This, The Best of All Possible Worlds
I don't know how honestly I've ever written from my own perspective.
By that I mean that I'm always using some form of abstraction; whether it's simply riffing on someone else's ideas, read in a novel or seen in a movie, or writing characters who are intentionally very different from me, especially so lately.
In each of these things, I'll find some angle of course. Some detail that really connects with me, and I will invariably make it about myself, but a veiled part of me. You, however few or many of you that there are, are always looking at a mask. Different sides, different pieces, but never the genuine article. Which is silly, because I don’t really have anything to hide. And writing with utter transparency is what I endeavored to do when I started this blog. I think it’s been language itself that has inhibited this thus far, the strictures of written words, which has been written and talked about, ironically, by many people for many years—from Yukio Mishima to William S Burroughs.
I think it was my youthful inexperience with words that caused it, my need to be something better or bigger than I was and am, to operate far beyond my own ability and emulate people I respect. To riff on their ideas, in a dialogue to be sure, but one that was held together by the strength and cultural weight of another person, another vector, that could hold up under scrutiny better than a young Salvatore Arnoldo, with top-heavy ambitions, plenty of fears, and plenty of insecurities, about my ability, my worth. All the while I was robbing myself of the best that I could be, which is a hundred-percent myself, unadulterated, unfiltered by long dead voices from across history who can be edified like gods and legends.
What if I were then to simply document my experience, the things that happen to me?
And if I were to apply the organizing structure of narrative to my life, would it grant life a narrative’s momentum? Would my subconscious then begin to organize the events of my life into a movement, a story, which could be guided by some higher ambition? Some all-encompassing creative philosophy?
Maybe it’s a sense of meaning or purpose, that thing that fades almost imperceptibly in adulthood, until the day you notice it's no longer there. To create a sense that every move is significant, every insight revelatory, like a religion founded on one's self and kept only to the self. Is that what Hunter S. Thompson did in his way? Grant Morrison? Marcel Proust? William Blake?
Well, here’s one for you:
I was sitting in the dentist’s chair this morning, the X-Ray on his computer monitor showed how my molar had been fractured. The way it had cracked just barely missed the nerve, but went down deep into the gum. So, illustrating this, showing me the dark lines on the x-ray, the dentist told me I was going to need a crown. Which was actually a quicker procedure than a filling and meanwhile I was just thankful it wasn’t going to be a root-canal.
My nightmare was that it was worse than I thought, that there was some exposed nerve and they were going to have to drill deep into my tooth and work on the nerve. Leaving me in agonizing pain, perhaps during the procedure, but surely afterwards, when the anesthetic wore off. Luckily this was not the case.
It had happened after one of my workouts, I bought one of those cheap chuck steaks from Sprouts. There’s a lot of fat, but that’s fine because I’ve been lifting and eating mostly meat, vegetables, and quinoa as my sole carbohydrate, which being a seed is a bit healthier than the starchy stuff, like rice or bread, that breaks down into sugar. That and I dice the steak up into small pieces, so I don’t choke on those strips of fat interspersed through the meat, which is an actual risk.
One time I was eating a full sized one, the first or second I’d ever had, in the little roach-trap apartment in Glendale, and I had to literally reach into my throat and pull the strip of fat and meat out from where it was lodged, half-sticking out into my mouth as the other half unsuccessfully tried to slide down my throat and got caught.
So between that and this time, when I prepared a quick meal, after my work-out and before the five or six other things I had to do—meal prep, writing, making headway in the book I’m reading, walking the dog, showering, sleeping at some point—and diced the steak into small pieces, mixing it in a bowl of quinoa and spinach, I started shoveling it into my mouth, just a quick meal, a pit stop, then there was a crack, a jolt, that seemed to hit the back of my mouth and reverberate through my skull. Now I’ve hit my teeth before and after a sudden swell of anxiety, I’d realize there was no serious damage, I’d feel them with my tongue, maybe a finger, look in the mirror, and know everything was good. However this time, I knew immediately that something was definitely fucked up.
I was chewing quickly, nodding and talking to Brandon, Marzana, and Shamit, who were playing Game of Thrones style Settlers of Catan in the dining nook off the kitchen, while Julio sat on the living room couch and played Doom, carrying on conversation like normal, right up until the moment it hit, a stray fragment of bone. I bit down and there was a crack in my molar.
I probably said something like, “Aw, fuck!” and went to the sink, immediately spitting out meat grease and fat, meanwhile digging around in my mouth with my finger for the piece of bone so I didn’t swallow it. And finally I found it, and spit it, honestly wondering if it was a piece of tooth at first or from the steak. I felt my back right bottom molar with my tongue, the best way to describe it is it felt rearranged, shifted and split apart. When I went to look in the bathroom mirror, I saw it cracked with a chunk loose, the back left cusp and the mass of tooth below it, like a section of the glacial arctic shelf splitting off and getting ready to crumble into the ocean—perhaps this was my punishment for my largely carnivorous diet in my last few weeks at the gym, going frequently and eating mostly red meat, some chicken.
