Focus and Fate at Forty A book by Tucker Lieberman
AKA David Lynch, ‘I don’t know why people expect art to make sense. Life doesn’t make sense.’ AKA The perfect reader is out there, they just might be living in the wrong century as you…. so like, don’t lose faith, pal. AKA I should trim all the wordfat off of this post, but if you moofs will indulge me, I just want to spray about everything this book made me feel, with no truncation. So without further ado.
You Only Have 30 Seconds Review: This book will make you think. This book will make you feel. It’s about creativity, life, death, what makes us human, and stop wanting to be human, and it will clean you house and clear your skin and enrich your mind, so go out and read this book! Ask your library to carry it so that others may read it. Buy a copy and support this author. It’s just so good. I’m in awe of this book and love it.
You Have Time to Hunker Down on the Toilet Length Review:
The perfect book or piece of media establishes its perfection by not making sense in the perfectly right way. (For me, I should add. For you, the definition might very well be quite different.) To paraphrase Lynch from an interview, the lack of making sense (in his case, cinematically) invites the viewer to process on a different avenue. Perhaps by opening the pathways to intuition. What Lieberman refers to as the ‘I just know.’
It’s difficult (and very easy) to say what TEN PAST NOON is about–the structure of the book jumps track multiple times, exactly producing that effect (that sense of falling back on intuition), until a picture starts to emerge, one that to me at least, was much more…. personal and emotional?? And profound? Than I would have ever expected. I am simply, in awe of this book (and you all know that I’m a crusty cantankerous old man who just isn’t impressed by ANYTHING anymore, so WOW!!)
NOON is about two men. One was called Edward Dilworth Cumming, living in the early-ish last century and the other is called Tucker Lieberman, living right now. It’s about trains. It’s about men without balls. And/or penises. Either because these parts were removed, or because they were never there to begin with. It’s about time. It’s about the United States of America. It’s about all the writers, thinkers, pedagogues, workers, scientists, architects and artists who shaped America. It’s about creativity. And the Big Questions.
The metanarrative (I believe) is about integrity. Whether that integrity is being applied to a book you are writing, or a Wikipedia article you are editing, or how you are describing your transness (if you are describing it) to a person who you know, deep down, absolutely does not give a fuck for your interpretation and has already accepted a previous interpretation of you that you never subscribed to. A book, a movie, a person. What is the ‘truth’ of it? What gives a project or a preoccupation value? Legitimacy? How can we make sense of the world when some of us believe in an objective truth and some of us don’t? (or at least, not an objective truth beyond one’s own person).
If you’ve been on the Couch for a while, you know that these questions, in some form or another, are often coming up around here. And they are ALL addressed in TEN PAST NOON, with such erudition, such humor, such depth and knowledge, with such a wide variety of supporting texts (from poetry around the world, obscure manuscripts, to song lyrics), that I was simply blown away? No, ‘blown away’ is a much more… no, imagine me running in a meadow clicking my heels up in a field of buttercups, yawping. I was DELIGHTED! To quote Mari Kondo, this book SPARKED MAJOR INTELLECTUAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL JOY. I started to make marks in pencil. Then, I started to use little sticky tab things, until my copy began to resemble a hedgehog. Eventually, I got the feeling I just wanted to draw a big red READ ALL OF THIS AND TELL EVERYONE mark around the entire book.
Authenticity is not just about our idea of our “true selves.” It is also about how we navigate bumps in the road, how we deal with people who are in our way, and how we talk about this. Sometimes people want to hurt us for talking about it. Facing this work is an existential dread in itself, because, if we fail, we dishonor the importance of our own perspectives.Tucker Lieberman
‘…we dishonor the importance of our own perspective.” FUCk!!!!! Just punch me in the face, Mr. Lieberman?? And what about the anxiety one may feel over having the impertinence to even consider that one’s perspective may be important enough to garner honor or dishonor to begin with? Because an important metanarrative of this book seemed about what happens to our psyche when we cannot or are not allowed to be who we are at all times. Sure, none of us are who we are at ALL times; all of us, in some ways and in some situations, must compartmentalize or play a role. But especially from a trans perspective, this can after a while, have dire consequences… (As not having the ability to express what we must can have dire consequences, or ‘dishonoring our perspective,’ because we do not have the strength or guts to STAND UP for our perspective). The times I have been most disappointed by myself were the times when I hadn’t the courage to stand up for something I had worked on or something that I AM.
Such a person ends up leading two lives: one that dismisses the idea that anything they think/create is of any use (to yourself or otherwise) and another, where they are getting clawed to death by the idea that SOMETHING here, must be valuable. Maybe not horribly unique. Or important. But still having some value. Like the two (or more) trans narratives you may have on hand: one that is the palatable version anyone may understand (certainly, your gatekeep-y specialist), regarding a thirst for He-Man merch and the urge to fuck girls in the back of a muscular pick-up truck. The narrative for the friends who don’t have your back. The more complicated narrative for the friends who do. Then the narrative that will never be put into any vessel that can be transferred into another body. Cue all the trans metaphors and all the creative metaphors I usually read into books, but in the case of this book THEY WERE AND ARE ALL THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
But integrity is just the tip of this iceberg. The first car? Or track? To continue with the book’s train metaphor. There’s love in TEN PAST NOON, there’s creativity, there’s loneliness and madness. (Think, the wit of David Foster Wallace and metanarratives.) There’s a firm grounding in a time and a place, that time when trains and subways were first beginning to change the American landscape and perspective of time (think, the energetic, lyrical lists of Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself,’ but with updated awareness.)
