There are days when I can feel the emptiness of my mind. I don’t think, I regress to a vegetative state. It’s all digestion and no contemplation. Hours pass without purpose and I’m unable to stop my focus from fading. And I wonder how people who have to use their minds to stay alive manage those braindead days. Maybe out of necessity they don’t have them. My existence is secure without my labor, cunning or courage. So I drift and dwell, sift through crumbs of awareness.
It took me until 5 pm today to write a single paragraph. When I had nothing else to do all day. It took hours of meandering and walking and drinking espresso to gather up the resolve and attention to write a paragraph about nothing. The more time you have the less you do. But then I’ve never had the right amount of time. It’s always either not enough or too much. I tell myself I can do it later. There’s always later until there isn’t.
Rationally I know my time is limited and that every day is a day closer to death and nothingness. But it’s as if there’s another part of me that also knows it won’t die. Or that death isn’t the end and I won’t be swallowed up by the all consuming eternal night. So there’s no real hurry. Whatever I’m working on or whatever I want to work on can wait until after I’m dead.
If I died at the end of this sentence I’d have failed in my singular artistic purpose: to write the perfect sentence. And at the outer reach of my ambition, to write the perfect paragraph. I don’t know what that perfect paragraph will be about, but it will flow like no paragraph ever has. It will unfold itself like falling drapery. My perfect paragraph will have the perfect metaphor and the perfect rhythm. It will glide without slipping. Anyone who reads this paragraph will comprehend it on the first read but will want to read it again and again. Just to follow the contours of the sentences. To feel the smooth, rounded edges and the tight links between each sentiment.
These paragraphs I’m writing now are placeholders: better writing is to come. They sit between where I was and where I want to be. I want to believe I’m a better writer than I was two years ago, or when I was an academic upstart and writing far beyond my comprehension. I used to believe that the more clauses the better the sentence. The more obscure and multi-syllabic the word the smarter the writer. But now I now better than that and have renounced my sesquipedalian ways.
At least I still have a couple friends in town. Unpretentious, comical people. A 50 year old former fireman and his son who’s a magician. They live together in one of those generic apartment complexes with the identical floor plans and the thick grey carpets. Bare white walls and mismatched furniture. A modern art installation: piles of plastic water bottles and crumbled up bags of fast food. Streaks of ash on the cheap wooden table. The son smokes cigarettes and the father eats plates of stacked pork fritter sandwiches.
They aren’t healthy or educated but they’re funny and fun to be around. I need more fun, as dumb as that might sound. I spend all my time thinking about the decline of the west, racial politics, what heidegger said and then what plato said, the destruction of public space and the erosion of familial networks. And that’s on top of personal drama, stewing over guilt from past actions and worrying about the future. When I turned 30 I still felt young, as though I were still in my twenties and could afford to wait to do whatever I wanted. But there’s something about being 31 that removes that complacency.
I look in the mirror and see a man who’s aged. A man with a few years behind him, not quit decaying but not fresh either. I have premonitions of the problems that will haunt my autumn and winter years. My knees will shatter someday in a freak squatting accident. My hearing will diminish until I’m locked in a world of silence. And my skin will sag and crinkle, distorting my features. I’m a little slower and weaker than I used to be, but it’s nothing compared to what’s in store.
So until I reach full decrepitude and my organs wither and my brain undergoes liquid putrefaction, I want to laugh and enjoy good times and good health. And my friends are instrumental for achieving this aim. My portly pal has lost his looks but he’s jollier than ever. He has a son and a roof over his head. He’s unlocked a kind of cynical serenity, a freedom from ambition and the torments of desire. Neurosis is nonexistent.
It helps when you’re naturally hilarious. You can get so fat you’re unrecognizable to people who knew you twenty years ago but as long as your wit stays sharp you can always entertain yourself and others. You can distract yourself from the steadily accumulating infirmities that make up the latter half of your life.
Last night I went over to their shabbily decorated place and we waited for another friend to bring us weed. We filled the hours with dumb banter and insults. We piled into his rusted, broken down chevy cavalier and went to steak and shake. It was disgusting and they got my order wrong. It was still great. And then the weed arrived.
His magician son rolled blunts and we smoked and talked and laughed well into the night. I lost track of time and finally realized it was after midnight. I tend towards isolation so I have to make an effort to be around people who make me feel good to be alive. As though life might be worth living after all.