10/5/15

David.

My friend David went missing in late July. I’ve known him the longest of anyone, since we were 15 years old, and we stayed close even after I left Michigan for school in 2009. Always we were united in misanthropy and sadness, but somewhere along the line, it was like I went out the front door into the world and he slipped unnoticed out the back.

It started during the college years, when we were all in our 20s. He kept having these frightening breaks from reality. One time on acid he went mad on the Wayne State campus and allegedly attacked a security guard; I found him strapped to a gurney the next morning at Detroit Mercy Hospital. Another time he flipped out in the middle of a 10-day meditation retreat and the buddhists had to send him home. At first we didn’t know what was wrong with him, because there were all these confounding factors: drugs, the stress of meditation—but eventually he got diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic episodes. It’s an affliction that looks a lot like schizophrenia, with an equally dismal prognosis.

He was never really the same after that. The medications clouded his brain and made him lethargic and unmotivated. It stopped the mania but somehow made the depression worse. He couldn’t work, which meant he had to live on a pitiful disability allowance. Then his car broke down, leaving him stranded alone in a tiny apartment in Hamtramck. One thing stacks up on top of another, and after awhile it becomes a case of how much can a person take?

Lindsay texted to say she hadn’t heard from David in a few days. This was standard protocol. Many times before he’d gone off his meds and disappeared for a time, but always he’d resurface, the hospital would pump him full of meds and he’d be back where he started. I checked our gchat history and found our last conversation was about a week ago. When I saw he hadn’t logged into google in more than five days—I think that’s about the time that I knew in my bones that he was dead.

A day later, neighbors called the landlord to complain about a smell. They found him decomposing in his apartment with a plastic bag over his head. That’s how he always told me he would do it: with helium and asphyxiation. He’d told me many times before that he wanted to die and he wasn’t scared. He stayed alive as a courtesy to his parents. If you’re thinking I should have said or done something, you don’t understand. I am the friend you can tell your darkest secrets to without judgment. This is one of my few, unequivocal gifts. In the aftermath people said things like, “I wish we’d done more to help him,” but those of us that knew him best knew that it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t for a lack of love. It was something deeper, hideous and ultimately unknowable.

I flew in for the funeral. Somehow, my friend Travis and I landed the task of identifying his body at the coroners. I expected them to open a large drawer and then dramatically unzip the body bag, but these days you just go into a room and look at a picture on a computer screen. He didn’t look at all like himself. His face was black, bloated and without expression. When the lady asked us, “Can you make a positive ID?” we lied and said “Yes.”

Lindsay and I spoke at the funeral to a packed house full of people weeping. David was a gay man from a conservative Christian family. His spiritual beliefs were nuanced and intelligent and beautiful, so when the pastor said a lot of generic bullshit about how David had repented and embraced christianity in the moments before his death, my friends and I were, how you say, annoyed. Lindsay even got up and walked out of the room in protest. The worst part was when they played the most god awful rendition of “Amazing Grace” the world has ever known. It was dumb and sad, but I had the feeling that David would have understood and pitied his family for clinging to superstition. I weirdly thought of the part in the bible when Jesus says, “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.”

If I had to choose, I’d say the most surreal thing about David’s death was when his mother handed me a felt pouch after the funeral service with a mini urn of David’s ashes inside. I said, “Oh. Thank you. I wasn’t expecting that.” Later I watched her give one to Lindsay, and she said the exact same thing. “Oh. Thank you. I wasn’t expecting that.”

I don’t mean for this to be a well thought out and beautiful essay about suicide, or an advocacy piece for people with mental illness or anything like that. Those are fine, I’m just not up for it. More than anything else, I am filled with an ordinary, overwhelming sadness. I miss hearing his voice and seeing his face. I miss his dry humor and cunning, compassionate intelligence. I inherited his army green satchel, a few books, his tarot cards and his crystal balls. We had this in common: our obsession with the divine tempered by a nagging skepticism. Since it happened I haven’t dreamed of him once or seen him as a floating aberration above my bed. It makes me sick in the stomach, this feeling that he’s lost. That I don’t know where he is.

