I’ve got something in the works. Maybe a month or two.
It is hot in my apartment. It is sunny out and I can see the mountains in the distance, the pale blue hills trace the horizon of the sky. Trucks and bikes stop and start on the streets outside my second story flat. I think I like it here. Something feels uncomfortable, something out of socket, but I also like it here.
Fans don’t help with the heat, they just push hot air past like someone running a hand warmer down my skin. It’s the kind of heat that makes my brain feel swimmy, makes it burble and pop like an egg frying on too much butter. But, I don’t mind this reprieve from thinking straight.
I’ve mostly just been sitting here playing a computer game on my laptop, beads of sweat pulping from my skin, leaving wet streaks on the mousepad. I’m feeling a noncommittal urge to do or be something else, so this will have to be enough. I’ve played this game before, enough to remember bits, enough to feel pulled back, but even so I’ve never finished it. It is maybe my favorite and I’ve never finished it, like I don’t want to. I’m not sure why.
I feel like a daytime ghost in the heat of the summer bake. Like, all the memories I have are being microwaved into a vapor that haunts the place in my brain behind my forehead. They aren’t disappearing, the memories, just molting, made flat mushy, swimming together from the back to the front parts of my head in one big gumbo of being that simultaneously keeps me from being present and presents all things as if they exist now.
The game is an adventure RPG from an isometric perspective, a ¾ top down slice of the world that you click around to move your character. There is a brief, but charmingly crude CGI video of a gray, muscled, heavily scarred body (with all the textural detail of a 90’s linoleum floor), slid on a massive gurney by ragged clothed monks alongside other dead bodies and piles of viscera. The floor set rail the gurney travels on is one of many that dissect the rooms into Miro’ like shapes, like art deco gone gothic. The man who seemed dead on the slab opens his eyes and rises. Even his lips are scarred. He grunts with the bewildered waking of a sleep walker. Like so many storied beginnings, he does not remember. He rises and slides his bulk off the slab, stands in a battle ready riposte. We (the character and me) look around to see this place for what it is, a cross of mausoleum and museum. A great factory that moves the dead further along to death. There are hordes of dutiful zombies, falling apart and tending to their inert brothers and sisters. There are stations containing used scalpels and old ribs and a gorge of flesh forgotten by its owners. Little bits of pink and brown dabbed up in discarded gauze that’s all gone bad. The monks pace around with silent self-importance. And then, one skull, sitting on a shelf, opens its eyes and bobs forth through space and says to us, “Hey Chief.” He has the pinched voice of an east coast wise ass. Turns out this floating thing, calling itself a Mimir, is something of a chatter globe The skulls seems to know us. We don’t know if we know it.
Some big trucks on the road outside have the ability to rattle my brain. When my head is propped on one of my futon’s wooden arms, I can feel the rumble of the street as it tremors from the diesel engine through the tires to the asphalt and concrete and up the brick of the building. This low rumble is accompanied by a periodic ker-thunk of my pulse trying to work its way through the squeezed arteries of my scalp pressed to the arm bar. For whatever reason this rumble makes me wonder what my skull looks like without its flesh. I wonder if it’s shapely or deformed, or if the aesthetics of skulls have less to do with shape and more to do with a reminder that a face used to live in it. It’s one of those human things that remains hidden our entire life and yet gives shape to our every word. We even hear a special, private version of our own voice through the sound of our skull’s vibrations. It ends up feeling like my head is alien to me. Or, something in my head is alien to me. Or the very thing that gives my head shape is unknown to me, unseen. Without it I’d be a drooping tongue slobbering on my chest as I tried to delicately hold my brain as it sat in the cradle of its hairy, distended carrier. As much as I may *know* myself, there is still so much that remains unknown to me, or just not me. It boggles my well skulled brain that I get to feel close to anything at all while still containing so much that simply isn’t me.
The Skull’s name is Morte, a deadly little pun, but also a name Jewish enough to invoke a New York comic. And Morte’s brilliance as a character is the fact that he carries the hunched shoulder street smarts of any New York fella, except this time it’s not in regards to the 5 boroughs, but to the endless pockets that make up the city of Sigil. Sigil is the city of chains and doors, a bizarre fantasy realm that was left out to rot overnight. It is, more than anything, a city of difference. It defines itself by what it is not. It is not a realm of high fantasy, nothing close to the strict racial categories of Elf and Dwarf. Most people are grubby little humans trying to get by. Each building seems designed to make itself stick out from others. There are yurts and concrete domes covered in chicken wire, a siege tower that spans dimensions, a bar lit up by a man that was cursed to burn indefinitely after lighting one of the slums on fire. There’s an infamous hidden witch named Ravel who masquerades as four different kindly spinsters, each mask forgetting her Ravel roots. There’s the mortuary, where we start, the home of the Dustmen cultists who want to lead all creatures to the One True Death. There’s the Brothel of Slating Intellectual Lusts, the Godsmen armory, the sunken neighborhood, the sentient alley that wishes to give birth to a new house, there’s leftover demon from the endless Blood War (where Heaven tricked Hell into doing battle with itself) there are so many perverse wonders, all of them sordid. Somehow Morte’s Seinfeld sassy fits in both the endless difference of Sigil just as it would in the sweetly cynical exchanges of us real humans.
This bit of belonging amongst difference is perhaps why Planescape: Torment seems to thump with life unto itself. I have, to varying degrees, always found most high fantasy to be dry. Reading later Tolkien can often feel like some tossed off Herodotus outline. Its sense of history is that history that is always ahistorical, the kind we learn in grade school: the past happened and is so far off that it has no bearing on now (which begs the question, why even look at it). I say ahistorical, because any phenomenologist might quickly tell you that the past structures the present moment as it lives in it. It is the guide line that brought us to the conditions we exist in now and therefore remains alive, and more frightening: remains malleable. Planescape’s conceit is keenly aware of this dynamic. At one point we find ourselves navigating a heavily booby-trapped crypt to retrieve the rest of our journal to help us uncover our mysterious past (part of which has been tattooed on our back). We reach the center of the tomb only to find that our last reincarnation, his psychic thrust one of paranoia, one that was afraid of everyone, including his future self (us) and he attempted to plan a way to stop everyone’s attempt to discover more about him… and us… It makes sense then that most denizens who’ve seen us before remain skittish, unsure of who they’re dealing with. I am immensely boring in my play style and can only seem to move forth with a sense of self-appointed duty and self-appointed kindness (this gets literally boring because if I accidently kill someone I’ll restart from my last save, it’s kind of a chore) and so I find myself navigating the social terrain of the past as I had left it… as I had left it. All of which is to say Planescape makes me confront history as I have left it, makes me see where I could have made different choices, and then reflects this onto the ever shifting city around us.
Maybe you do this too. Sometimes when I am sitting as I am now and I can feel that film of anxiety curling up at the edges like a sun shrunken shrink wrap, a memory just happens. And before I even register what it is or what it feels like my throat is moving and my mouth is making noise like, UGH, or FUCK, or in some cases a half uttered argument to the air around me “Why’d you have to do it-“ and I look up and feel embarrassed for my half burped up vocal tic. Shame creeps up and ekes out and I am hardly ever ready for it. But what is past shame if not the rotting bones of a thing partially processed, now grown all the pungent in my attempt to forget it. I am in the soda aisle buying a box of Dr. Perky and I think of the time, about ten years ago, I went into a bar on 420 as a college freshman stoned out of my mind and proceeded to unleash a fart so repugnant it cleared my corner of the place out and convinced me I’d (and this is technical term) sharted myself in public. And the weird uncomfortable warble of that moment as I saw myself lose face amongst a whole bunch of strangers I wanted to like me. This happened and I relieve it every time that holiday pops up again. I don’t want it to fit with the rest of my life. I don’t want to feel any similarity with it. And rather than sit in that past me, something of me does not want to deal and so verbally shoves it out of the way. And this is a shame, but I’ve treaded time enough to chuckle at it, even we it into a story. There is another aspect of my shame, and perhaps yours that is unlocatable by story alone. Shame always arrives from the past, the present feeling of it burns too hot to be felt fully and so it wanders up from yesterdays.
I would not be surprised to wander Sigil only to happen upon a brutalist building, all concrete and rebar, seemingly overlooked by the other denizens, and to walk in down its austere, but half lit hall to find a single film playing on repeat. Or rather, a single scene from a single film playing on repeat, one that provides access to this strange psychic space we are about to enter. The theater is empty, as if the phosphorescent view wants to speak only to me, or no one at all. The film reel turns and clacks again and again, unmanned and undroned. And on the concrete screen we see, jowly old Doctor Isaac Borg let into a darkened building by a stern bespeckled man who’s face has forgotten how to smile. They walk down an empty hallway, lit on one side, Borg is unsure why he’s there. The man guides Borg. Borg is expected, as if he’s always been expected. The man unlocks a door and Borg enters to see stoic, vacant students staring into the middle distance seated at desks made of wood pallets in theater style seating. Sits in the front. “Did you bring his examination book?” The man asks. Yes, Borg pulls it from his coat and tentatively lays it on the desk. He’s asked to identify the bacterial specimen under the microscope there. Something is wrong. He cannot see. He must read the text on the chalkboard. He does not know what it means. He protests. “Don’t you know what that is? It’s a doctors first orders.” Borg trembles like a child, he cannot remember the doctor’s first orders. “A doctor’s first order is to ask for forgiveness” Borg remembers! He agrees like a child! The students are still stoic. Something is wrong. Something is still wrong and has been wrong and the man says, “You’ve been convicted of guilt” Borg frowns in disbelief, hurt like a child, shrinking under the accusation “I’ll make a note that you haven’t understood the charge.” Borg buys in “is it serious?” It is serious. “Do you want to stop the examination?” “No, no of course not.” Borg has been found, through examination and trial, that he is guilty of guilt. Ashamed of shame, doomed to feel the strictures of social rules by the very fact that he carries the faculties to feel them. Perhaps this is what is meant my original sin, the first drops of pain that are caused by nothing but being. If we are to go by the lacuna at the center of the Nameless One’s life, this guilt and shame having always been make the most sense as to why our scarred avatar is doomed to forget. There is no easy forgiveness for these floating sensations. This is most certainly a film that plays in the back halls of the churning realms of Sigil. These are also things that I know live inside me. It is somehow easier to remember a fart and feel shame than feel shame for nothing at all.
The Nameless One (the ironic title for our hero, me, us) is forlorn. Those he meets who remember him were hurt. There’s Dionerra, his ghostly ex that warns him not to repeat the very same mistakes he’s made before. There’s Ravel, an ancient witched who loved some past incarnation and grew bored in her great power when the nameless one left to find himself. The burning man I mentioned above? We were his teacher, we drove him to his psychopathic joy. It seems that everyone we pass has a trace of us, and if they do not then they are better off. The first time I played this game I understood this depressive hero. Like Oedipus he would insist on striving forth to the truth no matter who was hurt as he saw his cause as noble, or at least his. Unlike Oedipus, it is not the revelation of truth that unmakes him. It is the encounter of the Dionysian void: There was no concrete self to discover. And so of course melancholy rushes in to fill the gap.
Many of our companions suffer this same break in self. A fractured ego.
Sigil feels simultaneously wise to our torment and rather apathetic. Most folks are dressed in a certain amount of blades that signal their appreciation of personal space. Cranium rats and skeletons and golems made of bric a brac dart in and out of dark corners. Sanitation is a laugh. All waste remains.
On days when it’s not so hot and my thoughts aren’t so wobbly I like to walk the neighborhoods around my apartment. They don’t seem to belong to each other. I found an abandoned public pool, a tree growing from the center of the empty kiddie area. A handsomeish couple in their late twenties was standing on the green grass at the rusty gate jiggling the chain that held it close. I stayed away from them. My building (stout and red and brick) is about half way up a hill and seems perched on a ridge. You go right out the door you go up, you go left you go down. Theirs a stone church with two massive, ornate spires. I never see anyone inside. I get the sense there’s a constant funeral there that nobody’s attending. There’s a cemetery up the hill with three consecutive stones that have the names of my maternal female ancestors: Pearl, Rose, and Iva. It’s hard for me not to feel like some joke that was set generations ago is being played when I walk past. I also wonder how many different graveyards have the same morbid key set up. Down the hill the garbage starts to pile up. Though, it’s not so much garbage as a part of the landscape. Old pieces of paper that have been through so many rainstorms they’re tattooed on the street, three full trash cans that sit and steam in the sun and never seem to get collected. The hill is steep enough that one of the roads seems constantly cast in shadow like one of the back alleys of London. The building on it holds like seven separate dwellings all with front doors adjacent to each other and pushed right out on the sidewalk. Like a good middle class guy, I force myself to humanize those that live there by imagining their capacity for joy and concern (a move that surely isn’t condescending and impotent). Usually I hear a child or two crying. Once one of the doors was open and a heavy set woman smoking in the door frame. She gave me a warm smile. I like this odd street. Even if everyone on it shares my same vacant wandering stare and cadence. Nothing like seeing a seven year old kid at picking out bits of plastic from a rough looking hillock of trash to make me feel out of time and space, wishing I knew how to feel connected. I think, sometimes, when I look deep in the alleys I can make out a camp far to the south that holds the lives of thousands of children, each different from the next, each alone and separate. I feel stupid for my inability to fathom the mechanisms that tore them from their families, but I cannot emancipate myself from the fact that this too belongs inside our landscape.
