Midnight Desk Scene
July 14, 2020

Remembrance

There’s a strange dynamic to this nightly journal, this sensation of writing against time. Or more precisely: writing for myself in the future. Each night I try to record my thoughts and, where sanity permits, some of the day’s events and headlines. This makes for remarkably dull reading in the current moment. But I’d like to have a record of these days to look back upon in five or ten years. I regret not having something like this during my optimistic years circa 2010.

I’ve been re-reading Stephen King’s The Stand to understand how a sprawling apocalyptic story works, and I’d forgotten that it’s so compulsively readable, the way he inhabits his characters’ thoughts and steers them into the secret world of familial wounds and childhood taunts. Some sections didn’t age well, and sometimes the writing gets clunky, but it’s forgivable because you get the sense King doesn’t give a shit, either. He’s too wrapped up in carrying you across his plague-stricken America to bother with lyrical gloss. But there are some terrific lines: “They were American people and there was a kind of dirty, compelling romance about them whenever they were in groups.” Or when a man walking down a quiet street wonders if “the normal world had skewed into a place where bodies were sacrificed behind closed doors and stupendous black machines roared on and on in locked basements.”

But what strikes me the most about The Stand is the diary a pregnant character keeps as she crosses the country. Each entry ends with “things to remember,” a list of things she wants to tell her child about life before a plague wiped out civilization. The catchphrases and television commercials. The amusement parks, laugh tracks, and frozen cheesecakes. This captures how I’d like some entries in my journal to work: something written for the future rather than the moment. (Hopefully it will be far less dramatic than the diary in The Stand, but god only knows what the rest of 2020 has up its sleeve.)

So, some things to remember: We’re buying fewer breath mints because we’re less social these days. The stock market continues to climb despite all evidence that we’re heading off a cliff: infections are soaring, yet unemployment assistance and suspended evictions will expire in two weeks. The president’s only solution is to distract us with racist remarks. Every few days I double-check to make sure I didn’t imagine that Taiwan has only had seven deaths from coronavirus. That’s something to remember, too: it didn’t have to be this way.

E.R.P. – Remembrance

Afterimage | Forgotten Future, 2018 | More
The US-Canadian Border, 2010
July 13, 2020

Breakup

Nobody died from the pandemic in New York City the other day. The Northeast has returned to the infection levels of early March, those faraway days before exponential curves and social distancing. Hopefully we can continue this trend now that we’ve become accustomed to masks, testing, and tracing. Meanwhile, record-breaking outbreaks and hot spots burn through the rest of the nation.

Could the pandemic hasten the breakup of America? This country’s been tearing itself to pieces for years while the wealthy pick the bones—yet no ideological disagreement or political argument would likely trigger the balkanization of America into different regions. But a colossal and sudden disruption might do the trick. As America grows more estranged from the rest of the world, perhaps the Northeast will want to travel abroad and do business with other nations. And one day, checkpoints appear along the Pennsylvania border…


Houses of Heaven – Time Apart

Silent Places | Felte, 2020 | Bandcamp
Somewhere in Nevada, 2011
July 12, 2020

Empty

Last night I dreamt that I discovered a substance called ‘onesium’, which is the substance used to clean the soul and wipe away difficult memories. I also dreamed that each finger has its own consciousness.

There were more important things I wanted to write about tonight, but I’ve forgotten them. I wanted to write about the texture of living through this long summer of 2020, but the phrases and connections have evaporated. Whenever I have an idea, I must write it down immediately. I’ll never remember it later, no matter how hard I try.

But ten years later, I still remember the sight of a young couple marching along an empty desert road in Nevada. He walked on one side, she was on the other, and they both wore the saddest expressions I’ve ever seen. I hope they’ve made up by now.


M83 – Highway of Endless Dreams

Saturdays = Youth | Mute, 2008 | More
Swimming Scene, 2014
July 11, 2020

Diver

One of my short stories has been included in the Haunted Passages series at Heavy Feather Review. It’s called “The Diver,” and it began with a fragment from a dream, as many stories do. In this case, it was the half-remembered image of a woman grinning as she plunged into a shallow industrial canal. This scene gradually became the backstory for a character in the novel I’ve been writing and rewriting for the past five years, and I’ve rewired it into a short piece that I hope stands on its own.

