5/23/20: Call it a Metaphysical Laziness

For a long time I thought the index finger of my right hand was crooked. When I held it out straight as I could, it curved noticeably to the right. I told myself this was because of a certain ritual that I had when I was little, one of my first compulsions.

I don’t remember the specifics fear that forced it into a compulsion, but it involved crossing my fingers and touching, first myself, and then certain things in a certain order: door frames, door knobs, and most of all the AC vents in my mom’s jeep. I can’t remember what I was afraid of, but I do know the purpose was to gather this fear’s potential energy from my person and dispel it: let it run out of the crossed tips of my fingers into these external objects, the same way a lightning rod routes the wild electricity down into the ground to dissipate.

(This concept of bad energy recurred much later in more recent compulsions too. In my modern mode of making Corrections I still felt that, when I was correcting, I had to be standing in such a way that I wasn’t touching anything with any part of my body, other than the ground, because if I was touching something else some energy could be transferred into it instead of properly dispelled through the proper correction; and maybe also that to be in the proper “state” to correct something, I had to be unfocused on any other task or thing; and the act of merely touching something unrelated to the correction was enough to compromise that state and render the attempt at correction invalid.

You can see that concepts not only recur, but can also be repurposed; when I was young I wanted that energy to be ‘held’ inside of objects; when I was older I was afraid of that same concept, so the energy had to be loosed into the air.)

The way my fingers cross, the middle finger presses against the first joint of the pointer; I could envision the warping that would occur as that pressure was consistently applied for days, weeks, months – how long did this crossing fingers phase last? Unknown – in obeisance to what was the first of many compulsions.

But it occurs to me now that it’s not true. All my fingers are curved, and the right index not much more than the left. I also realize I’d actually known this for years, but, on the surface of my mind, chose to believe that I had a crooked hand from my constant finger crossing 19 years ago.

It was a petty play to satisfy a lifelong desire for scars, for some external mark to commemorate internal struggles. Most of my compulsions were internal, unshowy; they weren’t things that others would necessarily notice (the crossed fingers being an obvious exception, actually). Engaging with our or others’ suffering is ugly, onerous, boring, hurtful, utterly draining, endlessly vexing. But considering suffering from a distance we inevitably see a poetry in it, a beauty that we ascribe to some inherent kinship between pain and eternity. So along with any suffering comes the petty wish to convey this suffering to others poetically and easily, so that they might see in us what we see in our own suffering after the fact: thus I wanted some physical relic of what I had gone through and was still going through, albeit in a different form.

Another early manifestation: I went through a phase of washing my hands a lot. A classic compulsion. I wanted all the things I treasured most – and at that age that meant my game systems and accessories – to be as clean as could be, which meant that I had to wash my hands before touching them. My friends, when they came over, had to wash their hands too if they wanted to use my controllers, and they couldn’t eat while using them because I abhorred the idea of grease and oil settling on things ineradicably.

These were two early instances of a condition that became as daily as breathing for me. At the time, I didn’t make conscious connections between these two compulsions, but I must’ve recognized what was happening, if only obliquely, the same way we’re surprised by an afternoon thunderstorm and then realize on some level we’d been attuned to the darkening sky for hours ahead of it.

I’ve noticed this tendency in myself to call things inevitable, and let them approach me instead of taking any active countermeasures to avoid them. Even later, once I had fully entered into OCD, I could feel the pieces of a new presiding fear and its relevant compulsions being drawn up, but would convince myself I didn’t sense anything at all; and then, when I wasn’t spared from the fear and its mandates, I could at least expiate myself of any sense of guilt for not actively working to avoid it because, again, I didn’t see it coming. I’ve always been afraid of conflict, even internal conflict. Call it a metaphysical laziness.

It’s laziness in reaction to complications that come down like a work order. I get exasperated with the mind’s refusal to be all of a piece, to be integral. It can believe deeply both in its fears and in the irrationality of those fears; because it occupies so many levels of reality at once it can turn both things into equal gospels. So you labor under this mulifurcation, moving through mundane reality but burdened by your absurd internal universe and its complicated metaphysics, an architecture of consequence built in and around your every action in the external world; an architecture more delicate than sugarglass that says, if it’s disturbed, it will shatter down around you, and on you, and make your fear comes true, and redirect all the godlike energy of the universe solely to inflict that one specific, personal grief on you…

5/22/20: Potentialities

Sometimes, with certain people – people I meet in passing, sometimes, but also those I know in realer ways – I get this sensation of an unrealized potential story between them and me, some possibility, some potential for friendship or the beginning of lust or love, some particular intimacy that, for secret and complicated reasons, never comes into being, withering away into the realm of discarded possibilities like a branch of smoke slowly twisting to invisibility in the breezy sky.

