As I tighten my mouth around a smooth cigarette, you are telling me things I already don’t care to know about. Something about the guy at work who never has his shit together and always manages to drag you into the mired mess with him because that is what people who are clueless do, grab onto everything helpful around them and drown it out. Meanwhile I, on the other hand, feel something of a smug triumph because I have managed to hold down a day job that doesn’t come home with me. All the useless drivel is left where it belongs: inside the gray and dying walls of a building which corrals hundreds of people for the better part of their days, the majority of their squirmy eyeless lives. Taking a long sip of wine, I attempt to change the subject and talk about moving because I am terrified of a future together which is devoid of adventure, but the truth is I love our house with a bone-deep kind of love I have never known in a place ever before. It’s just a split level house in a no-name town, but over the years we have carved ourselves into it so deeply that I can’t imagine being anywhere else let alone leaving this place behind. The way it feels like living in a park when I wake up to the sunlight falling through the trees and streaming through our open bedroom windows. The logs on the fireplace in the dead of winter as snow piles up against the back patio. It’s a home now, one that stays inside of you even when you go away for a while so that it is always calling you back. I think sometimes I talk to you about home because I don’t know how to talk to you about writing, how much it means to me, how much I need it. To have a home like this is a beautiful trap not unlike writing. There is a wandering loneliness in writing which is oddly seductive, it keeps you writhing around in its web until it kills you or makes a meal of you or both. But if I don’t write, I can feel the sickness crawling up underneath my skin, the sad panic at not being able to find the words. For all the romance they will offer you about being a writer, it’s nothing short of an affliction really to have a relentless desire to retreat alone to a room and be with the dead quiet so that you can close your mind to everything except the most immediate sensations and thoughts. It’s still dark outside as I type, there is a cat crying loudly down the street. The sound is so crushingly hollow with pain and desperation it makes my insides ache with both affection and disgust. For as long as I can remember I have had myself convinced that I am a writer who can only write in the very early mornings before the rest of the world realizes anything is even happening. It’s not true of course, a real writer can write at any hour and we are always writing no matter where we are at any given time. We are just especially good at fooling ourselves, at backing ourselves into corners in our lives and in our stories. The only way to claw out of ourselves is to dive into ourselves. Maybe that’s why I love the home we have built together so much. No matter how far off I need to wander I always seem to wind up coming back. The cat is screaming now— hasn’t let up. And high above the idle moon watches, glowing from a vast cold distance.
It’s another day gone by and the winds are picking up as the seasons turn darker and colder every time the sun sinks down into the ether. I check my phone too much, compulsively now I don’t even try to stop myself- sure the world is going to end any minute but of course it won’t be that sudden. The avalanche of atrocities and terror and greed will continue long past when we deserve to even be here at all. It’s hard to think about anything else when you are so rattled with existential dread and yet there are still the temporary pleasurable escapes: poetry, music, erotica, writing, wine. Women’s drinking is on the rise here in the States and I’ve about a million fine guesses why but at the moment I’m just trying to survive being human staring alternately at screens glowing dumbly as we bomb and kill and torture each other with no end in sight. I’m torn between raging and laughing because still they look for heroes, still they hope and pray and pretend someone else will save us from the evil we let pour vainly through ourselves. The arrogance of that kind of ignorance infuriates me and then leaves me numb. Because the state of current affairs is such that I don’t know anymore if I give zero fucks or all the fucks. Because commercials for lingerie, whiter teeth, and spa vacations are the only things breaking up the never ending psychotic reel of cruelty. Because as this particularly ordinary evening turns to purple clouds in a graveyard sky, in my veins there runs a story I am unable to find the words to tell, and page after page this life which I cannot ever seem to master, cannot ever seem to wrap my fingers around to hold on tight, slides silently passively by.
