More than once this term I have said, to Alex, “I don’t like Jimmy Corrigan, I hate his misery, his abominable sadness. The way his misery comes from inappropriate want.” But of course I also hate that in myself.
What do I want? I am not sure, except that I know that I am always wanting. To what extent this is merely a physiological circumstance is unclear to me: I know running helps. I know I can want less. I know I can want more. At the Medieval Women Workshop a man reads about love (as madness) in the Symposium and love (as madness) in the work of a medieval female mystic. The conversation turned to dissolution, and language.
I wanted to say, “On the topic of dissolution I always think of Dido on the bonfire in the Aeneid, the Trojans glimpsing the smoke from afar.” In response to a question from the back making the connection between Plato and the mystic their use of language, I wanted to say, “Language—as both Jacques Lacan says in Seminar XX and Anne Carson in her study of the origins of the Ancient Greek lyric—is the origin of want. It is where boundaries of self are first threatened.”
I said neither of those things. I thought it better to keep my ideas to myself, as if in doing so they will be made stronger, which is the opposite of what will take place. It is a delusion.
And sometimes love is. Love is madness but also is not. There are many kinds of love—divine love, romantic love, love for your neighbour, charitable love, lust. Their meanings are twisted and turned and shifted: love for the divine is romantic, lustful; love for the divine is merely the love for your neighbour who wishes to do you well and loves you in turn out of obligation, no more or less than he loves anyone else. What would it mean to love the divine so powerfully that he fulfills the want that is always inside you?
This is a question that I think of, sometimes, not because I have a particular desire to be religious but because I sometimes feel so undone by desire.
In the past when you have been followed by something your response has been to say—I am nothing, so how could anything be in my wake? I create no wake.
Lately I have felt bitter, burnt out, distracted, and cruel. I have felt that I have had no outlet, that everything I say or have said is tainted by this swamp that I am mired in: an excess or an imposition. I have been both apologetic and fatalistic, upset to see the parts of myself I have wished to keep under the surface leak out. Wild and unrestrained, lingering like a bad taste.
And yet I know my life is good.
This despite the fact that I am not sure I am always in it. Reflecting today on a conversation I had in May—one that felt meaningful to me. About precisely this feeling. And realizing that I had completely forgotten it. I could not bring it back.
I know my life is good, but it is not enough to have a good life, a life that looks all right from the outside. All right, except. I have said no to that life a thousand times. I do not want it. I want—certain things. And those things will not complete me in the way that I imagine. I often want completion—I feel myself nearing it, like I am a technique or a concentrated afternoon away. No. It will never come. It will always be far away. If I don’t live like that—if I live like what I want is always just out of my grasp, I will spend the rest of my live staring intently at it. I will float through life, and I will die not having realized what I want.
And what I want is only: to acknowledge what is missing. To dwell in it, not in a perverse, wallowing way—instead as if in contemplation. To meditate on it, to turn what is missing into a strength. To take the question—what is missing?—and hold it in my hands.
The larcener ceased his assay nigh the wiket—dight with no cliket, he was frore, rude as to how he would prik the pale beyond without. Tocsins rang in his crumpet: he was no mooncalf, he was sure he had kept it compeer, lest he be ruth at the pelf he had paid for it. It was not a doit! The varlet thought he would overset. But then the cliket appeared suddenly on his scrag. The pale’s glebe began to rack with nought to rack it, and something made him feel like a bruit, fearing ambuscade. And the wiket seemed now fervent, as if it might measure into sea smoke. He followed it: a glim, demit from his estate.
(The Fear of Oblivion)
The thief ceased his attempt near the gate—equipped with no latchkey, he was frozen, ignorant as to how he would pierce its bounds without. Alarms rang in his head: he was no fool, he was sure he had kept it a close companion, lest he be grieved at the money he had paid for it. It was not a small amount! The rogue thought he would capsize. But then the latchkey appeared again on his neck. The bound’s meadow began to be driven by the wind, though with nothing to drive it, and something made him feel like a rumour, fearing ambush. And the gate now seemed glowing, as if it might dance into fog. He followed it: a candle, resigned from his condition.
Last night I had many dreams, but I only remember one or a piece of one. And in this dream I was being shown a large pothos plant whose leaves were pinned in a fan up a wall. But all of the vines were withered and dead. Or dying. And in the dream I was told, “Be careful of overwatering, because too much water will cause them to grow larger than the pot can support.”
In my dream I thought “That isn’t true—I can just water them more frequently.” But I knew that wasn’t the solution. I knew I couldn’t keep that up, that I had to reduce the amount of water I used.
It’s late at the library, where nothing ever happens in the hours that I’m here. Which would be, if this was a different sort of report, the perfect scenario for something unusual to occur. Someone would come to the front desk and demand that I open the register—we don’t have a register, no one pays their fines with cash—or screams would be heard from somewhere deep within the stacks. Of course, I’m grateful that neither of those things are happening—it’s almost 11 pm and I’d rather be in bed. I don’t want any complications. It’s hard enough to work at the library from the hours of 10 pm to 12 am, even if I’m being paid a nice hourly rate. Before I came to work here tonight, I thought that would make an interesting topic—the fact that nothing happens—but now that I’m here, and tired as well as bored, I have to admit that I don’t quite see the appeal. Instead, I spy on the patrons. There’s a couple working on the computers near the front desk. Earlier, they had a disagreement, a mild one but without resolution. They were arguing about a math problem—one, the man, thought he had the solution, and might have, but was talking over the woman, and with condescension. Though in a light, friendly voice—which must have made things even worse. But it was obvious, from the outside, that even if she didn’t understand, she mostly wanted to be heard. And to understand. He was impatient to rush her to the finish line. Complicated by the fact that is so late at night, and he was also impatient to leave. But the solution to the math problem—if he even had it—was not whatever it was he was expressing to his partner. It was something else, something he’d entirely missed. They said nothing to each other for the last ten minutes they were here. Stared at their phones, their computers off. And then I heard him say, “Let’s get out of here.” And it was only reluctantly that she got up to leave.
An epiphany on the walk to your appointment. No, it came the night before, running into your friend Kevin while you were nursing a Skor bar in your pocket outside the Shopper’s. You eat food wilfully, as a means of making space. Space for whom or what? In either case space you didn’t need to make. In your bag: fifteen cheesecake bites and a bar of sea salt and caramel chocolate. You bring out the latter when it becomes evident that the former doesn’t interest your partner. Over the course of the next day you eat twelve. Kevin famously lost twenty or thirty pounds just by switching from Budweiser to Michelob Light. It feels wrong to wave the chocolate in the air in front of him. Like he could hex you: give you the reverse fate, chocolate dooming you to fifteen or twenty pounds gained in a week. As easily as it came off him. You’re sick and you need the calories, you tell yourself, as you also tell him you’re delirious (he doesn’t understand why you would even bring that up). It’s true that you feel better today than you did yesterday or the day before, a difference you ascribe to eating all that desert—and the next day, a milkshake, a medium fry—but which just as easily could have been the body naturally healing itself, over time (perhaps you even retarded your healing). What does the body need? You aren’t sure. And now that you’re thinking about it, the epiphany came a week or two earlier, walking to meet her, but first passing through the Metro, where you bought a pizza bun and ate it quickly in the park.