Earthquake

Sun fell onto a small corner of the futon and he looked at this light and then with a push of the curtain cut it back.

The futon had blue and white and yellow stripes down its length. It was covered with bits of sand and dirt carried in from the porch outside by his feet. It was covered in little pieces of itself which had eroded in the turnings of his sleep and coagulated into sand-grain-sized balls that itched a little as his legs moved over it. It was covered in more intimate things – a book which he was planning to reread, a pillow which he’d brought before on a picnic, a thin blanket that he’d brought out for the warm weather, flecks of his fingernails too small to be seen and gathered and thrown away, bits of his skin and hair, stains of his sweat and semen. The futon had been left to him by someone else.

He didn’t look around the room, not at the bookshelves or the drawers of teaching supplies or the sink filled with dirty dishes or the table covered with the remnants of an almost-finished meal from several hours ago. The meal was now growing hard and stale as it sat in on the low table in front of him, under which his two legs were splayed. All of those things, and behind him the wall and its pictures of classes he had taught, students he had known, degrees and awards he’d received, and pieces of art he’d enjoyed and felt connected to in some way, were not looked at. He looked at his computer sitting on his plump, pale thighs.

Bitch, he thought. Bitch, I was there for three hours longer than I had to be, he thought. For you, he thought, because you wanted me to, he thought. And this is what I get?

He stared at the computer screen, at the inviting blankness of his browser. He scratched the rubber band on his wrist, toyed with it a little, looked at the address bar. The band was tight. In America they’d been looser.

The wall tapped him gently on the back as if to remind him that it could move much more vigorously when it wanted to. He ignored it. He stared at the address bar. Possibilities. He didn’t make a move towards the bar, towards any of the websites he knew well. He just stared. No thoughts entered his head, none that he could point to. No thoughts of thick thighs or semen or round asses, no thoughts of red hair and morning light and calm touching. The wall tapped him again and then set up a rhythm, accompanied by the light bouncing of the floor and the heels of his feet, which rolled upward and downward in intensity and stopped.

Bitch.

I don’t know what to do, he thought. This is what I do for you and this is what I get. What should I do? You tax me, he thought. You tax me for the choices I’ve made but have never said you’d’ve made them any different.

The computer beeped at him that it was low on battery and he leaned over for the end of the black cord and grabbed with two fingers from where it sat on the futon, plugged it in in a movement that brushed the head of his penis against the underside of the computer. “Jee-sheen dess. Jee-sheen dess,” his phone beeped and scolded him, and he took it from the table and put it beside him on the futon, then brushed off some dark brown crumbs. The tapping grew a little and then quite a bit, now in his buttocks and pubic floor more than anywhere else, reached a peak, quieted. Maybe a five. She was probably scared, he thought. She doesn’t like this, doesn’t know what to do about them. I should go over there. No, damn it, I was other there three hours longer than I had to be, and what did I get?

It had been worse in Nepal, he thought. It had lasted seventy-five seconds. Damn. He’d thought at the time maybe sixty, but seventy-five. You lose track after a while, you know, can’t think of anything. The first one here was maybe thirty? The second one more? He shook his head. He didn’t know. You lose track after a while, can’t think of anything. He reached down and pulled his testicles unstuck from his thigh, looked at the address bar, the clean white browser page behind the screen with little flecks of lint on it.

But in Nepal there hadn’t been any rubber bands, he thought. No need. But there weren’t any if he had needed them. The ones he’d had in college, he wanted those now. Blue ones so big you had to double them around your wrist, but they looked official or something so no one asked about them. And they snapped nice. He thought about making a move, going for thighs. But he didn’t. He wondered if that was worth a snap or not. He hadn’t thought about thighs, he had thought about going for thighs.

It had been different, anyway, when he’d had the blue ones. He’d been writing papers, not doing this stupid work shit. The shelf in the left corner of the room squeaked a little as it rocked for a moment. He’d had friends. That’s what this was about, it wasn’t even about her, he thought. If it was about her it’d be simple. It’s about me. I don’t have friends. I have two friends and they don’t talk to each other, and she taxes me for having more than just one, more than just her.

He folded his legs into half lotus, testicles now resting on the heel of his left foot. It felt good. Was that worth a snap? Careful, he thought. But the rubber band was too tight, it hurt. Could he get new ones? He thought about when it started. Was it really with the first girlfriend? It started before her, he thought, but when did it get real? When did the pace pick up? Not when they had problems, not like now. Maybe when they went away, maybe when they went away to different colleges and didn’t have anything, didn’t have each other, and he didn’t have friends. Maybe he just needed friends.

