Oppositional Positions.

8/28/17.

I have always hated sleeping on my back. The story I’ve always told myself is that this is due to the fact that I would have nightmares as a kid when sleeping supine, though I can recall not even the vaguest example of single occurence. In any case, when I do my second meditation session before sleeping — this one guided — I do indeed lay on my back in bed. Before the session is through, however, I often turn it off on my old iPhone and take out the earbuds because I always have the overwhelming, even painful urge to roll over.

Last night I felt that intense impulse and, for the first time, refused to move. I did it for the same reason I’ve been trying to resist scratching itches or squirming around to get more comfortable in the midst of meditating: I need to learn to examine these emotions and sensations rather than impulsively react to them.

So I tried to examine the body sensation from a witness perspective. I was to some degree still within the emotion or sensation, still somewhat identified with it, but mostly on the outside, looking in, examining it like some scientist at the zoo observing an animal behind the safety glass. The violent energy and sense of urgency was remarkable. It was equally remarkable to be in that position outside of it, examining it, experiencing with clarity that I was by no means synonymous with it.

9/11/17

Last night I got home from work and decided to eat and watch the new episode of Rick and Morty before meditating. When I eventually sat down and started the timer, my stomach refused to just shut the fuck up. It often does this when I’m tense, which I suppose I was, as after ten minutes of trying unsuccessfully to ignore its relentless gurgling and focus on my breath I screamed aloud for it to shut up and wailed my fist into my tummy several times in rapid succession. This state of going apeshit is, to make a mole hill out of a mountain, totally at odds with my “witnessing” accomplishments lately.

I stopped the meditation session short for the first time since I picked up the daily routine again. I drank, smoked pot, and later, when the intoxication had largely worn off, I sat again before bed, much more successful this time.

Its frustrating. I get tired of losing my shit, almost as much as I’ve grown tired of freaking out and feeling down. For those that seem to equate consciousness with the body-brain, I must wonder how it is I came to be in such a profoundly oppositional position to my body, mind, emotions, instincts — everything save for the inner eye that I feel is the most essential part of me. Even in my own mind and body I don’t seem to belong, and that’s perhaps the most frustrating fact of all.

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The Fine Art of Pissing It All Away.

When people approach me desiring not to spill to me like some atheistic priest but to engage me in conversation, I all too often find myself frantically, desperately grasping for words, trying to ignore the sting of awkward silence as I initially choke, as I fail to say anything at all — though ultimately fill the silence with something stupid and void of true substance.

It happened late Saturday afternoon as I stopped at the dollar store nearby my parents house in the hopes of procuring a graduation card for my sister’s boyfriend. I was going over the cards in the isle when I thought I heard someone say my name, then convinced myself it must have been my imagination until I heard it again. It was a guy I had gone to high school with, and my social awkwardness initially seemed to lead him to believe I didn’t recognize him.

This happened again during the outdoor party at my parents house, where a guy my father had gone to school with and for a time worked with attempted to have conversation with me. He suggested I try and write, draw and self-publish a children’s book for my niece and nephew. Not only does it stand as a good idea, but this was by no means the first time it had been offered to me. Even so, I felt as though I was constantly standing him up — at best, arriving late — when it came to the give and take characteristic of friendly conversation. I wanted to engage but my mind kept leaving me hanging, anxiety rushing in to fill the vacuum. I found myself seeking an exit despite actually wanting to engage, too.

This is perhaps why his suggestion is so dead on: we now live in a world where if I played my cards right I could not only avoid social situations altogether and work from home but even someone as anxious as me could manage to make money off of his passions rather than the kind of shit job I have now — or the factory jobs him and my father no doubt hated but felt they had to acquire in order to support their families. Yet I’m not taking advantage of the freedom inherent in my personal circumstances — namely, my childless bachelorhood — or the technology that provides greater opportunity for me today than there would have been for him and my father, even if they had been neurotic, childless bachelors themselves.

I’ve been pissing it all away.

Or not entirely, perhaps. I did finish my book, after all, though I have yet to try and self-publish it, or even really figure out how to do so. Is it truly the anxiety, or am I just lazy?

Come Along (Invitation to a Sex Party).

9/6/17

I came to work roughly thirty minutes early with two projects. One, expressive: work on my article, or whatever you wish to call it, regarding repetition compulsion, tying it in with my newfound perspective on the nature of the ego as well as the Eastern concepts of samsara and karma. The other, digestive: reread Terry Hansen’s 2000 book, The Missing Times: News Media Complicity in the UFO Cover-Up, and take notes for a future article or perhaps some powerpoint-like presentation I might eventually try and put together and post to YouTube. Though I cannot remember which I was doing, I believe I was working on my article, thumbing away on the Notes app on my old iPhone with the cracked back-side.

That was when I heard a honk. I turned my head to the right, passed the seat where my bag lay and through the grimy glass of the passenger-side window, leaning in and squinting in my attempts to ascertain just who it was I was looking at. Not a moment passed before I realized it was Rezi.

I first met her perhaps a decade ago, though she spied me before I so much as knew of her existence. Zeke and Abbey, my friends at the time, had tried to set her up with me, but she wanted to see me without me seeing her before she decided whether she wanted to make an approach, so they drove her up to the fast food joint where I worked at the time — and, I must confess, now. Spying me cleaning lobby through the windows, she didn’t even exit the car. I wasn’t her type.

No, she wasn’t about to fuck this bone-thin, deer-in-the-headlights white boy.

In any case, I eventually met her officially, in person, without knowing about the whole thing until long after. We got to know each other a bit and though there was certainly no spark between us, we became okay friends — and significantly better ones since we both drifted from the circle Abbey and Zeke were a part of. We see each other only occasionally, typically limited to brief conversations when she came through the drive-thru, though occasionally we’ve had more enduring conversations as we had today.

Upon seeing her, I excitedly got out of my car and approached her driver side and we got to talking as I began my first smoke before I had to clock in at four. We exchanged stereotypical surface pleasantries for only a short time before I took a delve into the real and asked her whether she had gone to any of her sex parties as of late. Last time I had seen her, it had been through the drive-thru window during my Wednesday nights to Friday mornings third shift, when she had just been coming back from one.

