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.

5/16/20: Desire and Denial

Call it the Weekend of Anesthetization: spent yesterday night and all day today playing an eye-burning amount of games. I don’t feel bad about it. It felt (mostly) good to suspend other activities and just let the upper parts of my mind be engaged; maybe it will’ve let the lower-down regions decompress somewhat.

Doing this for long enough makes my brain feel flat, and makes it harder to engage in deeper activity – like reading. That’s a bit of a drag because I’m so close to finishing Anna Karenina; if I’d stuck to my schedule I’d be on track to finish it tomorrow. And also there’s this susceptibility to blanknesses, where if I don’t keep myself occupied with activities I blank into doing nothing: staring at the texture of the ceiling or vacantly searching the same terms and reading articles on my phone that I’ve looked up and  read 1000 times before.

I know (I mean I assume) it’s not in your power to give one person to another, but the fact is my wish was granted. Maybe only because I wanted it more than anything, and what you want so much you’re just likely to get.

That’s from Little, Big. Does the act of wanting move the percentage chances of things happening or not happening to us? Does it affect the cosmic math at all?

Part of OCD is developing an unhealthy metaphysics to mediate your relation to the world. So many of my bigger and littler fears revolve(d) around affecting things outside myself: causing people to get sick, for instance. That’s called harm induction. But also I was convinced that if I envisioned certain things for too long, certain things I wanted, I would never have them.

This rule applied to many things, but most intensely maybe to people. If I thought in certain ways about someone I wanted, I would never get them, so that when it came to people I was attracted to, I had two options: to rigorously, puritanically prevent myself from thinking about them in those certain ways, or to reconcile myself to never having them.

“In certain ways” doesn’t mean sexually specifically, but that was one way I wasn’t allowed to think about them. Imagining any sort of romantic connection with a person meant that I would be denied it.

OCD is also immune to anecdotal evidence.

When I came back from Northern Ireland you were the second friend I contacted, and I texted you the night I got back into Ohio. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s a fact that even though I’d been sealed away in actual terrestrial happiness for months, during that time I was, still, always thinking about you, just how in some way all my thought, even to this day is, still, in some way a dialogue with you.

Hey, was all I texted.

A few days later we hung out. We took a walk around the neighborhood. It was a mild, humid evening. The sky was full of mild clouds, turning a somnambulant lavender as the sun set. I still had the measured, distant affectation that I took with you when we met up before I left; that was my default attitude with you during that phase because I knew that something had shifted between us since the early high school days, but didn’t know to what degree it had shifted, and what that shift meant now, if anything; so I kept a guard up.

“Well, how was it?” you asked me, referring to Northern Ireland.

“It was…good,” I said; and let pass the chance to elaborate or expand.

“Was it big?”

“Yeah. It was.”

The next day, I was standing outside with my dog. It was a sunny day; in a rare thing for Ohio summer, the humidity went away without being dispelled by a heavy storm; the day dawned with cleaner air, crisp and clear. I was standing in the devil’s strip and looking at the luxuriantly textured grass – one of my dad’s obsessions. And inevitably my thoughts moved towards you.

Weirdly, I let them. I didn’t stop the flow of desire that day, and I let myself imagine in detail what it would be like to be with you. Not even sexually, just what it would be like if we crossed that white quivering line between us, that was the history of my desire for you and yours for me, with all their attendant addenda, and came together in the bright center, into the new space of a relationship.

These thoughts might have been an act of cowardice; maybe I succumbed to some lodged shrapnel of doubt the convinced me it would never be, or let myself just give into the hopelessness rather continue to practice the exhausting mental vigilance it took to not think about you. Whatever the reason, I felt like I had broken the rule and that what our possibility was was forfeit.

But the thing is that we did end up dating. In fact it was that same night that we kissed for the first time, in the driveway, in the dark.

That should’ve been a refutation of this stricture. But there’s this infinitely protean element in OCD. It warps and alters when it’s contested. If something seems to prove its rules false, it retreats into alternate interpretation of that rule, or nudges it into a more specific situation so that this refutation doesn’t, in fact, fall under the rule and thus doesn’t disprove anything.

So now, instead of the rule being that thinking of somebody in certain ways locked them away from me forever, it became that thinking of somebody in those ways only ensured that, eventually, things would end badly between us.

But I didn’t think about that then or, actually, for several years. The thought only recurred to me after it had ended badly between us, and I was living separate from you in Boulder, dreading every day that I would see your car on my long morning walk to work.