I’m not angry at David for hurting us. Nobody has an obligation to stay alive in pain just because we don’t want to face the suffering of living without them. And I don’t subscribe to common ideas that suicide is selfish or cowardly. I don’t think it’s noble either, but don’t tell me that the scariest thing in the world doesn’t take courage.

When I got home to Seattle, it didn’t feel like home any more. David’s death turned Seattle into the loneliest place on earth. More than that, it forced me to take an objective look at my own depression, how I’ve been letting it run my life unfettered for more than three years. I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t making it. My friends and family kept saying, we miss you. Come back. So I said, fine. Thank you for still wanting me. And here I am.

 

01/19/13

sleepless in seattle is a real thing.

Dear Diary,

I can’t remember why I moved to Seattle. I know I must have made the decision at some point, but I don’t know what prompted it. Why Seattle specifically, I mean. Nevertheless. I’ve been here since January 2nd. Jesse and I broke up right after Halloween, but we kept living together and behaving as a unit, so it didn’t seem worth mentioning. It was probably shortly after he threatened to kill my dog if I went to the movies that I started to think I should leave the state for good.  I took my plants with me, which was a mistake, because they died in transit. Jesse had already started eating the chickens–there were six when I left, but then an animal came in and murdered four more, leaving only crooked-toe and Dorothy. (Or is it Sylvia? I’m not sure.) It feels like the deaths are my fault. I still love Jesse and I miss him like a drug, but whatever. Nothing ever works out. It’s fine. Sometimes you have to just say “fuck this shit” and move to Washington.

I live in a shoebox-shaped room set off from a house with four other roommates. They have eight chickens and a pitbull mix named Manny. I’m working for my cousin’s organic cleaning business, which is both okay and soul crushing. It hurts to be so close to other people’s nice things. First of all, the houses are often already clean when we get there. Secondly, they have all these neat paintings and statues and figurines all over the place. Their appliances are modern. It all reminds me of a moment from Jennifer Egan’s great novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad. It goes:

“Finally Bennie came out. He looked trim. He looked fit. He wore black trousers and a white shirt buttoned at the neck but no tie. I understood something for the very first time when I looked at that shirt: I understood that expensive shirts looked better than cheap shirts. The fabric wasn’t shiny, no—shiny would be cheap. But it glowed, like there was light coming through from the inside. It was a fucking beautiful shirt, is what I’m saying.”

That’s how I feel about cleaning other people’s nice things. I’m sure I’ll get over it.

The honest truth is that I don’t feel very good, but please don’t worry about me, because I’m going to be okay. Right now I am soulsick and listless. The mayans were right: Breaking up with Jesse was the end of the world. But here’s the thing about the end of the world–it isn’t an end at all. You just keep going on with all the color drained out of everything.

It hurts to be around people for very long, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in my room reading and trying to teach myself art history. I like the renaissance era religious paintings because they’re filled with magic, mysteries and secrets. I think my favorite painter is Botticelli. I got drunk and ordered a shitload of art posters, but I should have thought it through. They’re all dark and horrifying. You can’t hang The Garden of Earthly Delights where you sleep and expect to lead a happy life. I need to find pretty paintings to protect me but there’s the rub because I used up all my amazon money and I don’t like the pretty paintings as much. To me, a good painting looks like hell.

I prefer paintings to people, because I can’t hurt them and they can’t hurt me. I don’t have anything to say to anyone, and I don’t care much what other people have to say. I’m lonely but not at all interested in a cure.

The last few days in Seattle have been hopelessly foggy. It seems that I’m living in a long, boring dream that I can’t wake up from. The legend is true about the rain and Nirvana. They play a lot of 90s rock on the radio, which is comforting but maybe not representative of the overall milieu. I only know the one station right now.

The crows! People here are so stupid, they have no idea that crows are running the entire city. Every afternoon you can look up and see hundreds of them flying overhead in a northeast direction. Last week in a parking lot I watched a man watching them, and I thought, what a great man. Great because that’s what I was doing, and I think I’m great.