I wonder… perhaps strangeness is not born of difference, it is born of sameness. This is what Freud suggested with his idea of the Unheimlich (Uncanny) that which we seem to recognize, but doesn’t quite fit. It is only when things tread a little too close that a bizarre aura springs up.
Nordom’s face is also his body. He looks like one of those 70’s TV sets with vinyl wood sidings and knobs that some bohemian artisan took heat to to give life by shaping the glass into a kind of cute Saturday morning smiling face with bulbous eyes. He has two spindly legs and four spindly arms. He talks like a command line come to life. He’s from the plane of Mechanus, the realm of perfect order (it’s dressed in lots of gears and pullies and motherboards). Everything there is directed by the Primus, the tip of a hive mind. We found Nordom by playing with a little Mechanus toy that opened a portal to yet another dimension housing a real life dungeon crawler. Nordom was tucked deep in one of its rooms, confused and alone. Nordom used to be a Modron (the bodies that make up the Mechanus hive mind) until a break occurred and he developed a self, a self that feels tiny and loud and lonely and overwhelmed. Nordom can’t stand existing, but refuses to give it up. So we help him, because who better to help a newly singular sentience to come to terms with itself than a sentience that can’t remember a damn thing. But we do help Nordom. The simple fact of showing genuine interest allows him to learn how to do the same, and this exchange, this reaching in and out, this soulful back and forth, let his circuits adapt from mere curiosity to care.
I don’t always like to remember everything I’ve been through, at least not stacked on top of each other. If memories come one by one I can deal with them, live or suffer through them piece by piece, but there are times when all things from the past are hung on hooks like tobacco leaves and I look through them all, no parallax view to provide perspective, just one rush of sight into thought. They stretch back, the memories. There are good ones. The girl I loved in third grade and how we played footsie at the classroom computer while playing Number Muncher, the first time I heard Thus Sprach Zarathustra on our home system as my dad showed me 2001, my basset, as a puppy snoring on my chest, those good first kisses that remain good now. There are other things too. Things of shame, or anger, of fear. For some reason the good ones tend to feel fleeting, and the bad ones bring with them a tinge of the bottomless place from whence they’ve come. They sort in and out of each other and press upon me and I am forced to understand that all these things have happened I have done them, been a part of them, they are disjointed and do not make sense together and yet they exist, my own private multiverse of contradiction. I do not dream these moments. They simply settle on me in the evening when I’ve found myself lost in a particular kind of aloneness. Until I look out the window and shirk the thoughts of much worse things that fail to make sense with my own lived experience. And those moments I was rejected or mocked sit alongside those moments where I inflicted the same feels which in turn sit along imagined moments of others living the same, but in a much more violent way. This is not some universal balance–there is none of that to be found–rather I leave humbled, the way an amateur boxer leaves a fight that was far out of his weight class, if I get to leave the weight of the moment at all. I am tiny among the things I have been a part of and could be a part of and will be a part of. I am smaller still amongst all that I will not be a part of. There is difference in all of this. But worse, there is something similar. All those dark moments seem to gang up together, a hive of scary scum. The bright moments shine with different peculiar colors. The camp of kids so far south sounds too much like what we’ve done before. And notice, it is not their difference that marks them out, it is their similarity, they wanted to reside here, with us. That was enough. That is always enough. It was enough of a reason for the police to heavily patrol the immigrant neighborhoods near my place. Everything looks like the night when the sun has fallen down.
In that way I am thankful to hold these disparate thoughts in mind. Imagine, for a moment, being held in by one memory with one flavor for the rest of your life. How raw your lips would end up forever living that same kiss. How dull that strange and terrifying dog would seem after the thousandth time it chased you down. It is the space between differences, the mystery of how they fit that I truly love.
We must love what we cannot know. And that love starts with others. This is first much harder, then must easier than it may seem.
I am different from myself. I am different from what I was before. I have died many times and at different times there were different emphasizes on different pieces of me. I was, before this, a terrified and paranoid man. I walked down streets past odd places seeing only the worst there was to offer in its shadows. Before that I was practical to the point of cold calculation. Everything could be lost if it meant I knew who I was. But first I was a man built on a secret shame whose name even I don’t know. And I would do anything to escape this shame even it meant losing myself. What are any of us to do, here, alone with our skulls shaped to house our thoughts, our thoughts shaped to house the world, the world shaped to house all of us in disjointed dangerous ways? Is there any comfort to be sought in this endless line of difference and similarity? Even more, is there something wiser than the obvious answer of despair in the face of this massive city of spires and pits? I do not believe so. I believe straightforward answers in a city of cages do nothing but line said prisons with off white wallpaper. This is not to say you or I or us, not to say we look away, but rather to understand that the very alienation we witness may seem to enter from the outside, but lives in our very bones. When I look out the window and see those alien to me suffer, I also suffer, not simply from sight, but because I belong to them as much as they belong to me.
I brought myself to finish Planescape in the time it took to write this piece. It ended better than I hoped it could. I can’t tell you how it finishes, mostly because I don’t want to, but also because the damn thing isn’t over. It now lives in me as much as I did in it. It lives in me as much as I did in it. Lives in me like me in it. Oh, yes, it’s in you now too.
I think I’ll be here in my apartment.
I seem to have a knack for finding myself sitting on the porch of a small house in Rural Vermont, watching the sun play its tricks and games in the far off leaves, wondering just what the hell I’m doing.
Please keep in mind, I’m not complaining, there are much worse places to wonder the same thing and I’ve visited a few of them.
I guess what I’m about to do is unintentionally break most sound rules of good writing because I currently have the willfulness of a toddler. Namely, this is the only draft of this thing I’m writing. No extra drafts. I am well aware real writing only happens with rewriting, every first draft is a shitty first draft, and the beats were by and large wrong about spontaneity and inspiration, but my want (disguised as a need) to write has frothed over the kettle container in my skull so I’m writing this and posting it even if I have no fucking idea what its about.
Which brings me to my next point. I have no idea what this is about. But while I may not know the what of the piece I do know the why, which is to say I feel that gnaw in my brain stem to get something out of me, like if inner ear itches were actually hairballs trying to get loose.
I don’t know how learned to write primarily by necessity, but for some godforsaken reason, over the years those whole practice has bent around some hardly articulated, sloppily spoken, cry to have something heard or shared or taken out. Like, writing, for me, starts like a piece of sand in an oyster, except instead of developing into a pearl I like to keep the sand in its exact dimensions with all sixteen (on average) blades of said sand’s cutting edges. I think its because so many of the things I usually keep to myself are steeped in mottled emotions, like shame or guilt and I do try to be brave in the small ways I can and so revealing said shame and guilt feels like a personal victory. I haven’t ruled out the fact that exhibitionism may play a role.
But to be fair to myself I think I do this because reading the shredded inner lives of others sustained me and often still does. I prefer the sublime to the beautiful, and so it was never holy pictures of nirvana ever-after that pulled me from an inner 7th level of hell, it was that same hell put up to a magnifying mirror that allowed me to see the faces of every sad soul that was suffering in said icy place (if you look right now you might see Kafka hacking with his ax) and in seeing so, finding some relief. There is something kinder in sublimity, for me at least.
Oh! Which brings about my usual bought of writing despair right on time! If I wasn’t so damned forlorn over the fact that this might mean nothing and probably can’t mean anything (a feeling I face every single time I writing, and now and again on a gray Sunday). I’ve learned to battle this fang ridden self doubt the way I learned to cope with lighter bouts of depression: knuckling down and pushing onward (unfortunately there aren’t any medications or talk therapies that help with the harder periods, no matter what those damn aforementioned Beatniks said!). Usually I’d hope that if I kept writing long enough, if I was my own chimp at a typewriter mashing keys then even if I didn’t regurgitate Shakespeare, I might still somehow write an Ode to my own dark lady on accident. And the funny thing about those transformational moments is that they tend to be kind of dishonest, in that, they don’t happen with the same ease and flow as beginning of the piece does. I’ve usually thought about my epiphanetic moments (or moments that appear as epiphanies in a piece of fanciful nonfiction) for a very long time and simply employed them in a way that suggests naturalness out of fear that they may in fact feel too cloying or overbearing simply plopped down out of the blue. There is a good reason for foreplay.
But I only say this because if I’m going to make myself heard, it only works if I’m honest about this whole damn thing. The trouble is that I want to be honest about hard won questions or lessons I’ve faced, but run into that tired old tension that I have to employ artifice to reach honesty. Which, I wanna be careful with because this idea can get really boring really easy, so I’ll stick with it for as short a time as possible: if I want to get us to a destination it is okay, I believe, to take the scenic route, though I promise I’d never erect Potemkin Villages.
And so, as I ramble on with no particular destination in mind the car has stopped on its own and I’m ready to get out. I think that, most of the really profound moments in my life were, in lots of ways, barely perceptible. They were a slight shift in mood, a different hue of the sky, the scent of someone I loved long after they’d left my life, I whisper for mercy to something that may not have heard, but I haven’t done the work to introduce you to any of those things. I do promise I will return to the writing mines to toil away until those moods might be made manifest in a seductive and understandable manner (I have a few projects in the works). Even if we went nowhere, like clown car in a Looney Tune driving on a treadmill with a rotating background (there’s Malibu and Cairo and London and Paris each with its own odd secrets) that it was an enjoyable artifact to look at.
“But to be able to lose one’s understanding and with it the whole of the finite world whose stockbroker it is, and then on the strength of the absurd get exactly the same finitude back again, that leaves me aghast. But I don’t say on that account that it is of little worth; on the contrary it is the one and only marvel”
-Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard
And a freight train running through the
Middle of my head
…Oh Oh Oh
I’m on fire
-I’m on Fire, Bruce Springsteen
The drive from my home town to my current home is about 4 hours. The highways start congested with adjacent strip malls and concrete jigsaw parking lots and shocks of weeds that look as surprised to be alive as their stiff and stilted stance indicates until, after winding through a more or less suburban Massachusetts breaks into the beauty of the silence of a grey brown winter in Vermont. It is quitter here on the road, not just because I feel it necessary to turn down the pop country, but because the road is left to itself, to simply be a road. One that still cuts through sheer mountains of granite (the little scars of dynamite shafts still visible), but one that looks out on currently vacant cow dung pastures and jutting hills. Maybe most importantly, there are no billboards in Vermont. And this eye clutter is just one bit of unclenching my brain gets to do as I drive home, it doesn’t have to filter out another piece of surface shouting at me to buy something. I slump in something like relaxation and feel the chumming percussion of my Subaru carry me forth into these three days of isolation. My only consistent companion through this pip of the trip back is the wet shred of the tires and the slightly irregular beat of my heart muscle.
My side of the duplex is unnaturally still when I open the door. I’ve left the lights on because it feels less lonely, a kind of trick on myself “maybe someone is actually here”. But the wood floors are cold and the couches are still and even the cats don’t stir. I’ve arrived before noon. This is the shape of today.
It’s hard to hold the oblong figure of an off day when its usual rituals and trials are removed. Unconsciousness, in both sleep and rote repetition, squeeze in from both ends like recoiling bungees, leaving the rest that’s there a mash of semi-conscious habit and thought. I end up shuffling from room to room only to regard each with the confused surprised of an early onset dementia patient. I walk around and around in a daze and enter the den of night with an equal feeling of uncentered spinning. What am I doing? Like, with anything? But, it dawns on me now, as I enter another brief period of unstructured time, that much of my life has been spent this way, circumambulating space half attuned to that otherly something. And just as this something is haunted with thoughts of people, places and moments that are now to present in mind only, it is equally filled with the hope that I can try and rescue something from the dregs of forgetfulness; that maybe if I give this aimless time and the memories that pop up therein a dollop of caring attention, I can witness wasted time until it unveils itself to have always been time lived and thus time honored. That there is something quietly magisterial in the sound of slippers milling about on half lacquered wood floors, and on the day my death bed fulfills its name sake, I’ll remember the ambled paths around my house with fondness rather than dejection. I honestly want to know, is there any value in those semiconscious moments that stretch across the span of a week or month or holiday break that can seem as bleak as a faded photograph found in a crumbling hut.
