Guest Post, Jacob Oet: In Praise of Bullshitism, Duality

Jacob OetIt’s impossible to separate writing-as-fun and writing-as-therapy. These headings’ subheadings intersect. Subheadings writing-as-identification, writing-as-escape, writing-as-analysis, writing-as-control, writing-as-practice-for-life-much-like-how-a-nightmare-is, writing-as-self-love, etcetera, fall into both headings of fun and therapy.

Writing is full of Taoist dualities that are really intersecting components of a monality. Eg: writing as both act of love and act of escape. As both commitment to the present and commitment to imagination/memory. As both rejection of and celebration of life, as well as both denial of and acknowledgment of such process.

In this way it is impossible to distinguish the process of writing from the process of disassociation: I am aware of myself thinking while I am thinking about something that may or may not include me. Writing is both literal reflection—watching oneself in a pond—and the rippling of the same pond—by sending an arm or leg shooting through it, or jumping in. In this way it is impossible to distinguish the process of writing from the process of active, intentional engagement.


I might write: I know this is throat-clearing.


I know this throat-clearing.

Above all, love.


Over the past half-year I’ve written fanatically, desperately about my younger brother, Mark. More specifically, about Mark’s absence.

Mark is alive. Mark is nineteen. Mark is studying pre-med at Swarthmore College. I talk to Mark on a fairly regular basis, and our conversations aren’t without emotional intimacy. Occasionally they’re “properly divulging.” (Granted, my version of “properly divulging,” as a writer, probably looks a lot more extreme to non-writers than their own conceptions of “properly divulging” do.)

I write about Mark as if he were not there. As if he had not been there for a long time, or when he was there, was barely there. This is an act of imagination. It is also a sort of truth-telling. In my brain, I compulsively project absence and rejection and leave-taking onto people I love where there is merely calm and unrefined presence.

What am I doing? It seems I’m creating truth where there is warped reality. Making something real and (hopefully to more people than just myself) beautiful—out of a projected absence. My writing about Mark grows and grows this projection of absence until it dwarfs his actual presence. Yet. Yet it is a form of love. It is a form of acknowledgement of love, mine for him, his for me. Acknowledgement of that presence.

How? By acknowledging my own belief in Mark’s absence to myself, I can see it to be false. I write every poem about him, to him. Each poem is a deep statement of love. I have the real Mark in mind when I write about the fake, absent Mark.

Perhaps also I like to fuel this part of me that believes in others’ absences despite their being present. Perhaps I like to Yin and Yang, to fuel the bad habit so that I may continue to do and embody good because of it. Does that make sense? Thinking Mark is absent is the dark half. Loving Mark through the poems about his absence the light. Writing these poems both allows me to feel that he is there and to validate my feeling that he is not there. In this way it is also an act of self-love.


Maybe my first book should be called I Love You. The subtitle or epigraph might be: For and To Myself. Myself Being Vacuum, Absence, and Including Everyone.


I like the story of the old Syracuse poetry professor who, hearing a personal young alumna read, shouts out “Bull-Shít” after every line he doesn’t think depicts reality according to the laws of reality.

Bullshit, I yell at myself. Both Yin and Yang. Yang and Yin. Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Loving-bullshit! Fucking-bullshit!

A bull is a noble animal, its shit should be noble too.



Titling my book I Love You would be one of those acts of trying to make a future ideal real by pretending it’s already real in the present.

I do that a lot.

Especially when I talk about my writing.

Not really in my writing, though, for some reason. My writing is more—I hope—or try for—(bullshit?)—an act of undermining everything I say I am, of ripping off layers after layers of “sincerity,” in a recursive and self-loving and self-hating way.

I’m good. Why am I good? Because I love everyone. Do I? No. Do I want to? Yes. Or do I think I want to? Is picking myself apart like this an act of self-love or self-abuse?

See what I mean?


Okay. What about writing as communication to an other outside myself?


Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre.” I is an other.

I is voided through the process of writing about the I. I becomes a vacuum into which everything and everyone is pulled, as if out a broken airplane window.



This is what writing would look like if it was afraid to admit its own failure to capture any full reality: Where am I right now? Here. Where is that? Here. What’s it like here? You’d have to be here to know.

Guest Blog Post, Jacob Oet: Cancer

Jacob OetMy grandmother died on December 15, 2003.

            To what extent is digital technology an alienating influence?

A Google search for “Gabriela Nudelman Hamden Connecticut” yields nothing pertinent but a webpage from, where another Gabriela Nudelman had set up a profile.

