Monday, September 12, 2016

On Writing #106 : Valerie Witte

On Writing: By the Grace of Gilmore
Valerie Witte

the first thing. since departing. or arrival, depending on how you look at it. regardless, a demarcation of time and space. a border crossed, mountains, a region traversed. i escaped the drought and waded into rain. i belonged to a community; now, an outsider, an interloper, coming for jobs, and land.

This is the first thing.

the first I've written since. necessary losses. pure surfaces. hard cider. fritter away, the quiet of a fog machine. humming. other people’s phrases. a hoping-for-survival guide.

I remember watching “Gilmore Girls” in my parents’ basement the autumn after I graduated from college, in that period of uncertainty when you are launched after 16 years of schooling into “the real world,” with little idea of where you will land. I remember after moving to San Francisco two-and-a-half years later, missing an episode and frantically retrieving a videotape from a stranger on Craigslist—the small crisis that missing your favorite TV show once was. I remember taking a photo of my TV screen during the final scene and sending it to the man with whom I used to watch the show in St. Louis. At the time, I considered the conclusion of the series the end of a chapter of my life.

Now, eight years after ending, it’s resurfaced . . . in the form of a podcast (yes, the show itself is also returning, but that’s another discussion). As I prepared to move to Oregon, I listened to the entertaining, meandering conversations of the Gilmore Guys—one a self-proclaimed superfan, the other watching the show for the first time. They made up recurring segments seemingly on the fly, such as the “Fashion Report” and “Pop Goes the Culture”—and ended each episode by singing the theme song, “Where You Lead,” by Carole King.

if not for. voices I would listen to. what matter if something “happened.” if characters spoke like “real” people. because a tv show is a warm blanket, a podcast a conduit. for comfort.

Their episodes often stretched to three hours in length, and I listened to each one—whether a Gilmore Gab, a Gilmail discussion, or a standard episode analysis. As I packed and cleaned out our apartment, I listened. As we drove up the coast, as we slept on the floor of our new apartment before our furniture arrived, I listened. For months, as we settled in, I listened. I wrapped myself up in their clever observations of human nature, as it related to the show, as well as their thoughtful critiques of plotlines and character motivations. I acquainted myself with their parade of special guests (of course I came to have my favorites). And, all the while, I was reassured by the charm, warmth, and wit of my favorite TV show, an endlessly loyal friend whose consistency and steadfastness had taken me from the cusp of adolescence to adulthood, from the Midwest to the West Coast. I listened while I made dinner, while I walked through the park, as I went to sleep at night.

all I’ve done is. follow. oil trains. moths to flame. civil coping. ecliptic as cuneiform. a sun’s path, radical. acceptance mechanisms. the comfort of collecting. plastic car parts. forgotten glaciers.

I often do my most satisfying writing under difficult circumstances; I feel better about feeling bad when I can make something meaningful out of the shit that does, indeed, happen. But in this case, I was overwhelmed . . . from the stress of moving and adjusting to our new space (where we were greeted by snow on our first night—a rude awakening to reality for this Californian), and three weeks later, being laid off from the job that I’d planned to keep in Portland.
threadbare. unraveled. skin and all. shed or. shredding, yet. i continue to inhabit my own body. break. down breweries. breakside. balanced body rollers. blueberry bourbon basil. i want to pain. away sideways pdx.

During this time, the closest I came to writing was . . . whenever I was out and I came across something interesting or potentially helpful in constructing my new life, I would “write it down” in my Notes app. Hence, my iPhone held a collection of poetry presses, installation titles, athleisure items, job board sites, local poets, local bars, local breweries, local donuts, local reading series, album names, and self-help books. This was the only “writing” I was doing.

expelled, disfigured or. the body imperfect. to be tied, like a knot. avoided or voided, periodically neglected. i have never felt this pain before. the delicacy of a spine. a massage to eliminate. is pressing better or letting. the energy of negation, of trying not. to hurt. what hinges you or what you hinge on. consideration of a core.

