Getting deeper and deeper into something. Asking questions. “You’re quiet.” Wondering what would change, how to change, what can change. Feeling raw and trying to pay attention to that. “This feels like a very young you, in front of me right now.” What does that mean? “A confused you. An overwhelmed you.” I’d love to be able to focus on the material in front of me. I’d love not to be triggered by dealing with authority figures. I’d love to feel less contingent. You can feel precarious—existentially—even when things are going well. Even if—existentially—you’d be fine. Fine but upset. What do I mean by upset? Radical upheaval. Tectonic plates moving. Now is the time to work. But it’s also time to feel.
Viewing impulses to play The Binding of Isaac or Into the Breach for hours at a time as symptoms rather than decisions: I can’t decide when the feeling to lose myself comes over me, only how to respond. I feel “bad”—when I give in to it, but I feel “bad” before giving into it, too. I feel bad that I want to waste my life in this way, but at the same time it doesn’t quite feel like a waste. Only a kind of postponement (I have mentioned this feeling recently).
A meeting and a dinner on Monday. At the meeting people talked about volunteering with various leftist organizations… I thought, don’t I have time for that? Don’t I have time for that, and don’t I waste all of my time on compulsions? Then I went home. I was exhausted. I wanted to work on the story that I’ve been imagining myself working on, but I couldn’t. I wanted to watch television or a movie, to release something inside me and then go to sleep, but I wouldn’t let myself. (To release something inside me through writing fiction, too.)
I didn’t go to sleep until one-thirty in the morning, I exhausted myself saving the world perhaps three or four times. There were moments of perfection in that experience that I can still hang on to. Not as a kind of glory or triumph but a blankness. A pleasing blankness. But I felt worse.
Before going to sleep I asked myself: Why am I like this? Why am so depraved? Why can’t I spend my time volunteering, putting myself to good use? And I had a dream that night which seemed to directly answer the question. In it my paralysis and fear were one and the same: the dream described how I was never able to get answers. My mother shifting the blame, until she collapsed out of exhaustion. Movie monsters were shown, embodiments of my fear: tame, behind glass. I was invited to yell at them, tap knives against the screen. It was explained to me that the latter came from the former, from neglect, from violence, from lies and refusals of responsibility.
It all seemed so easy, something that could be fixed by knowing. But understanding is not the same as doing. I’ve written about this before. And perhaps I have never even understood.
The Bureau of Questions. R tells me something she learned in social psychology, that if you call someone and ask whether they are a charitable person, or support the idea of giving to charity, but without asking explicitly for money, it is difficult to get a no. Then—unrelated—you call them three days later and ask them to give money: a seven-hundred percent increase in donations. I’m not interested in money, although I’m glad to note the efficacy. A Bureau of Questions—a group that calls asks the right questions, questions that unsettle them or change minds. Questions that irritate, like grains of sand… Questions that pass so silently it’s almost as if they weren’t ever asked at all.
Reading the Arcades project on a foggy day (the Baudelaire konvolut)—I wanted to hop on my bicycle, ride to the city centre, pace underneath the huge buildings with my hands in my pockets, just like I used to when I first moved to the city and was finding my bearings. The city seems so small to me now—I know it in every cardinal direction. But then I was reluctant to go too far north of Bloor, too west of Bathurst, too east of Jarvis, though I circled that interior endlessly. It seemed inexhaustible somehow. The city wasn’t what it is now: or perhaps only in my mind it wasn’t, because I went out alone at every time of night and I was always safe. But it’s true that what I encountered was more than I encounter now (almost nothing). Then I was often stopped for directions, or accosted, a man grabbed me in the street, another pulled his car up to me at one in the morning and asked me if I knew the next street over, then if I wanted to get in his car. At two am I followed a drug dealer for blocks and watched him conduct a deal in front of a convenience store on Dundas.
