January 15

January 15th, 2014 | Uncategorized

between the eyes

I have to make a new post here because it’s been two months since the last one, and the comments shut off after two months, otherwise they just attract spam. But I have absolutely nothing to say at the moment. So it occurred to me to post an old datebook entry from a nice round number of years ago—thirty. Here is what I was doing on Sunday, January 15, 1984, when I was 23:

Woke at 10 and stayed abed until 11. Went out for a run [in Prospect Park]. Road slippery and unplowed. Great run. Only one lap, but much energy. Then I went out and skied for while. Went down some hills. Fun. Home. Ate. Went to sleep for a while. Played at my desk and listened to my digital Bach record. Was supposed to do drawing work but didn’t. [My roommate] cooked curried eggplant. Then we played Scrabble and quit. Then we made gross brownies. Played at my desk more. Read old journals from 1980 and got depressed. Tintin antidote. Sleep.

I was puzzled by the “digital Bach record.” This was before the era of CDs. At first I thought maybe I was referring to one of those Bach-on-synthesizer albums. But by backtracking a few days I see that I had recently purchased “a record of Bach Orchestral Suites. Digital!” I guess digital recording was a new exciting thing in 1984. Of course the funniest part of this old journal entry is my note that I had spent the evening reading old journal entries.

Hmmm. For a long time I’ve had this idea for a project where I examined what I was doing on a particular day of the year over a span of different years. To see what changes and what doesn’t. I guess I’ve always had a sort of philosophical interest in whether we remain the same person, the same “self” over time. In college I felt disturbed but also strangely excited by Hume’s idea that there is no unified, ongoing self, that we’re just bundles of perceptions which of course are constantly in flux. I often feel like my “self” is a problem, a source of pain, a thing I’m stuck in. As evidenced by all this obsessive diary-keeping, and the re-reading of diary entries, and my midlife career shift of reworking my old diary entries into memoirs. And now this recursive blog post.

I wonder if I will ever exorcise the need to keep such close tabs on myself? Rather than get to work right now (although I can make the argument that this is my work), I’m going to look up a few more January 15ths, and post them here as an experiment. Am I the same person I was on these earlier dates? I leave it to you.

Tuesday Jan. 15, 2002 (age 41)

(this one actually made its way into my memoir Are You My Mother?)

I’m on a plane, flying to Sacramento. I just wanted to note an interesting thing that happened yesterday. I went to the lumber yard to buy a board to make a ramp for Julia–she’s been limping, and I wanted to make the stairs easier. I was hoping to get an eight-foot board, which I could have just stuck in the car but they only had a twelve-foot one. So I had to strap it on the roof, and it hung way off the front and back. It was cold and I was struggling and my hands were getting numb and I was in a hurry because I wanted to get some skiing in at Bolton.

Finally, I got it on, and walked briskly around the car to the driver’s side–straight into the board. I got it right between the eyes. It was stunning. The top edge cut my forehead, and my nose is scraped and bruised. I was afraid I might get a black eye, but that has failed to materialize. Still, I look quite thuggish and disreputable.But since I’ve been reading Freud on the Psychopathology of Everyday Life, I can’t help but wonder if there might be something going on besides pure accident.

Monday Jan. 15, 1973 (age 12)
I got an 83 on my English test. So far my average is about 84. Bleah! Miami won the Superbowl. BooBooHooHoo (?) I was for Redskins. After school, we went downtown. I got a pair of jeans and a gigantic gym suit. I practiced [the piano]. We took down the Christmas tree. I got in a big box and handed out bags [the plastic bags we kept the tree ornaments in]. I washed my hair and my clothes.

Thursday 15 January, 1981 (age 20)
I don’t really want to write. I have been putting it off. Am at low ebb. Self-disgust stage of cycle. Mediocre mediocre mediocre.

1. Mediocre lover.
Things have palled with [X]…or do I just think so?
Pall: from appall 1. to become vapid, dull or insipid. 2. To become satiated or cloyed, as the stomach.
Cloy: to satisfy or fill to excess. To cause surfeit.
I don’t know. She’s in some kind of mood too, I guess. Kind of coming down after the high of December, I suppose. Both of us. Anyhow..no more of that awe, that incredible feeling of tenderness. Just mediocre. We hardly look at each other. Why does this happen? [long passage about bad sex that I will not try your patience with (any more than I am already trying it)]

2. Mediocre student.
UGH. C on Greek final. B+ on Hood’s slides. Just wrote an INSANE paper for Surrealism. Long, hyper-intellectual, pointless. A detailed logical argument in order to make a vague, debatable, artistic point. Ludicrous. I am DUMB. I am not even SMART.

