Books

Open Plan

Morgan Bassichis, The Odd Years (2020, Wendy's Subway). All photos courtesy the author and publisher.

TO DO 9/7/20 

-Bleach tub

-Eradicate fly infestation

-Investigate whether or not I am being ghosted by my CSA

-Forgive former sex partners

-Don’t be hurt by freshman indifference over Zoom

ACTIVIST-COMEDIAN MORGAN BASSICHIS'S The Odd Years is an inspirational guide for anyone seeking a model of (modest) art-life practice in the midst of a shitstorm, which I’ll leave as an opaque reference as it's simply too tiring or redundant at this point to enumerate the contents of our shared mess. Comprised of to-do lists recorded every Monday in the years 2017 and 2019—note 2018 is missing, thus the clever title—Bassichis’s book, with its handsome purple hardcover, is so inviting, there is an implicit sense that we can all try this at home (see above), although the results may not be so consistently on-point as those of a writer able to wrest years of material from seeking out the appropriate deodorant. Published by Wendy’s Subway—a nonprofit reading room and publisher in Bushwick, Brooklyn—The Odd Years doubles as a chronicle of an artist vacillating between the ethical demands of radicalism and the acute anxieties of a late-Millennial queer who might be classified as an “avoidant personality.” And if you think I’m projecting, just turn to the “A” section of the index to find page numbers dedicated to “Attachment style”: 90, 3-118. If it wasn’t clear enough, the book is, in fact, 118 pages long. I read it cover-to-cover on a recent Saturday morning while I was practicing some avoidance myself.

The lists are inked over an array of materials: discarded junk mail envelopes, Whitney Museum stationery, a pink page describing shift requirements for membership at the Park Slope Food Coop, and the table of contents to a reissue of Jean Genet’s 1986 Prisoner of Love. The back of a checkbook dated late in November 2017 simply reads, “ABOLISH THANKSGIVING.” What emerges from the missives is an endearing portrait of a neurotic leaning into the banal as a source of respite from terror: the terror of not knowing enough, of not doing enough, of not “fuck[ing] a bunch of Bernie Bros” when it was still a viable option. Sample entries serve as archival material documenting intellectual trends and personal preoccupations of the last few years.

TO DO 2/13/17

-FIND THE ENERGY TO REDO MY PASSWORDS

-LOOK UP ART HISTORY TODAY!!

-LEAVE A POWERFUL BIRTHDAY VOICEMAIL FOR MY DAD

-DO NOT GET USED TO THIS

-SEE IF SOMEONE WILL SUMMARIZE “EICHMANN IN JERUSALEM” ASAP

Morgan Bassichis, The Odd Years (2020, Wendy's Subway). All photos courtesy the author and publisher.

Bassichis ponders all that is too confounding to fathom: net neutrality, gravity, the “difference between clouds and fog,” and “quick slow-cooker recipes.” They slyly recognize knowledge acquisition as a social performance unto itself, writing on March 11, 2019: “Cram news or Brecht so I have something to add to conversations other than gluten stuff.” Depending on which socially-distanced picnic one is invited to, which repertoire to hone becomes a beleaguering science of trial and error.

Teasingly myopic, The Odd Years is essentially a comic’s workbook where jokes are quietly spun, considered, and embellished, bearing traces of a latter-day Jack Handey for those who remember his early-nineties “Deep Thoughts” sketches on SNL.

As the evening sky

faded from a salmon

color to a sort of

flint gray, I thought

back to the salmon

I caught that morning,

and how gray he was,

and how I named him Flint.

Presented as scrolling koans emblazoned against bucolic stock nature photos, these circular nothings could be said to embody what media theorist Matt Sienkiewicz describes as a pre-9/11 Kierkegaardian irony, “a view that approaches the world with the sense that all meaning is ultimately artificial and thus nothing ought to be taken seriously.” With all due respect to the existential Dane (note to self: get someone to explain Kierkegaard briefly), these silly poems still feel like an accurate reflection of the constant internal monologue one recites daily to amuse themself through the solitary chores that keep a body plugging along. What obviously sets Bassichis apart in this Zen tradition is a depth of social conscience, an embattled relationship to bourgeois imperatives, and a willingness to punctuate sweet pettiness with genuine pathos. Consider the pages they reproduce from a 1987 copy of October Vol. 43, “AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism,” edited by Douglas Crimp. The edition features the critic and activist’s searing “How to Have Promiscuity in an Epidemic,” a polemic against cultural products like Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On, 1987, and Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, 1987; celebrated pieces of pop culture that reinforced internalized homophobia by depicting the AIDS epidemic as a cautionary tale about the consequences of a so-called hedonism. Three days after Crimp’s death in the summer of 2019, Bassichis wrote in the blank space just below Crimp’s decades-old words of thanks to Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP for their assistance in creating the issue:

TO DO 7/8/19

-KEEP LEARNING FROM DOUGLAS

One of Crimp’s lessons:

Our promiscuity taught us many things, not only about the pleasures of sex, but about

the great multiplicity of those pleasures. It is that psychic preparation, that

experimentation, that conscious work on our own sexualities, that has allowed us to

change our sexual behaviors … they insist that our promiscuity will destroy us when in

fact it is our promiscuity that will save us.

Tall order—particularly in the midst of a reactivated culture war where libertarianism and liberation keep getting confused—and a testament to the trauma of stigmatization that remains firmly knotted in the DNA of queer community. In San Francisco, Bassichis self-flagellates: “Don’t get kicked out of the Russian bath you disgusting sex addict.” In Germany, during the 2017 anti-G20 demonstrations, they do their part: “Reward the Hamburg protesters sexually.” And, post–Fire Island travail, they self-affirm: “Reclaim sex addiction!” Bassichis takes up Crimp’s call in a sensual albeit goofy litany that spreads itself over these very odd years.

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