This restlessness eats all the way to my fingertips. Because of the anxiousness I can’t seem to figure out what to do with the feeling so I pull out the laptop and start typing without a single thing to say. There is a layer of something so deep and murky under the skin I feel as though a dark and unforgiving ocean walks the earth inside of me. Childhood memories of crisp fall evenings walking the concrete sidewalks of my old neighborhood. Before there were cell phones, before there was so much fear in everything I touched. The thin tension in the air between my small body and the only slightly larger body of the boy I wanted to kiss but never did. His curly hair and my bright blue eyes. Days of knee socks and growing into an awkward quiet creature. The years have gone by and some have been kind but some have been crueler than I can bear to recall. Regret, panic, destruction. Red lipstick and dimly lit bars and strangers who turn you on. A hungry girl grows into a reckless woman, but you like that and so do they so you mistake desperation for power. You live a life that becomes only a memory but also continues to loop inside, turns the stomach, clutches at your breast at night. How much time. What have I done with any of it. What do I have left to do but write, but write, but what. For who. Why? And as the black morning sky peels itself open like a weary eyelid from the ending of the night, you think you know. Because the soul needs something to worship. Hungry girl. You need an obsession that will tear you open. Something to rail against and submit to. You need devotion in your life to stay alive.
Looking into your eyes as you hold my gaze I feel weak but also some kind of holy, which is a rare feeling for me, especially these days. There is a strength between us no one else can see but we know it because we can feel it coursing through our worn out veins, a sudden injection of life where once there was only numbness. This is the way we take flight without moving a muscle, this is how we pray without making a single sound. Everything you are is hunger I somehow think will satisfy my own. To lust is to feed at the mouth of emptiness, a futile beg to be filled. It is hopeless, it is its own reward and punishment. It is ten minutes to six in the morning and all is dark outside and in. My stomach is sick and I’m nervous as fuck for reasons I cannot name. Perhaps it’s the dreams about something so beautiful that refuses to exist in this harsh reality of a life lived mostly to fulfill other people’s fantasies. High heels and tight lips. A scream and a promise and a mistake. Fear turns into a game. Who wears it best, who hides it best. Where does the hurt go, what about the pain, where does the aching go if I turn my face away. Secrets and the way my eyes have hollowed out almost completely over the years. When did it all fall apart or was it never really pulled together. How is it that there comes a time when you actually believe that without a mirror there is nothing left to see.
Dark thoughts of bad behavior flicker in your mind along with fire flies trapped in jam jars in the hands of a mischievous child. We have been cut down to less than we are worth, it happens without our being aware of it. Hacks. Con artists. Scammers. One night stands. Old boyfriends, some you’ll never forget because every time your hear their name your heart pinches just a little bit with the pain of the recollection of lusty nights and tender love slashed apart at once. All you’ve lived through just to get through it and never ask for anything more ever again but to breathe without the ache in your chest. Google will finish your sentences for you if you aren’t sure what to say. I guess there’s nothing sacred left in this place if we are now reduced to prerecorded catch phrases, we hardly need brains anymore let alone writers, who would want to try to understand any of this sterile madness. The rich get richer and fast, baby. Faster than you can count your anxiety ridden self luckier than most but still fearful of losing it all in the blink of an eye. Pouring cold white wine into my favorite thin stemmed glass I think about how addiction runs in my family but only the ones who play it safe seem to die ahead of their time. It’s a cool afternoon in early autumn and the leaves are just barely changing from green to orange in the fading late day sunlight. If I told you I wanted to radically change this game called love, what would you say? If I told you this wasn’t enough even though it’s already more than I’m afraid I deserve, would you turn against me on a dime? Or would you find it in your heart to understand that I’m only human and humans are such complicated creatures to begin with, what do you expect? I have cravings just like everybody else. Some aren’t socially palatable but what of that? What of them— the ones who demand you live up to their polite expectations so they can feel like they have a handle on a world that is turning to dust right in front of their very eyes. I think of a writer I used to admire who could take words out of thin air and assemble them just so, and use them to do whatever he wanted with you. Without even laying a hand on you he could touch you, gut you, cut you, get you off. Have you any idea how hard it is to find writers like that anymore? We stumble, we search. Whiskey bottles in hotel rooms by the hour and chipped white wedding chapels on sweet green hills far away from here. As the tangerine sun sets behind a purple autumn sky, the liars and the cheaters hold in their hands every shiny broken thing they ever wanted. Are you jealous or disgusted or both? Sometimes the darkness wins. And the world has never felt so hungry. so empty. so angry wet and alive.