3. Mediocre worker.
I almost got fired from the library for showing Tom how to input obscene words as books. Why did I do that? [My boss] thinks I’m a jerk now. I fucked off all semester there, didn’t do anything. What a jerk I am.

4. Mediocre artist.
My stuff has no impact. I have no motivation. Those text-sculpture pieces I did last semester…they are BORING! TRIVIAL! Over-processed! SHIT. And I have to materialize some sort of portfolio soon. Soon?! IMMEDIATELY. Goddamn shit fuck

Tuesday January 15, 1974 (age 13)
We had gym. We started volleyball. I finished my clay devil in art. Now I have to glaze and fire it. Hokay. Mr. Weaver talks too much. YA KNOW? I had my [piano] lesson. It was pretty good. When we drove into Woolrich, we saw [my friend/my piano teacher’s son] walking home from the bus, and he was wearing the jeans he got like mine. He went in the house and changed them! While I ate my orange out front. MAN! He gets everything I do. I’M ANGRY. Dad dropped me off and went to Williamsport. He was late and I had to eat with [my piano teacher’s family].

Saturday Jan. 15, 1972 (age 11)
We watched cartoons. The men came to put in the carpet. Chris got the (illegible). We went to (illegible) We tried to get (illegible) Snuffy’s bucket, but it broke. We had fondue. We watched T.V. The (illegible) was nice. Dad & I went to the store. It’s cold out.

Sunday Jan. 15, 1995 (age 34)
Hell night at [Y’s]! Really windy out, blowing musty attic/wall smell into [Y’s) room through gaps in the baseboards. Such a rickety house! Y goes to sleep downstairs. I manage to doze (badly) till 12:30. Then me & Y cooked a BIG BRUNCH. Banana-walnut pancakes, fake sausage, grapefruit….I left at 7pm and came home. Cooked and ate and fucked with computer. Stayed up really late answering letters and stuff, putting stuff together for some comics shows. Then I worked on planning my dinner party. To bed at 6am. Read Middlemarch and tried to sleep but kept getting my party plans confused with the characters in Middlemarch.

Friday Jan. 18, 1985 (age 24)
(okay, this is not the 15th. I didn’t make an entry on the 15th that year. But this one on the 18th is so apposite I must include it.)
Sitting trying to organize my affairs in the Northampton Public Library. From a book review about a new book on Virginia Woolf in Wednesday’s Times:

“What a disgraceful lapse,” Woolf once chided herself. “Nothing added to my disquisition, & life allowed to waste like a tap left running. Eleven days unrecorded.”

(this Woolf quote also made its way into my book Are You My Mother?)

Saturday 15 January, 2011 (age 50)
Had a long talk with [my agent], telling her about [a business conversation I’d had], then listening to her take on it.

[My theatrical agent] emailed, saying he thought [the conversation] had gone well. I feel extremely exhausted by all this. [My agent] called again later, while I was out skiing. I stood in the cold dark woods listening to her and trying to stiffen my spine for [yet another business conversation].

That will be happening at 1 today. Before then, I need to hammer out a script for what I will say. I was hoping to just get back to work on chapter 6 [of Are You My Mother?] and do this later, but now I’m doing it anyway. No. Don’t let this completely derail me. Do my own work first. Then prepare for the conversation.

Woke with a migraine. I’m stewing in my own juices, my own feedback loop…can’t get out, can’t move forward…stuck on this spread about mirroring, freud’s “narcissistic or anaclitic” desire model…Trying somehow to summarize my entire psychic/erotic development in two pages.

26 Responses to “January 15”

  1. Ann Haran says:

    well, I can only speak for myself – perhaps it is because I was always fascinated with writing and receiving letters and reading published diaries… but I’m glad you keep such close tabs on yourself. and also that you share with your fans. we are interested!

    I’ve never been able to keep a diary, I’m horrible at even keeping a calendar.

  2. Kendall says:

    1984: “Fun. Home.”

    Love this collection of January 15ths; I do the same thing sometimes. From my perspective it’s not ever the same “self” that shows up today, taking responsibility for the self of yesterday or even ten minutes ago. But what’s interesting is that it’s the “same” signature, the same name making each one an(other) iteration of the others.

  3. John Boren says:

    I’ve tried off and on since my early twenties to keep
    dedicated diaries and journals, but I always seem to abandon them
    after just a few entries. It took me decades to realize it, but my
    sketchbooks had already been serving this function, with walls of
    very carefully lettered and dated self-analysis filling sizable
    chunks of numerous pages. My younger self was earnest, sincere, and
    filled to the eyeballs with self-doubt, and more than a little
    self-loathing. I guess cartoonists with positive self-images, at
    least in their youth, are not that common.