5/15/20: Thin Band of Beaten Lead

I woke up early today, like 7 am early, to go to the store when it would be less crowded; and thus splintered at least for a day my crooked pandemic sleep schedule. Couldn’t nap in the afternoon either – or not for very long, at least – and so there’s a thin band of beaten lead between my skull and my brain, and the back of my eyes feel like they have moss growing on them.

I went to the Giant Eagle in Streetsboro. All the staff wore masks, and most of the customers wore them too. But it seemed like there were more maskless people today than last time I was at the store, which made me worry that that the normalization process has begun to occur, that people are buying the asinine “Well Done” messaging from the media regarding this thing and starting to revert to way they used to live. Nothing is solved. Nothing is over. Nothing is defeated. But I get this sensation that this is the interpretation people are increasingly gravitating towards – maybe unconsciously.

Unconsciously, because the violence of the American metastructures have so conditioned us to react to any indication of normalcy from Trusted Sources (i.e. any entity endowed with Authority) with an immediate and programmatic return to the status quo.

There’s ongoing conversation about how things will be different because of the pandemic. The metastructures recycle this concept over and over again, both in grim and consolatory contexts. But that context is actually a ghost, it has no way of impacting or interacting with anything; what matters is that the idea of “returning” is gaining traction, and this is the only world lodging in peoples’ minds. It’s the high-sign, the activation word, slowly soaking into the collective unconscious and silently instigating a realignment, bringing things back to where they were before.

If this happens, there will be more deaths that could have been prevented; but the powers that be are hard at work removing the sting from the tail of death, so that people will accept it, as they’ve accepted a parade of atrocities since time immemorial. And tragic too is the very real possibility that America will learn nothing at all from this horror; that everything really will go on just as it was going on before COVID-19. Things will continue to move toward a final crystallization, where these apparatus of power and control that ruin us over and over again each time they touch us will be locked immovably into place and system will not be fixable to any degree in any sane amount of time.

It’s one of the manufacture privileges of the powerful to have an all-disclosing catalog of our weak spots, the better to press on them when they need to bring us to heel. One such weakness being leaned on right now is our undeniable hunger for the way things used to be. This yearning is an ongoing human condition; it was here before COVID, and will be here after (whatever ‘after’ looks like). But, before now, this yearning for the most part was personal: we yearned for something in our private past: somebody we used to love, some blue afternoon we were finally, simply happy. But with COVID we’re all plugged into the same wavelength of remorse, all living the same fantasy of Return. It’s a collective hunger now, manufactured outside of ourselves. This hunger, outside of ourselves and not susceptible to any internal laws we might have, is much harder to bear, and is indissoluble.

It’s the same thing with my OCD. Before COVID, it was always this grotesque architecture built around some fear that I developed and aggrandized internally: the weather, improbable cancers, family members dying of disease. But now it’s scaffolding around something Outside, a roaming threat in the real world; the main component of my fear is now a foreign element. So I can’t have the sometimes useful knowledge that it’s All in My Head.

Here’s how I might perceive our being in reality: We have our consciousness, which surrounds our soul. Consciousness is a permanent barrier between our soul and the outside world. The good part of life is finding ways to move through that barrier, so that the realest part of ourselves can touch the world we’re always otherwise just observing and it can touch us: making friends, falling in love, connecting with others, doing meaningful work.

When we fail to move our soul all the way out into the world, it occupies our consciousness. We put ourselves under the strain of that unblinking scrutiny. This scrutiny creates perceptions about ourselves: neuroses, fears.

When we fail to bring things from outside ourselves all the way in, they’re warped in the heavy atmosphere of our consciousness. They twist into all sorts of different, and differently false (but no less powerful for that), things. This is how we end up with acquaintances, or friends we don’t really trust, at some level don’t really love or understand. It’s how we think we’re in love with somebody, and let ourselves believe that for years, striving to protect something with no actual foundation in who we actually are.

Impressions of places, things, most simple memories of where we’ve been and what we’ve done: all of this, probably, resides in this consciousness-level of our being, which imbues them with easily exploitable qualities like nostalgia. That’s why we find it so easy to yearn – even in regular times – for things we hardly ever thought about before. Our consciousness is this weird magnifier: an artificer, a compulsive and maudlin fabricator.

(Though I say “we” throughout it’s only because I get sick of seeing “I, I, I, I, I” over and over again throughout an essay like this. You can choose whether to believe or disbelieve any element of this theory on your own. And it isn’t even a theory. It’s just a wavering idea, a draft of a draft of a draft, a slowly-unfogging conception, an infant.)