This is not my grandmother. My grandmother does not exist, according to the internet. She is null.

This is what society has to say about Gabriela Nudelman: She was a civil engineer. She was a Russian immigrant. She was Jewish. She was the wife of David Nudelman and the mother of my father and my aunt. She was buried in a Jewish cemetery in New Haven and her gravestone is in the shape of the Hebrew symbol “Chai.”

It means “living.”

This is what I have to say about a woman who grew stranger after her death: She was adopted. She wore a Chai on a golden chain around her neck until she died. She used to take me to work with her. She worked in a cubicle. I had my first experience with computers at her work. Her screensaver was “Deep Space.” It showed thousands of white dots blurring out from the center of the screen, which were meant to represent stars and the movement of a spaceship. Now that I think of it, “Deep Space” is emblematic of our extreme isolation in this digital age. I played my first computer game on her office-computer. It was pin-ball, the sci-fi deep-space pin-ball that has always been a facet of a Windows operating system.

She was killed by ovarian cancer, discovered too late to prevent.

This is what Google has to say about ovarian cancer: “Ovarian cancer is cancer that starts in the ovaries. The ovaries are the female reproductive organs that produce eggs.”

This description is difficult to read. Why? It is painfully disconnected. Like my own reaction to my grandmother’s death.

I was tough. I never cried, not once. I don’t remember the burial. Was I even there? My father cried in front of her grave one year later. It was wonderful and frightening.

I hated her after she died. I always thought that she was disappointed in me. My father kept her picture on his computer desk next to the living room. It was a black and white, candid setting, but she smiled as if posing, nervous and warm, as if caught in mid-twitch. I saw her in my dreams, but I didn’t want to. She was manifested in my poems. Truly, inextricable from my life story. Here are two of my many poems about my grandmother:

In December

Stuck in the blue other house,

my grandmother, croaking like floor,

said what a big boy.

I was.

Night my parents left

us in the house on the lake,

the air terribly.

Hands pressed dark for nothing.

My father’s face the next

morning and I knew


Blue the end of sound.

He said she didn’t open her eyes.

I said the entire body when that happens.

The head has an empty room.



In my father’s first house we are having dinner.

The dead grandmother

suddenly beside me.

She reaches over plates to touch faces.

When she touches my cheek

it’s cold.

When she left I was too young.

To be touched in a dream

is better.


The only way I can be “real” is through my writing. Who wants to be real? Raise your hand. The truth is, we were born into this digital age. And it sucks.

In ten years, I have not cried over my grandmother, except in dreams. Tears are a rare commodity. The last time I cried was one month ago. One of my favorite websites is Anonymous users upload letters of regret or thanks, addressed to entities who will never read them.

This is what the website has to say about itself: “Whether the person has passed away, contact was lost, or the strength needed at the time was lacking, this is a chance to say what you have always wanted them to know.” It is a good example of how the internet can be used for good, for storytelling, to evoke reality.

There is one letter on this site that I repeatedly read for catharsis, late at night, because it makes me cry. It is titled “Mr. Biggs.”

In it, Vincent, age 19, writes an apologetic but resolutely thankful letter to his first dog, the twelve-inch-tall and unappreciated friend who always loved him.

It is somewhat similar to my story. Ten years have passed. The writer gains a fulfilling understanding of the relationship through the catharsis of story-telling. He must have told the story ten times in his mind before it cleared enough for the page.

I’m telling this story: Baba Gala died of ovarian cancer. She lives again in this telling, but only so long as I am speaking.

I’m repeating this story, so you don’t forget it. So I don’t forget it.

Baba Gala lives. She dies. I change. I remain.


When revising a poem, I must distance myself from the emotion, to better understand the poem’s technical weaknesses.

This is well and good for the writer. Going over and over this story in my head for ten years, I have come to understand it better. But for my audience, or for any audience, once is simply not enough.

Gabriela Nudelman was my Yin; digital technology, my Yang—dualities in equilibrium; without the one, chaos. This is the difference between digital technology and story-telling. Digital technology seeks to inform. Facts cannot bring back my grandmother. Stories make her seem to live. Information is not evocation.

Computers are just another facet of a cancer which has been killing us since the beginning of recorded history. This cancer is the cancer of the once-told story, the story that is forgotten almost before it is read, and the story that entertains us only as long as it informs us.

Our lives are changing. I’m still telling this story. Our story. This story. Of a life, of the death of a loved one, and its emotional yield.

Breathe. Everyone. In, out.

Our lives are changing. I’m still telling this story.