Archive for August, 2014

The Art of Not Journaling

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

We’re coming into one of my favorite and weirdest times of the year: School Supply Season. I’m a pretty descriptive person, but it’s hard to pin down the appeal of a new notebook, new pen, that clean, open promise, unfolding of unlimited possibility. I don’t fear the blank page. The blank page is beautiful. It’s the moment, the caesura, just before something moves from the internal to the external. And that motion, transcribing thoughts, living with them, giving in to them completely and letting them take on an unintended path — that’s just about as perfect as it gets.

I have a few Moleskines, but, really, just a cheap Mead was always enough. And a Pilot V-Ball. I’m a machine of habit, comforting habits. Some time in the late 90s I ate spaghetti with red sauce every night. For at least a year. And yes, I’ve eaten the same sandwich for lunch for, um, yeah – many years. Sometimes I am stiflingly confused. But other times I know exactly what I want.

So I was looking for a few old photos the other day. Pictures from Baltimore, from when we found the abandoned Blair Witch House. Instead, I found a box of materials. Manuscripts and such. One of my “writing” boxes. And there were several journals in there from the years. Not all of them. My journals are spread out, on random shelves, in boxes, drawers. This was a sort of cache, though, and I’ve been sifting through a very overbearing Challenging Stage lately, so this stuff is valuable.

I grabbed a nice, square-bound tome, flipped it open. A few entries from some time, long ago, during some phase of soul-wandering. Ten, fifteen pages in, and then it was all clean and blank, all the way through. Another notebook: same thing. A few entries, then nothing. Blank and blank and blank. Just about all of them.

In the moment of buying a fresh notebook, I’m giddy. Actual butterflies infesting my viscera! Even when I’m full of darkness, there’s this “first date” excitement, and that sustains for at least a couple entries. Then the shit hits the fan. Some sort of shit. Hitting something.

Maybe the journaling was just a quick panacea. Lancing a poison sac. I’d like to think that, but- I think it’s some other action, something on the other side.

Some time after 2002, after I moved back to Chicago and set onto building this life, I abandoned notebooks. Still did a travel journal, but nothing on the home front. Instead, I took up this blog. And look what we have: the same fucking thing! A few spurts of activity, then months upon months of nothing, like the looping pattern of serial dieting.

But the blank pages, the blog voids – there’s something in there, written in invisible ink, invisible blood. I don’t stop the journaling due to some satisfactory plateau. I stop it because I am too scared to continue. Because some of my thoughts seem so dangerous and destructive that I’m afraid to mediate them into a corporeal state.

The blank pages contain pain. Locked gears. Dissolved language and obfuscated thought clouds.

I’m there right now. In the blank.

Right now there is a voice in my head that says this, looping for hours, days: Shithead.

Nothing else. No argument, no “you are bad, you are an asshole, you are not good for the people around you.” I’ve been there, quite a bit. Went there a lot this winter. Got around and on top of it, ahead of it some time in the spring. And that particular voice hasn’t come back.

But this one doesn’t care about logic. There is no additional suggestion of what I should do about it (obliteration). It’s just simple. Relentless. Impossible to argue with because it is not trying to pick an argument.

Because it’s right.

I can’t unwind myself from this, can’t unclench long enough to do what I have to do. That is, I’m not in a state of illogic. I know that my next step, really, is to find the evidence, the support on either end of the scale. Proof, through action, that I am, indeed, a shithead. And episodic proof that I am not a shithead. Lists to weigh against each other, as on Thoth’s scale.

The trouble is the persistence of the simple voice. The shithead loop. At least a thousand of them an hour. No space, no pause. Like sitting across from some asshole who won’t shut up, won’t enter into genuine conversation. In a state of constant interrupt, trapped within a solipsistic hoax.

Eating spaghetti every freaking night for a year.

Hummus and cheese and carrot and spinach sandwich. Every every every day.

And I wish this was just a different word, different accusation. If I was hearing “stupid,” over and over as I used to, well, I can get past that because I know for a fact that I am not stupid. And I might act like an asshole from time to time, but that isn’t who I am.

This is different, and it’s a tough one. And I’m not even certain how to define a “shithead,” so something inside, something waiting, has managed to leverage a slippery nebula.

