5/28/20: On Pictures

For some reason I feel like it’s always the 28th when I write these posts. The specific month hardly matters; it’s like each 28th follows the previous one rather than the actual 27th that come before, the way that John Crowley posits Christmases do.

I don’t like to have my picture taken. I never have, although the aversion didn’t manifest into any kind of rigorous praxis until I was in high school. That’s when I began studiously to avoid having my picture taken, except for in a few handfuls of specific circumstances. I didn’t even have any senior pictures taken. And that same refusal I also transmuted into a refusal to take pictures, in general, of anything: of places I visited, things I did.

It doesn’t come from a queasiness about how I look. I don’t really know how I look. Maybe I’m ugly. Maybe I’m so uniquely ugly that the ugliness wraps around again and becomes a kind of attractiveness in itself. People I’ve been attracted to’ve found me attractive, and that’s enough for me. I try not to think about it more than that and mostly succeed.

But I don’t like the way I look in pictures. There’s always this burden of incorrectness in me in them. I’m never in a normal pose. The light always catches me bad. Pictures bring out the worse in my face and body. In particular I dislike the goofy looseness of my smile – something I eventually realized I inherited directly from my dad; in his otherwise very different face it looks endearing, maybe roguish and charming even; but it looks inadequate in my own.

But, whether it started out entirely from vanity (and I think it did), the aversion to photography has developed other facets. I think pictures, of anything, fundamentally lie. Whatever they’re of, it isn’t the thing itself, not as I experienced it, but some approximation of that person, place, or thing from a distance and through a medium that are not mine and not me, and thus have nothing to do with me and my experience, even if I was the one taking it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that fact, but it bothers me. And it might especially bother me in terms of pictures I like. Because in their falsity pictures invite idealization. They are such perfect receptacles for fantasies, and like all fantasies they distance us from reality, making us hate it for not being as good and simple as the things we make inside our heads.

I had, briefly, a bad habit lately. I was using Google Maps to take digital walks around obscure Tokyo suburbs, little snoozy, gently run-down neighborhoods outside of the city itself.

Not a cataclysmic vice, but an empty one. It only made me hungrier for real things. Simply put, what I was engaging with, what I was seeing, was not that actual place, but a dream of a place, an ideal. And ideals are so much less, and so much better, than reality, and that’s a poisonous set of characteristics. It creates distance. Every time I engage with a fantasy of a place I’m removing myself further from the reality of that place.

This applies to pictures of people too. We’ve all seen a picture of somebody, and then later met them, and been shocked at how different they are in reality; I don’t mean to say they look better or worse, just markedly different. Can you look at a picture, of anybody, even somebody dead or that you’ll never meet, and not immediately start ascribing a personality, a story to them?

But I understand for lots of people these avenues in to fantasies are not the point of pictures, and certainly not the point of personal photos. They’re artifacts of  remembrance, not the actual memory or impression itself. Seeing a picture you took will generate the truer, internal picture you have stored in your memory, but that isn’t always easy to reach, acting in this case as a kind of Dewey decimal number for the Internal Archivist, so they can pull the pertinent volumes down from the deep stacks.

So maybe I’m losing something, by not taking or having pictures. There are definite clues to a self-caused ruin in my life.  I don’t remember much about who I was or what I did before, say, 2008, when I had an ‘adult’ brain capable of retaining and navigating longer stretches of the past.

My childhood, especially, is nothing more than a handful of memories – sense impressions, really, little snatches of time: riding with my dad to the hospital the day my sister was born; coming home from school sick and laying with my cheek on the carpet, staring at the stubby foot of the ottoman in front of me; the day I fell off my scooter in the garage and knocked the my wind out, lay gasping, calmly considering the panic that was building in my chest as I struggled to reset my breathing. don’t remember birthdays, or most of my teachers, or what my friends looked like, what we did; even more recent things like my room in high school are starting to fade and distort, and when I think of the first house we lived in when we moved to Ohio – the big house, before the divorce – it seems impossible that I ever lived in such a place, with its two-story living room and the wet wooded autumnal acreage in the backyard.

5/27/20: A Big Black Bug

I don’t go to sleep easily, but it’s very easy for me to zone out. Really all it takes is a persistent background noise, something low and insistent and monotonous, and my brain starts moving in unison with the susurrant loop, and whole tens of minutes go by as I stare blankly at something, registering nothing, thinking about nothing, aware of nothing except the sub-conscious rhythm of my mind futilely fingering oblivion like its a bolt of cloth it’s considering buying.

