I keep having these dreams. I find myself on the top of a large structure and I can’t make my way down. I don’t have the patience to take slow steps downwards. I call for help. People look at me but nobody listens. Do you have this dream? And then I am on a journey. At some sort of station. With a lot of foreigners. And I see a young boy almost get crushed by the train. I meet a few of the people. They all know where they’re headed. I seem to have lost a book, but I don’t know where I’m going. I like some of them, and one of them has a dog, so I follow him.
“What book were you carrying?”
“In the dream. The one you lost.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Do you enjoy forgetting the important details?”
“No. I remember everything.”
“We surprise ourselves.”
It was a dream. He hadn’t been killed or captured. He hadn’t been a rogue revolutionary agent turned prisoner of war. He sat in the library at the university, running his eyes along the bookshelves, clearing his throat. The stale air of a confined space. He wondered about the architecture of the library, shaped like a brain, shaped like it served the air a little better, but it didn’t, he could hardly breathe. What would become of him?
The novel grows. It expands and he loses his sense of control. At first, it was about a writer, who owns a restaurant in a city like Beirut, but not Beirut, somewhere that shares the same possible landscape as Beirut but is more refined, possibly a Nice, or Montpellier, and when he wants his characters to disappear into a nest of paradise, he fashions the landscape around his own image of a Greek island, one of those you see from a distance resting on the hills, like the little cubes that form homes weigh just enough to rest there without being dug into the ground, like they sprouted from the ground, or fell ever so gracefully, like a balloon, and landed where they have come to be.
But a s a writer, he could never find the time to read through his own work, and so the oeuvre of pages grew, growing drastically in size but not in style, most of it poor imitation of narrative poets of the past. Having to travel, to disembark his own comfortable nest, and possessing an ever increasing fear of flying, fear of leaving home, a severe condition of Agoraphobia self diagnosed most of his life, only cemented and confirmed by an aging, indifferent physician of the university, part of a series of networking examinations done to absolve the university of insurance payouts if something were to happen to their students, he had come to realize he had to finish his work before any adventure could take hold of his life and deliver him away from his nest. But at his age, in the cusp between twenty five and the shadows of thirty, most of his friends from home, friends he grew up with, friends he loved, were getting married, and most of their parents were dying, and in some sad cases the children were dying as well, of various causes, which of course added to his own affliction, worrying at times if he also had leukemia, multiple sclerosis, AIDs. He didn’t, and when the world suffered a case of the serious flu, such a SARS epidemic, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, he took great care to eat special proteins, superfood salads, kick starter smoothies, and load up on his vitamins every morning, afternoon, night. He even quit smoking, after having smoked for six or seven years, except for the occasional joint, which he felt was his own form of dieta, a spiritual medication, but joints themselves happened to harness a great sense of paranoia, and so he had to be careful as well from what he smoked, what he inhaled. Having had to travel for these occasions, to pay his respects, to celebrate and mark a beautiful moment, he wanted to write his stories about these events, about funerals, about how different cultures gather in different ways, how elitist, upper class Arab funerals were different than in Europe or America, although he had never been to an upper class funeral in Europe or America, but he felt that the ideology of the wake in bourgeois Arab circles reflected the people’s superficial existence, their need to surround themselves with members of an elite circle, to surround themselves with people of status, to be seen as having aroused the interest, or mourning, of people of higher status, to prove to those below them on the social order how far they are from ever attaining such status as theirs, to rub it in their faces and tie it to their tits. Funerals where a sheikh would read from the Qur’an and everyone would huff and puff in annoyance, and above the sound of the pious song one can hear the marble floor absorbing the weight of overpriced, undersized heels. Where men of real status, of significant political weight, arrive in great convoys and make their entrance sharp and abrupt, drawing in the envy of the crowd, making their way to the mourning family’s line, who have quickly regathered to their pedestal to accept the extraordinary arrival, whose quick and fashionable entrance and exit is like a comet in the wind, shooting through the axis in a moment and in a moment gone. What is really him, people ask, and think of their own future losses, of whether their own fathers, or sisters, or mothers-in-law would ever arouse such distinguished guests.
