Nothing is Where I Work
The second detail pertaining to the invite I received to give this talk is that I have been living in an apartment in New York for forty-two years so that’s where most of my life has occurred. My living, my thinking, my copying. It’s one of those East Village rent stabilized apartments and my building had just been sold in 2017 for the umpteenth time and pretty soon after my lease was up I guess probably in June and the new landlady totally took her time getting the new lease to me, actually all of us, which of course spelt danger and finally I got an email from her, my landlady, Elaine Moosey, saying she wanted to meet each one of us to hand us our leases and I thought that’s sweet and a few weeks later she’s standing right there in my apartment. She’s a conservative looking woman I bet about ten years younger than me and as soon as she got inside here, apartment 3C, she goes I’ll give you 75,000 to leave. That’s a visitor right. I chuckled and rejected her offer and she went on to say that she knows that as well as living here in the small very inexpensive apartment I also have a house in Marfa Texas. Which is not illegal, but a fact. And that she Elaine Moosey knows it.
I’m being watched. That was the feeling I got. Then she asked me what I do and I said I’m a writerI didn’t say poet which was interesting I generally do say that because it is far more perverse people generally don’t know what a poet does but in the moment with my landlady I also grabbed a fat book of poetry out of a brown box sitting there right next to the tub and I flashed it even thinking maybe it would be nice to give her one (also wondering if there was anything incriminating in it) and she looked right through the two of us, my book and I, and then she said smiling wouldn’t you rather write in Texas.
It’s always very unpredictable where you will receive counseling in your life. There’s a philosophy that everything is a gift. If everything were coffee that might be true. The implication is that Elaine Moosey my landlady is a gift. Me getting the year wrong was a gift. And certainly I’m talking to you the poets and writers and thinkers who are getting a nice check today. Nobody knows what it is Donald and Sandy have actually done by giving you this gift. You’ll know right away of course but in some other way you won’t know for years.
Every gift is mysterious. I met Donald Windham at the Ear Inn in the late seventies early eighties. He read for Tim Dlugos. Did you know Tim. He was one of those people who would close his eyes tight and go Eileen you have to come hear Donald Windham read from his memoir. That’s when he would close his eyes and twinkle. He’s great. And he was.
But actually I’m still thinking about the utter banal Buddhism of my landlady giving me advice and it’s too bad we couldn’t have had an actual conversation about it cause I genuinely do prefer to write in Texas and that’s why I have my house but I will never leave my apartment on E. 3rd St. because this is my home that I love, I love the sweet worn quality of my apartment, historic stove, ancient sinks. Were people shorter in the past or was that how landlords needed to treat them. I have all this ludicrous cabinetry in my kitchen basically underneath which is the Tenement Museum. I keep thinking about Russia cause that’s what it’s like. Russia in the 90s was deeply worn. It was almost a colour. I went to a place called Lenfilm in Petersburg with my girlfriend in 1995 and the very step into that historic building was the most humanized step I had ever seen. So soft and rounded. And so is my building, my block, the excitement of it, the relentless filth of the city, the subway, and all that surrounds 2nd Ave., the F, long long and the changing crowds, and all the historic and present machinations of the City of New York, the apparatus of it and this weird guarantee, this built in security, this incredible fact of rent stabilization that saw me, the most generalized seeing, and knows me and generally has kept my rent low for so many years, and I mean my rent is really low, so low it’s almost pornographic, just imagine. I can show you the poem: “the city of New / York has given me a [lifetime] rent stabilization / grant,” I actually have used that line—it’s like having a trust fund, a trust fund for the lower and the working classes and there’s plenty of wealth here in New York jostling helplessly with the poor but the city has taught me almost everything I know about language and existence and being a writer, density of impression etc. etc. of the forms and identities and textures that assault and excite and distract me living here but that’s not what I’m talking about here yet, probably never, I’m really talking about the legal and political conditions my conditions that created me as a writer and I mean largely low rent and thereby time because one gives on the other and how do you use it.
It really takes so much time to become a writer and you have to be able to roll in time itself, that was my experience, it seems to me, like a dog likes to roll in dead fish at the beach. Or a dog (my dog) stands in the shit of a stable underneath the body of a horse (trembling) and feels awe. Cause there’s somuch shit and there’s so much horse. But if you’re somebody that wants to do that with your life which is just waste your time moment to moment, I mean it’s great, I thought I will waste it being a poet, I threw the gauntlet down and what happened after that was nothing and nothing is where I work.
From For Now by Eileen Myles. Originally published by Yale University Press in 2020. Reproduced with permission.
Eileen Myles is an acclaimed poet and writer who has published over twenty works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and libretto. Their prizes and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Warhol/Creative Capital grant, an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a poetry award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.