But it wasn’t like he had no friends – he thought as a slow savory tapping picked up (the fracturing had been growing more frequent since the night before) – he had them and they didn’t get along. And she’d promised, she’d said she understood, she said she wouldn’t obstruct.

The sun had retreated now six inches from the futon. He looked at the line it made over floor’s scratches and crumbs and pieces of dirt. He saw the shape of a woman on her side, black thong on tanned skin, fullness of thigh-on-thigh next to ass’s cheek-on-cheek, the cross of lines between the four shapes. He blinked. He saw the line of the sun crossing the grain of the floor’s wood. He saw no meaning to it. He looked back at the screen, the ordered and open elements of the page, able to go anywhere.

She said she’d understood. He thought of a snap for the woman, but it seemed too late now to matter. Something in him felt like a paper cup with the bottom cut out of it. And it was afternoon. It was Saturday already and Saturday was soon over, and soon Sunday would be over too, and work would begin again, and the whole wheel would turn around with only lines in his face to show for it like some great Ouroboros contracting itself around the horizon. The weekend would be over. Anger. And time was rushing by. Terror. He licked his lips, rocked back and forth a little, was patient and let his palate clear before again: The weekend would be over. Anger. And time was rushing by. Terror.

He rolled the rubber band up from its sore resting-place.

Okay, so talk to her. Get out of this. But why should I reach out when it was her? She started the whole thing, anyway, her damn pride couldn’t sustain that friendship. So now she was taxing him. He thought about the barrel of a gun in his mouth, lips puckered. How would he angle it so no one else was hit? Or maybe sitting in the bathtub, water all red. When would they find him? Probably on Monday if he didn’t go in or call. There seemed to be a lot of ritual to the bathtub, and something about using his car seemed easier. But he didn’t know any high places, any cliffs from which to do it. He thought of her sadness, the patient understanding as he faded from a shock into a distant episode in her personal history, something to recall. The rattling picked up again. He’d like to be something to recall. He thought of the people he knew in this country all thinking that they had known someone who had done it, who had really done something like that, and all talking together quietly and slowly in words unimportant but gestures intimate and caring, united by the witnessing of something truly significant in the life of another person. Talking together and being at peace and perhaps understanding their own lives or this great system of life a little better.

He bounced on the futon and he could swear that they were getting more frequent and stronger as if they were approaching something ultimate. Stop kidding yourself, though, come now. She’d cry, and you can see what her face would look like. Maybe you should go over there, he thought, she doesn’t like this. She doesn’t know what to do about earthquakes.

He exhaled and deflated like a sat-upon balloon. He had already done it. Did it yesterday and today was the first day without it, again, the millionth first day, he thought, looking at that white page. It wouldn’t matter. He looked over at the shelf beside him, containing his favorite books stacked on top of cherry blossoms pressing and drying for an ex-girlfriend back home. They were the last ones he could find – outside on the trees there was nothing but the new growth of spring losing its green as the last rays of sun were sucked down into themselves and away.

When he talked with friends from college they congratulated him on living in another country, going on such an adventure.

Spring, he thought. Its own kind of death. He turned back to the computer screen. The rumbling picked up again, slowly at first but steadily accelerating, and his phone warned him: “Jee-sheen dess. Jee-sheen dess.”

 

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Jungle

I’ve slowly been learning about rap and learning to like it over the last two years. I find myself hooked on one track at a time: “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, “No Tears” by Scarface, “Hypnotize” by the Notorious B.I.G., and recently “Jungle” by Andre Nickatina and Equipto.

Nickatina layers grime until he sounds smooth:

I force my rhymes in your veins like a hot shot of heroin
You’ll go cold turkey tryin’ ta work me

His boasts drip sweet street cred:

I’m in the fast lane, the cash lane, some think it’s a bad thing
Hitting ’em off with the see & H pure cane

And his references are regal and religious:

I got the soul and the spirit of the wrath of Kahn
Kick back and write just like the holy Koran

Nickatina’s “Jungle” doesn’t tell a track-long story like Eminem, doesn’t have the fierce honesty of Scarface, and doesn’t have Biggie’s flow. The two primary motifs, that of “jungle” and “thunder,” aren’t even complementary. But there’s something in it that has makes me repeat the lines to myself dozens of times.

