Mind-fucking Wittgenstein’s Mistress on a Lake Malawi Beach
“In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the streets." This is how David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress begins.
I’m reading it here and now in Nkhata Bay, on the shores of Lake Malawi.
After some 5 days of being in continuous motion with 2 of those nights spent sleeping on trains, I was ready to occupy one place for two consecutive nights. I couldn’t have picked a better place.
What follows here are mostly my thoughts on the book, Wittgenstein's Mistress. Not that the book is at all relevant to this place on a bay on a lake in the middle of Africa.
There are no streets here, per se, only dirt paths. No "streets" to leave messages on.
My Blackberry doesn't work. There's no internet. "No network," I am told.
Back home, like now, relaying these messages, I am connected to a network. Though I live on a street with no name.
I’m the only one staying at this hotel where I am now. I'm on a beach which is not unlike the beach on the cover of Wittgenstein's Mistress. Here:
The beach is on a freshwater lake which takes some getting used to, the water being "fresh" and all.
I imagine the beach on the cover is an ocean, and in a colder place than here, but maybe it's because the photo is in black and white.
You don't really know why there's a beach on the cover until the end. I'm inserting this sentence after I finished reading it. I won't blow it for you though.
It would seem the narrator of Wittgenstein's Mistress, Kate is in the same place the whole time, reflecting on times spent elsewhere, like living in and out of various museums in more cosmopolitan destinations.
I’ve had Wittgenstein’s Mistress in my possession for some time, but am just now reading her.
I had her with me in New York City. She laid by my bed until I packed her in a box and shipped her ahead to Nairobi. Then I carried her with me all the way through Tanzania, though I didn't do anything about it.
This is where I cracked her spine.
Maybe it was Blake Butler who turned me on to Wittgenstein’s Mistress, I forget. People have been talking about it and I’ve been meaning to read it and now I’m reading her.
Here I am. Signing the registry at Njaya, I noted that I'm the only one staying here. The last guests were 2 or 3 weeks ago, from Switzerland or Germany I forget now. The picture on their website overlooking the lake is the cottage I'm staying in for something like $20 a night.
I can't even remember who is on an U.S. $20 bill anymore. They use kwachas here. The coin in the header of this page is worth 5 kwachas. If you click on it you'll go "home." Just like clicking your heels together three times.
It's a bit odd to be the only guest with a staff of 5 or more people at my disposal. Then again they seem grateful that I'm here and if I wasn't here then there'd be no one here and then it would be really pointless for them.
To occupy their time, I let them bring me MGTs (malawi gin & tonics) and butterfish that is to die for.
There's nothing to show for it when you are not in motion.
I just felt like saying that, I'm not sure why, even when I wrote it. I must have meant something by it. Maybe you need to be in motion to understand.
"Understand" is a funny way of putting it. That would be the ground or at best the soles of your feet.
Wittgenstein’s Mistress is pieced together with logic statements that are strangely philosophical. Parcels of thought.
For example, Markson will say things (vicariously through Kate) like: “There was an explanation for the car coming down the hill with nobody driving it. The explanation having been the hill. Obviously.”
I'm reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress to the sound of waves lapping on Lake Malawi.
Reading a book object is like swimming laps. When you are done you turn the page. This is not the same. This is like swimming out into a large lake with your eyes closed.
Yes, lake Malawi is so big there are waves.
The Tanzanians call the lake by another name, that being Lake Nyasa, even though it’s one and the same lake. Being where I am I'll call it Lake Malawi.
Each sentence in the book is a wave. Better yet, a wave packet. Collapsing onto the page to form something bigger than itself.
In these museums and the places she calls home, Kate is writing the book itself, in which she imagines she is the only one left on the planet.
Though I’m not sure what really happened to get her to this place. How could you be sure, unless you go back and read it again after the fact.
Her being the only one left on the planet is the publisher, Dalkey Archive's, selling point, though from my perspective this doesn't seem to be the case. It's more like she wanted to write a book to that effect, within the book.
But that's a pitch people can readily grasp. What's the book about? It's about a woman who thinks she's the only one left on the planet.
I am far from that, though I'm the only one staying at this otherwise vacant hotel.
This place I'm reading in is a museum with windows instead of paintings. There are indigenous paintings on the wall, but they are nothing to write home about.
When I look out the window, I can’t tell the horizon of the lake from the clouds.
Except for the islands on the horizon that pinch off at the edges. Mirages.
They wouldn’t come out on film even if I tried.
The same is true reading Wittgenstein's Mistress.
I hope we keep saying that, “come out on film,” even now that we’ve all gone digital.
Someone who’s name I confuse with David Markson wrote a book about ice at the bottom of the world or some such thing. I can't remember offhand, and there is no network here to google.
It rained all night and into the morning.
This guy Tom took me on an a trek today, lunch included. We got a late start on account of this rain.
First we went hiking further south, further away from it all. There’s this string of remote villages that are not accessible by road or any other means besides boat or walking. Here’s some kids we saw that wanted me to take their photo.
These kids do not appear in Wittgenstein's Mistress. She only talks about famous people.
These kids are acting this way because they thought I looked like Chuck Norris. Obviously they are not that out of it if they knew who Chuck Norris was.
You could say Chuck Norris is famous, but he hasn't appeared yet in Wittgenstein's Mistress.
The kid with no shirt is the only one in Malawi that thought I was Chuck Norris. The girl in red has a lot of little fish on her head, stooping for me to see.
In Tanzania, four different people called me Chuck Norris.
When I think of Chuck Norris I think of Bruce Lee grabbing his back hair when they are fighting in the coliseum in Rome.
The coliseum appears in Wittgenstein's Mistress, but not as a place where Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris fight, but where cats live.
I've been to the coliseum and saw lots of cats, but not Chuck Norris.
Maybe it was Kareem Abdul Jabar that was in that movie, I forget.
Jesus, googling now the pictures I took in Rome are still on the internet even though it was 2001, before I "kept a blog." I don't what we called it back then or when they started calling blogging blogging.
The pages above aren't linked to anything so you wouldn't no where to find them unless you knew what to look for. I forgot they even existed.
In the grainy photos of the coliseum towards the bottom we are holding umbrellas, so it must have been raining.
Cats don't like rain, but I swear we were there another time when it wasn't raining and there were the cats that Kate speaks of.
The photos are grainy because that's back when we had a film camera. Time flies.
We went there even more recently and it was so full of tourists we didn't even bother to go in.
In the third photo, Jess is sitting in Piazza Navona. Piazza Navona also appears in Wittgenstein's Mistress a number of times, most notably as a place that she saw fill up with snow while she was sitting in a car.
We were sitting at the same table recently, and I was taking a picture of Jess sitting there with the picture above showing on her computer when some students started throwing chairs and whatever they could get their hands on at riot police and all hell broke loose. Here's a video I shot of that episode.
A lot of things have happened in Piazza Navona, before and since.
The type of vehicle changes as Kate recounts her "story," but it seemed the piazza was always filling with snow, that much she was certain of even though it's a rare event when that happens, Piazza Navona filling with snow.
Oh yeah, Mark Richards. He's the one who wrote The Ice at the Bottom of the World. Googling now (on the decks of an inland ship in Nairobi), to fact-check after the fact, I discovered that they are making the book into a movie with Meryl Streep and Jennifer Connelly. 2010. Mark your calendar.