I’ve since switched exclusively to chicken, maybe the cheap steaks aren’t the way to go after all.
This was last Thursday, the next morning I called off from work and went to dentist. Actually the same office in Phoenix, but it turned out they only had clerical staff there on Fridays, so the receptionist called around the entire Phoenix area and couldn’t find a doctor with an opening. Eventually he was able to get a hold of someone way out in Mesa, near the Falcon Airport, which I didn’t know was a thing until I drove there, a little over halfway to Apache Junction. The Mesa dentist put a light dose of Novocaine in my gums and pulled the loose cuspid from where it was splitting off. He then examined the tooth and said he didn’t see any exposed nerves, thank God, and put a temporary filling on which fell off the very next day on my lunch break at work.
So today I was back in the Phoenix office, taking one of the first available appointments at 10 AM. They saw me initially in a room near the front, for the x-rays, then took me into another room, deeper into the building, for the procedure. They did a topical numbing with a gel on my teeth, then they did two shots of Novocaine in my inside gums, beneath the molars on the right, and another two in the nerve between my molars and my cheek. By the time they were done, even before that, the right side of my jaw, tongue, chin, and bottom lip were totally numb.
After I was numb they had me bite down on a tab with putty on it to make impressions for the crown, this was before the drilling began and the fitting for the crown.
They proceeded to recline me back, so that I could see the cheap day-time TV ads and sit-coms on the flat-screen mounted above on the ceiling. The dentist began drilling into the cracked molar as the assistant consistently sprayed and drained from the other side, reshaping it for the temporary crown, which he assured me would be very durable and would last until the permanent one came in two weeks later. I was directly beneath the adjustable overhead light and I remember, not after long, I could see wisps of white dust pluming up towards the light, there was a smell like corn-starchy breakfast cereals and smoke.
They had me bite down on a few more tabs of putty, made some adjustments here and there with the drill, and when it was done they put in the temporary crown.
In the parking lot later, sitting in my car, I saw a fine white dust caked on my upper lip from the drilling—tooth dust, I thought, and wiped it off. And while I waited for the numbness to subside, speaking without full control of my tongue or lips, before I would write at a cafe, I sat and watched Half Nelson starring Ryan Gosling, in the living room with Brandon and Julio. Ryan Gosling plays a crack addicted teacher, who means well but can’t make well, intelligent but rendered harebrained and scatted by his addiction, in a predominately black inner-city school. It’s not as preachy or as typical as it sounds, we couldn’t pull ourselves away to go work somewhere.
Luckily by the time we were done watching it, I could feel most of my face again and now that I’m sitting here writing, at Coffee Zona on 7th St and Camelback, I have full sensation. There’s even a light pain pulsing underneath the crown from the recent drilling. Which isn’t bad, I’d prefer a little discomfort over spilling my coffee out of my lips as I try to drink it, or being incapable of eating solid food for fear of biting my tongue off.
What is all of this now? Some kind of reflection, I suppose. Does any of it mean anything? Maybe not. I’m sure if I worked at it enough, I could impose some kind of grandstanding structure on it, draw parallels with things I’m reading and stitch it together with sinewy bits and pieces of well-respected philosophy. That’s usually the route I take, but I guess I’m not totally in the mood. I love philosophy, but I love literature far more and the best pieces of literature are more synthesized with philosophy than rigidly structured by it.
Awareness is all it takes, and in order to be aware, to understand and not just repeat intellectually like a parrot, a synthesis needs to occur, an internalization and absorbing of the information. A lot of people don’t understand this, particularly first and second year creative writing and visual art students, and oftentimes it doesn’t end there.
Lately, I’ve been getting back into the habit of writing at night, usually after I get home from my shift at the bookstore and finish my workout. The Kafka hours, the classic nocturnal writer cliche.
There is truth in the cliche though, that in those hours it’s easy to pause and meditate on the words, to better understand your intentions and get into the rhythm of the flowing text.
Last night, just before midnight, I was working on my new story for tomorrow’s writer’s workshop and listening to async by Ryuichi Sakamoto—who might be my all-around favorite contemporary composer—which is a perfect soundtrack for that hour. I gained momentum quickly and everything fell into place very naturally, the words flowed.
This is the hour of synthesis, of quiet understanding.
I guess the thing I’ve really been approaching lately, in my writing and general experience, is that this world we’re living in could in fact be the best of all possible worlds. Not because it’s perfect, but because it is so imperfect.
This isn’t an excuse to leave things as they are, to not try and improve, just the opposite, the point is to try, to strive in the heat of a passion. The point is that striving itself is possible, that things are not static. I’ve been finding that pain itself, that the dark corners of reality, are the contrasts that make life worth living, that make stories possible. They provide different shades and textures for the daylight to play itself out across; in landscapes, architectures, people.