He could write about weddings. The two, funerals and weddings, sharing a few very necessary qualities. For instance, he has sometimes worn the same suit to the funeral and wedding of the same family. This the hosts probably did not know, but he knew. On top of that, both funerals and weddings happen to occur in the same seasonal stretch of time. It’s surprised for funerals, as people do not generally plan to die, unlike weddings, when usually they are planned around summertime, to give people ample opportunity to look their best and tan, not to arrive in their finest clothes under the threat of rain. But something strange always occurs in the seasonal system when it comes to death. One day, out of nowhere, someone you know dies. Maybe they are hit by a truck, or they fall asleep at the wheel. Two weeks later someone who has been battling cancer for two years suddenly falls into a state of total and absolute despair, and in the next night or two, dies. Then a father of a friend, who other than the occasional line or two of cocaine, spent most of his time healthy, playing tennis, going for jogs along the coast, skiing in Lech, loses his luck to his health and has an immediate and irreversible heart attack. A few weeks, maybe a month later, a dear, dear friend commits suicide. And in the final run of things, another cancer patient, a few miscarriages, possibly even a stillborn, some elderlies whose loss is more a gain to the family coffers, disappear into the endless night. It helps to have a hero among the mostly sad, pathetic lives stolen from waste to nothingness, someone who may have fought off an incendiary rebellion, who fought for the cleansing of a corrupt judiciary, who wrote articles on a lasting peace, a beautiful peace, who may have written a novel or two of even European distinction. But most of the time the people who come into the world with such significance to their families leave it with a certain aura of indifference. Or is it acceptance? He couldn’t know.
He had thought taking two creative writing courses this semester would be easy but they created such confusion in his head he was struggling in both. Not for lack of writing. He could put to paper thousands and thousands of words, but he could not connect the words, he did not have the connection.
One of his two professors, a fat, stump of a woman whose feet barged through her aging sandals, exposing two rumps of disgusting feet, nails eclipsing skin, hanging and protruding in all directions, the feet pasty and chaffing, so as to appear at all times as if carved by the sharp edge of a rock. But she had the good wishes of the department, an American who had taught at distinguished Northeastern schools, such as Sarah Lawrence, for instance, where she even chaired a conference on Feminist rhetoric in a digitally expansive era. They overlooked her triple chins, her bulging eyes that seemed to absorb the callouses of her face and excrete a yellow puss every few minutes, forcing her to wipe the area below her eyes with a tissue, softly dabbing away every now and then, pretending not to notice, as though it had become an involuntary act, though obviously she was well aware. She was well aware, he was certain, of her lips, that started off the hour with such an opaque color of lipstick only to seep through her skin by the hour’s end. The lipstick would run onto her teeth, and sometimes, while watching her, he felt she would take joy in chewing the leaking lipstick, as though it were a sweet.
But no doubt, this professor, whose voice was shrill, whose accent annoying and too expressive, accentuating her words like she was on stage, he marveled, no doubt, she was sharp, probably the sharpest woman in the department.
And with tits as big as hers, she might have even helped herself along the way. It’s no surprise, a department with a higher ratio of lesbian women than straight men or straight women to take such a liking to her, even if she came across at times as disgusting, overwhelming, obscene. She was sharp, for sure. And she had given him good advice.
On his first submission, twenty poems he called They Myth of Sleep, he wrote fantastically about his place in the world, the conflict between his own romantic interest and his romantic infatuation with discovery, the illnesses taking hold in the Sahara, the inflammation of tensions in the Middle East, several civil wars and revolutionary illusions around the world, the importance of contemporary elements to our survival, like gold, bismuth, and concrete, the beauty of flowers and plants such as ranunculus, San Pedro cacti, avocados, and tiny microorganism worms that live in the deepest stretch of the sea, at temperatures of around one hundred twenty degrees Celsius. He wrote prophetically of the future of sports, of the cyclical replication of the universal orbit in American auto racing, of the patient, Zen mastery involved in baseball, and the application of iconic Americana images such as the baseball hat, the spitting pitcher, the baseball mit and bat. He wrote of the disintegration of genders in the twenty first century, the loss of sexual identity, the crisis of misogynistic masculinity, the arrival of a transgendered age. He wrote of these things all in the comfort of his home, in the apartment he shares with his long time girlfriend, a beautiful, passionate soul, a dancer, a healer, a mystic, who he was surprised had ever coveted his attention, but accepted never to question the implications of the gods, whose will was greater than his capacity to know. He wrote from the comfort of his home of worldly matters, and edited on the train that shuttled him back and forth from the university grounds to his neighborhood, a daily one hour ride there and another hour back, which he used wisely as a concrete time set aside for reading, even if accompanied by his girlfriend, also studying at the university, and teaching as well, certain routines he had to employ.