The city was different then: there are stretches in the centre that would now be impossible to believe: a long line of low-slung discount stores on Yonge just north of Carlton, an adult store open twenty-four hours that played a recorded advertisement even in the early morning, just after the sun had risen… The restaurants, the bars seemed like they had less to offer me than they do now. But they were mysterious, unknown. I ordered my first alcoholic drink from a bar when I was eighteen, at Fran’s Diner on College, at two or three in the morning. An Irish coffee—an absurd choice, but I wanted to hover always in the space between dreaming and wakefulness. The facade of Sam’s, the square that was always under construction, the smell of the apartment in the summer, the impossible heat, the clanging dumpsters that would wake me up once a week… The city has changed a lot in the time that I have known it intimately. I have changed with it. It’s not the same city as it was then, even though some of the comfort and ease that I have with it now comes from the feeling that it is: that I am mastering it. That feeling is an an illusion. One day I will leave and I will carry my idea of the city away with me.
Some writers are never satisfied. They confuse the dissatisfaction that has brought them to writing, the brief satisfaction that writing brings them, with the dissatisfaction and satisfactions of life. The two are not the same. These writers think their general dissatisfaction can be more than momentarily assauged by things outside themselves. The word is continuously. They imagine the frozen state of perfection that they arrange and enter into as a possible condition for their entire lives. There is nothing lasting about the way a word hangs. But it can be more than a small comfort to someone who is in the position of the writer: that is, continuously reeling. Forced to reckon with the absence they know in their hearts they will always feel, they imagine moving buildings and lovers into place to fill the gap. They are at the centre of a diagram of their city, with wide boulevards radiating outwards from their every thought and desire. They are like Hausmann bulldozing medieval Paris to arrange the city around Tuileries or the Arc de Triomphe, burying the sewers and bringing “air” to the city on the back of the pain they are causing others. And they don’t realize that there’s anyone in their way, because the slums that they have torn down were always, to them, only a figment of their imagination. Good writers too can think like this: this is the real disease of writers, the one that leads them to alcoholism or mania. It’s the tragedy of writing, because they become their own authorities. There’s no necessity of being moral in order to be good.
A weekend in the country. It was like we were outside time. The dream I always anticipate. Now I’m overwhelmed by it. A false dream. Ease. Simplicity. A life working out. (How would we live? Where would we get money?) Wanting to be free from responsibilities. Freed from. As if vacation could be stretched to an eternity. Of course it could not. And I wonder what I am so anxious for to happen. What postponement I seek. In myself what I do not wish to address. It’s the same feeling when I imagine something “working out” or happening that has no right to. That couldn’t. Or could and would but won’t. Getting in the way of myself. Earlier this year. Loving, distantly. What would have happened if I had just been patient? Not in terms of: imagining a relationship that I’m not sure could “be.” But in terms of what I would discover about myself. Patient with my own feelings. I write about myself so often—but in truth that might be about the only time I ever truly interrogate that subject. Mostly I am interested in throwing my consciousness away, as if I were a bucking horse. That’s what I did these past—two and a half-days? One and a half? I’m afraid of confronting what I refuse to interrogate. When I’m like this it’s like that episode in season five of Bojack Horseman where he keeps taking pills, living in a dream life which merges fiction and reality. Requiem for a Dream. Popping in and out of consciousness. Barely registering.
On Friday it was my job to make lists—lists of people I know. That sounds like an anxiety dream. I went around a circle with a piece of paper writing down people’s names. But it was obvious that I didn’t know the names of people that I have known for, on average, something like four years. Now I’m trying to write a story in Future’s, but I am weighed down by a feeling that writing anything would be impossible. Even writing my own name. I told my friend, S, that I feel like I want to crawl into a room—any room, as long as the lights were turned off. As long as there was a bank of cushions leaned up against the wall. Something is making me very upset—but perhaps nothing more than my refusal to accept that it’s time to do nothing more serious than enter and exit rooms.