That Dream, Again
I spent too long
listening to morrissey's croon
walking the esplanade again
And I had that dream
The one in which I wake up in a field of fir and ferns
And there are people who love me
They are all made from imperfect molds
Time and age and the weary sands of experience
They smile, they do not judge
When I fail, they do not shout to the heavens
When I talk, they simply listen
When I learn, they celebrate
When I grow, they guide
And it is not a digusting feeling
It is not the cold discomfort of someone's skin
Touching against your will
They rest in the grass
And watch the clouds pass by
And sing Jeff Buckley Hallelujahs
While the clouds flow the distant horizon line
Thin filmy white clouds like gauze that lets
the soft ageless blue pierce
And when there is touch, it is not the forceful
That feels like a skin dipped in acid.
Or the shameful disgusting intimacy that frightens
It is simply love.
But then I wake up, from a dream that feels too real
The sunlight harsh
My bed empty
And I curse Morrisey for letting me have
That dream, again.
The Library of Discarded Ideas
One day, I took a trip to the Jorge Luis Borges Library of Babel that you can reach by taking the vein of highway you find only when you take a wrong turn at the exact exit where you will spend at least 45 minutes finding the right way back to reality and your destination.
In the Library, I hoped, among the fractal hexagonal infinities a series of ideas I had thought of, and then discarded. For you see, in the JLB Library of Babel are all the ideas I had thrown into the discard pile of my consciousness. I had thought them too trite, too simplistic, too childish to plant into the under reaches of my grey matter, and so had supposed that, instead of giving them an opportunity to prove themself, I would simply throw them away.
Now, in my beat-up discard pile of a car - a gremlin displaced in time that had scratches and dents, and a window that was simply a trashbag - I found I had taken a wrong turn on the wrong turn to the Library of Babel and ended up in a long field of wheat where stood a small, infinitely dense, block of black.
Outside this block of black in a field of amber grain stood an aged, wizened man. He was portly and blind and for a moment I thought that it was simply Jorge Luis Borges himself. My Spanish isn't up to par yet, so I freaked out at that possibility.
Having found myself lost, though, and looking for some help. I spoke up.
"Excuse me, I've taken a wrong turn off a wrong turn. You know the way?"
"What is it you seek out?" He said, sounding like molasses and the aged sweet tang of bourbon.
"I'm looking for the branch of the Library of Babel where I can find an idea I threw away in a fit of pique."
"There is no such aisle in the Library"
"Why not. Isn't it infinite?"
"Those ideas which are so cruelly thrown by the wayside are sent to another, darker place." He pulled his cane and tapped against the infinitely dark and black cube.
"What is it?"
"The Library of Discarded Ideas."
"Why would another library exist for ideas stillborn?"
"You have answered your own question."
"I don't like these riddles."
The man fiddled with an enormous set of keys.
"Did you love this idea?" He asked.
"Only when I realized that I threw it away," I said, feeling a bit abashed.
"Ah, so you are not content to sit with an idea for long?"
"That isn't true. This idea simply had no potential."
"How long ago did you discard this idea."
He stood and turned his back to me, and I found it insulting, I must say. The sky turned mauve and ochre and stars winked out as the black box sprouted a door. I looked at him.
"Before we go in, I must ask you. You are willing to work with this idea once you are reunited with it?"
"I absolutely must. It is a genius idea, I had simply not seen its potential."
He nodded as if he'd heard that story before and I followed him in.
The air stank of pitch and there were lamentations as of the divine comedy. It was a sad, black place, and the man did not proffer a light. All I felt was a delirious cold.
I felt among me, the loose ends of ideas. It is impossible to describe what an idea feels like. It has no geometry of its own, it simply floats in ether and the contours of its existence are insubstantial.
As we went deeper, my sense of time vanished as well. I became acutely aware that I didn't know whether we moved or not. I saw ideas that must have come from around the world. I could hear snatches of languages I did not speak; I could see the vestiges of beautiful vistas that would never be; I saw a woman I knew. I stopped.
"I think this is my idea."
