This past Tuesday, my son was born. Between visits with family, feedings, and swooning over the little guy, I haven’t found time to write a new post. As not to neglect InconvenientBody, I’ve decided to post an essay from my first book (unpublished, most likely, never published–first books tend to end up that way).
I’m aiming to reestablish the time for essays by month two of baby’s life. Until then, blog reader, stay with me. I will find odds and ends to post and I won’t forget you.
When I was sleeping on couches, I carried my journals, all forty-six of them, in a blue suitcase. I didn’t own a lot of things those days. Maybe two sweaters, a pair of jeans, some books and a bath towel.
Ownership and its objects provide people with substance. Our identities often merge with our possessions. Whether it is a sweater or a car, a person can become so allied with an object that it becomes an extension of their selves. My father wept the day he sold his Harley Davidson. I felt transparent when I sat on my glasses, breaking them irreparably. Displaced and eerie, I searched one week until I found similar frames.
Possessions offer us individuality; as does a schedule and the regularity thereof. An example: if I have a job I must attend, or a mandatory meeting, if I jog every morning at seven and watch Faulty Towers come night, than I am somebody– an employed meeting attendee who is mildly healthy and enjoys David Lynch. I identify myself most concretely by means of external things and events with which other people can relate.
By associating myself with a concrete object or habit, I allow for the other to extrapolate regarding my nature, my interests, my etcetera.
When I was sleeping on couches I did not have a regular schedule. There was no certain place I had to be. Sometimes I went to a café, drank coffee, and scribbled on paper something I hoped would matter. Sometimes I woke and remained on the couch, drinking coffee and scribbling on paper something I hoped would matter. Sometimes I drank gin, tonic and lime, smoked cigarettes and tried to interact with other people; but usually I retired early to a couch and scribbled on paper something I hoped would matter.
One early evening the transience of daylight heaped to my transience of life and I forgot who I was. Sure, I was a mildly neurotic writer, drifting from couch to couch, saving money, until I could afford to finish my possibly mediocre manuscript; I was a coffee drinker with a blue suitcase filled with notebooks, but what else? Was that it? At some indistinguishable point in time I had fallen out of my story or it had fallen out of me; and the facts of my life became fiction while the lies, the fantasies and the flights, became truth. I couldn’t remember one from the other. I could no longer sort through them all. The lie looked the same as the truth. There was nothing left to test them, nothing to use to distinguish one from the other.. I was so entrenched in my self as a “writer” that I had detached myself from everything else, everything concrete. I walked to the nearest mirror and looked. There was my face. That face was mine. My face. I tried calling my mother and left a confused message marked urgent on her machine. I returned to that particular sofa that particular evening and wished I wasn’t alone in that particular apartment.
I opened the suitcase I carried with me and found a journal marked 1994, Age 12. I lapped through the pages like a nomad lapping from a desert oasis. There I was, or rather, there was a self-created version of me, splashed over the yellow pages. I had never before read my journals, save for the quick reference, and it was a strange experience connecting the broken narrative scrawl with myself, the woman, the face, the writer presently reading.
Twelve-year-old-me inscribed a list entitled Boys That Have Asked Me Out on the notebook’s inside cover. Beneath this title were six names. One name was Seth Riley, my old next-door neighbor. Seth played the drums and listened to Nirvana. He had small green eyes and white teeth. I use to walk to Seth’s house after school where we made prank phone calls to strangers and ate macaroni and cheese out of pots with large wooden spoons; but one thing disconcerted me–Seth had never asked me out. I had lied in my own journal.
I was never one to share my journals. Much the opposite, I wrote with one arm obscuring all possible views. I kept the notebook on me at all times, always in my backpack in a secret zipper pocket inside a bigger zipper pocket inside my knapsack. If I hadn’t intended for others to read of my recorded suitors, why had I exaggerated their number?
Twelve-year-old-me must have understood the process of immortality, and the recorder’s power over it; that the historian can decide how modulating, animate events solidify and become fact. The person who takes the idea and manifests it abides the awesome power of transforming the idea, bears the ability to move the subjective into the realm of the objective artifact. This is how our culture remembers.
For the historian, whose authority is guaranteed a certain attendance, a flattering manipulation of facts seems, if not appropriate, at least justifiable; but what of the individual functioning within his or her private limits? What is the purpose of manipulation then?
When an idea that is fleeting manifests as a physical relic, it is bestowed a sense of immortality. The art object implies permanence and legacy. It is concrete and communicable to others. Twelve-year-old-me recognized this, but to what end? My journal had no assured spectators, and still I pursued the immortal. By actively manipulating the facts of my life to a flattering extent, I was aware, then as I am now, of The Audience–the need for The Audience and the need to please The Audience. The Audience is the other, collective or individual, actual or abstract, cast in the role as witness. The Audience witnesses nothing in particular. There is no necessary event or attribute the audience must attend; to the contrary, The Audience is necessary as witness in a vague sense, a grand domain is that of The Audience, one of existential proportions. The Audience is witness to it all.
The Audience’s presence dispels all the existential bleakness that threatens to annihilate one with meaninglessness and the soul’s ultimate isolation. I may know that I exist if I have been observed. The Audience perceives me, therefore I am. The Audience as witness gives one’s life a cohesiveness and sense of worth, a sense of validation and relevance.
Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753) asked if a tree were to fall in a forest, with no one as witness, would it make a sound. Berkeley, an extreme proponent and lover of the mind, would argue the tree makes no sound outside of the sound that is perceived. The tree carries no consequence without its audience. But all things must have an audience, and Berkeley would continue that the witnessless tree is saved its mute demise by the penultimate perceiver of all: God. According to Berkeley, God’s perception, or God as The Audience, sustains all reality outside of human perception.
