Like regrets and interests, small problems are compounded. They lie on top of each other, small but heavy, until one of them – meaningless itself – breaks you. Yesterday, it was balsamic vinegar. I was tidying up the kitchen: the most mundane and scariest of my tasks because I hate to do it. The counters have been removed, the backsplash cleaned, the coffee grounds emptied, but there was still a canister of salt on the counter. It will go to his house inside the corner cabinet with other spices and jars.
I opened the cabinet, threw out a little salt, and closed the cabinet. It swung. It does a dozen and a half times a day without problems, but something was caught yesterday. The edge of the spout of the fancy balsamic vinegar cracked an edge on its way around and crashed to the ground. It has crumbled, large pieces of black liquid frozen glass have faded. It is thick and spread like blood, a pus that can cut.
This in itself is a small problem. It was cleaned – the holes were carefully torn from the gut and placed in a bowl, the delicious vinegar was poured into a dust pan and the floor was wiped off. But the vinegar was the second thing I liked that I broke yesterday, on my vacation, the long, tiring weekend where I wrote a lot for work and not for me, and it was enough to snap. Me.
The pungent, sweet smell of spills is still in the kitchen. It’s long lasting, make fun of me. This is certainly not a real problem. I can buy another balsamic vinegar. But looking at the scattering pool, hearing footsteps on the stairs after the accident, I can feel that moment embedded in my mind, a memory written in ink. In ten years, presumably, I will eat a beautiful capress salad, smell balsamic and remember the failure of this unimportant Saturday afternoon. It’s for staying here, for whatever reason.
I’ve been tuning in to the little sticky moments lately because I’m reading Tov Detlovsen’s work again.
Detlovsen was a Danish writer. She was extremely popular with women during her lifetime and not at all popular with men. He has published 29 books of memoirs, poems, fiction and short stories. And unlike many great memoirists like Carl Ove Nowsgard and Annie Ernacks and Elena Ferrant, Detlovsen is less interested in takeaways. He does not present his work with instructive ethics or philosophy. In fact, he seems to have deliberately moved away from self-expression at every opportunity. He wrote Copenhagen trilogy That writing was “a way to put a veil between oneself and reality.”
I have been thinking about this phrase for almost a year now. I read Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen trilogy That week it was reissued in English last year. I guessed it for years after reading the story of the contemporary Danish novelist Dorthe Norse. The second shelf. Norse wrote that there was a “distinctive tone” that Detlovsen emitted in his bitter sweet jolt over humanity. […] Women have heard that melody in his poems from the very beginning. We know it. It sings from deep inside us. ”
I read his work as soon as possible. I swallowed a weird, printed book of his poems the bookseller found for me. I chugged Copenhagen trilogy, Breathe, and then read again. For its beauty, for its metaphors, for its power of detoxification, to portray the world as a place that can pierce you: I came back to it again and again for the wonderful feeling before you reach pain. Detlovsen is self-critical, self-deprecating and even violently talented. “Childhood is as long and narrow as a coffin, and you can’t get out of it on your own,” he wrote in the first book of the trilogy. “It’s always there and everyone can see it as clearly as you can see Pretty Ludwig’s Harrylip.” He is a master of the story behind a sentence: “When Asghar left him ten years ago, he left a treasure trove of words and ideas inside like a forgotten suitcase in the left-luggage room of a train station,” he wrote in his 1968 novel. Face. His poetry is a small revelation of truth, a little observation we see with his own eyes:
An old woman
Stood beside me
Under the open umbrella.
The skin of his neck
Looks like a turkey.
I was wishing
Was close to death.
Excerpt from “Self-Portrait 5” by Detlovsen
The marketing around his book always takes him as a person, but his writing is the reason he remembers. I’m not writing about his personal life here, because who he was as a person is less important than his voice on the page. As Lauren Euler wrote in Harper’s last year, “Detlevsen does not fit neatly into the lineage of the hot messes whose writings can only be admired in the light of their unfairly feminine circumstances and under emotional pressure; He is the first writer and the second chaos.
I’m reading several of Titlovsen’s now out-of-print headlines that I’ve collected in dubious ways and am amazed at how much he pays for his work. Sometimes, it’s clear how hard he’s trying to create something beautiful, but most of the time it feels effortless. Each metaphor is a skyscraper that he tries to build as high as possible, every metaphor he tries half-court shot. And most of them, he makes.
Here’s a quote from another great writer, Annie Dillard, that I tucked into the wall a few weeks ago:
“One of the things I know about writing is: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it all, instantly, every time. Give it all, give it now. The temptation to save something good for a good place later is a sign to spend it now. Then there will be more, something better. The tendency to keep what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. What you don’t give freely and in large quantities is lost to you. You open your safe and find the ashes. ”
Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life
If anyone spends it all, I think when I first found this quote, it was Detlovsen. It’s rare, as a reader, you can feel his effort, but there it is. He is not against a society that hates him (he was a favorite of Danish readers all his life), but against himself. He is trying to figure out what to say, what kind of screen can be put between himself and the world to distort it until it is manageable.
“The world doesn’t regard me as anything, and every time I hold an angle of it, it slips out of my hand again,” wrote Ditlovsen. Childhood. The goal of writing it, I think. Not just to grab the earth and hold it steady and secure forever, but to grab an angle, just try for a second and see clearly what it looks like before letting it go again.