Not that that book is anything like this one, or the one I'm talking about. I can't remember anything about it except that it was good. I'm that way with most books.
The rains just came. They say it happens at midnight, but now it’s sunrise.
Sunrise in normal terms, not “Swahili time,” thank god.
Though time here is still in absolutes. “The bus comes around sunset.” Or mid-day.
There are no numbers involved. Don’t bother to pinpoint the hour or you will go crazy. Matatus leave when full.
Then they stop, let people off, and wait to get full again. Over and over again.
This sounds like it could be a metaphor for something, I'm not sure what. Hopefully when I need it, I'll remember to use it.
I went into this in great length already when I blogged about how I got to be where I am. This is more about my reading of Wittgenstein’s Mistress.
The rain is picking up now. It also comes in waves. At times people surf even, so I am told.
We are in the clouds. In fact, this seems to the place where clouds are made. Lake Malawi is a cloud generator you could say.
I was entranced by reading, until I was stopped in my shoes by the sentence: “The world is everything that is the case.”
I didn’t know how to proceed from there, so I read the sentence again.
I didn’t know what to make of it, thinking maybe it was a mistake, that maybe it was missing an “if.”
I read it four times before I realized I needed to just move on.
The next sentence was: “I have no idea what I meant by the sentence I have just typed, by the way.”
You might ask why I’m reading this book if the author doesn’t even understand what he’s writing. Then I might ask why you are reading this? And it’s not the author writing, but Kate.
Even still. Sometimes it’s better to not understand.
There's that word again, "understand."
Normally I’m not crazy about reading from someone’s stream of consciousness. But this is an exception.
Maybe it’s the fragmentation or unreliability of it all.
There’s a spider on the inside of this mosquito net. I’m scared of him because I don’t know him. He seems friendly enough but still, this place is foreign to me. The geckos here are really big and they have these beetles here that are bigger than my hand.
I almost wrote beatles. Are the Beatles more famous than beetles?
The mosquito net is blue, which usually means it’s treated with insecticide. I hope the red spider doesn’t get sick from it.
The rain is still coming in waves.
What I also wanted to say before about the horizon of the lake is that there are these “lake flies,” that live in dark undulating clouds that you can see from miles away. In fact they seem closer to Mozambique than Malawi.
The first time I saw them, I though it was smoke, and was wondering where the fire was. Or that it was coming from the smokestack of a ship, the one that I never was able to catch.
Tom told me that Japanese scientists came last year to the lake to study the lake flies because nobody knew anything about them. About their life cycle that is.
All they knew is that once it had gathered enough momentum, the clouds of lake flies came to shore on the other side, in Mozambique. And that the people there ate them.
He told me exactly how they prepared the dish, but I wasn’t paying attention at that point. I have a short attention span. I was still hung up on the thought of how they could possibly catch enough flies the size of mosquitoes to make a meal.
Or how if individually they were the size of mosquitoes, how you could possibly see clouds of them from miles away, how densely packed that must be.
I’m saying miles because I assume most people reading this are American. And it sounds better than kilometers. Though clicks isn’t bad.
I can see for miles over lake Malawi, all the way to Mozambique.
The Who say, “I can see for miles and miles,” even though they are from England.
I had a friend once named Miles. He was my friend only because I wanted to say I had a friend named Miles. I'd feel bad if he read this, but I doubt he will. Now he is an oceanographer living on Cape Cod. Before we were mathematicians together, in Santa Cruz. And we both lived in the same trailer park. My next door neighbor was Miles.
What the Japanese scientists discovered was that the flies lived as larvae in the lake, then emerged for three days in a gathering cloud, then flew ashore to pillage crops in Mozambique.
I’m not sure what they lived off for those three days hovering over the lake. I tried to ask Tom, but I don’t think he understood the question. I'm gonna call Tom Miles from now on. It shouldn't matter to you.
It's probably better that way. To protect the innocent or whatever it is they say.
It also wasn’t clear whether the Mozambicans ate the lake flies because they were hungry for them, or whether they were just eating them to keep them from eating their crops. In revenge.
To hunt or be hunted.
Either way you could see where a mutation in a gene to crave the taste of lake flies would be a good thing.
I started to include the sentence seventeen sentences ago as a parenthetical note in the sentence before it before I caught myself. That’s not something Markson would do, use parenthesis. Or his narrator Kate.
What he’d do if he needed to get that point across, is eventually slip it in out of context. Like when someone refuses to let you pay for dinner so you slip money in their coat pocket for them to find later. And hope that it's not the last cold day of spring.
Markson slips it when you are least expecting it. This serves to shift your own consciousness to match the narrator. To put you on the same brain wave as Kate.
Like what the inside of the cloud must look like to the lake flies that make it up.
The lake flies are the letters. They can’t see the forest through the trees because they are the trees.
You get the idea that Kate wrote it all in one sitting, off the top of her head. Or for that matter that Markson wrote her writing it all in one sitting. And that I'm writing this in one sitting.
You also get the idea that he wasn’t in his own head, or that even she wasn’t in her own head. And that I'm not in my own head pretending to have Kate as my mistress.
Needless to say, the cloud of lake flies didn’t come out on film otherwise I’d show you. That is my nature. Like the scorpion stinging the frog that is taking him across the river.
You’ll have to use your own imagination or come to Lake Malawi yourself. Which I’d recommend. Along with Wittgenstein’s Mistress.
I wouldn’t say that about too many places, maybe Ethiopia or Indonesia or Peru or Italy, none of which surface in Wittgenstein’s Mistress except Italy.
When I was taking the train in Tanzania to get here, I was thinking of countries I’d been on trains in, and which of these were the best rides.
The train to Machu Picchu tops the list, even if it derailed, stranding me there for a few extra days.
What is it they say about unintended travel plans being the best kind or dancing lessons from god or some such thing? Shit, did I just quote something from the Tao of Physics of the Dancing Wu Li Masters?
Phew. Thank god for google. It was Vonnegut who said that. I can live with quoting Vonnegut. Come to think of it, there's some of Vonnegut's DNA in Markson.
Held up in Macchu Picchu is where this Limey I was traveling with swallowed a Bolivian coin with his beer. I think I used that bit in a story somewhere, though maybe not published.
I soaked in the same hot springs that Shirley Maclaine talks about seeing god in. I only know that because the limey who swallowed the coin told me that, I swear. He also pointed to a child and said the devil was in her and I believed him. We were surrounded by people holding candles and chanting. It was a fucked up situation if ever there was one.
Indonesia was another good place for trains, through Jakarta, lengthwise. Somebody would open a huge jackfruit that was fair game for all.
I slept between the cars, not because it was that crowded but because I wanted to.
After that I took a two-day ship ride from Jakarta to Sumatra which was also memorable. I remember smoking cloves on the deck of this ship with a man who wanted to know specifically how Americans had sex. As if it was different than how Muslims did it.
I’m disappointed I didn’t get to take a ship ride here, either on Lake Tanganyika or Lake Malawi. I had my heart set on it.
My favorite trains have open windows and beds to sleep on at night. Thailand was another good country for trains, but it happened too recently to call it a favorite.
I better stop now. I’m using up all the pages in this notebook, which incidentally is the same size as a passport.
I got it from Muji, in Bangkok.
I was going to say the pen too, but I just read the pen and it says “Movenpick,” which is the hotel we stayed at in Dar es Salaam. The first time, with Jess and the Spicer.