When I was young, outside of the diary (which was always the main thing), God and my mother fulfilled my need for The Audience. God’s rumored omnipresence, his unimpeachable comprehension entitled me as His holy child, to be immediately and eternally known. Every hair on my head was accounted for, my fate already written in the stars. All I needed was to show up, behave, and believe. I was known in the deepest sense. I didn’t even have to know myself.
My mother as The Audience was larger than life. I found myself compulsive with the need to share myself with her. If I did not tell her about something, than it was negligible. It was as if it had never happened. As I aged, this phenomena worked differently. I discovered if I were to exaggerate something, say the amount of boys vying for my attention, and told her of it, if she accepted it, believed it as fact, then it became fact.
I considered fact as elusively dependent on perspective, so if:
I believed something
The Audience perceived it as true
It was real.
Within the relationship between myself and The Audience, the facts of my life reverberated and became truth.
Our need for The Audience is indisputable. We must be seen, and if we cease to believe in a God or in the authority and ultimate wisdom of our mother, The Audience must be replaced.
It is possible for us to manifest The Audience in many ways. Some prefer the lover’s gaze to ground them in reality, and thus invest much of themselves into their romantic counterpart. It is a common thing to hear one lover swoon to the other weighty remarks such as “you complete me” or “I am nothing without you”. A lover loses his beloved and the loss is catastrophic, inspiring an anguish that obscures all light. The mournful lover laments the loss of his beloved as he would lament the cessation of his own life; and in some instances, this is how the loss culminates; the lover ends his existence, which he considers over the moment his beloved turns her back. When we have someone, an other, to witness or, even better, to share our story, our story is all the more affirmed. We are justified on a cosmic level when we love and are loved in return.
In another example, The Audience may be overbearing. Like Big Brother, The Audience may be terrifying and uninvited. But even in the case of a totalitarian, like Big Brother, our basest need is fulfilled: We are seen. We know we exist.
When our smallest, most insignificant gestures are observed they achieve literary justification. Their existence is validated even as they are noted. The effect is similar to what occurs when we place a frame around an image or object. The frame works to draw a line of individuation around what is framed. The article becomes unique and worthy of attention. If an other observes the distinctive way you slice your banana over cereal in the morning, the action achieves a life of its own. The action is a characteristic of you. You feel special about the way you slice your banana in the morning. It is unique and so are you.
It is possible to see The Audience scattered throughout all people in smaller portions, as it leaps from stranger to stranger. I find myself projecting much importance onto the way a man in the corner of a bar smiles at me. His expression seems especially empathetic. He seems to understand me.
Maybe I imagine we have a connection. Within connection there is always the mysterious presence of something bigger, some harmonizing, a God-like agent. Thus, in this theoretical barroom scenario, The Audience is available two fold. It is present in the man moving his eyes to mine, and in the mystical (fateful?) force that caused him to do so.
The Audience can take the shape of someone’s future readers, or if someone frequently indulges in delusions of grandeur, in the public as an indistinct whole, which is justification in the grandest way.
When I read my twelve-year-old-me journal, I was my own audience, simply by existing as a witness to myself. I justified myself. I gave myself existence. I was my own god.
I observed myself as one would observe a character. I watched events occur and this curious character react and develop accordingly. This character, this girl seemed a predictable outcome of all events and people creating her, but also a result of all that she was creating. I watched this strange character develop, rushing forward as if to hand myself, the present observer, some metaphysical baton: Here you are, take over, this is you, sitting on my friend’s sofa, acknowledging only time and experience separated twelve-year-old-me with present-day-writing-me.
As the Audience, my own audience, I resembled the ouroboros, a serpent holding the tip of its tail between its jaws, swallowing itself. I was extinguishing myself while I made myself bigger.
Emily found me the next afternoon cornered on her love seat surrounded by fifteen or so leafed-through journals. My eyes stung when I opened them. She suggested I take a break, bribing me with a free burrito at our favorite restaurant.
“So what’s it like?” She asked me en route to lunch.
“Like erasing and drawing myself at once.”
“It must feel strange.”
“I left so much out in these journals. There’s so much missing. It’s almost fictional, or maybe it’s my memory that’s fictional. I have this idea of myself and I think that idea is accurate, but then there’s all this stuff I wrote down that doesn’t match up. It’s contradictory. I’m not sure which, my memory or what I wrote is more true.”
“I can imagine.”
“I mean, there are a lot of stories there. It’s almost like the stories are more true than I am. I can’t figure out if I created the stories or if the stories created me. And now I’m displaced from everything. I feel as if I’m watching myself, as this character in these stories, and I can choose to believe that they’re true, and feel all the emotional texture that accompanies the roles they involve, but I can just as easily not be involved and watch myself.
‘I can’t figure out if the stories I’m involved in and the roles I play in those stories are unbearably heavy and inseparable from who I am, or if they’re weightless and negligible. Not really important at all.”
We stopped at a crosswalk to let a girl cross. Emily stared out the front windshield. She said, “You know, if you stand at this crosswalk and press the button it automatically gives the traffic a red light and you, the pedestrian, the go ahead. I mean immediately. You walk up, and bam, red light.”
“I didn’t know that.”
I realized how much I’d been talking.
“I’ve always wanted to take a day and do nothing but cross this street. All day long. Back and forth. Just to make people wait for me.”
“I know exactly what you mean.”