 

 

Bridging, an explanation

I’ve been using a technique called “bridging” to associate tasks with positive emotion, which makes them easier to perform. The majority of tasks that can improve my life aren’t inherently exciting, so this is a way that I work at making them more exciting.

In “bridging,” I imagine some goal and think about how the task in question takes me toward it. I might not be intrinsically motivated to write for a client, but it can provide me with the money, skills, and character development that will propel me toward my personal goals.

Visualizing this in terms of a landscape seems to help: the goal is a distant hilltop, my potential futures are the landscape around it, and the footpath to it is the path I’ll take. The more personally meaningful the goal, and the more detailed the imagining of the incremental steps towards that goal, the more positive emotion I can derive from this technique.

E.L. Doctorow said something similar about his writing style:

“It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

 

 

 

 

Twenty

Written on 2017/9/1.

When I was a child you told me right here that all I needed to do was try my best.

How long have you been waiting tables, sleeping on the couch until noon, writing and drinking on the weekends?

Look, it’s not easy after what I’ve been through, I’m getting better and I’m getting out of this.

If your mother saw this she’d say the same thing, get out and go do something real.

You don’t know what we talked about – I’m making my choices and she always wanted that.

She wanted you to be successful, not with no friends and throwing up every Saturday.

We’ve had this conversation and you won’t talk about my friends, not after everything.

Then maybe let’s not talk and you can just never start turning around.

You think this is all about you, when I’m facing right where –

Of course it’s about me, it’s about me and your mom.

Really, you’ll use a dead woman to tell me how –

Have some respect, don’t talk about her that way.

Then keep this between the two of us.

The anniversary and memorial was last Saturday. They had her pictures all around.

Yeah, you already told me.

Did you see her?

I wanted to.

Did you?

No.

That sense of embarrassment from seeing a picture of your adolescent self with bowl cut

In 7th or 8th grade I composed this poem in a dream and recorded it when I woke up. 

 

I think it strange

that I would ride

a car of dreams

or train of thought;

still I think it funny not.

 

It’s amazing how things can fade,

like the tinge on an apple

or a beautiful glade

 

So here I am,

with a banana as a bandana

and a sheep as a jeep,

blowing Nazis to hell and smithereens.

 

I wouldn’t like it to end this way,

but they are out to get me, say,

it would be me or them in the end.

 

Like the camel and his “humph”

people say, oh, it’s fair that way

but they aren’t in his body, are they?

Kind of like the Maine Lobster Festival

The bulk of this was written on May 17th 2018, the day of the hike.

 

As my father and I heaved toward the crest of the most active volcano of the Galapagos Islands, walking in the footprints of thousands of visitors, cars, and fire ant trails, our guide Pablo pointed into the red-barked forest.

“These,” he said, “are Guava trees.” The squat invaders are virile in proportion to the help they receive from the natives: symbiotic Brown Moss captures water sustains them in summer, Carpenter Bees pollinate their flowers, and Finches transport their fruits’ hundreds of seeds. This natural encouragement would have heartened those who, trying to tame a world much less habitable than ours, introduced the fruit here in the 1840s – Ireland’s Great Famine in the same decade killed a million people and forced another million to leave the country.

To be fair, the colonizers have pluck. The five-meter Guavas stand three times as tall as the Galapagos’ native ferns and grasses. They monopolize the sunlight and demote everything else to undergrowth. International cargo ships and the grooves of visitors’ boots were bound to errantly seed the Islands eventually, but visitors may not know that the Guavas dominate every ecosystem they’ve met, and are now, according to Pablo, “impossible to eradicate.” The Holocene, the period of natural history defined by human activity, will be geologically evidenced by the world’s blanket of plastic and nuclear radiation. It will be ecologically evidenced by sudden inhabitants who thrive but don’t fit.

So how to coexist with the scrappy trees? Park rangers have found one use for the wood: a few morose signs that say that the number of tourists in the Galapagos is twice what would be sustainable. This message unites our group in disquiet. Nobody wants to live in a fouled nest. But how do reverse so much inertia?

Back on the balcony of my hostel, surrounded by the smells of fresh asphalt and hot rubber, I tried my first Guava fruit. Reception: mixed. Some good flavor, too much pulp, too many seeds. Well, I thought, forward. Onto the next thing.