Holy moly, Amy Hempel.
How did you know how I feel about men, including the parts that experience hasn’t taught me?
How did you know how I feel about moving from place to place?
How did you know what it would feel like to drive somewhere on Thanksgiving? Or the barefoot thing? Or the free coffee in the lobby thing?
Stop looking into my subconscious journal and using all my most ethereal sad material for your short stories, okay? Leave me something to work with, once I get to the place where I can.
The guy who wrote the introduction in this collected works says that her stories are different from the male writers of her minimalist school, in that where their sentences rage and posture, hers ache.
Much as I dislike dichotomies drawn on bases of gender, I always wonder whether they are true. This one, if accurate, might have advantages. Maybe women can express something equally true about human experience in a way that men can’t. Maybe that’s what people really mean, when they spit that drivel of women being more relational where men are more rational. Maybe it’s just that men throw back where women absorb, and men express rage through indignation where women express it through aching.
— — —
I like radio personalities, and I like to change lanes. And losing yourself on the freeway is like living at the beach—you’re not aware of lapsed time, and suddenly you’re there, where it was you were going.
The one-day sale on cantaloupe is into its third week. We buy enough to fill a blender, plus eggs.
The people who live here, what you hear them say is I’m supposed to, I’ll try, I would have. There is no friction here.
The truth is, the beach is like excess weight. If we lost it, what would the excuse be then? (“Tonight Is a Favor to Holly”)
“What you want to remember is: Be Simple, Be Original, Be Sincere. That’s the winning system.” (“Celia is Back”)
If nothing happens, the dust will drift and the heat deepen till fear turns to desire. Nerves like that are only bought off by catastrophe.
After dinner I would shimmer with lust, buzz with heat, vibrate with life, and stay up all night.
I don’t know why looking back should show us more than looking at. (“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried”)
I had accidents. Then I had bigger ones. But the part that hurt was never the part that got hurt.
“Dr. Diamond,” I said, “I am giving up.” “Now you are ready to begin,” he said.
Lose that sense of loss—you have gone and lost something else. But the body moves toward health. The mind, too, in steps. (“Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep”)
With the unphotogenic’s eagerness to pose, she increased her chances of the one good shot that would let her relax, having proof at last that she had once looked good, just once. (“Pool Night”)
Wesley has said that he married the most beautiful woman he ever saw and learned the irrelevance of beauty.
Eve stopped dancing and pursued a career in journalism. She thought she would be a natural at it because people always wanted to talk to her.
Like every kind of recovery, comedy demands surrender.
“So I keep thinking—Can’t we just be together all the time whether we’re together or not?” (“Three Popes Walk Into a Bar”)
He wondered how we know that what happens to us isn’t good. (“The Man in Bogota”)
My answer is, “Depends.” But it’s not one of the choices. I am having to think in terms of Always, Sometimes, Never.
The thing that I do anyway—I move into new apartments.
She says the key thing here is process—what she looks for on the Happiness Question. Does this happiness come from a person, place, or process? I tell her I don’t know, that sometimes I just have to move.
Mrs. Deane says, “What do you suppose would happen if you just stayed put? If you just stayed still long enough to think a thing through?” “I don’t know,” I say. “I won’t feel like myself.” “Oh,” she says, “but you will—you are.” (“Why I’m Here”)
Things happen, or they stop happening, and who can tell you why?
Because you have to believe that something will work. I don’t, but you have got to. (“Breathing Jesus”)
You think you’re safe, the father thought, but it’s thinking you’re invisible because you closed your eyes.
The girl gave her brother a look you could iron clothes with. (“Today Will Be a Quiet Day”)
As soon as I knew that I would be all right, I was sure that I was dead and didn’t know it.
After the accident, the man got married. The girl he married was a fashion model. (“Do you think looks are important?” I asked the man before he left. “Not at first,” he said.) (“The Harvest”)
Big Guy says, “May I challenge you to a dance?”
And I see that not touching for so long was a drive to the beach with the windows rolled up so the waves feel that much colder.
…if it’s true your life flashes past your eyes before you die, then it is also the truth that your life rushes forth when you are ready to start to truly be alive. (“The Most Girl Part of You”)
…I still needed to hear from the God that had betrayed me. An explanation would not be enough. An apology would not be enough. I needed for that God to look up to me, I said. I needed for him to have to tilt his head way back to look up to me, exposing his throat.
…the habitual kleptomania of temporary employment… (“Rapture of the Deep”)
The first three days are the worst, they say, but it’s been two weeks, and I’m still waiting for those first three days to be over.
In my head there’s a broken balcony I fall off when I speak.
Mrs. Wynn and I got to talking because there we both were.
“I’m exaggerating so you can get to know me faster.” (“Du Jour”)
His telephone rings. I imagine it is a woman calling, and because I am the wife, I answer in the voice that says, I’ve had it ten times today and I live here. This is what marriage means to me. (“Murder”)
…if you are like me, you know that some of us are not the world, some of us are not the children, some of us will not help make a brighter day. Some of us are the silent sufferers of a noisy disease. And that is all I have to say about fear.