Lately I’ve been torn between the possibilities of fiction—and the mental reprieve it affords—versus my compulsion to record each day’s events and thoughts in this journal. I’d like to find a way to synthesize these energies. Seems like this should be possible, given that each day’s headlines read more and more like a crummy novel.

Rainy NYC Street
July 10, 2020

Rain

Returned from New Hampshire’s mountains to the city heat, and it took a moment to readjust to the sight of so many masked mouths after hiding in the woods. The remnants of a tropical storm blew through Manhattan’s canyons as I dropped the rental car in a parking garage over the Battery Tunnel. Walking home, I saw a tree splayed across First Avenue like a drunk. It felt like an ominous greeting.

Fired up the news for the first time in a few days. America’s coronavirus virus records continue to soar. The president commuted the sentence of another convicted friend, the one who wears a top hat and looks like a terrible cartoon.

There’s something oddly soothing about the sound of traffic peeling down wet streets on a rainy night, the way it sounds like little bursts of static in the dark.


Spiritualized – Lord Let It Rain On Me

Amazing Grace | Dedicated, 2003 | More
New Hampshire campfire
July 9, 2020

Embers

Why is fire so hypnotic? Hours evaporate whenever I sit before a burning log. I stare and stare like it’s my favorite television show. Perhaps it’s something hardwired and limbic that’s magnetized by the uneasy combination of sustenance and danger. Maybe it’s an ancestral memory of bearing witness through the night while tending to the flames. A friend suggested we’re attracted to fire because it moves upwards, a rare phenomenon that defies gravity.

The desire to bear witness is a noble urge that’s been hijacked and warped by our screens. But sitting here tonight and watching the embers burn, I have no desire to look at the news or refresh my feeds. Monitoring headlines and scrolling through the opinions of strangers seems like a ludicrous way to spend my limited time on the planet. Yet I already know this clarity will fade.


Godspeed You! Black Emperor – We Drift Like Worried Fire

Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! | Constellation Records, 2012 | Bandcamp
New Hampshire storm
July 8, 2020

Sleepless

You can almost taste it, that bright metallic sensation which floods the brain when it decides there will be no sleep tonight. Last night I tossed and twisted in the sheets while wondering if I’ve become a dinosaur. While the rest of the house slept, I lay wide-eyed in bed and listened to the insects buzz in the New Hampshire woods like bad reception. The world feels as if it’s spiraling beyond my comprehension, but perhaps I’m just getting old. Maybe it’s time to make some kind of cognitive leap or be left forever pining for the past.

In the afternoon, I watched a storm roll across the White Mountains, a line of thunderheads with an animal logic that dragged veils of rain across the trees. I watched the raindrops approach until they reached my toes and began falling on my head.


Andy Stott – Sleepless

Luxury Probems | Modern Love, 2012 | Boomkat
C. by the river
July 7, 2020

Nature

In 1901, John Muir said we are “a tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people” who need to reconnect with nature. And so today we walked along clearwater brooks and passed piles of New Hampshire granite. I tripped over roots and slapped at bugs. Nature as the sublime. Nature as a place I don’t belong. We stopped to admire a massive owl, and those blank eyes in its revolving head left me feeling judged. Monsters were once called lusus naturae: “nature’s games.”

C. and I stopped to sit on a rock by while the others continued on their ambitious hike. For a moment the insults and anxieties of 2020 felt like they belonged to a different age. We contemplated where waterfalls came from and wondered how saltwater becomes freshwater and vice versa. “Are glaciers salty?” I asked. We debated this for twenty minutes before gravity, fish, and the moon got involved. How do I know so little about how the world works?