I don’t feel like eating lunch. It’s grey out and my appetite has been shit for a while. It tends to return at night like a werewolf. Instead I lay my head on the faux-leather couch, cringing for a moment as its chill is warmed by my skin and I flip open Batman #12 written by Tom King with art by Mikel Janin. The title of the arc is “I Am Suicide.” The comic opens with a poised and frowning batman as a series of notebook like panels narrate a letter Batman has written to Catwoman with a kind of warm syncopation. “Cat” he calls her. “Bat” she calls him. The inside of batman’s cape is a velvety purple, a delicious twist that emphasizes the theatrical camp of the character. He writes to her, “it’s not time to fight. It’s time to acknowledge what we are.” The next page, a double page spread, answer just what it is they must realize: it is silliness, and gonzo vigilantism, and fantasy, violence, it is the fantastic realm of self-consciously overblown hysterical theatrics that move at the edges of all our internal worlds. Batman sternly jumps across multiple machine gun firing henchmen while continuing his letter to Catwoman. And he acknowledges directly that he plays dress-up and that it’s funny and his parents would’ve laughed and that this absurd play is the one way this fictional creature has been able to scrounge some ability to make sense of things from the throws of trauma. And Cat feels this same way. Isn’t it funny to have a comic book try and talk about love? Isn’t if funny that we cloister love in such granular ways that it seems hyper-silly to talk of it in the genre of superheroes? As if love or its specter isn’t lurking everywhere at all times? The very trouble Batman has in reconciling his stupid state is the state of the comic itself posing as art, art trying to say anything valid. And it’s the continued exasperated effort of one writing this very essay may feel trying to wring some validity from this material, and trying to find some actual conceivable meaning in his own life when he reads this pulpy stuff. It’s the shame of reminding myself there may in fact be love in everything I do as I flip the page to see Batman punch a naked Bane in the face as the villain Psycho Pirate looks on and laughs. Batman is not done though, he is never done, so neither am I. Bat says to Cat, as he, like me, tries to reconcile in words this sense of lingering pain, “After the alley and the gun. And the pearls. What was I?… Every chance given to me, every promise I’d made, all of it was pain… And what use is pain… It’s not dignified, it’s not kind. And if it’s not dignified and it’s not kind, then maybe it’s not worth anything. Maybe it’s better off as nothing.” Maybe this tone is melodramatic, but the hurt in my chest that’s always there flairs. Because maybe its better off “Gone.” Gone? That seems a little much “Dead.” And now it is afternoon and I am on my couch in the quiet of a gray day and I can remember quite thoroughly other, more dire days that I spent glued to my floor wanting laugh because I was in so much pain, my mind and body, that I wanted to be gone and dead, but I just couldn’t move to do it. And the well in me is opened, opened by a man in bat suit. On the next page Batman continues his fight and his letter. And he talks about the scratches in his arms that could have easily been divots, scratches he put there until he found this: devotion. “I let the razor fall, and I understood. It was done. I’d done it, I’d surrendered. My life was no longer my life and I whispered-“ But before he whispers! I must bemoan how little surrender is ever discussed with the necessary glow of gratitude. I have fought so many exhausting battles in my life. And I lost all of them until I surrendered, only then did I understand the terms of victory have little to do with the triumph of domination. So young Bruce Wayne whispers, “I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on criminals” NOT defeating criminals, but in the act of war, in a perpetual state of motion that does not rest. It is a leap of faith in the truest sense. The fact that it is a silly war on crime with weird political undertones doesn’t undermine the existential moment, but props it up: Those things we can only talk to ourselves of because they are so private and outside the realm of language appear as bizarre and ghastly as a man in a purple cape. It is the fantastic realm of self-consciously overblown hysterical theatrics that move at the edges of all our internal worlds. Grace is like this. It is absurd. Batman’s cowl is splayed out like a hand palming the page, feeling the solidity of the emotional truth of this fiction as Batman utters, having surrendered his pain to commitment, “I am suicide.” Not the suicide of despair, but the suicide of change.
I decide on mac and cheese for dinner. I start to boil water. The icicles outside my kitchen window refract no light from the iron sky. I wish I had someone to write to in that way, someone to spill my secrets and love unreservedly. It’s an unfitting feeling to have over a sink full of used spoons.
It is 5:00 and it is dark. The night colored windows feel like dark glass drapes. I find myself, at moments like this, quiet moments with the whisper of melting water, looking out and expelling all sorts of colorful thoughts into what goes on in the windy places outside my apartment where I am not. Why is the image of someone looking longingly and trapped behind glass so ready and so trite? Because it captures that feeling that this transparent thing, this hard air, both restrains and offers the freedom of vision. And at night, the freedom to paint out my own fantasies about what the world is doing without me? Is it having fun? Laughing? Fucking? Perhaps one of the most bizarre twists of feelings I’ve come across living in my quiet suburb is how ashamed I feel for feeling lonely to begin with. I remember a thousand conversations of my mom lovingly and annoyingly telling me to join some kind of club to meet people. Like a running club or a writing club. It seems so absurd and tragic, that in this cultural moment we need excuses to be around other people. That there is no real public place to gather under the warmth of those familiar and strange. My apartment, alone, is warm enough for my skin, but not the isolation of my person.
I’ve been eating Annie’s Mac and Cheese this whole time by the way. It’s warm and good. Not healthy good—I use at least a half a stick of butter, my own kind of soul food—but comforting good.
I put on the Office before bed. The chatter of characters warms the house with a blue glow rather than a gold one. The familiarity warms the house. The noise warms the house. This is my closest thing to a polis, to a place to gather and commune. Then sleep.
The days, though shaped by time and place are marked by thought. It is the whishing of musings that really passes time, and passes it just as the ocean does, with seismic ebbs and flows indiscernible from the surface. Ones that can only be felt ripping and sliding down in the inside, flowing like the moods in my gut. Time, more than anything, ,is marked by the shifting change of affect in my body, from anxiety of heart releasing into a dullness in my chest to a spark of creativity in the front of my brain and back down to a tired slump in my intestines, all played upon by the whirl of thoughts of Dad and Mom and dog and school and failure and friends and women and catastrophes and fears and nothingness and sublimity and Batman and joy and sorrow and finally, always finally, loneliness. Loneliness. This is the taste of the tonic today; loneliness. How strange and unpleasant and effervescent and persistent. It is the emotional leitmotif of my apartment, it is the hue in the glint behind all the glass covering the painting prints on my walls. Loneliness is a treacherous and loyal companion–dogged, I think. But more on him in a bit.
Because it dawns on me that an empty day lends itself to one of my favorite pastimes, which is just musing. I’d prefer to muse with someone close, but I can do it by myself. It’s an activity more whimsical than thinking and less serious than contemplation. It sits somewhere between onanism and hermeneutics.
By the way, I’m up at this point, like laying in bed and blinking and looking at the wall with that gauzy mindscape of mid morning wake ups.
My mom calls and asks if I’m still in bed. She knows I am. We talk for a while which may render the title of this whole essay false, but if Thoreau went into town for pie once a week, I’m allowed a phone call… I’ve been irritable too, as you can tell. Mom tells me that dad got back from the doctor today. My dad’s ribs had been hurting for a couple weeks or so from, presumably, walking my galloping old basset hound (dad rigged up this harness that hangs around him like a hunter’s bow because Chloe has so much tork). His ribs weren’t getting better. He has osteoporosis.
I didn’t know really how to react. I didn’t feel empty so much as smudged. Something in me was expecting her to tell me in that clipped, rushed, confidential way she talks with me on the phone that he had a kind of lymphoma or dementia. I just, with all the things our family has been through–many of them my fault–I do the normal human thing of imagining the absolute worst, like my mom was going to tell me Hiroshima was just reenacted in Hebron, or really, that she would finally confirm my deepest fears (death, horror, loneliness) and in doing so relieve me of having to worry they may come true. It is suddenly apparent to me that I am the only person in my room.
Osteoporosis is not good and, forgive me for my lack of sensitivity here, it seemed perversely fitting for my father–this disease of leeched strength leaving sponge pillars to stand where once there was a frame in full. I could not help but think of my dad’s own isolation in the past decade. An isolation I was beginning to repeat, like father like son, stanza after stanza. Because as much as I’ve seen my mother grow through her quickness to anger, I’ve seen her move with compassion into a community provider role, I’ve watched, not quite as my father regressed, but as the world grew around him and he did not keep up. And now it is him and my mom and my dog. I admit I am deeply afraid for when my dog passes, because all I can think of is the coldness of my dad’s life. A man I knew to be warm and gentle seems to be buckling under the march of time. He has not sought to follow life the way my a younger me hoped he would.
And maybe I’m doing him a double disservice here, worrying about an internal life that does not match at all with his reality while plastering this misprision on public walls, but I know the irritation in his voice, the pettiness of his obsessions. It is painful for me to remember the quiet gentle man I love, a man still quiet and gentle, but sapped in a way. His lips hang down with the curves of curtains, his shoulders hunched. I am selfish here as well. Because I wonder, will time do this to me too?
I worry about my dad’s bones. I was surprisingly stern with my mom. I wanted to take the helms of the family and steer them towards openness and discussion rather than these weird back alley chats where nothing is said in person. But, I was doing so out of fear, and so felt that same reactive anger my mother must have when she yelled at us when we were little, because we were loved. Mom seemed hesitant to the idea of all sitting down together (was it the way I said it? Making too big a deal? Pushing my own agenda? Is it wrong to wish to see my father share his humor and generosity with a wider world than his cramped and stuffed study?). I still decorate my bedroom with the kind of plastic dinosaurs dad bought me when I was little. My siblings were much more open to it. I’m not sure what real influence I have though. “Hey dad, go hang out with toddlers or your bones will break” what kind of bizarre time reversed nursery rhyme am I privately wishing on him? Why have I already so thoroughly abandoned the idea that he might listen to me?… probably the fact that I have a hard time feeling heard as an adult from a lot of experience of not feeling heard. My main problem with musing is that I treat it as a stand in for action until I can’t tell the difference.
I’ll pray tonight. I’ll do what I can with what I’m good at. I can hold images, even three-dimensional ones with weight and heft in my head. So I’ll picture rebuilding my dad bone by bone, or better yet, refilling those porous bones, all the gnawing cavities refilled with bright white calcium. I place my hands on his exposed shins and feel as they warm with the crawl of strength back in their lengths. And as I do so I’ll wish, not for my dad to fulfill my hopes for him, but his hopes for himself. I must remember that. A person must be happy according to their self-directed set, even if that just drains him again. Even if. This all seems too much to think about, alone, in my bedroom, lazy and lacking food and exercising, excoriating my father for the very thing I sit here doing. I wish we could just feel close to a person in a single moment, rather than navigate these vast treacherous waters of confusion. But then it’s that whole journey becomes destination thing right? There’s that hope that if I love him as he is and do what I can rather than what I can’t, intimacy follows like a shadow.
The day seems to pass like one (a shadow that is) devoid of content beyond its own contentlessness. There is a peace to this. In many ways it is a reminder that I cannot exist alone. I need others to substantiate me. But eventually these reminders metastasize into earnest warnings I’ve downloaded from a fervently capitalist culture. “A man pulls himself up by my bootstraps” I actually verbally think this about my own emotional listlessness, like I should be able to pull my entire body off the ground by the strength of my arms alone. I must admit how much I hate this cult of self-reliance (not responsibility but reliance).
I would like, for a moment to muse a bit, rest from old bones and family tension, to take the notion of the self-made man to its logical conclusion, which is to say a completely fantastical point of imagination. The purpose of the self-made man seems thoroughly political in nature, already putting the argument in bad faith as it aims to explain away how some folks succeed and others fail in a totalizing manner, so let us suspend that bad faith and take the argument in its purest form. I want to spend a bit of time destroying this American myth that nips at my heels until I feel constantly inadequate. Feel free to skip the next two paragraphs if you have other things to do with your time, otherwise I invite you to vent with me.
