like a small wisp of smoke drifting quietly skyward on a windless day

Getting a new job is like asking for a favor. And so is moving. Asking for a bunch of favors, in fact, between the two of them. Consider me, help me, allow me, permit me, assist me, pay me, appreciate me. At least that’s how it feels when one is disinclined to take up space. Shall I elaborate on that? Nah, not today.

Today I’ll tell you about last night. Last night, driving back to the soon-to-be former apartment with Antoinette in the empty moving van, I wondered if it’s simply experience that makes people feel anxious about all the stuff that could go wrong. Seems logical, natural. Things have gone wrong before, they will go wrong again. Experience tells us this. Experience also tells us that we’ve felt this way before and that “wrong” is oftentimes a judgment, a wish, a desire, not a thing. And it tells us that speaking in generalities is tiresome.

So I’ll tell you about something else that happened last night, something personal and poignant and profound and provocative. I got out of the shower around 9:40 p.m., worn comfortably ragged from carrying boxes and furniture and the more or less standard material culture of middle-class urbanites (the “less” being largely due to the unusual quantity of books I’ve dragged with me everywhere I’ve gone since I was nineteen) from apartment to van and then from van to tiny little seventy-one-year-old house way up on the north side of the city, looked in the mirror for no particular purpose after drying off, and I felt good, all at once. Some things had gone “wrong,” other things had gone “right,” and all in all, life had continued and I was standing in the steamy bathroom with my reflection as testimony, present and without spectation.

cover up and say goodnight

Between us, I suppose did all the feeling. The inherent disobedience of singing our contrapuntal song above outside around the din was to me in my youth like tying dreams to kings and great things, though knowing better than to presuppose any manner of nobility coursing through our line of magnetic men of middling, modest talents and infernos for intellects, consumed by sublime, contemptuous ambition like true artists, was of course in the nature he so vigorously bestowed, father to son.

Then one day I felt a feeling of his. The effortful suppression, the stifled idealization harvested from exiguously-tended fields of experience, finding it easier to form a new habit of staying from the choppily selective remembrance of what it was like to “go there” than to actually still continue to try to (let myself) go.

Well, it’s about being, I’ve come to realize, after so many years of fevered, young becoming when there was always somewhere else to be. The line ends here, though, I say; I say I’ll be the first of us to release my grip on this familial melody and allow my ends to fizzle into truly new beginnings, and in the saying sneakily suspect I hear faint echoes of this verysame tune I now find myself singing, wondering if he’s heard them too, knowing I’ll never ask, finding contentment in a discordance I with feeble bliss presume to be my own.


Originally published on Hijacked Amygdala.

pigeonholed by one (in)coherent myth

So I got the job. At first I was mad, as if some principle had been violated, as if I’d been slighted, as if it was an offense or an affront or a dis. Then I was sad, as if I’d been uprooted, or would have to uproot, leaving the home I finally made for myself here, here in the nook of the city where I found myself, and found her (well, she found me), and grew, truly grew, to move fifteen miles north. Either way, it happened to me. The job happened to me. The move, or its necessity, happened to me. I don’t like when things happen to me.

By “things” I suppose I must mean offenses and violations. And also commitments. It’s an ontological problem. Plato wrote of these things called “forms.” Those forms were perfection, they were absolutes, ideals. And the world as we experience it is just a big mess of approximations. Spacedust or stardust or whatever. You could say beauty is in the effort to make the very best approximations we can out of all this dust, knowing the truth. You could say that, and I did, today.

Because I, in my worry and emotion, masterfully made my quintessential mistake of conflating approximations with ideals. I wanted perfect and thought perfect wasn’t what happened to me. And it should’ve, because I work so fucking hard to do the right things and be good and not suck at stuff or be a piece of shit of some variety or other. I, like nearly all seventy zillion of us, want to be respected and liked and be appreciated and given the things I believe I deserve. Without me having to fight or ask for it. I wouldn’t have had to ask Plato for it.

Well, I might’ve. Maybe he was a dick. And I do make it hard for people, with how I keep to myself and all, obscuring the talents and qualities for which I wish to be admired. But whatever Plato was, and whatever I am, we are people. And people aren’t perfect. And people are the ones in charge of jobs and affronts and uproots and happenings and misperceptions. Like mine. That’s why it’s stupid and ordinary and usual and ok. It might even be beautiful. I might even be, even if I still make my rent money working at an office for a company, rather than writing stories and books and prosetry and little vignettes and everyday shit like this.

What happened today with the job people was not a violation of any principle or a mistreatment of things, or forms, or things like forms. It was just a bunch of things like forms. A bunch of incomplete, imperfect, struggling, conscious/unconscious things striving in their way for things like forms. That’s what I’ll chew on tonight. And I got the fucking job after all anyway.


