Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in. Are you aware the state I’m in? My my my, my my my, my my. I am a great, unstable, mass of blood and bones, and no one in their right mind, would make my home their home. Transfiguration is going to come for me at last, and I will burn hotter than the sun. –headphones
Some people say that the best exercise for the body is to use it, to expose it to all the stresses of life and see where it gets you. They say that despite the scary feelings, the fear, that at the end of the day you might end up a stronger person. Do I believe this? Sometimes. Sometimes I believe this. And sometimes, sometimes when I try to go to sleep I can’t help but see all the people I’m not yet, not currently, not in the least, as of now, looking like a caveman at two thirty in the morning and having no idea who I am.
It’s the first day of work, first day with a new boss. This is the last semester of graduate school. After this is over, I’m going to need to find a job. I can’t help but be constantly thinking about this. In the morning, if I don’t wake up early and start the job search I feel like garbage. If I wake up late, I sit at my desk and stare at my computer. If I open it I watch Youtube videos rather than do any work.
I am rightly and truly afraid of what will happen in my future, and I’m aware now of all those things I do to avoid thinking about it: I watch not just one episode of a television series, but a whole season, in a single sitting. I decide to watch a video of a person not just playing a game, but beating it (these videos can be up to seven or eight hours.) I buy things like tomahawks and waterproof watches and whetstones, fountain pens. I sign up to receive three new pairs of underwear every month.
Today I started working on putting together my resume and transcript for a potential fellowship, but I couldn’t find my resume on my new computer and had to open up the old one. In clearing out some documents and transferring my old resumes to my new computer, I noticed I still had Minecraft installed on the computer. It still ran. I still had Team Fortress 2 downloaded. Both of these needed to be updated before I could play them. Four hours later, I had ridden in a boat for about an hour and built myself a house made of bookshelves and cobblestone, and had only a beautiful view of a pixelated sunset to show for those past four hours of very severely avoiding all of my other responsibilities.
Nights like tonight I feel guilty about going to bed after midnight but can’t seem to get to bed. I can’t call anyone and explain this to them. I’ve been conscious of money since the loan stuff hasn’t come through yet. I’ve been using the credit card too much, so much so that people I hang out with have started to notice. I can’t see the end game here. I started to look into the Marines again, and know that’s where I go when I’m afraid: paid labor, the certainty of a career for the next seven years. Or more.
I remember playing Minecraft in Turkey, when I sad and hopelessly homesick. I would sit in my little apartment and look out at the mountains and feel such a debilitating fear of leaving to even explore the little town I lived in that I’d spend the next twelve hours mining for pixelated coal and iron, making a castle of cobblestone and dirt. Digging holes, laying down foundations. I was hiding out from the world, first in Turkey, and more in my computer. There were just so many bad things that could happen, and so many mistakes that could be made. I couldn’t help but see them. It didn’t matter if anyone else knew; I’d know, and that seemed almost worse. So many opportunities never taken, all those trips I never took.
When this anxiety hits it’s like a crippling paralysis of my entire body. I can’t sleep. I am so far off the radar from what anyone I have ever known has done that I don’t know what to do with myself.
On Saturday I went to a party for people from my college who did this undergraduate program in New York City, back when New York seemed like the biggest place in the world. Now it wasn’t the young-ness of all the students that really did a number on me, it wasn’t the people I hadn’t heard from (those teachers who hadn’t aged well, whose strange demeanor towards women was actually a bit more offensive than I remember), or the drama instructor who insisted I call him Steven and not Steve (I’m giving myself away there, but it was weird), no. I felt old. It has only been four fucking years, and I feel like a ghoul. I am the ghost of Christmas Happened So Long Ago I’ve Started To Forget. One of my ex’s was there, one I really liked but it was back when I was young and stupid and fumbled it so perfectly. She was kind and her kindness always makes me feel so shitty. When she hasn’t heard from me in a while she say’s it’s alright, that she just assumes I’m busy with school or have a new girl. She’s not wrong. We went to a bar, later, the lot of us, and while my friend hit it off in a seriously killer way with one of these students, I tried to avoid the arrow-eyes of some co-ed who reminded me a lot of a certain type of girl from college I remember letting myself getting wrapped up in and then feeling really disgusting about years later, when I got out of those things the same way people wake up from comas.
I’ve been so many people since then, I thought. This must be some kind of a joke.
I no longer end nights like that by wanting to try to sleep with my ex-girlfriend, though we take the same train home. I feel extremely lucky that she still talks to me, after the crap I’ve pulled. It seems appropriate, in moments like that, that I’ve let my beard and hair grow out so that I barely look like a person anymore. If anyone were to ask me why, I’d say I just wanted my outside to match my insides.
Money Money Money. And the Youtube channels I watch and subscribe to that make forty thousand dollars a month. The book that one could write that’d get a six-figure advance. And the person I admire the most? My high school friend who sold himself down the river in debt to open up his own arcade. Him I admire the most. I think to myself, well I’ll teach. I’ve done it for a year. Am I lying to myself about the three months where they didn’t know what to do with me, and I sat in my apartment and watched Man Men or took the city bus to the university and sat at a desk straight for eight hours, playing video games? Or am I dwelling on how I pulled up the nose of that miserable, nose-diving plane by offering myself day after day as a private tutor, to sit in cafeterias and help sophomores with their intro English workbook activities, to go out to dinners to improve someone’s understanding of the subjunctive? I survived that, and I wish there was a way to show that on a resume. There were wild dogs. There was a half-built university where the lights didn’t work in any of the bathrooms and an apartment in the mountains without heat and a treadmill that electrocuted me when I tried to turn up the speak. This is shit I couldn’t make up. So I’m banking on my strange mix of half-assed experiences and real, literal success in academia to get me a job actually teaching in a way that I would consider making myself useful.