Just outside my window the neighbors are fighting in their driveway about something I can’t quite discern. She is speaking in a tone somewhere between mildly annoyed and thoroughly pissed off as he is talking so loudly over her that neither one can hear anything the other is going on about. I am too worn out from a long day at the office to listen to one more useless word of drivel. I pull the window down tight reluctantly because I usually like the smooth evening air sifting in as I write my thoughts into the abyss, the soothing sounds of crickets and low hush of the traffic moving steady along the highway. These moments are so rare for me though I try everything I can to expand the time I have to myself. You steal pockets of time, that is the only way. Steal irreverently from a world which expects you to give everything away endlessly for nothing. As the clouds move in and rain begins to splatter against the windowpane, the substance of this life feels very far away from me. If all we ever truly are is alone, what do people hold onto? How many of us sit quietly in small rooms afraid of our own minds, terrified of what it truly means to love someone else when we don’t even know how to love ourselves. When the words don’t come it is hard for me to think, it is hard for me to feel connected to anything when the words fail me. You cannot foresee the dry spells either, you can write like a motherfucker for weeks at a time and then suddenly not one decent (or even indecent) thing occurs to you to say. The more clever ones, they just walk away- do something else with their stolen slivers of time, something that makes common sense to common people. Not me. I sit until my stomach cramps and my head pounds. I come back to the blank page over and over like an insatiable lover. It drives me absolutely mad when the words don’t show. But for some ridiculous reason, after thirty odd years of this aching melancholic obsession, I always do.
Having spent the weekend alternating between reading new erotica and a book about the inevitable collapse of society, I’m now draining my second cup of coffee wondering how to begin a day filled with so much beauty and potential interspersed with moments of sheer apocalyptic dread. In some ways we are all machines, going through the same motions to bathe, feed, clothe, secure, and care for ourselves, while another part of us is on a constant hunt for a turn on, a high, an escape, a perversion. Some part of us needs deviance despite the fact that Google won’t let us out of our own three dots long enough to purchase or read anything that doesn’t already jive with how we purchase and think. Every keystroke, calculated, cataloged, coded, until a third persona develops itself into sinister being. Somewhere between who we are and who we wish we were emerges our cyber self, the strange cross breed of digital existence which knows and simultaneously blinds us to our secret habits. How you like to read about sex rather than watch it. How you want flawless skin and what you are willing to pay to get it, or fake it. The music you like, the DMs you wish you could get back but you can’t, the selfies, the drama, the outrage, the news feed tailored just specifically for you based on your clicks, likes, leanings, worldview, friends, spending habits, Facebook posts. We are all being watched all of the time and yet we are still desperate for an audience. Hungry to be seen, looked at, praised, followed. But what we don’t seem to grasp (or care about/ be willing to change our patterns for) is that we have fallen for the scam just as planned by those who study us, feed off of our every move, making billions by collecting infinite data points on our behavior. As you sit wondering what the fuck to do with your life, they already know you better than you know yourself and knowing what you’ve done they know exactly what you will do. They’ve already got you doing it. How much is left to chance? How many opinions are truly your own? How many of your decisions, large or small, are in or out of your control, really?
