I haven’t written you in half a year and the reason is I have had nothing to say. Egocentric as I am, I have spent a lot of my time observing and scrutinizing my own attention… I guess I wanted to find out what I’m really up to. I must admit that what I learned isn’t pretty. Egocentric as I am, my attention, it turns out, was almost uniquely fixated on me. Go figure.
One might wonder why meanwhile I haven’t come up with a story. I wondered why I never come up with a story. But now I actually think I get it. It’s all a result of my lack of attention for what surrounds me. I don’t see the world I live in. I don’t explicitly refuse to see it. I just don’t. That’s why I have no story to tell. All I have for you, all I have ever had for you, is rumination. And I just want you to know that I am sorry. Ruminations are like atoms. They are like the story without the structure. They are elements you can zoom in on but without connection to the broader scope, it is all they’ll ever be: elementary, but meaningless. They are not alive but they do dwell inside of you and they take up space.
Anyway, I have no story. For example: I went running yesterday. I went running on many other days as well. Same trajectory, or practically so. Yet I couldn’t tell you the name of two streets I ever pass by, the types of pavement I lay foot on, or the view across the river that guides me from north to south and back. I wouldn’t be able to describe any of it, even though I know many words. A tremendous amount of words… In fact, I know the best words. I really do.
I wouldn’t be able to describe you anything, if you held a gun to my head. I don’t do well under pressure. However, I wouldn’t be able to describe it if you asked me ever so gently either, because I simply don’t register. I’m the videocamera you thought was on until you press the button to turn it off. Because that’s when you notice you actually just turned it on. So it must have been off the whole time. No matter how closely you were looking through that lens, no matter how steadily you were zooming in on things… you weren’t recording. With this kind of gear, all you ever end up with are intermittent fragments and thoughts. But no story.
And that is why everything you just read or listened to, makes no iota of sense.
[He realized that, while once again caught up in thoughts, he had been staring at the ground, so he promptly looked up. And as he did, he barely believed what immediately caught his eyes, right in front of him.]
Two red doors, seemingly from out of nowhere. Another anxious rumination gone to waste. There were three doorbells. The bottom one had no name on it, the middle one just said “Neurology.” The top one said “Nathan Fields.” Pressing it didn’t generate any doorbell sound, at least not one that was audible downstairs.
Chess’ mind was just about to go to battle with itself on the question of how long he should wait to press the bell a second time. If he simply hadn’t pressed it right the first time, waiting might make it seem that he had trouble finding the apartment after all and make him feel like a silly bitch. If it was working properly, pressing it again would betray his anxiety, automatically lowering his status towards Nate. Then a loud, reverberating buzz emerged from the door that unlocked itself.
Oh right, but what floor is he on? I guess the third one.
Chess started walking up the stairs, counting the cash he had brought one last time, to avoid any confusion afterwards about how much he’d have actually spent. Twenty and twenty is forty. And that’s fifty. That’s ninety…
The door on the third floor was ajar, allowing Chess to assume this was the place to be. He still knocked to announce his entry. Across the room, a skinny, gentle-looking, middle-aged man wearing a white overcoat, assumingly Nate, was seated behind a presidential office desk, courteously smiling away. A little out of whack for a common drug dealer, it seemed to Chess. But he was especially relieved not having to deal with some sleazy, overblown alpha-male that would scare him into buying the wrong shit.
“Well hello, Chess.”
Nate had gotten up from behind the desk and casually reached out his hand.
“Yeah, that’s me. And so you’re Nate? Nice to meet you.”
“Yes… So you know what you are here for? Or did you want to take a gander at the goods before deciding on anything?”
“Well, uhm, no. Yeah, I was pretty excited about that uhm new uh? You’re, I mean, you had like new stuff right?
Chess assumed from Nate’s patient smile that he knew what he was talking about.
“So like, how much can I get for ninety, no well… for fifty?”
“That should get you about three to four grams. You know what, I’ll just get you four. Consider it a special trial offer.”
Now chess helplessly tried to recall his conversation with Mark and recalculate. He could have sworn Mark had said he’d be able to get eigth for that money.
Hm… Did he really mean eight ‘grams’? that’s twice what Nate is offering me here! What do I do now? Do I call him out on it? What if I’m wrong. Oh crap. He seems like a nice guy. I don’t think he’s trying to fuck me over. Mark’s probably full of shit. He just told me whatever to make me uncomfortable. It’s a prank to him.