These last few weeks have been awful because of the opposite of that feeling, which feels like hooks in my skin sometimes, like drowning slow in deep water.
I have to remind myself that my cynicism in this moment is the product of stress, but it doesn’t it make it feel any less real. (That’s actually what I do when I haven’t gotten enough sleep, is tell myself that everything I see isn’t real, and that’s how I get through the day.) I guess it’s an asset to think this way, or at least this is what I’ve been told by my psychologist. I know that he would talk me through the stressors of my current moment, which here would be that most recent interaction with my own unresolved past, and the predicament of my unknown future, and that he’d tell me something like these things have to happen, have to, and that there’s no way around them other than to stop living and that’s my worst fear in the world, is the complete stop, and that’s not what I want, not at all. What I feel like he would tell me to do in a moment like this, since I’m not the sort to call my friends at this hour, is to write about about it.
Sometimes I think my solitude is intentional and large, and has been going on since I was a kid. I didn’t want to explain the complicated feelings that I was going through, and I knew that it would put me at a disadvantage to people. They would know what I was about, which is, and always has been, a scary thought. My good friends are those who’ve lived through one or two of my supreme anxious moments or freakouts or breakdowns and didn’t look at me like some kind of mutant later. But still I’d feel guilty telling them about this moment tonight. It’s so much easier when people ask to say that life’s going well, instead of saying at that moment, in those precise fucking seconds you’re talking to them, that you are currently doing the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life, which is pretending to know what you’re doing. It is always pretending to know what you’re doing, and trying to laugh it off, and hoping the few laughs get you through it.
Because it’s all insane. There are rants here. About the mid-twenties relationship and how I should really be looking for someone to marry. About the book industry, and how much of the year I should spend in a tanning booth if I’m going to have any luck on the book tour circuit. About academia, and how many bad writers I know who want to become teachers (and how many bad writers want to be writers.) About the Midwest, and how I can never ever go back there. About my family, and responsibility. About my childhood dream of being a writer, and how it changes so drastically every few months from what I imagined it would be that sometimes I wonder what a younger me would think about what I’m doing right now. About keeping normal hours, about getting a normal job, about trying to prove to myself and to everybody else through the keeping of jobs I didn’t want to have and doing things I didn’t want to do that I was, above all, completely and utterly normal, and how I feel like they all must be kidding, all of them, when people ask you to do stuff like this.
Things hold, though. I’ve never felt like I needed to write the book I’m writing more than I do sitting at a table in a coffee shop and crossing shit out that doesn’t matter. I re-wrote a scene the other day where a boy falls in love with a girl that was shaky before and now seems very sweet and I think to myself, did I learn to fall in love somewhere between then and now? I was able to explain my disbelief in God in a way that made sense to my brother, the Catholic. I had a conversation where I didn’t worry about if I seemed interesting, while talking to a girl. I have simply started to speak. When my roommate comes in my room she says she likes how tidy I keep it, and laughs at my bookshelf made of leftover planks from IKEA bed slats. And it reminds me of the house I built in the middle of a pixelated ocean made of cobblestone and bookshelves and stairs leading up to a bed resting right next to a tree with a view of the sun rising like a big yellow (square) coin. I have built my home, just for me, at the end of the world. Yes, I know where I built it. I know that the stairs don’t have rails and a lot of the art is dark. I know that I watch Youtube videos for hours and hours and hours and that the night before something big happens in my life, some vital transition, that I get so nervous about what’s going to happen that I can’t sleep. When I was little I used to leave room on one side of my bed for the person I knew would some day sleep there, and I used to think a person like that might be able to calm me down in moments like this. But it’s never been anybody else taking away the world from me. Nobody has ever been able to successfully explain why pain exists, to me, or why we must bear it as often as we do as a matter of course. Nowadays I realize a lot of what I want from someone else is a sigh, and an admission that they too don’t know what they’re doing. It’s not that I want to avoid other people’s laughter, but I just want to learn to be okay with it.
I think about what this would look like, how I would want this to go.
“You’re not sleeping.”
“I’m not tired.”
She sits up on one elbow. If she had glasses, she’d be putting them on. “Something wrong?”
“Yes and no.”
She smirks. “It’s a big day tomorrow.”
If I was smart, I’d let her explain to me how wrong I’ve got all of this. “Anybody,” she said, “would be a little nervous about things changing.”
“Yea.” Because I think I’m smarter than everyone, I let them have their little moment where they think they’ve consoled me, the inconsolable person.
Given to speeches, and fatalistically romantic, she’d say that of course at two in the morning I’d want to do this to myself, make the world seem as if it was ending. Use hyperbolic sentences to express myself, make everything in the world seem so dire. As if I didn’t solve this problem, I’d die. And by solving it, I regain my right to live. But, because she’s a realist, deep down, because she swats me for comments I’ve only thought about making, she tells it to me straight: the world doesn’t really give a shit, though. It would continue whether or not you were ready. And everybody, everybody has problems like these. It will never stop, it will always keep going, and this can either be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be the best thing, or the worst, and as long as we’re both awake why don’t you kiss me like you’ve discovered another reason to live?
I would be proud to know someone like that. And what a bitch that would be, if that is all this really is.