The self-made man makes only himself. This is to say, to even be produced or born, he must have been dragged from his own already formed womb, like an Ouroboros in reverse, full headed skull and bulky body sliding out of his canal formed into a body that already needs nothing of sustenance. He is a big bang, a something from nothing in organic form. He could not be asexual as that would imply he is his own descendant, growing other selves off of him like a mantis. Those selves would be too reliant on the parent self. Instead, he has miraculously emerged without even needing a miracle. In fact, there would be no need for him to be a he, or any gender, or even genderless, as gender implies a dalliance with sexuality of some sort, and the self-made one has no need for the reliance on others. This idea of others would be truly repugnant to the self-made one as it never needed others. But then, of course, in never needing others it never needed a way to interact or understand others and so, walks about the earth amongst them as if they are inert things, stones and sand to be stepped over and on. We of course view the self-made one with its smooth, genitalless, thick grey skinned body as just as inert. Because from the outside it would be. In fact, its intelligence would be so alien to even those who position themselves as self-reliant survivalists or mountain men–any gruff live off the land stereotype–that the best understanding of the self-made one is one of Lovercraft’s terrible old ones. The self-made one is totally indifferent to everything, conscious only of itself, but whether this is self-awareness is hard to determine as attempting to enter its mind presupposes a dialectical relationship of subject and object that the self-made one has one capacity or need to enter in. It’s eyes and ears are sown shut, but somehow its mouth remains moving as we can discern it still yells of its own self-importance over the land. And how could it not? It is all it knows and therefore is the greatest and worst of all. An absolute unto itself. It yells, not for others to hear, but because why wouldn’t the self-made one, who thinks itself as the essence of all things trumpet its call.
The self-made one, brought to its ultimate point is as dim and dull as any nihilistic god we’ve ever known, in comparison, the kind of silence we find in our own souls that seems unreachable to others, the paradox of our individuality among a need for a community is immediately transcendental it all its complications and paradoxes. Our places of silence are not indicators of our nature to be alone, but indicators that it is our nature to wrangle with the feeling of aloneness. Do not abandon yourself to self-madeness unless you too wish to be one of these pitiable repulsive grey skinned titans that roam the land, socially deaf and dumb, a self even they cannot understand. I have to tell myself this again and again.
But as I lay myself down to sleep that night (it’s been the whole day already) I can not help but feel deadened. Because my own behavioral patterns and the world I find myself inhabiting have cast me as one of these stony giants of self regard and loveless wandering. But this isn’t really right. I ache still. And the paradox of this ache is that it is good in proportion to the ache. Because it reminds me a day in isolation should not fill me up. It reminds me that I do not end at the confines of my own skin. In fact in this ache something smarter than I am (that is equally a part of me) refuses to be alone. The only time I am not alone is when I am with others, and yet the fabric against which my selfhood rests pulls on that sense of other at all times and so I am never fully alone. If I were, I would not yearn for connection.
Some days I wake up and the sheets look like the sheets I used in the house I grew up in. And the dreamscape I emerge from is the same place my mind wandered when I was in college. And I wake up to the taste of a memory lived as if it is the current moment. Some days, alone, I spend in the past. I do not however see this as a waste of time, but a kind of gathering, the way one might twirl their finger in a shallow pond delving deep enough to collect a cracked toy ship.
I am very lonely. Sometimes I lose myself in this thought. Which is to say I take the responsibility of loneliness upon myself. It is my fault I have not found or built community. It is my fault I am not enough to myself. And when I feel this way (and I feel this way as I eat my Life cereal with Lactaid milk glancing over issues of Matt Kindt’s Grass Kings comic) I am reminded of how few truly communal institutions exist.
This day, it is decided, is dedicated to remembrance.
I was a student at Providence College, a small private Catholic College (home to the Dominican Friars). I was having a hard time there. I loved the newspapers and the friends I made and my professors, but things in me and my place in the community was out of joint. I do not fully know why I did what I did next: depression, confusion, drugs, alcohol, despair. I tried, one night, after barring myself in my bedroom, to take my life. I must express my eternal gratitude to all three of my roommates (Tom, Paul, and Dave) for finding me and saving me. They kept what blood that wasn’t spilled in me, and they kept was hope hadn’t been snubbed out smoldering.
I do not remember exactly how this all happened, but I was disinvited from campus. I was deemed a threat to the community by a hierarchy that involved the dean of students. I was encouraged to keep from visiting friends off campus because it could be dangerous. Because it was implied I was dangerous.
Now, they were right to be concerned. I made a violent action and had I not already been in excellent care, I could understand their hesitance to leave me unsupervised. But suicide is complicated. And this time, as both my therapist and psychopharmacologist wrote the dean, it was an impulse action that should be considered an aberration rather than predictive of future behavior.
I was told that the Providence College community would have to think if I’d be ready to return to campus the next semester. In short I’d been kicked out of school under the cover of the health of community.
I hope that, as you read this, I do not come off as too poisoned by resentment, though I must admit I feel an unforgiving weight as I mull these things over.
All of this disinvitiation and talk of community took place in a strange tribunal with an assistant to the dean (I never got to talk to the dean himself, his decrees were handed down through subordinates). The assistant was a kind enough man, handsome in a more shrewish Rob Lowe way. But he seemed as if he wanted the best for everyone. The room we met in (we met at least twice, maybe three times) with fluorescent lit. It was one of those terrible meeting rooms that had a series of two seater desks placed in a square instead of a solidified table. He sat at one end. My dad and I sat at the other.
My father just wanted me to be able to go to school. He wanted me to be okay. I don’t think he could comprehend the horror that had taken place and he was fighting through his confusion on my behalf. Just please let John back into school. That was the feel I got from dad. I felt close to him when he advocated for me.
The meetings would start with the PC community’s concerns. They said people could be talking and that’s not good for the community. They said they didn’t know what I might do if I was let back in. They said I committed a violent act and they wouldn’t be able to scrub the image of a bathroom covered in blood from their memory. Forgive me, dear reader. I need to let my fingers quake with rage at the thought that my spilled blood offended their sensibility. It is not charitable of me to say this, but then again it is not charitable to treat a mentally tender student as a monster. There was some truth to each statement they made. But, very few were concerned with my wellbeing. And as the assistant leaned in in his sober and concerned and serious way to deliver his thoughts about the damage I threatened the community with I felt my father next to me lean close to catch himself from withering. And to be closer to me. The PC community’s reasoning’s continued. How could I continue my studies after being through something so traumatizing? How could they be assured two letters from professionals was really enough of a guarantee? I could feel each doubt as one lock that secured PC’s reasons they were justified in, what felt like, doing away with me. Could I understand this was for everyone’s best? My father, strong in his love, but quivering in voice, reminded them that I was in the hands of excellent clinicians. And the assistant, in a gentle and compassionate voice responded that he just couldn’t see how it could work. My dad, his voice breaking, prostrate before Providence College told me how far he would go to help me. He would stay with me in hotel rooms if supervision and being on campus were a problem. He would drive me from CT to RI every day if staying too long in the state was a problem. He would—he was letting these loose as a torrent, his body forward, scrounging with courage for any reason I might be able to continue.—he would do anything, anything, absolutely anything. And I loved him so fervently in that moment because it was so plain how he loved me. And when the assistant asked my father to exit the room so they could give me a verdict in private my dad started crying as he got up to go. And I cried too as I grabbed him from my chair and clutched him and asked him not to cry because it was okay. It was okay that things were not okay.
I was not allowed on campus. I was not allowed to finish classes. I had to be escorted by security guards to retrieve my belongings.
Six months later, after I’d transferred schools and contacted school to ask permission to attend a school newspaper reunion I was informed I was still a danger to campus.
This is one way I came to understand what constitutes community in American culture. It made sense. The school wanted to cover its ass because at its core it is a business and, as vulgar as this is, even the thought of the possibility of a suicide on campus makes very bad press. I felt myself near mortal sin that had to be expunged.
It’s somewhere around midafternoon. Class starts tomorrow. I don’t fully remember what I wanted out of these three days. Something about recovered time, moments made valuable. In some ways that happened, right? We sat here with me as we went over the past and present comb for moments of clarity.
What I’m left with, more than anything (perhaps what I’m always left with and will eventually leave with) is my need for others, to hear the patter of their steps in the living room, a roving gwaff at a remembered embarrassment, the call of my name in the lovely voice of lightly sprinkled irritation. This need is as big as I am, it is as much of me as all the rest of this stuff is.
And it’s not impossible for me to find this, temporarily at least, but in terms of a solid place, a communal bowl that sits center stage in the public arena? I’m not sure what it would be.
I do not blame myself for feeling lonely. Why would I? When nearly everything I live by points to the comfy confines of myself, solitude’s ugly cousin is of course a close part of the family. I sleep alone, eat alone, think alone, wash alone, drive alone, shop alone. Again, not out of necessity, but convenience. Things are quicker this way. Easier. I don’t need to bother folks all that much. But then again, bothering is kind of the whole point. Its my point. To bother with other people.
Sometimes when I think back to my father and I hugging in the large white meeting room on the Providence College campus, with the assistant delivering the verdict on the far side of the table, I can feel my dad’s forehead against mine. There’s a pressure, our skulls kissing, the skin adhering just a bit, enough to leave a red blotch when he has to leave, but it strikes me that that bit of pressure–that little reminder of this man who loves me and who I love–was and is here, and it should feel ineffable and strange, that closeness. Because it is in that very moment that I duel with the idea that our minds might never fully, truly know each other and yet we have taken two leaps of faith into care for each other no matter the outcome or recourse. I suppose, in these days alone, I realize I want to feel that pressure more rather than less. That, as trite as it is, there are different kinds of discomfort, and the ghosts that chill my mind on lonely days empty me more than the points I meet others and see how they hurt. I will always want to hurt more if it means being with others more.
Nighttime. Dinner’s the same.
I am glad I’m alive.
I flip through a comic and hang around twitter.
I wish I could get to know everyone.
I sit on my bed and press my temples and massage the lump in my throat.
And I hope these three days meant something.
Maybe just as alone, but still, another crack tomorrow.
Quick heads up: There is a frank and thorough discussion of suicide in here. Seeing as this is a discussion of suicide’s harmful consequences and the ever present possibility of redemption I think it’s okay to read, but if you’re feeling any of this stuff please, please take your pain seriously and contact someone for help. Call a friend, or a family member or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. This will pass. Calling will help (if I made it through you sure as hell can). I would not be here writing this if help didn’t exist, so please seek it out.
It is hard to compel the uninflicted to understand the specific carved out hell that those dealing with suicide face. It is hard because the pain is such a cocktail of confusing blame, both inward and outward. It is hard because while this hell seems entirely interior and personal, those in one’s immediate vicinity end up testing the waters in the lake of flames. When I was younger, I lived in that place for a long time. I visited the black oak door of annihilation by my own doing at least a handful of times. And even now, years past my last thought hurting myself, this lacuna of love is still unraveling and revealing all its insidious strands.
In recent years there’s been a compassionate and important push to help folks understand the why behind something that resists that very question. The late David Foster Wallace—he himself lost to suicide—gave us what I think is the most telling metaphor. And it follows:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
There’s a lot to dig through here, but the main push, the sense that someone’s disturbing actions may in fact contain a logic that is currently inaccessible to us, but plain to them is incredibly valuable. And some day I’ll tell you my own story about suicide and the fires I was burning in. And I’ll do it when I figure out just how the hell I can tell it without being overwhelmed by such an otherworldly visitation of remembrance.
Right now I want to talk about something I did my best to ignore: the hurt I inflicted to those I love.
Suicide, as you well know, is a scary topic. And I often hear folks comforting themselves around scary topics with bromides that might sound soothing, but obscure the complexity of the topic. You see, suicide is one of those terrible acts that rides the line between personal responsibility and victim of circumstance, a dialectic we Americans have a very hard time parsing out. It is my aim to try and understand my responsibility; not to claim everyone who commits suicide is wrong or weak or just acted selfishly, but to try and understand what my responsibility is having committed such a frightening act against the fact that I was in many very real ways dealing with things outside my control. I can’t help but think of a driver in a car that was totaled during a snowstorm. Should they have stayed inside? What if they didn’t have a choice? Should they have slowed down? What if the very thing that lead them into the dark night spurred them to drive faster? Should they have refused to die? What if they didn’t build there own body in such a way that it was uncrushable. Should they have thought of those they loved before and during and after the accident?
One of the strange parts about my most serious attempt was how little I felt in the hospital the days following. They had to leave a nurse with me to make sure I wouldn’t hurt myself (but frankly I was too embarrassed to do anything). Those 24 hours in my halogen lit, cove of a room, accompanied by thin sterile sheets that left me shivering and sweating both, and newly wrought stitches chewing up my forearms seem somehow removed from reality. In that moment all I had done was hurt myself and because it was just me I hurt and no one else then the repercussions were entirely my own. And being in the sickly state I was, I was okay with the violence I’d just wrought against me. Even if that violence was murderous in the full sense of the word.
There are certain moments of my memory that exist as snow globes, microcosms of some unreal feeling. They aren’t totally incorporated into my being, but, rather, sitting on a shelf waiting to be studied. My father walking into my dim lit hospital room is one of those things. He has a gentle face; soft hands. He’s a man that’s fed me kindness. I’m uncertain he’d ever encountered the type of violence I visited on myself. I’m uncertain he’d ever had to face anything so brutal that a person he loves brought on themselves. And when he looked at me through his thick glasses and went to talk, there was, instead, a sob. And in that moment he turned away to try and stifle his overwhelming confusion and overwhelming grief. I sometimes try and imagine just what that moment in my father’s mind was like. I think the sound of his hand silencing his cries haunts me more than the cries themselves. I can only imagine the pain existing in the tension in that gap of understanding: what did I do to make my son try and kill himself.
