Self Portrait with Angel Olsen
This is what I have done with my life –
Alone, I have moved to the edge of a vast desert to live in a cold apartment with high ceilings, wooden floorboards, a dusty chandelier, and a claw foot tub. There is a large bedroom for my single mattress (with its sharp springs and sleeping-bag blanket) and a large bedroom for my desk (a weathered kitchen table harvested from the street side). On this desk sit stacks of paper, an open laptop, a burning candle that lights little and heats nothing, and a glass ashtray filled with pencil shavings. On the stacks of paper are the hasty and searching sentences that make up the first draft of my first novel. And on the laptop (the laptop open in front of my eyes) is a video that is not pornography. Because yesterday I learned that diddling one’s self while watching others engage in loveless sex does not quell the sensation that you are ultimately alone in this world. And you are ultimately alone in this world. Even if you’re in a relationship. Even if you’re a siamese twin. We are alone because we will never know what it is like to live behind another’s eyes…
At least, these are the thoughts from behind my eyes on Monday, August 27, 2012, at 12:14 am. I have not communicated face-to-face with a friend in over four months, have not seen my lover in six, and have not seen my mother in years. Because I am a binger. (In Melbourne, where I lived pre-cold-lonely-apartment, I binged on friendships and friends, spending hours, days, weeks, and months on couches, at parties, in parks, on road trips and in fits of laughter. I binged on love, as well, sharing every waking moment of the past six years with the woman I would eventually ask to be my wife. Now I binge on solitude, writing, and guacamole.)
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams,” writes Thoreau.
I am living my dream, yes, but what Thoreau forgot to mention is that dreams often get really fucking weird before you wake up.
For example, this morning I was walking back from the market and I said to my lover: “It’s criminal. Three dollars an avocado! And they’re not even ripe.” At which point I realised that my lover had followed her respective dream and moved to Europe. We had not spoken in over seventeen days—or is it eighteen?—and I was talking aloud to myself…
Alone, I pushed forward with nowhere to go but here. To this cold apartment. And in this cold apartment I found a note scribble on the back of a cereal box: Chapter begins in a home for the disabled. Positive thinking. Leap and the net shall appear. At the end of the chapter a man in a wheelchair rolls himself off a cliff. No net appears, etc.
“When did I write this?” I asked myself.
“Before you went to the market,” I answered aloud.
The shop attendant had given me a strange look when I stepped into his store, and I had gathered my items (avocados, a brown onion, coriander, tomato, and some tortilla chips) and he had rung them up with his little laser gun, eyeing me with either disgust or disdain. I had handed him a bill. He handed me some coins.
“You accidentally short-changed me,” I said, and he looked at the cash register. He looked at me. He opened the register to retrieve my missing bill, and I joked. “If I were a rich man,” I said with a straight face. “I would have you killed.”
But yes, I am writing to myself on a laptop.
Beside this open document is another open document, and beneath my wrist, written in pencil on the desk, is a note: Being alone is fun!
I should feed myself.
I should make guacamole.
I should write to my lover.
I should be in bed.
But first, I should check Facebook.
Facebook tells me that Matt has a new favorite bagel shop. Hannah has named her chooks Patty and Selma. The love of my life has messaged to tell me that she will message me later. And Jesse has posted a video. This girl, reads his comment, sounds like something between edith piaf and odetta. She writes perfect melodies and as added bonus she’s a megababe.
And so I click.
There is the steady-soft sound of a plucked guitar over white Helvetica size 16 (all caps):
LOGAN SQUARE CHICAGO ILLINOIS
JULY 19 2010
The text fades and images appear. An olive-skinned man with blotchy tattoos and a neatly trimmed goatee is staring skyward, as if disturbed by a raindrop. Above him bob the boughs of an elm tree, leaves fluttering, and in my ear is the guitar’s steadily increasing rhythm.
The olive-skinned man turns to me (to us, to the camera) and for a moment he is my Uncle in Encino, California, 2002. Dark circles, olive skin. Grandpa Max has died and we are on the way from the funeral to the reception. My Uncle’s truck smells of tobacco and marijuana and I am eighteen years old and we have never shared a joint before. “How do you like college?” he asks, and I say it’s great, and he passes the joint and says, “Sorry I was never around when you were a kid. I didn’t want to be a bad influence.” I accept and say it doesn’t matter. “Sorry I was scared of you when I was a kid,” I say, “but you were terrifying.” His eyes are like the eyes of a basset hound, which is to say they may be happy or excited or indifferent, but to me they will always seem sad, like how people with upturned noses always seem snobby. And I am happy. I am with my Uncle, sharing something.
The olive skinned man looks away from the camera and Angel’s voice is in my head. “Before we draw,” she sings, “my dear dear friend, I promise you my word. If we should part, my dear dear love, you know you’re in my heart,” and that voice could be the voice of my mother, if my mother could sing, and I could be four years old. My head in her soft lap. Her: brushing back the hair from my forehead with her warm hands. Me: trying hard to keep my eyes open. On the screen, a shoulder appears (out of focus and covered in a brown sweater) and I miss everyone I have ever known. In focus are the bobbing boughs of that elm tree, leaves fluttering. “I want to be naked. I don’t mean my body. I don’t need my body. I am floating away. I am floating away. I am…” And I am on a eucalyptus bed in Southeast Queensland, my lover beside me, staring at the sunlight as it filters through the branches, the earth radiating heat.
On a distant street, a clock tower chimes once, twice, six times. It is six in the morning in South Australia on Monday, August 27th, 2012, and my cold apartment has filled with light. The morning birds are singing outside the window, and I have watched that video at least three dozen times. But I will soon rise from this computer to eat an avocado grown by some farmer on the other side of the world. I will rise, yes, and stumble toward a single mattress with sharp springs and a sleeping bag blanket. And the birds will chirp. And I will crawl in singing.