The second time I stayed at the Y since I had to foot the bill.
Here’s the notebook I’m writing this in next to my passport, so you can see for yourself that they are the same size and color on the outside:
Not to imply that this is a travelogue. Or a review of Wittgenstein’s Mistress.
I’m not sure what this is.
It’s something in between.
Of course this is not the same now. I’m typing it into a word document on Jess’s computer, here on the Zomba plateau. And now I’m copying and pasting it into Dreamweaver on the deck of an inland ship in Nairobi, waiting for the check for a Mexican chicken sandwich I just ate that was far from Mexican.
Kate does mention Mexico a few times, like she'd been there. Most likely Markson had spent some time there as well.
I can do that, be in multiple places at the same time. Markson gets away with it too.
Obviously some things were changed between “here” and the passport-sized notebook this was originally written in.
Like this very sentence was added after the fact, and in the notebook Movenpick has two dots over the o.
Wittgenstein’s Mistress says that at some point, about the dots over the o, to lead you to think that she’s writing on a typewriter that doesn’t have that character. But in the book object the dots are over the o, so you know an editor or typesetter added them after the fact.
Movenpick is a funny name for a hotel. The first time I saw it was in an email that I was cc’ed on from Jess to the Spicer. I thought it was some sort of travel lingo that I wasn’t hip to. Like a pick and roll.
“Not sure how we’re going to get from the airport to the movenpick,” is what I think she said.
If you want to buy this actual passport-sized notebook that I’m writing this in, you can have it for $100. Just paypal me.
I’m asking that much not because I think it’s worth it, but because I want to keep it for myself.
Not that I’d pay $100 for it. Like if someone stole it than demanded ransom.
If you bought it, you could tell how much I was lying, embellishing after the fact.
Not that I couldn’t lie on the spot.
Here’s a scan of the page where I was counting farmers, before I got here, before I embarked on Wittgenstein's Mistress.
Maybe I counted someone in a field that wasn’t really a “farmer,” just tilling the soil, would that be lying?
Okay, I said I would stop. Now stop.
The argument I should probably make is that maybe this will be worth something someday if I’m ever “famous.” Not that that’s likely to happen.
This being the original journal object, not this.
I can count the number of people who bought my last book on my fingers and toes. And most of those people I know.
“Famous” is when people you don’t know know you. Or at least know about you or have "heard of" you.
Like if someone asks if you’d heard a band and you say, “no, but I’ve heard of them.” That band is famous.
Unless you are lying to be hip. Hipsters never seem to go anywhere. Except maybe Brooklyn. I've seen what appear to be hipsters here, from South Africa, but they are typically referred to as "overlanders."
As a scientist at heart, and an experimental one at that, I need to put in my time in the field or laboratory before putting pen to paper.
I’d rather be where I am right now, the only guest at this lodge on a lake in the rain in the middle of Africa. Though I wish my better half was here. She’s back in Nairobi.
I guess I should say back “home” in Nairobi, but I’m not certain I feel that way. Malawi feels more like home right now. Being in a foreign place feels like home to me.
I could see spending some time in this place if only I had a reason to. Until it didn’t feel foreign, then I'd find somewhere else.
If all goes as planned, I’ll see Jess and the Spicer in Zomba tomorrow. We’ve been incommunicado though, so who knows. No email, no SMS, no phone.
I’ll just show up in Zomba and ask around.
It’ll be like Stanley looking for Livingstone, I presume.
This is supposed to be about Markson and Wittgenstein’s Mistress though. Wittgenstein's Mistress is about as necessary as an empty coke bottle and I'm the bushman carrying it to the edge of the world.
Thing is the world isn't flat. There is no edge to throw it off of. And they call bushmen something else these days.
What I'm doing here is taking it to the middle of Africa and throwing it in a deep lake to see what floats to the surface. Like these four sentences:
“Although I am perhaps just enough disturbed by these underpants to have let that become a sort of nuisance factor.
I have just gone out for fresh underpants.
What I more exactly did was change while I was out there.
There is always something pleasurable about changing into garments that are still warm from the sun.”
I wish I could say as much in so many words.
I washed my clothes two days ago and they won’t dry completely.
Yesterday the sun came out so I hung the clothes outside on the railing then went for a walk on the beach. That’s when I met these five dogs.
In this picture I only captured three. Two of them got scared and ran way.
You can read into that whatever you want.
It started to rain though there were no clouds in the sky. I didn’t care that drops of water were falling from the sky and neither did the dogs.
Which is to say I got distracted playing with the dogs and forgot about my clothes.
That’s I lie.
I remembered my clothes but didn’t think it was that big of a deal. There were no clouds, how long could the rain last?
Virga is rain that evaporates before hitting the ground. This was the opposite of that.
Regardless, it kept coming, enough to get my underwear and T-shirts wet again.
I probably stink to anyone else. At least anyone else not from around here.
People say that Africans smell. On account of not wearing deodorant. In general I think this is only true if you are new to a place. If you are a foreigner.
Foreigners say this to each other, but never to the face of someone belonging to the place.
After a while it becomes nothing.
It stops crossing your mind, the smell.
Our smell of “nothing” probably stinks to them too, at first. To say you smell of nothing is like saying you don’t have an accent. Even people from Los Angeles have accents, believe it or not. Einstein came up with that.
If you were suddenly put into a crammed matatu you might gag or pass out at first from the smell.
Then you’d get over it.
There’s a lot of communication going on with smell. Anyone that’s read Jitterbug Perfume would know all about that.
Tom Robbins wrote a whole novel about smell, and how love is 90% of it.
Or maybe it’s the other way around.
I looked in the library here at Njaya, to take a book in exchange for the Africa book I left behind and Jitterbug Perfume was the kind of book you’d see there.
Not Jitterbug Perfume itself, but there were books like it. You know what I mean, the kind of books that Peace Corps volunteers would read.
I wouldn't go so far as to call the PCVs you see in these parts hipsters. They are too out of it in other parts. Like me. But younger.
Jitterbug Perfume was the kind of book I read my first year in college, but wouldn’t be caught dead reading now. Even admitting I read it here in this blog took some guts.
I have a reputation to keep here.
I read everything Tom Robbins wrote at the time. There you go.
Tom Robbins is famous. He writes for the Village Voice I think, unless there’s another writer named Tom Robbins.
Maybe the reason no one bought my book is because I didn’t “put myself out there.” I put it out then shipped off to Africa a few weeks later.
Marsupial takes place in France mostly. At times in Savannah, Georgia or in made up places.
Whenever I write corps I always want to write corpse, as in peace corpse. Not the kind of thing a spell checker would catch either.
I’ve ridden trains in France before. I was on a train once from Nice to Milan and halfway there realized I didn’t have my passport on me. Okay, not halfway as that would technically be in Italy. But halfway to the border let's say.
This was back before the Euro was a form of currency.
I got off in Monte Carlo or Monaco or wherever it’s called. They don’t care about passports there, or at least didn't. But they charged just to go into a casino, and you had to be wearing nice clothes so I couldn't have gambled regardless.
That didn't stop me from walking around the harbor looking at the anchored boats.
It just happened to me again. Not on the lake, but on the Zomba plateau. I washed my clothes and put them out in the sun and when I wasn’t looking it started to rain.