What I need right now is a writing project. I need to start working on something and see it through to its completion. It’s the most important thing. But I just don’t know what I want to write yet. I know I talked about writing a novel, serially, in blog format, and some of you in fact signed up to watch me fumble through that, but I’m just not sure. What if I did personal essays/memoir instead? What if I quit writing forever and started a hotel for dogs?

It’s 2013, and here we are, all of us, alive. Presently, it feels to me like anything could happen.

06/8/12

dreams, fruit, texas and so on.

I woke up feeling pretty terrible. I sleep in a shack with the door wide open so the cat can come in and out. The sun shone down on me like a baby in a goddamn manger. The shack isn’t the terrible part. I’m not unhappy about waking up in a shack.

Of late I have this insatiable hunger. Last night I dreamed about a big buffet with so much fruit provided by a christian conference in a large hotel. The big thing at the christian conference was that they were moving into phase two; they wanted to tell all the christians that it was time to start practicing all religions and loving everyone. Most of the people were cranky because they wanted it to be the normal kind of christian conference, which made me counter cranky. My brother was there, lecturing me about my life choices. As usual, he had the wrong idea about everything.

You should have seen all the fruit, though. It was a frustrating dream because I wanted the fruit so badly and they kept telling me it wasn’t quite time yet. It was never time for the fruit yet!

So I woke up and felt terrible. There was a half eaten bag of salt and vinegar potato chips sitting next to me and I ate them before getting out of bed, thinking, “This is terrible. What a terrible start to this terrible day.”

Here’s the thing, though. Here’s the weirdest thing about it: It’s a dumb, gray day outside and I feel not just hopeless and ugly, but also like a bad writer and person. I’m depressed, for sure. Nobody is saying that I’m not depressed. But it feels sort of cozy and delicious, too. I feel wrapped up in a big ugly sweater, waiting patiently for summer.

I ran into my friends Holly and John the day after they got back from Mexico. How was your vacation, I asked. It was great, they said. But we’re happy to be back, too, they said. That’s good. You shouldn’t be sad about returning to your life after you’ve gone on vacation.

If you’ve been tracking my summer vacation (Mom) let me tell you about some changes. In my last post I said that I would be meditating right now. That turned out to be a lie. I decided not to go meditate, and I’ll be spending most of that time in Austin instead. I’ll be in Texas from June 11-June 20. If you live there and want to hang out, send me a message. I’d love to meet you, maybe. I’m flying into Portland on June 20 and I’ll be there for not too long at all. So if you live in Portland and want to hang out with me, it’s possible but not as likely. I’m on tour, let’s say. Let’s call it a tour in which I have nothing to promote and I have to pay for everything myself.

My house sitting gig for July and August fell through. Whatever. It’s fine. I could write a book on the delicate nature of procuring a house sitting gig. It’s a disproportional favor, is the problem with it. In exchange for doing something very easy: hanging out with a dog, watering plants, etc. you get an entire house. And so the homeowners feel free to treat you like a criminal and an insect. (Not always. Oh god. I don’t mean everyone. Some of you are really cool about it.) So anyway. I lost the house sitting gig, so my future in July and August is a little more uncertain than it once was, but really, it’s fine. God will provide or whatever.

Some days just get away from you. You start thinking about pigs in gestation crates and you can’t stop. You want a dog. You start to think nothing in your life will be good ever again until you can have your own dog. And by “you” I mean me. And by “dog” I mean that all my needs are met and life is perfect exactly the way it is.

04/23/12

turning thirty.

Everybody says that your thirties are better, and I believe them. Seems to me like the fire inside of you burns steadier, that you care less what other people think. There’s more grace to be had from knowing from experience, instead of having to act strong and guess all the time.

It feels like a very significant birthday to me. My whole life I’ve felt this way, that when I was thirty, something profound would shift. It feels as though all of the changes I’ve made recently are meant to prepare me for whatever is next. Never mind that it’s 2012 and the world is coming undone in all the ways I’ve seen in my dreams since I was little. I’m not scared about the future, but I’m very curious. In a week I move back west again, and let me tell you… not a moment too soon.

My zero birthday, April 23, 1982: I was born at home, with midwives, in the house my mother and I still live in. These are iPhone shots taken of actual pictures, inelegantly. (Put them through an instagram filter and the universe would probably unfurl.)

my brother and sister are excited to meet me. They don't know anything about the future.

My father cuts the chord. it's weird to think that my parents were once married. I'd recognize that silver bowl anywhere. We fill it with lettuce leaves, still.

My mother was 30 years old when she had me. At last, we're the same age.

I think that shadow is my hand, lurking from the future. I don't know what else to say. My mother is so pretty. Last night, she made me a raw vegan carrot cake.

Look. I don’t weep, do you?

 

 

03/5/12

things fall apart.

The writers conference I went to in chicago last week started off on a high note, and then everything began to unravel. Here’s a list/summary of what I learned at AWP.

  1. I went to the conference for two reasons: To read my stories into a microphone and to meet my twitter friends. All told, I hugged around 15 new people, which is beautiful, which is the point of life, which is meaningful and true. More than anything, I discovered that really, I already knew them. I am a very affectionate person and it meant a lot to me to express my inappropriate love for Internet strangers in the physical. To love and be loved, this is the point of life. Duh. Everybody knows that, even if they don’t know that.
  2. As for the readings, one was pretty good and one was sweet but terrible, which averages out to okay. They were just fine.
  3. It’s fun to go to panels and muse on the writing process and everything, but ultimately, for myself, School is Out. At one of the panels I went to, somebody in the audience asked a question about “theme.” What are your themes? How do you stay true to and interweave themes into your novel? I have a masters degree in writing and I don’t know what a theme is. It’s an issue of too much craft and not enough soul.
  4. Sometimes I heard myself trying to casually interject my piddly credentials into conversation (I was published here, I got this fellowship, I know this person, puke) out of a made up need in myself to make it clear that hey, I have a right to be here. Whatever, I’m an asshole just like everybody else, but what I hope to learn from that is, in the future, don’t fucking do that.
  5. I spent the whole last day of the conference walking around on the brink of tears and not knowing why. Emotional exhaustion, probably. You don’t believe in magic, blah blah blah, but whatever; physics agrees with me that thoughts are things and we’re all one. By the end of that debacle, we were swimming in each other’s feelings, which, in a sea of writers, are complicated and many.
  6. Ambition is the worst, and from now on, I’ve decided to abstain. I’ll keep writing fiction and trying to get published, but I’m over worrying about what caliber of journal I can get it into, whether or not I can get paid, who will read it and whether or not I can make some kind of lasting impact on the literary canon before I die. None of that really matters, right?
  7. I always say that a writer is a person who hates writing, which is cute and sometimes it feels true, but it’s not true. I love this shit. I love it so much. I would die without it. When I’m able to express a hard to reach idea through words, and people take it in, and I feel like I’m understood? That’s all that matters. None of the other shit matters. And finally, obviously:
  8. Write from your fucking heart.

Friday night I went out with an old friend from grad school, a writer I met from twitter and a couple of his friends. I’ve been sober for almost 6 months now, maybe you heard, I don’t know. It’s tiresome to always talk about not drinking, but whatever. (To quote Margaret Cho: “If Richard Pryor had a period, he would talk about it.”) What is drinking but a contract of cowardice amongst friends?We’re afraid to get close so we agree to go on a voyage together. Not drinking is like treading water alongside the boat. Or maybe I’m in the boat and everyone else is in the water. Metaphors have their limits, let’s move on.

Over the weekend I thought a lot about how it would have been if I were drinking. I feel like I might have gotten lost or hurt. I feel like it would have been unsafe, and it’s hard to imagine that I used to hurl myself into danger so often.

I worry that people who drink are afraid of me. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to get close to anyone ever again.

Around 2 am, I got on the train and went back to the couch I was surfing in Wicker Park, and the party continued on without me in a hotel room with party drugs and Romanians. What would it have been like if my old self had attended? Here’s what I think: I would have felt closer to them at night, and then farther away in the morning.

