I don’t even know where to begin with Gary. The first compulsion is to extract his verbs. To pluck his choices and wranglings from the bed of their sentences, establish them in separate depositories, point at them as they stand stiff, naked. Such as “morseled in an oversized down jacket,” “slot into seats opposite each other,” “crutching himself up,” “to poach on the life inside him,” “slant himself inside me” (from ‘Waking Hours’). But then there is always the other, opposite, obvious itching, to put them together, to connect the dots, to somehow convey to a person why the words work as a story. My working theory about his stories, is that each story works as a series and succession of small pains, inflictions like the attack of insects or a grandmother’s smacks to the back of one’s head, and that the swarm recedes, or the grandmother stops, only after one has resided themselves to the stinging – that there is no lesson being taught by the pain, just a familiarity with it that hadn’t yet been arrived at before the story. A level of specificity and insight we recognize as true. The reader of a Gary Lutz story goes ‘ow, what was that?’ and then they read to keep investigating – that really hurt in this strange way, ow, where is this hurt coming from? And the resolution isn’t finding out where the pain comes from, or the transformation or acceptance of the pain, it’s the exhaustion of only being able to say ‘fuck, god, that really fucking hurts.’
‘Rims’ by Gary Lutz from Stories in the Worst Way
I went to Wegman’s one afternoon. Committing myself to the grocery store always takes a great deal out of me: the drive always jammed up with school buses, maneuvering the hypoglycemic, tiltering steel cart through the perpendicularly rigid aisles, the intimate and shocking confrontations with innumerable grossly human and perverse appetites, selection upon selection upon selection. I feel beaten, as if my mouth’s been pooped in. Pooped in by someone old with incontinence issues, who doesn’t know any better, but who has recently eaten split pea soup with rancid chunks of ham. I feel as though I am physically detained and helpless, watching kittens drown, while at the same time, I experience a strong desire to recline in a black leather chair and watch and smoke leisurely while some large man in my charge cuts people open with many different knives in some dark unwindowed cellar. This afternoon was no exception. And of course there is no washing the Wegman’s away. The Wegman’s lingers. It’s an infection beneath the skin you have to just stick out for a couple of hours until some other, more physically immediate pain overtakes it. And of course on the drive home, with the thousands of plastic bags they’ve individually wrapped around every item sitting in my back seat, defeated again, soiled and still alarmed, struggling with the assault of the Wegman’s, I worry, again, that I really am going to end up unpleasantly, diligently insane. Insane enough to need assistance for these kinds of outings. Insane enough so that people who know me will prevent me from interacting with the people I don’t know.
At home, I grumbled hazily over an essay I’d been working on; mostly just squinting hard at the loose, farting emptiness of the doubled spacing, dropping forgetful clumps of ash onto it, digging for what I optimistically suspected were food crumbs stuck in my teeth.
Then I opened up Gary, and I read:
“It never took my very long to get the boys to where I could feel the air go out of them. I got to them first. The girls got what was left. I was doing everybody a favor – slowing the boys down for the girls, making the boys easier for the girls to take. I got between the boys and the girls and clouded up their hearts.”
* * *
“You can look at a thing until it gets looked away with once and for all. You can take the thing and just look at it until it gets all looked out. Then you can go on to the next thing and start over. You can keep doing this with whatever gets lined up in front of you to have to see.
This is one way you can go through the whole world.”
‘Mine’ by Gary Lutz from Stories in the Worst Way
I’m tempted by a certain ideology of oral sex and what’s behind you in the mirror in the story ‘Mine’ relating to the conception of space and body as force or movement rather than as substance or receptacle/depository - but there’s a certain way in which I think I might only be using the story as a forum for my own ideas, that this would be me pointing to the story claiming it proves or shows this when really it’s my imposition – but I think there’s a possibility in which Gary is subverting the connotations of invisibility with the mirror – that it can be a lack of acknowledgment for the self but that this lack of self-presence isn’t necessarily a shame-induced cowering sort of regression but an act of power on the part of the person in charge of seeing – that it’s the act of seeing and speaking and the decisions and choices therein where the power is and not the object. This might be useful:
“My father never came home sick in the afternoon to find me on my knees in the living room with my mouth full of somebody’s grave, helpless perpendicularity. I never got to see my father eye to eye like that, the only way I wanted to.
