The Overload

I have too many things to do today:

1. I need to write an article for Funny or Die

I applied to write for them full-time, but I did not get it; other people who had more experience got the job. This depressed me, because I felt like if I could not get that job, I could not get other jobs. In general, the dynamic of “getting” things frustrates me; I would prefer to do things, regardless of rewards I am given or not.

This month’s issue of The New York Review of Books had an article on Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People. We live largely in the world described by Carnegie.

[His] engineering of the self constructed of a model of modern individualism composed entirely of serial images, with no sturdy commitments or beliefs, no firm moral standards, no authentic and rooted core of self. It consisted only of a pliable personality eager to please others and to advance socially and economically.

James Watts, the author of the book on Carnegie, quoted first in the article about his book by Ian Frazier, then quoted by me.

I obviously prefer the former to the latter. But, realistically, I get my food, existence, and freedom partly through the power of others who have advanced socially and economically to secure a position that they can transfer to me. So I sometimes find myself in conflict. I always feel that it is the right choice to focus more on an authentic self, to ignore the reward structure, and opt out of pleasing others. But we live so much in a Carnegie world that I often feel social and economic insecurity, and dip the other way.

Funny or Die seems in some ways the essence of How to Win Friends and Influence People in the comedy world. They actually ask the audience whether or not they like each piece; the will to appeal seems clear. But the organization also contains some writers I know to have very strong personal beliefs, on moral, philosophical, and aesthetic levels, and I have seen some good work done through it, especially through The Occasional, its magazine. The editor of The Occasional is heavily involved with the news project.

So my hope was to get into the organization, and, secure in having the job, root myself as much as possible in my ideas of what makes worthwhile comedy, and see how it worked. Now in this more liminal state, I find myself worrying more about whether ideas are approved, whether they will sell, whether I will eventually have a job. It’s not the fault of the organization, but of my inability to reconcile my role with the general role I want in the world.

The idea they approved is one I find inherently interesting, and I hope I can execute it well.

2. I need to transfer money between my two bank accounts, and pay for my health care
I used to have a bank account with Citibank, but they began charging me a lot of money for not having enough money. I then opened a bank account with Charles Schwab, and transferred all my money to it. They do not have branches, but have a good website and you can deposit checks by mail; they also refund all ATM fees.

I had a lot of coins, and have no car, so I opened an account with Capital One, which is just around the block from me. I deposited my coins, and since I had an account with them, I did not have to pay the 15% penalty.

I lost my Charles Schwab ATM card and cancelled it. I can call to get a replacement during business hours, but have not yet done so, because it would be a hassle.

I signed up for ObamaCare when I quit my job, but need to pay the bill online with a credit or debit card.

Capital One does charge me if I go below a minimum, and is the only company with which I have a card. So I need to transfer money from my Schwab account to my Capital One account such that I have enough money to pay the health care and stay above the minimum.

3. I need to rewrite a few sketches
My sketch team, Blizzard of ’96, is having a show on October 12th, and this week we’re rehearsing the nine sketches that will probably be cut down to 7 for the 30-minute show (it might end up being 8). We have five that we’re decided on, and we’ll add two.

I want to write punch-ups for two of these bubble sketches before this week’s rehearsals. Our first one is Tuesday night.

4. I need to write sketch ideas for tomorrow
One of my friends told me about “National Sketch Writing Month,” in which people try to write 30 sketches in a month. At the time, I had just written 19 in a day (having already written the ideas), so I decided I could commit to writing 30 sketches in the last 30 hours of the month (with ideas pre-loaded).

But between Monday improv class, Tuesday rehearsal, sleep, and eating, I will be squeezed to around 10 hours. So I need to make sure I have 30 ideas I can write in 20 minutes each.

5. I need to memorize my lines for Tuesday’s rehearsal
I can’t do this much tomorrow, because I will be writing the 30 sketches.
There are plenty of other things I want to do.
I have a tough comedic prose piece I want to work on; I have some serious prose pieces I’ve wanted to workshop forever; I have non-fiction I want to write; I’m going to start teaching sketch class, and want to plan out syllabi; I want to come up with something to promote the upcoming show; I have a podcast I want to launch.

I have family and friends to keep up correspondence with.

