Whatever you are reading is not the real story. No matter what she says, underneath the words is something darker, harder, truer, and therefore more debilitating. Behind those dazzling white teeth is a mind full of racing doubts and a starvation for love so severe it has begun to eat itself, hence the bright glossy smile. A smile like a rainbow over a natural catastrophe, raging rivers overflowing banks of emotions crashing through poorly constructed dams straining to hold them back. Though she sits biting her fingernails waiting anxiously for you to come through that door and with one firm grasp of her hips take all her defenses down, everything, of course, is already written and collapse is only a matter of time. Your hand on her neck is fear that she’s running. Fears are keys into the other side of reason, tiny invisible holes, miniature flaws built right into the human infrastructure that under just the right conditions, just the precise amount of pressure, burst. Pressure is pleasure in the pain and vice versa. There is an undercurrent that is a whisper that is a slow rolling thunder that is the tremor underneath the streets of her delicate city. You want to believe she needs you above all else but the story is not the story, the story is about the story, or so tight next to it you might mistake its silence for your own twisted satisfaction. Just close enough for people to believe her and not have to invest anything. If there is never a problem there never has to be a breakdown. If there is never a deadline you can waste away your insides every night of the week and throw the crumpled up days over the edge of a cliff and not have to worry that you’ve ruined the sacred beauty that was handed down to you inside that reckless body. But she’s so beautiful, golden skin glistening there in the setting sunlight atop the mountain in your newsfeed. If only if she were me, you think. If only that were my story. If only it didn’t feel so threadbare underneath your skin, like if by mistake or negligence you pull one single thread your whole life will fall elegantly, entirely apart.
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.
Removing my top, I sit beside a cool stream and feel the summer air on my bare skin. With my mind full of the most recent atrocities committed at the encouragement of our nation’s top officials, I turn my face to the sky and watch as a perfect V of Canadian geese flies toward some distant destination, their cries sharp and haunting. Fall will be coming soon and becoming a Canadian has crossed my mind more than a handful of times in the past few months. Wanting to escape more immediately however, I take a long sip of the Sauvignon blanc I’ve brought with me in a pink thermos. My notebook and pen sit beside me against a tall oak tree, we are both open and ready for any kind of inspiration but for a long while the only thing that happens is the occasional butterfly and the stream rushing by, dazzling and beautiful in the sunlight. What stories can I possibly tell that would amount to anything. Where do I begin when inside I feel like a run down beach front hotel on some vacant island, abandoned save for a few seagulls soaring overhead, boarded up tight for the harsh winter.
I used to write in order to figure things out on the assumption that to figure something out – to break it down and understand it – would somehow ‘help.’ A quaint notion now. Now facts are fiction and the truth is no longer a beacon calling you home but a weapon used to nail you into the ground. Something in me feels like I did as a teenager who begins to see that the strict religion I was brought up in was really designed to keep me obedient inside a system built on lies and oppression. It happens gradually, you sort of get the sense that things are not as they seem. That ‘protection’ is just blind submission to a thing you are never meant to fully understand. You don’t ask too many questions. You are scolded for looking behind the curtain. But it’s too late. The curtain falls at your feet. You suddenly become fully aware of your own nakedness and theirs and while they search desperately for a way to cover up again – to go back to the way it was – you in your wild heart rejoice. You walk away gladly and forever, wanting to be naked always.
The truth had set you free so long ago. And you knew you believed in something so much bigger than they ever will, something that could destroy every horror and soothe every fear because life is a miracle and death is ever at your throat. If you can just let go of the lies and the madness. Inspired by a truth that seems to make my bones sing, I pick up my pen and scribble a few lines in my journal. Take another long drink of wine and lie back upon the warm soft grass. If only I could make them see. If only I could say the right words at all the right times and save just one other person from the unspeakable sadness they carry so deep inside.