Do I sound as if I work for the railroad?
…seventy-some hours will not seem so long to you if you tell yourself first: This is where I am going to be for the rest of my natural life. (“To Those of You Who Missed Your Connecting Flights”)
Every time you see a beautiful woman, someone is tired of her, as the men say.
It matters that the women have someone to leave, leaving behind the lovesome creatures who would never leave them, had they once given them their hears. (“In the Animal Shelter”)
“Are you here for all the things I don’t have?”
In California, you are not supposed to sleep beneath bookshelves or paintings or mirrors on the wall.
On a train, canned orange juice poured over ice tastes good.
I see my face reflected in the window and face the sad truth—that I happen to look my best when there is no one there to see.
Her wish, she told her daughter, was to be a beautiful woman and surprise people because she was a beautiful woman who was kind. (“Tom-Rock Through the Eels”)
What was left of the summer passed quietly, as if in deference to that night as one befitting summer’s end. It was a time when the only pain was inflicted by bees, and an easy remedy—three kinds of weeds pressed together and rubbed on the sting—was right in your own backyard. (“The Rest of God”)
At dawn he thrust a stick of Right Guard up under his shirt—the rock ‘n’ roll shower…
He thought that traveling alone was like being in therapy—the things you found out about yourself. (“Sportsman”)
I hate it all over again. It is all that I can ever see, all that I can ever talk about. There is nothing else to talk about. (“The Annex”)
Why get acquainted with what will be left, or leaving? (“The New Lodger”)
Trying to reach a person means asking the same question over and again: Is this the truth, or not?
This is easier, I think, when your life has been tipped over and poured out. Things matter less; there is the joy of being less polite, and of being less—not more—careful. We can say everything.
How can I possibly put an end to this when it feels so good to pull sounds out of my body and show them to you. These sounds—this-letter—it is my lipstick, my lingerie, my high heels.
I am not quite myself, I think. But who here is quite himself? And yet there is a way in which we all are more ourselves than ever, I suppose.
A person cannot tell you a thing and have you just believe them. A person has to prove it.
…it was exhausting to always have two jobs—your job, and the job of being able to do your job in the first place.
…a laugh like you’d find in a cartoon balloon.
It’s a time-honored fact that after a close call, we all embrace the ordinary. But that is because it has become miraculous. Or we have—alive to see it.
You know, I often feel the effect of a place only after I leave it.
I often feel the effects of people only after they leave me.
I see you swimming alone, with no one waiting to wrap you in a robe when you climb out. This letter is a robe I hold out to you.
The thought of asking you what you like is like the team of artists who hired a marketing firm to find out what Americans want in a painting.
I would try to become the woman you wanted without even knowing I was trying. As it is, I am barely the woman I am.
I want to know everything about you. So I tell you everything about myself.
The only surprise when she killed herself was that she had killed herself.
They take it as an article of faith that bad things that happen are “occasions for transformation.”
I said, “How can I, a six, help anyone else until I am better?” And she said, “Helping someone else can make you better.”
Don’t you find that there is no right place to begin? When you try to make sense of a thing that has happened? That everything is as important, or as unimportant, as everything else?
My consolations are many, their power no less for not including you.
I shut my eyes with the rest of them and tried to conjure fear, what I want to live without.
The counselors here say we often mistake excitement for apprehension, for fear. They say it is up to us, that we can forcibly jog ourselves from one state into the other.
I know you are not supposed to leave a baby alone. Not even for a minute. But after a while I think, What could happen to a baby in the time it would take for me to run to the corner for a cappuccino to go? So I do it, I run to the corner and get the cappuccino. And then think how close the store is that is having the sale on leather gloves. Really, I think, it is only a couple of blocks. So I go to the store and I buy the gloves. And it hits me—how long it has been since I have gone to a movie. A matinee! So I do that, too. I go to a movie. And when I come out of the theater, it occurs to me that it has been years since I have been to Paris. Years. So I go to Paris, and come back three months later and find a skeleton in the crib.
Consolation is a beautiful word. Everyone skins his knee—that doesn’t make yours hurt any less.
It would have been better if he had been the one to remove them, but when they interfered with the travel of his hands, I was the one who reached up and slipped the combs out.
Where is the consolation in this? It is in humiliation, which brings the softness of heart that allows you to listen to God.
Surely it is in part the medication, but we have hung our libidos on hooks outside the door.
But he did not have her language skills, and did not otherwise take the hint.
…do you paint a woman from memory, taking her without her knowing? Are you as clinical as a doctor, or do you fall in love a little?
I don’t want to end my life, but I can’t keep myself from trying.
…what—except for dying—could be scarier than merging? Men are afraid this will happen with women. Often, after an intimate visit, a man will pick a fight.
She says that instances of change are anecdotal, deep-seated fantasy. “The New Testament has versions of it over and over: the whore becomes a saint, Paul on the road to Damascus. I mean,” she says, “Christianity acknowledges that for a person to change his nature is miraculous.”
