Within which, if I were to put myself, here or now. I’m not. We radiate around the outsides.
I started to question, quite regularly, the way I was relating to all things.
I play a language-game. I am playing two games with language that are related to one another but not in the way you would expect. What is the relationship between two things that function solely by their relationship to one another. It is not. And yet you still think you can be inside and outside, that the relationships within bear relation to those without. I propose we look carefully at this, maybe forever, until we’ve figured something out.
At some point I was playing a game where I submerged myself in a system only to sink right through. I became dismantled, or something did. The question was how to look at a relation. The question was sinking right through.
In New York I was so tired all the time. The weather turned quickly over three days, from being too hot to carry my suitcase up the steps to Pulaski Bridge to a gloomy seventeen degrees. On our last night I alienated a YouTube sensation. He talked about making YouTube videos like it was a real thing to do. He was from upstate New York.
I left at 6.30 in the morning to a beautiful pink sunrise, talking to the taxi driver about how neither of us could sleep. We were silent for long periods. He lived near the airport so I was his last trip that night, that morning.
Austin looked so dry compared to everywhere else I knew. I struggled with road crossings and couldn’t figure out how to get the bus to stop. Groceries were expensive and my small kitchen unit didn’t even have cutlery. I bought a knife and ate only food I could slice. I was still very tired in Austin. A week or more of jetlag. I thought everyone was my enemy. Or perceived me as theirs. I ate alone in restaurants and was silent for whole evenings. When I was less tired I would spend them reading.
The first week went slowly. After that I didn’t notice the time passing, or it passed so quickly that I couldn’t note it. I spoke to friends on Sundays. Usually while visiting the launderette. If I was speaking to somebody they would remark on the sounds, and I would tell them it was the birds screaming in the trees just outside. I didn’t know the type (the trees or the birds), but later learned the birds were grackles. I started to enjoy myself immensely.
During that first week, a new bug appeared in my room each day. I either killed or removed them, based on a snap judgment as to their deadliness. Then I tracked them down on the internet to find out what they were. (I did love to learn new things.) One night I shared my room with a mosquito and woke up covered in red lumps. The next evening I smashed the mosquito on the back of my hand. It left a red stain on my palm. I wondered if the blood was all mine. I got used to the smell of bug spray before bed, the feeling of inhaling it and the taste. Made all the worse because my windows were closed, to keep out the bugs.
One Sunday a man drove us to Lockhart, to eat barbeque. He paid for everything. I was a vegetarian, but tried the meat anyway. The whole place smelled of smoke. Greg kept quietly putting pieces of meat onto my plate, I think because he didn’t know what to say. The buildings looked so old but I didn’t know what that meant here, and there were few people out walking. The blue of the sky, nearly every day in Texas. Usually a piercing mid-blue, like highlighter ink. But that day it was so hot it was cobalt. And cloudless.
I called my friend from the bus stop on the way home. He started telling me that if somebody had a fear of commitment it meant they weren’t interested. I wasn’t sure how we had gotten onto the topic. He referred to it as a ‘home truth’. I wondered if he thought that’s what I’d been doing.
I would think about this friend at night sometimes, to the point where I would dream of him. And obviously dreams always feel unbidden. And somewhere in the dream the image mixed with wanting. Wondering whether I had long been ignoring real wanting, or had fashioned wanting out of thinking, out of a space to fill which I filled with thinking. And later, wanting. Night by night, a slow acclimatisation to an idea.
One night I dreamt I was pregnant. I wondered if it was because I was away. In the dream were all my past thoughts about the subject, which is why it felt so real. I went into the dream pregnancy thinking about whether I could keep it, and somewhere developed a new thought that I had not had in real life. That it might be my only chance to have a child. In the dream I planned to keep it. I remember it feeling very much my own body, but when I think about it now it feels so distant. My dreams were often about closeness, but never like this. Perhaps because I’d been spending time with a mother. But was I really that impressionable. All the things I was supposedly lacking, now coming at me in my sleep.
I decided I would have to draw every day, which resulted in my drawing one day. But what was it I was drawing. Loosely defined it was a relationship.
I sent an email to this friend and his scattered response made me hate him for a second. I concluded that my feelings were solely reactions to his actions. All this was was framework, the substance emptied out. Later, I conceded that this empty framework could be a defence, the hate-reaction a way of never getting to rejection. There was no way of knowing that everything else wasn’t also like this.
I went from explaining postmodern rootlessness in the German biergarten on campus to explaining that I wasn’t homesick because I had laid no foundations. At the time I didn’t realise the relation. At this point I was perhaps stuck on the concept of relationality. (The whole world seemed subsumed.) That was the night I came home and squashed the cockroach in my bathroom with a boot.
We were out and I decided I wanted to see all the rooftop bars. We made it to two. Men spoke to us. One of them managed a bakery and dog groomers’. The bakery was, in fact, for dogs. He said: ‘bad things don’t happen in Austin.’ It was the night of the shooting in San Antonio. There seemed to be a new shooting every week. When everybody else left the bar, he said: ‘it’s so hard being a guy.’ He kept showing us the same picture of the themed Halloween cookies for dogs.
One night when I couldn’t sleep I heard the plastic on the bin crackling, in a way that was different to the crackling caused by the ceiling fan. I turned on the light and saw in silhouette the cockroach crawling over the edge of the bin. It curled around the lip and was in. I put on pants and closed the bin bag, folding it down around the roach, took it outside to dispose of it. It was like smacking into a wall, the heat when I came back into the room.
