Issue 014: I'm a Sorry Mess
to See Your Face
2 May 2012
“I wanna hold you close
But I push you away
I wanna feel your skin upon my skin
But I’m not feeling great about letting you in”
“I deserve every stone that’s thrown out at me
And I think of your smile
I’m in love with your teeth”
• • •
Recently it occurred to me that I’m not afraid to die. I realized it one day at work. I thought, you know, if the mansion I was in were to blow up at that very moment, or if I were to have a premature heart attack, or if someone were to run into the room and shoot me in the chest, or whatever, it wouldn’t really bother me.
I once took a philosophy course. I don’t remember what I learned. But the one thing I do recall the professor talking about pertained to death, and this was it: “It doesn’t matter how you feel about death, because you won’t be around to feel bad about it, anyway.” I guess that’s true.
So before you think, “Oh, well, of course it wouldn’t bother you if you died, because you’d be dead“—just relax. I realize that.
What I’m saying is that, even if I had knowledge of my impending death, it wouldn’t rattle me the way it might have in the past. Besides finishing a novel about a post-apocalyptic America ruled by a theocratic monarch who also happens to be manic-depressive eighty-year-old man, I’ve generally done everything I could ever want to do.
I could move to different cities. I could travel. I could eat rare delicacies. I could get better jobs. I could love and be loved. I could even walk on the surface of the moon. But I don’t know that I would be any happier. I’m just not a very happy person. What’s the world got to offer me?
The fact that I am sad all of the time doesn’t mean that I want to die, or even that I’m looking forward to death. Rather, it has come as a passive acceptance. If the Grim Reaper were breathing down my neck, I’d probably turn around and shake his skeleton hand. “Come on,” I’d say. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Man, you took the words right out of my mouth,” he would say. And then we’d go wherever I’m supposed to end up.
• • •
I have written extensively about the pains of adulthood. It’s a terrible place to be. The only way to get out is to wait for old age, when you are effectively a child again. I don’t know if that’s ideal.
See: I miss my mommy and daddy. I don’t think I’ll ever get over wanting to feel safe and cared for and loved in a sense that is unconditional and eternal. I want someone to look over to me and to guide me. I want somewhere to say, “There, there” and “Shh, it’s okay.” I need help.
Instead I wake up and don’t shower and bike to work and sit at a computer and edit manuscripts and listen to music for seven and a half hours, and then I go home. When I go home, I sit at my computer and write things to keep myself sane, or I play guitar to keep myself sane, or I take a bath to keep myself sane, or a I ride my bicycle around the neighborhood to keep myself sane, and so on.
We’re all so afraid of dying, but my God, when it comes to living, what’s all the fuss about?
Hey, listen: Every now and then something will happen and it will make me regret saying things like the previous sentence. I’ll stand at the foot of the Pacific Ocean or catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji or meet a really fantastic person or feel a warm nighttime breeze or remember how much I love my kitties, or whatever, and I’ll put my hands on my hips and say, “Yup. It was worth it. This is OK. I like this.”
But these fleeting moments are fleeting fast. It’s a rare thing that I feel this way. Mostly I just want to curl up in bed and take a really long nap. And when I wake up, I never have any real idea of what comes next. Half the time I’m bored out of my mind. The other half is spent working or sleeping. I guess that’s why I wouldn’t mind being dead, if dying is a nap that lasts a long time.
Mostly I just wish I had some friends. Maybe then I would still be afraid of death.
• • •
Today, on my bike ride home from work, I stopped at a red light on Rio Grande Street. I was next to a restaurant called Cain and Abel’s, which is a pretty stupid name for anything. Normally there’s no one sitting on the outdoor patio—except on Fridays. It’s packed on Fridays, usually with jerkoff college freshman who may as well be cockroaches.
As I waited for the light to turn green, I could see out of the corner of my sunglasses that a young man was staring at me with a stupid look on his face. He was smiling in a way that made me uncomfortable, because he was chuckling under his breath. It wasn’t a nice smile. It was a judgmental one. He couldn’t tell that I was looking at him, as I was seemingly staring straight ahead. He patted his friend on the arm. “Look at that guy,” he said. His friend turned to me and, having surveyed my appearance, began to make the same contorted, twisted, devilish grin. They chortled in unison. The other friend motioned to two girls also seated at the table, and soon everyone was laughing at me, and they weren’t being quiet about it.
I had no idea why. I was just sitting on my bicycle, waiting for the light to change. But something about me was different and weird and funny, apparently—and thus I was worthy of being mocked and ridiculed to my face.
The light turned green and I sped off in the direction of home.
I came inside and sat down at the foot of my bed. I’d worked all day and was feeling hollow. I had been laughed at by total strangers for reasons that are still unclear to me. It didn’t bother me one bit. One day I would be dead, and so would they. The only difference was that I wasn’t afraid of that day at all.
• • •
Welcome to Issue 0014 of the Starsailor Newsletter. This week’s episode isn’t really about anything. I just feel like talking about some stuff. I shall do my very best to ensure that, from here on out, the remainder of this issue is devoid of anything more depressing than what I have already said. I will likely fail. This might turn into the darkest Starsailor in recent memory.
To clarify, I am not particularly sad tonight. In fact I feel all right, which is something of a triumph for me. I’m just . . . not going to cling to life like an addict anymore. I don’t need the juices of existence; I do not crave them. One might argue that, as a result of this revelation, I am even freer and stronger than I had been previously.
See, I once took this poetry course, and on the first day of class we had to tell everyone what we wanted to be one day. I said, “I want to be a puppeteer.” The class laughed. I stared unflinchingly ahead and didn’t so much as blink.
“And what kind of puppets do you want to work with?” said the teacher with a wry smile on her face.
“All kinds of puppets,” I said. “I can’t get enough of puppets. I love them all.”
Later, after class, a group of people sitting nearby asked me what I really wanted to be. I said I didn’t want to be anything at all. I told them I wasn’t trying to be cute or weird, but that I was dead serious: I didn’t want to be anything.
“There is nothing this planet has to offer me,” I said.
“Not even money?” said the girl next to me.
“Especially not money.”
“You’re a dangerous man, then,” said the guy on the other side. “Not wanting anything. That means you can’t be bought.”
I snapped my fingers and pointed at him. “You’re absolutely right.”
And not to sound like a monologue from Fight Club, but there you go: the less you want and need, the less you fear, the freer you are to be whatever you want.
Sartre kind of said the same thing about existentialism. People are always saying it’s such a gloomy mindset, to think existentially, and people are often wrong. Really, says Sartre, it’s the man who rejects the notion that essence precedes existence that is truly free. Once life is seen as it is, as a bunch of dumb coincidences—as a mass of unfair bullshit, as a series of irrelevant and disconnected events overseen by a cold and indifferent universe—bang! You’re the freest human on the planet.
Camus said something similar: Life is absurd. Get over it. You’ll be a better person for it. (I guess I did learn something with this minor in Philosophy.)
I don’t want money and I won’t fight wars. I am immune to advertising. I don’t want go own stuff. I am inches away from figuring out how to put my brain in a vat and shed this stupid corporeal husk.
Not afraid to die.
Hell, I may not be dangerous, but I’ve certainly got my eyes wide open. These eyes sometimes do cry, though.
• • •
The first line of this newsletter, which, if you’ll recall, was this: “Recently it occurred to me that I’m not afraid to die”—was written almost two weeks ago. I was roaring drunk when I wrote that. I was ready to admit to the world that the ravages of time were of no concern to me.
I had gotten drunk after work. It must have been a Friday. Ever since Dante and Virgil’s fourth birthday, I have stopped drinking on weekdays. It’s just too sad. Too weird.
Yes, and though the revelation had come to me at work, I wasn’t prepared to tell the world until I’d had a few beers in me. So I pounded out that sentence. I chose and a title and changed “Issue 013″ to “Issue 014″. I pulled a verse from a song I was listening to—in this case, “Twenty Miles” by Deer Tick—and slapped it at the top under the date.
“There,” I said, “it’s ready to go.”
I minimized the window and walked over to the other side of the room. I picked up my Jag-Stang and sat down on my bed. I put a capo on the fifth fret and strummed the chords to “Twenty Miles”. I was ready for oblivion.
• • •
As a white American adult man, I am programmed to bathe in complete silence with the lights out. I joylessly shave my face once every four to five days. I comb my hair limply and mechanically. I clothe myself with whatever is clean and happens to be at the top of the clothes pile. I bike to work. I work. I each lunch. I work some more. I go home and stare blankly at cyclists and people walking their dogs and old ladies on afternoon strolls, all of whom are just outside my bedroom window. I eat dinner. I read a book. I listen to music.
At twenty-four I am programmed to clean my dirty dishes and put gasoline in my car. I pay my bills. I mow my lawn. I check the mail.
If I wanted to, I could have my clean laundry smell like mountain flowers or citrus fruits or nothing at all.
If I don’t eat, no one cares. If I don’t bathe or shave or change my clothes, no one says anything.
• • •
Where is the life I once imagined? Where is the spirit of adventure? Will I ever be settled and complete and happy? Will I ever love?
Why can’t I just get what I want?
• • •
If it were up to me, I would live on a small, earth-like planet with all my friends and literary heroes and a handful of relatives.
Sylvia Plath would be my best friend, and Virginia Woolf would be my mentor.
And my mother and father would be there, and they wouldn’t hate each other. And my brother and sisters would be there also. And Omie. And Uncle Ned and Aunt Margaret. And Ned and Jack. And everyone would love one another.
Yes, and Madeleine and Dante and Virgil would be there. And they would be so happy to see me. We would all roll around in the grass together. And D and V would mew and purr and meow and chirrup, saying, “We love you!” and “We’re so glad you’re back!” and “Let’s do this forever!”
There would be rolling hills and lush forests. There would be gentle snowfalls and light rains to be enjoyed from porches and bedroom windows. There would be long summer days and warm nights filled with lofty breezes, and lit up by fireflies and lanterns. There would be gravel roads and dirt roads leading to cottages and beaches and valleys and canyons and even jungles.
No one would eat animals, and no animals would eat each other.
There would be nothing to be afraid of, and nothing would hurt.
I would be twenty-four years old forever.
• • •
Can I tell you a secret? Rock shows aren’t doing it for me recently. And I love rock shows. They used to make things easier. Now I go, and I sing along, and nod my head, and I cheer and clap and study the fingers of the guitarists to learn the shapes of all the chords I want to play when I get home. Yes, and I enjoy the camaraderie, and the chants and singing in unison—and the solos and the drum beats and the bass lines from songs I love so dearly. But their effectiveness has waned as of late, and I’m just not really sure what to do about that.
For instance, last night I was at a Deer Tick show in San Antonio, and I sat on a couch near the stage for the opening band, Turbo Fruits. I just felt weird and numb. The music didn’t surge through me and make me want to be alive. It just vaguely kept me from wanting to feel dead.
When Deer Tick went on, I livened up a bit and felt all right, but not in the way I did during SXSW, and not in the way I did on New Year’s Eve.
Something inside of me is changing. Nothing is working anymore. I guess I’m just destined to feel like a pile of protoplasm for the rest my life, because every time I think I’ve got it, I lose it so quickly.
• • •
I’ve told a few people recently that I don’t think my medication is doing the trick anymore. It’s not that I’m back to sleeping fourteen hours a day and barely eating or anything horrible and devastating like that. I’m way better than I was back in the summer, when my entire life fell apart.
No, it’s not that.
