I don't know how much I am going to get done today. I am feeling overwhelmingly defeated. It does not matter what art I produce, the level of that art, because none of it can matter right now, because they are not going to let it get out, and I have to find a way to get it out, or one piece has to be the freedom fighter that sets all the other free, or I need some luck, or the numbers game to pay out, or something I have not yet conceived of to happen and liberate me and this corpus of art. To have my first legit chance. Or it certainly feels overwhelmingly defeating, because anything else would be a massive change, a sea change, if this stopped being what was, if you know what I mean. I allow--I can still see this--that if the sea change were at hand and happened, within a very short amount of time--days--I could look back on what was, compare it to what now is, and wonder how I could ever have doubted that with my ability and my art and my drive and how steadfast I was to my purpose and what my work would mean to people that this was inevitably going to happen. I have a friend who said, "At this point, you're basically Picasso with a copy machine, and you're just printing out one unique work of art after another. Just pressing the button. As many times as you please. But they're not copies, they're organic, and it's boom, press the button, here's another, boom, press the button, here's another."
Yes. It is now like that. Or I have one of those soft serve ice cream machines. I have my art nozzle. And this is so awful that I hate that it is like that. I hate that I can produce a work of art that will always last anytime I wish. (Can you even imagine being able to do anything as an artist and wishing you couldn't and could do virtually nothing at all?) Any time I decide to. It makes this suffering worse, it makes this situation more infuriating, disturbing, iniquitous, impossible, just about, to live with. Now if I just sucked, or I was some other author, I could say, "well, you suck, what do you expect?" or "you're just any other author, you're pretty limited in your abilities and what you create can actually mean to anyone, find your little community, you did get those 132 Facebook likes, that's the stuff, cultivate your tiny, meaningless garden." But that's not the case with me, is it?
Right now, if I so choose, on this day I can finish a personal essay on nightmares, I can compose an entire story about a man not dead who already has a ghost called "Post-Fletcher," I can finish a short story called "A man sitting outside of a playground," I can compose an essay on an Orson Welles play, and I can write a piece on Jimmy Blanton, who was Duke Ellington's best bass player and arguably the greatest bassist ever. But when I have the things completed--which will get completed in a few days anyway, at the longest--like the two matchless short stories and the essay, there's not anything I can do with them right now.
I can show them to people I know, who know exactly what I am and what I do--which my enemies also know--and they can love them and be floored, but those people also know the deal right now. They know the bigotry. They've seen it up close every day. And the number of works of art I am creating that simply come to live, at this point, on my hard drive, has become a huge number. I have a storehouse.
The days run together here. Do you know what I've done this week? I wrote an 1800 personal essay about something very bad that happened to me. I wrote a 2000 word horror story. I talked on the radio about thriller films. I wrote a 3000 word essay on the relationship between writing and painting. I wrote a 1500 word piece the relationship between jazz and cinema. Yesterday I published this piece in The Washington Post on how we talk and speak in the same dozen or so vapid phrases. Today I'm working on this personal essay on nightmares. Does that seem normal to you? Does any of that seem normal, doable, human? And that is with a system trying to suppress someone. Probably not very normal, right? I put up the excerpts. You can't read an excerpt and say, "hmmm, that's middling," can you? I'll put one up now. Just wrote this in ten minutes. It's disturbing. I also walked three miles and climbed the Monument ten times yesterday. All of it is so disturbing. It is all but impossible to believe that all of it could actually be. I am in post-hell--which is worse than standard grade hell--and also in the post-disturbing portion of what is disturbing. The beyond the merely disturbing, such that it is very difficult for anyone to even believe that this all can happen and has happened.
Queries and answers became my internal nighttime point-counterpoint format leading up to sleep, for many years. Creed, that rivener of the peaceful nighttime fabric, went away, perhaps to do some slumber traveling and haunt the dreams of others—I always figured him a much-in-demand actor on the terror circuit—and though I was no lounger, no fan of the “long lie in,” I pretty much became ordinary in the sleep department, until my father died.
