Largely, I think poetics are bullshit. Granted: narrative, stories, the oral tradition (which loses its luster when you can’t hear me say it with a haughty affect) — all helped shape the anthropological imprint of civilization.
But, I’m sorry, “story” also fucked up a lot of shit.
I mean, for one it’s carved out prejudice and misconception. Story was the blueprint for religion — not faith, BTW, but religion. And it still today continues to influence the way in which we perceive fact, which is why we have the government we do. Or why Germany during the early part of the 20th Century had the government it did.
And, look, this isn’t a hot take; I’m not trying to draw fire. I’m a writer. I love “writing.” I love writers and stories. I love TV, film, literature. Social media’s #writingcommunity has been a great leviathan of support for many writers as it’s blossomed over the course of the last year.
The problem, for me, with story, is: it affects the way in which we view real life.
Our real lives.
A year and a month or so ago, my life, as I knew it at least, sort of, blew up.
My wife and partner of almost ten years asked for a divorce. Instead of dealing with it, I fled; threw a bunch of shit in a bag, threw that bag into the trunk of a car, and drove that car three or four hundred or whatever miles through the desert to Northern Arizona.
This is all a subject for another post — even though all these posts will be to a certain extent about *this* subject — so I don’t want you to think I’m glossing over things when I say that it was all kind of a blur up to a point. A big part of coping is just trying to stay rolled up inside a reality vacuum — avoiding influences that could trigger you, riding a wave of numbness that settles in when the brainbody decides anxiety and grief has taxed it out. Utilizing whatever numbing agents are available —
Ambien. Tito’s. Xanax if you’re lucky.
But, then, at some point, there are choices to make.
And, listen, for edification: none of these choices will be bad, per se, but all of them will probably be made to, for lack of a better term, “serve a narrative.”
I’m sorry to be presumptuous here, but I’m just going to call it for the sake of my point when I say that the choices we make (in the scenario of being grief-stricken or, really, any other) will always be intended as a segue into a “next act.”
I lasted almost six months in Arizona, cobbling together income from freelance jobs I could barely survive on. In February, I drove through Death Valley to the Sierras to live in Mammoth Lakes, California (meant as a “first step” into the “giant leap” of re-entry into Los Angeles, where I’d lived for over a decade). That lasted only a week until a blizzard crippled the county, and I got snowed in at a ramshackle bungalow in Bishop, forty minutes down mountain, where there was little to do but drink and realize that the answers I was looking for certainly weren’t there. In May, then, I moved to Brooklyn, New York, where I lasted the duration of the year before the pace got to me — this timeline excludes a two week expedish to Australia during which I learned the benefits of microdosing mushrooms (also a story for another post), as well as several quick trips back and forth to the Southwest to visit family, and LA.
Throughout, I made a few big-scope choices, and several smaller-scope ones, in an attempt to catalyze a moment when everything would finally change for me; when my life would take that ninety degree turn — as it had seemingly done once already, although change comes quicker when shit falls apart than when it’s getting put back together) –and suddenly I’d be on a whole new trajectory.
Suddenly, it would be good again. Suddenly, I’d have my resolution. Suddenly, it would be time to smile bemusedly at a kid, or a puppy or an animated hot dog, or Zooey Dachenel.
Fade out as credits roll.
Disagree? There are movies about this. And TV eps. And books. And essays and articles and memes. And songs and tomes and faith and belief and opinion, all based on this. And they all chronicle a moment when a “hero” is on the other side of “hard times.”
But that’s not how it works.
An Internet post I really like was written by a guy enduring a breakup. And it was about grieving, and hurting, and questioning whether or not you mean anything to the world. And it follows his journey of getting into shape — emotionally via physically — and a gradual return to self-respect and self-love. It’s really powerful, and I think it exemplifies the pattern of a real life journey because it unfolds in a natural stream of causes and effects — i.e. very “This and then this and then this and then this happened,” you know, like it does. But then at the end of this post it all still comes to a fine point; it all proceeds through a climax and into a denouement. And right at the last sentence, it captures a pivotal moment of reemergence into the world, wherein the narrator — transformed now into this new version of himself — works up the courage to ask out the “cute girl” at his gym.
All the suffering from the beginning pays off at the end. And so, then, there’s an “end.”
But there is no end; there’s never an end. And things are rarely clear cut, or add up, or pay off. In the long run. For example, over the last year I’ve had breakthroughs. And I’ve had breakdowns. I’ve made choices that led me far from where I’ve been, and then I’ve found myself right back where I started. I struggled alone. I struggled with family. I struggled with friends. I struggled through therapy. I numbed myself out. Got high. Got wasted. Sobered up. Then, did it all over again.
Some days, I climbed mountains. Others, I sunk in the mud.
Because “This and then this and then this and then this and then this happens” is all that happens. Forever. Forever and ever til we’re dead.
The reality is: we’re just trying to figure out how to reckon with this very moment.
Right now I’m in Colorado. I’m almost 40, and I stay with my parents, near my sister, niece. Most days are generally good. Some aren’t. Money’s not great. Yet. But it’s not bad either. I’m working on maintaining some old things, and trying to build some new.
I’m really just trying to figure out how to reckon.
Which means that sometimes I’m aware of that ebb and flow, and I know that loads of potential is packed into the unknown like the compressed space of a black hole, and anything might be possible in “the tomorrow” of it all, and that the only constant in this reality is change.
But sometimes —
Sometimes I just want to slip back into the program — like, total reversion — and indulge in the belief that the scene is about to come to an end and the choice I make or action I take or declaration I proclaim will set me off down some brand new plot line that ends with me, in a Firebird T-top, cruising toward the horizon, burying the needle — cue the music! — and I want to believe that the montage or the finale is coming, and the end is here, or that this is just where the night is darkest, but it’s going to be sunrise in the next frame.
It’s comfortable there. In that mindset — that “movie of your life.”
Because it would be so much easier to just know there is an answer for everything; that it’s just going to get revealed in the very next scene.