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One day when I was about twenty-four and my son was a baby, I was wheeling him down the street in Cambridge, MA.
The usual punked-out teenagers were skateboarding around on the square and one of them walked up to me and said, ‘You know the world is going to end before he grows up. How can you have a kid, knowing that?’
I wasn't too far from that frame of mind myself, at the time. My impossibly prim tone and answer surprised me.
‘Well, we just have to hope you're wrong.’
That’s when I knew I was a grown-up.
So this week I had a meeting with a client at 1211 6th Ave. I’m so out of it I didn’t remember it’s the same building The New York Post is housed in. During our meeting the client mentioned the two cases of anthrax they’d had in the building. Well, it sure as hell explained the intense scrutiny and bag search in the lobby. I don’t think this cold I have is anthrax, not even remotely. I’m not running off to get tested or demand Cipro. I’m just tired of having this insanity all around me all of the time.
I feel like hell today. This is just ridiculous. Can’t I even have a chest cold without wondering what it might mean? For Christ’s sake, enough is enough, already. Really, it was enough to see the towers fall, to have to wear a mask over my mouth, to look helplessly at people wearing the faces of the missing hung round their necks, to see the pain-filled faces lit by candles, to work in offices with ash-covered windows, to be evacuated off the subway three times, to show my ID to innumerable guards, to answer my children’s questions. Let it stop.
She doesn’t know what she’s looking for, she only knows what she doesn’t want and the list is long. The process of elimination could take years—there are so many things she turns against. She always feels cheated when she examines the options. If you ask her if she’s happy she’ll always say ‘no,’ even when she’s laughing in the moment. It’s like a superstition with her. People think she’s difficult and she is. She is. She wants to be loved but she makes herself unlovable in her attempt to take what she deserves. And those that love her suffer.
Today a website I designed and then managed the technical build for went live. I felt a flash of the old excitement as I looked at it—all the planning and work suddenly there on the screen. An idea started on paper magically responding as I click the mouse, all that code doing what its supposed to do. Something I can point to when my family says ‘What exactly do you do, anyway?’ For a few minutes I even remembered loving the work, loving the problem-solving, loving the orderliness of the design process. Damn. Remember when this stuff meant something?
I keep waiting to hear from you but you’ve disappeared. No email, no ICQ, just your voicemail on the phone. I tell myself this means you’re sleeping or out with your mate Moos. I tell myself it doesn’t mean anything bad. I tell myself we’ll catch up tomorrow. Still, I wish I could just be at your door and make sure. Remember when you asked ‘what if continental drift had never happened?’ It’s too easy to oversimplify the answer, but I can’t help it. Right now, if continental drift had never happened, I’d be there. And that would be enough.
Did you know that the cans of compressed air used to clean a laptop actually have warnings on them advising you not to use them to clean your ears? I don’t know why I’m thinking about that right now. It’s stuck in my head like an annoying melody. Do you ever have days when you just find yourself silently shaking your head over and over in response to the inexplicably stupid things people say and do? That’s the kind of day I’m having—just one head shaker after another. It’s so bad I’ve given myself a headache. Not real bright.
Tonight I am writing these words straight into the text box because I can't settle on a fucking thing to say and I'm tired of deleting and starting over. I'm so frustrated and pissed off I can't see straight and I have nowhere to go with it. Jesus, I want to break something. Thank God I’m alone tonight, because this is one of those shatteringly destructive moments and I’d hurt anyone within reach. I know this mood. It’s the one that has preceded every bad decision in my life. Have I reached one hundred yet? Be glad you aren’t here.
Cold: the wind is slicing through my leaky old windows and my hands are frigid from working on the laptop. I need some fingerless gloves. My head is little more than a container of phlegm and my skull throbs alarmingly whenever I move.
Confusion: I’m alternating between work and this difficult email I’m writing my beloved. I think this is a case of bad judgment. Honesty isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be and some things are just better left unsaid.
Conclusion: the cognitive dissonance is weirding me out. The common cold, business bullshit and love make bad companions.
It’s early. The streets are still empty and my kids are sleeping. I want coffee. I’ll get out the Italian coffee maker and the smell of just-ground beans will fill my nose. I’ll set milk in the frother upon the stove to heat, and when I hear the top of the coffee maker begin its mad fast dance I’ll make lots of lovely foam. I’ll pour only half a cup of coffee, gently scoop mounds of foam over it, then ceremoniously sprinkle sugar over the foam, where it will become a thin sweet crust to break with my tongue. Yum.