"It is not. Your ideas are deep inside this abyss."
"But why would we go so far in."
"You did not give it a chance to sprout branches."
"But I at least thought it through now. Shouldn't it return to me?"
"The Library of Discarded Ideas is, unlike Babel, a moral entity. It does not appreciate those who do not love their work."
"But it would have been imperfect."
"Is anything in this world truly perfect?"
The man was all around me and his voice was sinister and strange. We descended deeper into the blackness and the images around me became more vivid. More strange and less hospitable. Wind buffeted me and I saw the early sketches of famous works of literature. I saw a circular ruin and kings, and the world entire.
"These ideas have come to be."
"They found their way back to their masters."
"What is an idea anyway?"
"A shame you should not understand now that we have gone deep into this space."
"This space is physically impossible. We have been walking for hours!"
And we had. In the darkness, amongst the chaotic reveries of countless peoples, we had been walking for hours. I was hungry and irritated and desperately wanted my idea back so I could begin work on my masterwork. The thing I would pore careful hours into until it shone so bright that the world would not ignore it.
I heard the man tut-tut, and laugh a deep raspy biting thing.
Time itself ceased and all I became aware of was the motion of my feet. I walked, and walked, and walked, regretting the effort I had expended for an idea I had thrown away. Maybe it wasn't as good as I had thought. Maybe I simply had thought it was good because it looked nice one day.
I wanted to box this old man if I could find him. I wanted to wring his neck for making me walk infinitely through the good ideas of others. I was losing my mind. Nothing was worth this. Nothing. Not even all the good ideas I could steal.
"When is this going to end? I'm losing my mind."
"It ends when it ends."
We walked, forever, it seemed. I lost my mind and experienced worlds. Nothing was worth this, not even the best idea in the world. I would reject it and would say so. I would reject this whole endeavor as a wash before going home to weep into my journal once more.
Abruptly, the light came on. And we stood at a shelf. The old man was no different. He pointed to a slimline of paper. Not quite a book - for unfleshed ideas are not whole, and not subject to infinity - and he made me take it in hand.
"Read the idea, and tell me if you still want it."
I looked at the idea, all this work, and this discarded idea wasn't even good. I don't know what I was thinking. I had come all the way here and it was just an average idea. At best. It would not grow for others. It would never be beautiful. It would never be...
I laughed, to myself, for a long while.
"It's a good idea. May I have it back?"
The man smiled an enigmatic lopsided grin.
"It isn't finished, though?"
"It is not your best work, though?"
"It's something. And if I don't start somewhere, I'll never get anywhere."
The man nodded.
"Thank you for visiting the Library of Discarded Ideas. I do hope you enjoyed your stay. The exit is on the right."
I looked and saw the gleaming exit sign. I exited the creaky door and saw that it was the hour in the evening when the stars begin to come out.
For a moment, I felt like Dante, and simply stood content, watching the stars in the sky glimmer imperfectly.
He still has not taken off his shirt in front of her, for reasons only he understands, but tonight is the night.
He is in the bathroom, the poor white light its own sterile darkness. It is that light that flatters nothing, too white to be real. It will look green in his memory. His eyes are focused intently ahead of him, though he can’t say, in particular, what he is looking at.
His face has gotten more attractive in the last year. This he knows. It is in the way people look at him. There is a quality of look – an avidity – that speaks to something just below the surface of his heart, somewhere between his aorta and the metaphysical, where people latch and take note. He does not yet believe that look is for him.
He stares into his eyes, insecure about the fact that he finds them beautiful. Beauty is not an adjective to which he applies any great deal of thought, at least when it is his own. He thinks of himself as functional, and even that is a challenge on the best of days.
Moments flash, disappearing blacks that were once blue hyperlinks. Moments that will continue to exist in the scars of his consciousness. He rubs his jawline slowly: there is a stubble he thoroughly dislikes about his face. But it has not yet grown long enough to consider shaving.
The thought of it makes his stomach roil, and all he can see is the slow rise and fall of his breath. This should be easier for him. He’s so cocky, generally. He fakes a pleasing smile, watches the unattractive lines of his face move into an awkward configuration of momentary lapses in judgment. This smile is ugly. It always has been. Nothing is inviting; often, when he doesn’t look in the mirror, he avoids the narcissism that comes so easily to him; he feels that maybe there is a warmth in his gaze. But that could never be true.
These refrains pass through him, unrestrained for now but tired. A chorus he has heard in his heart one too many times. A pop-song that lost its savor when he met her.
She is contrary evidence. She has been contrary evidence to the act of his hatred as long as he has known her. The way she looks at him. There is that hunger that he sees in others, but it’s never just hunger with her. People don’t warn you about that; if you're attractive, people will look through you -- but never at you -- not in the way that matters. The way the shapes of your body – the taper of your waist, the movements of your fingers, the rise of your shoulders – will sculpt fantasies in other minds. He is too aware of himself to deny the pleasure it brings, and his own fantasies when he watches other people he is attracted to admire his body. But he cannot bring himself to agree with it; she’s still an exception.
He is wearing his shirt right now, under the bright lights. She flashes in his mind for a moment as a lapse in the hate he lavishes on himself.
She is not perfect: far from it. She can be loud, and she gets angry at him for silly reasons. She can be distant and hateful; her laugh is somewhere between adorable and a cackle, and he can never decide where his heart falls when he listens to it.
But she gave her heart to him, for whatever reason. She opened up, and the blossom flowered in an instant. The night of his own darkness was waning. He had come to understand some measure of self-love. He had realized the truth one day, both horrible and beautiful, that those moments where he lamented his worthlessness, like Continental dollars, had vanished. In its place was a solidity, to which he was unaccustomed.
And then he had met this girl. Met her in the tritest and meaningless of circumstances. He had met her and resisted for a time; then, when it became evident that resistance was needless, let it flow.
She made him uncomfortable, but it was the uncomfort of being loved and returning it, rather than the pain of his youth. The failures; the suck. But he had still not taken off his shirt.
As he thought about the reasons, he might have laughed.
He had seen her shirtless, and the thoughts made him blush as if someone were observing him. He laughed uncomfortably; she was imperfect in the best ways. The angle of her breasts was slightly off; her nipples had a depressed quality; the curve of her hips too broad; her smile had a particular crook that lit unevenly; she wasn’t an hourglass.
But that imperfection was glorious. It was as if someone had ordered those wrong lines, bad contours, and imperfect shading – for they were not perfect – and made a work of art, reveling in its own glorious unrightness. He drank in those beautiful crevices that you couldn’t find in perfection because they were hers.
He stared in the mirror, sighed, and took off his shirt: he reviewed his shame.
Stretch marks; angry red motes, gouged into his abdomen, stripes long jagged; like poorly healed dagger scars. They were of a tenor few could understand, let alone enjoy, painful recognition of failure to control. When they sprouted, he had assumed they were a rash. Until he examined more carefully, and they did not go away. They stretched as his gut expanded and reminded him daily of his battles with himself that he had failed to control himself—a fear which spoke of another darkness.
He had confided in her these terrors. How in his youth he was diagnosed; how he would have intense moods, how he could flip like a switch: how he was damaged. They served as forceful, perpetual reminders that he was on the hair's edge of right; ok; that he was once not ok, that he was once broken…still broken.
And those scars hurt more than the memories they conjured up.
She had taken it all with love. She understood. How could she? She may not be perfect, but she wasn’t broken. He looked at those scars, the battles they represented. He liked when she touched him.
But he knew it was important that she see; she hadn’t questioned when he didn’t take off his shirt. She didn’t mind. Her hands wandered freely, but it was ok. “Wait until you’re comfortable: He wasn’t comfortable. He would never be comfortable with these things. But…
He would do it. He would do it. He felt the swell of his belly, significantly reduced by time, effort, and love. Someone who wasn’t him would know his shame. And they would judge him accordingly.
--You’re taking an awfully long time! She shouted.
