M is the editor of no magazines (print or online) and does not hold an academic post at Any University. He used to live in Columbus, OH, where he drove a navy blue Buick Electra which was assembled before the Berlin Wall was dismantled and was not his first car but his second, and greatly loved by the ladies. He is the recipient of awards and the author of many books, short stories, essays, and prose-poems, most of which are better than anything James Franco has written. His novel, All That Remains Is a Desert: A History of a Man’s Search to Understand His World and Himself, has been called “long and ranging, of uncertain page length and word count.” It may or may not be published. He does not live in Paris with his wife. He lives in Chicago and has lately been known to suggest that there are no writers there, only businesspeople, politicians, police, and everyone else. In that order.
Rather than finding reasons to dismiss, keep finding ways to contribute. Don’t pull away and judge from a self-made haven of dissatisfaction and personal ire. Instead, remember to see these people as people, as simple, regular, ordinary people, no side-taking.
That was my note to self a few days ago. Then, Friday, I woke up feeling anxious, like I’d allowed my life to be dictated by evil, stupid forces and might not get it back, and the thought that gave me solace was: be ok with mediocrity. My own and others’. What you love won’t kill you; it’d be a shame to die from what you don’t.
Seems as good a thing as anything else to post on the internet, so here ’tis, broadcasting it relatively free of particular context because it’s about far more than me.
Remember the letters, with your scholarly manners of speech and good diction, fast and dry. Tell me something Althusserian about how I never returned the favor, never sent a book about escape and freedom to match the one you sent me, though I carried an address in my back pocket.
But that’s only performance, saying so. Performance plain and tangled, restricted by the extant, by dithering realist mirages requiring empirical backdrops for their spellbinding like standing nude before a window pretending to be lost in thoughts other than the kind that wish someone would actually see actual actuality, staring out at nothing, scanning for scopophilic eyes with equal parts fear and reflection, knowing they’d see right through if they got in behind the glass and the whole thing would come tumbling down.
Each day is a good day for a walk in the open, and with a camera anyone could be like Ellison in Harlem or Cartier-Bresson in Prague or Capa in Spain, registering a new idiom, wondering what we see will say and make us. The give and take, out of the stream, watching for anything but answers from behind the waterfall, just watching, a cage seeking a bird till it’s all a dream, till everyone looks the same, vaguely thinking there’s always something to be said for those out there in love with who we want to be.
Originally published earlier today on Hijacked Amygdala.
It’s sleeping with security, knowing it could leave in the height of the night and never ever call again but at least you had it once and can tell the tale. It’s what we’ve always done—attack and release, accept and dismiss, and miss out. It’s what’s real. It’s living a Raymond Carver story, actual and stark and close and gritty, but not like sand or dirt, though, like teeth. It’s completely different but sometimes so much the same that it becomes impossible to do anything but wonder what types we are, watching it worsen, longing to let go, and yearning to get it back. It’s the comfort of having something to have and the fear of its dissolution. It’s wondering how much to say and how much is too much and what of the too much is all wrong and not for the saying anyway. Was it ever? Were we? Am I? You? It’s talking around because it’s easier to talk through mouth pieces in parts than it is to come out with a whole mouth full and here see I’ve just gone and done it too. And that’s trying, that’s folly, that’s death, and that’s laughter.
As a prosaic poetics would posit, B would not have happened without A (with A being negative in the realm of outcomes and occurrences and B being positive). We tell ourselves these stories all the time. But it’s not a matter of one singularity leading to another. It’s multiplicity, with a single person in the middle, and sometimes—maybe more than sometimes—we single people unwisely permit our moment’s myopia, our experiential singularity of any given piece of present, to extend to the vast proliferation. We forget that if A hadn’t happened, some other A would’ve, followed by some other B. Same genus, different species. Or maybe the same B. Who the fuck knows?