Since then, nothing has gone right. I figured I’d mosey on out of the city on Saturday afternoon, but I was too chill about making train reservations and I missed the $35 train out of Chicago at noon, leaving only the 6 PM train for $93. I felt that dumb, heavy regret of knowing I’d lost a lost of money and it was my own fault. It will take me two hours of watching a dreary holocaust film and another hour or two of writing up the review to recoup not even half the difference.

Money is depressing. Wasting it is depressing. Whenever this happens I have a trick where I project myself a month or so into the future, when it doesn’t matter anymore, and it works, sort of. But I always know it’s a trick.

The train broke down somewhere outside of Kalamazoo. The conductor came on to say, “Well, the computer is on the fritz. We’re going to try to shut it down and reboot.” Apple+Q the train computer. That didn’t work. He came back on and said, “Well shoot. You know, this doesn’t happen very often.” They got the rear engine working and we travelled backwards to a rondevu point.

Here’s the best joke I could think of for the occasion, maybe I texted it to you or you read about it on twitter: “How long was it before they all started eating each other in that Mark Twain story?”

Another train came along and we swapped engines? I don’t know, it all seemed insane. The whole thing took about three hours. I spent the time feeling lonely and thinking about friendship. The signal on my phone was bad and for a few minutes, I started to consider that it might be the start of a national or global apocalypse, and I wished I had a man around who was good at building things with his hands, or even just a friend to make jokes with. It was a tragedy of boredom and inconvenience. It’s not like we were on a boat or an airplane. There was basically no chance we would die, which to me, almost made it worse.

A couple hours later in Detroit, the train hit an abandoned car on the tracks. The conductor came on the horn and gave an impromptu speech filled with pathos and insecurity. “You’re probably wondering why we’ve stopped,” he began. I wasn’t, actually. We didn’t feel any impact. He assured us that no one was hurt, and he told us to stay calm and try to be patient. It was the “please stay calm,” part that was really unnerving. We waited another two hours on the tracks for the railroad police to come. All told I spent 12 hours on the Amtrak, but what is time?

Like I said at the beginning of this very long blog post: everything is unraveling and falling apart around me. My sleeping schedule is a little messed up. Sunday night I spent a few hours preparing my class lesson for Monday morning. I went to bed at 3 am, but I forgot to set my alarm. I was having this long, ornate dream where I took acid and engaged in all kinds of debaucherous lesbian sex. I do this all the time in my dreams. I drink or take drugs and I fuck women. What does it mean, Freud?

My Monday afternoon class starts at 1. I woke up at 2:13 PM, and that wave of disbelief followed by overwhelming despair and regret washed over me. I had spent the last 11 hours partying and fucking women in my sleep, which made it doubly wrong.

My students communicated with me through email that they left their papers on the desk, so I had to drive the 40 minutes to campus to retrieve them. My 95 Saturn won’t stop gobbling up oil. The oil isn’t leaking, it’s just burning away. Where does burnt oil go? It has gotten to the point where I have to fill it up around every 30 miles. The 95 Saturn is my ticket out of Purgatory, Michigan, and I find the troubled engine troubling.

I bought three quarts of oil at the gas station, and the attendant said to me, “Have a day.” That about sums it up.

12/1/11

too much time in the woods, maybe.

There was a moss-covered cliff, hundreds of feet high, and directly below that, a deep pond. Someone got the idea to jump off the edge into the water, for the thrill of it. Everyone was sure he would die, but then he didn't. With the first successful jump in mind, a young couple dove after him, and they also lived. A family of four thought for sure it was safe after that. "It's not safe, don't do it," I thought. Hand in hand, they jumped anyway. I watched as two of them tumbled down the side of the cliff to their death. Of the two that missed the cliff, the boy was fine, but his sister hit the water funny and broke her neck. After that came a slow motion montage of jumpers. Some of them bobbed to the surface, smiling. One girl bounced off the side of the cliff twice and then fell into the water with both legs broken. Judging by their clothes, the whole thing took place in the seventies. All the jumpers were beautiful, and, forgive me for saying so, crazy.

Here in the woods I meditate a lot. I’m wondering if that’s what’s causing all of these cinematic dreams. What do you think it means?