I could be wrong, but I remember reading somewhere that Monaco only has 4,500 citizens. That’s not that many, but it’s more than one. Even two citizens is a different story than one. There’s no one of a kind in poker. You couldn’t have Noah’s ark with only one of a kind.
Right now I’m one and I don’t feel complete. I'm jumping around all over the place, when really I'm here in Nkhata bay thinking about these other places and reading Wittgenstein's Mistress. I'm only on the Zomba plateau after the fact.
I took a break from reading and went on a trek, into the real world. That's something that takes exertion.
What I did exactly was go to a beach to go snorkeling. It was my first time snorkeling in a freshwater lake, at least when there was something to see.
The water was aqua-colored and clear, with granite boulders spilling down into the water. It reminded me of Lake Tahoe or some alpine lake I saw once in the Bighorns in Montana when I was hiking by myself in the light of a full moon.
When you put your head under water here, its like looking into a freshwater aquarium with all these blue cichlids and other colorful fish that you'd normally buy in a store.
A lot of the fish for freshwater aquariums in fact come from Lake Malawi.
It must be weird if you're hungry to catch fish to send to America because people just want to look at them in their homes. But they probably don't think that far ahead.
It was really weird to be snorkeling and lazing on the beach, but have it be fresh water.
Lake Malawi is infested with schistosomiasis, which is a bit unnerving to think about. Some people call it Bilharzias. Reading about it before I came I was thinking there was no way I'd be caught dead going into the lake.
But one look at the water, and you can’t help but to jump in.
After snorkeling I ate some fish that Miles bought from these fishermen.
They don't appear in Wittgenstein's Mistress, not even as extras. They are far from being famous. Maybe they are kind of famous now that they are on the internet. Even if they don't know it.
The fishermen are all ripped from all that paddling and eating fish. We might think it's healthy living but I doubt they do.
Here's Miles cooking the fish for me.
He made it up as we went along, stopping to get some produce in the villages we passed through and the fish from the ripped fishermen.
The sauce was made from tomatoes, onions and peppers.
We also had rice and “reb” leaves that tasted kind of like pumpkin leaves. Maybe they were pumpkin leaves, but he called them reb, though I don't know it would be spelled. All I know is they were tasty.
Talk about Slow Food, this was it. This is what it looked like eating it:
We made enough food to feed all the kids that were loitering around us. Here's two of them:
We washed the dishes with sand then went for another swim, this time out to some cliffs that we dove off of. We didn't even wait 30 minutes or whatever it is they say to do so you don't get cramps. I don't have pictures of any of these activities as it would've involved getting my camera wet. You'll just have to take my word on it.
After cliff diving was the dugout canoe ride. This was like the full-on package tour. The fishermen use these canoes here that are hollowed out, but the hole is not really wide enough to sit in. This is the guy that Miles paid to let use his canoe:
What you do is sit on the edge with your feet wedged into it. It’s very precarious and not exactly comfortable. Miles was in the front, I was in the middle, and the fisherman who owned the canoe was in the back.
This is how they roll here.
When I took the above photo we were in the sheltered bay where we began.
Once we got around the rocks, things got dicier. The waves got bigger and we were fighting the current, the wind against us, seemingly going nowhere.
There were all sorts of leaks, and we had to bail the canoe constantly. Needless to say, I wasn’t about to get my camera out at that point.
I had the camera in my lap whilst paddling, expecting to tip over at any moment, at which point I was going to grab the camera and keep it above water (it held all the photos of my trip up to this point, with no backup).
We were supposed to stop to feed the fish eagle, but the eagle was nowhere to be seen even after we all whistled for it. I had already seen the fish eagle thing in Lake Baringo anyway, so we pushed on against the wind.
It's one of those things you want to be over with so you can say you did it. So I could blog about it.
Kind of like when Jess and I paddled from Krabi to Koh Poda and back.
Come to think about it, I don't know why I was hiking in the Bighorns at night. What I remember most was a herd of elk. I smelled their musk before I saw or heard them, then got out of their way as they stampeded by in the night. There was no one to share this with until now.
After the canoe ride, I bought Miles a beer. He’s a new father with a one-month old son.
Malawians have a tradition where mother’s don’t need to cook for the first month after the baby is born. So Miles had been cooking every night. And then cooking for me on top of it.
The next day marked the end of this month, and to celebrate, his mother-in-law was to cook him a big feast and they would have a big party.
This is the best kind of “tourism,” where somebody from the area shows you around, and at the same time you support their livelihood so they can keep living the way they live.
Well not quite the way they live if I wasn't in the picture, but you know what I mean.
Just like you should buy books like Wittgenstein's Mistress to support David Markson for the time he took to write it. Better yet, buy the book through this link so I get kickback for taking the time to tell how David Markson took the time to write the book and had to feed himself the whole while.
No skin off your chicken. It's not free to keep these words here. There's a computer somewhere in Hong Kong that is "hosting" this for me. It does not run on it's own recognizance.
These are not like words in an unread book sitting on a dusty shelf.
The link above has the number 28424 in it if you know what to look for. What that means is that I get 5% or 7% of the sale if you buy it through that link.
Last year I probably made enough to pay for the registration of the URL. But that's about it, not nearly enough to pay for hosting.
I would also recommend staying at Njaya Lodge in Nhkata Bay, though I don't get any kickback for telling you that.
It wasn't til some fifteen years later that I finally got to go to Milan, this time on a train from Turin, and this time with my better half. And I had my passport on me.
This is the last page of this “passport journal” and I’m screwed because I’m nowhere near the end of my journey, or Markson’s book.
I just checked on the whereabouts of the spider. I couldn’t find him at first, which is unnerving.
Until I looked up high on the mosquito net. Here’s a photo as proof in case you think I'm making all this up.
Though he doesn’t look as red as he really is.
This is my imitation of how Markson might write, if he were to review his own book on the shores of Lake Malawi. If you look carefully, you'll see the lake through the net.
“What is the book about?” you might ask. That’s not what matters.
He causes you to consider the unreliability of memory.
For instance, I was reading where he says that “what Odysseus was presumably not aware of was that Achilles had gotten one of the women pregnant.”
The women he’s referring to are the ones Achilles was hiding with when he was impersonating a woman to avoid fighting.
When I read this I thought of bluegills and how certain male bluegills impersonate female bluegills in order to infiltrate the harem of a larger male. And when the larger male isn’t looking, this female impersonator would impregnate the woman fish.
When I went to fact-check this or google it, I found no record of it. And I can't say I've witnessed it for myself. It's just something someone told me. When people google it now they will get this page. I am the expert on bluegill female impersonators.
Regardless, memory is selective and it makes for a good story. I want to remember it happening that way.
Some day I hope to use the words “woman fish” in a story or book. I’m not sure how, but I like how those two words work together.
It just occurred to me now, after the fact, that I have a song called Womanfish by U2 in my iTunes. It's a shitty recording from some live in Dublin bootleg album with four songs on it that I've since parted with the original. Bono introduces the song by saying, with a hick accent, that "it's about a mermaid we met once in America."
Now I'm the expert on U2 and womanfish and mermaids in America. Even if the vinyl record of it is no longer in my possession.
I think the person who told me about the bluegill was my biology teacher that slit his wrists after grading our final exams.
Sometimes I feel guilty or self-conscious for going on like this. Like when people ask me where I find the time to blog on like this.
