Everyday Life by Liv Lansdale

Liv Lansdale was the winner of the 2015 Leslie Jamison Nonfiction Prize for her piece, "Everyday Life."


So first off, he doesn’t believe human nature is selfish, he believes it’s based on love, cooperation, selflessness, the idea of this harmonious relationship between capital and labor. Capital and labor are, like, innately at odds with one another because what benefits one in many ways hurts the other so like for example if labor’s gonna get more money, capital gets less money, and if capital gets more money labor gets less. So for labor per capita he needs some sort of trust where capital says they’ll work in the best interest of the laborers for no apparent reason. He’s banking on this, like, total commitment to the idea of... what was it called? I don’t remember. But anyway this idea that people are going to give in and automatically give up their wealth seems to me unlikely, and I think we’ve seen, it hasn’t really happened.


She’s lost a ton of extra weight getting surgery. I was so angry. She wasn’t even in heat, they just automatically cut into her... (Man walks by, juggling whiffle ball). Don’t date him. Only because of his backpack, what is that, a turtle? It is. A turtle-shaped backpack. Jesus Christ. Everything else is okay. (Laughs). You haven’t heard that from me in a long time, have you? Don’t date him? Bet you miss it. Anyway, she could have just had a urinary tract infection. Those were her symptoms. But they just put her on their assembly line and did a really creepy thing. They showed me the tab, after she was on there, then said, “Oh, and did you want pain medication?”  Like an afterthought! I won’t even say what the pain meds cost. Fucking vets.


She immediately started begging me to let her put the poem online on this website she has. That’s how good it was. She said keep going. I don’t have taste though. I like poetry but I can’t tell the boys. I can’t tell my nephews. Everyone has this perception of me. It would ruin my credibility.


That’s why hummus is definitely something you want in your soil. And you can see that in these pictures, where you start to see these dark spots around the edges of the outer periphery. You have a central zone, an inner zone, a middle zone, and an outer zone. When you see this darker coloring, it’s a sign of the organic matter that’s there. Matter that’s breaking down. So, any root particles or decayed grass or decayed leaves or decayed bug skins, whatever—all that can become transformed. Like, let’s look at compost, for example. This is a static picture. This compost sample was taken on March 1st of 2013. You could say “this is where this pile is on this occasion.” The central zone usually indicates oxygen: is there a decent amount of oxygen going on in your soil? When it’s closed in the middle, that could be a sign that it’s not breathing well. In comparison, if you asked which pile is breathing better, I’d say this one. Interestingly, En Tee stands for No Tarp, so this pile was on occasion getting saturated with clay. So it wasn’t breathing. The one that did have a tarp could breath because it didn’t form that surface shell. Looking at your soil, it’s important to ask if it’s wet, if there are worms in it. Smell it. Feel it. These are ways you can try to feel where it’s at. When we were all children, we were exposed to books with pictures. Somehow those pictures conveyed story to us. Meaning. But we had to use our imagination to derive that meaning. I think these slides are a way for us as adults to utilize the imagination as a way to read nature. I don’t just mean in a fantastic way, but all around us, nature shows us pictures. How can we read without forcing ourselves too much? Otherwise what we decide a plant needs will come totally out of context. The Romantics were all about this, and here’s an approach to doing it in our garden work. And here come the bees. Bees will bring pollen on their legs from flowers they’ve been visiting. We can see the pollen on their legs, and know what flowers they’ve been at. I have some volunteers to drive some wheelbarrows over to the garden?


I have been getting a lot of fan mail lately. I think it has much to do with the fact that they don't expect to understand poetry, and it surprises the hell out of them that they understand mine. They tend to think like most people that poetry is written in code. I got a funny letter the other day from a woman who wanted permission to use four of my words as a tattoo on her body. What part of her body, I asked. I was a little disappointed when she wrote back and said her forearm. 


Back when I worked in TV, it was always “I need to get this show produced, I need more caffeine, fetch me.” (takes a drink) I hope someday when you have a little more free time you can take a trip over to Queens to the Astoria studios, to see the film museum that’s there. That’s where I did the Cosby show, though I so wanted to work on Sesame Street. It was one of those “We’re not going to pay you, we have a thousand people who work for free” situations. There was no way I could have done it, but I would have loved that.