  4. Jo says:

    As a fan, closest in age and emotional state to your ’81
    and ’84 entries, I really appreciated this. Thanks for a little
    respite from the passage of time in these depths of January (and,
    of course, stoking our voyeurism).

  5. Sonya says:

    I keep obsessive diaries, too. It’s kind of reassuring to
    see that someone else has the same kinds of insecurities and angst
    as I do.

  6. @Kendall, good one! I didn’t see “Fun. Home.” at all! Plus I am glad to know I”m not the only one who does this.

  7. Brooklyn Phil says:

    Awesome! I’ve reviewed my journals from the 80s &
    90s, just as you do– to see how similar or different my current
    self is from my past self. I used a scrapbook style that I picked
    up from my favorite Oberlin roommate. Now I simply type on the
    Mac– but you’ve inspired me to write an entry today!

  8. Pat Tong says:

    I guess this is the month to both look backward and
    forward. I revisited 1989 just the other evening, and the
    difference is where in the past I would be anguished that I never
    really change, now I feel merely wistful AND amused. I haven’t
    gotten any wiser, I’ve just ditched all my illusions about how much
    time is left.

  9. Jeani says:

    …when I look back at my old journal entries I get
    depressed if the past was more exciting than now and am surprised
    if I have more going on now than I had on the same date years
    ago,(when I considered myself hot shit) Everyday I ask myself why I
    keep a journal when no one will ever read it but it never stops me
    from writing. Maybe someday my dairies will be the bane of some
    biographers career.

  10. Kate L says:

    No, no, you are only thuggish if you give
    other people black eyes! 🙂 January 15, 2003,
    was set by the local animal rescue shelter as my 50-pound harrier
    hound’s official birthday. Yesterday, we celebrated her 11th
    birthday in style… I let her choose where we walked. We ended up
    running up the steps of the WPA-built local Girl Scout headquarters
    building, then proceeded up a switch-back trail that may or may not
    be Girl Scout – related, ending 150 feet higher at the elevation of
    the SMALLVILLE sign on the east side of Bluemont Hill, with a
    vertiginous view of metropolitan Smallville, itself!

  11. therry and the late St. Jerome says:

    I was going to say, no, you’re exactly the same except that
    you are less punishing of yourself. Except that you still do obsess
    about your performance, and obsess about your process. You are
    consistent. I read my old journals and think what a dick I was, but
    how little I’ve changed. still passionate about music, still
    self-deceiving about a lot of things. I took an on line test the
    other day and scored very high on the psychotic spectrum, which I
    quite like. Keep up the good work, bashing yourself and examining
    yourself closely! The unexamined life is not worth living.

  12. Amy R. Cohen says:

    Wait–did that say Greek final?!? You’re automatically not
    mediocre just for taking Greek. Or so I tell my
    students. Thanks for sharing your January 15. ?????!

  13. Rae English says:

    Your criticism of your paper on Surrealism made me smile.
    While in a grad lit theory class, we studied Judith Butler, whom I
    genuinely appreciate, but reading her sometimes felt so circiular.
    I began to obsess over my own papers. Was I stuck on reiteration?
    Was my point clear or was I excessively proving and citing? On my
    next seminar paper, I overcompensated emaciated theses with
    paratactic sentences; I think even the paper shivered from the lack
    of ink. My professor wrote in his comments, “Remember, Rae, it’s
    the fat that lends the flavor to the meat.” Thank you for sharing
    so much of your thinking and writing processes. They are genuinely

  14. Cathy says:

    BooBooHooHoo indeed–my teenage self also hated the outcome
    of that Superbowl.