I want to go exercise; I need to clean my room; I need to do my laundry; I need to do the dishes.

I need to buy equipment for my podcast; my TV is broken; I have computer speakers that I either need to return, or buy a matching unit for; my cable box is busted, and I need to return it to Time Warner while my landlord, who owns the account, is still in town.

I need to buy new shoes (my current pair is nearly two years old) and buy rugs (for my floor). My parents have offered to help me pay for both, if I can find the time.

If I have time, I’ll cook food so I don’t have to pay for it.

I need to apply for more jobs, get resumes together.
And yet I’m writing this. I decided it would be good for me to write every day about something that happened that day. I decided that of all things to make time for, this would be a good one. It is something nobody will ever read. This is called a diary, a journal, or a blog. Taking the outside view of this activity, it instantly seems obnoxious. But I don’t think I can tolerate my existence from that outside view. This is what I want to do.


Shoes, Floors, and Grime

I live in a basement, where the floor is painted, uneven concrete. With normal wear, the outer beige layer of paint gets chipped, and the inner, flakier red layer of paint is exposed; this turns to dust more easily, and soon the concrete itself is exposed. It’s almost raw around the bottom of my computer chair, and I cover it with an old sheet to prevent the dust from spreading.

There are also pockets of the floor where normal dust – cooking fumes, crumbs, stuff that gets in through the AC, flakes of whatever comes from the shower, things that get in through through the cracks in the windows, stuff on the bottom of shoes – tends to accumulate, and is hard to remove.

It used to be so bad that I would get a layer of grime on my feet just from walking across the floor.

I’ve started taking my shoes off on a bench in the hallway instead of bringing them into my room. But I’m not used to such behavior, especially when I’m coming back from being out a long time, or when I’m popping back in to grab something from my apartment. But when I do, I’ve started occasionally wincing at the thought of having to clean.
Cleaning depresses me. It’s work that builds nothing, that at most restores things to a condition they once were, that makes it seem like a huge portion of the human effort is just swimming upstream against entropy. Cleaning can never last; it will be undone by the course of life.

In this way, it’s similar to a lot of other forms of maintenance work, but it’s more frustrating because it seems to only emerge through a pathological need, and to have no end. We know that we need to replace pipes occasionally so that we do not have water running; but it seems, to some extent, only a pathological desire for cleanliness that makes it feel necessary. And while things in working condition need not be tinkered with, cleaning as an ideal could always be pushed. Things could always be cleaner, there is always more tedium that could be demanded.
When I was a kid, I told my parents that I hated cleaning, that I would rather do any other work. This still feels true. The only thing that has changed is that I find it necessary.
There are people who spend their whole careers cleaning; there are people who clean voluntarily for hours a day for their families. I already find the treatment of low-wage workers and the domestic confinement of women barbaric; this is just one manifestation of it, that just by position in society, one can be sentenced to the work I find most miserable.
I wanted to have things both ways; I always used to live without regards for cleanliness or order, even though I hated restoring it. But I do not want grime on my feet, I especially do not want grime on the feet of visitors. I do not want to spend time looking for things, or to be unable to use my dishes because they’re dirty, or to have dust in my lungs.

So I have begun embracing carefulness in the moment to avoid future hassle. But in many moments, it doesn’t feel right to be orderly.

This is part of the difference between childhood and adulthood; we accept some restriction of what life is so that we can achieve order. But that restriction should be seen for the tragedy it is.
My favorite book when I was little was The Phantom Tollbooth. I reread it when I was an adult, and was amazed by how much it captured the true lessons of maturity while warning children about some of the traps of adulthood.

Near the end, the protagonist (with two companions) is on a rocky highway toward the palace where Rhyme and Reason are kept, and is waylaid by several demons; one is an “elegant looking gentleman.”

He was beautifully dressed in a dark suit with a well-pressed shirt and tie. His shoes were polished, his nails were clean, his hat was well brushed, and a white handkerchief adorned his breast pocket. But his expression was somewhat blank. In fact, it was completely blank, for he had neither eyes, nose, nor mouth.

He greets them in a friendly manner, and asks them to help them with several tedious tasks – moving grains of sand with tweezers, moving water with an eye dropper, digging a hole with a needle – which they do for hours, until the protagonist realizes how long it would take to finish the tasks.