She had told him she liked the subjects, she enjoyed some of the verses, some of the more illuminating lines that pervaded what she called his objective interior and performed the poem with expressive taste. She did, however, say the writing lacked a proficient scholarship in certain areas, and was more or less speculation on the nature of all these elements, and he would be better off to write about his own inadequacies as a scholar on certain subjects than the subjects themselves. It was a strange recommendation. He thought she might have asked him to try harder in his research. But she thought he showed some signs of real talent, albeit greater signs of laziness and mediocrity.
It hurt his feelings and after spending three nights in his room rereading certain chapters of some of his favorite books, notably a Chilean by the name of Alejandro Zambra, who seemed to fluctuate between memoir and fiction with such grace and ease, even with a soft hint of banality, and who managed to write the stories he himself wished to write in only seventy or so pages. Brevity had always been a target he could never reach. It seemed every word gave birth to a thousand, and he would lose himself in the jungle of restless, unconnected writing.
Between Zambra and some other Americans, Canto General of Pablo Neruda, Hopscotch of Cortazar, he also turned to an early favorite of his that had transformed his idea of simplicity, of writing on such topics as love, as food. Strange Weather in Tokyo, a novel he read more than three or four times in the last year, always gave him the feeling he was there, among the characters, one of the barroom staff looking through the receding doors, watching Tsukiko as she gobbled away at her food, a wonderful expanse of dishes so beautifully constructed in prose and style he could taste the remains of her plate in his mouth. And Sensei, of course, he adored.
So it was he decided for his next assignment, a twenty to thirty page short story on a character he had not written about before, to dismiss the expectations of the assignment altogether, and provide only a detailed portfolio of ideas, an outline of sorts, a sort of provisional script for the reading of the story and not the story itself. He refused to abandon his earlier subjects, choosing instead to employ a self-deprecating tactic of exposing his own shortcomings as a scholar by illuminating it through the work and not divulging it. Here, it can be said, his work suffered.
He nearly failed the class. The assignment he handed in was so poor it was handed over to a disciplinary committee for reasons of offending the legitimacy of the institution, making a mockery of the institutional goals, making a mockery of his peers. Was it so bad?
He had entitled the piece The Seven Stages of Man and His Neo-Dramatist Face. Somewhere in the introduction he mentions that the piece could also be titled The X number Stages. Or, more fittingly he said for universities of a high academic standing, The Confinement of Zero. None of this made sense to his professor. Following the introduction, where he also illuminates on matters of the period, aviation disasters, gun control legislation, mass immigration into a modern Europe whose tolerance remains fragile, he wrote a short poem, for the purpose of expressing the intent of his work.
Half of my accomplishments are gifts
The rest of it is yours
To let loose from your grip
Dreaming of the relief
I dreamt of the Acrobat
And then I sung her to you
The hunchback listened
But the caged bird stings
Moving about the room like a tightrope artist
Hating her for her freedom
I urge the nation of disbelievers
The story is in the soil
The shadows we buried are countrymen
Remain steadfast, treat with urgency
What is most dangerous to have and comfortable to lose
I dreamt of the wailing Saracens
Flogging me in abuse!
The poem went over okay. Nothing spectacular but it avoided the wrath of other sections. Finally, the prelude passed, the story began. Ten pages of notes, nothing more. Printed thus in such style,
Contentment, nature, origin, Neptune, security, the womb
inciting incident, Plutonic (of [the cosmic force] of Pluto)
force, revolution, great!
change, upheaval, trauma, uprooted from the womb!- me L
recovery, stabilization, adaptation, survival-
build a new fortress
forge a new self
to a common society!
Maybe the three stages of being
Stages of Drama
Contentment, nature, being
Absurdity, surrealness, chaos
Anger, rebellion, rage
Love, comfort, security, home
Stages of descent, ascension
Stages into descent
Absurdity characterized by: brass instruments
Scenes with Derrick dealing,
wanting to bang the fat English girl
addicted to sushi
with small big toes
and yellow feet
also his girlfriend who is nice
he does MDMA with his feet on the wall
I feel like dying
rolling with the boys
loss of hope
surrender to death
I realize now I am a racist
I don’t like being surrounded by white people.
Revisit scenes with Layla on the phone
discussing wanting to visit Teta’s house
to take photos
rewrite as short story stand alone?
