December 27, 2022

Excerpt from Notes Toward Nothing

By Nat Sufrin

Nat Sufrin, Untitled, 2019

“Living as if missing the point—having the courage of one’s naivety—could also be a point.”

Adam Phillips

A book begins with an epigraph, a life ends with an epitaph. What’s in between? Epigrams.

ALL I want is want. I am the least difficult of men because I am not a man—I am Boundless. The new fragrance from Beyoncé. Also a website for Christian singles who want to grow up, own their faith, date with purpose & prepare for marriage & family.

ALMOST always: both/and, not either/or.

ALTERNATIVE name for the ego: go.

AN ex woke me up this morning with three long text messages. 1) She wants to send a photo of us wasting away on the floor of the Port Authority but 2) she’s afraid it’s rude; she’s a Gentile but 3) she wants to start keeping kosher. I’m afraid, I don’t tell her, I’ve been filling my pantry with tiny sea creatures & suckling pigs for two years now. Definitely rude, but keeping kosher is not a morality play, it’s an ancient bloodless scheme to get lost in keeping dishes distinct. What’s bad about blood? We could / it’s good / get lost

APPARENTLY the thing to do about white privilege is drop the term in conversation like any old verbal tic. It’s always relevant, when you’re feeling guilty & when you’re just feeling. I have white privilege white privilege. What should I do about white privilege white privilege. Unsurprisingly, in the act of accounting for white privilege, white people continue to shove it down the throats of people of color. They asked a large, random sample of queer women of color what they prefer straight white men to do. Strangely enough, there was unanimous agreement: sit down & shut the fuck up. 

APPROVED by a committee, overseen by an elder, poems produced by MFA programs will always run the risk of groupthink. Committees, like any group, are beholden to the sway of politics, not art. Any poetry worth writing & reading will answer to no movement. If I wanted to write for the Party, I would have studied journalism.

ARE you there God? It’s me, God.

ASKED about sharing a name with the main character & if the book was autobiographical, the author reaffirmed his support for luxury space travel.

BAXTER the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher could not be kosher, so he took his own life. I think it’s about time to reconsider the laws of kashrut.

BETTER yet than believing in yourself: believing in no self.

BIGGEST ego trip of all is ego death. Meet your nonexistence in order to confirm your greatness. Hello world! Here I am running a marathon, but yesterday I forgot there was an I while you were zoning out with a beer at the Cubs game.

BION, my clinical supervisor tells me, said the analyst should approach every analytic hour without memory or desire. He tells me this every week. He might be an old man, but his memory is sharp & I have to assume the repetition is intentional, a way of communicating the principle. Can you imagine, for a second, informing him that he’s told you this before?

BLACK contains all colors & white contains none, in the world of paint. White contains all colors & black contains none, in the world of light. This is because black absorbs light & white reflects it. Black, in other words, lacks color because it is filled with light.

BLANK how you want, when you want.

BODY begins dying early (upon birth) & keeps dying until the dying climaxes in random new pain like spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal a description which sounds even worse than its name) followed by just plain death (but really it is dying all along) & then they (if you are so lucky to have a they) burn it up & do who knows what with the pieces or try to put it deep in the ground so it can rest without being bothered or bothering others with the smell of it rotting & finally you can rest but really you cannot because it is not even you anymore it is just a body.

BONE is trending.

BROOKE, who converted to Judaism from Evangelical Christianity, invited her brother Tim to visit our yeshiva for a week. Tim was considering Christian ordination, but Brooke mentioned struggles. She never specified what they were, but at some point in the week Tim remarked, I don’t understand your struggles over how long is necessary to boil a pot of water if the pot touched a speck of pig & how the type of metal the pot is made of affects the total time & how much water is necessary for the boiling & what counts as the minimum amount of pig to sully the pot. My struggle is to love my fellow human beings. Artificial to pinpoint one moment when I stopped absorbing Jewish law, but if I had to choose, this might be it. To include, not exclude; open up to the world & be opened by it—more kinds—people, cultures, cuisines, loves. & to struggle to achieve that love because that is love, because there is nothing I would rather use my slice of time-energy for.

BUDDHISM is practiced in some countries. Other countries have psychotherapy.

BY saying I still love you, what I mean is I never loved you but I want to call on that myth one more time in order to prevent any more scenes before I leave. Couples therapists are trained to provoke conflict, not eliminate it—to see how it happens, live & in charge.

BYE now—as opposed to later, earlier.

CALL me whatever—all names are pseudonyms.

CAN one live by oneself in a hotel in Paris until the end of time? Yes, apparently, yes.

CANNOT tell a lie—or rather, I can, I very much can: I am in this for the oneness of the universe. Alas.

CHANGE things by changing their names. The new cure for depression: learn a foreign language. Get the randomized, controlled trials up & running!

DEPERSONALIZATION, dearie, is just another way of becoming a person, feigning interest in what never belonged to you & never will.

DEPRESSING songs may be the most direct affirmation of life. They mean someone overcame their depression enough to pick up a pen & a guitar, open their mouth & head to a recording studio. I often crave depressing songs, but I don’t think I have depression. Instead of depression, I have depressing songs. These songs alert me to the fact that I’m not alone. Not only is this horrible feeling I’m teetering near shared by many, but it can be made into something lovely, something that can make me cry & feel connected.

DREAMS are like life, you cannot remember exactly what happened or put your finger on exactly what was fucked up. You wake up, so unsettled, full of memories that you cannot pin down or explain to your friends. But you try, hopefully you try.

ELITIST, masturbational, solipsistic: words used to describe a poem I wrote & workshopped my sophomore year of high school. The workshop teachers chose these words & repeated them as if they had no violence. I sat there in silence, in accordance with workshop rules, which allowed me to respond only after the critique. My peers did not say anything but my teachers had so much to say that the bell rang before the critique was over & I never got the opportunity to respond. What would I have said, anyway? Oh yes, that’s me! I emailed one of the teachers afterward in distress & he wanted to engage me in a theoretical discussion about the need for particulars to achieve a universal. Or maybe it was vice versa. LOL. More than ten years later, poking at the periods & pronouns of NTN, I can finally take pleasure in all the dirt implicit & explicit in the words elitism, masturbation, solipsism.

EVERY Jew has a Jewish problem.

EVERYONE needs someone to blame for their problems. I blame everyone.

EVERYTHING must go go go go go & never come back. A store closes, a life ends.

EVIDENTLY, there are three choices: neurotic, psychotic, or borderline.

EVIL deserves to be written down. Not to believe it but to see it. To sanitize poetry of that which is detestable is to divorce it from that which makes it human. An art form afraid of our worst thoughts is disconnected from the blood that bleeds. It will fail—both as art & as promoter of peace. Let’s strive to be kind to each other at every step of the way, but use the page for abandonment of self, culture, morality. Maybe I’m naive, but I think real kindness in our relationships will ultimately spring from writing that is willing to offend. When literary journals demand writing that contains no hateful materials, the impulse is easy to understand. I am ready to salute it. But what to do when hate is in the soil that sprouted language, part of the mixture of organic remains swirling in the unconscious? If we demand its nonexistence rather than talking about the nature of its existence, hate will only grow.

FORGET the kōan, remember the breath.

Portions of Notes Toward Nothing that appear here were originally published in Bombay Gin.


Nat Sufrin’s poems appear in Bennington Review, Fence, and Best American Experimental Writing. He received a 2019–2020 New Jewish Culture Fellowship and a Research and Travel Grant from Asylum Arts. He is a postdoctoral psychologist in private practice in New York City.