The reason I could look out the window in the dentist’s office, situated near the ceiling, in the top right corner of the room, while they drilled into my teeth, and watch the branches of partially visible trees sway against the cut-glass clear blue skies and think about how beautiful it was, is because getting to this moment required struggle and persistence.
This doesn’t imply seeking out these things, dwelling in them in an inverse romanticism that leads into a spiral of fatalistic depression, which I have felt. And don’t get me wrong, some truly horrific and awful things do take place in this world; things that I wish would never happen to anyone, anywhere, unfold on a daily basis. So this isn’t blind optimism or a romanticization of the awful, the negative. I after all, like most other people, am one traumatic event—a car crash resulting in a life-changing or ending injury, for example, or the loss of a loved-one—away from changing my tune. I’m just saying, that without contrasts, there could be no beauty, no joy.
In fact just the other day I almost got rear ended moving at 70 miles-per-hour on the freeway, because the two cars in front of me came to a grinding halt. This was because the car in front of them had a sudden blow-out and struggled to control the car’s momentum enough to pull safely onto the shoulder. Which he ultimately did, and the car behind me was able to stop in time, just short of hitting me, but he did stop before slamming into my bumper at highway speed. And I, as well as everyone else—but the driver with the flat, who was in any event unharmed—were able to go on living our lives normally, as if nothing had happened.
But looking back on my life, and even provided all of the mistakes I’ve made, all of the things I feel bad about, I don’t have any regrets. I’ve arrived in this place as a sum-total resultant of everything I have ever said, thought, or done, and I’m comfortable with that. I think this is something to be optimistic about, that people can always at the very least struggle against the obstacles that present themselves, try and change things.
Life is hard, very hard. I think that’s something more people probably need to realize so that they can extract the most from it, and indeed it’s a lot harder for most other people than it has been for me. Living where I do and having been born in the circumstances that I was, it’s important to always realize that and incorporate that knowledge into making some kind of difference. In trying to share something with the world that might potentially help someone, somewhere. And to realize how fragile these things are, these comforts, these advantages, to recognize that at any moment they could all be gone.
I guess that’s always been my problem with the general social media aesthetic. I’ve talked about that in the past, the sappy positivity and hollow inspiration that’s generally more a manifestation of narcissism than an act of someone trying to help you. A slew of pictures from the best possible angles, with the best possible lightning, interesting people doing interesting things, showing you their expensive sports cars, their bodies, their money. One of my favorites is pictures of something truly beautiful or inspiring, a piece of art, a building, a landscape, but done as a selfie with the person hamfisted in. Of course I’m just the opposite, I’m generally pretty adverse to pictures of myself, which basically comes from a life time habit of sometimes scathing self-criticism and low self-esteem. I’m working on it.
I’m not saying it’s all bad, to show people that you did it and that they can too; to have scaled a mountain, to have beat depression, to have landed the dream job. To show others how miraculous some things in this life can actually be, but it isn’t that all the time and that’s okay too. And really, to present this image of a perfect life, to constantly be showing off, is a losing battle from the ground up. Even in the most closely guarded facades, there are subtle, and not so subtle, indicators of true intent. You can see those little miseries and insecurities that slip through the cracks of the mask. Think about how obvious some of your qualities have been to those around you but less so to you, as the fully subjective party. Now think about the way you project yourself into cyberspace, social media.
The image of perfection is very much relative, and, in itself, imperfectly constructed.
We all obviously require motivation obviously, but my point is there’s a substantial percentage of this stuff that seems steeped in a self-absorbed need for adoration—likes, comments—and in effect only makes people feel worse about themselves. That tends to feed the digital monster of mass individual gratification. I actually read an article recently that criticized the self-help craze, saying that it was making people less happy and more self-absorbed because they are constantly focused on themselves and attaining some final-product end goal that can never fully be actualized.
Before I did my late night writing last night, I took the dog for a walk, around the complex and outside the gate on the sidewalk. I didn’t bring my phone with me and it was a very peaceful experience, just being dialed into the environment, not checking it, not compulsively looking at things because they’re there. Not every single moment of every single day needs to be pleasantly reassured by the glow, the digital aura of a screen. Absorbing information at all times, much of it not lending any significant improvement to your life. I remember I had my phone with me just the night before that and I was listening to a podcast while I walked, in the middle of a very interesting and informative discussion, advertisements reared their ugly heads. A reminder that these devices are after all products, and the things on them will impede as far as possible on your consciousness to sell you things, indiscriminate of the potential damage the addictive relationship could be doing to mind or body.
Of course you’re reading this, if at all, on a computer or phone right now. So maybe that’s a bit of a contradiction in and of itself.
I guess when it all comes down to it, what I do believe is that this can only be the best of all possible worlds if you’re at home with yourself and your voice. If you can accept and feel that what you have to offer is valuable. Do that and, whether or not it’s true or an illusion, a trick of subjective perception, it may begin to feel like you’re flowing with the momentum of the universe around you.
Then and only then can you live in the best world. As corny as it sounds, it’s you: pure, unadulterated, and not giving a fuck, except for the very best reasons.