This, I think, is one of the more tragic elements of depression. It kills the life-force of every person the depressed person loves before it takes the depressed person’s life. In Thomas Ligotti’s thesis on pessimistic nihilism The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (I do not recommend this read unless you currently have the shining resilience of Superman and Leslie Knope combined) he writes of the depressed mindset, “Whether you think consciousness to be a benefit or a horror, this is only what you think—and nothing else.” In depressive logic, the act of imagining the idea that others exist and carry soul like things, or that meaning is possible is a metaphysically ungrounded position because the only thing telling you these thoughts are true are your own flimsy thoughts; thoughts that are nothing but ghosts that have yet to realize their cursed place in existence. And this depressed mindset ebbs any ability we depressed people have to muster our defenses and remember, emotionally, that others love us, not to mention the idea they might have complex inner lives of their own that allow them to suffer deep grief and loss and that they may in fact be angry with us if we leave life; they may wonder if it was their fault; they may actually miss us. All these, just thoughts like ghosts to a depressed person.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of surviving suicide is revisiting the infernal frame of thinking that allowed it to be possible and feel its extensive implications.
I should know.
I want to veer into some music or lit reference here to ease us into one deep shock I faced, but that feels dishonest. I am, frankly, afraid of writing about this next moment, if only because it contains certain kind of intimacy I’ve rarely held and yet it was terrifying. A few weeks after my serious attempt to hurt myself I was in the car with my brother. I barely registered that this may have affected him, let alone hurt him. It’s strange to think about now if only because my brother is someone a lot of emotional thought is dedicated to, but in that moment he was barely a blip. His being would have barely registered on radar. And so the weather was unfortunately appropriate: dark and raining, the spinning spitting sound of tires on a wet road along with the hum of engines. And my brother, not one to usually initiate emotional discussions, looking forward, hands 10 and 2, his face a washed out orange from the periodic sodium streetlamps said very matter of factly, “If you had died I would have ended my life too.” His face did not move and any emotion was betrayed only by the crushing lack of affect in his continence. I refused to understand the enormity of his discussion. My head against the cold glass in the dark with a tune on the radio hushed by wet ridden road. There, in a signal statement was all I had wrought and refused to acknowledged. I hurt him. My life was precious enough that if I was not there he did not want to be there either. But more than that, I betrayed him, I broke his trust. Being alive is taken for granted as a fundamental drive. Maybe the human drive. And to turn on that and spit in its mouth forced my family to feel an existentially disturbing “fuck you” I’d whispered with the scissor carved cuts on my arms. I did not stop to realize that if I hurt me, if I murdered me, I was murdering this tacit life agreement in them, and perhaps I could not realize it. That’s the dirty fucking rub of it all.
There was a vengeance in his statement seated uneasily alongside an intimate admittance of love. I felt angry, with me, and with him, and I felt… cared for at the admittance of his own handheld confession of intended annihilation. All of these things. I was not taught that each massive feeling lived side by side, in an uneasy conjunction. But they did and they do and my responsibility, even now, is reconciling this broken promise all of us make upon the first blip of our pulse, whether we like it or not.
There’s no playbook for how to make amends for suicide. I’m not sure why, but it does make this whole endeavor so much more unmoored, lonely even. The best I’ve come up with so far is trying to ask what it was like for those who were most directly affected. And when those moments of betrayal and mistrust pop up, trying just listen. In a way it’s my duty now to bear witness to the seeds of suffering I have sown; not out of any punitive reason or self-flagellation, but to let those I hurt know I care enough to hear how I hurt them.
No, wait, no. That’s not really true is it. The best I’ve been able to do, to reaffirm that promise none of us make but all of us hold is to be patient enough to work along in the flow of time and to accept, with courage and hope, all of life terms. Basically it is my duty to those I love to stay alive, and moreover to attend to those pustules of suffering so that I never force any of them to live through this again To keep communication open. To earn trust by attending to the needs of whatever it is a soul is. To listen to the intuitive whispers of hurt I so long silenced.
I once tried to promise my mother I would never do it again, try to end my life. That promise did little to reassure. And why wouldn’t it? Actions do speak louder than words and suicide is deafening in its statement. There is no one action to outdo suicide’s intensity, only the subtle rise of a new melody that flits in and out of each moment, eventually asserting itself as the leitmotif triumphant over that previous sense of ruin.
But none of this ends. As I write this I think of my sister and how little I’ve done to ask her. As I write I still cringe with shamed self-reproach at my lack of awareness, my unintended callousness. I have not worked to heal us in the ways I expect myself to. This is not out of a lack of love or concern, but a basic fear. That fear that if I acknowledge she is a part of my life and a person I hurt then I need to feel all this confusion again. Any experience of devastation through powerlessness leaves us afraid we’ll end up feeling it again. And as much as I’ve done to grapple with the inner jungle of self-blame I’m still afraid of that powerless place inside.
And yet, and yet there is another side. What a wonderful chance for us, for my sister and me. I get to do this again. I get to wade through the murk to attend to our relationship. I get to reaffirm what she already knows, how deeply I love her and how much I want to reconcile what my actions wrought. I get to go on this journey that, while I’ve been on it before, seems slightly new each time. I get to move to the intimacy of reunification. And this, truly, is what I always want to move towards: the special recipes that mature and grow as we are forced to learn new ways to learn each other. If there is anything good to any of this, it is the fact that I have been forced on this path of reclamation and cannot look back. When my choice is despair and faith, it is a daunting, but liberating choice to make.
Thank you for reading. It means a lot to me.
ThanThank you for reading.
I feel it’s my time to tell part of a story I’ve been holding next to my chest for years. I will not tell you all of it, as there’s more to it than I can name, but I will tell you a length of it, a length that felt like a conclusion at the time, but was in fact in media res. It’s about the hum and family and terror. It’s about laughter and faith and Mr. Pickering.
College was not an easy time for my family. There were the usual horrors of a humming life: my grandma’s death, my mom’s cancer, family mental illness. However, there was something extra, a certain kind of surprise my brother and I had to face together and alone. At the time this thing we faced, hand in hand, this thing born of mental illness and fear and anger, was insurmountable. I couldn’t even really name it for a good while. It was just that bad thing. I won’t tell you too much more now about the bad thing.
Before and during and after this insufferably unnameable thing happened I was taking a class about American nature writing. This tall, spindly, silver-haired, bouncy, gibbounous old man taught the course: Samuel Pickering (he hated when I used too many adjectives). Sam is Huck Finn if Huck sublimated all that trauma into pure life essence. Sam is a glittering smile shining despite the gray day. Sam is one of the few men I’ve met that could walk through a hall of horror and find the humor in it, and like, the real life giving humor, not the cynical washed out kind. I always ended up describing him as the character Robin Williams was based on in Dead Poet Society, because he was and is the character the late Robin was based on; except Robin couldn’t come close to Sam’s energy. Sam (he preferred Mr. Pickering, but my memory of him has seemed fit to let me be casual) illuminated the lines of a world I felt weary of in ways I could not expect. Most of the class was him telling stories (that he probably spit shined up a little). He did not give a single shit about polite social convention no matter who got embarrassed (he of course was gleefully shameless). I was once walking in a hermitted shoulder shrugging way across a UCONN quad when I heard some daft, southern accented voice yell, with increasing fervor, “It’s a Banana! No! It’s an APPLE! NO! IT’S MR. MANGOOOO.” I loved Sam. He could find that film that covered everyday absurdity in conventional wisdom and he’d rip it off every time he did. I brought my brother to meet Sam. Both my brother and I loved talking to him, about the woods, books, stories; we each forced him to reluctantly watch some YouTube videos he’d then yell about in the hall (search for the Turtle Man to see a favorite). Sam showed me and my brother why someone like Thoreau was worth reading, worth coveting even. Not because Henry was some dynamo of personality, but because he was so tenacious in his desire to feel what life might be if we let ourselves imagine it such. One of the small good things of being an American is the fact that wanting more, when put modestly and imaginatively can yield bushels of fecund life if we open ourselves to it.
After the bad thing I decided to keep a promise that my brother and I had made. I decided to drive up to Walden Pond while reminiscing about Sam Pickering. It was a cold February day. Sleet and gray slate skies. And I’d kept the promise in that I was heading to Walden. The kind of driving that covers the windshield in spray. I broke it too, the promise. I was going without my brother. For a few months now, after the bad thing, I’d felt cut off from what I’ve discussed as the hum, or rather, I forgot about it, or maybe it was never alive in me, ever. I was in the car alone in some ways. My chest and stomach had been opened and filled with fine cement and left to set. As I drove, feeling the distance from my house and my brother growing, I felt a new kind of emptiness. One in which nothing in the world meant much at all. My homegrown nihilism, that feeling state, had a real place to roost after the bad thing left much of me and our relationship deeply complicated. I did not stop to question why I still wanted to keep that promise to head to Walden.
Sam didn’t put up with my know-it-all shit in his class. I might act bored or sullen or both (it’s easy to do when you’re depressed) and I remember once, after Sam read out a journal entry from Emerson in which Emerson said he’d discovered a new instrument by bouncing a rock off a block of ice in the woods I commented—with the knowing air of any buffoon–something like, “it sounds like he’s making light of it as if he’s better than everything around him” to which Sam, quite appropriately responded, “Mr. Mango you didn’t understand a damn lick of this.” I hadn’t. I think what Sam never quite realized that while he might have put himself in a Romantic or Transcendentalist tradition, there might have been more Nietzsche there than anything else. I think at the time I’d failed to realize this. When Nietzsche said “The maturity of man—that means, to have reacquired the seriousness that one had as a child at play” he could have simply been describing Sam. That play was in some way essential to moving through the world, that it was in fact simultaneously a very serious silly business. I think this is what my brother and I loved about Sam the most especially because I thought everything was oh so stupid or oh so serious at the time, the twain never meeting. Or maybe this if you’re inclined (like I was) to melancholy “Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.” Sam was always fond of telling me something his friend had written, that Sam was the only man that could come out a pile of shit riding a silver horse, something of the like. For Sam near senseless embrace of the moment was kind of self-overcoming, Sam was indeed a man who loved his fate.
I wanted to love my fate too. But at the time it had seemed to me as if I’d gotten in the shit too deep and I’d lost that held hand from a person I love dearly. I couldn’t hear their hum or any hum any more. All movement lead to static and all stillness forced me to listen to it. Then I opened the door of my 2000 silver Honda civic after I pulled to a stop in the near empty parking lot of Walden pond. I was already sniffling. I didn’t quite know what I was doing there. I was in between serious and silly, or both of them, or nothing. It was cold and my cheeks were read and my nose and eyes were runny and the coal in my throat was thick and chalky. When I saw Walden Pond I had the delightfully dull thought, “Why didn’t they call it Walden lake” The almost iron drab sky pressed on my head with the kind of pressure only deep ennui and buried fear can bring. The pond was big. It had sandy beaches, I was almost talking to myself beneath the sound of pond waves crashing and shushing onto land. The sand was cemented frozen. And in that moment that place of pure cement in me that could not pick up the feel of any hum at all (some much so that there was a kind of screaming sound in my head [and it was almost like the inner killer chorus calling out, bleating out the name of my brother so he might return to me somehow]) and I heard music. It was rhythmic, but not on time, not in step. And it was as if someone had laced the sky about the clouds with chimes and with the kind of gentleness you’d use to touch the face of a child, let the chimes sing. And I looked up, up from my trudge on the cement inside myself and under my feet and I saw on the pond that I’d come to a place where the ice had started to break up into little icicles, as if the edge of the ice on the lake there was a jigsaw of intimately close chandelier pieces, and I saw as they wafted out and in and the chimes were in fact the water and the ice, and that the hum of nature here was one of delicacy, the insides of the cold water a place of play and I collapsed and I wept with delight at how serious it was and how soulfully silly. I missed my brother, but he was here now in these sounds. I knew the kind of joy this would bring him and believed I’d need to see this alone to remember my connection to him transcended any confusion of the bad thing. The hum is always there.
You see, I forget that a lot. When I wrote about the hum earlier, and written about it in a much more dejected manner, I’d forgotten something so important. I’d forgotten Wallace’s reminder to remember the water. More importantly, I’d forgotten any thought that the water always changes no matter how stolid or thick it seems or for how long it stays that way. I’d forgotten that that deep seriousness of play and laughter was so important because it was and is an invocation of the fact that all things change. That in playing, singing, we make that change human.
