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Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2015, Volume 36

What's Missing From My Life

by Lyn Hejinian

What's Missing From My Life

The structure and compositional history of My Life are relatively familiar. The first version of the work, written when I was thirty-seven years old and published in 1978, contained thirty-seven sections, each thirty-seven sentences long. [1] A second version of My Life, written and published eight years later, contains forty-five sections of forty-five sentences each, the thirty-seven original plus added material. [2] According to the compositional rule I applied, the revisions could come only by way of addition. I was interested in the social (and socializing) force of language and the structuring force of memory, not of forgetting. I was attempting to write in the language of what had happened, or in the language that structured my take on what had happened. In the second version of the work, I wanted to build dialectically on an on-going process of understanding, without negating any of the materials that were its basis. One can change one's mind, but one can't take back one's past. That, at least, was my working hypothesis. Its conceptual aim was some kind of decentered consciousness—internally destabilized and amplified.

It was when the Burning Deck edition sold out and Sun & Moon offered to republish My Life that I decided to provide an expanded version of the original. I wanted to signal that My Life was an incomplete work, a Bildungs-poem (or Bildungsgedicht) that cannot fully (or successfully) account for itself. In addition, I wanted to suggest that incompleteness might, and maybe should, be an attribute of any text.

In early 2004, Barrett, along with Carrie Noland, invited me to present a paper at a conference they were organizing on "Diasporic Avant-Gardes." [3] I accepted the invitation. I've made many claims for the avant-garde over the years. Among other things, I've claimed that avant-garde practice as I understand it is "analytic, resistant, willfully fraught with social consciousness, dedicated to offering new ways of thinking (and, hopefully, new things to think about)"—I'm quoting from unpublished notes. The phrase "willfully fraught with social consciousness" needs some unpacking. In essence, it means that avant-garde practice requires that one force oneself out of one's comfort zone so as to better (hopefully much better) learn about the social and historical contexts and consequences of what one does (in one's writings and otherwise). My Life purports to be about the social (and linguistic) construction of a person's life and hence about cultural placement. (Barrett once proposed to me that it is about the family, a notion I'll return to in a bit.) The "Diasporic Avant-Gardes" conference prompted me to think again about the social and historical contexts of My Life. What's missing from My Life?

Each section of the work is built of sentence-memories. I composed them on the basis of what I remembered of my past, year by year. The ninth section, captioned "What memory is not a 'gripping' thought," is situated more or less in 1950, when I was nine years old. My oldest granddaughter, Marka, is currently nine years old. She's sporadically aware of Obama, virtually unaware of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, aware daily of the family's guinea pigs (though in comparison with her sister Amity, she declares herself to be "not an animal person"), and she's being kept as far as possible unaware of the current economic crisis, our Great Recession. The limits to my unawareness of events and conditions of 1950 were no doubt very similar. At the end of this essay, I've added an expanded version of the ninth section of My Life; it's now sixty-eight sentences long, and some of the added sentences reflect historical pressures that lay beneath the horizons of my consciousness at the time.

The social contexts for the ninth section of My Life are several. The first is the Bay Area Language writing scene of 1977–78. A process of heterogeneity was unfolding—a collectively instigated production of differences. My Life is certainly a reflection of that, insofar as it is coherently structured but internally disparate.

The next social location for the work is the same scene eight years later, in 1986–87, when I was adding to the original work for its republication by Sun & Moon. The Carter-Mondale presidency had been replaced by that of Ronald Reagan, and in 1985, coinciding with the beginning of Reagan's second term, a series of public attacks on Language writing had been launched in various publications (including Partisan Review and Poetry Flash). Some of the attacks were charged with the vehemence of personal vendetta; all of them manifested a particular strain of American xenophobia that regards intellectual work as alien, unfeeling, hostile, and ultimately un-American. Imagining, and cultivating fear of, the "enemy within" is not exclusively American of course, nor is the casting of that enemy as an intellectual. In any case, by 1986–87, the sense of utopian promise and (with the ending of the Vietnam War and major progress in the women's movement) even of some sense of utopic achievement that one had been able to imagine in the late 1970s, had given way if not to despair then certainly to severer commitments, more sustained rigors. If the production of difference was more difficult, it also seemed more urgent.