“Pardon me,” he said, tugging at the man’s sleeve and holding the sheet of figures up for him to see, “but it’s going to take eight hundred and thirty-seven years to do these jobs.”

“Is that so?” replied the man, without even turning around. “Well, you’d better get on with it then.”

“But it hardly seems worthwhile,” said Milo softly.

“WORTHWHILE!” the man roared indignantly.

“All I mean was that perhaps it isn’t too important,” Milo repeated, trying not to be impolite.

“Of course it’s not important,” he snarled angrily. “I wouldn’t have asked you to do it if I thought it was important.” And now, as he turned to face them, he didn’t seem quite so pleasant.

“Then why bother?” asked Tock, whose alarm suddenly began to ring.

“Because, my young friends,” he muttered sourly, “what could be more important than doing unimportant things? If you stop to do enough of them, you’ll never get to where you’re going.” He punctuated his last remark with a villainous laugh.

“Then you must—-” gasped Milo.

“Quite correct!” he shrieked triumphantly. “I am the Terrible Trivium, demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit.”

The Humbug dropped his needle and stared in disbelief while Milo and Tock began to back away slowly.

“Don’t try to leave,” he ordered, with a menacing sweep of his arm, “for there’s so very much to do, and you still have over eight hundred years to go on the first job.”

“But why do unimportant things?” asked Milo, who suddenly remembered how much time he spent each day doing them.

“Think of all the trouble it saves,” the man explained, and his face looked as if he’d be grinning an evil grin — if he could grin at all. “If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won’t have the time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing…”

For most of my life, people have cleaned up after me; but I cannot will that, without feeling like I am offending against them. Still, I cannot will myself a life where cleaning is a great part of my work. The only solution is to minimize the need for cleanliness; I can minimize the creation of mess, and also embrace a standard that does not require labor-intensive cleanliness.

I dream of dirt floors, a life in the woods, things that cannot possibly be cleaned. But I live in a city, so nothing can be that pure.
As I got older, Huckleberry Finn replaced The Phantom Tollbooth as my favorite book. But before I read Huck Finn on my own, maybe before I read The Phantom Tollbooth, my parents read me Tom Sawyer. At one point, Huck was taken in by a respected widow.

Huck Finn’s wealth and the fact that he was now under the Widow Douglas’ protection introduced him into society—no, dragged him into it, hurled him into it—and his sufferings were almost more than he could bear. The widow’s servants kept him clean and neat, combed and brushed, and they bedded him nightly in unsympathetic sheets that had not one little spot or stain which he could press to his heart and know for a friend.

Something about him making friends with the spots and stains on the sheets made me choke up and cry. I don’t remember being affected as much by anything else in a book at any point in my life.

I hadn’t reread the book, or that portion, until now. Here’s how it continues.

He had to eat with a knife and fork; he had to use napkin, cup, and plate; he had to learn his book, he had to go to church; he had to talk so properly that speech was become insipid in his mouth; whithersoever he turned, the bars and shackles of civilization shut him in and bound him hand and foot.

He bravely bore his miseries three weeks, and then one day turned up missing. For forty-eight hours the widow hunted for him everywhere in great distress. The public were profoundly concerned; they searched high and low, they dragged the river for his body. Early the third morning Tom Sawyer wisely went poking among some old empty hogsheads down behind the abandoned slaughter-house, and in one of them he found the refugee. Huck had slept there; he had just breakfasted upon some stolen odds and ends of food, and was lying off, now, in comfort, with his pipe. He was unkempt, uncombed, and clad in the same old ruin of rags that had made him picturesque in the days when he was free and happy. Tom routed him out, told him the trouble he had been causing, and urged him to go home. Huck’s face lost its tranquil content, and took a melancholy cast. He said:

“Don’t talk about it, Tom. I’ve tried it, and it don’t work; it don’t work, Tom. It ain’t for me; I ain’t used to it. The widder’s good to me, and friendly; but I can’t stand them ways. She makes me get up just at the same time every morning; she makes me wash, they comb me all to thunder; she won’t let me sleep in the woodshed; I got to wear them blamed clothes that just smothers me, Tom; they don’t seem to any air git through ’em, somehow; and they’re so rotten nice that I can’t set down, nor lay down, nor roll around anywher’s; I hain’t slid on a cellar-door for—well, it ‘pears to be years; I got to go to church and sweat and sweat—I hate them ornery sermons! I can’t ketch a fly in there, I can’t chaw. I got to wear shoes all Sunday. The widder eats by a bell; she goes to bed by a bell; she gits up by a bell—everything’s so awful reg’lar a body can’t stand it.”