It’s been years since the bad thing. My brother and I care about each other as much as any brothers could and I often think of how far we’ve come, and Samuel Pickering, and Thoreau, and Nietzsche, and the chimes in the pond, and when I do I am forced to remember something that would be gross to say in polite company because it demands I talk of faith. My faith, in ever changing waters, demands I believe in an impossible God. My God lives in contradiction and nonsense and perhaps the greatest nonsense of all is that there should be such a thing as kindly laughter and mature play and unprovoked selfless kindness. I am forced through having lived long enough, to believe that actual faith has much more to do with living on the very edge of time, open and undefensive to each moment, and much less to do with finding pure tranquility; that, in fact, to be able to have the negative capability to hold two different feelings simultaneously–there is no hum and I hear the sky’s chimes–my brother is not here and yet he is here–this is all so very silly and very serious—has much more to do with faith than any actual certainty of belief. That is the story I want to tell you now. That is the story I hope I always tell you, in a thousand different ways with different words and changing meanings but the same single soul. I know I will forget again and again the sound of the chimes and the buzz of the hum, but they will always be there for me to return to when I remember I can and I trust enough to do so. All things I need are both effervescent and eternal. And I am silly enough to believe so.
This might seem overly simplistic by the time we’re done.
I have a good life. I have both my parents. We talk and we love each other. I have a brother and a sister that I’m proud of and I love wholeheartedly. I have a dog back in CT that loses are mind whenever I come home to visit. I have friends as far as 20 years back. I have a dynamic life that is challenging and engaging and provides meaning. I have multiple different communities that provide support and understanding and an overall gentle assurance against those creeping pressures in life. I have easy access to food and health care and shelter and water. I am not routinely discriminated against for my color or sex or sexual orientation and gender identification. I am lucky in countless unthinkable ways that my basic situation is one in which my particular biological fragility is allowed to exist at all as any change to any vector that makes up this reality that seems so impenetrable could obliterate all of this at any moment.
Despite all of these things that I try to be actively grateful for and humbled by I want more. It is that simple. I always, always want more. And please understand me, I’m not now chastising myself for this basic fact. Perhaps I could do more to discourage my gluttonous, lustful, wrathful want of things. Maybe less time on Ebay, but I have to acknowledge too that I am a thing that wants.
And that’s helpful. I need to want food. I need to want shelter. And I need to want water and love and intimacy and all of these other things. Want is a good motivator. But it’s not my intention to waste your time about the virtue of asceticism, the salvation of acceptance of the Quixotic project of fulfilling desire (though, you know as well as I do, you get what you want and it’s never really what you needed), but rather a particular kind of pressure that is born out of this strange opposition between how good things seem and how twisted up I can get.
Forgive my self-effacement. So much of this stuff I talk about can so easily fall into cliché, bromide, banality. I feel like certain important conversations can kind of be like navigating an elephant boneyard of Happy Meal toys, any step off the path delivers unto us the bones of images and items drained of any authenticity or use. And I think this particular feeling, while pungent with a weird liveliness, has been cast into this land of misfit toys of late capitalism. So lemme try starting with a question. Have you ever cried in the shower? Even as I ask that I get weirdly defensive, a simultaneous sense of guilt and fear of vulnerability and defensiveness, like my fur is standing on end to ward of judgement from some beastly predator. I mean, of course I have. That’s why I’m writing this. I did it today. And I think these a strange and particular flavor to tears in cleansing bathroom rain. The womb like reverberations of porcelain and plastic, the ritual and aforementioned ridding of impurities, a vulnerable spot of self care mixed with something sorrowful and maybe desperate in a seemingly safe place. There’s a reason Janet Leigh’s attack in Psycho is so horrifying. No one and nothing should touch me there. But, let’s not toss off that pop culture link right away. This scene happens a lot. So much so that it’s become the butt of a very unfunny and weirdly cruel joke. I mean, just to list a few: the aforementioned Pyscho technically counts, an upsetting cynical peak of the day jeer by Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, there’s one in Blue Valentine (but to be fair most of that movie, is crying, well acting crying, but still), a bizarre one in Starship Troopers, MASH, Carrie, Heathers, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Leaving Las Vegas, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Hurt Locker…. There’s a lot. And in everyone there’s this bizarre feeling of ‘man, this person is at the end of their rope, like psychologically not all there.’ It’s an easy way to cast a character as being in a vulnerable and dangerous kind of distress.
And that makes sense. Especially because whenever I end up in a shower and find myself crying something is telling me that I’m doing it wrong, and I am not grateful enough and I am too entitled and if I could just do something different then I wouldn’t be failing in this moment and maybe would feel so much pain and maybe then things would finally be wonderful and I could finally breath without pressure on my chest or pain behind my eyes or a slight sense of doom. How did I get to be so afraid of a little vulnerability?
I remember what made me love with one of my old friends. Or at least solidified what was there. We really liked each other and we really made each other laugh and she was always cheery and kind, but none of that is what concretized it, concretized that immense sense of connection. She told me a story where she was desperate. She told me about a time way, way back in middle school when a boy she liked said something venomously cruel. And when she told me she was shaking and stuttering and I felt that same exact fear of what it would be like to be confused and afraid. Because the cruel boy said she was too fat to date. And when she told me that I felt the immense trust she’d placed in me to let her see her as she did not want to be seen. There was no better way of saying, “I am like you.”
So many of these movies are instructive in that they show me exactly what I’m getting wrong about that initial defensiveness around crying and showers and all that stuff. I have to practice being vulnerable with myself to be vulnerable with others. And part of that practice is embracing the emotional paradox that it is entirely healthy to feel like the world is going to end while your bathing, that brief moments of despair or not signs of failure, but livelihood, and to fully feel them, to embrace them and expel them is actually in incredible sign of wholeness as it is a sign of willing vulnerability. So much of emotional healthy is being okay with just not being okay. Because eventually you will be, okay that is. I always am. Most folk are.
And, okay, goddamnit, I fear I’ve lapsed into a kind of purely positive pop psych self help. So let me add in one bone of cynical contention. If I’m going to live, I’m going to do it as thoroughly as possible. So many of my internalized messages demand I want to feel good at all times. Any yet, the perversity of being a thinking thing in some ways is this: transcending those initial impulses about what I want to feel and don’t want to feel so as to sit fully with everything I feel. My life is only good when I let myself hurt because if I refuse it I suffer. And for some reason that thought makes me feel pretty good.
Most birthdays don’t mean much. This one feels different. It’s a milestone, especially because it signals the normal move from post-post-adolescence to responsibility filled adulthood. I have that one “joke” from Friends seared in my head when the camera captures Joey praying to God saying “We had a deal. It could happen to them, just not me.” There’s that good old fear of death even though I’m still quite young.
But I think birthdays do what most holidays do; they magnify the theme the holiday wraps itself in and they ask us to reflect on that magnified theme. This time the theme is life itself (the fact I still have it, the fact it marches on, the fact it’s different, the fact it’s too much the same, the fact that—you get it). It’s a lot to think about.
Even though today’s been calm, internally and externally, I’ve heard a weird low rumble–more felt than heard–of two subconscious wolves pulling at my brain stuff. One wolf has kind eyes and thick fur, it has the scars that are due from taking care of itself and the pack, the other is spindly and hungry and slobbering in a knowing, mocking way. One wolf is warm, it saddles up with me when I’m scared or feel small. The other convinces me I’m small. One wolf is acceptance, the other is desire.
I have wanted intensely. My mind is an Iago when it comes to the machinations of desire, a Loki of seduction and deception. I have wanted women and recognition and talent and money and success and love and wisdom and painlessness and ecstasy and rapture and intoxication and drunkenness. I spent so much of my younger youth wanting to be dead because I felt so thoroughly hurt from not getting all the other things I wanted. And when that want of death became too frighteningly real I wanted to escape in the bottom of a bottle and I wanted that relief to keep happening and when this too was snubbed I found myself with that same terrifying want.
But, I also wouldn’t be sitting here writing to you, trying to weave love into linguistics if I did not want. I wanted to get better. I wanted to grow. I just… needed other people’s help. And I needed to accept that that help had always been there and eventually I needed to want to be grateful that that help was always there and always will be.
Look, sitting here now, I want things. I want a relationship with a woman I’ve yet to meet. I want more money. I want to feel less lonely. I want to be seen. These are not bad things, but it is so easy for them to shift into the creepy smiling face of the wiry wolf that wants even more.
In some ways, here at thirty, I want my life to be different. I also want to no longer feel this want. This is one hungry wolf. I’m sure Fenrir is its father.
There’s that parable about these two wolves (it may be Cherokee or Inuit or possibly take by good ole-Billy Graham; it’s hard to find a hard source for the thing) and go ahead and stop me if you know this one, but I need to tell it anyways: old man and a young boy, boy says “old man there are two wolves in me, one is bad and one is good” The old man, being old and wise says back, “That’s right young boy, that’s ego vs. selflessness, love vs. hate, courage vs. fear, every moment and possibility of transcendence vs. all things vile, shameful, twisted” and the young boy, with a scared look says, “but old man which one is gonna win?” and the old man smiles at the boy and says, “which ever one you feed the most.”
I fucking hated that story when I first heard it. Smarmy, reductive, school-marm pap. Couldn’t tangle with the complexity of life, couldn’t fuck with the intricate dance of beauty and filth in everything. Then life humbled me hard and now that story makes a lot of sense.
I have to practice petting that first wolf. Even though it’s always there, waiting for me to return, I can forget about it when I’m hunting. And when I get back it’s gotten weaker.
I can’t state this enough. If you’ve been in my life I am better for it. No matter what. This may seem Pollyannaish, but I need to keep this perspective of gratitude, otherwise I leave pieces of my life out to rot. If you’ve showed me kindness in any small way I am bone deep thankful for you. And if I love you (and that, thankfully enough, is a whole helluva lot of you) well, need I say more? … Yeah I’m gonna say more. I owe my ever-bleating moment being here and being alive to you: all thirty years.
I guess I’m saying I don’t really care how these thirty years have been. I’m just really happy to have you in them. I hope I remember to feed that wolf for the next ninety.
I love you,
This birthday couldn’t be better.
I never expected this blog to happen this way. Or, I never expected this blog to be paired with these last few years; because, they’ve been weird years. Don’t get me wrong, they’re by and large on the up and up, but still. It seems like this thing has three or so phases. I started it 2 and 1/2 or 3 years ago. I was still pretty damn depressed. Like, depression was still the pressure behind my eyes. And then I hit a bottom. Maybe sometime I’ll tell you that story if you want to hear it. It changed my life. That first phase was me in the shit. I’d been in it for a while and in a lot of ways I was trying to write myself out of depression. Like the entomologist who wishes to capture all the slimy things of the word in order to understand and own that very world, I thought defining the shape of my depression down to its most minute details might impart a kind of mastery. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a fully conscious impulse, but the shape, structure and content or those earlier posts beget my psychological place. I would usually lay around or walk, just thinking until I was hit by enough anxiety or discomfort or libidinal oomph to sit down and smash an entry out. They were usually one and done deals and it felt good to wrong in that spasmodic, even orgasmic way. I could write them fast enough that my anxiety couldn’t catch up and I’d publish them (with piss poor proofreading) before I collapsed back into my miasmatic mind.
And like I said, then I got sober. And boy did that help. For some reason I never put together the idea that my depression had something to do with my drinking. I wasn’t the heaviest drinker out there, but I was pretty consistent and I couldn’t control it and now I do not have that same struggle. And so the second phase started. One predicated on, I think, hope and, I say this reservedly, faith. Something changed in me and I wanted to share it because it actually felt sacred. I don’t want to get all preachy or God mouthed, but this part of me I’d left alone for a while woke up a bit. It’s hard to ignore my ability to start trusting Life again. And there’s some stuff in that vein.
I think either the FYE essay marks a third phase; one I plan to explore more. While it’s not a perfect essay and I think I rush a lot of points, it felt better to take my time exploring various facets and moods and seeing how they clashed rather than ejecting a single feeling or moment. Because I think the orginal aim of this blog, to find the subtle moments of depression, can actually really only be done in this long(er) form essay, one that gives me space to explore and breath a little. Also hopefully laugh once or twice (looking back on some essays, goddamn I wished I’d added some levity).
So my plan is this: at least one longer essay a month, with maybe a few small things stuck in there. They’re going to vary widely in tone and topic, but will all somehow wrap around to that thing of “what does it feel like”, you know, basic phenomenology (and so of course a tinge of melancholy).
In its 2 ½ to 3 year life, almost 2000 people have visited this blog. For being a thing I do on the side I think that’s really fucking cool. I am earnestly grateful if you’ve read one or all of this stuff. Really, the website keeps track and its nice to know folks are reading (and if you only read half, or just browse, that’s fine too, you’re doing me a solid of inflating a bit of my ego).