A third context for the ninth poem of My Life is the U.S. and more narrowly the San Francisco Bay Area of 1949–50—the putative period that is "covered" by the poem. Several subtexts of this third social context are what I want to examine here.

Out of the milieu of the early 50s emerge two, interconnected themes that I can discern in My Life. One is that of the family romance, rendered unheimlich not by the Oedipal drama that Freud discerned but by a more public story generated by xenophobia and fear of nonconformity and disloyalty. The unresolved internalization of that xenophobia is the second theme, as part of the story of the making of the American mid-twentieth-century family, but with a very public history (virtually epic) and with ramifications. The effects of this are deeply sublimated in My Life—missing or at best barely hinted at: "What memory is not a 'gripping' thought."

Missing from My Life are the numerous sentence-memories that might have named particular public events and/or referred to larger historical conditions and social forces that no doubt structured and in manifold ways conditioned those memories. Indeed, the very modes of memorizing are no doubt culturally and also historically determined. But my defense of these at least apparent omissions is that My Life was intended as a work of memory, not of history; it is a work composed of sentences shaped by memory and the possibilities of English syntax. It was intended as a portrait of memory's work at identity-in-the-making. And, since some of the circumstances I want to write about now happened when I was only around nine years old, I can't fault myself for insufficiently remembering them although I do in fact remember something of them, and certainly something of the atmospheric conditions that generated them.

My story of the family romance in mid-twentieth-century California is premised on the invention of the "nuclear" family (a term with remarkably ironic implications, given the period's deep-seated fear of the atomic bomb). It proceeds with the family's relocation from rural or urban or (to the degree that each soldier can also be construed as a family member) battlefield settings to the safe confinement of the suburbs (themselves generically familial), and reaches an apotheosis with the instantiation of an exemplary version of that nuclear family in the governor's mansion in Sacramento in the form of the family of Earl Warren, governor of California from 1943-53. Warren himself, first as state's attorney general and then as governor, was a key participant in two events of particular importance for my theme. The first was the identification of Japanese Americans as an internal threat and their subsequent removal to internment camps in 1942. The second was the establishment of the Loyalty Oath in 1950 at the University of California, Berkeley. [4]

That an unconscious national self-hatred exists in the U.S., that it has a history and multiple manifestations that are a formative part of American history, and that it remains fundamental to the American ethos, are the claims I want to make.

A xenophobic ethos that had particular manifestations in 1950 is, I believe, endemic to the U.S. ethos generally and persistently. Cold War fear of international communists (the grounds for the Loyalty Oath) and of the atomic bomb (which was, let's not forget, an American invention) fueled more generalized fears of otherness. What is of particular and urgent interest today are not only the dreadful actions perpetrated on others by the fearful. Also deeply troubling is the unconscious internalization of xenophobia into the very fabric of U.S. culture—turning it into an obfuscating autophobia that impedes clear understanding at a cultural level of either other or self.

Some of its manifestations can be seen in the Bay Area of 1950, when a specific and yet typical set of fears, derived from an array of perceived threats, were being incorporated into cultural self-definition, but unconsciously and thus without the benefit of any cultural self-awareness or self-discovery. What became momentarily manifest (and not for the first time in U.S. history) and was then internalized is something that lies deep within the national ethos: an involuting diasporic turmoil—a diaspora that is internalized in such a way that many kinds of incorporated "otherness" remain sites of phobia even as they are internalized. The result is a self-perpetuating myopia—and a culture that is full of energy, boisterous even, but whose introspective practices are extraordinarily weak.

