I’m as nervous a schoolboy. But it’s not the telephone and a girl on the other end that I dread. It’s this essay. Butterflies flutter, blood pumps double-time in my veins, and I move in oblique angles to the keyboard. I am active, distracted. There is something intimate about marking my words down on this blank slate, something even erotic. I’m ignoring a lover; frustration finds its satisfaction only in endless diversion. If I don’t satisfy this impulse I’ll be doomed to repeat it, to take it inwards, into my psyche and, by correlation, environment, body.
That which is repressed will continue to find outward expression.
What is it about this essay that causes me such pause? There is something besides the essay at the centre of that heaviness. It is an old weight, an ancient one; it is a desire to please, a fear of reprisal, of (even worse) indifference. I care about the opinion of the grey-beard who attends this essay, but he stands in the place of one (my father) who has never worn a beard. I carry a copy of this latter figure. The copy is heaviness itself.
In every enterprise I meet with such resistance. I have discovered that only experience can oust the demon from his perch.
I’d forgotten how much weight the franchisee gains from the familiarity of advertising and the comfort of known space. I guess I’d always just assumed that with more variety available, the natural human impulse was to take a survey of the options and pick according to curiousity or to particular desire. Maybe I’ve also forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager, when one doesn’t know any more than one already knows.
What the fuck am I writing?
I watched as hordes of suburban teens (fresh from the ROM) flooded down the platform steps to assemble in the Subway. The door to the adjacent burrito place (where I sat) was mistakenly opened once by a teen who stopped and stared inside while his friends laughed at his inexpertise. (Blinking in the fluorescent light, then speech: “Wait… this isn’t Subway.”) The burrito place isn’t anywhere special, but among the teenagers it had no common memory. Nothing about the restaurant itself should have been daunting. It was fast food, presented in the common commercial warddrobe, and organized according to principles long established (in part) by the restaurant next door: choose from proteins, choose toppings, watch assembly, pay.
What the fuck am I writing?
This is all so laboured. And I am suspicious of myself. Writing has become difficult for me because I have allowed myself no space. This morning I caught myself in a common refrain (“This is just a bad time for us.”), which, if true, would mean that it was true the entire time I have said it, these last eight months. When is any time a good time? Especially if you get caught in the waves and tangles of your own discourse?
I realized that familiarity (had any of the teenagers been to that Subway before? and if they had―why return?) is one of the key benefits of advertising. Branding is as much about creating comfort with a brand (and this by establishing some basic knowledge) than it is about associating a brand with a particular desire (Subway: the desire to “eat fresh”). The brand establishes itself in the memories of the individual and with that establishment comes a basic expertise. (“I know this restaurant, I know how it works, I know what to expect.”) My taste preferences led me to the burrito place (if you prefer to eat vegetarian, it is the superior establishment), but before watching the troupe of teenagers slip down the stairs I would have thought that preference would be split: that the Subway might be slightly favoured because of advertising but that novelty (and a completely different taste experience) would hold its own over familiarity. Instead I found the opposite.
Three teenagers (a vast minority) entered the burrito place: a couple and a friend that had been called away from entering the Subway. As they walked in to look at the menu the friend hung back and I could see his discomfort. The girl turned and told him they could just look at the menu. He did and he left. The couple, too, was on the point of leaving: but in an inspired moment the girl berated the boy for being “boring” and they turned back (they were not a couple yet). To the couple, this burrito place, no different in design or experience from any other established fast food restaurant, represented a vast unknown that to conquer was both uncertain (frightening) and exciting. This feeling had nothing to do with the food (as they left with their takeout containers: “See? Aren’t you glad we tried something different?”), but with comfort, with the experience. Not the experience of eating but of navigating.
It is strange that I am writing this to avoid advancing to the next shore of my essay.
[Is it wrong to wonder if there is more to this feeling than habit?]
Today I’ve been thinking about hoarding. It is the ultimate correlation of environment and mind.
I have never heard my father say anything about my grandfather. After my grandfather died, I remember my father pulling the full family car over to the shoulder so that he could cry. But that feeling went elsewhere. The office in the basement always seemed like it kept something buried. If you slide the walls back you will find boxes of old syringe tubes, tongue depressors, files and square pads of office letterhead.
There is something hidden there but I have never cared to look.