“Well, everybody does that way, Huck.”

“Tom, it don’t make no difference. I ain’t everybody, and I can’t stand it. It’s awful to be tied up so. And grub comes too easy—I don’t take no interest in vittles, that way. I got to ask to go a-fishing; I got to ask to go in a-swimming—dern’d if I hain’t got to ask to do everything. Well, I’d got to talk so nice it wasn’t no comfort—I’d got to go up in the attic and rip out awhile, every day, to git a taste in my mouth, or I’d a died, Tom. The widder wouldn’t let me smoke; she wouldn’t let me yell, she wouldn’t let me gape, nor stretch, nor scratch, before folks—” [Then with a spasm of special irritation and injury]—”And dad fetch it, she prayed all the time! I never see such a woman! I had to shove, Tom—I just had to. And besides, that school’s going to open, and I’d a had to go to it—well, I wouldn’t stand that, Tom. Looky-here, Tom, being rich ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. It’s just worry and worry, and sweat and sweat, and a-wishing you was dead all the time. Now these clothes suits me, and this bar’l suits me, and I ain’t ever going to shake ’em any more. Tom, I wouldn’t ever got into all this trouble if it hadn’t ‘a’ ben for that money; now you just take my sheer of it along with your’n, and gimme a ten-center sometimes—not many times, becuz I don’t give a dern for a thing ‘thout it’s tollable hard to git—and you go and beg off for me with the widder.”

I ain’t Huck Finn. I’m born in society, raised in it, invested in it. I get some of greatest moments from society. But I’m not sure it causes me much less misery.

Morning Routine

I woke up today about eight hours after I went to sleep, with some light shining in my window. In the months with less light, I like to keep the blinds open and get as much daylight as I can, and it’s getting late enough in the year that I can do that without waking up too early.

Like I find many mornings, I had nothing I immediately wanted to do upon waking up, other than using the bathroom. But when I get out of bed with no idea of what I’m doing, I tend to waste time, so I lay in bed until I could figure something out.

I had writing I wanted to do, but I did not yet have the energy to do it. Writing requires a certain sharpness, and for me it often requires me to ease into the day. I don’t know if it’s the accumulation of consciousness, if it’s just the flushing of whatever chemicals come with sleep, or something else not as obvious.

Sometimes it takes so long to get to the point where I can write what I want that I will need to stay awake writing. Karen Russell, my first and best writing teacher, told a question-asker at a book signing that she finds time to write mainly at four in the morning, that it used to be the only time she could write. When I wrote for her class, years earlier, that’s when I did most of my writing too.

So writing was out. I needed food, but my stomach was not quite running, and I didn’t want to go to the time and energy to cook something, not having anything immediately preparable. I would end up unsatisfied, and it would be much later than I had hoped.

I checked my email to see if someone would give me something to respond to. There was nothing, but I read a long email from a cousin; I’ve been corresponding a lot with various family members and friends. It was a good email, with a lot of thought about how to reconcile meditative and intellectual life with the power structure of the world, and I thought a lot about my response.

With something to think about, I got out of bed and started walking. Walking is always a good idea, if you have the time for it. But sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I don’t even have the will to do what I know is a good idea.
I tried a few times to establish a clear “morning routine.” Many people do this, and consider it essential and valuable. I never put too much stock into that, because there are many things that people do regularly that might be a good idea for them and not for me, or might not be a good idea at all. But there are some times when I feel that I can harness the power of routine to guarantee improvements, like a mental accounting trick.

In reality, like all things, it’s easier said than done; accomplishments are not achieved by scheduling. I get bored, or I have bigger problems, or the amount of energy I spend on the routine means it’s no longer a big idea, and that it wouldn’t actually be worth it to continue.