The history of American self-alienation—its love-hate relationship with its own alterity—is longstanding, and I would cite as a case in point one of the founding events of U.S. nation building and identity formation: the Lewis & Clark Expedition, a two-year scientific and mercantile expedition that set forth in 1804, one year after the Louisiana Purchase of April 1803. Apart from Meriwether Lewis, the original leader, and William Clark, his chosen co-commander, the members of the Corps of Discovery, as it was called, were all recruited from the geographical fringe of the then U.S. and were, in addition, by most accounts misfits even there. Descriptions of the make-up of the expedition as it first set forth from St. Louis vary, but the core force seems to have consisted of forty-three men, plus Lewis and Clark: "nine young men from Kentucky; 14 soldiers of the United States Army, who had volunteered their services; two French watermen; an interpreter and hunter; and a black servant belonging to Captain Clark," along with sixteen men ("a corporal and six soldiers, and nine watermen") who were engaged "to accompany the expedition as far as the Mandan nation, in order to assist in carrying the stores, or in repelling an attack, which was most to be apprehended between Wood river [sic] and that tribe." [5] Various "Gentlemens sons" from the East asked to accompany the expedition, but were turned down as being "not accustomed to labour" in favor of "stout likely fellows" who were some of "the best young woodsmen and Hunters in this part of the Country" (i.e., Kentucky, where Clark was). [6]

Of the original corps, one man died, but the others completed the journey to the Pacific and returned to St. Louis at the expedition's end. Most of them then turned right around and went back west again, and their histories disappear there, joining those of assorted personages who were picked up by the expeditionary troop for varying lengths of time, including a French-Canadian trader with two wives, one of them the famous Sacagawea, who was fifteen years old and six months pregnant when she joined the group as a translator. Lewis and Clark also engaged a man named Rene Jusseaume, a "mulatto," to be part of the translation team—translation being a collective enterprise. Sacagawea translated from Mandan to her native Hidatsa for Charbonneau, who spoke Hidatsa and French but not English. Charbonneau then transmitted the French version of what Sacagawea said to Jusseaume, who spoke French and English and could relay the contents to Lewis and Clark.

In the story of the Lewis & Clark expedition, then, a founding national event, virtually a myth, is carried out by a group of personages who, apart from the two leaders, come from outside what was felt to be the national mainstream, and have no roots in the established society. They are central to a mainstream history that is incorporated into the nation's mythology of itself while being also outside it. The U.S. keeps settling itself around such diasporic situations.

1950 saw publication of Charles Olson's "The Kingfishers" and Wallace Stevens's Auroras of Autumn, and that year, too, Louis Zukofsky completed the second half of "A"-9 and "A"-11. None of these speak as well to the questions on the minds of Americans in 1950 as do the authors of the bestsellers of that year, volumes whose very titles seem to offer a portrait of the moment, with its interdependent flights and containments. Among the fiction titles are Across the River and into the Trees (Ernest Hemingway), The Wall (John Hersey), The Parasites (Daphne du Maurier), The Adventurer (Mika Waltari), and The Disenchanted (Budd Schulberg). And among the nonfiction books, along with Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book and The Baby, are How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling (Frank Bettger), Kon-Tiki (Thor Heyerdahl), The Mature Mind (H.A. Overstreet), Campus Zoo (Clare Barnes, Jr.), and Your Dream Home, and How to Build It for Less than $3500 (Hubbard Cobb). The last was a 512-page book that, according to an advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle on 16 May 1950, could be purchased for $3.95 at the City of Paris (a high-end department store on Union Square).

The front-page headline that day reads "Rail Strike Ends," referring to a seven-day walkout staged by unions against the nation's five major railroads. But the main story, beginning at the top on the right, is headlined "Spy Hunter's Charges" and reports on Joseph McCarthy's demand that the Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, be fired for his "communist sympathies."

Page 4 is devoted entirely to stories about possible communists in the government and the communist threat generally. [7] The paper reports that Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer has directed the department's "Loyalty Board" to re-investigate William W. Remington, a thirty-two-year-old economist who had been accused by two witnesses before the House Un-American Activities Committee of having been a communist while working for the TVA in the mid 40s. And an item set within a box reports that nonsigners of the University of California Loyalty Oath have asked for a hearing.

