An Effort

Yes, I want distraction. So I am creating it. I do not wish to think. Alright. But I have to, or else I should make a decision not to think (I mean: a permanent decision, a professional decision, such as leaving this program—ridiculous—or getting a lobotomy or receiving a serious brain injury—also ridiculous, but at least with less personal consequence) (if one thinks of “personal consequence” as being “interior repercussions”) (admitting that serious brain injuries—whether accidental or intentional—of course have “interior repercussions”, though perhaps not to the subjective identity that calls itself “self” before the injury or operation, because this self may be obliterated by the brain’s injuries) (though, admittedly, since very few, if any, who undergo such injuries return from this state to a position of “normal expressive consciousness” we can, really, never know whether this is actually the case) (and, of course, I am by no means well read in this matter and it may that we can in fact know and I am just ignorant of the science that proves this to be so).

Okay, time to think. From this point on, no checking anything until this ridiculously easy assignment is completed. Oh distraction, oh trauma, oh emotion, &c, &c, &c.

To that end,

A Short Essay

* * *

Dorothy Wordsworth’s poem “Thoughts on My Sick-bed” demonstrates the importance of mobility to understanding and experience in the Romantic period of English Literature which occurred roughly around the end of the 18th Century up until 1830 or so which is (I think) when Wordsworth died even though he was basically neutered at this point through being named England’s poet laureate (or something, I’m recalling this information over a gap of 5 or 6 years). This is not an essay and the preceding was not a thought. Admitting that, let’s pretend that this is the kind of information you want in the form that you want it, instead of recognizing that what precedes and follows from this sentence will just be a stream of association with no direction or organizing meaning. Maybe I could have done a better job, but instead of writing last night I stayed up watching television (which is particularly difficult because I do not own a television, receive a television signal, or have an internet connection fast enough to enable viewing television programs online). In any case whatever it was that I did last night, since it is logically impossible that I watched television, I did not write, and this morning as I was sitting on the train I spent a good deal of time reprimanding myself for this failure (even though the aforementioned “emotion”, “difficulty”, &c, &c) and resolved that I would no longer allow myself to fall victim to the kind of thinking which leads one to the comfort of the body rather than the triumph of the mind. (If “triumph of the mind” is a suspect phrase for you, as it is for me, we might instead say “the rigour of accomplishment and the security of routine”.) To this end I then made the decision not to sleep, or not to allow myself to sleep until I felt that I had manifested some serious action during the preceding waking period. Because I felt, and perhaps still feel, that I have spent my recent time sleeping instead of acting, that given opportunity (or, simply, “seeing” opportunity) (remotely, as if far off, on the edge of some cliff faraway or through the smeared glass of a periscope) I have chosen to “close my eyes” and retreat into non-action (or a kind of action that is not the required action, an oblique action that may be therapy, yes, but brings me no closer to my stated goal or to a given goal or goal imposed [outward imposition of goal making the goal no less authentic, and in fact more urgent]). Deciding, in that moment, as a way of bringing me back to myself, returning to rigour and routine, that I would follow Harry Mathews and write 20 lines a day, never more or less, something simple, straight-forward, but becoming more complex according to the size of paper used (since a smaller sheet, with less writing space, will necessarily require more thought) and according to the length of time I continue this project, since repetition and inversion are the cruxes of literary complexity. And to that end I began that project over lunch, and later wrote down the call number for Mathews’s book (20 Lines a Day) which, until this point, right now, I have never read.

This is, of course, not that effort, exceeding, as it does, 20 lines. And neither this or the aforementioned project bringing me closer to my stated goal (or original goal—the completion of the essay, a greater focus on my coursework) which led me to reprimanding myself this morning.

I’m in Bistro 990. I am paying to be here. This is for myself. That’s okay.


This is an arrangement, an exchange. They’ll take care of me—at least nominally—and I’ll pay them for that privilege. Clear, simple, direct. Dignified. (Of course, there’s always snootiness, but I can bear that affront.)


It takes me a moment to realize that the music they’ve playing is satellite radio—the “Coffee House” channel (endless acoustic covers of well-known songs). The same station plays in a dated and countrified Orangeville café I sometimes frequent. There facile, presumptive, even absurd. Here a little crass, a little disruptive. But no more crass than anything else. Natural. What should I expect? I would prefer something else. But the atmosphere permits the disturbance. What I’m really feeling is a little awe, a slight inferiority, an insecurity (“Is there a dress code?”). Pretension. And pretension bears pretension well.

Especially for someone susceptible to authority.


(Pretension: claim to an “authentic” tradition to which one does not belong. “Coffee house” suggests live performance. Acoustic instead of electric, or instead of a large arrangement: more intimate, more “human”, but playing on an automated corporate radio station.)


What else? It’s the quiet (I’m alone, in the front room), and also—I’m not ashamed to admit—the clientele. I don’t know if I like the customers who filter through on their way from the dining room. But I don’t have to like them. I don’t have to know them. In Orangeville I’m confronted with the outrage, the exaggeration of the other customers. Their neglect. I identify with their unkempt attitude, even though I attempt to distinguish myself. Right now it’s nice to inhabit a space that excludes, that represses, that hides (I’m not speaking of hiding people, but of a kind of interaction which rejects superfluity, which obliterates—or makes unnecessary—the self, myself).


But it’s not all restraint here. Since I’m the only one, since I am by-and-large an insignificant personage, the waiters come in to banter loudly with the bartender. The head waiter, who speaks loudest, with the most confidence, the most jocularity, sometimes catches my eye. I’m not sure whether to acknowledge the affront (is that what it is?) or to pretend as if nothing were happening.


The head waiter bends back, tipping a glass to his lips. “This woman didn’t touch her water.” Could he really be drinking from her glass? I want to trust his action, his words, but it seems unlikely. I’ve misunderstood. Perhaps it’s another glass. Sleight of hand—nothing is what it seems, especially not when it appears  simple.

“Apart from that, we had books. He would spin through as many as three a day, sometimes reading while he stood almost at attention but rocking slightly on his heels. I read his books after he finished them, and was quite likely the only ten-year-old at my two-room school in Buckhorn, Ontario, who could speak knowledgeably about the sexual services offered beneath the Roman Forum during gladiatorial matches, the operation of fuselage-mounted machine guns on World War I aircraft, the superhuman endurance of First Nations runners, and British naval tactics against the Spanish Armada.”

From the Walrus (“The Missing Piece”, by Terence Byrnes).

What does Hemingway say about marriage?

“They seemed to like us too and treated us as though we were very good, well mannered and promising children and I felt that they forgave us for being in love and being married—time would fix that—and when my wife invited them to tea, they accepted.”

Time fixes.