Think something like those works and those writers, but also a book and a writer comparable to nothing and nobody. A wholly unique piece. A masterpiece.
‘I love you for everything you are, everything you will be, and everything you never can be.’
Is something someone important once said to me, and that is the type of rare love I felt emanating from this book. (I don’t believe the word ‘love’ ever features.) But still, the feeling was. Self love. Love for others. Fascination for others. A desire to do better. Be better. A self-improvement story. A fascination story. What is the good life? I can only speak for myself, but for the self, a the good life is one filled with FASCINATION—
This book is a song of myself—a song of yourself—a song of Lieberman—and a continuation of the non-fiction protagonist’s, Edward Dilworth Cumming’s, song. Or, as he is referred to in most of the book, ‘Ned.’ Much of the text focuses on Ned’s fascination, and how his failure to find satisfaction with his own white whale project, may have been the driving factor in his eventual suicide. (Go back to what happens when a social perspective and private perspective can NEVER meet.) On one track, a man fails to complete his book, leads a generally unsatisfying sounding life and kills himself. On another track, a man completes a book about another man’s failure to complete a book. He’s just recently (I believe) passed the age of the other man, when he had died. —
Ned’s life work that he never was able to finish focused on—eunuchs. Eunuchs are a subset of men perhaps more broadly imagined to be incapable of leading a ‘satisfying’ life.
Why was Cumming drawn to the study of eunuchs? Enough to dedicate his entire life to attempting to codify some GUET (Grand Unified Eunuch Theory)? What does it mean when we sublimate the things we cannot acknowledge or clearly say about ourselves, into our creative (fiction or nonfiction or biomythography (Audre Lorde’s word) or metanarrative? Meta research?) Lieberman, who seems to identify with Ned in some ways, has his own theories, and here is where the magic thread comes out.
The thread ties Ned to Lieberman. You follow it as the reader. The thread ties both of them to— a tug. You look down. At some point you realize, you are looking down at your own feet. The thread is wound around your own ankles. You are firmly in this bitch. You think, how lucky was every and any person who could state clearly who and why they were, not having to leave behind some wildly obscure Morse Code for someone else to decipher (or not.)
A creation is a communication—even unpublished. even shown to nobody.—when we bother to put it out of our brain, we do this for a REASON. The reason might be what I call creative disassociation.(In pictures and stories and fixation projects, I created people and scenes and situations that made more sense to me that what was around me.) Or do we hope for understanding? Eventual recognition? I cannot answer for others, but …I hope only to transfer a certain energy. To give someone a certain inspiration. Even if that inspiration is “wow, you fucked this up royally, but your heart was in the right place. Let me take this piece and run it a little further.” You fly with a seed in your mouth until you get tired, and maybe another bird, a smarter bird, faster bird, better flying bird will pick it up. Maybe Ned hoped for that too somewhere—and his perfect reader/collaborator came along almost a hundred years later, in the form of Lieberman. A reader, a thinker who could appreciate everything Ned had done and everything he couldn’t do. You know, the old, Ned walked so that Tucker could run. But he had to exist, however flawed, so that him and Lieberman could eventually ‘meet’ (wherever they first met). The culmination of this meeting is the masterpiece TEN PAST NOON now in my hands. WHAT A RIDE!
Why did this resonate so hard with me? I mean, beyond that it was so meticulously researched and so artfully put together? I guess it was in some ways, so comforting? Reassuring?
It’s hard to see the effect of what we do. We can only try our best. People who come later will always know more. The YOU who comes later, will also know more. It’s hard to give yourself slack. To not beat yourself up for not knowing better. It’s hard as a creative person to not have constant first-hand embarrassment of your work’s shortcomings. Your blind spots. That rhythmic feeling of shame of oh god, why am I so fixated on this? It’s so STOOPID. (Another topic discussed a lot here on this couch.) Hell, hardly a week goes by that I don’t think of this:
“I regret all of my books. It is one of the tragedies of life that one cannot have all the wisdom one is ever to possess in the beginning. Perhaps, it is just as well to be rash and foolish for a while. If writers were too wise, perhaps no books would get written at all. It might be better to ask yourself “Why?” afterwards than before. Anyway, the force from somewhere in Space which commands you to write in the first place, gives you no choice. You take up the pen when you are told, and write what is commanded. There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.”Zora Neale Hurston
Those who come later may pity us, but may also have compassion. Creativity (intellectual, artistic, literary) is such a message-in-a-bottle endeavor. Sometimes, you feel so fucking useless. Like damn, maybe I SHOULD just go French kiss a train? I mean, everyone else is catching fish, or fixing nets, or being productive, and my dummass is sitting here tossing bottles filled with messages, out into the sea. Oh god, you think. Stop! What for? It’s not going to reach someone who will get it. It’s not going to reach someone who will go Aha. Or even, hmm. Wrong, but he has a point.
It will just sink to the bottom. Or the bottle will break and a turtle will eat the note (so now, your thirst for intellectual camaraderie was not only futile, it also killed a turtle. A turtle death dries on your soul.)
But here comes TEN PAST NOON. And it says (amidst all the other things it is saying), hey… It’s okay! You’re not the only person tossing bottles into the ocean. And you’re not the only person fishing them out, and reading them. So, hang in there? Have some faith? And you say, thanks. I needed to hear that.
And isn’t creating something so that you can carry on—creating something that inspires others to carry on—-isn’t that what any of this is about?
Buy Ten Past Noon: Focus and Fate at Forty, By Tucker Lieberman, here.
Visit the author at: www.tuckerleiberman.com