After more than a year of intense debate within the University of California and in the state government, on 21 April 1950 the Regents of the University of California, by a vote of 21 to 1, agreed to add a second oath to the already existing one that state employees were required to sign. The text of the first, the "Constitutional Oath" (Constitution of the State of California, article 20, section 3), is as follows:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of my office according to the best of my ability.

The signing of an additional oath was now required, the text of which said:

Having taken the constitutional oath of the office required by the State of California, I hereby [. . .] state that I am not a member of the Communist Party or any other organization which advocates the overthrow of the Government by force or violence, and that I have no commitments in conflict with my responsibilities with respect to impartial scholarship and free pursuit of truth. I understand that the foregoing statement is a condition of my employment and a consideration of payment of my salary. [8]

Establishing some kind of loyalty oath had been an idea that, with the backing of Gov. Earl Warren, Robert Gordon Sproul, then president of the university, first presented to the Board of Regents in March 1949. Sproul was a man with moderately liberal politics, but he was trying to forestall interference in university policy and pedagogy by the California Committee on Un-American Activities, whose chair, Sen. Jack Tenney, was a rabid anticommunist and had already managed to pass a bill, Senate Bill 130, making it a crime to teach anything but "Americanism" in publicly funded schools.

Protest against the oath began immediately, with two issues at stake. The first, and least important, was the civil right to hold political views not in accord with the mainstream. The second, and by far more important, since almost 100 percent of the faculty could (and in a questionnaire sent to all of them did) agree that they were not sympathetic to communism, was the principle of intellectual and academic independence, especially in the form of tenure.

There were six hundred student employee nonsigners, among them Jack Spicer, who was a graduate student TA; there were several hundred staff nonsigners (157 of them were fired by July 1950); and several hundred faculty nonsigners. Before the opening of the fall 1950 semester, of the one hundred ten or so Senate-member faculty nonsigners, twenty-six had been fired and thirty-seven had resigned in protest. Fifty-five courses were dropped from the curriculum. Over twelve hundred signatures over protests against the oath and the firings came in from other college and university faculties, and twenty resolutions condemning proceedings at the University of California were passed by professional academic organizations. All nonsigners ceased to receive their salaries in June 1950.

Among the nonsigners at Berkeley were a number of notable scholars from a wide variety of academic departments, including Roy Harvey Pearce (who went to Johns Hopkins and, ultimately, to UC San Diego, where he founded the Literature Department and the Archive for Special Collections) and Ernst Kantorowicz, who went to the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton. Kantorowicz was a charismatic historian, a medievalist, around whom an intense coterie of young, mostly homosexual poet students formed, including Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser, and Jack Spicer. Building on Kantorowicz's scholarly work on medieval notions of the divine status of kings, the poets, imagining themselves as "kings of poetry," espoused vaguely mystical notions of the divine rights of poets and the divine transmission of their words. [9]

Kantorowicz, a Polish Jew who had been a member of the Stefan George circle in Germany, left Germany after George's death in 1933, just as the Nazis were coming into power. In his letter of resignation from Berkeley, Kantorowicz drew an analogy between events signaling the rise of totalitarianism in Germany and in Russia (whose communist regime he, in fact, despised). To some degree inspired by Kantorowicz's example, Jack Spicer too resigned though he was only a TA. A sympathetic Berkeley professor helped Spicer get a job at the University of Minnesota. Spicer's biographers remark that "Spicer's decision was brave—everyone said so—but it meant expulsion from his Berkeley paradise. The rest of his career found him grappling with this loss" (33).

Is his 1957 work, "After Lorca," in some senses about that loss? It seems so, as in the poem "Suicide," in which time has "run down," in a setting where "wings" are "dead" and "flowers" are artificial ("linen"). Like Dorian Gray, "the stiff geometric youngster" of "Suicide" seems to have bartered away something essential in exchange for beauty (in Spicer's case, the beauty of heroism). The result is a condition of deep and destructive self-alienation:

His watch has run down in its case He observes the way it was looking at him.
He sees his shadow stretched Upon a white silk cushion.
And the stiff geometric youngster Shatters the mirror with an ax.
The mirror submerges everything In a great spurt of shadow. [10]

Various world events leading up to the 1950 Loyalty Oath controversy seemed to provide sufficient and necessary grounds for fear and for the preemptive, defensive strategy that the oath represented. Establishing political opinion as a fundamental determiner of identity, the loyalty oath can be seen as confluent with a general national obsession with identification. (Among the phenomena produced by the identifying frenzy of the period was the issuing of metal dog tags to school children, in anticipation of multitudes of corpses, and injured and dislocated children, as a result of a nuclear bomb.)

