Physiology: Major insomnia. Averaging less than four hours of sleep a night. If I had shorter hair and a leather jacket I might get mistaken for Paul Auster due to the lunar craters of darkness tattooed like half-open manholes inked beneath the lids of my eyes. I never realized how nipple-suckling dependent I was on alcohol as an adjuvant for sleep. For the past couple of years when I would fall asleep I would almost always have both a book and a beer cracked open.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Day Seven: Sunday Marnin’ Comin’ Down and 7 days of Ganesha Grace
She told me that she needed to leave the existential bustle and heat of the city and asked if she could come down to see me just for one night and I told her she could catch the bus at Midway and that I would pick her up at the student center where I went to school. When she arrived she was smiling. It was six in the evening and we only had twelve hours together. The June light resembled honey pilsner as we embraced and I groped the leather handle of her satchel the moment she stepped off the bus.
“It is good to see you, Daveeed.” She said.
Her hair was dyed purple.
Every time I saw her hair it was dyed a different color and cropped short.
She was an artist. I was a writer. She was from Serbia and had moved to Chicago during the war. I kept dropping out of college to write books. We met in the computer lab when she spotted me furiously pecking away into the keyboard and smiled and said she knew I was a writer and then told me that I looked good in black. She asked me how long I had long hair and I told her I had refused to cut my hair since autumn 1998, three years ago.
Sometimes she called me Damien because her favorite writer was Herman Hesse.
“The true profession of man is to find his way to himself.” I said, quoting the one Herman Hesse quote from Siddhartha I had memorized in high school.
“You probably just memorize that so girls will think you are smart.” She informed me, laughing.
She would sit on the quad and sketch anything she could find and I would read her my stories and she would smile and clap. Sometimes at night our limbs would buckle around each other’s flesh and I would kiss her forehead and she would say something in Serbian and I would ask her what that means and she would smile and laugh and refuse to tell me.
“Everyone thinks I am boy because the way I dress.” She said.
One time in college she asked me if I could cut just a strand of my hair off so she could use it in an art project and I told her no.
I told her that my long hair was my favorite attribute and that no one touches my hair.
“You think your penis will fall off if someone touches your hair?” She said, laughing.
At the time I was living in an apartment in a renovated mansion on High street. When we entered my apartment our fingers immediately pinched and unbuttoned the others attire, draping off scrunched fabric and denim shanks like petals until our clothes were puddled together in an androgynous nest in front of the door and we were both naked. We never made love but we would hold each other, and kiss and smoke and then I would cook for her.
At night she asked me again why everyone thought she was a boy. She said that in ancient Greece there was a female only clan of “wild women” who lived deep in the woods and were devotees to the deity Artemis. She said that the woman would learn to walk like bears so when they were going through puberty they would appear ugly to older men and the older men would not wish to rape them or impregnate them. She said that the women spent years in the woods making themselves ugly so that later in life they could envelope their own identity and blossom into the woman they were destined to be.
That night we slept together our limbs welded in abstract iterations. She would cry, tears skiing down the drywall of each other’s denuded body, leaving a residue of salty rivulets when they dried. She told me she was scared of life and missed her grandmother in Serbia.
I held her close.
The alarm never went off and we awoke with parallelograms of tangerine light splintering across the room. We didn’t have much time and I tried to brew her coffee while we combed the floor for our respective garments. She had taught me how to make Turkish coffee the semester before and when I handed her the cup she gripped my wrist and bit into with the tips of her fingers.
“Hands.” She said.
“What?” I retorted.
“I want to draw your hands.”
I told her okay. But not now we were going to be late and she was going to miss her bus.
We walked toward the door and she reached into her satchel and pulled out a parcel that was wrapped in a blue cloth.
“It’s for you. Open this after I leave.”
I accepted the gift. I had nothing to offer her accept a few smokes. Then I turned around and told her to wait. I ran into the bathroom and opened the bathroom cabinet and fished around until I found it then I ran into the kitchen and pulled my shirt back off. I then reached behind my head and removed the plastic knob that held my hair back in a ponytail.
I then handed her the scissors.
“Take it.” I said, reminding her that we don’t have much time.
“What?” She looked at me funny. I sat down on a chair.
“Take as much of it as you want. Only hurry. We don’t have much time left.”
I could feel the intersection of dual blades as they chomped across my forehead. She held part of me in front of her like an auburn ribbon. I asked her if she wanted more. She looked at the offering I had given her and continued to smile.
Ten minutes later we said goodbye. She reminded me to open the gift when I returned home. We held each other close and I guessed her forehead and kissed the moistness under her eyes.
When she boarded the bus I could see her looking at me through the tint of the window.
The bus emitted gaseous pauses and began to throttle and lumber and gradually drift away and then the bus turned into a pebble and then it turned the corner and then it was gone.