“Is there any chance I could get uhm… eight, for ninety?”
Worst case scenario, I’ll just tell Mark I only used his fifty and give him the whole bag.
From Nate’s face, Chess could immediately tell his desperate attempt didn’t land as hoped. Nate seemed discombobulated by the request. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, breathing rather heavily. He was clearly trying to suppress his displeasure. Then he sighed.
“You know… fo-fo four grams fo fo for fifty was already a very generous offer. No, can’t do it my f-f-ffriend.”
Nate had suddenly picked up a stutter and even though he had just used the term “f-f-friend,” Chess detected a poignant change of spirit. His blood pressure dropped, he lost focus and only now started to hazily take in the room that was surrounding him. The walls were almost entirely covered with post-its, photographs and newspaper articles. It felt icky. He decided to correct course.
“Ok nevermind, you’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking. Can’t blame a dude for trying, right? Just give me whatever I can get for ninety. But if you could just split fifty-worth into one little bag and forty into another.”
The bit of magnetism Nate’s friendly conduct had brought about only a few minutes ago died out even quicker as he now blurted out a deranged laugh, causing Chess to freeze up.
“Ahahahaaaa ok y-y-you know what aha! It’s all good. You want eight grams of new stuff for ninety, I will g-g-get it to you. After all, we’re brothers aren’t we, junior? Just wait here, sit down.”
What a weird thing to say.
Nate was pointing at a leather Chesterfield sofa, next to the door Chess had entered the room from earlier.
“S-s-si-si, si-si, sittt… sit down. I’ll be right back. I’ll only be two minutes.”
Chess took a seat. As soon as Nate left the room from the same door, he started inspecting the newspaper cutouts on the wall behind the sofa.
“Portuguese virus contained before reaching mainland.”
“Mysterious organism still alive?”
“Heart attack rates at normal level says Health minister.”
“New study shows…”
Suddenly a cluster of quite sickening, photographs forced itself on his scrutiny. They showed people with bloodshot eyes and bluish skin, slouching on camping chairs, either dead or asleep with eyes wide open. One of them was being attended to by a nurse or doctor. There was no face in frame but there was a tag… Dr. Fields.
It seemed like Nate was about to cry. Was he ashamed of his stutter? The sadness of it all almost instigated Chess to console him.
“Ok, uhm listen. Thanks again, Nate.”
Sad and confused, Chess handed over the three bills of money he had actually been holding in his left hand the whole time. He stuffed the bags of weed in the inside pockets of his jacket and stepped out of the door.
“Hey Chester,” said Nate who had just lighted a joint that visibly soothed him, “nice couch, right? By the way, let me tell you a little secret. If you really want to get your money’s worth… don’t smoke it. Swallow some of it with saltwater. You won’t remember a thing, I promise.”
“Good to know.”
Downstairs, Chess pressed a metal button below a sign that said “Open door.” Once again, the door unlocked and once again a loud reverberating buzz startled him a little bit. A random thing Mark had said to him on the ride here popped up in his mind:
“There’s a bottom to the ocean, you know.”
What the hell just happened?
Standing outside the door, dazed, facing the street curb, he took out one of the little bags from his pocket. He noticed it had a small label on it: Protozoário #3.
There was no Range Rover to be seen. In fact there were no cars at all. There was barely anybody.
Chess had moved to the city only a few weeks earlier and so far he hadn’t paid much attention to where everything was yet. He was trying to follow along unsuccessfully on the GPS system of Mark’s Range Rover, just in case he’d end up having to walk back. He had only known Mark since a few days and although Mark had been nice enough to invite him along to see his dealer, Chess couldn’t help but profile him as the kind of guy who would bail on you just to make clear who pulls the strings…
Why did I have to forget my damn phone?
“Almost there. I hope you brought enough cash,” said Mark in a way that seemed to assume or hope his new neighbor hadn’t.
“I do… Don’t worry.”
Now Chess was worried he didn’t bring enough cash. He had smoked weed before with his friends back in his old high school, but never really liked it. He had no idea what this shenanigan would cost. He didn’t even know how to roll a joint.
