Before and After
An analytical approach to living, that is a problem. I said it to S, I said I didn’t think that the examined life was the right one. I said it was, well, I could look it up it was on Gmail, but I’d rather try to remember. The point was, I was trying to tell him. I didn’t try that hard. I knew he wouldn’t like it if I put it that way, but the point was what I was feeling, which was that the too examined life lacked the types of brief, transcendent emotions that made it meaningful. If everything was studied very precisely, tried to be understood, attempted to be made into language, something was lost. More thoughts seemed to occur without language. Its usefulness to one’s, like, being could be put in question.
He seemed to think I was an idiot, he might have said so. G said what could I expect, he made his whole life based on that kind of tenet. That way of looking at things—S is a PhD—and trying to put that into some comprehensive explanation. Also he’s a poet. He never talked to me again. I can’t remember if I tried to strike up conversation with him. It must have been in winter. Could it have been during the time I was still doing crosswords? that was obviously a conflict of interest for me. There was a thing where I would always see the same words coming up, which was distracting. They’d be too easy or too hard.
I can find very little middle ground in stuff like that. I don’t know if I’d had the thought, but what if, what if, I had told him that I was more concerned with the exact reality as it appeared from an empirical, outside perspective, and that inner thoughts deflected it… Would it have been a lie? that actually bothers me a lot. How when you pose a question in writing (not a question in terms of “idea” but in terms of, like, a person thinking a question, I often think one vies to answer it), I always want to answer it immediately.
It was sort of a great relief, one less force to fear incurring—is it incurring?—my madness. My ideology appears, like it had sprung, only through disagreements with people. It’s weak. I felt like I’d escaped from the possibility of living S’s life. Something that required so much attention to the things beyond itself might cease to be substantive. Things are more often than not, I assert, concerned with what is directly, immediately happening.
I walked into a room at a party and the kid called me a fag a lot of times. This was confusing because he seemed to me at that moment that he himself was, like, the one who was whatever he was accusing me of—not that… more that he found the word to be something in terms of like as if I had said it in a comminatory way—just that, I don’t know, like he was trying to confuse me. I had only walked into the room and was standing there. Then out the window I looked past him, still by some sort of feeling he was threatening me, to see some people I knew had left.
I’d walked from work to the gallery over the bridge drinking a beer to the bar, then I’d walked to the apartment. On other nights I’d walked from work to the bar, or I’d walked from work over the bridge to the waterfront area, or I’d walked from work to the gallery to the corner store over the bridge to the bakery, then the fish market or butcher.
I don’t know why I liked the things I did, but I remember where I was when I did. I’ve never experienced an out of body thing, but like, how I imagine myself: looking unremarkable, maybe a little tired and frowning, holding the book, or the light in the room or the angle of my laptop, the number of cans on the table. Yellow, as a color, pops up now and then in these memories.
One goes, I didn’t know that Adolf Ziegler’s Four Elements had been one of Hitler’s favorite paintings when I felt bowled over by its beauty that cold day at the Guggenheim. L and I stood outside waiting to be admitted, it was free. I texted W alternative names for the museum.
I had this ailment that appeared suddenly. It was at K’s going away party. My little toes looked white and rubbery. When I was young we would have blue lips when we came in from the ocean. I have no memories of pacing around my room as a child. I can see myself carefully looking from one set of Playmobil to the other, to be sure everything was in place, and still pacing has taken on a kind of idealized nostalgia. I try to take a walk whenever I’ve started to get that feeling like the whiteness in my toes, but I fear I might be becoming limited in them. They almost always start in the western and southern directions.
I sat in the park an evening after one of these and tried to revert to a time when I spoke emphatically, and I stood up and moved around thinking diatribes at the world. But they were without language, just the thought of anger, a swiftness, how it would come in. I was walking near the library. There was a beauty in the brown, yellow of this one desk I would work in at the archives, and I told L that my anger would—this is another thing from Gmail that I refuse to, like, summon as it was—but I said to her, I told her it came in these waves from which I could feel totally calm and grateful for a small beauty in my environment and then hateful. This was right around the time of the Boston bombings, when I still received news alerts on my phone. I stood up from the desk and looked around but nobody else was reacting.