When I went to the House on the Rock for the first time, the girl who was behind the ticket counter asked for my ID. I handed her my driver’s license. She held it almost in her lap and looked at it. She sat in a wheelchair. She had dark brown hair, a little shorter than shoulder length, brown eyes – large eyes – pale skin, with features that were pronounced in an elegant, almost classical way.

“Ohio, huh,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“That’s a long way from here.”

I laughed a non-connotative social chuckle: purely functional, not derived from any mirth. “Yep that’s true.”

She printed my ticket, gave it to me, and I went away to wait for my friend to get his. But I felt then, and still feel now when I think about it, that there was some sort of subvocal invitation floating between us after she said “That’s a long way from here.” An invitation or initiation, and if I had just said something that was inflected at all with my personality, the outermost wall of intimacy would’ve been broken down, and a story would’ve begun.

(Or also, obviously, maybe not: but such is the nature of these premonitions that they can’t be followed up upon, only speculated about after they’ve fossilized outside of the realm of possibility.)

When I was working at Best Buy in Boulder, we’d often have to call another store in the area to see if they had a product a customer was looking for. The store I called most often was the Longmont location, and the person I spoke to most often was a customer representative there named K. Because I was usually still standing with the customer when I talked to her, I kept my tone on phone light and bantering, the same benign and playful tone we employees always used when addressing each other around customers, a kind of performative jocular patter.

I spoke to K like this so many times that eventually we remembered each other’s names, and even had very brief, non-work-related exchanges. Around Christmas she even wished me a Merry Christmas.

I went to the Longmont store a few times, and always wondered if I should look for K, and maybe turn these fragments of interaction into something more permanent, like a flirtation. But I never did and, as far as I know, never even saw her in the store.

I had a coworker once: a friend, she had a partner, but there was an obvious attraction between us. Our flirtations were a known artifact of the store’s culture, a perennial subject of lighthearted well-meaning gossip.

Eventually it got to the point where if we got off at the same time I’d walk home with her since we both lived in the same direction. I’d sling my backpack over the handle of her bike and push it along as we walked.

We usually worked ad set on Sundays, which meant we left at noon. One Sunday, she invited me up to her apartment for a beer when we got to her place. I said sure.

When we entered her apartment, her boyfriend was home. He was wearing athletic shorts and a green tank top, sitting on their napped brown sofa with his feet on a low glass coffee table. He had rubber slip-on sandals on and was playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The table’s glass surface was cloudy, smeared. There was a bong and a half-empty bottle of Powerade by his feet.

“Hey!” she said to him, brightly and quickly, reacting to her surprise with normalcy.

“Hey,” he said, looking at us glumly over his shoulder.

She introduced me. “He works in computers. This is my boyfriend M.”

“Hey man,” I said.

He waved and said “Hey” again, then turned back and unpaused his game.

“I told him I’d give him a few beers,” she said to M. I walked over and stood behind the couch while she went to the fridge. I watched M play San Andreas and offered up a fewe scraps of lighthearted commentary. He was driving around a monster truck, customized all green. I told him I thought it looked cool with the green paint job.

“Yeah, it’s my favorite color,” he explained and we both laughed for . She came back over with a couple of beers she’d pulled from the fridge. I took them and then walked to the door. She walked close behind me like I was being escorted from the premises for some infraction.

“Well, thanks again,” I said. “Nothing wrong with a Sunday afternoon beer, right?”

“Right!” she said, laughing weakly at this non-joke. I left and walked the rest of the way home, the two beers – Left Hand Milk Stouts – sweating one in each hand.

She sent me a text later that day:

I just want you to know that I love my M and nothing is going to change that, but if we had met at a different time, well, things could’ve been interesting…

Sometime later, also with her: there was the last time we walked home together. I was moving in a couple of days and this was the last shift we had together. As usual we took the sidewalk up 30th and I was walking her bike along. It was an early summer evening, with the heat from the unmitgated sunshine still in the air but sensibly dissipating. The early moon in the mild blue sky looked cool to the touch, like a stone lifted out of a riverbed.