This happens a lot in the shower. I can easily lose 30, 40 minutes of time in the textured sound of falling water. Especially now, when there isn’t anywhere to go, not enough work that I’m willing to do, and nothing to get back to except the constant anxious thrum of life in a pandemic.

(That anxious thrum by the way is now so familiar that it’s almost possible to forget about it; which feels worse than the more active fear of earlier months on some level.)

Today I was in the shower, in a low trance, when I looked over the curtain after catching an impression of movement in the space between my eye and ear: a sort of fuzzy drone, neither sight nor sound. I saw that against the ceiling there was a big bug, some kind of winged insect. The bathroom was steamy, and I wasn’t wearing my glasses, but it didn’t look like any bug I’d ever seen before. It looked like two hornets sewn together, end to end, with a point on either extremity. It was all black, about the length of a AAA battery. Its wings moved so fast they only registered as a circumference of haze haloing the bug’s body. That body was long and segmented, with a major joint in its middle, so that one half was crooked down, like a hag’s finger.

Something was wrong with it. It was moving hectically. It kept buzzing up and colliding with the ceiling, and then dropping, and then darting in a random direction and colliding with the ceiling again. I willed it to go away, to stay somewhere I could watch it and finish my shower. Bugs fill me with dread because they’re too small to control. They look horrible, but that’s not their most excruciating quality. I wouldn’t mind their nightmare forms if they were easy to manage, easy to keep track of, to corral or repel. But it came towards me, feverishly flew over the shower curtain. It hit the ceiling again and, dropping down again, flew under the shower head and was brought violently down on the ledge of the tub by the running water.

On its side, and closer to me now, it still looked inchoate and abnormal, still like two bugs fused together, or struggling in some sort of martial embrace or mating dance. It kicked and turned by my shampoo bottle. It spun in place, describing little half circles, and the dropped part of its body quivered.

I took the showerhead down on its ribbed tube and pointed it at the bug. The spray pushed it up against the corner where the tub met the wall, and then the bug slid down and forward into the tub itself. It sluiced quickly to the drain. It was just big enough to catch on the lip of the drain lid, so I applied the water directly again, until it went down the drain completely. I kept the showerhead pointed at the spot for a few more seconds, in case it should try to come up again.

I don’t like to kill things, but I didn’t agonize over what I did. Guilt is not what I felt, but I did feel, briefly, something. I can’t say what kind of life is in insects; it can be hard to move towards the life in other human beings even, and an insect’s life force is much more remote than even that. But there was some kind of life there, an unrepeatable fragment of vitality, and I felt something, watching the drain and wondering if the bug would crawl back out, angry, and fly at me with whatever stingers or pincers it had. Briefly I thought about what it was going through: was it dead already, or was it lodged in the pipe, confused, blinded maybe, or maybe it was injured: did the heavy water ruin permanently the onion skin of its wings, the only beautiful thing on its body? Do bugs fight against inevitable death, or do they recognize and move into it docilely, like an audience being called back to its seats after intermission? Is there some grief at the final severance, or just some last insectoid calculations, a final balancing of the books? What I’m asking is, is the death of something so small and so different a tragedy, or a procedure?

But there was no permanence to these thoughts. They didn’t stick in my head. It was just a second or two before I reentered the standard environment of human anxiety, and all the day’s worries and persistent anxieties rushed back in, the way the sound of the engine refills the car as soon as the window is closed.

Because there’s this kind of selective, obliterating discontinuity to the mind. It transitions so quickly out of certain thoughts, certain moods – even as others drag on, unstoppable, for hours, days, months, years. There was just a flash of poignancy for me after killing that bug, a brief phase where it didn’t seem ridiculous or maudlin to consider the nature of its life, the horror and mutilation I’d inflicted upon it mainly because I was naked and vulnerable and didn’t want it touching me.

But the poignancy was chased down some interior drain of its own, and I won’t remember any of this tomorrow, or maybe even later tonight when I stare trancelike at the ridges and whorls of the ceiling with the TV on low, whispering white noise soothingly. The mind is so miserly with permanence, it pushes so much out into the long washes of time, the endless, obfuscating, obliterating white noise of the past.

5/26/20: Fish Fry

One time we decided to have a fish fry in the woods. Because we were young, we didn’t go far: just walked up the street, into a small patch of woods adjacent to K’s neighborhood. But it was dark by the time we left, and we wanted to go as deep as we could into the little woods, so that the lights and noise of the neighborhood and the rest of Aurora didn’t completely poison the sky above us.