He looked at his scars. He was imperfect, but so was she. She was ok with it. He didn’t know when he would be, but he knew he would, one day, in some far off way. The way he knew when he met her.
He gathered himself, looked at those angry red scars, and smiled for the first time at his own hypocrisy.
He opened the door to share his imperfections with the universe in the next room.
Every story is a lesson. I could wax poetic about Joyce, that modernist icon who call sattention to the act of reading to highlight its unreality; I could cite Bulgakov with his endless comic wit and infinite recursions through the heart of Pontius Pilate, The Master and Margarita. I could talk endlessly of the beautiful scaffolding on the cathedral sentences on the prose that are Proust's magnum opus. I could tell you how Finnegans Wake is a perfect work of art, or Gravity's Rainbow is a beautiful conspiratorial labyrinth. I could admire Borges, or Dante or Murakami who have all buried themselves indelibly in my spirit. It would be appropriate; it would be literary. It would be in the spirit of those things which marry the highbrow with the low.
But those stories did not change me. They only confirmed what I believed.
The one story that changed me, was Mob Psycho 100.
Does that even count? A less than competently drawn manga about a boy overflowing with psychic ability, who is unable to truly express his emotions? The ultimate in pulp genre literature. Less than the now heralded pulp of previous centuries. A comic? Why not Hemingway? Why not Petrarch? Why not Ginsberg?
Because after I read the Paradiso of Dante, I pathologized courtly love.
But after Mob Psycho 100, I decided to go grocery shopping.
Because after Gravity's Rainbow, I feared for my sanity.
But after Mob Psycho 100, I allowed myself to emote.
Because after The Master and Margarita, I found humanity contemptuous.
But after Mob Psycho 100, I opened myself to vulnerability.
Because after Proust, I was lost in a sea of ghostly, ethereal beauty.
But after Mob Psycho 100, I grounded myself in the mundane, unsexy reality of here and now.
Because after Murakami, I was in an iterative, ever-shifting reality.
But after Mob Psycho 100, I was simply here.
Because after Joyce, I reveled in the creative chaos that art allows us.
But with Mob Psycho 100, I found the grains of days that allowed me to channel that chaos.
I love literature. But it wasn't until I read Mob Psycho 100 - in which vulnerability, mundanity, sincerity, and taking life one day at a time stuck with me - that I was able to make a meaningful, good change in my life.
It wasn't until Mob Psycho 100 that I felt that I didn't have to be miserable to be a good person.
So, to put it simply, I live by the simple rules of Mob Psycho 100. A medium-length manga, with a weak art style, and the simplest guide to living a good life I've ever read.
My daughter is an old man.
My daughter is an old man. She's three feet and six inches precisely (she likes to tell me this in the mornings when I make her eggs benedict, a word you would not expect a seven year old to have memorized) and she knows this because her beard is exactly three feet. One day, to confirm the differential, she pulled out a tape measure and rolled it down the length of the white, furry thickness and counted off in bright baritone one, two, three, four, five, six.
Her bones creak with arthritis and she croaks like a frog. She has trouble walking up stairs because she sometimes reminisces about days that never happened, forty years ago. She's rambunctious and curious like all seven year olds, but she knows that she's different.
She asks why other girls her age don't have beards, or wrinkles on their foreheads like vellum that's been used too much. Why they don't have nose hair. Why they are able to play so freely. And why they don't seem to care about how heavy the world is.
Sometimes, she lingers in thought and proffers wisdom. She will read books about famous thinkers and she's damnably smart. Once, she asked me about why no one uses rotary phones anymore and I didn't have a good answer. She sees my youth and is jealous of my folly. She is wise beyond her years and she is desperately alone.
She once asked me why she was born an old man.
"I don't know" I said, honestly.
"There's gotta be a reason," she said back, wringing her fingers and pouting.
"People are as people are."
"But does that mean they always gotta be that way?" She asks
"I suppose not."
She accepted it with the grace of age. And then she went into the library, picked out a book of Leonardo Da Vinci drawings, and stared at the vitruvian man, dreaming of a perfection that lies outside the reach of man and all his vainglory.