotted, Dickensian nation. Meanwhile the eroding middle class watches the Kardashians.

OK. Sorry. But when you’re an unmade bed, well, you become that man who natters on the bus. Some mornings I’m a single dendritic spark away from either mumbling or ranting.
My unmade bed is starting to smolder.

I’ve been on a lovely book tour which has taken me to Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Calistoga, Denver, Richmond, and upstate New York. Talking with old acquaintances and new friends is a cleansing experience. I always meet good people on the road.

Check box: I’ve been talking to excellent human beings.

Check box: In Denver I got an Uber ride from a man who lectured me about the “end times” for twenty five minutes. He touched my hair. Said: “you’re already one of the saved. God loves you.”

Check: It’s raining in the airplane burial ground, as my friend Jim Crenner once wrote.

Crumbs from the bed…Marx was right about 40% of the time.

Bed: Antonio Gramsci was right about 80% of the time.

The above assertions are not incompatible.

Check: I’ve lately had several graduate students who don’t like to read and when pushed turn deflective and mean spirited. These are the children of “no child left behind” who’ve been trained for a decade to take tests. Confronted by the prose of Salman Rushdie they look at first perplexed, than hostile.

Crumb: The students mentioned believe they’re commodified, neutralized, oppressed, etc. according to their respective identities. They won’t read for strength. They believe ideology is strength. In this way they’re no more sophisticated than Donald Trump.

It’s a very hard time to be a professor.

Crumb: last night I realized for the 41,000th time that baseball won’t save me.

Check: I don’t care for popular music of any kind.

Ort. (Everyone’s favorite crossword bit)—scientists now believe outer space is filled with carbon molecules which they describe as “grease”—it means we’re essentially living in a vast kitchen drain.

Speck: The poet Donald Hall just passed. He was a good man on balance.

Note: I’m reading Dr King’s Refrigerator by Charles Johnson. Also: The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli.

Speck: the thing about a book tour is you see with sufficient comic irony you’re not terribly important in the grand scheme.

Ort: I once introduced myself to the folk singer Utah Philips. Told him I was an anarchist at heart. He gave me a withering look. It said: “I’m the only god damned anarchist you little shit!”

What was it James Tate said? “No longer the perpetual search for an air conditioned friend….”

My step children are struggling to stay in the middle class.

I’ve a friend who’s lost his health insurance and has no job.

He doesn’t have the leisure for a mind like an unmade bed.

Like most halfway ethical beings I feel guilty.

Is sharing the unmade bed the best thing a writer can do?

That’s mostly what creative writing programs are all about.

The Finnish communist poet Pentti Saarikoski said: “I want to be the kind of poet who builds houses for people….”

Saarikoski was just kidding of course. The way poets do. He never built a house for anyone.

Is the unmade bed a place of ambition or escape. Is it both?

This is the point: I want to create unmade beds for everyone.

Check: we’d take turns being servants. The unmade bed mustn’t be class reserved.

What the hell am I talking about?

I fear for the life of imagination; what we used to call the life of the mind.

A student came to me not long ago and said he wanted to be a writer. Then he told me he hated reading.

I want to be a painter but I hate paint.

I’d like to cultivate my mind but not today.

Gramsci: “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger