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"I Fucking Hate Myself (Early Semester Writing Exercise)", excerpt

Sunday 1/26/20

An excerpt from a newly composed short story.


***

The salient point about me is that I hate myself. I can only say this now because I am doing an exercise. Not a physical exercise. I don’t do those. If I lose a little weight before the holidays —because I am going to gain a lot over the holidays—and someone says, “Nate, you look good,” I tell them we should aspire not to talk in this manner. Body positivity is everything, what you weigh is meaningless when you love yourself. You see my conundrum. Hence, my false front, a phrase I like, but I never, at any other time, use it in conjunction with myself. My father died of a heart attack. His father, his father’s father. We get in line and march to a cliff if we are not taking care and preventive measures, and we all go over like those sheep at the beginning of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. That’s right—I’m an English professor. When people say “Maddening crowd” instead of “Madding,” I jump right the fuck on them. I pounce. Like a large cat. Garfield.


My rules are different when I want to pounce. They are antithetical to how I will let you be if you tell me I look good. When I am thinner I am thus so because I am starving myself and only drinking. When you eat and drink you get fat, but when you just drink you do not. We all have a salient point. It’s a saying I use. I try to coin memorable sayings, but I wouldn’t call them sayings to you in the course of our conversation. I would call them apothegms. You probably don’t know that word but I do. When I say it, you feel dumb and you think I am smart. I have power over you in that moment. You don’t know that I didn’t know the word two years ago. I kept seeing it, so finally I looked it up. I forgot what it meant after the first ten times I looked it up, but eventually I remembered. My wife’s salient point is tolerance. Actual tolerance. She’s a good person. She doesn’t bang her chest about any of the causes I pretend to care about so I can bang my chest. She’ll actually look at you for who you are as person, or who you are trying to be. I think she probably doesn’t love me anymore and we are more friends than husband and wife, though not great friends. I use tolerance as a pose because it gets me followers on my Twitter. When I lose a couple followers I fight to get four more, I make it a goal, I say, “Nate, double the number of what you lost.” If I do that, I forget about having lost the two quicker. If I don’t, I brood.


There are these guys who play basketball across the street from our apartment building at the park. I hate sports. I wouldn’t hate sports if I had been good at them, but I got skulled a lot in dodgeball in school growing up. When we have kids, if my wife and I become more than friends again, I will keep them out of dodgeball. I will protest. I will go on the town’s Facebook page if I have to and also get signatures on a petition to ban dodgeball (also, basketball and floor hockey; with these two I can make it an issue of race). I will canvas. I used that word as a verb a lot. It’s also what I call every painting at a museum when I go, but as a noun. I speak louder to my wife when I say the word canvas at the museum if there are people around us. They’ll look at us—I want them to think, “Damn, he’s a smart guy.” When I am not at museums I will use the word “foreground” as a verb with regularity. “We must not foreground the bipartisan sensibility.” I’d like to be friends with the basketball men if I could and I was able to play. I wish I had skill. I cringe when I hear the phrase, “It’s as easy as a lay-up,” because the truth is that it was easier for me to get my own penis in my mouth when I was in high school than it was for me to do a lay-up. I succeeded with my penis once. Just the tip. I could get my tongue to the hole. It was athletic in a way because I had to work at it for months, stretch, keep practicing. I want to joke to the basketball guys about salient points because I imagine one of them saying, “Salt point? Ha ha. Like the tip of my dick?” and it was true, the tip was salty.


These fucking kids in front of me. The freshman girls wear less clothes each year, it seems. We are all writing now. I want to bang the shit out of these girls, and I know you can’t call them girls. Do you have any idea how often I say that? I will go on my Twitter and find people who use the world girl for people over eighteen, and I will say, “She is a woman, or however she self-identifies, don’t ‘girl’ her.” When I feel more confident, when I am on my game, or self-medicated, I will slip in a “my dude.” If I lost followers earlier, that’s a good way to do that double-the-loss-in-a-positive-direction thing I was talking about. Normally I don’t partake of my own exercise. But the truth is, I hate myself so fucking much at this point, that I am starting to hate my wife for not hating me. “These things don’t matter” is a regular phrase of her as she rubs my back. You should see how I set up the exercise, though.


Early in the semester, I tell everyone to get out their computer. Open a Word doc. I say, this will be exciting, I hope you are primed for new journeys. Yes, sure, it looks like a glazier has been working on their eyes, the pupils are under glass. I am scanning the room, ranking the girls I would want to fuck in the order I would want to fuck them, figuring out how I would explain my erectile dysfunction to an eighteen-year-old I am only twelve years older than. “Only.” Then I find myself computing how long it would take me to train to get my penis in my mouth again, if it is remotely possible at this stage, but that would be a really strange thing to train for at thirty. It was less strange to train for it at sixteen. Life is funny that way. There’s probably an apothegm in there. I would call it a bon mot, a phrase I have now used for five years to show how smart I am. I mispronounced it for the first three years, but the truth is I only hang around people who are frauds like I am, and they didn’t know either.


You know when we have our most intimate moments, my colleagues and me? One of them will invite me into their office to show me a literary journal they have a story in. The journal will be one that no one has ever heard of, that nobody reads, and they will be in that journal because we have a journal at our school that nobody has ever heard of, that nobody reads, and the person I am alone in the office with will have traded their story to an editor for the inclusion of one of the editor’s in our journal. You cannot say this to the colleague. They don’t say it to me when I take one of them into my office, day-of-the-week-dependent, as I share it with three other professors, and show them. I’ll tell you what you do if you want to score points and the person who has invited you in is a woman. You say “brava.” Get it? Instead of “bravo.” It’s more feminine. They love that fucking shit. That’s all you have to do, a lot of simple moves like that, and you will be pretend-loved for being everything you are not.

When there is an athletic-looking white male in the class who writes really well—which happens every few years—I can straight up fucking tell you I will make his grades shit and I will hate that guy. He will be confused at first why this is happening, but like I said, he’s smart, so he’s going to know, but I cover my tracks well enough that he can’t really do anything, except know the truth. Which, for me, is the worst possible fucking thing he can do, really. I drink more during those semesters when that kid is in my class, that kind of kid.


I might say to him, the second time he comes to me asking (and he’ll be polite; they are always polite) about his grade, how it doesn’t seem in line with his work, the effort he’s putting into his prose—that no one will love our own writing more than we do ourselves. Holy shit is this fucking stupid of me. But I have to say it, because it is my best apothegm, either that or the salient point one. I can think of so many artists who did their work, knew how good it was, didn’t get a huge charge out of how good it was because it wasn’t hard for them to do it, whereas so much as writing a sentence normally for a short story is an epic undertaking for me, I schedule a second visit to the therapist that week sometimes because of it, and those other artists aren’t creating for themselves, but for people, the world. And a lot of those people of the world will care more about the work than the artist herself did. (She how I used “herself” there? I always do that for points with people, my kind of people, who are the only people I can be around, like the brava thing.) The kid will get this look of total clarity on his face before he stands up and walks out of my office. He knows. He knows I know he knows. I fucking hate myself more, which means I hate him more now, too.