who has time?

I've started losing days, and I'm not talking about those little dissociative episodes where I just can't remember them. I've been keeping track on my calendar, see. Every day I wake up and mark off that day, and recently days have been turning up missing. This Wednesday, last Tuesday, the Saturday before that. And so on. And I take inventory of my things and where I am and there's nothing mysterious--nothing to indicate that I did something on those missing days and just forgot about my calendar.

So I started asking around--casually, of course. Nobody seems to notice anything weird about the days I've missed. They all remember it, and lots of them seem to think I was there. And how do you press for details when you were allegedly there? The last thing I needed was people to start thinking I was crazy, especially if I really was.

But I couldn't give up, either. So I kept asking, and if anyone noticed they never let on. I kept notes, tried to figure out if there was some sort of pattern. I spent nights going over the data, looking for something, anything, that might explain. But there was nothing.

And then last night someone mentioned my project, and I knew they referred to this--months of data leading to nothing. They said I was working on it on one of the missing days. And did I change anything? Is something different? I can't tell. I can't see anything that I've worked on.

And then: "You seemed to think you'd finally figured something out," they said. "It must feel good to have everything figured out."


recklessly yours

I tried cautious for a while, and it never worked out. Oh, I told myself I wasn't letting things get away--it was a calculated loss, the risks weren't worth it, whatever excuse I could come up with--but, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I ventured nothing, and gained nothing.

I wish I could say that some introspection or philosophical thought had changed my mind, but we both know it was because I finally met you, and I knew that I'd never be able to keep up with someone so chaotic with meticulous planning and cautious deliberation. You broke me, and within a week I was ruled by my whims--at least as far as you were concerned. And the whims of a cautious man are a wild thing indeed.

But they weren't enough--you left me behind, a force of nature, impossible to keep up with even for the very best of us. But utterly captivating. Of course I abandoned any pretenses of caution for you. I acted on impulse alone. And what's more, after a while, it wasn't just for you anymore. I wanted to. I wondered how I'd even gotten by when day-to-day living wasn't an adventure. When I was too afraid to take risks even when the gains were spectacular.

But nothing could keep up with you. If I were still my cautious self I should have given up years ago--before I'd even started, really. It was a fool's hope at best.

And yet.


song about a man

The people in these songs should have names.

She worried about words and names, because words and names were important. She read articles about how language was a prison and books about how language would set us free, and she agreed with them all. And when life got chaotic she relied on names and words to keep things in order, because these things could never be taken away from her.

But life was always chaotic and it often resisted being described, and so she couldn't impose her order on it. Too much of life defied description. It was enough that she couldn't use her words--the words that carried her through everything--to explain things to others, to convince them, to make them understand. On some nights she couldn't even shape them to her own liking.

And yet, she clung to these words, because words are important, because the alternative was to come unchained from the sun entirely, to plummet endlessly through the dark, away from all suns--so she chose her words carefully. But with each failing she withdrew, into worlds of beautiful words, into worlds she could describe. Sometimes she worried if she was hiding, but she didn't know any other way.


only fear excites us

I've spent so much time running and hiding I never stopped to consider the nature of fear--I just knew that I'd rather run than fight it, and so run I did. That's been my life, because there's a lot to be afraid of in the world. Not just my enemies and my problems, but things like love, friendship, commitment, responsibility. Fear drives me. But I always thought of it as something shameful, something to hide from.

Then someone finally caught me before I could run and I lived in fear of her for years, before I realized: I've never been so alive as when I'm terrified. It's not that I'm happy--it's more real, more visceral than that. I understood why people watch horror movies--only when we're terrified that the worst is going to happen do we live up to that glorious human potential.

So I stopped running--and I certainly stopped fighting, if I ever had. If there was anything I could do it was let it wash over me, live for the thrill of the moment, and damn the consequences. Because this is all there is--fear doesn't just drive us, it defines us. There's nothing else. It's only when we've realized that that we can finally see the beauty to it.



No light is a light.

I walked into this elevator every day knowing that one day it would fail on me. The way it shuddered and moaned as it took me to my destination--for me and no one else--I knew it would be the end of me. So taking the lift became something of a religious experience for me. I was facing my death every day.

I came into the office late one night because I had some extra work I wanted to do before the weekend, and I stepped into the elevator with the sense that it would never reach the top, that this time it would kill me. It turns out I was almost right. It lurched to a halt well before my tenth floor office, but the door opened. I stepped through--what else could I do?--and instead of an elevator shaft, I found a vast, dark expanse. I could only see a few feet in the darkness, but there appeared to be catwalks and scaffolding, at least enough to walk on.

I walked carefully, but the floor was never treacherous. Eventually the elevator was a tiny speck of light in the distance. I kept walking. It must have been miles now, and my legs were too tired to go on, so I sat down and rested. Was there a point to this, or, for that matter, an end to it?

It hardly seemed to matter. When I'd rested I got up and continued, now taking random turns, losing myself in the lightless expanse of walkways. I felt like I should have been frightened or worried, but I felt nothing of the sort. Instead I felt a confidence I never knew in my daily life, and had a spring in my step I hadn't felt since I was young and full of idiot optimism. I was taking impossible steps in an impossible place, but even that couldn't stop me.


impress me

Guess what I've been reading.