I allowed my paranoia to flourish and encouraged it to go in new and interesting directions. I started getting off subway cars and looking at bigger bags. If a cell phone was not an iPhone, that was something of particular interest. I wondered how much of a particular subway car could explode into the others. Almost every thought stops halfway through. I said it in a room with W and G and H. I said that I was experiencing increasingly, etc. but I couldn’t tell what they were focused on.
I have an image associated with myself that has never happened, which is seen, like, as though the out of body thing, but framed in a certain way. Okay, bear with me: I could not see how I could accurately write from my own perspective anymore. Like I wanted things to be exactly as they were, my thoughts digressed or often seemed not to have existed. A few months after the four day hangover, it took me an hour and a half of sitting quietly in bed to try to conjure up the memory of a joke I’d told to G and F over dinner. I yelled at L when she interrupted my thinking. I sometimes lapse into the image: I am working on the novel, the one not from my own voice, pacing saying it out loud, trying to invoke, like, speech or whatever, like how people actually think or talk and how almost every thing or exchange is an argument, and the pacing is helping me.
This is the thing that never happened, so it is what I mean by idealized. The big plan was to explain how I was inviting madness into my life. First I was fearing it, then I was inviting it.
Listen, it can be said that thoughts organize themselves. I feel like we’ve narrowly avoided a very unproductive discussion. If you, like, think about people who’ve concerned themselves with so many things besides what you’re interested in, it’s enough to make you wild. I proposed to maybe try out the trading floor on Wall Street without even knowing what it meant. But I did eventually remember the joke.
S came to town when I was away. I heard him and M got into a little something and M smacked him on the face and was too drunk to respond to how S was trying to get them back on the same side or whatever. It was pretty funny to hear about. C, then, he invited someone over who wrote, like, ᴅᴏɴ’ᴛ ᴠᴏᴛᴇ! and, like, something about God, I think, on M’s apartment with spraypaint on New Year’s Eve. That was another thing I did, a little while before I said the thing to L where she tried to explain it as a kind of unipolar driving force thing, how I said it came in waves, I had some kind thoughts about God.
We drove by a McDonald’s while the sun was going down after walking to all those places. We normally walked to the liquor store but we had N’s car so we drove to the liquor store. I don’t believe N was with us. Sometimes if I try to get back to, like, the place I was at before the time I had the four day hangover—once I listed all these books in succession, all these books mentioned on this blog and, like, Facebook and stuff, and I said I’d written them and said that was one thing you didn’t know about me, and we recorded it in this basement—I start to laugh before I get the words out. That’s a big problem I remember outside that McDonald’s, was that I was saying something to G and already laughing thinking about what would happen when it was already over.
One evening I left the library and found the bar T had given me two weeks earlier. I got on the train, but instead of it, like, reducing anxiety, I became hyper-aware of my relaxed physical state, and acutely nervous. A girl was crying in a violent, exhaustive way but the train had become too crowded, and I too indisposed, to offer my seat. I waited for someone else to do something. I was panicking, then walked through a calm night air in fear.
Paranoia isn’t something that makes people, like, afraid of getting sick. That is something different. I took care of L when she got swine flu, and went out drinking and got really drunk with T and R and G and H, and R told me to leave and G helped me. L helped me be part of this brain study though, like, four years after, and I got fifty dollars. I had to remind myself to look at the financial district when I was going over the bridge one day, but the day keeps inserting itself into more of everything I think about.
I asked K if he ever felt hollowed out and he said he had been able to feel the urge to cry but hadn’t been able to actually do it in a while. I said was that because stuff was actually easier to like when we were younger or because they’d actually gotten worse? we agreed probably both. And he said it was possible we wouldn’t know each other if the day hadn’t happened. Like the events of one day being connected to everything else that hadn’t happened. H recommended a therapist to me, but he didn’t take my insurance.
