Of all the tasks each of us must tackle in life, facing one’s demons is perhaps the most difficult. Inability to cope — to conquer the demon, to progress — is paralyzing; it might involve fear, or anxiety about what might happen to us should we pause and take note of what ails us. “Better to ignore the problem!” Many times we have thus reasoned.
This tendency to unconsciously cower at the thought of one’s own shadow is analogous in many ways to the status of our society as a whole in the monolithic modern nation called U.S.A. With pride we pledge our allegiance; in hubris we claim the title “greatest country in the world.” But the price paid for such allegations is so exorbitant, the toll of perpetuity so great and horrifying, the ongoing imperialism so near-invisible and nigh-impossible to comprehend, it becomes easier to swear fealty than call foul.
It is not my intention to point fingers here; think of this more as a thought experiment. After all, how could I even begin to blame a person, an institution, a regime, or even a whole demographic when history shows that most people, most of the time, are completely absorbed with their own demons, so fully distracted as to allow atrocities to continue unchallenged year after year, continent by continent, for centuries? To do so would follow no more logically than if I were to say my father is the reason my life has been so difficult; no more compellingly than to argue it was the church that left me unable to trust.
In fact, my experience tells me that the only way to wrestle a demon is to isolate it. My bout of madness was not the simple result of my parents’ or teachers’ failures, I realize; such a foe cannot be so easily slain. But to recognize a myriad of factors: a flawed system weak and overcome by its pathologies; an upbringing where problems were to be suppressed rather than acknowledged and addressed; deep-seated hereditary insecurities with success; constant fear of alienation from an incessantly alienating habitat… To recognize these factors is the first and most difficult step toward truly defeating the demons they have created.
One may get far ignoring an open wound, but eventually the gangrene will take limb or life. So it is with civilizations — systems which, we must always remember, simply reflect humanity in all its wonders, weaknesses, and excesses — and we ought to remember this before our demons become our downfall.
Call it in
call it off
call the cops
a waking nightmare
calm the nerves
take a drag
dull the senses
tie them off
take to the street
sing loony and egg
time every step
one, two, three
one, two, three
one, two, three
it must be done
what is it
what do you really want
give me some sense
a paradigm addendum
an additive for duress
have you considered the psyche?
yours, mine, ours?
have you noted its pitfalls?
does it contain any hope?
our ends have no precedents?
the first to note the decadence?
I haven’t any idea
with some dissent;
an object foil,
to some the sands
from second rate
all finally gone—
awash in sun
of means and ends
the roads of toil,
will burn in oil
while all recoil
averse to violence
the talk of Mars,
the warring throats,
speaks to the stars—
with reaching arms
so easily and hence
has been the proper time
should be sublime
oh starry sky.”
Random — from 3/14/2010
You find, after some time staring at your keyboard, that there is nothing so difficult as writing a compelling fiction. With an academic essay, you can take cues from the preexisting literature and in fact are expected to do nothing else. The advent of the internet — more importantly, “web two-point-oh” — has expanded the searchable reference library to unimaginable proportions. Writing dialogue for an imagined character, however… this remains the more daunting challenge. Take, for example, Lucy; on page fifteen of my most recent story, she begins a monologue:
What bothers me the most, she says, is how when I take the bus or meander around downtown or especially when I am witness to a breathtaking sunset, it’s during these moments that I feel like I am surrounded by people who, most of them, are just sleepwalking through their lives.
And she continues:In those fleeting seconds, the way the sun dips below the horizon and if only they would look around and watch for the last rays before they disappear, that is when I wonder if I am totally alone, and whether I will ever come to know something as abstract as “love” or “hope” in any substantive sense.
To which I reply, “I understand what you mean; it’s as though we cannot penetrate the veils that separate us from each other, and in those times when beauty and wonder fail to universally astound, it is ultimately heartbreaking to be present.”