She orders a coffee just for the look of things, and sometimes she pretends to drink it. He drinks his, and when his eyes leave his own cup it's only to glance at hers. She smiles at this: he is afraid to meet her gaze, to look at anything besides her hands as they cradle the cup, turn it, raise it slowly--he is afraid and, she can see in his frightened eyes, he is not keeping up, either. He's still thinking about his coffee and she is talking, the rain and the wind and the storms, and weather systems a hundred miles away, still forming in the turbulent Pacific, ready to rip across the rain-soaked land, rend trees apart, plunge communities into darkness.

And as she tears across the landscape of his mind he tries to smile at some turn of phrase, even to interject something--his chance for a joke--but she has already moved on from there, leaving ruin in her wake, and so he returns to his coffee. He can keep up with his coffee, which is white and sweet, which he fidgets with like a nervous habit. She smiles again and lets the silence take him, and he fills it with nonsense, apologetic babble, disjointed thoughts, stumbling over themselves, trying to impress and failing--FEMA in the wake of her devastation, bumbling around, unable to make sense of what has happened much less do anything with it, much less move on.

Still he talks, and now it's her turn to focus on the coffee--dark and bitter and burning hot, but not nearly hot enough for her--she could be drinking the sun, drinking supernovae, drinking the jets from black holes, and it would still feel so cold--so she generates her own heat, burns up whole galaxies and leaves nothing standing.

"I'm not waiting for the universe to grow cold," she says, and this time he looks at her, startled. "And you're going to have to learn to keep up." And she finishes her coffee and leaves with a laugh.


cream invades the coffee black, reprise

I used to take my coffee black. I never understood these weird little rituals she had of pouring and stirring or not stirring and watching the little spirals spread through her coffee's unsullied surface. It all seemed so unnecessary--I guess I just thought of coffee as nothing more than something to drink. Energy in the mornings, keeping long nights longer, sure, but it was, first and foremost, a beverage. I used to believe a lot of strange things.

We never discussed it, of course. I became used to her rituals, and she became used to what, if I ever thought about it, I probably thought of as my no-nonsense approach. I hadn't yet realized that there's no such thing as "no-nonsense." But there were worlds of meaning being exchanged, even if I wasn't aware of it. Perhaps neither of us were, but I think she understood. She was much better at nuance than I.

I probably should have noticed, for instance, that eventually her ritual got shorter. Sometimes she'd forgo the cream or the sugar. And somehow when she did pour and stir--and she always stirred now--it didn't feel like a ritual anymore. But who was I to wonder about someone's tastes changing? Nor did I really pay any mind when the waitress asked if I wanted cream and I said "sure, why not?" instead of my usual "no, I'm good."

Then one day we were supposed to meet for coffee and she wasn't there. She wasn't anywhere. She'd disappeared, like she always talked about doing--I didn't know she'd meant it. I started to take cream in my coffee then, and since then I've started doing all sorts of other things, like pay attention to the little things.


state line, reprise

We crossed from Washington to Idaho in high spirits under a cool evening sky, with the lights just beginning to shine along Stateline Road. From the freeway you couldn't miss that you'd just crossed the state line--not because of the signs but because the state line was shimmering and alive. It wasn't long before we'd left Idaho behind--some winding through the countryside, stopping once for gas and something to drink--and then we were in the vast expanse of Montana, an endless night drive through spring snow in the mountains.

I remember very clearly what happened in which states, even though the terrain blends together, and in that part of the country I couldn't tell you a photograph of one state's landscape from another. It's important, somehow. After Montana, which stretched on forever, it was North Dakota, and just knowing that we'd finally left the state behind put me at ease, even if I knew that North Dakota would be just as dull.

There wasn't much else interesting on the road, but one time, much later, when I was visiting a girl I knew in Wisconsin, I took her out for a walk and we walked along the state line as well as I could manage it. She humored me, I think, but she didn't understand, not really. There's a magic to it, though.


born for trouble

I try to live my life in such a way that it never hurts when I cede ground and nobody will notice when I flee by cover of darkness. There's no point fighting battles you can't win, and I've long ago resigned myself to the fact that I simply can't win any of them--not really, not in a meaningful way. So instead I run. And when I can't run, I surrender. It's always been easy.

But life is made up of these little moments where everything falls apart, and where suddenly that matters. It came lying on the grass in a park north of town watching the clouds, lazily arguing over whether it was going to rain, because of course neither of us knew--it was that sort of a sky. And then the raindrops started falling--gently, lightly, like she knew they would, and I admitted defeat and listened to her laugh and at that moment I realized: I can't run away from this one.

It's strange how you perfectly remember moments like that. The world had been collapsing around me for months, and I was okay with that because I was ready to go gentle into that good night. But even the path of least resistance sometimes takes unexpected turns, and suddenly I cared. I wanted to fight it. I wanted to rage and scream--ineffectually, all--against everything collapsing around me. Anything to keep me from taking the next train south.

I could have been on the train months ago. I should have been. But something stopped me--nothing has ever stopped me before. Now I'm trying to fight something, and it's a losing battle, but I'm trapped and somehow surrender is not an option.