I was sitting on a ledge of the park with J and looking at different parts of the park we sat at when we were closer. Then I asked him how his dog was, and he said he didn’t have a dog. I said what about that greyhound, and he said it was his mom’s, that she’d got it when he went to college and had just been in town and told him it had cancer. He asked why I’d asked. It was because I’d looked at another dog and couldn’t remember what we’d been talking about or for how long I couldn’t retrieve things that had once seemed easy, and I thought it must have been pretty young since J was only two years out of college, but he said his mom had gotten it when it was an adult, like it was thirteen.
J had taken his bike over to my house. We walked west to the park, and south and west around the pond, and out of the park, where he said he wanted to buy coffee. There was a man with a table that said ғʀᴇᴇ ғᴏʀ ᴛʜᴇ ʜᴜᴍᴀɴ ʀᴀᴄᴇ! who gave us hot cider. One evening on the train to see J, I was holding my stomach trying to, like, create abs and was transported to a revelation I’d had months earlier reading Springer’s Progress and thinking it was the most brilliant thing ever written.
We walked back into the park and around the rest of the pond, where the geese mixed in with the swans and through a field over a hill past the place we called an impasse before the four day hangover and got to the ledge where we’d smoked once.
A series of things happened that complicated my argument to myself. First, I’d made the joke up on the fly at dinner, and that’s why I’d had so much trouble remembering it. G had thought it was so funny and asked me what it was again a couple days later. I texted him to remind him after I couldn’t think of it—and then did—and he (it was on Gmail again…), like, his reaction was that it was really not that good, despite how strangely hilarious it had seemed at the time. Then I couldn’t find a quote that I heard on the radio and sent an incriminating email. I forwarded it to K, who contradicted it, and then G informed me of some vast oversight. It was the same feeling from the night where I had looked out the window. The guy had thought I had done something, was threatening, etc. I ran downstairs to meet M and U and maybe E, and I took M’s chips and poured them out on the hood of a car.
Some possibilities occurred to me in, like, a flash of thought: 1) the dog was a rescue; 1.1) the dog was dog that used to race but was then going to be mistreated or something because it was beyond racing age so it was that kind of rescue; 1.2) she found the dog somewhere; 1.2.1 (the side of the road?); 2) someone had given her the dog who no longer wanted it or couldn’t take care of it, or it was the dog of a relative who had died. 3) she got it from a breeder even though it was old; 3.1 (very unlikely but possible?). It all happened without me knowing it was while I sat in silence with J, recalling sitting with silence at a spot I could see across the field, where people were playing cricket.
It was on the couch, where I was, like, entering that open place before sleep when I realized the possibility that I had done the wrong thing. I had betrayed my principles to S’s, and I entertained the idea that I might have wandered from the own madness I had invited in. Before, he’d called me on the phone once and asked how many words I’d written. I wondered about the little hole you could see in the file L had sent me after the brain imaging. There had been a blue dot about an inch above me and I had done calculations of squaring numbers one through forty-six or something to put myself in that open place that surrounds sleep.
Since the four day hangover happened, I haven’t had the chance to go see the Reclining Nude I liked to stand in front of for a while any time I could. I tried to write about how I was attracted to it but failed. Inevitably, I often walked west to get to the next part of the museum.
I told L that I shouldn’t have drank the cider. There could have been anything in the cider, why would it have said ғʀᴇᴇ ғᴏʀ ᴛʜᴇ ʜᴜᴍᴀɴ ʀᴀᴄᴇ!? at first I’d thought it said something about people who had been racing—I’d seen hundreds of people leaving the park in pink clothes only hours before, moving together as a response to a disease—but then I had read it correctly on my third pass. It looked to me that letters had been, like, left out, and though it was in capitals, they were very small. The man had a menacing air to him, like, why he was spending his Sunday like that, wearing one of those military caps and gave us only a little each. L said did he look crazy or anything? I said no.
J had not wanted to buy any coffee from the coffee place when we got there. I’d used the bathroom. I did again then. I got into bed like I when I’d remembered the joke. It went, I’m a freegan: whenever I go out to dinner, the other person picks up the check.
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Thank you, Blake. Thank you, Gene. Thank you, HTMLGiant.