Go to the house
Experience the house under the threat of caring
through their eyes
through a third party
Can you pull a Faulkner and use dialect?
glad we’re back
In truth, while he sold the idea of his narrative as an explicit attempt to illustrate the contemporary confusion over narrative and form, to prepare a distinct style of his own voice, what he really should have related to his upset department was that he spent most of the nights he should have spent reading, writing and editing, with the occasional break for a sandwich or brief interlude of sex, actually drinking himself dangerous, stopping in at the farthest reaches of the city to some of his friends who he had not seen in a long, long time. Afflicted with his fear of leaving his place of safe rest, he has always turned to alcohol to alleviate the obvious distress visiting a friend, or moving from his nest for any reason, has on his psychic health. When he arrived at one of their houses, three roommates, all of whom are in love, in a triangular relationship, one catastrophically handsome man, the youngest of them all, and the prettiest, a shabby, pale and adventurous girl, the eldest, and a transvestite male who, of all three, dressed with more flair and panache, wrote with more passion, lived with more esteem. He enjoyed their company, and sometimes, when his girlfriend had been out of town, on a spiritual retreat, taking mushrooms with a Qigong master in a surrounding forest, or practicing holotropic breathwork with trained, seasoned professionals, he would spend a few nights in their home, embraced by all three, creating a divergent safehouse for his afflicted self. That night, one of them, the girl, with fingers that were too long for her hands, and palms too large for her arms, and arms too thin and stubby for her body, played the piano for them. From where he sat, he could see only the top of her head. At that point, the playing was exuberant, bordering on genius. she lifted her head from time to time, to signal a shift in the style, the penetration, returning her head with an emphatic leap of the arms. but when he took further interest in her spectacular playing, rising from his slouched position, walking over to her side of the piano and using a windowsill to lean and observe, he noticed something markedly grotesque, something eh could not have noticed had he not ventured to his very spot. The movement of her hands, her strange, disproportional hands, upon the piano, terrified him. The limbs looked more like tentacles, variously inspired to turn in differing directions, like the tentacles of a cockroach that are stripped from their unidirectional faculties and made to run in restrained havoc. The way she played the keys turned his insides to gelatin, suffocating his tongue. He quickly lost patience, watching as she lifted her fingers, as though they were detached from the structure of her palm, rogue fingers, the fingers of a tired witch, eyes exhausted, looking spent like she was withering on death’s verge, jolting across the board, fingers, already too large for a body that young.
He left soon afterwards, upset. He spent the night roaming around some of the dirtier bars in their district, bars he never frequented for fear of being aroused, for fear of spending his money, spending his heart, outspending what he already owed, urging volition onto his debts. Several of the bystanders took their interest in him, and while he found it amusing, to be courted by older, grimy men who thought he was selling himself to their thoughts, he was also afraid, afraid they might recognize in his fragility a keenness to cooperate, luring him in with a hypnotic stare.
It was difficult, to say the least. Difficult to find his way home, circulating among fetishes of the most extraordinary kind. He accepted a drink in the lobby of a small, boutique hotel, that catered only to masters and their slaves. In the lobby, they had thought he was a slave let off on leave, recognizing his face, they said, recognizing his ass. All around him, older men in slick, diesel leather suits held their little slaves by the chain, dragging them around like dogs. The slaves were ornamented in various garb, to differentiate between the different levels of initiation the slaves had undergone. So he learned from an employee of the hotel, who was upset to hear he hadn’t found a master for himself, a difficult economy in these days.
In another space of variable moral qualities, he found himself sitting on the lap of a giant man, whose torso was the size of his whole body, whispering in his ear the difficulties he always faced in finding love, real love, that isn’t confined to momentary sex and the inevitable reality of desertion. Before long, he was in the hands of several young girls, out on the town without their boyfriends, presumably dressing in their most radical outfits and still not selling the idea they fit in to the place. But the girls took an interest in his wayward eyes, his ability to listen without saying a word, without batting an eye, without even reaching over for his drink. They enjoyed what they took for inherent confusion and invited him to ramble onwards through their night, and he did, finding himself in a strictly vegan late night eatery, crawling with more drinks toward another club, where they simultaneously took turns standing in the line for the bathroom to do more drugs.
Later, having become a vegetarian largely to impress his girlfriend, he managed to guzzle down two kebabs on his otherwise uneventful walk home. Cold winds seeped into his spine. He hated the walk and all the while hated himself for committing to it. He needed to reinvent his entire being, he thought. He needed a revolution, a sense of purpose, something to pull him from his unattractive spell, his perpetual state of blasé, indifference.
What he found upon arriving home was that he had forgotten his sudden call to arms, his adrenaline having all but ceased into the collected fat of his two kebabs. He lay on the ground beside the door making sad attempts to remove his boots. He made callow prairie sounds, like calls of a wild fox, before drifting off to sleep.