He was fifty-three and I was twenty-five. I had a girlfriend at the time, and she’d wake up to find me standing by the window, after my dad was gone, my forehead pressed against the glass, staring at a streetlight or a passing rat, driven from bed by fear. My father had died with my mother and I holding his hands, after several days of being unconscious, spitting up blood. The ER was like something out of a haunted castle. Breathing machines made the noises of wheezy specters. You look at contraptions and you have no clue what they are, like they are on loan from a Poe-induced fever dream, with the concomitant sensation that when you learn what service they provide that that’s not going to be a happy piece of knowledge. This was the modern day spook house, where it felt impossible to ever be at your ease. And yet, because of the grim realities of multi-day stays—final visits—people visiting—a term hard to accept in this context—will often sleep at the ICU. There are family-sized slumber parties, with chairs pushed together to make ad hoc beds, and people doze, for I have seen them, even if I was not a hospital sleeper myself.
You could be visiting a friend of a friend of a friend, someone with no connection to you, and if you were in the ICU, it seemed to me that it was not possible to not feel like you were touring a gallery of your own mortality. That a house of birth was also a house of death hit my brain as less ironic and more instructive in the lesson that each could be the other, depending upon how one looked at it, and existence, which was conceivably malleable, from plane to plane, dimension to dimension, world to world, was a succession of being pulled from dark to light and back to dark again and on to light once more; walk a path, hit a quick cave, come out the back of the cave, right on to another path, and so forth. Intent, energy, purpose, one’s place in a schema, redistributed and rejiggered. Probably upon multiple planes, dimensions, worlds, simultaneously.
Which suggests that you can be dead while you’re alive, and that death isn’t necessarily something humans—those who have death personally happen to them—are ever aware of. You might be alive right here—“Hi, let’s shake hands, nice to meet you”—and you might not be alive, as we think of it, somewhere else, at the same time. It’s not like at the end of a hockey game, the final horn sounds, everyone knows to go home, nothing more to see here. You’d have to figure these things are far more complicated than anything a human might conclude—let alone so obvious that we all agree upon it—so it’s probably not “alive this second, dead this second, buried the next, let’s have a baby, ah, life again.”
But in that ICU, my dad was about to be only one thing to me, and then he became that thing, so far as twenty-five-year-old me was concerned, and my eyes had watched the transformation. Sleeping is part of that blackness, that cave portion of an extended journey. It does not play out within a field of light. Sleep is an exordium for death. As we think we understand death, anyway, traditionally-speaking.
The nightmares that began to wallop my slumbering self, every night, made Creed look like a veritable benign babysitter back in the day. Each evening in my dreams, and on to morning, I’d watch my dad die again, no matter where I went in my dreams. Like if the dream version of me, Dream Colin as I called him, found himself on Mars, with a monkey for a sidekick, he was still going to see that blood and that death. It followed my sleep self around. I couldn’t sleep in silence. I needed the television on, and what’s more, I needed programs that were familiar to me, with no loud explosions, decent helpings of sunlight, people who liked each other hanging out, making jokes, comforting each other when required. This meant a lot of episodes of, yes, The Golden Girls. I’d awake to find Sophia ripping—but lovingly, I guess—Rose for saying something dumb, and fall back asleep with Blanche having come home from her latest date with Mel Bushman (still can’t believe they gave her chief hook-up partner the name Bushman) to dish with the girls and one Colin, who ideally would be passed out again at this point.
Eventually the images receded back into some recess in me, and maybe we all have a wing of our beings that houses our trauma files, and time abets in the burying of those files such that we don’t see them much anymore, we just know they remain within the repository. I kicked along for a while, and then there was my divorce, where the nightmares were so total I became scared of my bed. I had a wife, we had just gotten a house, there had never been a squeak of “maybe this thing you do isn’t so great,” and then she was gone, vanished in the night. No explanation. A cadre of lawyers setting upon me. No money in my bank account. House being taken. She was having an affair. I wouldn’t learn that for years, and it’s not germane to any of this. But what is pertinent is that my life, such as I thought I had erected it, came tumbling down. Have you ever seen those videos of old baseball stadiums being imploded? It was like that. Life became not something with a new wrinkle, but a tsunami of wrinkles, a sea of creases, of striations, of scarred surfaces, being launched at my personage, as I became embroiled in a perpetual state of drowning, choking on wave-borne detritus crammed into my gob, a kind of rape via force-feeding. “This will be your trauma now, and this, and this is, and this, now eat it up, eat it up, eat it up.”
