The state should keep me. I have come into the world for no purpose but to compose. -- Franz Schubert
Because the essential thing, it seems to me, qualifies just as well as mental illness as it does as art. Thus, if no creative grants are available – can I just go ahead and apply for disability?
Not in America, obviously. Someplace Scandinavian and enlightened. Or Canada, maybe?
The conviction that ordinary words, if arranged exactly right, might function as a spell. Or as the numbers of a combination lock. That something new might appear or something old unlock.
This is the goal, isn’t it? And does it not also transparently qualify as nuts?
The primary purpose of the Devi Mahatmyam is neither entertainment nor instruction. If you recite the scripture, which relates the story of Durga’s victory over the buffalo-headed demon, your demons will be subdued as well. Because what good is listening to old stories of victory if you have demons of your own?
How’s that for literature! Never mind self-help. (Every time I see the word, I want to add: As if!) Divine intervention – now there’s a thing worth reading, writing, listening for.
But maybe it isn’t possible anymore? How satisfying it would be if people reading my stories found themselves, for example, comprehensively deloused. Wouldn’t that be marvelous? How much pleasure it would give me to overhear, for example, “I have been reading the stories of Jonathon Mock every day for a week -- and my toenails look great!”
Seriously, if I can’t do as well as one of those little disposable hand-warmers, what the hell is the point?
As I’ve been sitting here in the cafe, three very pregnant women have walked past. There may have been other pregnant women whom I missed. Three very pregnant women. That’s got to be a good omen. I am going to allow myself to feel encouraged.
The story is underway. It is not necessary to make up hoards of imaginary people. People are already sufficiently imaginary.
I’m not certain if I was born a fictional character, but I have been one as long as I can remember. Seriously, I am completely made up. I’m not even particularly convincing.
Every day a man is here at the coffeehouse, standing at the counter near the door. He always wears a suit and carries a briefcase. His bowtie is askew and his thinning hair is lank, as though in allegiance to Crazy People Regulations: if you’re going to be crazy, you ought to look crazy.
His every move is purposeful. He straightens his coat on the chair, goes to get another sugar, stirs, sips again, gets another sugar, straightens his coat.
He writes standing up, in a thin blue booklet, like students used to use for writing exams. He peers thoughtfully, his pen moves. His head tips obediently forward, like a schoolboy receiving dictation. Then he must straighten his coat again, get another sugar, stir it round his silver cup.
He always carries a silver cup. He doesn’t use the regular cups, only his own special cup. I hope his silver cup helps him feel a little better, a little safer, a little more in control.
This man appears here at the coffeehouse every day. He never sits down, his every move is purposeful, he takes careful notes. He repeats his routines for hours: stirring, straightening, writing.
Reports differ as to whether there are actual words on the paper. Some people say the words are gibberish; others claim the page is blank. I do not have the heart to look.
My husband pointed this man out to me and said, “You’re not like that, are you?” To his credit, he was very sorry when after watching the man for a moment, I started to cry.
My husband is not a cruel person, I don’t think. Still, whenever he sees the man in the suit, he says, “There’s that man.” Always standing, always wearing a suit, drinking out of his silver cup.
(I am watching this man right now. After each sip he wipes the rim of his silver cup with a napkin, as though it were a chalice for communion.)
I prefer to sit in the corner. I strongly prefer. At least by the wall. I particularly dislike sitting in the middle of a room. Still, it is not required. OK, it is rarely required. Occasionally there are times when I must sit in the corner. At least if I want to think about anything other than the fact that I am not sitting in the corner.
Those are also the times when I find it acutely painful to hear two songs playing at once. And many people seem to be chewing more loudly than is necessary -- or even polite.
As a small child, alone in the ancient farmhouse, I believed in the power of odd and even numbers, in Jesus Christ, in house cats. All these were powers to array against the ghosts and bogeymen of that vast dark house.
The cats were number one. Jesus and math might or might not come through. And so I ran night after night through the dark corridors of that house with a cat twisting in my arms.
I’m sipping my coffee. Strictly speaking, I probably should not be allowed to have a refill on a large. But it’s not like I am being supervised. I am expected to moderate myself.
If coffee suddenly vanished, would writing also cease? Do other people worry about this?
Is my vocation simply a side effect?
I wrote my fears to my sister. Maybe it isn’t real writing at all, I wrote. Maybe it’s just a symptom.
My sister wrote back, You make art because you are an artist you nitwit.
I was strenuously grateful for this. I copied her words on a note card and taped them to the inside of my door.
Unfortunately her opinion cannot be entirely trusted. She’s on the list. Of people who are biased. And thus cannot be entirely trusted.
What a pity that that list includes everyone who loves me.
Recently I discovered that all my stories have a plot. (I, too, was shocked.) They are absolutely plot-driven. There is almost nothing but plot.
The plot is: a man is on a quest. He is looking for divine providence. He wants to know if it exists. He thinks probably not. Almost certainly not. Nonetheless, this doesn’t discourage him. Or anyway does not stop him. He asks, am I delusional or is the divine participating? Or is the divine attempting to participate and I am only getting in the way?
I am obsessed with plot!
Thus I am extremely interested whenever anyone appears to set up their life in a way that appears to demand a response from God. Most commonly when they say: Next month’s rent will come from somewhere!
In the last year I’ve known two people that have done this. One was an evangelical Christian missionary. Donations were down because of the economy and the weak dollar. He didn’t know if he’d be able to pay the rent and continue his ministry.
The other was a budding New Age luminary who wanted to teach Tarot. Both gentlemen had rent bills in Tokyo of nearly three thousand bucks. Both felt that, if God supported their work, then goddammit he could come up with his share of the rent.
I awaited the outcome with interest. Who would prevail, I wondered, Jesus or Tarot?
A year later, the missionary is moving out and the Tarot master is still at home.
Unfortunately the seeming clarity of this outcome is totally fake. After all, Jesus did come up with eleven months’ rent. Maybe it was just time to move on? Why Jesus would want anyone to live for long in Tokyo is a fathomless mystery to me.
Also I seriously suspect that the Tarot master is actually loaded and just says “I don’t know where the money’s coming from” so he and his affirmations can score a victory, so he can pretend to be like us.
Obviously further investigation is required. And that means reading t-shirts in crowds and billboards on buses and counting pregnant women as they walk past. Constantly examining events and asking oneself, “Is this random, or am I being directly addressed?”
Close attention must be given to sudden pronouncements from total strangers. In particular, I am slavishly obedient when odd strangers tell me what to read. Why else would I read Celine? Or Million Dollar Mermaid? How would I ever have been able to survive without A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, or Esther Williams?
Are the things that happen to us meaningful or not? -- is widely considered a reasonable question.
But then: how can anything be meaningful unless everything is meaningful?
See how quickly one arrives at total nuttiness? It’s right next door. It might not even be a different door. There might not be a door at all.
Here we are.
As soon as you even ask, “What matters?” --
Then, God help you.
Disability payments are more regular than grants, presumably. And no lectures are required. Still, there’s the matter of glamour. Presumably it is easier to maintain one’s self-esteem as “artist” than “sick fuck”.
I should admit it does not much matter to me personally, as long as I am permitted to go on writing sentences on blank white three by five cards.
Here, then, is the story. It’s finished now. Please feel free to forward it to whatever authorities you deem appropriate.