The sun was low and melting through the palms and garish columns when we arrived after flight and frightful drive along winding shoreline lanes in a bus too large for such turns and twists.

We approached the front desk in the open-air lobby and I heard the ocean, fancying it was music, or heard music and fancied it was ocean, and for a moment I attempted in vain to consider the virtues of solitary companionship, nevertheless wondering why I hadn’t come alone.

Days later, I would walk out into the sea through the waves till they became eye-level swells and my feet no longer touched the soft sand beneath; I held my breath and sank in the ease of dissolution.

I should just keep going, I thought as I lost all touch and all taste for judging, suspended in merciful indifference, the undulations of the blue-green water washing away any remaining fear of what I’d learned and who I’d been and what I might become in the great vastness of the permeable and possible.


Originally published on Hijacked Amygdala.

too much is never enough

Not enough, not enough, not enough, not enough. Never enough. Work-life balance. Work-life integration. That’s all well and good but. What about. You should. Why?

No reason, really. It’s just what “what we do,” just how “the world works.” The Path People have always seemed odd to me, even misled. I’m talking about the ones who’d worked out the course of their lives by 20 or 25, or seemed to. And yet here I’ve been, presuming the same kind of knowledge of my own life — that I’d be a writer or an academic, something artistic and creative and absurd and openly experiential, writing and thinking my way not just out of the rat race for “success” in the more “traditional” sorts of “careers,” but into a fuller, better human being. Now is that “a revelation or a more efficient blinding.”* That’s me being literary about wanting to be literary.

Have you heard of the impostor syndrome? I knew I’d never write a book as a [job title], knew I was and would always be a person first and [job title] second, just a writer (i.e., person) with a job [title]. Because life is special, too special to waste on [job title]. Besides, anyone can do most stuff, to put it with zero eloquence and mild aplomb. Marketing. Anyone. Project management. Anyone. Writer/artist. Few. So there I’ve been, writing on the fringes, hoping to be noticed, wanting to be heard, working to get better, trying to get published, to be one of the few, always feeling misplaced, paying the bills with jobs in business and professional things, earning a living for the sake of earning a living, working for someone other than myself, like one of the many.

I suppose I should be thankful, feel lucky, privileged, and seize the moments and the opportunities, etcetera, etcetera. And it’s not that I don’t, etcetera, etcetera. It’s that I don’t want to. Sometimes I don’t want to at all. And I feel something like guilt over this not-wanting-ness, something petulant and ungrateful and difficult. The same way I sometimes facetiously over-emphasize with italics and quotations. It’s the impostor in me, acknowledging himself.

This doesn’t end with me saying something conclusive and triumphant like “I don’t feel like an impostor anymore.” I do, but not nearly as much as I have in the past, or not quite in the same way(s). Am I still scrambling inside to figure out what someone else wants, and the way they want it? Yes, but less so, because I know what I want and know that I am not necessarily what I do, regardless of [job title] and Path People.

My point is this, I think: I still feel captive to the legacy of the Protestant work ethic and the mythologizing of the “free” market (does that sound academic enough?). And to the great many of their conscious and unconscious acolytes. Miłosz still makes more sense to me, artistically, professionally, philosophically, and that makes me feel like no matter how good I get at participation, no matter how well I play the game and play along, it will never be enough. They are relentless. They always want more. And different. And more different. Why? What’s the end? More. Because more means more, and there’s no time or place for less.

I’m frustrated, that’s all, and it’s coming out. Now is simply one of those times. I’ll be more pleasant and amusing tomorrow.


*Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

futility is the way home

I was sick. Sometimes I think it’s too bad I don’t really write poetry. This may or may not be one of those times. Sometimes I think it’s too bad I find such pleasure in simple ambiguity. It’s like finding freedom in the lost and found. True to irregularity, the cruelest joke to play.

The other day I thought I’d write something called A CONFESSION and it would consist of the following five words: I am not my thoughts.

My thoughts thought of many appendages to that first statement, some clever jibe or playfully self-debasing affront or cryptically somnambulary touch of angst, but none felt anything much other than contrived. And contrived, I’ve learned, is not good.

The fact was, my thoughts had again turned less than beneficial to my general health and I needed something to call them, needed to call them something because calling them something is control and also sometimes art, though this is not why I say I was sick. I say I was sick because I truly was, and it truly was unpleasant, and now I’ve truly changed the subject, true to form.

a carapace for this irredeemably querulous nature

I step out of the office and into the hall for an hors d’oeurve taste of corridor’d freedom, industrial-carpeted and fluorescent, tans and grays and whitishes with a texture at once abrasive and numbing, unsatisfying like a tease of a snack on a toothpick that’s been sitting out too long but is better than no food a’tall, and head to the men’s room.