I keep thinking of how she treated us that afternoon. We sat in silence, mostly, in the garden of the L Café while all around us people murmured into cell phones and all of the conversations were the same.
‘I’m okay. I couldn’t get through to you until now.’
She walked and spoke softly--refilling coffee cups as they emptied like a nurse tending to her charges--offering food and drink in lieu of painkillers. All during that week she tended to me as I sat there, steeling myself to read the papers, unwilling to remain isolated in my apartment.
Each clear morning, when the sun rises to just the right height, all of the buildings below my window and into Manhattan are illuminated. The eastern plane of Empire State Building shines gold while the one other angle I can see recedes into gray. It’s another beautiful autumn day and our bridges and tunnels are closed. Our airports are closed. The Empire State Building is closed. There are fighter jets patrolling overhead again. The Rockaways are covered in smoke. And all of us are paralyzed with memory.
“We don’t think this is a terrorist incident,” says the FAA.
Defining moments. Do a search on Google or Yahoo you’ll find an astonishing number of moments claiming definition. I’ve always thought them rare and difficult to recognize—both in the lives of individuals and in the consciousness of a nation or the world. Sure, it only takes a look at a chronology of world history to find them or a little considered hindsight in our own lives, but the thing is, how often are we conscious enough to participate in shaping a new definition? Take note: you are officially participating in a defining moment. What are you doing about it?
So I’m sitting here listening to John Cale’s cover of ‘Hallelujah’. That song. I can never decide if it makes me happy or unbearably sad. Of course it brings instantly to mind that first encounter we had and how we listened to it so many times and how it made us cry as we contemplated saying goodbye. It’s so clearly a song about loss and yet it was the background noise as we found each other. That song. Maybe that’s the thing--loss is always the background noise. We know it and we dare to love anyway. That’s the thing.
This is the inevitable description of the task of writing one hundred words. We all come to it sooner or later. I’ve been saving it, actually, thinking I’d need it for the rainy day I run out of things to say. Even so, admitting it’s a cheat on my part, I’ve given it some thought. Why one hundred? Why not seventy-five or a randomly generated number each day? It’s a good number, really... long enough to demand substance and discipline. Of course the more obvious answer is because Jeff said so, lets us wibble on, and then actually publishes us.
In a painting or drawing, the space around an object is just as important as the object itself. When we look around we tend to see recognizable objects, rather than the space around and between them, because the left side of the brain is good at naming objects, but not so good at dealing with empty space. We can learn to see negative space and to reproduce it to draw more accurately.
I haven’t yet figured out how to cope with positive space suddenly made negative. In New York we are trying to learn how to unsee the twin towers.
Hell. I’m overloaded on good food and drink and the day is nearly over. All I want to do is lie down and moan until my belly doesn’t feel ridiculously full. So here. Here are 100 words, hastily composed. Once in Paris we ate like this and then later looked apologetically at each other as we carefully maneuvered ourselves into separate horizontal positions. It was the first time we weren’t compelled by sex, remember? Now, tonight, you’re listening to music in that wonderful concentrated way while I struggle with this last obligation of the day. God, but I love you.
Aside from all of the intangibles that make up the chemistry between us there’s an ongoing list of specific things I’d really hate to do without. Today it’s the way you make coffee, the elegant unconscious turn of your wrist when you pour wine, your breath on the back of my neck in the morning, the way your black jeans fit your thighs, and hearing you call me ‘petal’ and ‘love’ in ordinary conversation. See, I’m sorry. I know I’m just lousy at this. You’re worried and scared and all I can think of is the potential loss to me.
I need this negative space idea like I need a hole in my head. You know what makes me feel better at night when I can’t sleep? Going to the window to make sure the Empire State Building is still there. That building (and I swear if they don’t stop with the tawdry red, white and blue evening dress I may freak) has become the symbol of what hasn’t disappeared into negative space as well as an anodyne against potential losses. I can see it now, with the setting sun lighting it orange on one side. I love its constancy.
What, you want more than this? You think it isn’t enough already? Aren’t I already a business slut, an internet marketing whore, a software slattern? Didn’t I write a fucking ‘Recovery Message’ for (you don’t really think I’d say who it is, do you? I may be fed up, but I’m still a good little consultant)… let’s just call them a large financial institution? Shall I also give blow jobs to all potential clients now? How many dog and pony shows do you want from me? I. Am. Not. A. Business. Developer.