Three days after I was laid off, my boyfriend and I went to see the Gilmore Guys perform at a local theater. I had mentioned the live show to him weeks earlier, and, to my surprise, he wanted to go. He said he wanted to know what I had been experiencing these many months. We dutifully watched the episode to be discussed, Episode 608, “Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out”; and we arrived to find a long line at the door. The place was packed, the crowd enthusiastic, a group of Jess Mariano enthusiasts (with matching “Team Jess” T-shirts) seated in front of us. What followed were nearly three hours of sheer exuberance and hilarity, featuring the Gilmore Guys singing the classic, “Let’s Talk About Jess,” in honor of the character’s momentous return to the show; and a stealth cameo by Lane Kim herself (ie., Keiko Agena). My boyfriend lamented that he wished he were a little more like the Gilmore Guys. It was the most joy I had felt in a very long time.

Although in theory, I had more “free time” than at any other point in my adulthood since that summer before “Gilmore Girls” first aired, looking for a job is not exactly conducive to freeing the creative mind, requiring as it does the seemingly endless drudgery of resume revision, awkward email-networking, job board scanning, webinar viewing, unemployment-benefit-process deciphering, and the steady stream of application submitting—all undergirded by the sinking suspicion that you will never hear back from anyone. To search for a job is to be caught in an infinite web of opportunities and requirements, hung against a backdrop of near-unbearable silence.

that no one wants you here. of all places. to reinvent yourself as good as any. filter. 24x7. the first thing i've written. women’s building. unit souzou.

Thus, I could not bring myself to think critically, or creatively, about anything. Thinking in this way required a certain kind of energy—an ability to examine my circumstances, an openness to play and experimentation, and a willingness to expend mental energy on the abstract act that is writing. This was an energy that I didn’t have. Instead, I mostly performed lazy, passive activities or tasks tied more to survival than anything else: organizing, exercising, cooking, watching TV, reading the news, and especially, listening to a whole lot of Gilmore Guys.

to plumb the west. poetry press week seems much shorter than its name implies. karma living wall. from the spare room board. hanging. stitched or the switch. title 9 stand by.
Every now and then Kevin, Demi, and Guest actually talked about the show: Lauren Graham’s brilliant face acting. The strangely high number of Mussolini references. The fact that whether Lorelai is putting tater tots, meatballs, or chicken nuggets on top of a frozen pizza, there is no way the thing would cook evenly. The reluctance to label oneself as Team Dean, Team Jess, or Team Logan.

More often they discussed topics only tangentially related to the show: What would your doggy swami fortune be if Paul Anka told it? Kevin, did you cry?

But most of the time they talked about things that bore merely a spiritual connection to the show, at best. What would a Carole Kings of Leon mashup be like? (This was followed, of course, by the creation of one by Demi.) What are the best comedy film sequels? What’s the most thoughtful date you have ever planned? What if you die erect and they can’t close the casket?

what we search for. if it doesn’t. where i am from or for. what matter. california poppy. oregon grape. celery space.

Recently, I went to a local vintage store, where an artist who had published a new set of tarot cards was doing mini, single-card readings. I selected a card from the pile: the Fool. Although at first this seemed a bit concerning, her face lit up at my choice, as she said, are you starting a new project? I said, yes, my life. Well, I just moved here, I explained. Which she seemed to think was so apt—and I agreed. She framed her interpretation of the card very positively: Each time you start over, you have more to draw from, she explained. This seemed encouraging. This seemed like something I could write about.

Apparently, the Fool is a card of potential, new beginnings, and innocence. The card represents the onset of creativity and a desire to work toward new goals. The Fool asks you to take a “leap of faith” and to trust in the Universe that you will find success in your new endeavors. This Fool does not seem to mind if he does not really know what lies ahead.
“The Fool is an excellent Tarot card to meditate on if you are experiencing a lot of fear in your life.”

i’m beginning to feel like myself again. haywire. skewed. try medicating. the question of soreness versus injury. to relief but. exquisite deformation.

After months of listening, I’ve finally caught up to the podcast in real time (they’re on episode 181 as I write this). So now, every Monday and Wednesday, I have to wait for the next one to drop—and they’re in the final season, Season 7. I’m not looking forward to the end of the podcast. But I’m looking forward to writing again.

the first thing i write down names, inelegant threads. what’s an alien hunter. rice museum. what to put into. sharp relief. kurt vulgar. or vile. miswriting the song. i walk on a pretty. jagged edge. wasted. disintegrated. apart at the seams.

i’d birthmark. fall from, frayed. like a blouse.


Valerie Witte is a writer and editor in Portland, OR. She is the author of the book, a game of correspondence (Black Radish Books), and her poetry has appeared in many print and online publications. To see more of her work, check out her website,

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