In Which We Still Have Most Of Her Books

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Saint Kathy

by LINDA EDDINGS

Bangled and sewn up, it’s just hair.

Oakland, 1999. I meet Kathy for the first time. She tells everyone else she is a novelist, but she tells me another word for it. She is gone but still around someplace.

When she used to live in San Diego, she knew a bald man with different colored eyes. It took me a long time to realize her descriptions of this man matched her almost completely.

Before we are about to die, Kathy says, we see ourselves completely different from how we were before. Worse. “Cancer is big business,” she wrote. There is a lot that she put down that I do not believe.

I read Kathy to keep my spirits up. I don’t have access to her most depressing texts. In her novel about high school, Kathy writes of a woman having sex with a man, but it is a man having sex with a woman more so. The accompanying pictures of penises illustrate the point.

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“Language begins with desire,” she has Colette explain. OK.

Kathy wakes up. It is 1984. Her mornings always take place at Gold’s Gym. Is it possible she is there now? She was a woman who desired men sexually, and then wrote of them as they were. What is so wrong with that?

There is this old story about when Saul Bellow went to interview for a job with Time. I’ll tell you later.

When she was a stripper, she found that tattoos suited her lithe, semi-nude form. Take any behavior in private and make it public. Then sell it, trade on it. I know why people do not like pornography – it is not the same as hard drugs, or the murder of animals. It is something they themselves have to address when they robe and disrobe, and they are ashamed.

What would Kathy be now I wonder? She wrote the movement, was the movement, transcended any movement. It still would have been difficult to be her. Her mother was an awful woman, you understand, and when she fled this country for Germany, it was partly to rid herself of nasty associations.

It is painful to read any more about Kathy. I want to ride the motorcycle of someone I respect. I don’t give two shits about their influences.

1918: Mankind emerges from the shadows. Womankind follows afterwards, a picture of resentment. There is a general conclusion that before now, nothing really counted. In a quarter-century, Kathy will be born to confirm this view.

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She never knew her father, and I have met people like that. They think about what might have been a lot, and I don’t blame them, only I wish they wouldn’t.

Try writing like Kathy instead. Try working into every conversation that you have emerged from a literary fatalism. It is intellectual fear-mongering, primarily. I don’t know what to think about what to think.

There is this old story about when Saul Bellow went to interview for a job with Time. I’ll tell you later.

Kathy wakes up, goes to the gym. Now it is time to write, so instead of formulating a plan, she is astride a chair the way a bat looms on some fucking stalagmite. I’m so empty in the morning.

I love you.

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I know a friend who puts together her syllabus, and she thinks of what her students will hate the most, and she makes it 40 percent of their grade. When the papers come in, she shudders, because she hates it too.

Kathy wouldn’t understand that. She did not need to manufacture this feeling of displacement. It was like, in your computer, sometimes you have a separate graphics card, and other times there are just integrated graphics which use a portion of the existing memory. For Kathy, there was no separate angst. She was the angst; the feeling was integrated.

Kathy leaves Brandeis for San Diego. She takes a plane or she drives. She has to get far away.

I love you so much that I can’t think of anything else besides your lipstick on my towels, Kathy Acker.

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Render the future meaningless, like the past always was. There is no memory of the dead, just the imposition of the present on everything, drowning the rest out. A principle of natural selection.

Portland, 2003. Every single person on the street is writing their own memoir. The titles of the memoirs are as follows: The Restitution, Tits and Grits, My Banana Pancakes, Bats in Stalactites, Kathy’s Braided Hairstyles, Way of the Nomad Prince. The dedications are to the same person: she is not the son of God. I mean he might have had a daughter, but not mentioned her out of respect.

Kathy writes: “I used to ask, ‘Do you love me?’ Well, I asked him once and learned better. He replied, good old journalist that he was, what I feel about you is my business and what you feel about me is your business. Pay attention to your own business. I learned a lot from that one. If you want to get fucked up the ass, go do it. (I’m sure you do.) It’s not your problem, is it? Me, straight queer gay whatever and where do nut cakes like me fit in who like getting fistfucked whacked and told what to do?—the only things that appall me are babies.”

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So Saul Bellow goes to interview with Whittaker Chambers. They wanted someone on book reviews at Time magazine. (Is there still a Time magazine?) And Whittaker, Kathy bless him, well he asks this stolid Jewish man-in-training what he thinks of Wordsworth. And Saul says, “I always thought he was a romantic poet.” And Chambers just shakes his head like this is a dogshit answer and the man is not fit to breathe the same air as him.

When someone dies there is this profoundly unappealing saga of remembrance. “Everyone dies of something,” a doctor once explained to Kathy, which she could only fathom in one way: she had been given a sentence, only not the kind she usually wished for. She had, weeks previously, begun to feel small dense packets of tissues in her charming breasts.

The year 2043 is paved with good intentions.

When I die tell someone else you miss me. Don’t tell me that because I already know. Don’t tell my mother.

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2019, I am still reading My Mother: A Demonology. She could not let go of the woman. “My parents were horrible,” she writes, by which I intuit they used a lot of homonyms, smoked clove cigarettes, and read the nautical novels of Patrick O’ Brian. In some cases — and I believe this is one of them — you heartily desire to put the past behind you but you are smart enough to know you never will.

Saul Bellow was right, about this and so many other things. (What Whittaker wanted to hear, though, was that Wordsworth was a former revolutionary turned monarchist.) Do you feel divorced from literature? Do you feel like the only thing it has to say anymore is its age?

I miss Kathy, but I still have her books. I miss you. I miss you a lot but I don’t have any of your things, maybe a few cards you sent me and the gifts I bought for you but never delivered. I would give them to Goodwill but I can’t stand seeing all the clothing grouped by the same color. Some part of me knows that’s wrong.

I wake up and I go to the gym.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing here.

“Long Goodbye” – Basia Bulat (mp3)

“Good Advice” – Basia Bulat (mp3)

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