Like that guy Miles, the mathematician turned oceanographer. Not my guide who I've been calling Miles only because it sounds cool.
Miles the oceanographer living on Cape Cod would say something like that. At one point he might have appreciated this, like back in college. But now he has kids and shit.
Nothing against having kids, if you have them.
I imagine you must feel even more self-conscious reading this. That you had the spare time too.
Sorry about that.
Markson is not nearly so personal in his ramblings. He hides behind the fact that Kate is the only one on the planet so it wouldn't make sense for her to talk directly to the audience.
It's more like she's writing it on a typewriter thinking when all's said and done somebody will find it.
The audience is the future after she's dead. After Markson's dead.
Maybe that's how I think of this. Not that I plan to die soon, unless this snail fever kicks in. I plan to outlive you.
Maybe Markson is dead. I don't know anything about him except this book.
I could probably google him, but that wouldn't be any fun now, would it?
If I had to venture a guess I would say he comes from an art background not a writing background. His writing is too good to be that of a writer.
“Wittgenstein’s Mistress covers the enormous breadth of human experience.” I wrote that in my notebook, so I must have meant something by it.
I wrote that last sentence in another notebook since I ran out of pages in the last one. Now I’m writing here.
I think the idea is to keep you here for whatever reason, so if you're reading this far, we both deserve a round of applause.
There are no such gaps in Wittgenstein’s Mistress. This is not nearly so fluid. Kate never surfaces for air.
She crashes a car into the Mediterranean but surfacing for air is not an issue or something that crosses her mind.
She is more concerned with how she came to be wearing a certain soccer jersey after the incident that had a number on the back she keeps changing her mind about, though each time she sounds so certain about what number it is.
That's another way to think about it, the way Markson writes, is that each graph can be read with one breath of air.
Breath in, breath out.
Wittgenstein’s Mistress is the kind of book that makes you want to put her down and pick up a pen. Breathing in is reading, breathing out is writing.
Every page of her I read induces me to write another. I’m not getting far in the book and I’m wasting paper in this journal.
If you've ever seen before and after pictures of harbor seals nuring their pups, you'd know what this looks like. Liquid flesh transmission.
I had a theory once that we are all allotted the same number of heartbeats. While you are working out, your heart rate goes up. But in the long run, your heart rate goes down. It's all about finding that optimal balance. If maximizing your time on this planet is what it's about.
You could take this one step further and say it's true for all animals, we're allotted the same number of beats. Shrews and small birds don't live long, but they have really fast pulses. Elephants have really slow pulses, like they are stretching out their time here, making it last. It's that Einstein thing again. Live fast, die young.
I've looked into the latter theory and there seems to be truth to it.
I can see where Blake Butler is coming from with his Ever. Butler stands on Markson’s shoulders, who stands on the shoulder of Gaddis and Beckett. And he, she, goes everywhere while going nowhere.
For every good book there’s a battalion more to mine backwards.
And then there’s all the artists and philosophers Markson goes on about.
I don’t like Brahms much, or classical musical for that matter. I’ve tried. "Tried," being the operative word in that last sentence.
I can’t go back more than 75 years with my musical or literary tastes. Even 50 is a stretch.
Markson wrote Wittgenstein’s Mistress 20 years ago, which is remarkable in itself. Typed it even, if you believe what Kate says.
I see some Markson in Robert Lopez's Part of the World too, though I don’t recall if I’ve ever talked to Robert about Markson. Maybe Lopez came circuitously, via the Beckett path.
You might think I'm linking to these books because I want you to get them. This is true.
I’ve tried to read Beckett a few times but couldn’t get into his head.
In terms of paragraph structure, Beckett writes the opposite of this.
Beckett’s paragraphs never let you surface for air or reflect.
I also have his trilogy with me with me back home in Nairobi, so it’s not to say I won’t try again when the time is right.
Hehe, I said home.
Infinite Jest is also sitting next to my bed. Geckos are probably crawling over it right now that I’m away. The geckos that aren't as big as the ones here, but more numerous.
Other books get stacked on top of it. It’s been sitting there untouched since he died.
I’ve tried to pick it up, but it weighs too much.
I need to get in shape for it.
Markson namedrops too much for my tastes.
I didn’t know who Wittgenstein was before reading this.
I come more from the Schopenhauer camp, maybe with a bit of Nietzsche thrown in for good measure.
My hero of the week is Prefontaine. That's the look I'm going for.
I have the slightest idea who John Ruskin is but think it’s amusing that “the silly man spent so many years looking at so many ancient statues that he almost went into shock on his wedding night, what with nobody ever having told him that living women had pubic hair.”
Another way I’d say this is dead poet’s pits stink too.
Famous people’s pits stink too. It’s not just you.
Rumor has it Sting stinks.
Maybe a better distinction is to say I prefer “living” writers and artists.
Dead people bore me. Except Frank Stanford or Ray Carver. Or Amos Tutuola. Or Fela Kuti.
At least Fela’s son Femi is alive. I get google searches for his name to this site, maybe because he’s not dead yet. I think it’s for this photo, which proves Femi is alive and well.
I hope when people search for Femi Kuti and arrive here they feel satisfied.
It was even better in person. Better yet, the time we saw him at the Apollo.
He didn't seem so famous. Or that he didn't care whether he was or he wasn't.
I take that back, some of my favorite people are dead. In fact, bodies of work become more interesting when somebody dies.
As long as it’s not too dated. Dated just enough. Like wine.
David Foster Wallace has not been dead long enough to read. I’m letting him age.
If it ages too long it becomes vinegar.
If it’s fresh off the vine it’s too green, too close to home.
David Foster Wallace was a contemporary of mine. We are about the same age and we went to the same university in Tucson at the same time. He was playing tennis and I was studying physics so our paths never crossed.
Who would’ve thunk at the time anyway.
There’s a great image in Wittgenstein’s Mistress where she takes thousands of tennis balls and rolls them down the Spanish steps in Rome.
I failed statistical thermodynamics much as I liked the idea of it.
I wasn’t crazy about the Spanish steps when I was there. Everyone just sat there on the steps looking at one another waiting for something to happen.
Maybe the problem with my writing, why no one buys my book, is that my sentences don’t connect to one another, logically. Or that they connect too logically, that they try too hard to be connected. Again, try being the operative word.
If A=B and B=C and C=D, then do we ever get back to Z=A?
Maybe this is the whole point of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. I’ve tried to figure that one out but lost patience before I did. Even if I like the looks and sounds of it.
As I’m writing this sentence, a one-eyed man is watering the plants in front of me.
I’m still overlooking a big clear lake with clouds of lake flies hovering on the horizon.
I noticed him because he’s making this weird whistling sound with his nose when he breathes in. I couldn’t help but wonder if the two conditions were related—the nasaly wheeze and his one eye.
Or maybe my problem is that I don't think my time is worth any more than yours. That's what it comes down to if you are a writer.
Here you're free to come and goes as you like.
In the rest of the world there’s probably a lot more people with one eye than you think, you just don’t notice because they mask it. This guy has his left eye sewn shut so it’s obvious it’s not working.
I wonder if people with one eye learn to bob their heads up and down like lizards to gauge distance?
Thom Yorke shakes his head around a lot, maybe that’s what that’s about.
It must be weird to look back at an audience from up on a stage.
I don’t want to stare.