If that wasn’t enough, here’s another generalization: We piece our narratives together in retrospect and then assign causality and the result is a nice little happy terrible fucked up stupid picture of “things” that we can then present to other people and those people will nod and/or shake their heads because we’ve managed to tell a tale that makes sense and might even be like a tale they’ve told before, and they’ll tell you so and we’ll all feel good about being people despite the bad things that do on occasion befall us. Life as a timeline. Experience as a progression. Consciousness as an ordered sequence. They’re stories, and that’s fine. But they just happen to be, those Bs just happened to follow those As, and those As just happened to arise from some other set of circumstances, nature, and choices. And somebody had to tell it.
I’ll tell you a story. The A in this story is the job I took last fall that I actually mostly enjoyed and which got me out of an old job I hated but this new job went south fast and became about as bad as the old job but this one had layoffs and resignations. Some left, some were “let go.” I can put that in sarcastic quotes because A sometimes makes me bitter and bitterness is why we have lemons.
Anyway, I was scheduled to hear from a potential employer this morning and I had mixed feelings. Not good mixed, like cheese and caramel popcorn, but bad mixed, like opioids and alcohol—not so bad at first but unlikely to end well. I’ve had this variety of mixed feelings about them all along, pretty much anytime we’ve interacted over the past month and a half. And, like a person, I wondered why.
Being hired by them could be a B, but it might not be the right B. My mixed feelings could be about just this one part of the process, just being a candidate, the part where we talk about their “needs” and what “I’d bring”—like skills and popcorn and such. Or it could be about the whole deal, the whole job and the people and the company and the move to the most expensive city in this fair and fucked up land. Either way, instinct is speaking and it says fuck them, write.
Maybe that’ll be B. Maybe this time is for finishing some goddamn stories and prose-poetry and getting some publishable work in the hands of publishy people who publish things. Because maybe we don’t know how things will work out. Maybe all we can do is rely on our character, know our strengths, and let the narrative unfold as conscious, free-willed actors. Then go back and critique it in hindsight and wonder why we were so stupid, why we didn’t see B coming, and find someone to blame when B is a stack of rejection letters and steaming pile of self-dissatisfaction in the center of the living room of the apartment we can no longer afford because “no one” makes any money from B. But that’s just A talking, and it’s high time for A to shut the fuck up.
I don’t want to hear any more about “fast-paced, high-energy environments.” These job descriptions make the experience sound like being locked in a bucks booth and forced to grab frantically at all the fleeting, flying, maddeningly fluttering cash. Maybe I don’t want your damn cash (I do, at least some of it, but not at the very clear and obvious expense of my dignity).
I found a job the other day the description of which included some version of the following: “this will be the hardest you’ve ever worked.” And they seemed to mean it as both a warning and an assurance. I know my career goals are a little abnormal—as in I don’t have any; that’s right, ladies, none—but who in their right mind would be hooked by the idea—no, the guarantee—of working harder than they’ve ever worked before? What happened to seeking the optimal balance of salary and leave-me-the-fuck-alone?
There’s a thing, and it’s called work-life balance. And there’s another thing, so I’ve heard, called work-life integration. It’s like version 2.0 of work-life balance and the idea, as I understand it, is there’s no more balance. It’s just work. And work, we must be clear, is life. And that’s supposed to be ok. It’s like “ball is life” and just as stupid.
Can we please stop fooling ourselves into a work- (or ball-)fueled oblivion of fast-paced, high-energy environments and calling it life? Just askin. The ways we describe things become the ways things are and this shit is ridiculous and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about ridiculous shit it’s that it creeps into everything and co-opts thoughts and ideas and language and the next thing you know someone’s writing books about how business is like climbing Mount Everest or war and those books are read by people who’ve been bred on literalism and then everything becomes both absolute and merely a manner of speech at the same time like this sentence here and nothing means anything and everything means nothing and that’s life.
Work for a man with no sense of past.
Another thought about time last night but I can’t recall. It was a good thought, in another register, not my usual. Anymore, these only come in dreams.
Short prose-poetry cuts in and speaks a demanding Dostoevskian poetics of opening. At least as much is revealed through silences and spaces as through the words themselves.
A place is not the answer to anything.