Just recently, she told me, and there had been a bit of an incident. Though she said she usually doesn’t get down and dirty outside, she wanted to watch one of the girls she knew get jackhammered by some other guy outside, so she went on the porch or whatever with a guy of her own. After they had done the deed, he evidently wanted a bit more, which she was certainly fine with — but he got a bit too into it as he was pounding her on a metal chair. It broke, collapsed, and she ended up hurting her leg and busting her lip. The three of them rushed to her care and suggested she go to the hospital, but she didn’t want to end up at “one of those stories” — like the ones my mother had told me about her time as secretary at a hospital, or the kind of fucked up shit you read about when you discover the Darwin Awards. So she just dealt with it, she told me, though she confessed to still hurting. Indeed, evidence remained. Taking her index finger, she peeled her bottom lip away, revealing a scar.

“It sucks,” she said, laughing. “My lips are big enough as it is.”

I just shook my head.

As we discussed her and these parties, she finally came to say something that I felt had long been dancing at the tip of her mind, if not her tongue: “You should come along with me sometime.”

When my sexual fantasies have not only that lucid, focal content but also provides a context, it typically involves going to a strip joint and getting a private dance from an exceptionally intriguing and agonizing attractive and suitably kinky-clad girl — typically a redhead or a girl with hair dyed pink, purple, or some other wild color, but sometimes brown or black hair, very rarely blonde, and only in the case of that hot woman who was Satan’s mistress in the miniseries rendition of Stephen King’s The Stand, gray. But, for the lack of god was she hot. On other occasions, frequently enough while intoxicated on this and/or that, I had imagined going to a fetish party. A sex party. What I imagined, naively and without the most nanometric shred of evidence, to take place were the way things unfolded during such a party. In either case, this rarely failed to turn me the fuck on.

Still, I had little context. I knew what little she had told me, what I had read in some article Chuck Palahniuk had incorporated into one of his books, and some of the porn I had incorporated into my evening ritual of release. She offered, and the more I chewed on the idea in my mind, the more I thought to myself: could it hurt, going with her to one of her sex parties? I mean, so long as I avoided metal chairs?

Though I can’t be certain exactly what it was I said, the general gist of it was that I was seriously considering taking her up on her offer. I intended to convey that, in other words, but I’m not entirely confident she took it as an honest response. She may have only taken it as a kind, however deceptive, response, and how could I blame her? However unintentional, I had the tendency to pull this sort of bullshit all the time: make half-baked plans that never achieved fruition. There was no real way she could have known that the thought actually kind of made me all tingly in the nether-regions.

I remember looking down at my cell phone in the midst of our conversation and realizing it was 3:59 PM and I had one minute to spare before I clocked in. I bid her a swift adieu before locking my car and rushing in the doors. Clocking in at the terminal, I then went about my usual routine of changing all the trash behind the counter, but on my way to the back room, I passed the kitchen, where I saw Hady.

In retrospect, at the very least, it’s not surprising at all that I bonded so well with Hady. I first met her twin sister, Sadie, when she began working here years ago, and in the ensuing years, we grew close. Sadie ultimately became a member of the group that used to frequent the line of bars occupying the outskirts of the nearby college town. Later, Sadie and a girl we were mutually attracted to became subjects of my first, second, and third threesome. Though considerably calmer and slightly less hyper-sexed than her sis, Hady was no stranger to it all: like Sadie and me, she was plagued with anxiety and prone to depression; like Sadie, she had been bitten by nymphomania and was drowning in a sea of vagina (and the occasional penis). She had a bit of distance, however; some breathing room between herself and her neuroticism that permitted the growth of some much-needed perspective. It was in this capacity that our conversation quickly turned to her sister and how she thinks she’s a sex addict in denial.

It was a strange thing, to have these two conversations within twenty minutes of each other. It was also strange: I had an issue getting laid; Sadie had an issue with not getting laid. Was there a happy fucking medium — literally?

For me, having had no vaguely sexual interaction now for over half a decade and resorting to nightly porn, sex had become a sort of spectator sport. It’s been so long since I’ve had sex that I feel my desires have almost come full circle as if I’m in fucking high school again. I find myself thinking, “It’d be cool to, like, just to make out with a girl again.” I’m tired of masturbating, tired of porn, tired of sexy hypnosis videos. I just want something real — but not enough to sacrifice my privacy and personal freedom for a relationship.

In addition, I have no desire to return to the sort of headspace generated when I have to deal with when wanting a girl or seeking sex, my constant concerns and fixations. Am I good enough for her? Do I look okay, dress okay, smell okay? Am I too skinny, too hairy? Am I sufficient in the region below the equator? Do I want it too much? Not enough? Would she be into that?

Still, sex without strings attached would be nice, and Rezi’s invitation would certainly be the most ethical, if not the most fruitful, means of pursuing it.

If nothing else, tagging along would leave me with something new and interesting to write about.

How Nora Broke My Heart.

It was about two years ago when Claire, the love of my life, suggested the show The Leftovers to me, which was then, if I recall correctly, at the very beginning of the second season. I was a bit wary at first, as this seemed to a bit too “rapture” theme for my atheistic taste, but after the first episode, I was hooked. Having binged on the first season, I then began watching the second, though quickly got frustrated with having to wait for the next episode, having grown used to watching the show in bulk. My only option was to distract myself, to ignore the show for awhile — which I did quite successfully until a few weeks ago when I finally came back to the series. It had been so long that I felt it was best to start at the very beginning and work my way up to what I discovered was the third and last season of the series.

It was an epic show.

My most beloved scene in the entire, three-season series comes at the very first scene in the second episode of the second season, entitled “A Matter of Geography.”

“Look, this — if we’re going to be, um… We can’t just,” Kevin pauses, considering his words, digesting his emotions so he can better articulate himself, inevitably landing on: “We don’t really know each other.”

“Okay,” she says, with an apparent frown, and at this point I expect her to either get pissed off or tremendously hurt, ready myself for her to make a scene or convey herself in a more extreme fashion by saying nothing at all, and in any case ultimately exiting the house in response. Instead, she does this unexpected and somehow vaguely sexy maneuver of the neck and head and continues with, “What do I need to know?”

And bam, he tells her. Lays it all out on the table. That he’s been walking in his sleep. That he had been taking medication and, thinking that this might be the cause of it, tossed his pills — but then he had woken up in his car in the wood to find that he had kidnapped Patti Levin while “sleepwalking” and brought her to a cabin with the intention of killing her. When he tried to release her unharmed, she ended up killing herself, and so he had buried her in the woods with the help of Nora’s brother, a preacher.

“And nobody else knows,” he was sure to explain.

Just when you thought he was done with his confession, he added — not arbitrarily, either, but as if he were saving the worst for last — three gentle words: “And I smoke.”

Cut to Nora and Jill sitting on the couch across from him, silent and unmoving, the expressions on their faces dangerously ambiguous, reflecting both your hopes and fears simultaneously as you view the scene and anticipate their response just as Kevin would have.

Nora’s response? “I hire prostitutes to shoot me,” she replies, and then turns to Jill and confessed that she lied to her about the gun she kept in her purse, promising to never lie to her again. Looking her in the eye, Jill says that it’s okay, with Nora echoing her words involuntarily in a voice that conveys the extremes of both surprise and relief. And Jill’s response — “it’s okay” — seems to make up for any confession she might have made on her own part, and there was certainly a good deal of material that she might have drawn on. Regardless, it all manifests as the perfect expression of the general consensus in this holy fucking trinity of dire fucked-upness, a fact that became clear when Nora then turns to Kevin and tells him, “it’s okay.”

And yeah, I cried. Fuck you, I wasn’t sober.

So Kevin left out shooting the dogs. And hallucinating Patti, the woman he buried, if indeed that was happening at that point in the series (that’s what I get for indulging in The Leftovers over a single weekend like I was cramming for a goddamn exam). In any case, it was Kevin who really ignited this group confession. He broke the ice of honesty and delivered the heaviest load to the collective depth. He accepted them as he was accepted by them. It made my ocular cavities ooze fluid because it’s all one could hope for in the social sphere: to have a sense of community like that in which everyone accepted the wounds and mutations they fought with every inch of their might to conceal from the eyes of the greater society. They had a tribe in this maddening wasteland where they could be honest and yet somehow still expect support — not through pity, either, but through mutual understanding.

And then Nora just had to fuck it all up.

She had to handcuff him the bed-frame in a not-at-all-kinky-and-therefore-inexcusable way during the seventh episode of the second season, “A Most Powerful Adversary.” Why? Because as difficult as it was for him, he was upfront and honest with her. He told her that he sees and speaks with Patti. Her reaction was to simply condemn him as crazy and take his family away from him as he slept.

He interprets this as her being mad at him for having lied to him, but her ultimate response, as exemplified in the “deal” he made with her that assured a route by which he could come back to her, necessitated him getting rid of Patti. It was not that he had, at least by omission, lied; nay, it was that he had the experience in the first place. She left him because she considered him crazy because he was talking to someone no one else could see — a hallucination, a dead person, it made no difference, and that was plain and simple to see. After all, he had to get rid of that clingy ghost before Nora would accept him again. For Nora to abandon him and — albeit unknowingly — seemingly validate the perspective offered by his heckling hallucination in the process, increasing his trust in this seeming ghost to the point that he subsequently risks his own life in the hope of getting rid of Patti just so that he can honestly tell Nora she is gone all to get Nora back… it strikes me as betraying the trust that seemed to be generated and mutually embraced in the earlier, tear-jerking episode.

You broke my heart, Nora.

Of Spinning Wheels and Skipping Records.

Though it has been plain to me and has, in fact, plagued me for a good, long while, I only recently came to learn there have been various terms for it in psychology: fate neurosis, destiny neurosis, and most recently, it seems, repetition compulsion. In essence, this is an individual’s unconscious impulse to repeat their history over and over again, in many cases while remaining exceptionally blind to the fact.

It appears to me as if there are at least three steps to repetition compulsion. The origin of the skipping record is typically perceived as a “seed story” or circumstance one faced while in childhood and as a consequence tends to deal with the relationship one had with one’s caretakers. One may have been neglected or abandoned, physically or sexually abused, or perhaps suffered under the reign of an authoritative parent. Another dawning situation, as it is with one dear friend of mine, may be a home life that breeds parentification — a process in which the child is forced to take on the role of the parent due to the actual parent’s general incompetence when it comes to parenting. There are potentially endless scenarios for such a seed story.

Whatever the circumstances, there comes a time when the child is no longer technically a child and so she wastes no time getting the bloody fuck out of dodge. Consciously determined, she then attempts to make her own life, but the subliminal aspects of her being, addicted to that familiar story, immediately get the shakes and they quickly intervene. Though she isn’t aware of it, she then finds herself unconsciously gravitating towards people and finding herself in circumstances that have an uncanny affinity with the people and circumstances she had just managed to escape. Like a shadow, the weight of her history appears fundamentally inescapable: the past, it seems, is forever present.

After successfully anchoring herself in the familiar, the phenomenon of transference takes hold, prompting her to exhibit conditioned reactions in her new context and inevitably, through projective identification, generates the desired reactions from the other person or people in question. In this way, the feedback loop creates and maintains the familiar circumstance.

Repetition compulsion can also come in one of two forms, the most direct being what we could call the Remake. If we can conceive of the original story as a sort of movie, every subsequent regurgitation would constitute a remake. I say this because the distinguishing feature of a remake is that it honors the source material, plagiarizing where it can get away with it and striving to pay homage where it must yield to the call for modernization.

The easiest personal example I can offer is Sandra, who was a longtime friend before I finally had to sever the close tie. Part of the reason was her overall lack of empathy and compassion, particularly with me, despite the fact that I exercised such empathy and compassion with her. The second reason, related and more to my point here, is that she was unable to see the Groundhog Day nature of circumstances, particularly when it came to men. She used to come into my room in the house I shared with her and her brother, lay on my bed and spill her soul to me, raw and unfiltered. This in and of itself is not unusual, as even total strangers tend to do this with me. I don’t mind. But over the course of countless failed relationships, I was hearing damn near the same exact story. No matter what part of the story she happened to be in at the timeI could tell her not only how she had gotten there but where it was going.

It should have been for her like it was expressed in that Nine Inch Nails song, “Everyday Is Exactly the Same”:

“I believe I can see the future
because I repeat the same routine.”

But she never saw it. I have often critiqued her for being unable to see beyond her own head to understand others; the truth of the matter was that she seemed utterly incapable of seeing so much as herself. Her deafness towards her own skipping record life soundtrack was heartbreaking and endlessly frustrating.

By no means is this phenomenon limited to her, of course. I certainly see it in my own life — but for me, that was and remains the difference: I see it. If nothing else, strive to gain some degree of self-awareness, for fuck’s sake.

Another way in which repetition compulsion can play out is in the form of Role Reversal. Whereas in the remake the person always plays the ego, the role they played in the seed story, here the person plays the role of their shadow, seeking out or forcing another into their previous position.

In many cases this can lead down a rather dark path: while you seek out the same general circumstances inherent in your core story, you now abandon your dawning role as the victim and put on the costume and mask of the victimizer. The song “Prison Sex” off of Tool’s album, Undertow, encapsulates the essential nature of this, perfectly summarizing the underlying aim with the line: “Do unto others what has been done to you.”

There may be various underlying motivations for repetition compulsion. Seeking out the familiar, no matter how painful, provides a greater sense of psychological security than the health and safety that may be possible, even probable, given a different pattern, simply because familiarity offers predictability, and therefore the illusion of control — and that’s certainly part of it. Also, as has been said in the case of recurring dreams and flashbacks, it may be an attempt on behalf of the unconscious to discharge emotions or desensitize one to the stimulus through relentless redundancy. Conversely, it may be an unconscious attempt to master the circumstance, to find a solution, to achieve resolution.

This sounds an awful lot like the Hindu take on reincarnation, which is to say we keep repeating the same damned cycle, our story, until we ultimately extinguish our desires. Buddhism offers a different take on the matter: one can take charge and work towards escaping the cycle now, within this lifetime, within this most recent adaptation of our recurring story. It involves transcending the ego and, as a consequence, the circumstances it compulsively perpetuates through mindfulness — through witnessing rather than engaging with the mind.

There may be additional measures one could take to escape the chains of their existential echoes, however: creative outlets. Just as our seed story can manifest in our objective circumstances it can also manifest in our music, play, writing, art, as well as in dreams and hallucinations, making us more mindful through the reflection such creativity offers. Carl Jung’s Active Imagination technique could potentially accelerate the process, too.

To a Breeze.

Turn a hurricane to a breeze,
a fatal blow

to a pinprick in this supercharged
subjective space,
so alive, this pressure
in my head, growing pleasantly.

Transform their pointed screaming
and wailing
into a manageable, potential resource

or, if need be,
an inaudible whisper,
or fucking, blissful silence,

still cradling this pressure
in my head, growing pleasantly 

as I hold
myself there,
merely witnessing.

Where the Fair Game Roam.

You have no jurisdiction here.
There are no squatter’s rights.
I don’t care if your opposition

wrote it all off along
with you, I was never one
that considered another guilty
strictly by means of association,

never felt prone
to throw out the baby
with the bathwater:

I’m such a cherry-picker
in that way. 

So, sorry.

Can’t claim
this as your territory.
Refuse to recognize your flag.

To me, here, 
as well as everywhere else,
is occupied solely by fair game.

Of the Canopy and the Jungle. 

This individual, 
he is privy
to a strictly compartmentalized

vault of knowledge
charting
his worldline, bound
to a characteristic pathway

plotted via causality,
culminating

in moksa, eased
into self-awareness, bathing
in the pool till she pulls
him out:

once bathed
in blood,
now washed,

rinsed, sanitized,
refreshed,
laid out,
revitalized

for yet
another round,
another tour straight

on into the hyper-surreal,
treacherous jungle:

this ancient, fucking soul
seeks only  truth,
some semblance of reality.

Nine Years Gone By.

9/7/08.

I. Lazy Stalker Without a Spine.

Sighing out a cloud of smoke, I reflect on how in a way I’m sort of like a stalker, only without the vaguest sense of ambition or the tendency to behave in accordance with conventional logic as a response to my desires. Or are those core elements to the profile of a stalker? Fuck it. Doesn’t matter. I drop my face to the ground and flick some ash from my cigarette, watching it fall to the concrete my feet are resting on. It’s just before my second class of the day, around eleven in the morning, and I’m sitting on the third step up from the patio below Cunningham Hall. I’m uncomfortable, restless, nothing new.

Head up, my eyes are scanning the river of people flowing by on the sidewalk. Just people-watching, mind you. Typical. Really, I’m not looking for her. That’s what I tell myself, but I’ve been known to lie to myself when I feel guilty about the truth. When the internal assertions become a mantra, I know I’m trying to play over some whispering truth, trying to drown it out with a rhythmic lie, so I change my tune. I turn it off. I just shake my head and admit it. Truth is, I’m desperate to see her. All of this is stupid on multiple levels, not least of which is the fact that even if I knew for certain what she looked like I wouldn’t have the guts to talk to her anyway. That firmly in mind, I dig my butt into the ashtray behind the garbage can, walk up the steps, go inside and meander into the lecture hall some ten minutes early. Because, really, fuck this. I mean, I’m not going to find the courage to talk with her anyway.

After taking my seat, I suddenly realize only half of the class is here today. Only those with last names beginning with the letters ”A” through ”L” need attend today, as we were told last Thursday; the rest are to attend this Thursday. We’re taking a field trip on campus to look at plant life. The idea is, as Sasquatch tells us, that we walk to some grassy area on campus, toss a hula-hoop randomly, and wherever it lands we describe, on paper, the various forms of life within the hoop. I’m serious. This is a college course. This is how irreversibly idiotic this class is. If they gave us crayons to write with and had us break halfway through counting blades of grass for nap time, I wouldn’t be all that surprised.

From my chair in the back of the room, I continue to feed my lazy stalker instincts. As Sasquatch gives us the run-down from up front, my eyes scan the back of every female head before me, neck-gazing, looking for her. My eyes keep coming back to one, about the center of the room. Reddish-auburn hair tied back into an almost-ponytail, wearing one of those boxy ball caps; almost the dimensions of a policeman’s cap, but felt, not stiff, and colored army-green. Sexy neck. Relaxed, cool and confident posture, like she’s calmly holding in an atomic explosion worth of intensity. Self-contained, as if she needs no one and nothing, only wants. Wants and knows oh-so well how to get what she wants. And the vibe, even from this distance. No doubt about it, it’s got to be her.

After Sasquatch gives the word, we all shuffle out the door of the lecture hall, out the doors a few paces away from me, through the doors in the vestibule and out the doors right on into the outer world. As I push out the last door, I hold it open behind me and glance over my shoulder. It’s her. She’s wearing those big, seventies-style glasses. Down the steps to where I’d been sitting prior to class and onto the sidewalk below and she’s beside me. Window’s open. I can feel it. She notices me, it seems. Is it my imagination? It’s like she’s waiting for something, anticipating it, but perhaps I’m misreading it. Or misreading the direction. I mean, why the fuck would she be waiting for me in particular to say something to her? You think of all the guys in this class she could be interested in, why would she specifically be waiting for some creepy kid who had sat behind her last week, who she probably, in all rationality, didn’t notice, why would she be waiting for him — for me — to say something? She’s a fox and I’m dirt, I’m nothing. I’m a lonely, intense, withdrawn, fucked-up, going-nowhere almost-thirty-year-old with a total lack of self-confidence which may very well be justified. So I surmise this was just an unprecedented moment of arrogance talking.

Either way now is my chance to say something. Whenever I do say something in such situations, though, all I can come up with in the grips of my growing anxiety attack is either something off-the-wall weird or overly pessimistic. Something that makes it sound as if I’m trying a bit too hard to break the ice, maybe, which just happens to precisely be the case. I’m always so extreme, too intense, especially so in moments such as this. Better to stay quiet, to hold it all in reservation. Better to remain a nobody in her eyes than a somebody to avoid because she sees him as weird or, worse, a total jackass. So I fall behind, let her walk in front of me, figuring if I can’t help but look and take her in I may as well do it from a vantage point where she’ll be least likely to notice it and I’ll be least likely to make her feel uncomfortable about it. I note that she has that enticing hourglass-like figure, and that’s when I realize that she kind of reminds me of Anne. So it’s Anne who has become a yardstick for women once again.

I tell myself to shut up. To just shut the fuck up. Back to the matter at hand.

Usually, we’re cooped up in a classroom. She could sit anywhere; I could never have the chance to talk to her. This is the perfect opportunity and I’m screwing it up. Just fucking talk to her, Ben. Get to know her. Say something, anything. You’ve got nothing to lose and could gain anything, everything. Something would be more than you have.

The professors tell us to split up into groups of five, to follow them and the grad student in groups of twenty. I could go with her, but I don’t. I don’t move fast enough. Purposely. Conventional logic would dictate that if you admire a girl, want to get to know her, want to see her face, you maneuver in order to get into her group when you’re in a class that demands you split into groups during some retarded outside function. I intentionally do the opposite, however. I go with the group going in the absolute opposite direction. Reason is, of course, that I’m scared. Terrified, and so I distance. I always distance. Always fucking alienate myself. So she remains a girl without a face and me, a lazy stalker without a fucking spine.

Typical, really. Nothing new.

II. Smell of Roses.

Way back when, I never used to visualize — or have spontaneous visions, for that matter — of the sex act. I saw a pretty girl and felt that burning, aching need, but there was no imagery to go along with it, just a feeling. An intense inner yearning. A girl would elicit a raging, sensuously volatile internal psychic substance in me, but it would just be a bodily experience. That substance would not take form within my semi-private headspace in motion-picture format. Now, though, now the imagery blossoms in my headspace all too frequently, involuntarily, as some release valve when the pressure gets too high in my body before a sexy member of the female of the species. Now it’s so vivid in me sometimes I can almost taste it, almost touch her with my mind. I know I do this because I don’t have what it takes to get with and ”do” her. I know I’m sublimating. In my mind there plays this action-packed Kama Sutra sneak preview of what could be ”coming soon,” so-to-speak, but never will unless by my own hand because I don’t have the metaphorical balls to exercise the necessary skills to get to the handshake, let alone plot the course from the handshake to so much as a fuck, let alone something substantial and meaningful. What kills me most is that feeling I get sometimes, rarely, but sometimes around a particular girl. Where the visions in my mind, however intense, are fully recognized by me as being more than just cheap, more than just an insufficient substitute, but rather the high-ranking through-the-roof granddaddy of all shame. Where I feel certain that if I only had this girl, just for a night, just for a few hours, and just had the chance to let myself loose on her, damn it, I’d not only make it worth her while but all the shit, every lump in the sea of shit in my life would evaporate swiftly into sweetness, the smell of roses, that all in life would be perfect and beautiful, if only for an instant, if only in a moment in the midst of the perpetual flux of existence. And maybe if I said and didn’t just think so much. Maybe if I did, not merely imagined. Maybe, but alas.

III. Hegira via Illeism.

On a beach with her sister, collecting seashells, her parents off somewhere in the distance. I can see her in the inner eye’s wide lens. She holds a cell phone to her ear, talking to her boyfriend, telling him how much she misses him. How she will be back soon, on August eighth. How she’s going to bring him a photograph of the sunset out here, she says, because it’s so beautiful. She says to him how she wishes he could see it. He asks her to bring him back a tumbleweed if she can. And — get this — she didn’t think it was weird.

Next time she calls him, she’s crying. I can see her through the zoom lens. She tells him how her mother found out that she’s smoking pot and locked her out of the house. How she might be coming home early. He felt sorry for her and thought her mother cruel to be doing that to her own child, but had to hide the simultaneous excitement inherent in the prospect of her coming home early. Every passing second without her was utter agony and he didn’t understand it. He had never felt this way before. And he knew it was silly, he had no reason to doubt her, but he feared losing her. Feared she wouldn’t return. He couldn’t even believe that he had her when it all came down to it. He never thought there would be anything, and now she was everything.

Without her, he was nothing.

A stick figure with skin. A big head, a fat nose that served as a breeding ground for blackheads, a mustache that didn’t feel right to him without the goatee, which his job would not allow him to grow. He wore flannels and faded dilapidated jeans and hid his thick, dark brown hair beneath a black ball cap. He drank far too much coffee, smoked way too many Marlboro cigarettes. Thought too much. Felt too much. Said, did too little. He worked in the kitchen at McDonald’s in a nearby shit-towne. He was a boy on back line, or a BOB, as his girlfriend liked to put it.

His girlfriend. His. Girlfriend.

She was slender with shoulder-length red hair and eyes that changed color in accordance with her mood. Blue, gray, green. Those wonderful, intense mood eyes. Soft lips, soft skin. She had freckles and twitched involuntarily, and often violently when she was falling asleep. There was a tattoo of butterflies on her belly, a moon on her thigh, and a Celtic sun on the back of her neck. Her tongue was pierced. She smoked a lot of marijuana. Since as far back as she can remember, she has practiced what she has come to call candle magick. She rolled the candle in her hands, carved something into its surface, lit it and meditated on it until it burnt all the way down. To end someone’s pain. To bring someone joy. To bring something or someone to her. To extinguish a grudge or get over a heartache. Sometimes when she was angry she would write her feelings down on a piece of paper and burn it to banish the anger. And however it worked, it worked for her. She never learned it, not in this lifetime, not that she could remember. It was a natural part of who she was. It seemed to all be a reflex with her.

She knows how to utilize her pubococcygeus muscle and utilized it when he was inside her. Hugs from the inside. Her favorite flowers were daisies. She didn’t like giving blowjobs but had no gag reflex. She didn’t like the feeling when a guy went down on her. She grew up a Mormon, but had relinquished it and had an intense interest in religions in general. Intense. She was so intense, so mysterious. She was an insomniac and they often fucked themselves to sleep. She worked at Arby’s and McDonald’s for a while; now she just worked at McDonald’s. She worked mornings while her scuzzy, stupid, going-nowhere boyfriend worked evenings. She liked the bands Godsmack and 30 Seconds to Mars. Her parents lived in Barstow, California, the setting of many Tarantino films, and her father worked for the factory depicted in the movie Erin Brockovich.

She left behind two things at her boyfriend’s house, before leaving for California to visit her parents, just visit them, just for two weeks. It was only supposed to be two weeks. He had no photograph of her, not a single one. But she had given him a little ET figurine he kept on the dashboard of his car. He had a blue comb of hers. Aside from the people around him, so few, that remembered her and brought her up, he had no other evidence of her existence. For all he knew, she was a dream that might end, leaving him in a cold, hard reality made all the more cold and hard set against the background of that amazing, beautiful dream if she didn’t come back. So she had to come back. She would, would come back.

He walked around the basement of the house he lived at in Kent with two roommates whenever she called him from California. Right before she left, right after they had sex, she told him what he made her promise never to tell him. Three. Bad. Words. She called him at work one day and before getting off the phone he said those same words to her, those dangerous words he had vowed never to utter again. Three. Bad. Words.

Sometimes he felt responsible for how people he knew got along with one another. There were countless previous girlfriends he didn’t want to introduce to others, secretly, because he thought they might not like her, might not get along. With her, though, there was none of that. It evaporated. He wanted her to meet everybody. No one disliked her. She was an anomaly in so many ways. So perfect she couldn’t be real. The mind couldn’t even manufacture dreams this wondrous. That she existed was amazing enough, but she was with him. Him.

When he was nervous or tense, he bit his lips, licked them. They were always chapped and bleeding. When she came into his life, they became as smooth as his skin. He felt vibrant, healthy, alive. She was the antidote. And when she didn’t come back, the pain was physical. Without her, the antidote, his blood was poison. Life was a nightmare, devoid of meaning again. All the colder because of this cruel joke it had played on him. She was worried about her mother, sure. Her father, sure. She missed her family. It killed him when she didn’t come back. Her boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, that little bitch he was, he’d go on whining about it in his head for years. Reflecting on little snapshot in his memories, the only photos he had of her, locked in his cranium. The showers in the morning. The water they drank after the sex. When she was in pure agony on his bed, having her cramps during her time of the month, and he felt so sorry for her, so powerless to stop her pain, so deep in pain just watching her, feeling her. The way she’d stare down at him as she straddled him in bed, staring at him in the eyes. The candles she would position and light around the room. Their first night. Their last night. A dream. Slope into a nightmare.

The injustice. An indifferent universe.

That kid, that boy, he should just get the fuck over it.

IV. Lament for an Infant.

With a high-pitched, drawn-out fart noise the door opens, closes, opens again as fellow college students trickle in like urine out of an old man’s ding-a-ling — and then in comes this with girl with a stroller. There is no doubt that the annoying door has met its match. You couldn’t hope to miss the obvious displeasure in the wriggling infant she was wheeling around as — he, she; let us settle, for the sake of argument, on the neutral ”it” — shrieked and wailed with such deafening, agonizing intensity you half-expected it’s little developing baby cranium, unable to take it, would have exploded like a balloon filled to capacity with red Jell-O and dropped from a seven-story building onto the cold, hard concrete. The professor came in, doing an admirable job of screening out the obnoxious screaming as he took attendance and went on to his lecture. It seemed fewer of us were able to ignore the auditory equivalent of an elephant in the room as time went on, however, and in fact it took fifteen minutes into the class for someone in the back of the room to finally say to the prof, ”Yeah, uh, I can’t hear you with this baby crying.”

The professor here in Literature in English I, he’s an active old guy, always moving and really enthusiastic about the material it’s his job to convey to us. His glasses sit on the bridge of his nose and he leans down, head beneath shoulders, occasionally staring at a student in particular, and dead in the eyes as if addressing them specifically. He often ends a string of high-powered words with a “right,” sometimes under his breath, sometimes more loudly, but undoubtedly as a subconscious reflex. And either way, it’s his verbal equivalent of a period, less often a comma. He wastes no time jumping on the guy’s comment about the baby, having been waiting and silently preparing it the whole time, having no doubt been irritated with the noise since he walked in the class but reluctant to say something about it himself without prompting. As kindly as he could eh suggested that she maybe take the child from the class until it stops crying and with that she quietly, slowly, solemnly took her portable shitting, pissing, wriggling alarm system without an off switch out the door, held in a nurturing way to her breast.

Having lost his place, he backtracks a bit. The topic had been the reading assignments, The Wanderer and The Wife’s Lament. Pushing aside the religious references, I must say that much liked the content and style of The Wanderer, though Wife’s Lament struck me as little more than a whiny, melodramatic, archaic sort of diary entry. A ”woe is me” passage, if you will. Really, this poem could be the precursor to everything emo. After empathizing that these were two poems, not verse, even though they were rewritten when translated in verse form, he reflects on possible ways in which poems, in general, come into being.

He wastes no time offering the perspective that “god bestows them upon us,” hitting that ball of petrified bullshit, to put it in a graphic way, right off the bat. This was, of course, allegedly the case according to Bede in the case of Caedmon, the cowherd-turned-monk-through-revelation, who created (but not literally wrote, since he was illiterate) his famous Hymn, and this had been our first assignment for the class. In a way, and to a point, I found Caedmon’s story interesting. People would get together in a building, have a feast, pass around a harp to each other and sing songs. Caedmon would always attend these feasts but when he saw the harp would soon be passed on to him he made some excuse and left, for he wasn’t at all versed in the Anglo-Saxon art of song. On one such occasion, he had gone back to the cattle shed it was his duty to guard and went to sleep. There he had a dream that someone appeared at his bedside and urged him to sing about the creation, which, with some reluctance, he eventually managed to do. In the morning, he went to his boss and told him the story, and then brought before learned men, to whom he told his dream and recited his poetry. He was instructed to make more poetry and then take his monastic vows.

Still, I don’t know if it’s simply the material we’re reading that prompts it or some religious viewpoint he personally harbors — for a few reasons, though, I’m increasingly suspecting the latter — but he keeps referencing this Christian god thing and it’s making me wince. Making my teeth grind.

But in The Wanderer, he says, we come across another means by which poetry comes into being; what we might call existential despair, though these are not the words he used. More faithful to the way he put it would be to say that poetry is a product of man’s awareness of how fucking difficult life can be, as such hardship can often ”move” or inspire us (in the passive, impersonal Aristotelian Unmoved-Mover kind of way, it seems) to bleed it all out through pen and onto paper. He goes on to explain how the Wanderer’s condition is representative of what all of us eventually come to face — namely loneliness, isolation, pain, suffering, exile, some sense of homelessness. So one simple thing the poem does is to let us know that we’re not alone in this respect, no matter how much we might feel that this is the case when plagued with such a state of mind and being, as these emotions, thoughts, conditions are universal. Its our human heritage, if not the heritage of all forms of intelligent life in the cosmos.

Aside from merely addressing the issue in the poem’s content or message, however, the poem also provides potential answers to the question of what we might do about this type of human experience. First, it seems to recommend we not be ”too hasty of speech.” This suggestion no doubt derives from a particular code or custom referenced in the text that dictates that one not engage in self-revelation, that one not express ”woe is me” sentiments, at least not in a reactionary way. The poem states that ”no one can become wise until he has wintered into wisdom,” and this seems wedded to the concept that only through silent endurance can we truly ”winter” into such wisdom. One should learn to think clearly, that one should be patient, reflect over one’s experience and think over what one wishes to say, let one’s experience gestate, you might say, before one goes about expressing oneself. This silent endurance of life’s “winter” — life’s pain and loss — makes it necessary for us to ask questions. To gain not merely knowledge, but true insight and understanding. Once such a wanderer has once again found a home with a king and a kingdom, then, once that period is in retrospect, he can feel free to express himself to others.

To illustrate the idea of not being ”too hasty of speech,” the professor makes convenient use of the child that had been wailing in the classroom not all that long ago. He motioned towards the door, trying to display some sympathy for the wailing infant that had been delivered from us through it, saying that though it wasn’t the child’s fault, it was screaming because it was unhappy. It was scared because it was in a strange, foreign environment, and it obviously didn’t want to be here. We aren’t like that child, however. As we grow, we learn to hold that sort of thing in. To ”man up,” as my friend Moe often puts it. While we might be bored in this class, he said, not wanting to be here and waiting for this guy up front to shut up, we don’t express that in the here and now. And while he doesn’t say it, I think our instincts to shit, piss and fuck also apply here, as out in the wild, without any culture, as animals run on pure instinct, we’d exhaust the primitive desires in near-immediacy; within culture, however, we don’t just shit when we feel we have to shit, piss when we need to piss, or pin a girl to the wall and fuck the shit out of her when that incredible, mind-boggling sense of need strikes us as lightning. We hold our breath, in a way.

The poem not only makes commentary on it but also, in a way, exemplifies it. Whoever it was that wrote The Wanderer was using a strategy, a technique that kept this code in mind and delivered the contents in a way that remained faithful to it. It was also based on the awareness that how something is said is just as important as what is said; how we might make effective use of words. Or as I’ve always put it, the package and delivery of a message is just as important as its underlying content; something I could never seem to get through to my old friend, Grim, so many years ago. Specific to the poem, an acceptable form of self-revelation, with the code in mind, would be to pass on one’s experience as if someone else had lived it and expressed it. What the poet does is use passages, which are contained in quotations in the translation, which express the thoughts of the wanderer. Other passages, not in quotations, are of the narrator; the poet himself. This gives us the impression that the poet is not the wanderer himself, but sharing a message he had received from another; the truth may be that he was merely expressing his own voice through the character of the wanderer.

Some girl in the class comments how the Wife’s Lament doesn’t seem to abide by the rules expressed in The Wanderer, and that it does indeed sound like unreserved whining. Indeed, the narrator seems to boldly proclaim her right to whine in light of her circumstances. The girl said to the professor that she was thinking maybe it was that way because women are more emotional than men. He smiled nervously, nodding cautiously, saying, ‘”I’m glad you said it, because if I said it, that’d be an entirely different matter.” He was quick to add, however, that the wife in the poem explained how though her heart was aching she faces the world with a glad continence. She was able to transfer her weeping into poetry in order to maintain that; expressing her feelings and circumstances in words presented a way of dealing with that condition.