He’s able to gauge the distance from the spout to the plants just fine.
Maybe my problem is that I’m not standing on anyone’s shoulders. In a group photo I would be hidden in back.
I’m at the part where Kate goes into more depth about driving a VW bus filled with picture postcards into the Mediterranean. She’s alluded to it before but is only just now expanding on it, in it’s right time.
I just farted and it stinks. I probably won’t include that sentence in the final draft.
I hope that doesn’t mean I have bilharzias, otherwise known as schistosomiasis. I’m not sure which is harder to spell.
I think the reason I don't get through that many books is that I get hung up thinking about them. And then blogging about them.
I think the reason I don't "write" that much, is that I spend too much time thinking, and then blogging.
I know these things. But I can't help myself. Like jumping in lake Malawi, not smart.
I was assured they didn’t have bilharzias here, but after snorkeling and swimming and jumping off cliffs into the water, that’s when I noticed these small snails near the shore.
I asked Miles about it and showed him the snails. I took a picture of them in case a doctor asked to see them.
Yesterday, here back in Nairobi, someone told me it's a good idea to take a picture of a snake if you get bitten by it.
I got stung by a stonefish once in the middle of the South Pacific and it never crossed my mind to take a photo of it even though I likely had a camera on me.
It's just not something you'd think of at the time. Though I did think to get a good look at it as it tried to bury itself in the sand.
When I showed Miles the snails, he did that thing where you stretch your lower lip and raise your eyebrows, the universal symbol for “uh-oh.”
Bilharzias is transmitted to humans via snails. Some people call it snail fever. I may have already.
All Miles could say was that he himself had never had it.
Maybe Africans get it and don’t even know it. Like the ones that have recessive sickle-cell anemia and get malaria without even knowing it.
All sorts of Malawians were swimming in the water, but I didn’t see any mzungus swimming.
Then again I haven’t seen any other mzungus period.
The only mzungus I’ve seen here were three fat American girls in a motorboat, looking for the same fish eagle we were looking for.
When they saw me in the dugout canoe, with the “natives,” they scrambled for their cameras to snap a picture of me.
Does that make me famous?
If you happen to stumble or google across this, can you send me that photo? I’d be curious to see what I look like from the outside.
I must’ve looked ridiculous in that dugout canoe. It wasn’t comfortable if you want to know the truth.
And sorry I called you fat, but you are. You should eat less and exercise more. Paddle a canoe instead of a motorized boat. It’s better in every sense.
Then again, you probably wouldn’t have fit in the canoe. It's that chicken and the egg thing.
I’ve observed that Americans traveling abroad are back to their old obnoxious ways.
For a while there I was thinking they had mellowed out, became quieter and thoughtful, trimmer. But Obama’s election has reboosted their confidence and they are back to their loud, arrogant, naïve and fat ways.
Losers are usually more interesting to me.
Prefontaine didn't win when he went to the olympics. All he cared about was how he looked doing it. I imagine he didn't just do it, but spent a lot of time thinking about how he would do it, which was what he was doing. He did it.
Markson keeps talking about this place Lititz, PA in his book. Every time I see it, I think of Gary Lutz, who lives in Pennsylvania.
But Markson wrote Wittgenstein’s Mistress before Lutz wrote his first book so that can't be.
Speaking of which, we received the galleys for Stories in the Worst Way, made the final edits, and gave word to the printer to fire away.
I pulled the trigger here from the Zomba plateau. I didn’t have my computer, but had the file for Stories in the Worst Way on a flash drive, and when I got to Zomba I made the changes and fired off the final PDF.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, even if I'm behind in blogging about it. Maybe there's something to this "Swahili time" business.
I updated my facebook status with something to this effect earlier today. I just went in there now and wrote, "Derek has been having a mid-life crisis since he was 13. Must be a twist on Zero's paradox."
I'm not sure what made me do that.
The secretary at work today asked me why I was growing a moustache. I said one word, "Prefontaine."
She's Kenyan. She had no idea who he was. She asked if I was having a mid-life crisis. That would explain it, why I wrote that as my status.
I came up with 13 because it's half of 26. I remember reading once when I was in my teens that Robert Smith wanted to be dead by the time he was 26.
He has long surpassed that mark.
He'd probably say he's been having a mid-life crisis since he was 13 and he's even older than me.
He needs to lose weight.
I probably could’ve transmitted Stories in the Worst Way sooner from a public computer, but I was afraid to stick my flash drive in one. Computer viruses here are just as rampant as biological viruses—the same precautions apply.
What if there was a virus that scrambled words or added commas? Transmitted by snails?
Most of what changed between the 3rd bed and Calamari version are dashes.
It’s a long story that involves computer viruses or crashed hard drives or some such thing, such that the only thing available to me, to reissue, was a PDF.
I copied and pasted the text from the PDF, but in doing so it necessarily took the plain text with no formatting. I had to go in and add italics and line and paragraph breaks.
The 3rd bed version has hyphenated words breaking at end of lines, I’m sure there’s a term for it. Whatever it’s called, I prefer to let modern technology adjust the spacing accordingly and so does Gary.
The problem was, the legacy hyphens remained. In other places there were no hyphens were there should have been.
Thankfully Gary has an eye for such things and knows exactly how it should look down to the last dot over the last i. He knows the sequence of letters and words in Stories in the Worst Way as if it was his own DNA.
It is his DNA.
You could call both David Markson and Gary Lutz great sentence writers.
With Markson it's not so much about sentences as word bytes. Or concept parcels. The breath packages I was speaking of, that I'm trying to imitate here, that could be sentences but sometimes are more or less than that, depending on how fast you breath.
He's a conceptual writer. It's more about the concept than the execution of it.
Which is not to say he's not one hell of a writer.
Some conceptual artists never touch paintbrush to canvas.
After a housefire destroyed all my brothers paintings he stopped painting. The same brother I have SESS tattooed on my left arm for.
After the fire, people asked him what medium he worked in, and he'd say he made objects.
Which is not to say he was a sculptor. Hah. But then again no.
Or a man, who made potions in a traveling show.
Originally the only mutation in the reissue of Stories in the Worst Way was the removal of two words: “and reverb”.
Once he got into it, though, there were a few other changes, intentional mutations arising from replication.
If you are interested in such things I challenge you to read both and find the differences.
And I'm not just saying that. One thing I will say is that, reading through it, even line editing or formatting where you aren’t really “reading” the words, I kept getting sucked in.
Each sentence taken on it’s own is a work of art, an object into itself.
The reissue of Stories in the Worst Way is being printed as we speak, somewhere in Minnesota.
This is how we roll at Calamari Press.
I pulled the trigger for Blake Butler’s book from the beach in Thailand after paddling the kayak from Koh Poda to Krabi.
I’m still “here,” on the shores of Lake Malawi.
Transcribing this on the Zomba plateau in southern Malawi.
Cutting and pasting and, ok, embellishing on the decks of an inland ship in Nairobi.
It's a pain in the ass because I have to manually put in these tabs.
Web pages are not cut out for tabular indentations.
I'm here. Tika is being a footrest. Tika is the resident dog here. Here’s Tika.
In general, I like dogs more than people.
That's my raincoat drying.
I’m going to exercise naked now.
That’s probably not an image you want to see.
The reason being that I don’t want to get my clothes sweaty and then stuff them in my bag to stink everything else up that comes into contact with them.