I used to lament my failure to adhere to routine, but now I’ve come to see it as a kind of defense, a way to stop the stifling accumulation of chronic detritus, to clear the debt of promises to myself that can’t be kept, save capital for things that really matter.

As the saying goes, it’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Here was my morning routine when I worked as an EMT:
Get up around 10:30, 11, or noon, having showered at night because the morning is too unreliable. Put on uniform, grab equipment. Get on the C train to Euclid Avenue. Get off at Euclid, wait for one of two buses. If the buses are slow, start walking to the base. If it’s too late to walk, run a few blocks. If it’s already too late to take the train, take a taxi for $20-25 bucks, 2-3 hours of pay. If it’s early, grab a Nutrament and a snack at the corner store.

Get to the base, clock in for the 12pm-10pm+ or 1pm-11pm+ shift. Put a quarter in the machine, get watery coffee. Wait for partner, or greet partner if partner is already there. Drink coffee while you check the vehicle. Use bathroom, get a second cup of coffee for the road if there’s time, go “available.”
I like the feeling of having brushed my teeth, and of course I like the effects of it. But sometimes it’s hard to counter the boredom of it, and I start rushing the job. When this happens, I often miss the molars, gums, tongue. Sometimes I swallow some toothpaste because I don’t have patience to rinse it out.

I recently got toothpaste with baking soda, and for the first few days I used it compulsively, craving that strange new baking soda flavor I had just acquired a taste for. But acquired tastes peak and fade, and I’ll need either some deeper-rooted maturity or some new tricks to keep up my good habits.
Here was my morning routine when I worked for an insurance company as a quality controller:

Wake up between 8 am and 9:15 am. (If earlier, have something to do). Snooze until it’s getting in question whether arrival before 10:00 am can be guaranteed, or rested enough that getting up earlier is worthwhile. Shower, unless running very late. Get dressed, grab backpack. Get food from home if alert enough to remember, and if food is available. If running early enough, walk to Atlantic Terminal and take 2/3. Otherwise, take C train to Fulton Street and transfer. Arrive at 2/3 Wall Street stop.

If running near-late, get bagel (w/ cream cheese) or donut from cart outside office entrance, or peanuts/cashews from adjacent newsstand. If running early, go down block to cart with grill, get bacon/egg/cheese bagel.
I try to pare down my actions to the essentials. There’s no limit to the amount of bullshit that can creep in if you allow it, if you welcome it. Extraneous chores, extraneous diversions.
Here was my morning routine when I went on an all-services-taken-care-of wilderness rafting vacation with my family:

Wake up when natural, rise when people sound like they’re stirring. Quickly pack everything into drybag, duffel bag, bring bags and cot down to the water. Walk off to urinate, walk back to camp. Eat breakfast. Find life vest, helmet, walk and talk, assist with takedown if help is needed. Get in kayak if available, raft if not.
What is it about routine that bores me? The waste, the limitation, the repetition, the rigidity? Could a routine be devised without these downsides? I dream of pleasant routines, of fortifying routines, of routines that make my life what I would want it to be. But does the routine contain these awards, or is it just a crude expression of what I really want?
I’ll develop and see what works.

Familiar Streets

I woke up very hungry today, dreaming about food, and didn’t have much in my fridge to really make breakfast. So I walked to Tom’s Restaurant, which is a nice diner not too far from me. It’s very crowded on weekends, but on weekdays it’s fine. And I wanted to walk anyway, to take in the daylight and get myself moving.

I walked east along Atlantic to Washington, then north along Washington to Tom’s. After I ate, I wanted to walk back a different way, so I walked east along Sterling. I knew I would hit Underhill, a residential street, then Vanderbilt, the main strip of Prospect Heights.

I had planned on walking down Underhill, because I’d been down Vanderbilt many times. But as I got to the intersection with Sterling and Washington, I saw that there was another intersection before Vanderbilt, and decided to go on ahead.

It turned out to be Butler, a side street that didn’t go through, only went off at a diagonal, to the left, toward the park. I kept walking past toward Vanderbilt, and soon saw some familiar buildings emerging.

I had a feeling I’d had before of something familiar coming out of something unknown. It’s a passage between different kinds of places; places you feel as unknown space, and places you feel as known space.