I think one thing I’d like to see more of, besides my own increased effort in the essays is more interaction. I think the format (wordpress) can make this difficult because you have to log in, but I really want to talk to you about this. If you have criticism, just thoughts in general, please send them to me. It means more than anything. You can tweet me or message me on twitter @callmejohnmango or send me an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll add these at the end again. I really do want to hear from you, please consider it a favor to me. I’d prefer this as an entry way to discussion rather than some writing that sits here at stolid wait for passive eyes.
I promised myself one thing when I started this: I would be rigorously honest. I think this is still my ethos, but honesty, it turns out, is a process like anything else. I can only be honest about what I’m aware of and there’s so much my conscious mind is not partial to… right now. I want to carry that promise into future work.
Thanks for reading and I do hope to hear from you.
My voice is always on this blog if you miss it,
There’s a thing that looks like a wet dog in the corner of the store I work at. You can buy it if you want. It’s on clearance. It looks like a teddy bear, a pretty big one, hip to head in height. Its fur is smooth, but tangled like hair of an over-washed cashmere throw. The fur is mostly bright pink with a belly that should be white. It has one eye. It should have another but it’s burned. Actually, that’s not true. The teddy appears burned and was designed to have one eye, a lopsided cyclops. Apparently it’s from Breaking Bad (the episode where that plane crashes and things fall from it, the bear among them [I had to look this up, the bear’s a repeating image]). I love that show and I had no idea that thing was in it. But someone somewhere said to themselves, or to a team, “merchandise that.” It is incredibly uncomfortable to look at the bear. The first time I saw it I was cleaning up the store and saw this thing, this wet like glistening pink cushion lying face down and I bent and picked it up and turned it over, its fur almost squeaky with polyester strands, and I uttered a full grunt of revulsion. The damn thing was made to look ruined.
Usually there’s something comforting about a worn bear. A worn teddy bear’s been loved, its bright brown fur worn down to a grayish corduroy, an eye hanging out (that eye having seem a lot before deciding to retire). But this bear was pristine, just had a bunch of black patches like dead skin, dead frostbitten skin. This bear looked dirty and dead, anything but actually burnt. And, the thing is, it won’t even get to be loved by some kid somewhere. It will not collect a single story except its unknown life before it was eaten by the trash. Who would make this? Do people actually buy this? What the fuck is this uncanny piece of pop culture flotsam that haunts the back of FYE, waiting for a consumer that probably isn’t coming?
The store is in the mall. It’s a little mall and the cafeteria (right across from the store) manages to be mostly empty, even on a Saturday. Some of the food booths are closed down to stainless steel counters and brick walls. By comparison FYE seems overstuffed with items. The store, like most mall stores, doesn’t have an entrance, but an opening, two of them, hoping customers drifting along the main corridor might wriggle off to the side and find themselves amongst the merchandise, like a river eel into a trap. The store seems to be two stores combined. It is divided, roughly in the middle, by a wall that goes most of the way up the store’s depth. Facing from the front, the store contains 4 double shelving units for cds, they reach about shoulder height, and on the right about 3 double shelving units for Video reaching above average height level. Despite the great allocation of space to DVDs and CDs these (dying) formats actually seem like an insignificant piece of the store itself. Most of FYE’s pop is upfront, displayed with a calculated ostentatiousness on rolling tables that are often rearranged according to what is new or hot.
This last part is, I think, key. You see FYE traffics mostly in merchandise. This merchandise is remarkably homogeneous and always new. What I mean here is this: the same few products are rebranded again and again and again with the most recent company FYE has a deal with. Right now there are three main tables. One hosts Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (a little to the back as it’s a few months old, which is to say ancient–old news) a Wonder Woman table (right up front, proud of its self imposed consumer feminist identity) and the third is WWE (which, if nothing else, never fails to be impressive at generating new merch that people really like, and buy. For example there are shelves of boxes of a cereal called Booty O’s, which we stock enough of to be considered a grocery store). They sell T-Shirts, Jewlery, Hats, Hoodies, Action Figures, Funko Pops, Candy, Coloring Books, Soundtrack CD’s. Every table. Some have a Wonder Woman symbol, some have Groot. None attempt to be anything but immediately recognizable and consumable. And this stuff is overwhelming, but I’m not trying to get on my pedestal and decry this as the end of western culture. Because I can’t. Because I like this stuff. I own this stuff. Not any of the above in particular, but stuff just like it. And all of it, smushed together, crowded for space and views, begging to be bought before it’s irrelevant (a deadline that comes surprisingly quickly) is shit. It is shit commodified. Which is a rather repetitive statement.
The first day I came home from work it was dark out. The apartment was dark, I was that sort of uncomfortable dirty from light sweat and dust and grunge that makes your skin sort of squeak with filth. I opened my bedroom door and flipped on a light and saw shelves upon shelves of shit. A juggernaut action figure, an Apatosaurus model, a recreation of the bust of a horse from the Terracotta Army, a James Joyce bobblehead, a Legend of Zelda Link figure, a Batman notebook, a dinosaur notebook, reems of hardbound comic collections, piles of books, lamps, lights, clothes, branded shirts. I didn’t need to worry about bringing home shit from work, I’d been collecting and storing it this whole fucking time.
But there’s a few things here. I like this shit. I actually fully like it. And it’s hard to reconcile my revulsion at the shit in FYE with the shit in my room. It was hard because the dynamic here, is I think, complex. It is not simply that all merch is actually inherently good. In many ways, merch’s default state is shit. Nor is it that I failed to appreciate what I had. No. This is false gratitude; gratitude being a sacred feeling reserved for vaunted and fragile things like connection and grace and faith, the things that are hard to really ever put into words. But, so what the fuck is it?
The Marxist theorist Walter Benjamin has many lovely essays, but one is rather instructive here: “Unpacking my Library.” Benjamin write it as if he’s sitting amongst piles of tomes he’s in the process of sorting and shelving. Maybe even 20 crates of his own literary shit. And he’s dealing with a similar frustration. If I live in a capitalist society that prizes commodity fetishism, what does it mean for me, a person who ostensibly wishes to resist or subvert these impulses, to be a collector? Is it simply hypocrisy? Well, yes, some of it is, but not all of it, and not the most important impulses of it. Benjamin lays out the dialectic of order vs. chaos. His meaning here, as with every great essay, leaves a bit of interpretation, but chaos is quickly associated with passion, liveliness, continuing existence. He tells us, “Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.” For me, this line reveals the actual true and good function of merch, what it can be or what it really is, a conduit to memory. “More than that: the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of these books. For what else is this collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order?” What else indeed. It is through habit, an encounter that occurs again and again, that the madness of collecting and, for our purposes, acquiring becomes greased over as order.
Because I can imagine someone unfamiliar with conspicuous consumption or retail, some delightful alien unaccustomed to late capitalism’s feverous engagement with materialism walking into my FYE and looking out on waves of CDs that rise and fall, the head of Raekwon and Tyler the Creator, near Marvin Gay and Mastodon, and the glowing ghouls eating human flesh on a Cannibal Corpse album threatening to eclipse the smooth dayglow buzz of seven different Katy Perry CDs, each a world of music unto itself that might not be very good or different or interesting, but at least seems so in this visual moment; and there’s a big banner is strung overhead reading “Bingeworthy” (A banner that has been placed over old luminescent wall installations showing Eminem and Carrie Underwood and Justin Timberlake: in other words, old news), and I can imagine that very moment in front of this great bounty to the gods of Neoliberalism as one that is nearly rapturous. In fact, I have felt it, as I was asked to stand and watch for thieves (all customers are possible thieves) and for some reason Goodbye Horses was playing and, for a moment I felt the rhythm of the percussion and the high pinging over the crooning, only to be out done by a more enlightened falsetto, all wrapping my mind and heart in a notion that this was now, and everything in here could be mine to hear and devour and savor in the saliva of my mouth and I might never be bored or sad or alone again. That was the promise. And just as quickly, these items of entertainment turned leaf and felt sad, and dull, and lifeless. I can imagine someone feeling that drug-like ecstasy only to crash into the nihilism of it all. All of it, shit.
And this crash is important and particular to commodities. It is one that Benjamin addresses. Benjamin understands that the books he owns, as pure physical items, mean very little. They have little utility. They are not often shared, but they contain something that cannot be commodified. And as crazy as this idea might be, I fully agree with it, that there is something in and around us that cannot be commodified. For Benjamin, this is history. The history of the particular book. The personal history of the item in front of him. The experiences that become associated with our shit that turns it into our shit, that we can then tell others about.
The items in FYE are tricky. There’s a reason they’re all associated with a property and a brand. Nothing in the store can be allowed to exist on its own; nothing can be its own art object or self-referential thing of enjoyment. It comes preloaded with a kind of meaning. Let’s take Lucille. Lucille belongs to Negan, a Big Bad on the immensely popular comic and TV Show the Walking Dead (Negan’s played by a delightfully smarmy Henry Dead Stanton, all swagger and leather jacket and joyful death). Negan smashes in heads of both the dead and living with Lucille. Lucille is not a woman, but a wooden baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. It is a destructive thing whose only appetite is blood. And in the comic and TV show both, makes for a menacing image. Except of course this bat in FYE is not actually Lucille. It’s a replica made of dense plastic. The barbed wire? Plastic. The wood? Plastic. The grip? You guessed it. Everything dangerous about Lucille is neutered. This limp Lucille stands in like a sad ghost of a prop that never existed except on TV (which is really to say, solely in our imaginations). There is something tragic about the bat that is not a bat. It might have to do with the fact it’s in a cardboard box that has curved edges so as not to give customers paper cuts, or the fact that there are five Lucilles or the fact the bat’s ostensible story is one of murder and violence, tapping into our ugly atavistic selves in a near-thrilling manner, and yet it has been so thoroughly sanitized of any uses of violence that they had to draw on the blood with what looks like red sharpie. The bat is preloaded with a history and at every turn the very physicality of the bat betrays that story, shows us its falseness. And yet, it is specific enough to The Walking Dead that thinking of it as anything but Lucille takes real effort. It does not attract its own new stories, stories personal to us. It is neither dead nor alive as an item; stymied from growing by associations we might give it, and useless in action due to its neutered status. In many ways, it is the purest of commodities, because once bought, if we wish to have more stories we must buy some other equally stymied item. The commodity demands we own more commodities to fill out our imagination. Lucille was made to sit nicely on some dreadful frat mantelpiece and for people who pretend to be dangerous. It is poseur made object.
And Lucille isn’t the worst of it and doesn’t quite hit on something I suggested early: the sublime, rapturous, disgusting fecundity of all this stuff. Even though there are five full sized Lucille bats in the store, there are only two forms Lucille comes in (the other being a finger length version included with a McFarlane designed Negan action figure, also complete with blood splattering). Even though Lucille itself is preloaded with story, it does not overload the consumer, it seems almost unique—unlike Deadpool. If you are not familiar, Deadpool is a character created by Rob Liefeld for the Marvel Comic book X-Force in the early nineties. Deadpool, with his normal red and black color scheme, looks like the eyes of Spider-Man put on the body of Deathstroke the Terminator (a DC character that Liefeld kind of straight up ripped off, especially considering Deathstroke’s civvie name is Slade Wilson while Deadpool’s is Wade Wilson [you know, good artists copy, great artists steal—or some godawful thing like that]) Deadpool went from straight forward mercenary to unpredictable, insane, fourth wall aware, trying-to-do-the-right-thing-in-an-almost-absurdist-take-on-the Marvel-universe sensation. And I think there’s something to the character, and so did Fox as they recently released the smashing blockbuster success: Deadpool (staring a spot on Ryan Reynolds who nails the cynical, meme side of Deadpool, and seems to forget the character has a deep well of pathos). There are, upon my last (and only) count, exactly 46 unique forms of items depicting Deadpool in the store, if you leave out the weird jigsaw puzzle of all the Marvel Vinyl Pops (seriously, who would buy this stuff?). This did not include keychains, jewelry, or candy because I was, frankly, nearly bleeding from the eyes by the time I remembered that stuff exists, and it all seemed too inconsequential to matter. Oh, also there were, in most cases, many copies of each type of item. It’s a lot of Deadpool. I could wax here about Deadpool as simulacra or the death of originality or something, but mostly this overwhelming amount of stuff is exhausting. Physical space also takes up mental space and I get really flustered when I find out I’ve been renting rooms in my head to tenants that just want me to spend more (I’m not sure this metaphor works, but I’m frankly tired of thinking about Deadpool… even though I still like the character’s stories).
