Friday, July 18, 2014

Sneak peek of Kate Colby's I Mean

Kate Colby's I Mean, forthcoming from Ugly Duckling next year, is going to blow your mind. I love love love this essay called "The Needle," which is about writing and art and monuments and memory and pain; here's an excerpt:
Does some pain mean more than other pain? 
A baby is born and left to die on an open plain. It has a name, but doesn’t know it. 
Pain is a fuzzy gray dot with definite dimensions that can’t be measured, except on a personal scale. Hospital nurses will ask you to rate your pain from one to ten before administering medication. This task is difficult for me. Am I ranking my pain against itself or against all other pain I’ve experienced? I’m fortunate to have only ever been hospitalized during and while recovering from childbirth. Both times I felt the pain of labor and childbirth itself to be very lonely, and I can’t explain why this is. It goes against my desolate sense that if pain has meaning, it has to do with the extent to which it is witnessed. Surely the experience of giving birth to a child is one of the most painful. Surely being born is another. But while mother and child simultaneously, symbiotically suffer and witness, neither knows nor thinks of the other’s pain, and maybe that’s what makes it so lonely—it’s a pain mutually witnessed and mutually unheeded by two entwined people, the physical part of whose attachment is but a taste of the crushing, comprehensive conjoinment to come. 
If witness makes pain mean, so might remembering—memory makes you your own ongoing witness. But one can neither remember the pain of one’s own birth nor call back the pain of childbirth. And while the pain of childbirth is to be dreaded, it does not matter so long as it’s behind you, even if you want it to. Why is it that the memory of one’s own physical suffering is not usually troubling, but the anticipation of future suffering is? And yet, knowing that a loved one has suffered before death is terrible. But knowing that a loved one has suffered and then survived is not very terrible at all. In any case, one is not suffering now. 
An unnamed baby is born and left to die on an open plain. (You little black hole.) (Shut up.)


  1. Just read it in whole--in worm-burrow etc. I love the part on the sculptures requiring a microscope to see--the radical scale swerve seems so wonderfully in-line with Emily Dickinson: floods in drawers etc!

  2. Is it totally goofy to start wondering if a flood in drawers could also allude to peeing one's undies? Yah art requiring a microscope to view is totally blowing my mind; and I love KC's point that it's even more touching that the sculptures themselves are of Disney characters and so un-haute in orientation. Kinda funnily, the portion above is the one that does not feel, to me, of a piece with the rest--though I also squirm at the notion that a section regarding birthing is not of a piece with, well, everything.

    1. I love how the essay refuses to stay "on topic," that wandering. She keeps referring to her own writing. Glad you read the whole thing!

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