He’s in there again, turning from a urinal and zipping up, and my heart does that sinking thing because I don’t know everything but I know what’s coming, and I want to rush over and clap my hand over his stupid mouth before either of us can make the human people word sounds, maybe just choke him out and be done with it, then drag the body to the back corner stall, whistling elfish and cheerful while I wash my hands and walk out like nothing happened because nothing did, just a little murder.

But I’m already speaking, before the anticipation and the thought form an action, homicidal or otherwise, and a single Howyuhdoin slips out of a mouth I thought was under my control. WELL THANKS HOW ARE YOU, his voice booms, clear and commercial, a parody of our unfortunate ability to locute, all enunciation and no heart like the words are big wooden blocks he’s arranged with infantile pride in some inchoate effort at communication, and I’m furious at the futility of being soft-spoken and hard-thought in a world full of empty-headed broadcasters so I kick his stupid fucking blocks all over the place and say I’m good.

My only wish is to evaporate so I stand there and hold rabbit-style still watching him without breathing in case that’s how that happens, thinking there’s strength in non-doing, weakness sometimes in action. It does not—quite. He looks at me quizzically and I wonder if he knows how to spell that, with all those z’s and l’s and such, because I always thought it had just one “z” the way “kat” only has one “t.” He probably does, because no one but a good speller could SPEAK IN SUCH NICE WORD BLOCKS and no one but a broadcaster could manage to look quizzically at another being without even a shred of a hint of curiosity, only an otherer’s sense of abnormality sensed and I’m at least placated for a moment, standing there motionless, staring, blinkless, my mouth slightly open, physiognomy frozen. I’ve got him cornered as a kat, door behind me, man against man.

But he breaks the spell and steps up to the sink and begins to roll up his cuffs. I abscond to a stall where I sit on the latrine to use it as a perch from which to watch him through the crack in the stall door. He talks into the mirror as he washes his hands and inspects his visage, talks about sports or the weather or politics or something, something immediate and mundane and I flush the toilet over the little deluge of nihility cascading from his facial orifice, imagining his words getting sucked down the drain.

Have you considered therapy, I ask, cutting him off. Honestly, for a year I was completely mental. The cost, the trouble of finding a decent therapist. What a nightmare.

Yeah, he says with utter dispassion.

Yeah, this is a nightmare, I think, contemplating the décor—all beige-brown, but almost warm-seeming, like someone who cares but has no taste. I stand, lift my trousers, zip and button them, fasten my belt, flip the latch, and open the door. He’s drying his hands with those sandpaper towels, facing the room’s far wall, the back of his dress shirt wrinkled and crinkled from all day in a desk chair with no breatheabilityness.

Oh, excuse me. You were talking. That’s what I say.

Oh, you’re fine, he says, without turning around.

You’re fine is something people say when other people apologize but it sounds less like acceptance and more like giving someone permission to exist, I think. Anyway, I said I was good, not fine.

Have you ever read Foucault’s History of Madness, I ask him in italics.

Foo-calt, he inquires?

Yes, Foo-calt, I say. It’s all in there.

What is?

Everything, all of it. You should pick it up sometime. But just open it, and be sure to do so in public, so people know you’re smart. Otherwise there’s no point.

He smiles, and I see him smiling because he’s facing me now and I’m facing him and it’s just like it was a few moments before, before I dashed into the stall for cover from a threat that didn’t seem to have the first clue that it was threating. He’s facing me but he’s not looking at me, still, again. Well, he’s looking at me but it’s as if he’s not seeing anything and I think of something Dany Laferrière said in an interview about being homeless—because he was once—about being looked straight through like it’s something people have always seen, with compassion, perhaps, but without the slightest surprise or recognition. I suppose it’s all in how we experience, how we choose.

Still smiling, he says alright, sounds good, and makes a move to walk past me and leave as if some manner of routine continuance would reestablish normalcy and what do I do but smash it all to bits by initiating the people-passing dance and stepping in the same direction.

Excuse me, he says. Shifting to the other side.

You’re fine, I say, sliding myself in front of him again. Right, left, right. I swear a brain circuit shorts and tiny puffs of smoke emit from his ears. He looks me in the eye, uncomfortable, perplexed, futilely soliciting an explanation like a dog when you take its toy away and hide it behind your back. It knows it’s there, somewhere, but isn’t too sure what you’ve done with it.

Ah, you see me now, don’t you, you fucker. But I don’t say that; I just look back, returning the perplexity, thinking yes, I see, this is the way to be visible.


Originally published on Hijacked Amygdala earlier today.