Having taken the day off to write and instead spent the better part of the morning investigating everything Jia Tolentino ever wrote or thought about or said in an interview to the point where I love-hate how brilliant she is, which is maddening in and of itself, I’m on my third cup of coffee, my fingers hovering over the keys of my laptop, waiting. Waiting for answers from someplace – any place – outside or in – that is willing to reveal itself to me. Across my front lawn the soft rain has turned to a heavy humid mist as I’m staring off into space attempting to come up with something notable, and even though my brain seems flatlined and writing seems elusive and far off, still I want so badly to keep this promise I made to myself long ago: to write.
Just to write even if it’s terrible because it’s the only ease to this undercurrent of pain, of gripping longing, that seems to be a part of my dna. To write what, exactly? What are you supposed to speak about or believe in when nothing is as it seems and reality is a fog you can move your hands through but never grasp. People are masks, mere shells of themselves and everyone is too loud, too transparent, too well put together. Aren’t we endlessly looking to the same nonsense all of the time hoping it will magically transform into the key to satisfying our deepest desires? Aren’t we hoping for something we don’t know how to identify, something to cure the repetitive horror that is this world, or at least temporarily slow it down so we could catch our breath, something that will finally fill us up and assure us that we are here for a reason other than to pose and posture and buy things we don’t know why we want. No matter how good we have it, we all want to be somebody else. We all want relief from something invisible that holds us under water just long enough so we panic but do not drown. Wracked with an anxiousness nothing really ever seems to eradicate, we kill ourselves off a thousand times a day comparing our lives to the lives we wish we had, worrying what we should be doing while we are doing none of it. Maybe it’s these dreams of ours. These silly dreams of being writers, artists, creatives, rebels, outsiders. These beautiful dreams and how in their darkness they keep us chasing something we cannot find, how in the daylight they render us powerless, paralyzed. The same.
It’s 4:17am and it’s not time to be awake yet but you are. The room is dark as the sky is out the open bedroom window, save for the faint distant glow of the harvest moon drifting behind the fog. Your mind is wandering as it so often does these days, skittering over events long past, over and done with, if only you could let them be. The email you didn’t return for no real reason that cost you an entire friendship. The million things you do in a day except for the one big thing you didn’t and you lost the respect of the colleague you hate anyway. You seem to be incapable at times of cherishing the things the world expects you to and you’ve no idea why. What is wrong with you, anyway? Don’t you know how good you have it. Don’t you know how many people would kill to have your life, your body, your stuff. But what do you do when this need-with-no-name persists in you and keeps you awake and motionless in these early morning hours that crouch before the dawn. What is wrong with you when a beautiful home doesn’t cut it, and marriage doesn’t cut it, and money and security and retail therapy and wine and smoking is only temporary relief. You love your family. You love them with all the heart you have left after so many many heart-obliterating things have happened to you. But how often it feels like the love you have is tainted, inadequate, blurred out like your image in the bathroom mirror when you lift up that warm hand of yours to wipe the steam from the glass and catch that sadness in your eyes that you can’t remember when it lodged itself so quietly there. Looking closer, you realize there is something underneath the sadness and to your surprise it is mischief, it is a feral desire, it is a boldness and a freedom you would give anything to touch.
Opening your mouth you begin to say the words you hear in your heart that scare you to death, the words you know no one else will say to you but yourself because they are afraid even more than you are afraid and fear makes everything a never ending scream on mute. You say the words to your own reflection as an act of faith because you aren’t even sure you deserve them but if you can’t, if you won’t, then why are you even here anyway? It’s only a whisper but it’s yours: ‘I believe you.’ It comes from a part of you that is desperate to flower into its own kind of strength. It comes from the person you are, that you have always been, and that you wish you were now but you were certain had been drowned out long ago. One that no one else can see or understand but somehow that only makes it all the more real to you.
It’s still dark inside the room inside the bed you share with your husband. He is sleeping soundly and you are more alone than you were as a kid staring wide eyed up at the stars through the soft summer air. And time isn’t enough and words aren’t enough and prayers aren’t enough because as you hit ‘snooze’ to fend off the start of another makeshift Wednesday, beyond the hum of the crickets and the rustle of the big oak trees on your front lawn, you hear the faint rumble of the railroad tracks two blocks away, and all you know for sure is that God has caught the last train out of the worn-down town that is you.
