Archives for posts with tag: martin amis

la-columbe

Colson Whitehead defines the artist as “a monster who has stopped pretending”. But what does it mean to “stop pretending”? How do you just accept your monstrosity and go through the world seven feet tall with green skin and bolts jutting out of the sides of your neck? The first thing that I fear is violating decorum by confessing things that are unseemly. But I have decided, or understood, that remaining silent about those things is not being evasive, it is simply rejecting cliche. We all have our cacodemons— I don’t need to elaborate my version of them. You know them as well as I do.

The first time I felt that I had something to hide that wasn’t the same thing everyone else was hiding was reading Laurence Perrine’s purple textbook, What is Literature? I was fifteen, and that book was assigned in my sophomore English class. It was an anthology with commentary; I don’t remember the commentary, but I started reading the poems one night in my room, and I found something I hadn’t before: calm. I immediately felt that I had to conceal what I was doing.

One night in college a friend found me in the vast library at Stanford. We were on one of several underground, dark floors; there was no one else around. I greeted him quietly, and I remember him gesturing at the gray, full bookshelves and saying wildly, “I have so many friends in here!”

I have friends you can’t see, but I am not pretending I don’t anymore. Not that you can tell that when I am standing in front of you in line at the Daily Grind; you can’t see past my bony, four-foot long arms sticking way out of the tattered ends of my blazer, and you avoid eye contact as we negotiate the little milk and sugar station next to the cashier. But you relax a bit when you see me giggling to myself over my copy of The Rachel Papers, and you watch me get down on my hands and knees so that Dolly, the owner’s pit bull, can lick my face.

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I had an adjunct teaching job for a year in the English department of a research university in the midwest, one you know from the name of its mascot and its stadium. Every afternoon I would walk Virgil around a lake about ten minutes’ drive from campus, and I made some casual friends among the dog people there. They were typical midwesterners, generously offering to have a brother-in-law look at your car trouble for free and using communist as a derogatory term.

Past the gravel parking lot was a meadow that we would linger in and watch the dogs sniff and play on our way to the trail around the lake. One day in the spring a woman we knew walked up to our little group and said, “An English professor just threw himself off the roof of the parking garage.” My immediate thought when I heard her was, Which one? Many possibilities from the department came quickly to mind.

The conversation in little groups around the university all that week was curiosity: Why did he do it? What drove him? Why that way? The tone of the conversations was slightly giddy. People felt better about themselves when they realized that their unspoken despair was tiny compared to the suicide’s. They pretended to be horrified, but they were thrilled. It gave them a perspective that was redemptive.

All writing is a suicide note, according to Amis. This journal may document the kinds of things that people wanted to know when they found out about that death: the nature and shape of the struggle that leads to suicide. But in those conversations about suicide we also recognized that the slightest gesture of human warmth can be a soft velvet rope blocking the doorway that leads up to the roof. You might still linger at the doorway a moment, but it can turn you away.

#5Bergdorf_Goodman

Gwendolyn was named Best Dressed in her high school senior yearbook. After fifteen years of living with her and her wardrobe, she still turns my head, in our little one bedroom.

I am doing dishes in the morning, and she appears from the bedroom to get her coat by the door (which is six feet from the kitchen). I feel as if someone knocked down the wall and threw open the view to the busy sidewalk outside Bergdorf’s on Fifth Avenue: her crimson scarf, her satin-hemmed black wool coat (bought in a thrift shop in 1989), her blue eyes, the silver eyelets of her knee-high boots, the layers of color leading inward from her coat’s lapel— a metallic blue sweater; a thick white collar; a silver necklace from Paramaribo; the glimpse of a purple bra strap as she swings her bag onto her shoulder— this parade of inviting colors and textures cannot be attributed to one woman.

“I gotta run, amore”, she says, and puckers up.

I turn away. I force the joy down and away from me, away from my face, and away from my voice.

Martin Amis’s novel Money is subtitled “A Suicide Note”. All writing, he says in the epigraph, is a suicide note. Is this?

The drama, which you and I have the same perspective on, is my ability to suffer connection. The drama, which (I feel) you and I have the same amount of agency in, is my ability to turn towards Gwendolyn. Towards others, as well. But towards her, that blur of lips and colors suddenly inches away. I know that she understands why I turn away. And I know that there is a limit to how many times she can be turned away, without turning herself.

#1green library stanford

I am an inarguable failure.

My life had promise: one day twenty three years ago a friend said she had just seen me on tv.  We were sophomores at Stanford; earlier that week I had walked across campus with a tall, elegant classmate. The two of us were talking together, and I made her laugh, and then I laughed with her. It was Fall, and we were passing Green Library. Her name, I think, was Katie. We weren’t really friends; it was the only conversation I ever had with her alone. Somebody filmed it and put it on an ad for something on tv.

At the end of this month— this February— I will have been unemployed for six months. This could get spectacularly ugly, and entertaining. For you. For me too, in a way. But definitely for you. And so I will commit to let you know what happens, and how it goes with me. Schadenfreude is not a Welsh word, as Martin Amis claims to have thought. But it helps to know that other people are struggling, other people may be about to go under, when all that is happening with you is that you have a cold, or you’re stressed, or you haven’t had sex in a few days.

I don’t have kids, although I am still married (but stay tuned). I don’t have a career, obviously. I don’t have any savings, or assets. I have a few skills. But I am running out of the energy it takes to pretend that everything is fine, and that I could take or leave whatever job I am interviewing for. My desperation is maturing, growing riper, sprouting thick, pale-green shoots. They are protruding, becoming impossible to hide.