…a man is not obligated to love you. Once you reach that philosophical state, he feels your grip loosening, and you retain your dignity.
The certainty I feel—it is something to hit back with…I now have a stick that is bigger than the stick I was beaten with.
A sign of getting better: without getting larger, we seem to take up more room in a room.
I still couldn’t tell if Warren liked me. Always there is a point when you can tell, when most people can tell. It takes longer for me. And then I’m angry with them, for it being so hard to tell. And whose fault is that?
A woman in West Virginia carried her unborn baby for more than forty years. It calcified outside the uterine wall. When questioned by reporters, the woman said, “As long as the child is inside me I haven’t lost it.”
The only time the word baby doesn’t scare me is the time that it should, when it is what a man calls me.
Nothing pulls weeds faster than frustration.
Hatred is a passionate involvement. It’s worse not to care for a person at all.
“San Francisco,” my mother once said, “is the only city that demands you love it.”
You’re good, my mother seemed to say to herself, in fact, you’re very good. You’re just not good enough.
Nothing, given time, is random.
All I want inside a car is music.
…only knowing it was there because now it isn’t there. The same thing happens when I think about you.
He said “Give me your best ‘Fuck you’ look.” The camera, for an instant, was my mother. “Perfect!” the photographer said.
Frustration pulls weeds; it does not arrange bouquets.
Diminution. This is often a comfort, to be satisfied with less.
…my job to just break even, to rise to the place where the rest were pushing off.
“And why is getting better up to you?” “Because,” I say, my answer practiced, “I am the one who cares the most.” Even when I am not.
I wish it never got any darker than this, the moment you can no longer tell that the grass is green. (“Tumble Home”)
Here’s something I didn’t know: the drag you get from open windows uses more gas than running the air conditioner does.
It is the day before Thanksgiving. According to the radio, people travel to their destinations by car. One hundred percent if you count just me.
On the day before a holiday, you feel you have a destination just by being on the road with so many people who do.
I sign the card, “As ever.”
I only know about the coffee if it’s in a lobby and free.
I drive barefoot unless there’s snow.
In the backseat of my car, a potted amaryllis blooms.
…the removal from everything but the moving body in a vehicle, of the is-ness of passing from here to there, of not being where you were.
…buoyed by staying in motion away from everything, the mind become the traveling until wherever you stop, won’t Jesus be waiting there? Is one of the symptoms a loss of faith? Or faith in loss? (“Jesus is Waiting”)
Think of it as fancy camping, I told myself, and it was fine, this manner of thinking.
She said sometimes a woman thinks she wants a child when what she really wants is the father of the child.
Lesbian fights are the worst, Carolee said—nobody ever walks out and slams the door because they’re both women and want to talk about their feelings.
You can do anything with ease if you act as though you do it all the time—dance, sunbathe nude, talk someone else out of hurting you. (“The Uninvited”)
…we didn’t want to leave each other, so we walked another couple of blocks to see a second movie, one he wanted to see, and I didn’t tell him I had already seen it because by that time I just wanted to sit next to him in the dark.
People have observed animals that barely escaped a predator, and they say these animals lie down and shake, and in so doing somehow release the trauma. Whereas human beings take it in; we don’t work it out, so it lodges in us where it produces any number of nasty effects and symptoms.
…there is something about being able to get in a car and leave when you want to… (“Reference #388475848-5”)
I suppose there are many things one should try not to take personally. An absence of convenient parking, inclement weather, a husband who finds that he loves someone else.
…the way people flatter you by wanting to know every last thing about youy, only it isn’t a compliment, it is just efficient, a person getting more quickly to the end of you.
Dreams: the place most of us get what we need.
With the dog present, I could talk to people I could not have talked to without her.
He was a bigger catch for the sorrow attached.
…seeing through it didn’t mean I didn’t also like it. (“The Dog of the Marriage”)
I had told him everything in that letter as though he had asked for me to.
…I wrote to this man although, or because, I had met him only once…
The husband needed no rules, both we women felt, because, we also seemed to feel, we would have no idea where to start in the drawing up of them.
Replacing lightbulbs, taking out trash, watering plants: exigencies of the tiny life, a life that opened up inside me at night in a downtown loft on an ugly street in a city rebuilding itself.
Under the words, his voice seemed to say, “You and I are looking at this together, and we see the same thing.” When I could keep up with him, that was true.
I was never more myself than when I was lying in this man’s arms. But was I ever much of myself in them?
I listened to him talk to his friend, and, happy, went into his kitchen. I got silver polish and a rag from under the sink, and contentedly polished a pair of candlesticks.
We do not quite forgive a giver.
Teh moment I wished he woudl turn off the movie, he muted the sound and turned his attention to me. This quality of attention righted things between us.
There is an almost unbridgeable gulf between what an artist sees and what an artist paints.
He could not wait to get rid of them so he could enjoy remembering them. (“Offertory”)