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The Way to Keep Going in Antarctica by Bernadette Mayer


As it turns out I’ve had quite an unproductive afternoon—the rain interfered with the electricity here, so I turned off my computer and had a nap. Just finished dinner and am now back at my desk listening to Dean Martin.

No worries about weekend silences; I usually spend it going to the market, cleaning my office obsessively, having a massage, working on my manuscript, and trying to make sense of what I did during the whole week, so my head is preoccupied.

One thing I will never tire of though is watching Olympic figure skating—it’s the dancing, I think. I am enthralled by it all, and often wonder what Charlie Chaplin would think of it. Ditto Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.


I have tremendous respect for comedians; I think it’s much more difficult to make people laugh than to make them sad. I agree re: naive cluelessness, and I’ll add that he has this sense of the melancholy about him—he’s not playing the sad clown trope, but I always feel like he’s very self-aware, and sometimes uncomfortable almost of the fame that surrounds him. Have you seen his business card? I thought it’s funny.


Someone once told me that archiving is all about knowing what to throw out.—I love this. I loved reading about your process. Thanks for sharing that with me. While reading that I kept thinking of a line from a Bernadette Mayer poem—“Small things & not my own debris”—perhaps most of our lives and histories is all about knowing what to throw out, no?


I’ve signed up for more classes than I can handle, it’s almost idiotic, but I wanted to learn a lot, it’s like I’m starved. Or maybe I am Cate Blanchett in that atrocious fourth Indiana Jones film, telling the aliens, I vant to know everything


What I like about film noir is the feeling that every character is playing cards with each other, and everyone is either waiting to be dealt the last hand, or is the one in control (or at least the illusion of it). I like the shadows, too, and somewhere a neon light that comes on, and the ambiguity of that (natural vs artificial). Then there are the fedoras and the low necklines and the cigarettes. It’s like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks—the isolation, side by side the disquiet. His other paintings of figures have this quality of quiet desperation, I think.

Dear M.,

I was mostly lost during my twenties. I think you found me that way, if I’m being honest. I think I knew that I didn’t have all the answers, but I wasted a lot of time looking for them. I realise now, maybe there are more questions than answers, and maybe that’s okay.

Dear M.,

I’m not sure I’ll live long enough to be 70. Am also not sure about being loveable—think of me as a grumpy cat, maybe.

Dear M.,

I’ll take smart and funny. I think it would be great if I can make people smile or laugh.

Please be guilty enough to write me back!

I’m kidding. Write me when you can.


The Way to Keep Going in Antarctica
Bernadette Mayer

Be strong Bernadette
Nobody will ever know
I came here for a reason
Perhaps there is a life here
Of not being afraid of your own heart beating
Do not be afraid of your own heart beating
Look at very small things with your eyes
& stay warm
Nothing outside can cure you but everything’s outside
There is great shame for the world in knowing
You may have gone this far
Perhaps this is why you love the presence of other people so much
Perhaps this is why you wait so impatiently
You have nothing more to teach
Until there is no more panic at the knowledge of your own real existence
& then only special childish laughter to be shown
& no more lies no more
Not to find you no
More coming back & more returning
Southern journey
Small things & not my own debris
Something to fight against
& we are all very fluent about ourselves
Our own ideas of food, a Wild sauce
There’s not much point in its being over: but we do not speak them:
I had written: “the man who sewed his soles back on his feet”
And then I panicked most at the sound of what the wind could do
to me
if I crawled back to the house, two feet give no position, if
the branches cracked over my head & their threatening me, if I
covered my face with beer & sweated till you returned
If I suffered what else could I do

This is from A Bernadette Mayer Reader by Bernadette Mayer, published by New Directions, 1992.

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