By expressing oneself immediately in words as a release valve in order to maintain our mask of strength in life, as in The Wife’s Lament, or by expressing oneself only after enduring the metaphorical winter, after reflection, after the birth of not just knowledge but true insight and understanding — either way we choose to sublimate our existential despair and it’s sweet and bitter fruits — perhaps we share this with others in time, perhaps in literature form. In so doing we add to the wisdom of those that came before us. At the same time, we can all experience the reservoir of experiences piled up by those that came before us vicariously, through such literature, by means of the empathy it elicits. Through their words, we can gain wisdom from specific experiences we never had personally. We can also, at the very least through the universal themes expressed therein, gain a sense of community.

Rumination Station Playlist.

Meditation has brought me to realize, yet again, the rampant, automatic nature of my monkey-mind; that my mental radio is locked on the rumination station. I have been paying extra attention this time, deliberately trying to increase those periods of self-awareness in which I adopt what, in the wonderful world of writing, is referred to as the third person perspective, and what in meditation specifically is referred to as observing, witnessing or witness consciousness. I have come to do this not only for the 21 minutes I sit following the breath every night but frequently during the workday as well, all in the attempts to identify and categorize the shit arising in my mental space.

I also came upon some notes recently which I made during my previous period of mindfulness meditation in which I noted some mental patterns that have thus far escaped my awareness this time around.

Let’s begin with my Radiohead Syndrome, which is to say the presence of this ongoing and frequently disappointing soundtrack to my life. Two or three weeks ago, I listed at least a short list of the songs that echoed in my head during a two-day period. On Sunday, I noted that I at first replayed Sleep Apnea by Chevelle, from their SciFi Crimes album, then the Twelve Days of Christmas, and finally Go With the Flow, by Queens of the Stone Age. The next day I catalogued the song, George of the Jungle, and then Letters from a Thief, another song from Chevelle’s aforementioned album.

Though I had been listening to Chevelle on Spotify through my phone as I cleaned dining room during the last hour of my shift, it wasn’t always the last song that I heard which got stuck on loop in my mind the next day. It could also be triggered by something I saw or heard. One day recently, for instance, I remember having seen a plush Winnie the Pooh doll on the shelf in the break room and as aware as I was, try as I might, I could not, for the life of me, get the Winnie the Pooh song out of my head for a good portion of my shift.

Imagining myself being interviewed (as an artist, writer, musician or for reasons unspecified) has for long been my default scenario for depicting inner dialogue. It seems I do this for self-reflecting purposes and self-analysis. It is significantly different when it comes to what I call my Narratives of Justification, however, where I imagine the dumbest scenarios, such as explaining to someone why I put things in particular places or positions on the shelves while doing stock, talking in a similar fashion to cops who I imagine pulling me over, to my landlady as to why rent is late, or talking to cops that end up at my apartment door because someone smelled me smoking weed.

Other spontaneous daydreams involve fictional scenarios in which I rescue or save people, as in during a hold up in the restaurant in which I work, or when a customer grabs a hold of the arm of a girl on front counter. In any case, I cast myself in the role of either defending people or calming them, sometimes both.

On other occasions I find myself taking an imaginary guilt trip, doing something that inadvertently harms or even kills someone else. I hit a dog, a child, or an adult with my car, as an easy example. If I am unharmed or crippled as well, they suffer greater damage, typically death.

Another form of catastrophizing I engage in is imagining my own death. I am only torn apart by the reactions of others — either their grief or the lack of effect my corporeal departure had on them — not in reference to my own state.

Consistently I have found myself looking back on the present moment from some imagined point in the future, viewing the present as past, the now as later. As one example I documented some time ago, I was sitting at my computer desk, putting on my shoes to go do some errands, running through what I was to do in my mind. I started damning myself for being too lazy to add getting quarters to do laundry to the list — as if I had already gone out, not gotten them, and came back despite the fact that I had yet to leave.

More frequent is my imaginary fighting or arguing — with my mother, my boss, old friends, the fucking prep lady. Even imaginary people in totally fictitious scenarios. I get pissed off about arguments I never even had and I notice it primes me, at times, to have such arguments in real life, or bitch about those people in the attempts to blow off steam and circumvent such confrontations. This is clearly a waste of energy and it just makes my life more miserable.

Then there are the flashback bitchslaps: sudden, intrusive memories of high emotional intensity. These are of events which I feel — perhaps at the time, but surely in retrospect — made me appear stupid, inauthentic or pretentious in others’ eyes. Or the episode may have dealt with me having hurt someone. This may have been done intentionally, albeit while in the grips of consuming rage, or I may have only realized I had unintentionally done so out of ignorance or insensitivity just after it occurred. Far worse, I may only come to realize, or in the very least suspect, that I unintentionally hurt them only in retrospect, when the flashback hits me. Instead, I may realize that I had plagiarized someone else, which makes me feel phony, or that it at least had likely seemed that way to the other person.

The flashbacks in question may have been of events that happened earlier in the day, but may also be incidents that transpired weeks, months, or even a shocking number of years ago. In any case, in toto these flashback bitchslaps deal with me doing or saying something that I fear inspires others to perceive me in a way I find unfavorable.

I immediately, automatically and aggressively try and swallow it down in my mind by beating myself up inside through guilt, shame, embarrassment and anxiety in tandem with automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) in the more traditionally-conceived sense of internal dialogue — “judgements” might be a good label for them. So far in my personal notes, my personal judgments include the following phrases:

I’m such a turd.
I’m such a fucking asshole.
What the fuck is wrong with me?
Why do you get like that?

At some point years ago I began engaging in “thought-stopping”: things you say in response to the negative thoughts, emotions, memories and fantasies that arise automatically in your mind. I often find myself saying it aloud, as if in an attempt to talk over the noise in my head as I cringe inside:

Who the fuck knows?
I don’t fucking know.
Stop it.
I don’t even care.
I don’t give a shit.
I don’t even understand.
Oh, shut the fuck up.
Fuck that shit.

As a consequence, thought-stoppers like those listed above have become automatic as well — which is unfortunate, as thought-stopping not only fails to work but exacerbates the issue, leading to what is known as thought rebound. Pushing thoughts away is no more effective than clinging into them. Where attention goes, energy flows, but also: what you resist, persists.