What I became, too, was a haunted man. Van Gogh, like myself, was a big Christmas fan, which is odd, because the season was one filled with much pain for him—his own family wouldn’t welcome him back for the holiday after a certain point. He became a haunted man, a wanderer, someone who walked twenty miles at a stretch, and a regular reader of Dickens’ Christmas story, “The Haunted Man,” which fit the bill for Van Gogh, being a tale of a fellow who no longer has a beginning and ending to his terrors, no clear demarcation point.
I understood that, because I was taking to walking twenty miles a day myself, trying to drive the nightmares out of my head, desperate to countervail what had become my new reality: the terror-dreams of the night had become what each and every day was like. There is a small mercy in some of our worst dreams when we realize that it’s a dream. Or, if we are not totally sure that it’s a dream, we think there’s a reasonable chance. Our dream selves apperceive this. It’s that line of thinking that progresses along a construct of “Maybe? Maybe? Yes? Probably?”
We awake. We are spared getting crunched in the demon’s jaws, we find out that our first born did not really die, we can resume thinking that our husband still loves us. I stopped having those moments upon awaking. What is more, as I lived my days—or died my days, as we were discussing before—I would internally query myself on when I might awake. The thinking ran exactly as it had in nightmares, where things get so bad that you logically conclude that they couldn’t actually be that bad, surely this cannot be your reality, what your life will be, what it became. It’s time for the dark joke to come to a close. Some cruel and creative dream imp—or Satan—has had their fun, and jokes don’t work so great when they linger on too long.
I will level with you. When you reach that point, such that your daymares pull violent rank on your nightmares, so that you are begging to awake as you are awake, and still too frightened to go to sleep, you might not be with us too much longer, unless something drastically changes for you, or, that failing, you find a way to harness these dark forces. You need to find a way to get a bridle upon them. You need to find a way to get your boots in stirrups that hang down from their flanks. You need to learn to do something I call riding the Mare.
Well. What can you say? That is what it is, isn't it?
I guess I will get a coffee at Anthony's and climb the Monument now. Just five times. Emma didn't get me sick, obviously, or else I couldn't have done the ten climbs yesterday. But my lymph nodes are definitely swollen. I hadn't seen Emma in a while, but she came by the Starbucks yesterday, and we hung out for a bit, then I went with her to the dog park with Benecio. When Emma has something she is into, she likes to tell me all about it, and if it's not something I know much about, I get a pretty thorough crash course education in whatever that subject may be. Yesterday it was Minecraft, which I knew nothing about, and which Emma lectured me on at the dog park. I am pretty rapt with anything she is into because she cares about it, and if she cares about it, I will care about it for at least a while. I am like that with the people I care about, whom I respect, though there are not many of them. She seems to be doing pretty well, even though she has not had her therapy in a few weeks. But she is taking her medication--you can tell when she is not on it--and she has not had an anxiety attack in a good stretch. She also gave me some romantic advice and said I should ask out this woman at the Starbucks whom I like, but I don't know a ton about this person, save that she is super smiley each day when I see her. A huge smile for me, which is large enough that I wonder if I have some funny sign draped about my neck. But she is almost giggly when she sees me. I swear I'm not doing anything strange.
Want to know something interesting about the Monument? If I politely say "excuse me" to a woman, so that I might slip past her, adding a softly-voiced and honest "thank you" as I do just that, I often catch regular attitude. There will be eye-rolling, much sighing, heaving of shoulders, and commonly a nasty or sarcastic remark under the breath. As if I have caused great offense. Guys, I have noticed, never do this in the Monument. They are not in the least perturbed in allowing you to pass. (If they say anything, it's to inquire about the details of the workout regimen; how often do I do this, how many cycles am I making today, etc.) Do some women hate athletic-looking white men this much now? What are these people offended by in this case? Fitness? If we're coming down from the top, and I'm behind you, it can be such that it's going to take me twelve minutes to reach the bottom. It should take me two. Yesterday, having passed a woman coming down, after having passed her going up, I went past her once more ascending as she neared the bottom, and she actually snapped at me, "And now you're going to run up?!" She was pissed off by the running. Which has absolutely nothing to do with her life, for which she did not even have to move a single inch aside. She was pissed in principle. Look. Your life is much better than mine right now. You're allowed to run, too.