We got to her apartment complex and stood in the parking lot, talking. It was the kind of circumspect but electric talking that both parties know is walking around the outskirts of something significant, seductive, maybe dangerous or ill-advised. I was still holding onto her bike. A car pulled in and we watched in park at the other end of the lot. A little breeze kicked up, coolish, and the trees nearby moved in it. Our talk stopped as if carried off by the breeze along with a few weak leaves.

“Well, aren’t you going to kiss me?” she asked quietly.

“I don’t know,” I said.

5/21/20: A Trip by Train

There’s an ugliness to be found in specific places. Ohio’s always been ugly to me. This ugliness feels unassailably objective to me. But I know there are people who think Ohio’s beautiful, or even just fine; and I don’t know if they’re wrong, or if I’m wrong, or if neither of us is wrong and the only way we can code places, which have no inherent metaphysics, is through these subjective reactions, which are really just manifestations of our self into what feels like an exterior thing but is, in fact, just another thing inside of us (the idea of a place).

But I’m fixated on this ugliness that is so emblematic to me of the desiccated wastes of middle America. The utter blandness, the profound forgettableness of places like Streetsboro:  I can’t get over it, I’ll never forget it. I’ve seen some of the singular cities of the world, been to Paris, Florence, London, Krakow. I recognized them as beautiful and made obeisance in my heart and memory. But as much as I love and long for those places again, none are the immediate fixation that these ugly blighted unhoping towns of America are.

We took a night train from Paris to Florence. It would take all night to get there. I’m not one of those people who can easily sleep anywhere: couches, chairs, planes, trains, cars; it’s hard for me to apply anything more than the most superficial glaze of sleep to my mind these situations, no matter how tired I am – and there, in Paris, I was tired. We’d spent 1.5 days and a night in that city: wandering mostly from thing to thing, not lingering, walking and gawking a lot because we were worried about making our money last.

When we got into Paris the day before, it was already in the middle of the afternoon. We rushed to the Louvre and then, because we only had an hour or so before closing, rushed through it, blasting our eyes with centuries of art: a maelstrom of Crucifixions, so many elegaic Marys, whole cloudbanks of plump white Renaissance flesh. Our feet echoed on the parquet floors and there was light coming through the many, many windows.

Saw the Mona Lisa: a small painting hung on a freestanding wall standing in the middle of a larger room that was hung with other paintings: these were inevitably ignored for the drab little Gioconda in the center. Even late in the day there was a crowd of people: an employee drifted through the crowd holding up a sign that said, in English: “Watch Out For Pickpockets.” I kept tapping my back pocket to make sure my wallet was there.

We found time, too, to go Shakespeare & Company. I bought a copy of The Unquiet Grave there and had the clerk, a French-speaking American girl, stamp the interior with a seal that showed where I got it from.

“Vous êtes ouverts jusqu’a quelle heure?” I asked her, with weak obscure fantasies in my head. Her response was too fast for my slow ear to parse.

The last thing we did that night was go to the Eiffel Tower. I’d seen it at various points throughout the afternoon: I’d look up and there it would be, standing mundanely on the horizon, in a notch between buildings. Up close it looked straddle-legged, like a woman squatting and holding up her trusswork skirt. There were people everywhere in the plaza. A vendor nearby was selling these toys that shot off a light up spinning disk straight up into the air; people were buying these and firing them up into the struts of the toward: little disks in varicolors, wobbling, floating, falling down far away from where they were fired and immediately forgotten.

Next night, on the train, I wasn’t thinking about these things. I was trying studiously to read – not The Unquiet Grave, but The Mauritius Command. Q was next to me in his seat, alternately reading and writing. Eventually, he fell asleep.

Across from us in the cabin there was an old man with a long, dirty beard, and long chitinous yellow fingernails, and a green American-style military jacket. He looked permanently vagabond. His skin was sallow, his cheeks were hollows. He smelled like stale tobacco, coughed like a smoker. From the moment he sat down he stared out the window, moving only when he had to cough.

Sometimes I would look up from my book and out the window. I couldn’t see anything other than vague shadows on darker shadows, but all obscured by my own shadowed reflection from the reading light I had on. Eventually, I turned the light off. Then, those outside shadows resolved softly into an almost-landscape, in which different textures of darkness could be discerned and guessed at: trees, hills, buildings of bucolic obscurity. Before, it felt like I was taking a gigantic tunnel between Paris and Florence, or that the train had a cloth cover thrown around it, as if the process of transitioning between these two places was an act of magic I wasn’t allowed to see the mechanics of; now I felt a sensation of passage, of movement through physical space, passing through nameless countryside that had only been walked on by people I couldn’t even imagine.

At some point I must’ve dozed. I woke up when the train stopped at a small station. It was still in the small hours of the night. An electric light from outside managed to extend just a finger into our cabin; the thin band of light lay across the old man’s face like a daub of warpaint. His left eye was caught in the light: it was blue, cloudy with glaucoma; it looked huge in the light and didn’t blink. It stared out the window. But eventually, as if he had thought about whether he should or not, the old man got up and went out onto the platform. I thought to smoke maybe, but he didn’t come back.

5/20/20: A Note on Sleep and a Note on Love

**This post spoils some things about Anna Karenina‘s plot**

Today I dozed for a while while reading The Man Without Talent. It was the weirdest period of sleep I’ve had in recent memory. It was a total void. People talk about heavy or light sleep but this felt different: like I clipped through the geometry of myself into some sort of exterior void outside of reality’s programming. I wasn’t aware that I was sleeping, not even in that low broad unblinking level of consciousness that doesn’t sleep and constantly reminds us we’re alive.

There was no blackness; it was without color, substance, mental texture. The only way I knew it existed was that I woke up and realized I had been somewhere. It existed only as this chronological gap that I was aware of when I woke up, a lacuna; there was this sensation of recovery, of the senses rushing in to be shocked at something that had happened too quickly and completely for even their godlike instantaneousness. My brain felt like it was recovering from a lover’s unexpected slap.

I don’t know exactly how long it lasted. Not long. But it was one of those sleeps that isn’t restorative at all, that somehow feels draining, like you left something vital for the day behind in it – although in this case there was no it to speak of.


I finished Anna Karenina last night. There’s a quote that circulates from Nabokov in which he calls it “one of the greatest love stories in world literature.” I don’t know the context of this quote; I assume it’s from Lectures on Russian Literature but I don’t have a copy of that book to confirm. Maybe don’t have that much Nabokov in your library. I think he’s an insufferable snob. My favorite literary own of all time is the way David Markson describes Nabokov’s style as “pinchbeck” in the Reader’s Block tetralogy.

Nabokov is one of those insufferable mid-century gamesmen, but let’s assume he’s not, in this case, being ironic or precious and really does consider Anna Karenina a love story, in the traditional sense of that term.

This assumption will give me a chance to countermand Nabokov because Anna Karenina is emphatically not a love story in the traditional meaning of the term. It is, however, a book about love. There are two types/depths/breeds of love explored in the novel: that between Levin and Kitty, and that between Anna and Vronsky. One of these, at least according to the book’s internal metaphysics, is actually love. To this end there is one of the more interesting structural elements of the book: the Levin/Kitty side sees the climax – their getting engaged and married – happen well before the novel’s end, so that most of what you see is these two young people living in the honesty agony of loving another human being.

Because the process of being love is different than the process of loving someone. Being in love is a selfish phase, an act where we respond to an artifact inside of us that is made in honor of or in response to somebody else, but isn’t. This is the sexy, easy side of love, the marketable side; it’s commercial and catchy.

But to love someone is to enter into a deadly serious commitment, and to move away from all that easy joy. Real connections to other people we make only through a sort of violence, because we’re forcing down barriers within ourselves that are rooted in the center of who we are, in our very pith. Love ceases to be an emotion we feel for a doll and becomes another country we leave our homes for, or an entire planet with its own gravity, weather, and tides.

And it’s a hostile environment, an odyssey from which there is no return. Love is an ocean, and there is no shore. It ends only because the author dies, not because the book is finished. It takes bravery and abasement to love with any honesty. And love is as demanding as consumption; to give anything less than every wringable ounce of what it asks is to give nothing at all, and to fail entirely.

And because love is its own world with its own rules, it moves away from delivering any of the things we have been told we should promise ourselves in this world: happiness, pleasure, etc. Those things may come in the course of life, from the person we love, but they come from outside of the love in some way, because like us the person we love has to live both in this reality and in the other reality of love.

The only reason to love is the same reason to engage with art. It’s the only way to make a real connection. And, in the desert loneliness and desperation of existence, that is more than enough reason.

(This was the same copy of Anna Karenina, by the way, that you read when we lived in Boulder. Every time I saw it since then I thought that someday I’d read it, and it would be like some kind of strange penance, an oblique way of moving towards you again. But, actually, I didn’t think of you at all while I was reading it. In fact, while I was reading Anna Karenina was the only time I wasn’t thinking of you. The reality of the book was such that I was immersed in it, rather than my own reality. In my reality there’s some way, maybe a weakness of mine or maybe simply some integral truth, that makes it hard for me to define myself to myself without reference to you. When I was reading I wasn’t thinking of myself, and thus I wasn’t thinking of you. But I thought of you again whenever I closed the book.)

5/19/20: Rules, Hook, an Island

My OCD is a metropolis of order. The strictures I’ve imposed upon myself are ranked according to power and authority, like angels. An individual stricture’s power isn’t derived from its posited consequence, because the consequence of lesser and greater strictures are usually the same: whatever my overriding fear is at that time. The strictures’ power comes from the severity of the punishment that comes when they’re broken.

The basic system here is this: when a stricture of any sort is broken, the usual compulsion is to perform a Correction. What the correction is differs depending on the stricture broken. For instance, if a stricture says that I can’t think certain thoughts, and I do think those thoughts, then I have to think certain counter-thoughts to correct them. If I say certain things that I’m not allowed to say, I have to say other things to balance out the infraction. And so on.

Say that I break a stricture, but go a day or two resisting the drive to correct it. In these cases, if I’m unsuccessful in my resistance, there’s the original correction to do, but also lots of sub-corrections for things I’ve done of a certain permanence in the violated interim. That “certain permanence” general means anything less transient than (most) spoken words; anything that remains to some degree: writing emails, sending texts, buying things. So then in the process of correction the sub-corrections I’ll delete the emails and texts, return the things I bought. In some phases of a certain severity I would have to reread anything that I read in the interim again, after all the other corrections were in place, to correct those read words as well.

It’s hard to remember all these interim things that need correction after the original thing is corrected. Sometimes I’ll only realize days later that I forgot to correct some certain thing that I did after the initial violation. So a period of violation lasting maybe a day or two might could take a week or more to fully correct. And obviously anything meeting that criterion of permanence that I do before I remember that something that I forgot to correct from that original interim, also needs to be corrected in its own sub-interim.

Sometimes, with a lesser stricture, I can eventually process a violation without going back to correct. But I have to process the infraction slowly, like a snake swallowing some cumbersome dead thing much bigger than itself.

And sometimes, I can argue myself into believing that what I originally perceived was a violation of this or that stricture is not, in fact, a violation at all. Violations can be ‘tried,’, proven or disproven in a little interior court. This isn’t as much of a victory as it sounds like, because the original stricture is still in place and its strength still believed in.

And sometimes, for whatever reason or extenuating circumstance (if for example there’s literally no way I could correct it or perform any sort of reasonable approximation of a correction), a particular violation in a particular point in time won’t have its normal authority, and it can be ignored. One good sometimes side effect of traveling, for instance, is that since I’m not in a place long enough to develop an architecture of (self-)control there, I can usually ignore more than I can at home.

But in general, the punishments come sweeping in for any violation. There are two different aspects of the punishment to consider: first, there’s the imagined punishment, what I fear will happen if I let the violation go uncorrected: for instance dying in a tornado.

And more immediately, there’s the neurological punishment, which is immediate, visceral, and real. Various intensities aside, it is essentially an injection of anxiety into the system. Anybody with anxiety knows the different textures and affinities that it can have, and naturally the anxiety from lesser infractions is less intense: the rib cage playing high notes like a harp, a hotbrained few minutes of irrational panic. They pass quicker, although they can recur until a correction is made or the infraction is otherwise disposed of.

For the biggest violations there’s a hook: big and glistening black, it gets lowered invisibly down right into the center of my skull, where its barb sinks into the brainmeat without resistance, like a hand parting a bead curtain. All the thoughts and energies of my brain roll down to the point where the puncture is, and can’t focus on anything other than the word VIOLATION being mouthed liplessly by the wound.

Anything other than the most mindless tasks are too steep. So I ferret through inconsequences: browses my phone aimlessly, watch TV, consider the unwalkable geography of the ceiling or the back of my hand. The gap between conceiving of and doing anything seems impossibly vast.

And it occurs to me now that the leitmotif of these states, big or small, is always the same: a conviction of islandic aloneness. Not loneliness, but aloneness, a profound insularity, a permanent unrelation to all other people and things. Thus final tragedy in any interior affliction isn’t the pain it causes, but the way it proves that there are always going to be distances between us and others.

5/18/20: Anger

Another walk today, a short one. It was that particularly off-putting kind of day where the sky is leaden, gray, louring, cold-looking, but it’s humid out and warm. If you’re at the right level of sensitivity, this meteorological contradiction grates at the base of your mind the entire time you’re out in it.

(It’s easy to talk about the weather, because it has no character or philosophy and offers no opposition. You can ascribe any qualities to it that you want, without any possibility of refutation. But I think also that the weather is the most obvious thing when you look in any particular direction around here. Like, these suburbs of suburbs that I’ve lived in for so long are so characterless, so utterly mundane and unworthy, that the bland eternal changeability of the sky is a more compelling character than the vinyl-sided houses, the music coming down from loudspeakers in stripmall parking lots, the stinking dogwood trees…)

My friends and I talk through text, I meet up with some of them remotely for games, I play Go online with the Cleveland club members. But these are poor substitutes in two ways: there’s the obvious difference between actual and digital contact; but also all these simulacra fail to appease my hunger for normalcy. Again, the defining sensation of the pandemic is this ravagesome longing to go back to the way things were; it comes to me more acutely and wearing more colors than the fear or the boredom. So when I talk with friends over Zoom or play a rival online, there’s this twofold awareness of inadequacy, and it makes me bitter and angry.

And like any major shift in the paradigm, COVID 19 is exerting strange influence on everyone’s personalities. Its tampering with our tides. I’m seeing sides of people I haven’t seen before, maybe that didn’t exist before, both for better and for worse. And the logic between one mood and the next is less obvious: people seem to get angry easier, to fight more frequently. Maybe this will pass. Maybe we’re still at the mercy of the newness and shock, and still don’t know how well we’re holding up, and don’t really know how anybody else is holding up either, and that introduces multiple additional unknowns into any social interaction, so that whether we’ll end up closer with someone or further away again from them at the end of an exchange is more uncertain than it was before.

Out walking today I agreed to see my dad, since I’d be in his neighborhood. We stood in the driveway six feet apart and talked for a bit. It was the first time we’d seen each other in person since the beginning of March. His hair was longer than I’d ever seen it – or at least it felt that way, but it could’ve been the novelty of seeing him again that made my mind overpronounce minor differences from my last mental snapshot of him.

He was talking about moving. He said he wanted to move to South Carolina. It was something he’d been thinking about for years, talking about for years, but never seriously, and now it seemed like it was serious. Even in better times, much of what we ‘know’ about a person is static assumption, so that when they do something unexpected sometimes it feels, just for a second, like a personal insult, or as bitter as a farewell, as we readjust perceptions we haven’t fundamentally altered in years.

We walked for a bit together (still six feet apart). Closer to the bottom of the street, before it curved away, I turned at an intersection and walked away home. He was wearing gym shorts that were blue and shimmered like fish scales in the feeble light. I dressed for the way the weather looked, not the way it was, and was feeling hot and choked under my hoodie.

On the way home and all afternoon I felt stupid. Stupid for a bitter exchange I had with a friend the night before; stupid for being even momentarily vexed at my dad for doing something my rusticating definitions of his character didn’t account for. Parents we particularly don’t reappraise as often as we should, maybe.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Gass’s sentiment that writing, for him, was an act of revenge. Is there any creative act that doesn’t originate in fury? There’s joy in the creative act, but that joy is generated internally, it doesn’t inspire the act itself. Lots of people make stuff in joy, but does that does that kind of creation make anything real? Does art come from any other place than a savage discontent?

There’s also something purgative in art as revenge. It burns impurities away that would otherwise build up in us. There have been so many times where, in a situation with someone I like or love, I’ve gotten angry, or been bitter, snarky, said something that embarrassed me afterward; I’ve taken hard stances against good people because I was mad at myself for not being strong enough to take them against the forces that really needed to be resisted. And I didn’t know I was doing this at the time, because the anger flowed out so easily. When ignored, anger obeys a gravity, moving down from more difficult to less difficult expressions, the same way water is always moving towards the center of the earth.

5/17/20: A Fisherman

The first time I went fishing was with my dad, when I was young. It was a Saturday and he came into my room in the mid-morning to see if I wanted to go fishing with him.

My dad was not a fisherman. He liked to golf, and mow the lawn, and stand in the driveway calling loudly across the street to neighbors in their driveway. Later in his life he would get up at absurd morning hours to play blistering games of racquetball. He would come home, sometimes, with purple welts on his legs from the ball. He golfed. But he never went fishing.

I wasn’t interested in fishing either, but I understood what he was doing and agreed. I would’ve agreed to anything he asked, because whatever he asked was never like a question to me, but a mandate, a debtor come to call. Our obvious fundamental differences from one another gave him an oppressive authority over me, and I was too cowardly, undefined, and unassertive to question this authority in any outward-facing part of my personality.

We went to a big store and under its flat florescent lighting bought cheap poles and brightly-colored bait for the fishes. We couldn’t use worms because I was too squeamish to touch them at all, let alone press them, living, down and around a metal barb.

We went up to a nearby park and found out that we needed a permit to fish in the pond there, so we went and bought day permits and came back. We fished in a small pond adjacent to the large man-made lake and caught nothing. I watched the hordes of geese on the lawns. They came every summer and marched across the sidewalk, fouling up long stretches of it with green-white birdshit.

In the early days of middle school a friend invited me to his house. We looked different from one another. I was fat, with a bowl cut, ineradicably apple-cheeked. He was that rangy, skeletal kind of kid you always see in Mid-western suburbs, the kind of kid that always seems to always be wearing a white t-shirt. We bonded over a shared sense of humor. He would take pictures of his shits and show them to me on his phone. He used to peel scraps of vinyl off the front of his binders at school, and poke a bunch of holes in the scrap with a pen. Then he would take this perforated scrap of vinyl and play-scratch you with it. He called these things ‘rasps.’ We used to make “Monster Books” together; these were pieces of notebook paper with drawings of aberrant little creatures on them, in rows of three; nine creatures per side. We’d fold these up and pass them to each other between class.

It was a hot summer day when I went to his house. His house was a small nondescript ranch home with gray carpet and off-white walls inside. Outside, his back lawn sloped down to a lake, which many other backyards in the neighborhood also backed up against. We went down with poles he had in his garage and fished.

He caught one, a bluegill. He pulled it up out of the water, and it hung at the end of his line. It was spiny and glittered like some glaive-like weapon in a sci-fi novel that you flung bolo-like to cut through hundreds of enemies at once. I wouldn’t touch it because he told me the fins were sharp and could cut you. But he took it into his hand with the ease of much practice and threw it back into the lake.

When I was older and living in a different state, I went fishing with someone I didn’t know very well. He was from Iceland, and married, short and strong and stringy. I don’t remember where or how we met, but I remember being desperately attracted to his wife, the kind of attraction that is shameless in its despair. I was always hoping that some circumstance would leave us two alone together, without him around. One time they invited me over and we all got roaringly drunk. I sat on their porch in a folding lawn chair with her, and he was inside. She and I were smoking Camel Crushes. For some reason I was fixated on articulating some idea I had about King Lear to her.

He couldn’t work in the U.S. and she was a student, so he stayed home with their son during the day. He thought of me as his bachelor buddy, a sort of one-man escape from this domestic life. His presiding obsession was fly fishing, and he insisted I come with him one hot day.

We went first to a lake he had found out about online. When we got there, we found that the lake had dried up in the withering summer to a small pool in the center of the dry, cracked expanse of the lake bed.

To his eye it still looked fishable, so we decided to walk out to the little, since we were here already. When we got about of a third of the way across the lake bed, the ground beneath our feet became spongy and wet; then suddenly we sank into the stinking, clayey bed up to our waists.

We tried to go back. We had to scoop slopping handfuls of muck out from in front of us so we could lift our legs high enough to step forward. Each time we put our feet down they plunged with a sucking sound back into lukewarm sludge. We struggled like that back to firmer ground; our jeans and shoes were a uniform off-white color once we pushed off the outer layers of filth.

We went to a second lake. Here, my Icelandic friend insisted we do some tobacco chew, something he wasn’t allowed to do around his kid. It was the kind that comes in a little bag that you lodge up in your gums. I put one into my mouth. It tasted strong and the upper layers of my brain became pleasantly ruffled with a nicotine buzz. He had brought a pole for me but I kept getting my line caught on things. So instead I listened to my friend talk about the finer details of fly fishing as he whipped the line back and forth. I nodded and listened in the absurd heat, caked in lake mud, growing slowly nauseous.