Thursday, August 30, 2018

It would break our hearts

When, in our second year, we discussed the function of defence mechanisms and found that we were humbled by the power of that portion of our psyche, we began to understand that if it weren't for rationalization, sublimation, denial — all the little tricks we let ourselves perform — if instead we simply saw the world as it was with nothing to protect us, honestly and courageously, it would break our hearts.
— from Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk.

Braced to have my heart broken.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Benign idiopathic perambulation

Book acquired: The Unnamed, by Joshua Ferris.
"There is no laboratory examination to confirm the presence or absence of the condition," he was told by a doctor named Regis, "so there is no reason to believe the disease has a defined physical cause or, I suppose, even exists at all."

Janowitz of Johns Hopkins had concluded that some compulsion was driving him to walk and suggested group therapy.

Klum dubbed it "benign idiopathic perambulation." He'd had to look up idiopathic in the dictionary. "Adj. — of unknown causes, as a disease." He thought the word, divorced of meaning, would have nicely suited Klum and her associates. Idiopaths. He also took exception to the word benign. Strictly medically speaking perhaps, but if his perambulation kept up, his life was ruined. How benign was that?

The internists made referrals. The specialists ordered scans. The clinics assembled teams.

He saw his first psychiatrist reluctantly, convinced as he was that his problem was not a mental one.
It started for me in the winter, around the time I'd decided to start dating. I don't think it's a physical problem or a mental one. It's a restless sexual energy, and it's spiritually driven. Certainly I'm not running, not running away from anything. I'm walking toward something, I don't know what. Like a quest I don't know the nature of. Like a curse. Ten kilometres a day is ideal. Most days I average 7 or 8. I'd do 15 to 20 if I could find the time.

I have a feeling this isn't the book I want it to be. It has generally neutral reviews, but I'd never heard of this novel till the other week. When I stumbled upon it, I took it for a sign. It must offer some clue, to my affliction or to its cure. It might show me some way to cope.

I have to walk, but I'm tired of walking. I want to stop, but I don't want to stop.
He released the bin at the end of the drive and continued walking. He walked past neighbours' houses, he walked barefoot down Route 22. He walked past the supermarket empty parking lot and an eerie glow. He walked pas the Korean Baptist church and the Saks-anchored mall into the dreams of late-night drivers who took home the image of some addled derelict in a cotton robe menacing the soft shoulder. He looked down at his legs. It was like watching footage of legs walking from the point of view of the walker. That was the helplessness, this was the terror: the brakes are gone, the steering wheel has locked, I am at the mercy of this wayward machine. It circled him around to the south entrance of the forest preserve. Five, six miles on foot after a fourteen-hour day, he came to a clearing and crashed. The sleep went as quickly as a cut in a film. Now he was standing again, in the cricket racket, forehead moist with sweat, knees rickety, feet cramped, legs aching with lactic acid. And how you walk home in a robe with any dignity?
I met a man on the internet who said he could help, by roping me, tying me down. Enforced stillness. But I find a kind of stillness in the compulsive motion.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A certain cheap value

Did you ever notice that women can seem common while men never do? You won't ever hear anyone describe a man's appearance as common. The common man means the average man, a typical man, a decent hardworking person of modest dreams and resources. A common woman is a woman who looks cheap. A woman who looks cheap doesn't have to be respected, and so she has a certain value, a certain cheap value.
The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner, is devastating. The writing is also clever and laugh-out-loud funny.

("'The thing about cows is they're dressed all in leather,' he said. 'Head to toe, nothing but leather. It's badass. I mean when you really think about it.'" And there I was on my morning commute, thinking about it.)

It's about Romy Hall, in prison for murder. It tells of her life on the inside and of her previous life as a stripper. (Romy may not have been educated, but she reads a lot. She's savvy in her way, and perceptive.) It's brutal and sad.
There was a club on Columbus where feminist strippers made eleven feminist dollars an hour. It was very little for what they gave out, and took in, watching men masturbate in the little booths around the stage. Regal Show World was a regular peep show without the feminism.
She spends much of her time tying to track down her son, who seems to have been swallowed by the system after Romy's mother died.

Romy's story is punctuated with a glimpse into the lives of a couple men: a teacher at the prison (with a profound familiarity with both Thoreau and Ted Kaczynski) as well as Romy's victim, serving — as with all the men in her life — to put her life in negative relief.
A man could say every day that he wanted to change his life, was going to change it, and every day the lament became merely a part of the life he was already living, so that the desire for change was in fact a kind of stasis that allowed the unchanged life to continue, because at least the man knew to disapprove of it, which reassured him not all was lost.
It's hard to call it an enjoyable read — it's like watching a train wreck — but it's propulsive
He needed certain things to feel okay. Vanessa was among those things. He needed dark and heavy curtains, because he had a sleeping problem. He needed Klonopin, because he had a nerve problem. He needed Oxycontin because he had a pain problem. He needed liquor because he had a drinking problem. Money because he had a living problem, and show him someone who doesn't need money. He needed this girl because he had a girl problem. Problem was maybe the wrong word. He had a focus. Her name was Vanessa.
New York Review of Books: Notes from the inside
Guardian: What it means to be poor and female in America
Washington Post: If you like despair — and 'Orange Is the New Black'* — you'll love The Mars Room

*I once tried to watch Orange is the New Black. I think I made it through the whole first episode, but I didn't care. This to say: liking the show is not a prerequisite for appreciating this novel.
By their own social code, you were not supposed to ask what people had been convicted of. It was common sense not to ask. But the opprobrium on asking was so deep it seemed to also bare speculating, even privately. You weren't supposed to wonder about the facts that had determined people's lives. He had in his mind something Nietzsche said about truth. That each man is entitled to as much of it as he can bear. Maybe Gordon was not seeking truth, but seeking to learn his own limits for tolerating it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

There's a situation vacant

Book acquired: Shada (Doctor Who: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams), by Gareth Roberts.

It starts this way:
At the age of five, Skagra decided emphatically that God did not exist. This revelation tends to make most people in the universe who have it react in one of two ways — with relief or with despair. Only Skagra responded to it by thinking, Wait a second. That means there's a situation vacant.
I had this revelation at the age of four. I was sitting in church, humming. I definitely felt relief, mostly because this meant it was merely parental authority compelling me to attend mass on a weekly basis, not anything higher. This was something I could work with.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Exactly what a young girl dreams love can be

The years I spent getting high and reading library books I do not regret. It wasn't a bad life, even if I would probably never go back. I had an income from stripping and could afford to buy what I wanted, which was drugs, and if you have never tried heroin I have news for you: It makes you feel good about yourself, especially in the beginning. It makes you feel good about other people. You want to give the whole world a break, a time-out, a tender regard. There is nothing so soothing. My first dabble in it was morphine, a pill that someone else melted in a spoon and helped me inject, a guy named Bill and I hadn't thought much about him or what the drug would be like but the careful way he tied off my arm and found my vein, the way the needle went in, so thin and delicate, the whole experience of this random guy I never saw again shooting me up in an abandoned house was exactly what a young girl dreams love can be.

"This is a pins and needles high," he'd said. "It'll grab you by the back of the neck." It grabbed me by the back of the head with its firm clench, rubber tongs, then warmth spread down through me. I broke into the most relaxing sweat of my life. I fell in love. I don't miss those years. I'm just telling you.
— from The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner.

Here we go with the heroin, again.