But my previous analysis doesn’t sit totally right. Because imagination is all consuming. As I alluded, Lucille and Deadpool can become something else, something more, but they have the trouble of working against its preloaded associations or general fecundity of presence. Here, Benjamin is again instructive. You see, Benjamin finds great energy in his unkempt crates of books, books that are not yet stultified by the great yawn of order that rolls over them when placed on his bookshelf. For Benjamin chaos is possibility and this possibility is enlivening. So you might be wondering just how the hell a book can be chaotic. Well, its ability to collect stories around it along side the story inside it. Remember Benjamin’s claim that the book collector’s chaos is that of memory and what is memory if not a story that haunts us, constantly claiming to live in real relation to our past worlds. Benjamin intones, “The most profound enchantment for the collector is the locking of individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed as the final thrill, the thrill of acquisition that passes over them” But this isn’t the sterile Patrick Bateman, mergers and acquisitions kind of acquiring, it is not the bored dilettante (male or female) buying Versace and Prada, no, there is real intention here. He incants, “Everything remembered and thought, everything conscious, becomes the pedestal, the frame, the base, the lock of his property. The period, the region, the craftsmanship, the former ownership—for a true collector the whole background of an item adds up to a magic encyclopedia whose quintessence is the fate of his object.” This is what is at stake, the way of seeing the world in all its sorcery and history, to pick up a mere thing and have it reach out its gentle or violent or sad or lovely tendrils so it can tell you what it is and what it was and what it might be. I do not believe myself hyperbolic when I say that Benjamin is offering us the keys to a life through things that take us beyond our own mind as they live and they throb with the infinite possibility of new stories and closely kept collection of memories. These items ask us to help them fulfill their possibilities of liveliness. This is the beautiful chaos of a storied object.
I’m about to be thirty. Sometimes, when I’m insecure, I look around my room with disgust and understand why it’s been a while since I’ve had a significant other; It could easily pass as a ten year old’s room. Of course, I also realize what an unnecessarily stupid and judgmental thought this is, especially because everything in my room is enchanted with runes of memory. Take of example my Apatosaurus. It is gray and plastic, has no points of articulation. It is roughly 16” long. I kept my mom from tossing it about seven years ago. I’ve had it since I was five and had a lisp and loved every dinosaur. When I look at I feel a complex comfort. I can remember a warm Thursday, setting a throng of much smaller plastic ankylosaurs and parasaurolophus and dienonycus and pterodactyl etc. etc. of various colors, standing around the Apatosaurus like they were in awe of its massive stature and the Apatosaurus cried out in its sousaphone voice to all the dinosaur denizens of the jungle on my living room floor, its boom cutting through the muggy greenish air as they all cried in awe and joy. And I can remember the time I left my triceratops of similar make and color on the lawn and was forced to confront mortality and guilt when my dad brought its thrashed and dying body in side after riding over it with the lawn mower. And I can remember holding it when I was depressed and wondering what I would tell little John Mango with his Apatosaurus about some things we’d have to face in the future. And all of that sits on a shelf next to so many others with so much more.
So why is Lucille any different from the Apatosaurus? If objects are just objects, why not declare them all the same. I think–and you may disagree–but I think that FYE and its merch is troubling in that it invites us into the idea that by buying these preloaded items we are buying something fresh and new and in doing so are claiming a part of the cultural zeitgeist by owning an object that functions as a referent to something popular and recognizable. Merch is there to be recognized for its media association in a hope you will consume it. It has otherwise failed and is nothing more.
And so this is the core dialectic at the center of FYE Fresh vs. Foul, New vs. Not New. Every item of merch, though not new in its form, is tied to a property that is in fact new… or rather, masquerades as new. In fact when the main merch tables are tied to Wonder Woman (a 75 year old comic) Professional wrestling (alive well before the cold war ended) and Guardians of the Galaxy (another comic property that’s seen a whole lot of decades and iterations) what the fuck is exactly new here? New (without getting too dry in the mouth on a threateningly abstruse subject) could signal something original. And in fact this is the First Woman Woman movie to hit the big time, the first female lead DC motion film, a whole bunch of firsts that might contain significance depending on whether you care about the subject in hand. But new also tends to mean of the current moment. In fact I think this is the key to the commodified new: it promises us that we’ll be tied to the zeitgeist NOW. By being caught up in the whirligig of stuff happening we get to own a little bit of the now and we get to feel alive inside that now.
But like most generous seeming gestures of capitalism, this is hollow as a subprime mortgage bundle. The cultural now feels like being swept away, swept off your feet, kissed by your former lover for the first time again, riding an old Indian motorcycle on the open highway, the red white and blue, feels like freedom in that we engage with the promise of something bubbling with possibility, but it is nothing but that: promise of possibility never made good. Once we have seen Wonder Woman or Guardians of the Galaxy 2—no, even before the trailers begin rolling—we’ve lost the promise as the experience is happening and when it happens it will then have happened and it will no longer be new. It will no longer contain mystery and possibility, two sexy elements that tantalize us enough to return to the new again. And so we must return to another new, or start buying stuff that reminds us of the new. And this is our well known and well worn friend nostalgia: the attempt to make new what is old. To make present what has happened.
The most intense experiences of our life, good or bad, horrid or lovely, are so all encompassing that they force us to forget ourselves as we enter something bigger. People are lost to love and death and drugs. Imagine if you could bottle that? And bottle it not as a pure bald-faced narcotic, but as promise of more life with only slightly narcotizing effects? It would look like something that made you feel young, something you recognized had always been with you and yet was appearing again in an original form. Maybe it was Batman or Barbies or Disney or Star Wars or the X-Men or John Hughes films. None of these things are bad on their own, in fact one might argue there’s some good to be had from each of them, as slight as that good might be, but now imagine a store that sold only reminders of these items, promises you belong to NOW time and not then. Imagine this store is packed as a Japanese Subway and as chrome-escent as the rainbow glaze of gasoline. That is FYE. Now imagine standing there for hours on end sometimes helping someone find a particular thing that ties them to their now. That is working at FYE. It makes more than your feet hurt.
But, again, I don’t want to start prattling about the fall of Western Civ or the Arrested Development of Man, because all of these impulses are human, they make sense. They can absolutely run amok. Being an addict I can tell you about running amok, and being someone that owns Funko Pops I can attest to it again. I do see a way the very impulses, the impulse to be enthralled so as to forget ourselves, can be taught that they begin to self-regulate. I still believe the imagination is powerful and endless in possibility, but it is stuck to the same rules that govern all life: it is limited by time. That imaginary person standing in that FYE is not enthralled the entire time, maybe there’s a blip or two of it, but mostly they’re bored. You see, we can’t always be having epiphanies or meeting the godhead. We aren’t built that way. We’re built to do a lot of mundane shit (I would argue a kind of sacred mundanity, but that’s another whole essay) and so our capacity to add memories and moments to whatever items we collect becomes limited by the amount of time we have. Some of us forget that time itself is tricky and none of us are promised a set amount of it. This means I can own way more than I can ever attach meaning to (and I most certainly do) and it demands I listen to that pulse inside that lets me know when I’m duping myself into the intoxication of NOW and when an item has really started to collect stores. If I look at a thing, let’s say an action figure of Doc Samson (the green haired therapist of the Hulk) and I immediately start remembering it was a touching gift from a dear friend who I miss, and I can feel essence of that friendship when I hold the toy, and I can think of the moments Doc Samson smashed bad dudes and I can feel the weird symbiotic dance these memories/imaginings do with this little place man in my hands, I’ll probably hang on to it. Then there’s a Funko Godzilla. He looks fine, kinda cute. I like the idea of Godzilla, like I like the idea of this toy, but it feels kind of dead in my hands and the chitinous beetle shell black eyes shine in a dulled manner and I feel a confused sense as to why I bought the thing at all, I should probably donate it, or exorcise it through ritual burning… not that I’m going to.
When I stand in the FYE with its beige walls and yellowy lights and rows of mini blu tooth speakers, it seems to tell this entire story itself. It feels as if the store tilts towards the center-back, everything gently rolling into the entropy of clearance, no matter how popular or NOW it may have been. That fake burned Breaking Bad teddy bear probably carried the NOW for just a bit, before it failed to deliver on a promise that couldn’t be made. And so now, it sits on the drain itself (Buy 1 Get 3 FREE) like a shimmery purple lump of coagulated hair, wait for the day someone buys it (probably out of irony) or, more likely, trashes it. Which… has me thinking. I wrote all this stuff about the goddamn thing… couldn’t that be it’s new story? What if I just snag that teddy the next time I work? Would I be saving it from doom? Or is my overactive imagination supplely manipulating an sort of ethical sense I’ve set up here? I honest to god don’t know.
Benjamin, sitting amongst his mostly empty crates, books sorted, moving towards midnight finds himself somewhere similar; not wanted to buy a fucked up teddy bear, but among memories, “Now I am on the last half-emptied case and it is way past midnight. Other thoughts fill me than the ones I am talking about—not thoughts but images, memories. Memories of the cities in which I found so many things: Riga, Naples, Munich, Danzig, Moscow, Florence, Basel, Paris… Memories of the rooms where these books had been house… O bliss of the collector… For inside him there are spirits, or at least little genii, which have seen to it that for a collector ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as is only fitting.” I believe Benjamin creates something beautiful in talking about his things. I believe our common knowledge of living in the NOW is off, or at least not well understood, as the now is filled with memories, some painful, some pleasant. To demand we go and live in the now, whether it is simply through the senses, or buying it up, we cut ourselves off from that immense thing that is both within and without us: this tapestry of stories woven of words and concepts and pictures and sounds and records in time only we know. I do not wish to shut the door on these, but to learn how to live with them and love them. Some of my things, some of them, help me do that. And for now, that is enough.
 The most notable Deadpool is a 6’7” plaster statue that stands in the cornered window of the store. It’s kind of cool for a minute or two (his eyes are wide and skeptical), until you remember it takes up a lot of space and really can’t do anything and it’s pretty fragile (which seems all the more bizarre given how bulbous his muscles are), also there’s seven different types of Deadpool t-shirts, most of which show him eating some kind of Mexican food (and I’d originally planned to write about how odd it was people staked a piece of their identity in liking Mexican food out of all foods in particular until I remembered that staking a piece of your identity in something you physically consume on a possibly daily basis makes a whole lot more sense than the entire bizarre business of representing yourself through choices in media consumption as if those choices somehow speak to your true fiber or value or anything weighty at all [but of course I then remembered also that I have a Deadpool t-shirt somewhere along with a batman t-shirt, a Star Wars t-shirt, a Stalker t-shirt, a Solaris t-shirt, a Silver Surfer t-shirt etc. etc.]) the rest of the t-shirts just show Deadpool’s face with as much an expression as his mask allows; then there are the movies themselves (in dvd, bluray, and 4ktv, dvd special edition, bluray special edition [the special and regular being released simultaneously with little notable difference beyond the covers] the amount of choice here really pokes holes in the big American idea that choice is freedom, especially if you’re drowning in choice, it begs the question is anything at stake when I choose something here? And to be honest you don’t even need to read on to the rest of all the Deadpool stuff I’m gonna list, I just really need to list it all so I can get it the fuck out of my brain) and there was actually one actual Deadpool comic in FYE: Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe (perhaps one of the most banal and exploitative stories written about a character that’s already easy to fuckup. He just kills everyone. It’s terrible, but still at least there’s some comic stuff in there) the rest of the 47 items all being various figurines and action figures of Deadpool (interestingly enough, the larger the actual figure the the more defined and filled out his crotch area is. I don’t know why this is or what to do with it. I honestly don’t. Go ahead and speculate [oh, but, the 6’7” statue seems immune. I’m guessing it’s crotchless so as not to upset children) and the rest of the figurines are some form of Funko Pop. Fucking Goddamn Funko Pops. The gentrification of figurines laid bare. Funko makes all sorts of kinds of vinyl figurines of varying offensiveness in their blandness (there is a line called Dorbz for example that makes all figures ovoid and smiling like some hellish combination of Joan Miro and It’s a Small World [one of those things already being terrible, the other wonderful and now sullied in its modern consumer incarnation]). In fact the whole Funko ethos and aesthetic might simply be this: swallow every pop culture character and shit it out as a big headed, black-eyed, chibi, kawii figure. Ghost Rider? Big head and eyes with cute flames. Agent Scully? Big head and eyes with read hair? DALE COOPER (one of the best characters to every exist), guess what? Big head. Big Eyes. Cup of Coffee (at least the fucking coffee applies). Funko reduces everything interesting or unique about design into one highly profitable pile of steaming plastic and dead black eyes. Also, I may have ended up with over ten of them. I don’t know how or how to reconcile this with my hatred of them. Oh, there’s also a Deadpool coloring book. The part of me that liked Deadpool is now withering and coughing and just all around on its last legs after conducting this research and writing it. And yet, a part of me still wants that ¼ scale highly detailed, becrotched, Deadpool action figure whenever I see it. I’m human, and therefore insatiable left to myself.