Something is missing—something so simple and dear to me. It is, I think, this: a feeling of serenity and comfort. I cannot be comforted. I am standing alone under a streetlight with my hands in my pockets, watching particles of dust gently rain down on the concrete below. I am hollow.
• • •
A recurring theme of these things, I think—these newsletters, or whatever they are—is feeling sad and hopeless. I’ve talked about it so much that I almost feel like a caricature. Sometimes I feel like an exaggerated version of myself—a simple parody. I feel two-dimensional.
Gentle reader, listen: I am genuinely sad beyond hope. I sometimes make the joke that I was born sad, and will die sad. I’m starting to believe that maybe that’s true, and in turn I feel even worse. Hah!
Earlier this evening, Jason and I put a new Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB humbucker into my Fender Jag-Stang. I went into my room and hooked it up to my amplifier to test it out. I strummed a few chords and felt a rush of relief, which then quickly dissipated. Where did it go? Am I losing that feeling, too?
So just a few minutes ago I performed my nightly routine, which is to sit cross-legged on my Persian rug in front of my amplifier, strumming chords that are pleasing if slightly sad. I hum or sing gently. I’m trying to feel something. It didn’t work.
• • •
Isn’t that the most depressing visual image? A young man, unable to receive happiness, sitting in front of an amplifier at two in the morning with a guitar on his lap, aching to feel anything at all that doesn’t involve sadness? God, what a joke I am!
See, and I have tried so hard to make the best of it here on planet Earth. I’ve tried all the things normal people do in an attempt to fit in.
I wake up a reasonable hour, for instance. I have a steady job and a steady income. I sip tea at my desk. I exercise. I eat food.
All of it may as well be ash in my mouth.
• • •
I once read a news report about filmmaker/blogger/game designer Theresa Duncan’s suicide. This was back in 2007. She’d taken a combination of pills with alcohol and went to sleep forever. She was forty.
Jeremy Blake, the video artist and Duncan’s partner of over twelve years, found her body in their apartment. We can only imagine what that must have been like.
A week later, a woman called 911, saying she’d seen a man go far out into the ocean. When police searched the beach, they found some clothes and a wallet and a suicide note. They belonged to Jeremy Blake. He was thirty-five.
Blake, I’m sure, went to his death knowing there was no possible way he could continue to live without his best friend of so many years. Their lives were likely entwined to the point where his suicide was no longer just an option: he had to do it.
It’s sad, to be sure. It’s sadder than hell. I was so moved when I read that. He loved another human being so much and so deeply that walking out into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean was the only place he could possibly go to make his grief go away.
• • •
Don’t be alarmed. I’m not at all saying I’m ready to follow Blake and Duncan into eternity. But I very much understand the feeling of total hopelessness in the face of loss.
I’ve lost so many friends—some of whom are gone forever and ever. Some are still alive. I’m not sure which hurts more.
I’m here to stay, but God damn is this thing—this life—hard to grasp.
• • •
It’s times like these that I remember, nearly word for word, the last thing Virginia Woolf ever wrote. It was for her husband, Leonard Woolf. It makes me sadder than anything else I know:
“I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.”
• • •
“I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”
• • •
I just want a small, terraformed, Earth-like moon to live on. I just want to play my guitar and go to rock shows and eat apples and wear sweaters and fly to new cities and hold my cats and see my friends and love, love, love. And I want it to work, and make me want to be here.
But I can’t. I just can’t do it. Nothing works.
As much as it pains me to say it, because it’s so terribly uncreative and likely untrue, I will say this: I may be defective. Roll your eyes, for all I care. I’m certainly rolling mine.
Why can’t a human just be happy when it wants to be?
• • •
I am awaiting a very important phone call. I am waiting to be validated. Please, make all of this worth it.
When that phone rings, I’ll be there to answer it. And then maybe I’ll have some answers.
Until then I will sleep dreamlessly and live numbly. I will watch as the effectiveness of my medication wears away. I will go to work and make money.
I will daydream about two cats and a girl who used to love me.
The Gloom King weeps, all right.