The U.S. in 1950 was reacting to two major events of the year before. 1949 saw the collapse of the Chiang Kai-shek regime and the establishment of a communist government in China. Newspaper coverage seems obsessed with the sheer number of people who have turned into communists as a result: "The entire capitalist press writes gloomily of the prospect of . . . China . . . coming under Stalinist sway. [A] population of five million [is] rapidly coming within the grasp of the Red Army. The territory which the Stalinists already dominate has a population of more than 170 million." [11]

With the characterization of the Chinese revolutionary (Maoist) forces as "Stalinist," an explicit identification of China with Russia was made.

Meanwhile, in late September 1949, an explosion "somewhere in the vast reaches behind the Iron Curtain" was detected by U.S. intelligence and determined to be the successful testing of an atomic bomb, "a fateful portent that the Soviets have broken an American A-bomb monopoly on which the non-Communist world depended so heavily." "Does it mean World War III?" asked the Los Angeles Times (24 September 1949), in an article oscillating between alarm and reassurance. [12] Secretary of State Dean Acheson has admitted that "the United States is no longer the sole possessor of the dread secret. " But commenting on the news, Gen. Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "The calmer the American people take this the better. . . . We have anticipated it for four years and it calls for no change in our basic defense plan."

Bradley himself spent part of the day playing golf. "Although military experts in general believe that Russia at last has learned how to make the atomic bomb," the paper reported, "they suggested that Soviet development of the weapon may still be only in its infancy. One said the Russians are probably in the 'Los Alamos state'—an allusion to the New Mexico proving grounds where the first U.S. atomic bomb test was held on 16 July 1945." With that, the Los Angeles Times comments, "Three weeks after the Los Alamos test the first A-bomb ever used in warfare was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan."

Nine months later, in June 1950, just as the Loyalty Oath controversy was underway at UC Berkeley, Pres. Truman ordered U.S. forces into Korea two days after North Korean forces invaded South Korea, and the U.S. found itself at war again.

These conditions were conflated into a single perceived threat: the "fall" of China to "Stalinists," the fighting of a war against extension of communism into South Korea, and Stalinist Russia's development of the atomic bomb were evidence of one thing—communism was on the move.

One strong site of defense against this threat was the American nuclear family. Put another way, an American nuclear family was fostered as a strong site of defense against this threat—a family that participated simultaneously in an ethos of containment (whose archetypical as well as architectural manifestation is the house in suburbia) and of proliferation (the baby boom). Parents, in the wake of two world wars and perceiving the threat of nuclear war to be real, felt compelled to have lots of children, to replenish the current population and guarantee an adequate one in the future. An historian quotes one Jewish woman as saying, "After the Holocaust, we felt obligated to have lots of babies. But it was easy because everyone was doing it—non-Jews, too." [13]

Among the most prominent of the prolix families of California in 1950 was that of Governor and Mrs. Earl Warren. [14] The family was a constant presence in Sunday supplements, the daily newspaper, and national magazines, warranting a large spread in Life called "California's Warren and Family" and another in the Saturday Evening Post ("The Warrens: What a Family!"). Mrs. Warren (Nina Palmquist Warren) was a "handsome woman" of Swedish descent; from the numerous accounts in the media she was the quintessential devoted "homemaker." A purportedly excellent cook (her "Swedish pancakes" and her "ration stretching meat loaf" come in for particular comment), she did all the family cooking and also cooked the state dinners. She ironed her husband's shirts, kept house, gardened, and had children—six: three sons, James Lee Warren, Earl Warren, Jr. (Ju-Ju), and Robert Warren (Bobby); and three daughters, Virginia (Ia), Dorothy (Dotty), and Nina (known to all California as "Honey Bear").