Just as quickly as these thoughts crossed his mind, he came up with a plan. He was simply going to ask what he could get for forty bucks and whatever that Nate guy would answer, he was going to sigh and pretend to find it expensive, but then aloofly accept anyway before anyone would have time to respond. He wasn’t going to actually bargain.
Meanwhile, he still had no idea what part of town they were in. He reassured himself by rubbing his left pinky with his right thumb. It doesn’t matter. We’re just going to get the stuff and then drive back home. The neighbourhood did appear rougher than his own. He couldn’t tell why. If someone were to ask him afterwards, he would describe the area to be darker and dirtier than where he lives, but he wouldn’t be able to explain why. He wasn’t a very keen observer. He was more of an instinctive kind of person. Instinctive but doubtful.
“There we are. So here is waddle doo… I’ll drop y’off at the corner but you need to walk on and ring the bell at those double red doors,” Mark mumbled.
His lips had been holding on to a hand-rolled cigarette he hadn’t lit since twenty minutes or so.
I could never get away with posing like that.
Mark had pointed through the windshield but Chess didn’t see any red doors.
“Wait, what? Why?” he stuttered.
“Cus that’s where Nate lives.”
“No but why drop me off? Where are you going?”
“Just ’round the block, man. It’s a hassle to park here. B’sides, he knows you’re coming. I texted him. Here’s a fifty. I don’t have anything smaller. You should be able to get an eight of that new stuff I told y’about.”
Chess had not listened to a word Mark had spoken that morning. At least this gives me an idea of what I should be able to get for my forty bucks.
Mark pulled the car over and Chess got out automatically, as if they did this every day. It reminded him of being dropped off at school by his mom during all of elementary and middle school. He had been too nervous to take the bus, so his mom did what she thought she had to do.
As Mark drove away, Chess assumed he had to walk straight ahead and was only able to hope soon enough he would stumble upon the double red doors. Alright. Red doors, just tell the guy who I am, get eight grams or whatever of the new stuff for Mark, get whatever I can get for forty myself, get out. I’ll be fine. It’s not a fucking test. Walking through this neighborhood reminded him of movies he had seen, although he couldn’t tell which ones. The cool, dangerous types. Like, The Departed or something. He suddenly felt kind of reckless and even brave about all this. It felt very unfamiliar but empowering. For the whole five minutes since he had left the car nobody had bothered him or even uttered a look at him. Did he blend in?
Shit, did I pass by any red doors yet. Did I even walk straight ahead? Yeah, no, I’m sure I did. Why would I have turned? It wouldn’t make any sense. But the doors were supposed to be right around here somewhere. He was pointing at them… Fuck, if I don’t get there quickly, Mark will be back and think I’m an idiot, or worse, a wuss. Fuck me, why did I forget my phone!
Chess didn’t want to jeopardize his reputation with Mark, just yet. Not that he really liked Mark or even enjoyed hanging out with him so far. But those two girls that Mark was hanging out with when they got introduced by their parents the other day, were so attractive and they seemed so genuinely slutty, it had truly been a devastating experience to meet them. Who knows how many more of these kinds of friends that rich douchebag had. No, it was clear. The douchebag’s opinion mattered.
He realized that, while once again caught up in thoughts, he had been staring at the ground, so he promptly looked up. And as he did, he barely believed what immediately caught his eyes, right in front of him………………………………………………………………………………………
Here’s a frustrating fact my bored, under-stimulated mind is having to deal with at the moment: each day, the list of things I need to get sorted out is full, turning out to be surprisingly incomplete the very next. In the context of confinement and forced unemployment, during these strangest of times when time is not an issue, you might suspect that I am overstating facts here or maybe even straight out lying.
But I am not talking about chores. The bed is made, the bills are paid and the dishes are done. The floors are clean and the toilet paper supply is at an acceptable level.
What I am talking about are mental trepidations: cobras, one after another, first hiding, then seamlessly slithering passed me, up the tree of life that I am trying to climb. None of them are attacking me just yet. They’re not even really lurking because I can sort of see them. But they are ahead of me, staring at me and looking down on me. As if waiting for me to confront them, grapple with them and then fail.