The unknown space gets an element of its being that you did not know it had, connecting to things you already knew.

The known space gets an element of its being that you did not know that you didn’t know it had; it is seen in a way that you didn’t have a conception of as a part of its existence.
Twice, I’ve driven from Austin, Texas, to Washington, D.C..

One time was with my dad, driving my grandpa’s pickup truck, which we were taking because he was too old to drive. We drove through East Texas to Big Thicket park, then to New Orleans (where we stayed for a week) then through Tuscaloosa, to Chattanooga, then to Rock City, then on home to D.C.

One time was with my brother, driving my grandma’s dog in her car, since they had sold their house and moved to be closer to my parents. We went through Northeast Texas, through Waxahachie, Dallas, Texarkana, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Cookeville, Knxoville, then Natural Bridge Park in Virginia, and then back home.

Both times I remember how, after seeing so much of the country and long rolling hills, I felt D.C. in a different way, as a city nested in this vast country, a little town in the lowlands past the Appalachians (not just along the coast, or rivers, or highway). I saw the suburbs as a transition from the country, not a part of the city. Direction matters.
I sometimes fear that there is a limited quantity of unfamiliar places, or places that feel unfamiliar, and that continue to pursue these boundaries can make the world stale, make too much seem familiar.
There is another element of transition, one that rarely seems as stark to me, because it’s a slow fade and doesn’t hit the same kind of mindspace. To get to unknown spaces, you depart known spaces. At some point, you’re no longer at home or any place you know familiarly, and are beginning to explore. Many of these departures are into places of such a familiar type that they don’t feel particularly new, so there’s nothing very stark about entering them. By contrast, seeing familiar things again sparks so many associations that it’s stark even from things of familiar type but not complete familiarity. It stands out against more backgrounds.

But sometimes you discover an unfamiliar place within a familiar place, in a way that gives a special kind of wonder. The place would give no feeling if it were somewhere else. I have memories and sensations of these moments, but no stories about them.
At some point on both road trips we left the familiar space of Austin, and went elsewhere in Texas, toward another state, a feeling I’ve experienced a few times, one time when I drove with my grandparents out through West Texas, to go to a ranch in New Mexico for vacation. We’d been to the ranch before, but we’d flown in to Albuquerque.
I used to have dreams about finding secret rooms in my houses; my house in D.C., and the house in Nashville where I lived for the year. My brother would have similar dreams. We thought sometimes that the fact that we both dreamed there were secret rooms meant those rooms really did exist.
My grandparents moved earlier this month (when we drove the dog) to a retirement complex near my home, next to the Jewish temple where we used to go to services and Sunday school (it was on Sundays, not on the sabbath). Before they moved in, I went with my dad and my brother to carry in a piece of furniture called a buffet. The thing had been in my house, but I didn’t recognize, I hadn’t paid it any attention.

I had been in the first floor of the building many times, since we used to have overflow services for the High Holy Days in the auditorium. But this time we went up the elevator, into the empty apartment, which I have not yet seen as a home.

Before we drove out, we stayed at their old home in Austin, which had been sold and was stripped nearly bare by that time, which will never exist again as it once looked, and Austin will now be a place where I do not have a home. It is very likely I will go back there, probably many times. It will be strange to return there as a person visiting the city itself, not a home in the city.
I’ve had this dream many times: I walk in a place that is at first familiar, but find a new block, a place I haven’t explored. There are stores, restaurants, ordinary places, but the thing that excites me about them is that I can get food. Not food that is fancy, or that I couldn’t have elsewhere, but that has a different association to it because of it’s place and because it seems good and because I’m hungry; I’m always excited to find it, there’s a sense of wonder, not as much at the food itself as at the character of the place that provides it. I used to experience all restaurants like this, especially the ones that quick and cheap and informal, usually serving their food over a counter.

I don’t usually feel that way when I go to eat, but I still have those dreams.

Crossing the Street

I don’t have a gym membership anymore, but I like the feeling and effects of exercise. So I use parks, stairways, household objects, and scaffolds. When I use scaffolds, I like to walk around from one spot to another, so I can rest my upper body for the next set while not feeling idle or getting bored.