Before the storm there is thick fog and before the fog there is a dreadful humidity that suffocates every molecule of the air around and inside of us. As I settle in with my laptop to write literally anything I can think of to get my fingers moving and give permission to even my most perverse thoughts to come forward, however sheepishly at first, I am wondering what gives anyone of us the energy to keep going. What is it we are after that we believe will prove to us that any of this is worth it? What is it that drives that man in his properly pressed button-down blue shirt and buttercream tie to walk into that office just one more day and try to hold it all together. Why does it feel like I’m walled off from everyone else by some kind of static impenetrable distance. So much of what I am supposed to find fulfilling I find unnervingly not so. What they worship I cannot understand. Is it enough to work the week out in administrative minutiae and microwave leftovers and water the houseplants on weekends in between bouts of writing? Don’t you ever want to just cut loose from everything in your life that feels so maddeningly mundane and do something else – something that actually matters, something that finally scratches that wretched burning itch to wrap your arms around the sky?
The thunder is collapsing loudly now, shaking the very foundation of the house as I reach for my coffee and take a long hot sip. I make a mental note that we need more coffee beans and sugar next time I am at the market because a day without either is no day I can drag myself through.
Fraught over my lack of creative flow and cursing myself for my obsession with trying to remain loyal to my writing practice despite very little interest from the outside world, I pick myself up off the couch, slide off my sandals by the back patio door and step outside into the pouring rain. I can taste the sweetness of the heat coming off the pavement as it rushes full with fast forming rivers. Closing my eyes I turn my head toward the clouds and feel the cool water streaming onto my face, down my neck, over my bare shoulders and soaking my skin thoroughly all over. Hands in my hair, heart in my throat, wondering if the only worthy motivation for writing is to put myself in deep touch with this melancholy soul of mine who cries out for something so much more than this. And I can’t help but wonder what about our souls makes us terrified to live the lives we are so desperate for? How they ache to tell us so many secrets and how we turn them to face the corner again and again convinced that to listen – to quit being so damn afraid and choose our dreams for ourselves – would be the end of our sanity. When the truth is that those wild dreams are the only worthy motivation for anything.
As we are frolicking about acting like children in the makeshift swimming pool in our back yard, the rest of the country is mourning the most recent mass shooting in America. Actually, this time it’s two shootings within hours of each other. El Paso and Dayton. After sipping coffee and scrolling on your phone, you reluctantly inform me of this as I have taken a break from the news and the rest of the outside world for the weekend. This planet is so full of cruelty and pain I’ve decided to try to write myself out of it as often as I can. What should never happen already has: I stare across the yard almost unfeelingly. You aren’t supposed to feel numb right now you are supposed to be enraged and do something because enough and this has to stop and never again and never forget. We are a country that disgraces the dignity of people, their bodies and their words. Bodies are for counting. Words are punchlines, words are excuses, words are little trap doors for the monsters to slip out of sight.
Once I can get past the shock, disbelief, and numbness I will feel something and it will be awful. I’m still human just a much more jaded and cynical one than I once was. As the birds are singing and locusts buzzing all around us in the grass and we decide it is in fact early enough to start drinking, I pour us some wine to share while eating turkey and cheese sandwiches for lunch. And the next day, another lunch, another dinner, another bottle of wine and a cigarette and the waiting for the other shoe to drop in this vacuum we call life. I’m sitting in my office and people come and go obsessed with their executive performance, ranking, standing, achievements, retirement plans. Not a word passes between any of us about the shootings because it isn’t the time or the place or the thought or the prayer so best to just keep on punching that time clock and smiling fake smiles while ignoring all the blood and death and ignorance and cowardice and self-destruction happening right outside our glossy corporate floor to ceiling windows. I can smell the stale coffee burning in the glass pot in the break room. I can hear the screaming of the terrorized and the wailing of the mothers who cannot find their children. Are they among the dead? I can see the sunlight splashing through the trees on this beaming summer day in August 2019 that shouldn’t belong to anyone.