They are the things I still wish to accomplish but I am not fully aware of, or the ambitions I have but prefer not to admit to. They wear the skins I need to shed to rid me from any scars and present a better version of myself on every occasion I get. They are a metaphorical mess that echoes my state-of-mind, somehow truthfully. They may bite me in the ass if I try to slip by them or laugh at me if I fall, when the branch I’ve been leaning on is no longer willing to carry my wistful weight, and snaps. It is all possible.
No, it is all just me, aimlessly sitting through a global crisis I am not playing any role in. I am no hero, and I am not even clapping my hands. I am your every law-abiding citizen, trying to hold his head up, just moving on; another innocuous cobra aimlessly roaming the trees until this is all over.
Als ik de afgelopen tijd in mijn kot iets heb geleerd over mijzelf is het wel dat ik een moeilijk te inspireren individu ben. Meer tijd is vooral meer tijd om me te verliezen in de eindeloze conversatie met mijn egocentrische zelf, zo blijkt. Andere mensen trekken wel mijn aandacht, maar interesseren mij verder doorgaans niet bijster. Ik ben er niet trots op maar het is zo. Ik ben al blij als niemand afziet en neem er genoegen mee het niet te weten wanneer dat toch het geval is. Ik ben een laffe, stinkende dweil die ergens in een hoekje ligt uit te drogen en de grote lenteschoonmaak is dit jaar onderhevig aan uitstel wegens pandemie. Of is het pandémie? Zoek het zelf maar op.
Zowat alles is voor mij cliché, inclusief het feit dat alles cliché is. Dat biedt mijn creatieve ambities weinig armslag. Ik hink op twee gedachten door het dagelijkse leven. De ene is dat ik iedereen onwaardig ben en de andere is dat iedereen waardeloos is. Er zijn momenten dat ik hink op beide. Dat zijn de moeilijkste. Er zijn ook momenten van inkeer. Dan besef ik droogweg dat sommige mensen betere keuzes maken, meer discipline aan de dag leggen en hun aandacht beter investeren dan ik de mijne. En wanneer ik voedzaam ontbeten heb, besef ik de vrijheid te bezitten om hetzelfde te doen. Nog altijd.
Als ik de afgelopen weken in mijn kot iets heb geleerd over de wereld rondom me is het dat we meer dan ooit een uitstervend ras zijn; niet omdat we opeens met miljoenen ziek in bed liggen, wel omdat we onstuitbaar evolueren naar een nieuw geslacht: homo cyborgicus of homo absentis, of iets dergelijks. Dat zeg ik niet omdat we de sapiens in ons plotseling hebben achtergelaten. Dat deden we ergens einde jaren negentig al, toen reality tv zijn intrede deed.
Nee, ik zeg het omdat ik vaststel dat we moeiteloos online werken, ravotten en elkander al friemelend op de hoogte houden van onze non-avonturen. Als we in deze tijden nog ergens bestaan is het wel online, ver weg van elkaar. Het tijdperk van de afstandelijke mens is definitief aangebroken. Natuurlijk gaan we deze zomer, wanneer de lockdowns worden opgeheven met onze broekjes en onze rokjes vol goesting het openbare leven tegemoet, maar elk moment zal slechts bestaan wanneer het online te raadplegen valt. vanop afstand.
It seems that perhaps the most difficult things to learn in life are the ones you once unlearned before, wittingly but especially unwittingly. From what I can tell, it appears to be so because when you unwittingly unlearn something, it ceases to be part of your subconscious day-to-day life strategy. And as a result, when thousands of days pass by, some of your natural proclivities are extorted from your identity.
Probably, hopefully, at the time, the unlearning was at least effective at obtaining whatever you were trying to obtain. The problem is that the past version of you was a foolish asshole with no regard for who its pitiful thirty year-old version would have wanted to be.
As for me, so it happened that I frustratingly came to realize lately that my unsophisticated seventeen-year-old self had access to something his future self would gradually cease to incorporate and lose touch with: his own voice.
English class 2004… We were given the task of writing our own poem. A poem of which the objective was to provide affirmation to one of the many developing voices that spoiled and self-absorbed teenagers like ourselves would unsurprisingly have. In 2004, I also had a Playstation 2 and so the inevitable lack of time to take this sort of assignment seriously.