It was early fall and the trees were already bare, but warm enough that that all we needed were hoodies. Between us we carried folding chairs, a small frying pan, a grimy half-used bottle of lighter fluid, paper plates, and a small cooler with soda and plastic bags of batter-coated fish inside, still uncooked.

We found a little clearing in the center of the woods. We set up our chairs in a circle around where K said the fire would be. He said he would make the fire. He started to scrape away the wet mat of dead leaves with his foot. He wore a black hoodie, and squarish, toxic blue carpenter jeans; he was fat like me; his hair was shaved down to a colorless stubble. We became friends because we both liked video games, but he also grew up with outdoorsy parents, and had inherited a whole set of experiences and skills that were alien to me. So I sat and sipped a Sprite while he scraped the leaves away.

E was there too. He wasn’t someone we hung out with normally, but for reasons I didn’t understand was invited. E was shorter than either of us, and weighed less, but looked pudgy rather than fat, which was somehow worse at that age. He had small eyes, short brown hair, sparse freckles over the high parts of his cheeks. I thought of him as popular. In general, he wasn’t liked so much as enjoyed. He had chosen to abstract his public, school day personality into a sort of malicious clownishness, an impenetrable veneer of unserious goofiness that you couldn’t ever penetrate at school but that, for some reason, in the few times I’d hung out with him outside, he abandoned completely and without ceremony, so that to point out the difference would make you seem weird, not him. This night he was exhibiting what was probably his actual personality: a sullen, embryonic ironical acerbicness; but even in this more natural state, some obscurity lingered in him; he said everything with the same near monotone, so it was hard to tell when he was happy or upset, pissed off or joking.

Eventually, K took the grody bottle of Kingsford lighter fluid and squirted it into the pile of kindling. The fire jumped and shone and it was time to cook the fish.

In groups of young boys, there’s always an invisible authority that one kid ends up with. Sometimes there’s a struggle for this authority; sometimes it falls without agon onto one of them. Because K made the fire, he had the authority tonight, even though he normally maintained a more subdued presence. And so he sat cross-legged by the fire and put the pieces of fish – perch from Lake Erie that his dad had caught – into the pan, one by one. They hissed and crackled and pulsed lightly, almost indiscernibly, the way your tongue pulses constantly in your mouth. The batter cooked down around them, pale yellow now where the fish was wettest but ruddy gold at the curled edges of each strip.

The fire started to get low and K took the pan off for a minute and told me to add lighter fluid; I took the dirty bottle in my hand and squeezed it. The flames jumped again, yellow and crude. K was looking at the fire dully; E was sitting his chair with his chin against his sternum, looking at the fire too, up from under his brows.

Fire smoke and greasesmoke from the fish rose up. The wind was pushing it all in my direction, so that my eyes stung and my clothes became heavy and fragrant and grody to the touch.

When the fish was done, K ladled the strips onto paper plates for each of us. I looked at my plate. Oil was seeping out from beneath the fish into the plate, turning it gray and nearly transparent; it bent softly under my hand as I held it. Some thoughts came up: about food poisoning, about undercooked fish, about heavy metals getting into my bloodstream. But K and E were eating their fish so I ate mine too. It was hot, and when I bit into it hot grease burned my tongue, but the meat tasted fresh and clean beneath the oiliness.

I don’t remember what we talked about. Something about the experience had locked me into myself, and I was like a passenger on a ship, looking out of my eyes at this unexpected evening, with unexpected company. In every direction the tall tree trunks looked thin in the cold and dark, but were standing so close to each other in intermingling rows; in any direction it looked like white paint being laid with a coarse brush, wet, on top of black gesso; or hallways with the paneling split and splintered from age or pressure, running into the darkness. The heavy smoke, slower now, still passed through me and then up, moving deeper into the night sky, turning slowly, dreamily, fragile, like gauze in water. The dead leaves flipped up their edges and the trees moved swayed like ocean plants in response to the wind’s long vowels. Everything, every motion and non-motion, every gradation of the firelight registered on every inch of every surface, all present temperatures and temperaments, was occurring in unison, striking me simultaneously; everything moved into a complete synchronicity for one golden, cathect instant.

One footnote to this story: someone else, too, was there, but I can’t remember who it was. But imagine one other seat around the fire, one other pair of eyes staring at the yellow light.

5/25/20: Storms, First Nightmare

The first hot days have come and they’ve been mostly ugly. Ohio can’t even warm into summer prettily. The season here is mostly defined by hot, cloudy days. These clouds are boiled up over the lake, and cover the sky from edge to edge. All day they’re evenly bright, lit up from behind from the smothered sun. It’s a leering kind of weather, it feels feverish and cruel.