Earl Warren was of Norwegian descent, and the children, growing up in the governor's mansion in Sacramento—an old mansion Mrs. Warren had reclaimed and redecorated—were all good-looking, photogenic, blond, blue-eyed, healthy-minded "youngsters" who are photographed with pets, on roller-skates, playing tennis, and fishing with Dad. But of all of them, "Honey Bear" was the public's darling. In 1950 she was a junior in high school, a cheerleader, sporty (she's photographed on skis), and artistic (she plays the cello). When, on election day of November 1950, she contracted polio, a virtually hour-by hour account of the course of the disease was broadcast on radio and the then-new and gripping medium of television. The public learned that, when her father raced from Oakland (where he voted) to Honey Bear's bedside in a Sacramento hospital, she reassured him, saying, "It's not so bad." And then she told her mother, "Mother, take him home and make him rest." "Standing by himself in the hospital corridor, Earl Warren, elected that day to his third term as governor, wept" (267).

Honey Bear recovered splendidly. By the day before Christmas she was home, by Christmas Day she could have dinner at the table with the family, and in June 1953 she accompanied her parents and two older sisters to London to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and dance with high society at coronation balls. One British young gentleman said years later, "I still see California through a faint golden-haze engendered among the pale London faces by the peach-fed Honey-Bear from Sacramento" (280).

In its perfection, its moment of pathos, and in the public's obsession with it, the spectacle of the Earl Warren family seems to achieve the fulfillment of the family romance.

Freud uses the term "family romance" (Familienroman) as the name for the psychological fantasy-syndrome wherein one feels that one does not properly belong to or in the family one finds oneself with—one imagines that one is alien and belongs elsewhere, that one has somehow been misled, taken or gotten lost. The Oedipus story is, for Freud, the emblematic "family romance," one in which a child is taken from his family (for his own good), inserted into another family, then returns to the original, proper family without recognizing it, takes it as his—and the trouble begins, trouble so dire that in the end he has to remove himself forever from that and all other family.

Coexisting (albeit unevenly) with this version or experience of "family romance"—or perhaps existing only as a key moment in it—is one in which one feels that one DOES belong (or strongly desires to belong) to and in the family one finds oneself in. [15] This is the heimlich (cozy) moment within and surrounding the unheimlich (frightening, uncanny, alien) moment of the romance—that of the self-contained, self-containing, potentially explosive American nuclear family, a thesis which the 50s tried to withhold from its antithesis. The result is a muddle which is never superseded—an absolutely undialectical culture.

The nation qua nation repeatedly takes the other into itself, but instead of generating an ethics from this it generates obfuscation. It can't conceptualize clearly because, even while it is fixated on the otherness of the other, that otherness is hidden away inside itself—it gets "naturalized."

One must remember that America's capacity for equating itself with Nature is enormous; the result is a steadfast gullibility and naiveté, such that even its vaunted good-heartedness can be dangerous.

Consciousness is always in relation to an other, but if the other has been disappeared, consciousness can't become conscious. And if it (the psyche of the nation) can't be properly conscious, not even of itself, it certainly can't question, review, or improve. The internalized alienation instead becomes phobic—xenophobic. And to the degree that the xenophobia is directed against itself, senses of unease, dissatisfaction, and malaise are produced—a mistaken sense of lack, producing in turn the insatiability, greed, and wastefulness for which the U.S. is notorious—cycles of rapacity and discarding, the gathering and scrapping of territory, goods, and power.