It’s a regular morning and the late summer sun is sloping up over the horizon as I sit by the glow of my laptop in a silent house. Google. Instagram. Medium. WordPress. Amazon. In the stillness, each of my movements is tracked. Everything is timed. Filtered. Filed. Analyzed, optimized, collected, monetized. Everything is seamless and we are smiling as it all falls apart. Life is the hands of a clock sweeping over and over the same terrain, hours that hang suspended on the wall, waiting for no one.
Eyes clouded from some kind of hazy listlessness I can’t seem to escape in the evenings, I slip on an old tee shirt and tie my hair back before pouring my heart out in a beat up notebook like I used to do when I was a kid. It’s mostly just cathartic, a way to keep myself from going completely mental in a world which increasingly feels like it’s trying to off every single one of us, but something about keeping a journal has always made me feel like I have some semblance of hope. I’m not sure in what. Maybe in myself but I think also in something bigger than myself, in whatever it is which desires the words be put to paper. There is a grand mystery there, though most will deny it. As I listen to the end of this day, the clock is a pulse ticking off the edges of a life which now slides down the shadows on the wall. In the quiet I am most myself. I worry I have offered more of myself hiding behind the walls of this room than on the other side of them. I worry, I worry, I lose touch. But in the words I am most alive, most aware. In the stillness I begin to allow mad thoughts to come forward: the way even oceans drown inside those eyes of his, the cellular nature of annihilation and decay, the screams of the wild inside feral things. I imagine the sharp spires of the Notre Dame cathedral as it burned, the blazing fires of the coming season, and the shape of my legs when my love is lost inside the heavens between them. Dark secrets in the turning of the moon, revolution, the terrible sweetness in falling apart at the hands of yourself.
It’s all around you, the way the vacant words falling from the mouths of those who do not understand separate and resuscitate themselves, surviving only barely by the eating of your breath.
You like the rainy days because they break you and cradle you just enough. I can tell you wear anguish and destruction like a shield, that you believe safety is a gag and a blanket, something you win by paying for it with every aching fiber of who you want to be.
When you smile I want to pull the flowers from your bleeding chest and plant them in the darkest corners of my mind. Never to forget you, you and all of your wilderness, all of your seasons of life and skeletons and death. A wall of tears is suspended in the air, at any moment about to crash along the surface of your limbs. You can tell me all the dirty things, I have no interest in robbing them of you.
The moment I met you I knew we had known each other for a very long time, it felt like my eyes resting behind your eyes would have made perfect sense. The way you saw the majestic and the terrible things I could see and did not turn away. I am always so taken by the souls of those who find silence to be rich, the ones who slide their bodies into a quiet room and listen for the things most people throw away by moving too fast, protruding too intrusively, talking too much. Saying nothing about nothing when I hunger for so much.
They shuffle and speak in low tones as you drift past their illusions and up into the blue electric sky. It’s not that you don’t care it’s just that there has to be more than this, something with a deeper soul must exist if only people would let the darkness into the light and the light into the places where they think there is nothing more to see.
And as they keep trying to sell us eternity, we fade farther and farther into retreat. This moment, the one catching you and I by the gap between heartbeats, this is the only one we need.
I am learning to look back and see that every cycle, every phase of the things I have been through, they each needed the space and time and energy they needed. That is simply the truth.
There was nothing I could have rushed through and nothing I could have prevented because I was unfolding in two ways at once: in love and in fear of love. And these two streams were crisscrossing each other all the time exactly as they were set in motion. I made choices, of course, but each was made from that intersection of love and fear of love.
I can see that now, however briefly, however fleeting that clarity may be, I can see my life, my love and fear-of-love story, as whole. As complete in the way it met and did not meet my expectations of myself.
There is a place which is a way, which is a way of thinking about these things without judgment. It’s a center, a balance, we can seek out if we can trust ourselves enough that it exists. This place within is where we cut ourselves free, let ourselves off the hook for whatever we believe the past held for us. What it gave to us and what we gave in return can be what they are.
It is really tough to dwell within that clarity and it moves ever in and out of focus. But through some kind of madness or miracle, it can be done.