But now, it looks ready to storm. This would be the first big storm of the year – at least, I think it would be the first. But time and the tiny demarcations of minor events are all muddled right now, and maybe there was a storm before this – and maybe this storm won’t even happen; I saw the clouds looming up like thugs, bruised-colored from the water they held, and it’s darker outside than it should be, and you can hear the thunder rumbling, heavy and high up, like a stack of books tumbling over in the church’s attic; but the storm hasn’t broke yet. It might move on without staging its drama here.

Back in the era of my fear of tornadoes, these near-misses with storms were frustrating. I conceptualized any bad weather day as an exchange: my time and attention for safety through the storm. And if there wasn’t a storm to watch, I hadn’t earned my safe passage through the day. I understand there’s a paradox there, of being afraid of dying in a storm when it happens, and then being afraid of dying in a storm when the storm doesn’t happen. The demonic lore of obsessive thought is full of koans like these.

There was a brief time when I found a suitable way to ignore storms when they did happen, though.

I’d go into my mom’s bedroom and put on her big stereo headphones and put in one of her CDs and turn up the volume to hide the storm sounds. I kept my eyes closed but all the lights on in the room, so that I wouldn’t see through the thin lid-skin the light in the room alter with flashes of lightning.

(If you ever have a doubt as to where the core of your being is, just listen to loud music loudly with heavy powerful headphones on. They don’t have to be good headphones, just ones capable of raucous loud sounds. Turn off the lights. Close your eyes. With the titanic wash of noise coming at your brain from both sides, can’t you feel the little ghost of you in your head dissolving into individual bobbing atoms in the massive snarling cascade, like when you rub sand between your fingers until all the grains have disappeared?)

Or sometimes I would go take a shower, and put the fan on, so that the reverberating racket would drown out the sounds that way. It would have to be a long shower, to make sure that it outlasted the duration of the storm.

Eventually these techniques of avoidance became no longer valid. I say ‘valid’ and can’t be any more specific than that. Sometimes mandates came down, disallowing something perfectly legal the day before. I had no choice but to obey them. I was being forced, or convincing myself I was being forced, to watch the storms as they came and went, and that meant experiencing the weird anguish when the thing I feared didn’t come to pass, but passed off to elsewhere, unresolved, like a threat not followed up on but not forgotten either, or transmuted into other potentialities.

*****

I remember my earliest nightmare, and I don’t know if it’s because it was my first or because something about it particularly scarred me.

The nightmare takes place in my neighborhood in Omaha. It’s summer, the weather is bright and hot, the sky is high and white, unblue and unrelieved. Aliens have invaded the neighborhood. I don’t know what they look like because they never leave their space ships, which are the classic spinning saucer-type UFOs. Their ships are small – maybe the size of like a bulky mid-size CRT television set. They fly into peoples’ houses and hover over their heads and let down a yellow beam of light from the bottom of the craft. It’s unclear what this light does specifically. It’s understood that it’s not an abduction in the standard sense, but it is taking something: all it leaves behind of the person is a loose, full body suit, like a diving suit but covering the whole head and face. This suit is in the abducted person’s exact dimensions. It’s also understood these suits aren’t made, but are the residue of a human being after the light takes whatever it takes from one. The suit is rubbery and bright purple and completely featureless, with no zippers or buttons or anything.

I’m walking up the staircase in my house. It or my proportions are off; some steps feel big, almost so big that I have to climb to the next one. As I get to the top I sense a flash of light coming from the landing. When I get there, there’s one of the rubber people suits lying on the carpet, neatly folded, as if someone had worn it and then put it away.

Someone approaches from one of the rooms on this floor, which is not the upper floor of my own house, but that of my best friend’s. It’s my best friend’s older sister. She’s dressed in an outdated crinoline (?) dress, but her hair is tangled and frizzy. She’s smiling maliciously. She shows me, either by transmitting the image into my mind or by unclasping her hands and holding the thing up to me (it’s hard to tell which of these happened in the muddled atmosphere of the dream), something small, ragged, and soiled.

5/24/20: Reading About Rich People, Again

So many books – books I love – present a major obstacle to the complete connection I yearn for in engaging with art. The obstacle is that the characters in it are rich – or at least comfortable, or at least their financial situation isn’t subject to the same constant  million-footed rush of concerns and possibilities for collapse that my and people like me’s are.

So many good books are about rich people.

Ishmael isn’t rich but, as a whaleman, money and the necessaries it buys aren’t a concern for him for the duration of the novel. Thus in the Comfortable category.