Oh, she’s very thoroughly lost me. And I should have taken the initiative and gotten lost years ago. But I kept trying. I wasn’t really able to recognize the nature of our relationship, that it’s not a healthy mother-daughter relationship. Now I just sort of go into functional mode. When she tries to have a heart-to-heart with me I just go into the mode of whatever’s going to end the conversation fastest. I really wonder what her childhood was like. All I can say is, like, her parents—and of course I never met them—but especially her father, probably never encouraged her to accomplish anything. And if she did accomplish something, I bet it wasn’t praised, and she didn’t have a role model of a mother who accomplished anything. And a father who probably put the mother down. I don’t think she ever had a role model of women taking charge of their own lives. But of course she never talks about these things. Like her first marriage. Here I am, about to get married, and I don’t find this out about her until now. Because telling us the nature of that marriage would contradict the story that she’s stuck to. Right? She hates everything about her life in Missouri, can’t stand anybody that she knew in Missouri, but her first husband was the quarterback of her high school football team. Ridiculous. Three words or less you said, what it was about her that made her such an awful mother? Can’t I have four? One sees two me three as four a threat. The more intimate you are, the more she registers you as a threat. She, like, preemptively vilifies the people she’s supposed to love. You say she said she had a “good conversation” with me before we all went to the movie together? It was just five minutes. All how awful Dad had been. Why she’d been victimized, why I should side with her. And I really don’t think she can see it in another way. God.


It’s twisted, them animal shelters and all that. They don’t give two shits about your animal. After seven days, if they don’t get adopted? They kill them. Treat em like people in a penitentiary. You don’t even know if this person’s guilty or not. You just know from hearsay. He’s guilty because he said she said something. And who’s the guilty person? The one that did it or the one that made him go there? You go up to a person and they do something bad to you, nine times out of ten you really got what you deserve. And it’s not about your family, your an-sisters. You deserved it. You asked for it. That’s something you axed for. That was something you could have walked away from. You could have walked away and started your life all over. Can’t start your life over if someone’s trying to hold on. They’re holdin’ on because they’ve got nothing on you. They actually gave you a problem you have to solve. Now you’re at a disease. A dis-ease is a discomfort. But all puppies is killers! They murderers. They crazy. They got their mommy and daddy genes all in ‘em, they crazy. (Mimes crazy puppy). Now turtles. Turtles live four hundred years, some live longer than us! I’ll live with them. A turtle. Unless he’s a killer. Check this out. (Exposes bicep to reveal tattoo of vicious looking pug). I got more, trust me. 


Last night? Oy. It was something else. She called her translator “a sexless bitch” and then carried on for ten or fifteen minutes. In front of everyone. The host organization worships translators! She said her novel was supposed to be erotic. What do you do with authors like that? Guess you don’t translate them. She may well have had a point, but she should not have carried on like that. Are those cookies? Those chocolate dots make them look like the dials on a telephone. May I? My mom taught me that no matter the food, if you finger-eat with enough confidence, you can still be a lady.


I did my undergrad because there was a chess community at my university. It was a great environment. I had a full scholarship and everything. Then I began debating about whether I should try to become a grandmaster. I was never trained, whereas my opponents had been in chess school since childhood. I thought, maybe I missed the boat. But here's how I decided to eventually go for it, in spite of the probability that it wouldn't work. I realized I was the best chance for my region. It might take a long time for another sub-Saharan Africa to come this close. So that's how I overcame my concern that it might not work out. There was an additional moment that gave me what I call a “justified confidence." I'd just come in second in the Under-21 World Chess Championship, after being 43rd the year before. I finished ahead of over ten grandmasters. I stopped asking, after that, whether I could do it. Instead it became a matter of how I would. Failures from then were just false approaches to a likely ultimate victory. It's amazing how big a difference self-doubt can make. 


Dear Students, Disability Services is looking for a note-taker in your Masterpieces of Western Art course who attends class consistently and has neat handwriting or typed notes (in WORD 2003 Compatible format, please!). The office is looking for notes that are well organized and detailed. The note-taker will be compensated for their services: $250. If you are interested in being a note-taker, you should bring a sample of your notes from this class to 700 Lerner Hall, or email them to odsnotes@columbia.edu as soon as possible for review. The notes which best meet the student's needs will be selected and the note-taker chosen will be notified via email with further instructions. Thank you, The Disability Services Team


There’s kind of an intentional moat between the writers and the actors. We meet for a table read once a week, and that’s the only time we really interact. I can walk up to them and say hello and what’s going on with my character but they’ll never tell me. They might laugh, they might smile, they might say “Wait ‘til you see” or something like that, but we’ve never had a discussion about what’s going to happen with this guy or what could happen or what should happen. The writers exist in their own world. And they create quite separate from us. It’s our job to take what they create and bring it life and blood but they don’t ask our opinion about what it is they ought to do. I did ask the head writer once who my character was because there was no description of him, no character break-down, no script that I was able to read when I got the job, no pages I was even given, I didn’t even know what I was going to say, I didn’t know who I was, where I fit in in the story. I just arrived on the set and they told me where to go and what to do and gave me some pages to say and I said them and they originally told me I was only going to be working for one day and it kind of grew out of that; I’m not sure they knew exactly where he was going to go either. When you ask the question, “Do they adjust the writing to who we are,” the answer is yes. Whatever I bring to their words, they see and take it in whatever direction occurs to them. If I bring something to it that they like they’ll take that and run with it.