It is unfortunate that immediately upon touching the page these words seem dreadfully insufficient, so much so that most of what I write never leaves the confines of my hard drive. What, after all, does it take to animate a fictional being? Or is it so different from composing speech in day-to-day interactions?
I stand and pace the soft beige carpeting. These words fill my head with anxious thoughts and seem to leap haphazardly onto the page. A melancholy blend of elation and despair is what glues me to the keys, hoping to find some melody through the discord. That’s good, I think, I should write that down.
If anything, this is my story of self-awakening. We cannot endlessly wander through our lives as passengers and hope to end up where we desire to go. Either I am at the helm or nobody is, and to hell with that postmodern crap.
My roommate Eric interrupts my thoughts: “I’m making tofu and rice for dinner,” he says. “Want some?”
I’ve been a noncommittal vegetarian for a few years now, and by that I mean I’d like to be. The thing is, how fucking rich must you be to say no to basic sustenance like meat when it’s offered to you? Is that not quintessentially an arrogant philosophy? Or maybe it’s small-minded to accept the disgusting poultry and bovine industries.
"Sure," I say.
After two hours staring at my computer hoping for some inspiration to spark, I decide to take a break, and it’s about time too since the coffee is making me jittery. It’s never a bad time for a cigarette, however, and I tap 2 out and give three sharp raps on Mike’s door with my fist, and offer him one of the smokes.
"I figure one of the consolations of being in your twenties is that you spend most of your time surrounded by other people," I say. "When I consider how my parents or your parents or even people in their mid-twenties who get married ‘early’ live their lives, mostly isolated or at least secluded to their own program, I feel pretty lucky to still be young and alive."
"No doubt," he says, and taking a long drag from his Camel he nods in agreement. "I mean, imagine what it must be like for most people — most people in America, anyway — who have only their jobs and a few hours to themselves a week that are more often than not filled with two-point-five kids, a mortgage to be stressed out about, maybe an unfaithful wife or husband or just some paranoid delusions about what their spouse may-or-may-not-be-doing. It’s enough to drive anyone mad."
We smoke silently and I do my best to catalogue the scene.
On the covered deck a two-foot garden gnome sits at the foot of the recovered lounge chair, dug out of a dumpster in June. A paint bucket plunk-plunk-plunks as the leaky roof drips through the corrugated metal roofing. The rain has turned the backyard into a giant muddy puddle, though the grass died months ago anyway. Two-day stubble coats Michael’s chin, and we both exhale triumphantly and flick the butts into the neighbor’s manicured garden.
What happened to all the twenty-somethings?
Who smoke cigarettes to filter and invite the cancer in
Soon enough, there will be none left
By the bullet or the bottle
Bone and flesh and death
What have you created?
Naturally, I can’t help but feel this is one big cosmic joke.
Have you felt it? That hesitant panic that maybe you’ve been duped, been done over by Zeus and his Creons?
I’m not the first to feel it, I know, but when the curtain falls and Jesus is standing there with uncorked champagne toasting the end of life-as-we-know-it… well, that would just be fucking bizarre.
But no moreso than, say, the way life-as-we-know-it operates.
You really shouldn’t read something like Ishmael if you’re looking for inner peace, and you sure as hell shouldn’t be reading anarchist literature. Yet this is how I’ve spent my recent days, pondering the perilous paths of precedents in full knowledge of the futile nature of my quest… yet questing nonetheless.
Oh, where my journey has taken me!
In my mind I have smashed the bank teller window and spray-painted vulgar graffiti on the McDonald’s arch. I have marched hand-in-hand with flower children and acid-tripping hippies from the Nineteen-Sixties. When the riot police machines come I always throw their tear gas back to them, though they’ve forgotten how to cry. These glorious and grandiose dreams are then beset by the realities of my life.
No job, no money, and no real desire to have either. Like I said, don’t look to Ishmael for a reason to keep at your mindless job or for motivation to stick it out and finish that lingering degree.
My mind is all-over-the-fucking-place.