So what I did was to concoct a poem of oneliners borrowed from some lesser-known, second-rate punkrock bands, the evening before the work was due. I put in just enough effort, mixing in some of my very own third-rate oneliners, for this treachery to remain unnoticed. And it did. Nobody noticed a thing. After I had just read out loud this Frankenstein monster of a poem, one would have been able to hear a pin drop. B-. The perfect crime.
The poem supposedly represented my inner voice of a young atheist and it delivered. Little did I know to what extent what I brought to the table did represent perfectly what it claimed to represent: a lack of belief.
It is no coincidence that I am today a person who writes down his thoughts, tries to formulate them more eloquently than they initially are, edits them, waits around and only when the initial excitement has faded, publishes them. I am not someone who will often enter into an argument or discussion to say what I believe. I don’t keep my opinions up my sleeve. My ideas are therefore profound but even more so, confused. They are never really on the surface so I never need to define or defend them.
This seems safe but it isn’t, because not defending them in some way implies not defending myself. It means not laying out on the table what I value and what value I bring. It implies not having a voice and it results in having to undergo other people’s hidden agendas, often hidden from themselves as well. That is a pernicious path to be on.
So I intend to re-learn getting my voice heard, even if sometimes I end up regretting what it expresses. Because at the end of the day, regret will always be there with us, if only we have the character to acknowledge it. I’d rather have my voice to be there too.
A sleek leather couch fore-fronting a clean white wall, adorned by not a beautiful cloud but a painting of it. The dockside view from a tall window that could be cleaner but through which nonetheless the light manages to illuminate even the more mournful of days. They are only two of the views I have recently failed to consider intently… wrongfully. Because it is not them who have lost their beauty. It is I who have been distracted once more.
It is astonishing how easily distractible I can be. But if distraction is the worst problem I have to deal with, then it is still safe enough to assume reasons to be hopeful. Because being undistracted is about finding focus on something, which basically means I can ignore my way out of other shit. And let’s face it. It is not a very difficult task for me to ignore things. I ignore plenty. It’s just about using my ignorance in a more productive manner. To starve what is pernicious and to feed what can help me grow, even if it only means… older. Because I assume some wisdom will come along with that.
So, as I choose to make way for more oblivion, I promise myself to keep on recognizing how stupid I can be sometimes, but not so recklessly as to diagnoze an idiot. Because I am not… I just sometimes tend to think more than my brain can manage. And, comical as that may sound. It is different than me being an idiot. Denying that, is a lazy excuse to not live up to my potential. Or more accurate than laziness, it is fear, ferociously finding its way through the pores of my thin-skinned ego, unwanting to acknowledge my imperfection. Hence the sweating.
So, what’s next? Is my own will to determine what follows? Or has the chain of past events established an inevitable path my lifetime is too short for to divert from. God only knows and devil may care… Probably all that matters is now. Or at least so they say. And right now I have an obtrusive urge for beer. And since I only drink during the weekends and it is Sunday afternoon, I better get to it, before the past catches up with me in the moment.
What I am going to say next might resonate for some and not at all for others. If you are part of the latter, then good for you, you’re in a better place than most, and too bad for my effort of writing today. But so be it. At first, I didn’t know what to write. But thoughts have an interesting way of revealing themselves whenever I stick to the keyboard while ruminating for a few hours. So here it goes:
I’m not sure what to say, because my mind keeps gravitating towards places I don’t understand or I simply don’t want it to go. There is so much to know and to say about everything and it is so hard to concentrate, on pretty much anything. It’s surely some sort of cognitive disability or character flaw I am not dealing with the way I should.
Nevertheless, never before has my attention had so much appeal: from brands, companies, people yelling from the hills of their self-proclaimed moral high ground, and simply people that happen to be around, branding themselves with every move they make, every stance they take and many untruthful words they speak.
Yet it seems to me that never before, people have cared so little about what others really think, as long as these others seem to accept their alleged inferiority. When people notice that this is not the case, they seem to be shook up and choke. I say, let them, so that the ugly part of them dies off and a better version of them can be born. Who knows they can become actual friends, that contribute usefully and positively, not just by being entertaining but by being reliable partners not just in crime and clubs but in solace and success. Partners that help us make the right choices and don’t secretly (yet so obviously) rejoice when we’re making the wrong ones.
I am just saying. Enough bullshit already. And that goes for all of us bitches and assholes.