  15. Kate L says:

    Here’s a thought… since our bodies completely replace all
    our cells every seven years, is any one of us really the person we
    were, say, in the late twentieth century? This reminds me of the
    age-old Star Trek fan conundrum about a transporter breaking down a
    person being transported at one location, and constructing an
    identical duplicate (but not the same person) in another location.
    If that’s what a transporter does instead of actually moving a
    person from Point A to Point B, that means that there must have
    been 30 different Captain Kirks in the three years the original
    Star Trek TV show was on the air! I believe that this age-old
    mystery was most recently commented on by Badger (or, was it Skinny
    Pete?) on one of the Breaking Bad episodes. The
    recent West Virginia chemical spill that contaminated the drinking
    water for hundreds of thousands of people down river reminded me of
    living in New Orleans in the early 80’s. I knew that lots of people
    never drank the city’s tap water, relying instead on regular
    deliveries of bottled water to their homes. I really didn’t know
    why until one evening in my apartment on the West Bank, when I
    detected a strange taste in the glass of tap water that I was
    drinking. The next day, the local press reported that there had
    been a phenol spill upriver on the Mississippi River, and that
    people shouldn’t drink tap water for the next few days. I complied
    and then, when the danger had passed, I went back to drinking tap
    water. One evening a few months later, I tasted the same odd taste
    in the city tap water. Sure enough, I found out in the local press
    the next day that there had been another phenol spill upriver that
    had contaminated the municipal water supply. This time, I switched
    to using bottled water for the remainder of the time that I lived
    in New Orleans.

  16. Beth says:

    the ides of January…

  17. […] as being more and more interesting as the
    days go on – and she started strong. She put up an
    absolutely fucking fascinating post where she moved between January
    15ths in her life, from junior high to just a couple of years ago

  18. hairball_of_hope says:

    I noticed that you skiied in Brooklyn and in Vermont. Not
    much of a surprise in the latter, but certainly not common in the
    borough of trees. The obsessive recursive process can suck a person
    into a vortex from which it is nearly impossible to escape. My
    shorthand for this is the Lather-Rinse-Repeat cycle. Going back to
    the analog vinyl era, the record is skipping, we need to put a
    penny on the tonearm. The entries reminded me of something an old
    college roommate once told me, “The only thing wrong with you is
    you think there’s something wrong with you.” It
    took probably another 30 years (and about half of that time in
    over-priced analysis) for that to really sink in and take hold. Not
    that I particularly appreciated the comment at the time, and I
    certainly didn’t seem to get it during all those self-absorbed
    hours spent working on whatever it was I obsessed about in analysis
    sessions. N.B. The cynic in me says the psycho-help industrial
    complex really wants us stuck in the vortex for their own job
    security (and in the case of the psycho-medical industrial complex,
    for corporate profits). Enter the magic threshold of age 50, and I
    finally seemed to get it. Somewhere along the line, I apparently
    infused the lesson of Joseph Campbell, “The privilege of a lifetime
    is being who you are.” I’m still working on internal stuff (and
    always will), but the obsessive self-critical/self-doubting
    condemnation cycle is gone. (… goes back to a quiet night in the
    office attempting to get her desk organized for a crazy week of
    meetings …)

  19. Northampton Public library: still here, complete with
    lesbians, some of us no doubt reading Virginia Woolf at or around
    age 24. (Um, and/or age 53.) Haven’t gone journal-diving myself in
    a while, but it is somehow really reassuring to know that one

  20. Spud Helmarsson says:

    Speaking of looking back, I thought you all would be
    interested in a video clip from 1993 on youtube. It’s Network Q’s
    program about the OutWrite Conference in Boston, and includes
    several well-known artists and writers – including Alison herself.
    Enjoy! Click Here!

  21. wow, Spud. What a funny blast from the past. And very interesting evidence about what has changed and what hasn’t, on a cultural level.

  22. freyakat says:

    Spud, thanks for posting this!

  23. Ellen Orleans says:


    With all you’ve achieved, it’s telling to read so much humanity and struggle over the years. I hope you’ve reached a point in your life where you can balance brilliance, creative drive, and hard hard work with appreciation of the day-to-day.

    Also, I have to say that Professor Hood was tough (weren’t all Oberlin professors?) and a B+ from him is admirable. (I was so closeted and naive I didn’t figure out he was gay until my roommate told me.)

    Finally–all that writing about being “mediocre” at Oberlin, then, 33 years later, you are featured twice in the current Oberlin Alumni Magazine.

    Zounds. Just zounds.

  24. DeLand DeLakes says:

    Haaaaayyyyyyy I live in Prospect Park! One of the best
    parts of _Are You My Mother?_ is, for me, seeing Alison move
    through Minneapolis, including many places that I remember from
    when I was younger that are no longer here (Orr Books, even the
    Hagen-Daaz that was once in Uptown). 🙂

  25. Tiina says:

    That tap left running quote has really affected me… to try to record more in my own journal, which was even a new year’s resolution for me this year. I enjoy reading all of the posts, but am strangely buttressed by the young/teenage ones, where even the mundane recording of the day’s events are evocative. And your bad feelings about yourself are so universal, could be lifted from the pages of my own journals.

  26. S says:

    Funny age 20 reference to “Hood’s slides” assuming Bill Hood, Art History at Oberlin. Love him!