Thoughts on swimming
It is days such as today that I feel the worst. I don’t really care how sickeningly autobiographical this is going to need to be to express that which I am experiencing. Sometimes autobiography is therapeutic. Besides, I’m just a selfish human being anyway. We all are. Its okay. Maybe.
There are days when I wake up experiencing little more than drowsiness. Those days usually end up being, more or less, innocuous. I can manage to make it outside of myself, to become absorbed in whatever I am doing. I walk to work. I bike to school. I make coffee for someone else. I drink a cup. I look at e-mails. I pretend to care about your weekend. Sometimes I actually care. Other times I am concerned with the nap I will take upon going home. Now and then, I feel exuberant. I walk around in a daze, happy to take in the world as a welcomed citizen instead of passing through it as a homesick traveler. All things are within reach and each task is just that: a momentary distraction to be accomplished and forgotten. Those days are fond reminders that the calm comes quietly, that contentment is not out of reach.
This easy solace is not so consistent. Though I greet it happily when it arrives, I do not expect it to stay long. I know too well what lies ahead. Some mornings are tell tale: there are days when I wake up without thoughts at all. I am unusually blank, without proprietary being: I have no remembrance of who I am or who I am supposed to be. Sometimes I feel remorse or anger without an event with which to associate these ephemera. Sometimes I feel lost, confused in the wake of whatever dream I have just forgotten. I am always anxious when these mornings return. Though I have experienced many upon previous wakings, I do not recognize them in their renewed arrival. The anxiety they bring with them is subtle, beginning as a shallow tide, waves lapping at the heels of yesterday.
Simple tasks seem difficult but inoffensive. For instance, breakfast is a chore without any benefits, taking a shower merely a nuisance. But you can feel the crescendo of an ambivalence breaking below the surface. Arranging materials for the typical bicycle ride down 12th Ave., there is a sense that the week is fitted together incongruously. How could I have forgotten those library books yesterday? Why haven’t I woken up earlier these past few days? Why haven’t I started working on that essay for my philosophy course yet? Hurry up: get to school, do your research. I begin questioning the development of clouds on the horizon, but there isn’t any sign of rain just yet. There isn’t any cause for concern. Why am I worried? The waves are just at my ankles.
When I find fear in the first face met during these mornings, it is the first omen. Dark clouds are in sight: that hello was more difficult to swallow than it should have been. It is shortly after that I realize how cold it has become, that my feet have gotten wet. I wish this was a dream, because I don’t know what to do with myself. I reply to hellos quickly, making way for what I know I should be doing. What am I doing, though? What am I supposed to be doing toady? Somehow, what I was doing yesterday is lost to me. Why am I here again? I hope to find myself alone, ashamed of the condensation of furrowed thoughts. The sight of other people is a realization that every human figure presents a standing mirror, faces I do not recognize, empty threats forming across the room or seated at desks. Conversation is difficult. It is difficult to concentrate when you are already waist deep in the anxiety that has been following in your shadow since… well, you can’t really remember anymore. Have I always felt this way? No, I don’t really want to talk. Sorry I bothered you. Do I always laugh this nervously? I begin to wonder how many hours will pass until low tide, as I find myself wading again. Though a familiar feeling, it is awash in something I haven’t decided to call by its true name just yet. If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Denial is the fastest way out of a previous, embarrassing engagement. To ignore the weather prediction is the simplest quelling of the worry over a storm. Hard rain does begin to fall, eventually.
At some point, I realize that this anxiogenesis isn’t slowing so soon. In my concern for trivialities that normally wouldn’t give me cause for alarm, I can taste the loss of my autonomy. Trying to empty an ocean with a pail one thought at a time, I am dispensed against the onslaught of a million little incongruities. Why did I choose to grab that pen? Cursive or script? That was a silly mistake. So was that. Eraser. This posture feels wrong. I can see myself in the eyes of my classmate behind me. Do I look as blank as I feel? Can they see the guilt that sits so cleanly around my collar? Why did I plan to read that tonight? Can I remember to which e-mail address I sent that file? And then it hits me: I no longer care. Frantically, searching for thoughts that were familiar forty-eight hours ago, I swim against the swells. What did I used to think was important? Because I can’t feel anything but the concern that I have for the violence I want to bring against myself.