Status: At 9:30 pm tonight it will be seven days, or, to poetically parody Kris Kristofferson, “Well I woke up Sunday morning with no place to hold my head that didn’t reek/ and the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t there since I’ve been sober for one week.”
This is the longest since November 2004, or, more aptly, a fourth of my lifetime ago, that I have gone without a beer.
The weird thing is, I love waking up on my day off and having a beer or twelve to start the day with. Lately it feels like when I wake up, no matter how much coffee I sluice down the ol’ hatch, I just can’t stay collectively cognizant and I’m wading in this pond of reality soporific lidded, anvil-heavy exhausted, nowhere to go.
Most writers are used to constipated bouts of insomnia and embrace it when the writing is going well. As a writer certain vectors of your chest almost always feel sexually frustrated, almost always feel pent up, and if these aren’t ejaculated daily on the tissue of the page then peace and nocturnal solace will never be found. I think of opening sentences of the Mahabharata, it is revealed the god Vyasa summons his brother Ganesha to be his scribe and Ganesha, the elephant-visage Hindu diety who is both the remover of obstacles and the god of writers' informs Vyasa that he will write the story on once condition, "I will write for you; but if once you stop the story I will leave and never return."
All writers' understand this. They know that true writing happens when you are sitting on your ass for hours on end, how the pattering of keystrokes threads the unknown narrative into the page and how, hours later, time has been completely usurped, and the coffee has grown cold and the nerf ball sun is blotched in the antipodal pocket of the sky and there is an empty ashtray stamped with a corky-nest of cigarette butts that looks like something a phoneix might rise out from and there is ten freshly concevied wrought pages that are in front of you. This is the reason writers write, as not to lose that pulse, that narrative, that yearning that once it leaves it will never return.
When I transferred to Illinois State University in the autumn of 2000 I posted a picture of Ganesha on my dorm room door but the RA who looked just like Rudy Huxtable made me take it down. I should have graduated college the semester prior but I had gotten romantically involved with a prof at Bradley who was married and then got into a car wreck and almost died.
My mentor the late David Foster Wallace was on sabbatical that semester and I had a delightful dalliance with writer Carole Maso, but mainly I jipped class to work on my novels in the basement computer lab. I worked third shift in the library, idled outside DFW's office at hopes of garnering a scent of the elusive author, and drank my ass off. I was living in a dorm where I was over 21 and the bulk of the students were not. Almost every afternoon I would return from class and there would be a knock on my door and a short-haired sophomore with the university vowels stitched on his shirt would appear inquiring if by chance I would just so happen to be stopping by the liquor store that night and if I was here's a fifty, could I pick up a couple of fifths for him.
And of course I always did.I started smoking a lot of weed. My room became the official smoking lounge on the floor. Alcohol isn't allowed in the dorms, of course, and I was smuggling up to fifty bottles of week inisde the building. My parties on Manchester 16 became epic. One Friday night (lord knows where the RA was) I cozened the girls on the hall to strip down to their underwear. They then pinched off their bras and I placed a waste basket on the top of my head like a drunken drum major and promenaded the topless girls around the hallways of the dorm Mardi Gras parade style while the boys peeked out their doors and started cheering.
College, the best nine years of my life.
I flunked out a few months later and moved back to Peoria. For a long time I forgot the Ganesha mantra. I forgot that I didn’t need to be fucked up every second to be a writer. I forgot that I didn’t need to be a social whore to be unique and successful in life.
I forgot that all I needed to do in my career was, like Ganesha scribing the Mahabharata, to sit down every day and transcribe the narrative dictation that I heard in my head.
When I was at Illinois State I met a young artist from Europe named Jasna. She had short hair and always dyed it a different color. One weekend she came down to Peoria to visit me. We had a very gentle rapport where we would just hold each other for what felt like allocated sockets of eternity.
She would always call me Daveeed.
When she left Peoria she handed me a gift in a blue cloth and told me not to open it until she got on the bus and headed back home. When I opened the gift there was a copy of Damian, a novel by Herman Hesse.
When I opened the novel a postcard fell out. It looked like the last leaf culled from autumn. As if scrutinizing a film negative I held the postcard up to the light. I didn’t realize what it was at first until I noticed the tusks and then realized that it was a picture of Ganesha, the god of writers.
I placed the picture over my writing desk where, after more than dozen moves since it remains to this day.
On the back of the post card there was something scribed in Serbian. A few years later I asked Jasna what it meant translated into English.
“Color of your name,” She said, “Never forget the color of your name, Daveeeeed.”
I told her that day I wouldn't. I did for a long time. After these forty days perhaps I'll be able to recognize the poetic patina and color of my name once again.