Yesterday I got some exercise in the form of hiking, swimming and canoeing.
Tonight I’m getting on an overnight bus so I need to move my limbs around in preparation.
I’ll exercise in my room so no one sees me. I have these latex resistance bands even.
I’ll just flail my body around every which way. Naked.
I’m sure I’ll look ridiculous but that’s not what matters.
Jess and I have a hunch that if you ask people in Italy, the ones that exercise, why they work out, the most common answer would be, “to look good naked.”
We never really asked anyone outright though.
That’s as good a reason as any. I imagine no one looks good while they are working out naked though.
Did I mention we want to move there? It's okay to say that, her bosses will never read this far down.
I lied. I worked out in my boxers, the orange ones with crickets on them.
Last night I woke up and looked out the window and there were strings of boats with bright lanterns bobbing on the lake.
I probably place-drop more than I should.
Nkhata Bay or Lake Malawi is probably just a name to you, and was to me... before I came here. Now it means something tangible.
That’s how Markson is with his excessive name-dropping.
He risks alienation from those that don’t know these people, these dead painters. Or even know of them.
If you stand on the shoulders of dead people, you risk having your foundation decompose and crumble in front of your eyes.
Wittgenstein’s Mistress place-drops quite a bit as well, though not in Africa. Mostly in Europe, Italy, ancient Greece and a bit in Mexico.
This is Markson’s point, his shtick: experience a la Emily Dickinson. Collagic anecdotes. Anecdotes is another one of those words. I always want to say antidote.
Thom York's shtick is his lazy eye. Blake Butler's shtick is crud. Gary Lutz's shtick are sentences. Maybe soliciting sex in public restrooms if you only read for content. Femi's shtick, like it or not, is Fela. Prefontaine's shtick is his stache. Chuck Norris' shtick is being white and hairy.
I'd like to say my shtick are goats, but that's for you to say. Can you tell I'm hurt that five people have called me Chuck Norris?
Yesterday I was running, and some guy in a passing matatu yelled at me to run faster Fucking Kenyans and their natural abilities. People here say all sorts of shit to you if you go running. Sometimes they say "jogging" just to piss you off. It's all part of the work out.
On my high school cross country team in California I was given the award for "most improved." Maybe that's what prematurely triggered my mid-life crisis.
Being born in Oregon was not good enough.
If it came down to it, I’d probably recommend the experience of coming to Malawi over reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Though reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress is the cheaper journey. And it should never come down to it.
Better yet, do both, at the same time, while drinking a gin and tonic lakeside.
Safari means "journey" in Swahili in case you didn't know. Most people think it entails killing animals. Fucking Hemingway.
In my Trop Goth post I said I’d never had a G&T poolside even though I said I did—that it was just a metaphor. Now I’ll admit that I’ve had more than one here, lakeside.
Malawi distills their own gin, so how could you not? When in Malawi do as the Malawians.
You should eat and drink things made where you are, it only makes sense. This is the essence of Slow Food.
That Norman Lock wrote A History of the Imagination without having ever been to Africa makes it all the better. For what it is. That's his shtick.
There are no absolutes, use whatever you have at your disposal.
I wrote that and now I'm not so sure what I meant by it.
“Anxiety is the fundamental mood of existence.” Markson, through Kate, says that Heidegger said that. I’ll buy that.
Yesterday I was anxious about my camera falling in the water. It wasn’t so much about the camera as all the pictures from this trip that were on it.
Anxiety was indeed the prevailing sentiment.
Woody Allen's shtick is anxiety.
I don’t care much about having money stolen. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been robbed.
That’s a lie. I was pick-pocketed on a bus in Mexico when I was like 15, 2 years into my midlife crisis. Ever since I carry my wallet in my front pocket and sometimes even a decoy in the back.
When I was even younger, I was on a fake train at Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm or some such place and fake bandits with bandanas over their faces came on to hold the train up. My father said I emptied my pockets and sat on my things, such that when they got to me and told me to stick 'em up, all they found were my empty pockets already folded inside out.
He always got a kick out of telling me that story. I don’t remember it firsthand, only my father’s telling of it. Does that make it real enough?
People have tried to forcibly rob me twice since, though neither was successful.
The first was again on a crowded bus in Mexico. My decoy wallet with the fuck you note was enough to stall for time and alert me to their presence. There was a bit of wrestling involved, and then I managed to skinny out the door.
Another time I was held up at gunpoint in Peru. Which is not as bad as it sounds actually. What options do you have with a gun pointed at your belly?
Though I admit his shaky hand made me a bit anxious, not that I even had time for such sentiment. Nothing is funnier than amateur criminals, but not while it's happening to you.
Anxiety is not something I felt at that moment. I didn’t have anything to steal except for the clothes I was wearing.
Anxiety is a privilege for people with too much time on their hands.
None of Wittgenstein’s Mistress’s experiences are hers, or even Markson’s for that matter.
It was Michelangelo that never took a bath or Da Vinci that wrote left-handed and backwards so you had to read it in a mirror. Markson is only recounting this trivia in an admittedly unreliable way, in the voice of Kate.
Or that Emily Bronte punched her dog so hard she knocked him out.
Or that Galileo never shook anyone’s hand after he discovered germs. When in fact it was Pasteur that discovered germs. Which is not to say Galileo couldn't have discovered them also, learned of them for himself, which in turn made him a germophobe.
Or that Gaugin was arrested for urinating in public.
Or that Abe Lincoln and Walt Whitman used to nod to each other walking the streets of D.C. How could Markson possibly know that?
Maybe that's Markson's shtick: inventing trivial shticks for famous people that may or may not be true.
I used to have “Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” memorized, but now can’t remember past the first line. Besides something about a star drooping in the western sky.
Someone told me it’s a veiled metaphor for Whitman’s man-love for Abe. I think it was my high school English teacher that told me that. That Walt Whitman's shtick was Lincoln.
Lincoln's shtick was getting himself shot. And being honest.
Markson even makes shit up about fictional characters, like that Penelope slept with all those suitors.
I’m not too anxious about these notebooks I'm writing this in. They fall somewhere between money and a camera loaded with photos not yet downloaded.
I can probably remember what I wrote, and if not, then so be it.
Then again, I valued the passport journal at $100. I’m no longer writing in that one.
This notebook is from all over the place. I also bought it at Muji, though the one in NYC, not Bangkok.
The first entry in it was written on the plane from Nairobi to Bangkok.
There’s a story in here that I wrote at the YMCA in Dar. I’m not sure what to call it, though I think I want to include the word cowry or bushmeat or both in the title. You’ll know the story when you read it, if you read it.
I may have said that before.
I used to keep journals more religiously, not just when traveling.
I kept one in France when I was working on Mr. Stitch, whose experience formed the basis for Marsupial.
In fact, there were probably notes for the book in the journal I kept.
I had it in the backseat of Roger Avary’s black Mercedes parked at some restaurant or nightclub in Nice, France.
Roger Avary is my cousin. He had a black Mercedes with diplomatic plates.
Now that I think about it, it was New Year's Eve. Sometime in the mid-90s.
I'm wondering if there is a limit to the size of a web page.
The point of the story is I had my journal in a leather satchel in the backseat of Roger Avary's black Mercedes and he also had his laptop in a bag in back.
We went in to get something to eat or drink.