I’ve been down this road before and I can see the abyss waiting for me at the end. I know the path well. I can see the footprints I took the last time. And I’m pursued by an old self. Keep swimming, keep that head above water I tell myself, but I can’t remember anymore why its worth the miles to the shore. Lost in the ocean of my own disillusionment from myself, I am careful not to look where I know I could be going. My eyes are stuck on the shore of a passion for which I still hope I will have interest tomorrow. My anxiety keeps me transfixed. The waves are rocky once again. I can taste the salt against my temples. By the time I have made it to noon, I have already considered running away from home. Because home doesn’t have any meaning any more, I don’t have fear that I won’t return. I could just escape, get away from all of this. I can feel free again.
And there is the sickening beast itself: I do not feel free anymore. I am trapped by the weight of the anxiety that falls upon me from the loss of my history, the future of which I cannot make sense. I have no sense of self because it has given way to the self-assured lie that it never existed. I am the source of my being in the world. My actions are that which I am. And suddenly, I cannot take ownership of them. I am pursued by a self I don’t remember. I see my reflection as a stranger. There isn’t anything I want from this. I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know what to do to get out. But I know I’ve escaped before. And I’m scared I’ll find the courage to make the run for it again. If I can’t be free, then I’ll refuse to be at all.
So I keep on swimming, out of breath maybe, but not willing to acknowledge that I might drown because I no longer trust my thoughts. If I can make it to the bank, then maybe tomorrow morning I’ll wake up with the sun breaking through these churning clouds above. Maybe tomorrow, things will make sense again. My freedom on the line, I keep pace, one stroke after another, breathing slowly as I go, making sure to remember that I choose to keep swimming, that there is still this one reminder of my ownership of self, and that’s enough to give me pretense for myself.
i write new poems sometimes
Whatever it is that the individual does, and whatever happens to [her], that [she] has done [herself], and [she] is that [herself]. [The individual] can have only the consciousness of the simple transference of himself from the night of possibility into the daylight of the present, from the abstract in-itself into the significance of actual being, and can have only the certainty that what happens to him in the latter is nothing else but what lay dormant in the former.
The individual, therefore, knowing that in [her] actual world [she] can find nothing else but its unity with [herself], or only the certainty of [herself] in the truth of the world, can experience only joy in [herself].
G.W.F. Hegel - Phenomenology of Spirit - §404, A.V. Miller translation
This is why Hegel is an existentialist and why every Hegelian pretty much has to admit their existentialism. Let’s break this quote down:
1. Whatever it is that the individual does, and whatever happens to [her], that [she] has done [herself], and [she] is that [herself].
In other words, what the individual does is the work of the individual. When one does work in the world, one brings it into being or mediates its existence through one’s power of negativity. Moreover, the work one does is oneself. I am nothing but my acts. As Sartre would say, “Freedom is precisely the nothingness which is made-to-be at the heart of man and which forces human reality to make itself instead of to be…to be is to choose oneself” (p. 568, Being and Nothingness H.E. Barnes translation).
2. [The individual] can have only the consciousness of the simple transference of himself from the night of possibility into the daylight of the present, from the abstract in-itself into the significance of actual being, and can have only the certainty that what happens to him in the latter is nothing else but what lay dormant in the former.
When we reflect upon what we plan to do in the world, we are only in the abstract mode of consciousness. We are conscious of our desires, but this understanding of what we want (to be) is a theoretical understanding. For one to be responsible for oneself, the theoretical act of the individual must be brought from theoretical consciousness to practical existence, in one’s physical works within the world. My actions are the manifestation through reality of my conscious plans.