My father: what stood out about him was that his life got put past him.
It was my mother who taught me the one worthwhile thing: when they ask you if you like what you see in the mirror, pretend that what they mean is what’s behind you – the shower curtain, the tile, the wallpaper, whatever’s there.”
It’s beyond superfluous to say that the way Gary thinks and writes about sex is not at all what anyone else has thought or read about sex but that’s not to say that his ideas don’t intersect and coincide and bounce around among and between or beside other ideas and conceptions of ways of being and coming and sucking and force and position and desire. I think Diane Williams would back me up on this. The cocks here are “grave” and “helpless” but I don’t want to take up time discussing submission and power because I think we’re already familiar with the idea that giving head isn’t inherently a submissive posture, contrary to what all of the school children that walk past my house yelling “suck my dick, ^&%$#” might think. There’s a fair amount of control over the situation, in the mouth, as it were, etc etc. I wasn’t even going to talk about the oral and here I am. Anyway, moving beyond the traditional notions and their having already been put aside, the “grave” and “helpless” are immediately connected to the father (oh yea, ps, not going to be addressing or distracted by the condition of incest here – characteristic of but not defining the desire and dynamic, if you ask me) – though the narrator was never able to see the father like that, eye to eye, I think that “his life got put past him” is a pretty clear indication of the father’s helplessness, and whereas the father’s life is out of reach, beyond (behind), the worthwhile approach is to be able to see and explain what is there, in place of the self – the act is misleading, deceitful. While one reading of it could be ‘oh, look at the sadness there, in order to speak pleasantly on one’s self-image this person must ignore the self, must lie and therefore this person has a negative self-image/low self-esteem, etc’ I think another, more interesting (at least for me) reading is to notice the ability and power on behalf of the narrator: “when they ask if you like what you see” – “they” are never the ones you want to confide in and only assholes, well-intentioned condescending cock fuck high school counselors, pedestrian psychiatrists, high school short skirted fake tan leg spreaders and gay men strung out on too much fucking X in public bathrooms on television ask such stupid fucking questions. You never want to tell these people the truth. And the ability to ascertain and assess what’s behind you puts you over the father. So what I’m saying here is this: the cocksucker wins. The cocksucker’s pulling the wool over some eyes. If anyone wants to come out with some “but he’s just using that to hide his real pain,” I’ll be more than ready to throw down. I’m not saying it is all on the one hand or all on the other. I’m saying that if you think it’s all on the one hand, you’re probably just holding your dick and you think yourself special and neatly wrapped. But I wasn’t going to talk about cock sucking.
Let’s now just spend some time enjoying these sentences together (from ‘It Collects In Me’):
“Here is a story in the worst way. I have no business being anywhere in it. It comes between me and the life I have coming.”
“Can I skip over what was popular then without leaving anything to the imagination? Because the imagination has to be left out of this. I would hate for something to have to get created here. That is the last thing I want.
Do me a big favor and take my word that this man I am talking about was a man who paid ridiculous attention to what his wife said and did, . . .”
“What else went on between the man and the woman should go without saying, but it won’t. It can’t. It keeps showing up in my mouth.
It collects in me.”
“Do you know what the son of a bitch said?”
“This took place where you’re supposed to go if you have an accident, if you get something on you. In fact, it did more than take place. It took up a large area of where we were. It seized it right from around us. We got pushed through each other.”
“This is another way of saying that once, not too long ago, I wrote things down – everything.
A couple of days later, I read with great interest what I had written.
I was a great many cries from myself.”
I feel a great relief in being able to think: “I sat myself down upon.” I don’t’ know if this is a direct quote from one of Gary’s stories or just an appropriation of his syntax. The invitation to play with language in and of itself is a great comfort. More specifically, particularily, circumstantiably, in the women’s public restroom of Wegman’s.