So… the blank page. This isn’t blank, not any more. I’m putting this down to get over the fear of making it real. It’s already real. But, inside my head, silent to everyone else, it’s safe, unlimited. Out here, now it has to reckon for itself. Now I can push against it and at least ask the questions, in tiny steps:

What is a shithead?

If I am a shithead, am I also anything else?

What is the point?

And how much does that even matter?

I’m afraid of the answers.

The Riches of Embarrassment

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

I’ve been time-traveling quite a bit. I think you have, too. It’s built into our humanity. We move forward through time, the linear path, conscious perception staying just a split-second behind the actual vanguard point of existence. And every so often we push a tack into the timeline. We don’t stop. We can’t stop, even when we wish with every fiber, every struggling neuron, that this Time thing could freeze.

But we do go back. The tack is node, a return point. It stays hard and fixed, and our fluid lives flow around it.

Here are a few tacks:

Backwards Day. I don’t remember how old I was. Eight? It was Backwards Day at school. Everyone shows up dressed “backwards”. I embraced it, went all-out. Backwards pants and shirt. Glasses. Inside-out socks. Straight-jacket approach to a backwards coat. My coat was brown. I remember that. When something becomes a tack, there are very specific visual details that remain flawless and sharp.

When I got to school, all backwards-jacked, one of the teachers came over, concerned, and let me know that it was not Backwards Day. I was the only person dressed like that. A black hole funnel opened beneath me, and I buried my face in a brick wall near the front doors, crying into my backwards brown coat.

I don’t remember switching my clothes forward. Don’t remember anything else of that day, that week. But I feel it, right now, immediately. The desperation. The embarrassment.

It was the embarrassment that created the tack. The tack is immobile. Hard. Cold. It is a fact. It is present, today, right now. I’m there, leaning into the brick, crying, hating the stupid coat. That moment has become autonomous, existing persistently, unaffected by time. I can travel there without effort. To a degree, I am always there.

The First Date. Yeah, I bet this is a tack for quite a few people. It was a good date, actually. I took her to see Rocky 3. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a particularly strategic date. Back then, there was a single theater, one movie, that’s your option if you want to stay close. And I wanted to see Rocky 3. Sue me.

We came back to the house, sat in my room and talked. Watched some television. Talked a little more. And when I dropped her off we kissed, made out a bit. On the whole, the date was a bit emotionless, not particularly awkward, just sort of present. Kissing changed that. That was the moment when emotion entered the picture. I was feeling good, full of something new. Something.

So I assumed that I was full of love. And I told her that I loved her. She backed up, wrinkled brow, and said, “But you just met me, we don’t even know each other.”


I’m there, right now. I can’t even remember what I said, trying to explain myself. I was wearing my nicest clothes. She had long, dark hair. We were in front of her family’s townhouse, my car running and not even in Park – I had my foot on the brake the entire time. And the embarrassment materialized, fully-formed and metallic, and has remained present. Right out of the gate, I second-guessed what love might be, and have never really recovered from that.

We never went on a second date. I couldn’t bear to call her. This wasn’t a case of having my heart broken. That would come soon enough, with a different girl, a guitar and flowers waiting in my back seat while she decided that we weren’t working out, that we should be friends, blah blah blah. That’s vivid, too. But a broken heart is both a moment and a process, and, while elements weave through your soul, it remains within the flow of time. That’s how we heal, or just become different, from those few people who were able to get inside and change us forever. The heart is mutable.

An embarrassment becomes self-defining, impenetrable. It becomes distinct from the moments around it. You carry it like a Mind Stone, never to be passed.

But every now and then, something challenges that corporeal parasite. You see, the tacks of these moments do not encapsulate other people. They are reactions to reactions. And maybe those other people carried their own embarrassments from those very same moments. Or maybe they carried nothing.

I shared a tack with someone recently. Recalled a tack that involved this person, from quite some time ago. For me, it was present, alive and true. But for her- she couldn’t even remember it. It was nothing, washed away in the time-stream.

And now that tack is breaking apart. The moment remains, but now it has been attached to a new moment, this debrief, a bookend of realization that allows the embarrassment to exist as a normal part of my additive lifeline. And maybe it will fester every now and then, flare up, but I know that time will have its way with that moment. Now it’s just another story, another goofy part of the person I am always becoming.