3. The individual, therefore, knowing that in [her] actual world [she] can find nothing else but its unity with [herself], or only the certainty of [herself] in the truth of the world, can experience only joy in [herself].
To act in the world is to know oneself through one’s actions. He who acts in the world negates the objects of his consciousness, changes them, and sees himself through this negative activity, through his action in the world. To embrace one’s power, as proprietary to oneself, is to know that oneself is the source of change in the world. She who becomes aware of her actions as the being of herself, as reality, has ownership of her own being.
Alright Hegel, I’ll buy: my actions are myself and my actions are the world through myself. Now, here’s the rub: if we are to embrace this happily, we must embrace it with serious resolve. To be a terrible person is to create the terrible that exists. To be kind is to create kindness. The existentialist must recapitulate her/his responsibility for ethics through each and every action.
To be ethical is to act ethically. It takes much more than a few lines on a declaration of corporate identity to be a good company. It takes more than a college degree to be successful. It takes embracing fully and acting on our humanity to be humane.
I am moving forward
this is what progress feels like
I am caught with my own challenges
but I am unafraid.
They will be there,
whether I fear them or not,
whether I am anxious of their presence
or ready to toss them aside.
My progress is my success
and I am taking time to accept
that if I am to do any good for anyone else
to make things that I want to see in the world
that will do well for my fellows
then I must embrace my success.
So I embrace these challenges
and I embrace progress.
give me your thunderstruck
your beaming, your awesome
I will tear down your walls
to grant you a glass of laudanum
and stare at your facebook statuses
From “Amazon employee sketch”
Elise and Leo walked up to Leo’s apartment. Inside they threw their jackets on the sofa and sat down at the table. Leo stared at Elise’s hair before asking “Would you like some tea?” She looked back and then looked down at the table and then back at Leo again. “Sure, that sounds good.” Leo went into the kitchen and started to boil some water. He pulled two mugs from the cabinet and Elise came in. “Did you like the poetry tonight?” he asked her, searching for tea that he might or might not have. “Yeah, it was fun.” She said. She looked down at her hands, pulling her sweater back and forth a bit. It was a nice sweater, he thought. “I always like hearing people speak.” That was dumb, he thought, grabbing the box of tea and putting three tea bags into the boiling water of the now hot tea kettle. “I mean, I like it when people read something they’ve done. Even if its bad and uninteresting. Its nice to hear I guess.”
“Yeah, I had never been to a reading before,” Elise replied, now picking up one of the mugs and turning it around in her hands.
“What did you think about the one about Virgil? Leo asked
“Which one was that?” She stared at him blankly.
“Oh, the one where he talked about Augustus and compared the Roman empire to the president. And then he talked about Troy and stuff. Yeah, that one”
“Yeah, I thought he had some good ideas,” Elise replied
“She has no idea who I am,” Leo heard Virgil say, disappointed.
“That one about Facebook was good, too. It was funny.” Leo stared at the tea and Elise stared at Leo. “Witty”
“I didn’t like that one,” Elise said.
“Why not?” Leo looked at her, perplexed. “You giggled a bit.”
“It was silly. I don’t know.” Leo poured out the tea into their mugs and Elise gave him a grin for some reason. Leo grinned back thinking about pouring his tea out and going to bed. They went back to the table and talked a bit more about various things. Elise was a sociology major. She didn’t like working for Amazon. She lived with a few roommates near the theatre. For a while they didn’t do anything but stared at each other and asked about each other’s jobs. Leo talked about the website a bit. Then talked about some books. He liked to break the silence of slurping hot tea. She went to grab sugar and he looked out the window and wondered when he could go to bed. “Do you want me to stay?”
Leo looked at the clock. It was 10:30, early enough that saying no meant he really didn’t want her there at all, but late enough that he might be able to come up with an excuse. Uh, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression, but I have no plans for marriage at this point in my life, he thought to himself. This did not help the situation. “I’m sorry,” he said without more hesitation, “I have to work at 4:30 tomorrow which means I’ll have to get up at 3:30 and though I could get up at 4:00 I’m really just tired and haven’t gotten much sleep so I’m really sorry but I uh I wish you could stay longer”
She looked at him, obviously a little confused and taken aback and replied, “I understand. Yeah. Well, I’d like to see you soon. Call me when you get off of work tomorrow?”