Don Quixote isn’t rich, is in fact on hard times, but hard times only in the very mild sense that applies to landed gentry living on a fixed income from the kingdom: thus soft enough times for him to read himself senseless in an age where books were a major investment. Rich/Comfortable.

In Herzog Moses Herzog has multiple houses, enough money and time to hole up in a rambling house in the countryside and do nothing but write letters to everyone. Rich.

There are always monetary issues at stake in Austen’s novels because they exist in the incredibly cold and fiduciary realm of Regency-era marriage culture; but for the most part the characters’ potential shifts in financial situation are relative ones, still confined within the more or less safe realm of the unmoveably landed gentry. So Rich.

In Anna Karenina, Levin rarely has cash, but that’s only because his money is tied up in land. Comfortable.

In Genji, fuck, I don’t even know if Genji or his court had money, so removed is their floating world from the real one turning restlessly in the muck just outside its ornate gates.

In In Search of Lost Time, M. is ensconced in the comparably disconnected and ethereal world of the French upper class. Nobody takes vacations like M.’s family. The settings of Balbec and Combray don’t even feel real in some specific way, because they’re evoked with this dreamlike quality that financial struggles would immediately dissipate. Obviously rich.

I’ve kind of started to read Henderson the Rain King; I’m not committed yet. I love the brutal hunger of Henderson, I love his poetic madness and violent zest for life and furious confused despair. But he’s a millionaire, comes right out and tells you in the first couple pages. A millionaire who can run a pig farm for purely aesthetic reasons and fly off to Africa when he feels like it to find a way to mangle his depression and maddening sorrow. Rich.

The prevalence of rich people in fiction has obvious historico-socio-economical causes. The leisured classes were the ones with time for education, the time to think about and sift their their feelings and process it into art. This massively expanded and languorous existence was built on a social concept that dehumanized millions of people in the economic rungs below. I mean that in a very real way: in all these disparate times and places, there were people living lives we wouldn’t even recognize as lives, so that the upper classes could read and think and write.

That kind of poverty exists today, too. It’s also largely avoided by art. Instead it’s usually a talking point for the media, some flag for them to wave briefly with a brave face so they can ignore their ineffectuality for another day. Or when it is presented in art, it’s presented in a way that poeticizes that poverty and the people living in it to a degree that estranges them from the compassion, empathy, and anger they deserve.

I’m not qualified to say more about that kind of poverty. Pettily, today I’m talking about the specific kind of poorness that I live in. Call it common poorness.  The every day parade of fretting, insults, minor tragedies, fleeting triumphs that comes from never having enough money to make it (our lives) all cohere.

When you’re this kind of poor, your finances are as omnipresent a fact of of your life as  hunger or love or fear. It shapes so many things, stunts others, generates a thousand problems that subtle working the texture of your character in different directions.

And always these invisible operations create a distance. You’re constantly running calculations, evaluating your own situation against your best estimates of others’. Every point of distinction between them – even the meaningless ones – creates another bit of distance.

(Obviously, that is to say all this estrangement I feel for fiction about rich people manifests in reality too.)

I hate rich people, both for big important socioeconomic reasons and for the inflammatory personal affront that is seeing someone else being achingly happier than I am. And I think being rich means that you have to be fundamentally stupid in some ways. Certain doors of suffering are closed to rich people and, in almost every case, there is a subsequent shallowing out of their personality – sometimes to a lesser, often to a greater degree.

Being poor in this way, by the way, is also boring. It’s mathematical, drier than an abacus. It’s persistent, it’s obsessive. And it’s so specific to you and your particular humiliations.

But, because of this, this poorness is a key part of being alive, for me and many others. So intrinsic that maybe that’s why we don’t think about it in ourselves and others, just like we don’t think about our own or others’ breathing. But the actions, the obsessions, the little tragedies recur and recur and recur: checking the bank account every day, hoping your friend doesn’t order something expensive when it’s your turn to pay, those weird destructive impulses that tell you to spend when you shouldn’t, if only to create the drama that you live every day in fear of, just to get it over with for fuck’s sake…

That fear is intrinsically tied up with the ugliest, shittiest, most unappealing aspects of every day existence, the same thuggish quotidia that drag us down out of even the loftiest heights of thought, our most transcendent yearnings; and even if, like probably all fears, it can be traced back to a fear of death, the journey to that point in this case is so fucking desert long, so petty, so rife with annoyances and insults, that our own strength might give out, not at the far terminal point of extinction, but at one of any billion billion intermediate points of exasperation.

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.