The Knife – Forest Families

Silent Shout | Mute, 2006 | More
New Hampshire forest scene without the color green
July 6, 2020

Vivid

I dreamed such vivid dreams last night in the White Mountains, a series of bizarre scenes that arrived with the force of revelation. A world without the color green. A man who repainted all the seashells on the beach. My parents appearing and disappearing in a parking garage filled with water. These dreams had a heat and pulse that reminded me of this quote from Haruki Murakami: “It felt as though a fragment of real life had slipped into my sleeping mind by mistake. Then the moment I awoke, it fled like a quick-footed animal, leaving no trace behind.”


Suicide – Keep Your Dreams

Suicide | 1977 | More
Somewhere in New Hampshire
July 5, 2020

Forgetting

C. and I escaped the city for a few days to see some space and light. We joined a few friends for a trip into New Hampshire’s mountains, and I felt that old happy thrum of possibility as I pointed the rental car north. I was overwhelmed by speed and motion after four months spent within a tight radius of the bedroom, living room, supermarket, and the park. As Interstate 91 gave way to empty lanes lined with trees, we talked about finding a diner for lunch, maybe someplace with massive menus and chrome. And it was remarkable, this sudden act of forgetting among the five of us, a split-second glitch in thought as if we’d left the past four months behind.

Route 66, 2006
July 4, 2020

Independence

A degraded and muffled Fourth of July. The prospect of celebrating America these days feels like a dark joke. Last year the president threw himself a parade with tanks in the street. Yesterday he stood before Mount Rushmore and stoked white resentment while he raged against boogeymen and science. Hopefully these are the last gasps of something dying. Meanwhile, local officials are pleading with Americans to stay inside this holiday weekend. Another fifty-thousand cases of coronavirus yesterday.

This morning I tried to gather my thoughts about being an American in 2020. I stopped mid-sentence after realizing I’d written the same words fifteen years ago, back when I thought the Bush years marked some kind of nadir: I am an American. I say this to myself and marvel at the flush of embarrassment, the red tingle of some forgotten humiliation or slight. I feel as though I owe someone an apology.

Sometimes I hum a nonsense melody I heard years ago from a man on the corner: I don’t care if it gets warm or if it freezes, just so long as I have my plastic Jesus. At dusk I went for an ugly run through the park and found relief in the clumps of people with their blankets and little grilles, laughing in the night and not reading the news.

Tonight I’m hanging onto this quote from David Lynch: “I think it’s money in the bank to get a good feeling going in the world.” Or as George Clinton laid it down forty-five years ago: “Good thoughts bring forth good fruit, bullshit thoughts rot your meat.”


Funkadelic – Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts

Standing on the Verge of Getting It On | Westbound, 1974 | More

Today’s the perfect day to revisit the greatest American band. Eddie Hazel’s guitar was made for times like this, and George Clinton arrives at the seven-minute mark, sounding like a god: “You gravitate to that which you secretly love most. You meet in life the exact reproduction of your own thoughts. There is no chance, coincidence, or accident. Free your mind and your ass will follow. Be careful of the thought-seeds you plant in the garden of your mind, for seeds grow after their kind. Play on, children.”

I-95, 2009
July 3, 2020

Toll

Sometimes I dream about tollbooth operators, the half-glimpsed faces with cigarettes nodding on their lips, their left hands forever clutching a quarter and a dime in change. They are the interstate’s guardians, the nation’s unmoved movers among the restless current of people going someplace else.

After looking into the eyes of thousands of travelers and handling their crumpled bills and sweaty coins, these cashiers probably understand humanity better than anyone. The reckless teenagers, hungover commuters, and road-ragers. The cheating spouses and insomniac prophets. The broken-hearted and the hopeful, their belongings jammed in the backseat with plastic-wrapped suits and blouses pressed against the windows like ghosts.

Perched in their nests of space heaters and thermoses, the tollbooth operators watch these vehicles red-shift through the night, darting across state lines in search of fresh lives, hoping to give Plan C or D a shot. In my darkest hours when I tried to drive away grief and confusion, I sometimes thought I saw compassion in their eyes, a look that reminded me of my mother’s hand against my forehead when I had a fever. Maybe they knew I was just another soul searching for deliverance beneath the highway lights.

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