Leo gave an internal sigh of relief. Yes, he thought victoriously. “Well, at least let me walk you outside” Why had he said that? he wondered.
She turned to go and they get their jackets on. They walked up the hallway in silence and he opened the door for her to the vestibule. Outside, she gave him a hug and said, “bye” with a quiet smile and started walking down the road. “See you tomorrow,” he said, again wondering why he had decided to do that.
In his room before going to sleep, Leo checked his tumblr and his e-mail account and the website. Forty hits since yesterday. He turned off his lamp and settled into bed, thinking, does everyone think everything will just work out? He wondered about Elise and thought that maybe she was interesting “in the dull, I have no passions for anything nor interest in what you just said kind of way.”
and there are no more
questions about your blog
she said that it was
and so it clearly needed more peonies
strung out about like boxes
we stood in the room
too much caffeine
and amphetamines to
realize that we could all talk
photos and interviews
will be published
for everyone to talk about
but what happens if
no one ever talks about art?
I’m not anxious
really, no anxiety
I am rummaging through
stacks of former moments
memories locked into step
with the loss of inertia
as sleepy fingers fall onto
keystrokes made for
a moment of reprieve
danger: there are dormice
fat and bulbous preening on
the edge of my bed and
asking for me to get up and
to throw them some food
perhaps a pear I have yet
to eat for breakfast or lunch
when they come scurrying back
into the barren wasteland of
the place from whence my histories
have taken their long vacations
only to return more disfigured than before
do not worry; rodents never tell secrets
unless you want of them
If I could meet you after reading some poems
that you wrote and posted on the internet
then I would say that I liked your poems
and then we could actually talk about important things
But I am horribly bad at introducing myself to people
and I am even worse (excuse me) at doing it
in some way over the internet and I must admit
it doesn’t feel right; like I’m pretending to be
something that I am not even though
that’s not really the case
So I will continue trying to focus on sending people
messages to the extent of “please, here is a compliment:
I really enjoyed your poety” “please write more short stories”
“I would buy your novel after reading this” and
hope that someone wants to meet later in time though
I am writing an essay
but I take breaks to work
and drink coffee sometimes
or drink beer or perhaps some
whiskey but never while doing
research involving rats
and their behavior while
or while selling coffee to other people
most of whom I do not enjoy
and sometimes I get paid for these
excursions and use the money to
reside in my apartment
and perhaps read or look at
things on the internet
and once in a while
I do something original and
put it on the internet
and no one will pay much
but I hope people can
understand the sentiment
because I am still
working on this treatise
and its all I want to do
to talk about working on a novel
but I am not a writer
I just like writing essays
i consider for a moment taking some advil
but then i realize it won’t help
there are too many stories pushed into my far corners
or more likely my memories are like cobwebs
soaking up coffee shop visits and fishing excursions
there are no wounds like these that would benefit
from an over-the-counter analgesic
instead, they’ll have to wait for too much talking
and too much walking
until they fall out of place
reworking themselves into nostalgia
Its the end of the world and I wish I couldn’t
because tomorrow I’ll wake up and everything will be
the same as it always has been but we wont be
we still won’t be through
getting over the boulders we threw
between here and the sea
the sea we drank up and decided to spit out
the beach we walked over and never thought once
of how it might one day be empty of all that history
too many novels and epistolary treatises and
too many breaking meals and laughing deeply
wish I could sail back and remember
why it was aristotle threw out his compass for a pen
he laughed at me but I told him that
another December isn’t too far away.
Break a cup of tea across your forehead
stay in bed until 10:30
have sex until 11:00
get up and get dressed
please yell at me
please tell me
I don’t have a future
please sell me things
please walk away
“Are you doing anything
in particular?” No.