Maybe it was the wrap party for Mr. Stitch, I forget. Maybe this was on New Year's Eve.
I remember having make-up on that I was too lazy to wash off.
Someone busted the window and you can probably guess what they took.
They took my bag, not his. My satchel with my journal in it.
What they got was a paper notebook with hand scribbled words in it, when they could’ve gotten Roger Avary’s laptop or his stereo, or even the whole car.
I have photos from this night, before I found out about my journal getting stolen. In the pictures I look like someone punched me in the eye on account of the smeared make-up.
I was made up to look like Mr. Stitch, come to think of it. Not that I was Mr. Stitch, but sometimes I did stunts for him.
I’d like to know who stole it and whether they ever read my notebook. Maybe they figured I’d be famous one day.
If you are a lawyer, this is fiction.
Or maybe they thought it was Roger Avary’s notebook. He is famous.
I think getting an Oscar qualifies that. He was always lucky that way, things falling into his lap, being in the right place at the right time. The right place being a video store in L.A. Nothing bad ever happened to him.
I had a car stolen once, but that's a different story. Having things stolen makes for good stories. When things go smoothly people don't read on.
Wouldn’t that be funny if this very notebook also got stolen before I got a chance to transcribe it?
Though I’m transcribing it now, as we speak, so it didn’t happen.
And funny is not the word. Ironic, maybe. Though Markson writes it as “ironical.”
Maybe that’s the correct way to write it and the rest of us have been wrong all along. Including Alanis Morisette who is also wrong about what it even means.
It just occurred to me my name or contact info is not even in this notebook. So if someone did find it, they wouldn’t know who to give it back to. Haha.
Now this lives on the internet, so unless the internet dies, nothing will happen to it. Unless that server in Hong Kong dies, but I'm assuming there's redundancy there, right?
Sometimes I wonder if web hosters are ever secretly amused by what they are hosting, just like I wonder if printers are secretly amused by what they are printing. I'm sure this has crossed the mind of others.
Markson says Wittgenstein said that it doesn’t take money to get a good present but time.
This notebook is only worth my time. But hell, I’ll sell it to you too if you want, once I finish digitizing it.
This notebook even includes doodles I did for the tattoo I got in Thailand.
There’s still some empty pages left in here though. I’ll probably use them to write something in NYC. Though I will likely bring my computer with me there.
If you're there, it would be good to see you. March 5 at Word Books in Brooklyn.
Haha, “well surely if a wife had been dutifully avoiding any number of suitor for twenty years while waiting for her husband to come home she ought to have recognized him when he got there,” says Wittgenstein’s Mistress. So true.
Only the dog recognized Odysseus. And then proceeded to die.
Jess and I have been apart for eight days, which is eight days too long. That’s probably longer than how long Paul McCartney was in a Japanese prison apart from Linda. Will Jess recognize me?
Will I be able to recount the blueprints of our bed?
I haven’t shaven since. That's probably why every one is calling me Chuck Norris. Either that or he is the only mzungu they have seen.
I’m surprised Markson hasn’t dropped Joyce’s name yet, who already borrowed some lines from Homer, who arguably doesn’t even exist.
My brother was equally obsessed with the Odyssey, though his obsession was by way of Joyce.
Did I already mention this?
His master’s thesis in art school was on the subject. The only copies of it in existence are in my possession and in the library at Pasadena College of the Arts. He even states something to this effect in the beginning.
I would quote from it exactly, but my copy is in a storage unit in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
His death didn’t make him famous.
This is the story behind the “SSES” tattooed on my left arm, so I'm sure I said something about it before.
If I knew strangers would ask what the SSES stood for then maybe I would have gotten something else.
I told one person it was the ship I was stationed on.
My brother was left-handed like Da Vinci.
Some people say I should publish these blog writings. They are probably just being nice.
Even if I thought they were worthy, I think it’s better this way.
It amuses me to think of people stumbling across this not knowing who I am.
It wouldn’t amuse me to think of these words bound in a book gathering dust on shelf.
I’m eating butterfish while I’m writing this and just remembered something I forgot to say: The fish Miles barbecued yesterday was pregnant.
He grilled the fish with eggs intact. I must say, it was delicious.
I told him about sushi and he’d never heard of it but said that he wanted to try it. He told me he’d heard that the Japanese eat snakes, and asked me if I knew whether this was true and if so what kind.
This was before someone told me that if I'm ever bitten by a snake I should take a photo of it so doctors could identify it. So they could find an antidote for it. Not an anecdote.
Now I’m eating butterfish, Tika is under my feet and Nina Simone is crooning. or whoever it was that first sung, “I put a spell on you.” Whoever sung it before CCR or Screaming Jay did.
Not that that’s the song that’s playing now. I ain't lying.
“Now how could anybody be so foolish to name a cat after a dog?” Wittgenstein’s Mistress asks.
I named a dog Cat once, in a novel I wrote that I never even attempted to get published. Strip Mine is what I called it.
Don't bother googling it, you won't find any proof of it's existence. Two chapters from it were published in a climbing magazine, otherwise it’s effectively dead in the water.
It has 24 chapters in it, like the Odyssey.
I started writing it in France when I was working on Mr. Stitch, when my journal got stolen instead of Roger Avary’s computer.
There was probably notes for Strip Mine in the journal, though at the time I think I called it something pretentious like “Clear Water, Black Hills.” I didn’t know any better.
This was back in the mid-90s as I said.
I wrote the first draft of this first pancake on a portable typewriter. One of those ones where you could edit one line at a time.
Once you hit the carriage return, there was no going back.
Now we have the luxury of revising history. Of being in two or three places at once.
I got a Mac shortly after that, followed by a string of PCs and now I’m back on a Mac, and I’m not happy about it.
Wittgenstein’s Mistress claims to write on a typewriter.
Just when I say Kate doesn’t mention Joyce she does, towards the end. Joyce is the one who crawled under furniture when it thundered. That's Joyce's shtick according to Markson.
A good term for what Markson is doing is “cultural transmission.”
I wrote that in my notebook though I’m not sure now what I meant by it now. Something was transmitted but I can't say what.
I'm beginning to think that this "review" of Wittgenstein's Mistress is approaching the length of the book.
Every review of a book should necessarily be as long as that book being reviewed. Word for word.
If you gave a typewriter to a zillion chimps, one of them is bound to write the complete works of Shakespeare. Or Homer.
It’s the thought that counts.
To understand somebody, walk in their shoes.
I’m making this all up now, off the cuff.
What I said before about swimming with eyes closed into a big, deep lake—that's something I would recommend doing. Preferably in a lake with no boat traffic. Or snails.
There's no kickback I get from telling you that.
You should never have to pay to swim in a body of water.
Lake Malawi is a good choice, just don't swallow the water.
If you don't have a big, deep lake at your disposal, then Wittgenstein's Mistress is the next best thing.
The last line of Wittgenstein's Mistress is “somebody is living on this beach."
Maybe I already said that, it's been so long.
The last line of this will be the same.
It would be nice to say I left the book on the beach in Nhkata bay for someone else to find, but the truth is I wasn't done with it.
I wasn't quite ready to let her go.
I did leave the book on a beach though, on Lake Malawi.
It wasn't until later, further south, at Monkey Bay. I left my name in it even.
But I'm getting ahead of myself in the scheme of things.
For now I know only what I've learned from this book.
Somebody is living on this beach.