You want I should just slit my wrists?
Being forced to pretend with no personal stake in the results is oddly dislocating. It’s one thing to make a decision—you want something and you don’t much care how you get it. Then you can calculate the personal cost. Sometimes you find ways to justify it. You make sure it becomes the truth over time. An ‘undo’ button that would be better labeled ‘revision.’ Sometimes you simply decide to add it to your collection of sins. You take a look at your internal set of scales and assess the balance. It’s personal. Business should not infringe upon the personal.
I’m trying to think of things to be thankful for. I’ve always found this day slightly ironic, anyway. We used to gather strays into our ratty Somerville apartment, feed them whatever we could afford, then drink cheap wine and play Hearts late into the night. That was when it was fun to recreate the rituals we’d grown up with… to try to make them our own, to put our own special stamp on them. We were still playing house back then. Now this time of year comes round and I resent the interruption, though from what, exactly, is not clear.
I realized recently that there are people, close friends I’d have said not too long ago, that I didn’t remember to contact after September 11th. In all of the shock and confusion I just called the immediate and obvious friends and family. And now that I’ve thought about these other friends it seems… well, a bit late, really. I don’t think any of them even knew I worked down there, so they probably didn’t worry anyway. But it’s strange to admit that these people are lost to me now. Not just out of touch for a while, but really lost.
Damn these stupid sets of one hundred words. I swear I have nothing worth saying and I don’t know why I keep persisting with saying nothing. Am I depressed or just understandably worn out by the constant bad news? I can’t even tell. I have no conviction to fall back on anymore so I just look around and marvel at the mess. It’s just one foot in front of the other with no idea of the destination. I think I once swore I’d never be in this particular parade. Where are we going and why are we all doing this?
This need to make sense of things will mess your head right up. It will leave you reeling and on your knees because order, sense and coherence are right out the window. Sitting in front of this computer is nothing but bad news anymore. I like it on the street, though, where chaos is normal and where I feel as though the millions of us here are figuring it out in some as yet undefined way. Alone, I think maybe I’m too small for this. I can’t figure it out anymore, I have no offerings to make, not by myself.
I keep trying to soften what I feel by just telling myself I’m tired. And I am tired, but that’s not all of it. Now (and no thanks to the NHS) we finally know you’re okay. And now I can admit to how fucking angry I’ve been over this. How PISSED off I’ve been at you for being unwell. How completely terrible the timing was. How dare you become vulnerable now? How dare you make me think of losing you? And don’t tell me this unfair because I already know it and that infuriates me too. God, I’m so tired.
I got your email entitled ‘Girls can tell’ and puzzled over the message:
Everything hits at once
Believing is art
Me and the bean
Lines in the suit
The fitted shirt
Anything you want
Take a walk
Take the fifth
This book is a movie
Chicago at night
Why Chicago? You’ve never been to Chicago… yet it has been a bad year and everything did sort of seem to hit all at once… but you hate fitted shirts… and… beans? 1020 Am? Then I recognized the tracks from the Spoon album you bought while you were here. Whew.
I’m better now and over feeling so angry about your illness. All I ask is that we do the death thing in the usual order. Let me ease into it slowly, please. I’ve dealt with the unexpected suicide thing, I’ve said goodbye to my grandparents, and I’m halfway to accepting the inevitability of losing my parents. Just wait your turn, if you don’t mind, and stop trying to get to the front of the line. Tell you what. I’ll take better care of myself if you will, okay? Whatcha think, deal? Christ, this year can’t end soon enough for me.
I’m sick of trying to find a place for it, of attempts to rationalize it, of looking for identifiers and labels so the left side of my brain is less confused by it. Just because I’ve learned to unsee it doesn’t mean I’ve learned to process it. I don’t feel better and I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I just want to move on. Can it be dispensed with, shrugged off, intelligently? I don’t think so, dammit. We’re struck with it. Giving up God was a lot easier than giving up this longing for the old easy complacency.
I want decorum. I'm tired of seeing people leaning up against the barriers and treating it like it's Disney World. I'm tired of seeing people taking pictures of each other SMILING with the wreckage in the background. I'm tired of seeing it exploited for various agendas (the religious pamphlets, the politics, the opportunity to pick up a girl ,the need to see and be seen in the latest NYC hotspot--the exclusive club only a few can get into). All I want is a little more respect. It isn't some Broadway show that can be held over by popular demand.
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