I’ve been here a week now, and I wish I had some wise thing to say about Perspective or Difference or Narrativizing or Chaptering. But instead I’m as usual behind on a ton of things for my business, totally overwhelmed by unpacking, and the fact that I am utterly alone here is just now hitting me hard, though the counter-valence is that I was just as alone back where I was; everyone I knew there was a painful reminder of the things I gave up, or that had been taken from me. This is the kind of alone I need, because it’s a beginning; back there it was just endings going on too long.
Everything I try to write, I second-guess into oblivion. Including this. My mind is a scary place to be. Did you know that on Jupiter there have been storms raging for hundreds, maybe even thousands or millions, of years? My mind is the same way, but more claustrophobic.
I go on long walks, frowning, staring at the ground or the sky, but never, never meeting the eyes of the people who dwell in between. I have nobody to tell of my observations and thoughts on these walks. Sometimes, I take pictures; by the time I get home, I feel too self-conscious to write anything in here. Overwhelmed (reciting my mental to-do list because I’m so worried I’ll forget something). Exhausted (most days begin at 3:15 AM to tutor online at 3:30 AM, or “old 6:30”).
Somehow, someday, I’m going to have to write it all down, the ultimate act of narcissism, depending on my mood. I hope I still can write. I am so paralyzed by frustration because all I really want to do in life is write, and circumstances and my own feeble talent have conspired to make it nearly impossible. Compounding that is something I’ve thought about a lot lately, which is the lavish and inappropriate praise I got as a child and adolescent in this regard. I know the adults in my life meant well, but I wish they had meant well in a more productive way. I spent far too long hearing I was the world’s most amazing young writer, and then getting yelled at by my father for not writing enough (“You’re a writer who DOESN’T WRITE ANYTHING!” he once yelled at me). I spent far too much time Being a Writer, stamping envelopes and perfecting a pout and fussing over portfolios, and not enough time Actually Writing.
But Actually Writing is so lonely. Sometimes I just prefer to talk to (or at) people; there are no people left in my life to talk to (to whom I can talk) (because I speak in Grad School-ese and don’t end sentences with prepositions, and the vicissitudes of academic admissions committees have scattered me to the winds three times over) (and, oh, the annoying parentheticals – multiply all these factors together; imagine each one cubed: I consider myself an incredibly annoying person and I imagine that’s one of the few things I have in common with many people: they would likely agree that I am annoying).
Also, I’m probably just incredibly lazy. I have the attention span of a goldfish and Napoleonic ambition, which is a pretty terrible combination of character traits.
Once, someone I loved and respected told me that writing about literature and film was still writing; I believed it and now…I’m on the cliff of 30; I feel like I’m 80; I’ll be paying off student loans til after I’m dead. At last, a legacy. To show for all this, in my boxes of books I have one refereed journal article on an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, a book chapter on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a book chapter on 1950s dating films.. I have a grotesquely large master’s diploma, still encased in bubble wrap (a metaphor for the loans, always the loans). I have an ornately framed college diploma that I hope to God is actually in one of these boxes. From the years spent typing in order to pay for food while engaging in such fatuous pursuits, my joints and knuckles are deteriorating; here, students, you see the hands of someone who never really worked but typed constantly: in these joints we may observe the decline of the Western world.
It didn’t work out. I know you meant well, and really believed in me, and I’m sorry I disappointed you. But I spent so long thinking about writing about literature that I never wrote anything of note, not really. However, the past 7 years or so have written on my body the inextricable sad ending of hubris and useless skills and the fate of wannabe intellectuals in vicious, late capitalist American society. The story’s all there, in the ancillary documents that make up my life, and I never had anything left to write.
That wasn’t what I wanted to write about. Dear 3 of you who read this, how does one even describe this? Has this word vomit even got a topic?
What I wanted to write about is the liminal states, the 2,200 miles in the car, the easy narrative of days 1, 2, and 3, and start-over. For that’s an easy story to tell. Too easy.
On this trip, I wish I could have observed more and worried – and Internetted – less. I want to write about the vast expanse of America, the moments when I stared out the car window and suddenly understood a little bit about what the authors of patriotic songs meant when they unironically wrote paeans to it. The moments when without a hint of self-consciousness, I felt genuine awe at the landscape, and there was no cell phone signal so I couldn’t quickly ameliorate my feelings with some Instagrammed photo filtered all to hell, filtering out the real, distancing myself from it. What I wanted to write about was the connection I felt, how only through driving can you really get a sense of the obscene vastness of this landscape. I wanted to write about the relief I felt in noticing that even though the landscape, in many places, was a Looney Tunes-like loop of the same big box chain stores in endless succession, there were differences, and somehow stubborn regionalism remains, just underground, in the face of overwhelming and destructive globalism.
I want to write about it, and maybe I just did, even if my adjectives did not quite paint adequately to you the images and landscapes and voices.
But the thing I need to keep most in mind is that there’s time for all that writing. That for the first time, I’m not really approaching any massive, life-altering deadline. I cut the poison out of my life, but now I’m not sure what is left. It’s always been hard for me to understand the future as a vast expanse; first, I think about death so much it’s unhealthy and embarrassing to admit, and second, and my entire life was chaptered into uncertain segments during which my fate was to be decided by external authorities: high school, college, post-baccalaureate fellowships, master’s, PhD, the vagaries of the job market.
It both defined and destroyed me. And now it’s gone, and even though I know it’s for the better, I don’t know who I am or how to think about anything more than a few months into the future. It’s late afternoon at the end of July, 2012; it’s evening on the east coast and there’s a breeze outside. The sky is blue and the trees in this place are so verdant it feels like a hallucination. It’s July, 2012, and this is it, this IS my real, grown-up life, my finally-time-to-write. So I did, sort of.