Tonight I went out for a walk after dark, venturing out a little over a mile and walking back. I get a little self conscious when people are walking by as I exercise, so if they’re very close I wait for them to pass before starting.

This time, I was squaring up to a crossbar when I heard two women approaching. They were white, around my age, with light and long hair, narrow figures around 5’8″ in height. I was leaning with both arms stretched out on the bar as they walked by me. We saw each other, but said nothing, and they kept on walking.

After I finished my set, I kept walking up the street, and saw them look back while talking to each other. I instinctively looked back over my shoulder, although I knew they were looking at me. There was a black man walking behind me, probably about five years older than me, around my height or a little shorter but more solidly built, wearing an embossed leather jacket and a wool hat. He was about as far away from me as I was from them, or maybe a little closer.

The girls (I think of them as “girls” — for a while, for me, “women” and “men” will still be people older than me) looked a little uncomfortable, and I immediately felt shame at what I thought was their suspicion, which is not always how I react. I wanted both to defy their judgment and to allay their fear, and so I decided to cross over to the other side of the street. But as I started crossing it occurred to me that the man behind me might think I was crossing to avoid him, since I had turned to look at him when they had turned to look at me.

I watched him as I crossed, but he didn’t show any outward sign of being upset. When I got to the other side of the street and resumed my pace, I saw the two girls crossing to the same side of the street I was on. I don’t know if they were going to that side of the street because they needed to go there, because they were scared of me and had not checked again, or because they were scared of the other man. The last possibility was the most tempting to me, because if they feared a black man because of some racist reason, it would lessen the legitimacy of their previous judgment of me.

I immediately crossed the street again, to the same side I had started on. Because I had taken time to cross twice, I was now walking behind the man, who seemed to take no notice.

Then I stopped watching everyone, and went on to the next scaffold.

I like walking around, especially at night, and I feel strangely when people fear me. Sometimes I like the deference, but dislike the distance. When I pass another person who is feared and we do not fear each other, I like the brotherhood in that. When I fear another person, I like to see other people validate my feeling with the same distance and caution. When I see people fear other people I do not fear, I am offended by their fear, which I fear abstractly, as part of a cleansing instinct, a threat through authority.
There’s a sort of depth of life I feel in the unspoken language of street passings. Streets mostly empty, late at night, bring back a kind of state of mind that enlivens me.
I remember walking back from nights out in D.C., in quiet residential neighborhoods with big trees and bright streetlights. It was a part of town where no tourists came, no college kids or post-college transplants, and the adults were asleep. It was just for us.

Or walking down alone through Morningside Park in college, sometimes to play basketball poorly, sometimes just to clear my mind. I was proud because other kids didn’t think it was safe.

When I first moved to Clinton Hill after I graduated, I walked around the neighborhood in expanding spirals, to get a sense of it, got a late-night burger at the Country House Diner, came back to an empty apartment, because I was crashing there for a couple days before I was unpacked, before I’d even bought a mattress, a few days before our lease officially began.

When I worked as an EMT, I would walk up through City Line, East New York, Brooklyn sometimes in the snow, in my work boots and uniform, to catch the late night train at Euclid Avenue. People would defer to my uniform. When I got on the train, it would be a C train just starting up, and I would get the forward-facing seats and stretch my legs out over the empty seats in front of me

I went on vacation to Mozambique, and on the streets of Maputo guards with assault rifles on their back would try to shake us down for money. We would walk fast to avoid them, and one time one of them grabbed me by the wrist. I turned around, looked him in the eye, and broke my hand free. I was in Maputo for three nights, I think, and it still is a place I remember, because its streets felt different than any others, but looked like enough places where there were other streets that other streets would remind me of them.

I don’t know the name for this feeling. I don’t even know what the word for the particular kind of feeling is, the mindset, the way of being, the language, the type of engagement. It’s a home in my mind, or a being I can be. It’s a certain type of simplicity.

But it is something.

When I walk at night, I feel a different way than the other people are walking, but I feel that there is a kind of communication, I feel like it makes sense, and within certain bounds the back and forth can be understood. But what I feel was said is a projection or what was understood, the whole thing is rooted in my own feeling, takes place in my own world.

This is part of what a language is.
I’m going to go for a walk.