The cockroaches had started to come in, and it was time to go. I would be on edge for days at a time without knowing why. I found that if I expected them constantly, they would stop appearing. For a time. I routinely checked the room whenever I came home in the evening. The stillness had broken and the temperature was erratic. Every so often there would be a warm night. There were so few people on the street, and I walked everywhere. I stopped wanting to spend time at home, so every Sunday when I didn’t see anyone I would go to this quiet bar and have a glass of white wine. One night a woman yelled at a group for smoking on the patio, and then joined their group to talk. I put some falafel in the microwave and they burned a hole in the plastic container. The room smelled very strongly of burning plastic and I was due to leave the next day.
Back home, I had seen a counsellor about disconnectedness. For her it was a refusal to connect. She said I was making excuses, like a child. She refused to see the pattern I laid out in front of her. The problem, I now knew, was that I didn’t ask enough questions. Or was forever asking the wrong ones. There are gaps, you see, she did not take seriously. These gaps, I’ve found, are difficult to understand.
Every so often someone would leave and the landscape would shift slightly. They would feel briefly disappointed, then fold back into their lives. Already before they left invariably a part of them had started leaving.
I lived every day thinking some terrible event was imminent. It was always about the relation of one person or people to another person or people. I would walk down the street and suddenly be expecting bad news, unable to shake it. Sometimes I just enjoyed the walking.
Sooner or later, something was going to have to happen. But there was something in that, not wanting a story.
Generally, people left me alone. Generally, I preferred it that way.
I moved to a new place and within a day there was an infestation of fly larvae. Tiny white worms that seemed to appear from nowhere, even though whenever my eye caught them they weren’t moving very quickly. I squashed them one by one, then curiously lifted a rug to find maybe twenty, thirty more. And more again under another rug. I probably killed over a hundred larvae that morning, one at a time. My hosts came to remove the rugs and put them out in the sunlight. The morning had been so peaceful, just reading on the porch. After applying repellent four or five wasps appeared immediately, I couldn’t get them to leave me alone. One clung to the book I had clearly coated with the stuff. Towards the end of the summer, or I guess November in Texas, wasps are attracted by sweet smells. It was the only causation I could create. I skyped with my friend who said he was going on a date. It appeared I was very attractive to insects. I washed off the repellent and went out for the evening with bare legs.
Rocky, like the movie, was sitting in a coffee shop patio, calling, one after the other, people he did not seem to know. He kept introducing himself, then explaining his connection to them. One of the recipients of a call was the daughter of someone he’d dated in the eighties. She was at a party so she couldn’t talk. He said enjoy the party and hung up.
I wanted to write an essay about archives and bodies, because it had struck me, in reading boxes of letters each day, how many of them were about illness. People wrote when they were ill, when their relatives were ill. I swear there wasn’t a single letter in which nobody was ill. As I read letters from the later years, as the archive aged, more and more people started to die. There were so many lives in these boxes and I moved through them so quickly, it became overwhelming, the accumulation of bad news. One week I got a stye, and I emailed a bunch of friends to tell them. I didn’t tell my Mom because I thought it would worry her. She was emailing me about my Dad’s dialysis procedures. I was reading the papers of an author who said she was dying of kidney dysfunction for at least ten years. I walked around my apartment staring at the floor, expecting to see parts of it wriggling.
I wanted to be so alone that my language would change, and then it did, and all I wanted was to go back.
There were these bare moments everywhere I went.
I worried I was drifting away from some people. But I understood because I was drifting away from me too.
On a bus ride home a woman sat near the front aiming and firing an imaginary shotgun. The whole twenty minutes I was on the bus, she kept lining it up and shooting. Occasionally she made the accompanying noises, sometimes speaking to her target. Bang bang you’re all dead. But mostly it seemed like just one target.
I liked it here because there was space between the buildings. You could walk up and down a strip but the places you could go into were spread out. Because I only went to these strips there were not many continuous times indoors.
I was not drawing anything and this was increasingly a problem. I wondered if in only writing about drawing I would forget how to see. If my language would change.
Two weeks after the larvae the flies started to appear. I had been writing about flies in novels. This was all the material I used to make new friends. Kafka mentioned flies in his diaries around then too. We were all of a nervous disposition. I found five dead flies by the window and could still hear buzzing. Later when I turned off the light the buzzing grew in volume. When I turned to look, five live flies. They seemed to come in fives. I doused myself in bug spray and got completely under the covers. It seemed I might suffocate from the fumes. The next day I told the story to a group. ‘I had some flies,’ I explained to the man. ‘Oh,’ he said, nodding.
At some point it became home, but I don’t know when. At some point you stop paying attention. By the time I was leaving I felt like letting people in. Perhaps I had been preparing for something.
The last few days went quickly. I bought a coffee for a man whose face was covered in blood, standing outside a Starbucks, afterwards wondering if I should have sought medical attention instead. But he was standing there bloodied, arms across his chest, asking for coffee and a hot breakfast sandwich. I wanted to help but wasn’t thinking. I left him standing there, still asking for a sandwich. Further down I crossed the street to avoid a wedding.
I started to doubt my prophetic abilities.
I met my friend in another city, tried talking about goodbyes. I was unable to articulate because the material was unclear. There was something about relating to him in certain ways because he was a man. There was something too that I said was not about him. There was an oblique reference to a feeling borne out of boredom. There was a turning away. There was a sense of being told to turn away. There was a disappointment. There was a different ending.
In New York I was back on edge after months of calm in Austin. It seemed sometimes like nothing had changed, except I was further from old friends. At other times, it seemed that everything had changed, so completely.