My Life, Section 9, 2009 Version


Because of its length and the scope given to digression, Hillcrest Road makes a figure 2. One Sunday afternoon my father painted the front porch of our house a gentle gray, beginning at the bottom of the five steps leading up to it and painting back, from the left and then the right, until finally, opening the door, he painted from the threshold, stepped back, and closed us in. From here each day seems like a little boat and all the days are swept and tilted back and forth across an immense and distant bay of blue, gray, green. We were like plump birds along the shore, caught by the mortal breaks. Dimension, longevity, color, and pleasure. So that if I tell you my intentions, I force myself to maintain those intentions. Ambivalence has the force of comparison. I wanted to see a mountain lion but had to content myself with a raccoon. The dog was jealous and pretended to limp. The fog was so fine that it was more like an odor than a texture in the air, an odor of seaweed and roses growing so remarkably red and pink and yellow in that sandy soil. There was something almost religious about it, something idolatrous, something insufficient. Time stood on the horizon, four-faced and staunch as a phallus, an as-yet unknown figure—or almost. Alone, I practiced paralysis. That was the break in my sentiments, resembling waves, which I might have longed to recover. Severed limbs are flung from houses leaving behind the gentle spirits of maimed men. I think they were cicadas, though off the trees. The book of Arthur Rackham Fairy Tales, printed on thick and pulpy paper, bound in a mournfully yellow cover, was illustrated with stark black silhouettes of contorted ogres and ghastly girls in twisted plights, from which my mother used to read to us now and then immobilizing stories which, in retrospect, seem to have had no plot. Behind the freeway we passed a shop selling "antiques" and "collectables." The child gawks, the child is gawky. She hated us to ask what's for dinner, since the planning and recitation of the menu bored her, though the thought of cooking it didn't, and all she replied was, "Decisions, decisions." She asked for "something with my coffee sweet." My grandfather had two horses, old Duke, "a fine animal," and High Spot, with his rider, cantering in place, so that sitting on his back was like sitting pretty. I sat on the beige couch and drew a serpentine abstraction on a blank page in pencil behind my grandmother's shopping list. Continuity, not so much of ideas as of assumptions, or attitudes, a style one simply can't break away from. Why this should be so is social. Once I've formed an opinion it's unlikely that I'll keep it to myself. We returned slowly back up the hill, walking backwards at the steepest part, as if to fool our legs, and yet, during another, later summer, when I worked as a hiking instructor at a girls' camp in New England, I discovered that the downhill walk, at least after a full day of climbing in the mountains, can be the most painful part of the hike, one's legs giving way, the constant trembling in their muscles causing the girls behind me (for I always went in front, and in fact was racing always away from the girls, urgent with alienation and anxious to be alone, since I hated the camp and was persistently homesick) to giggle. We see a land of rolling hills, beginning that summer. How would your day by day record of weather go. Some nights I fell asleep while still imagining the precise processes of torture, but other nights I managed to stay awake and progress to the part in my narrative in which I withstood the pain, held out, betraying nothing and no one. The pants pockets are close to the body, keeping the pennies warm. Or haylike, and muzzy. I shot a flaming arrow at the roof and the house burst into fire. As for we who "love to be astonished," I'm not your maid I'm your mother. Little sailboats were capsizing in the bay. It didn't seem the least bit amazing that they had tunneled the highway through the living redwood tree, for in so doing they had changed the tree into the tunnel, made it something it had not been before, and separated it forever from any other tree. If the ulcer is to be cured, the patient must change his thinking about his employer, he must stop secreting the poison of resentment. The universal is animated by individuality. A name trimmed with colored ribbons. Shaped by the world since seventeen-five-forty-one. My mother and father had been added to my reading. They sing funny little numbers all praising the numerous pleasures. They insisted on the importance, the primacy, of "inner resources" and "inner qualities of mind," so that one could ''bear up" under any circumstances. The next morning we discovered scratched into the newly painted surface of the front porch the crudely drawn message, Fuck You. An old building creaks, more so by water. A force of penmanship. He stated that I am not a member of the Communist Party or any other organization which advocates the overthrow of the Government by force or violence, and, though it would seem to contradict this he said too that I have no commitments in conflict with my responsibilities with respect to impartial scholarship and free pursuit of truth. There are places in it that I never revisited. Five or six children in the neighborhood were playing on the front porch, pretending to be pirates and shouting at cars on the street to "stand to" and "drop sail." She cultivated a particular garden, the rose garden (or rose bed), the azalea garden, the garden of indigenous plants (oddly, less opulent than the others). Little children should ride on the backs of old horses, not on ponies. We each wanted to be the one to hand the toll to the toll collector in the uniform and booth, since doing so made us key to the event, so we argued over who would sit by the back window on the driver's side (appealing to justice, "you did it last time," or to power, ''your arms aren't long enough"), and the winner would hold the coin during the long excited approach to the bridge and then, as the car stopped, in sudden fear that the opportunity might be lost, frantically roll down the window, and, concentrating entirely on the large palm which had first reached toward the closed driver's window and then swung toward the opening back window, empty the warm coin into it. Years later I came to be friends with a call girl who serviced rich and powerful bohemians on the fringes of a rural retreat, but I won't name names. If we didn't have to eat we'd be rich I said, imitating something to say. There are aunties given to kitsch and aunties entirely eclipsed. My grandmother nervously waited for the fog to burn off, complaining already of migraine, while my grandfather arranged his barbecue tools beside the "pit" and my father wandered off with my mother. Each to his kind, he said, not meaning to be unkind and not saying what kind he was. I held onto my sister's legs and let her be a wheelbarrow. I had marveled at the immense difference between the animals at the zoo and the gulls, pigeons, sparrows, and starlings that were only visitors there. There is even a dominant finch. Collaborate with the occasion. The obvious analogy is with music. Their activities, being more natural, since they were doing what they "did" in their own milieu (while we stood around the enclosure waiting and hoping that the sleeping tigers would "do" something soon), should in fact have interested us more. Our dog will eat broccoli. Mischief logic; Miss Chief. I would be aloof, dark, indirect, and upsetting or I would be a center of patience and material calm. To bring us in from the dark on summer nights when we were playing "hide and seek," she would call "olly-oxen-free," laughing at the door. So that later, playing alone, I could imagine myself developing into a tree, and then I yearned to do so with so much desire that it made me shapeless, restless, sleepless, demanding, disagreeable.


