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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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The theme of the party was “giving up.” I had just returned from Saskatoon, where I’d visited my parents for the first time in seven years. My friend C explained to me that many of her friends had recently expressed frustration with the fact that their parents were losing their drives, settling instead into a kind of vacant complacency. “That’s not what I meant, exactly,” I said, explaining that both of my parents were still ambitious people, only settled surely into their lives—lives that were much lonelier than I had imagined they were. But, strangely, just as I remembered. The thing was that they had moved, and in moving I had thought they had changed their lives for the better.

I saw a billboard on my way to the party, I don’t remember what for, exactly—probably running shoes. A black woman wearing athletic gear against a white backdrop. The billboard said things such as “fierce,” and “without compromise.” I thought in order to produce and believe in the work you were doing at the company that produced that billboard you’d have to put on mental blinders, to make your life not much larger than what you were paid to do.

At the party I sat on the deck because I was afraid of going anywhere else. It’s where I found my friend C at the beginning of the party. It felt like a long time since I had gone to any party, but probably more accurately it was only a long time since I had been to any party where I knew almost no one. Mostly I wasn’t in the mood. A man came onto the deck. My friend C asked him how he was doing. He said “Oh I feel terrible, completely out of it.” C said, “I’m sorry.” He said “No, that’s how I always feel. But this past week I was really creative, I was having the most creative thoughts.” “Oh,” she said, “do you mean with music?” “No,” he said, “just by myself, just philosophizing. But I didn’t write it down or anything. This was just for me.” The man was conventionally attractive and a musician. He was used to people caring about his slightest impulse. It felt terrible to be confronted with his lazy vanity.

But because I can be cruel I also felt grateful to have seen it, even if I also thought there were obvious, uncomfortable parallels between him and me.

All night I felt disassociated and reticent. It was a weird mood to go to a party in—I should have stayed at home. I expected more from everyone else than I was willing to give. On the walk home I thought that meant that something was going to change for me soon: that I would lose everything, either willingly or because it would be taken from me. I didn’t think anything that I lost would actually matter. I knew all of my priorities were wrong. I was already falling apart. Perhaps the real problem was that I was too surely holding on.

After the party a friend messaged to say I should come to a bar. I said no. She asked me—I thought sarcastically, now I’m not sure—how my girlfriend was doing. I said, “good.” I should have said “great.” Before I left I had to ask a woman I had just met that night to stop leaning on the apartment door. She said no—a joke—but I was momentarily alarmed: was she actually refusing to let me go? It was awful to think. I hadn’t seen C stand up off the couch to hug me goodbye—when I turned around to put on my shoes, she was standing behind me. I hugged her, quickly. I felt like a thief escaping into the night.

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When he calls her in the morning she says, “I had this strange feeling that when I picked up the phone you were going to ask to speak to someone else.” But there’s no one on the other end, unless he’d like to speak to the dog. In the car on the way to riverfront lot his parents purchased adjacent to the battle for Fish Creek he makes a note to check to see if everything is okay the next time they speak. Is everything okay? The church that marks the site of the battle is wood, elegant and gray but nearly falling down. Over a hundred years old now. The land is stolen. 

After his parents drove him home from the airport it only took him a couple of hours to realize that their lives were just as lonely, or lonelier, than they had been living in the country, where they had lived a twenty minute drive from any settlement. Nearly every surface was colonized with a stack of papers or books, including in the room that he would be staying in. The topmost article in the stack next to his computer reads: “A randomized clinical trail of prophylaxis in a children with hemophilia A.” The television turns on like clockwork with the onset of night. There his father sits while his mother does something in the kitchen. After dinner she joins him. It has been a long time since his parents moved away—seven years—and it has been easy to imagine that their lives were somehow richer in their new city, more cosmopolitan, more lively. But now even the couple they used to complain about seems to be gone from their lives. 

For a while now he has been wrestling with a problem—how to live. How to produce art while also maintaining social connections. How to find a romantic partner and navigate professional obligations while giving himself space to do the only work that matters to him. Lately the answer has been: to try and do a little bit of everything, poorly. To lose himself in romance. At other times it has been to ignore the outside world in favour of art. This is what a recent novel he has read suggests, or seems to, clumsily (The Friend, Sigrid Nunez). The answer is not an easy one but it helps to see his parents and how they live: to remember where he comes from in addition to seeing a clear model of what he’d like to avoid becoming. 

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It is obvious from my posts here that I have become increasingly narcissistic.

I worry that I take up too much space in other peoples’ minds, an inversion of what is actually the case (that it’s my mind I spend too much time in).

Why have I been this way? Closed, echoing in and out.

It’s strange to realize your avoidance, to see that your mental state has been the opposite of what you’ve imagined. I’ve lost my train of thought.

But that’s more or less how it is: I don’t follow the tracks that I laid, long ago. I’m not sure what I’m doing. But it feels like I’ve been lost in the woods. 

A strange place, where all of the trees have eyes.