1. Editor's note: The publication dates given by Hejinian appear to be incorrect. The Burning Deck edition was published in 1980, and the Sun and Moon edition was published in 1987.Go back
2. My Life's serial history to date comprises editions from Burning Deck (1978); Sun and Moon (1986); and My Life in the Nineties (Shark, 2003).Go back
3. The conference took place in November 2004 at UC Irvine; see Diasporic Avant-Gardes: Experimental Poetics and Cultural Displacement, ed. Barrett Watten and Carrie Noland (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).Go back
4. With regard to the internment, Warren later expressed regrets. In his autobiography he writes, "I have since deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating it, because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom and the rights of citizens. Whenever I thought of the innocent little children who were torn from home, school friends and congenial surroundings, I was conscience-stricken."Go back
5. Journals of Lewis and Clark, ed. Elliott Coues, vol. 1 (1893; reprint, Dover, n.d.), 3.Go back
6. Meriwether Lewis to William Clark, July 24, 1803, and Clark to Lewis, August 21, 1803; quoted in Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 104–5.Go back
7. See Ellen Schrecker, The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).Go back
8. Employees of the University of California must still sign an oath, the "State Oath of Allegiance," which reads: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.Go back
9. See Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian, Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1998), 20.Go back
10. Jack Spicer, Collected Books, ed. Robin Blaser (Black Sparrow, 1975), 21–22.Go back
11. Five million was then the population of Shanghai, "the richest city of China."Go back
13. Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 17.Go back
14. Much of this account is indebted to Kevin Starr, Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940–1950 (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002), 241ff.Go back
15. J. LaPlanche and J.-B. Portalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Norton, 1973). In their account, family romance involves "phantasies of a particular type, by means of which the subject invents a new family for himself and in so doing works out a sort of romance. . . . The child imagines that he was not born of his real parents, but rather of noble ones; or that his father was noble and—to explain this—that his mother has had secret love affairs; or again, that while he is legitimate his brothers and sisters are bastards." The family romance reflects "the desire to denigrate the parents from one angle while exalting them from another, notions of grandeur, attempts to circumvent the incest barrier, an expression of fraternal [sibling] rivalry, etc." (160).Go back