Rant Written While Trying to Stay Awake on a Plane for the Purposes of Going to Sleep Later

I’m sitting on an airplane coming back to New York from Japan by way of Taiwan (wrong direction but the connecting flight made it cheaper), and the lights are off and lots of people are sleeping, which is aggravating me a little bit because I’m trying to line up my circadian rhythms here and it’s the middle of the day in New York. Part of why I’m writing this thing is to blast my face with some kind of bright light at least. But the quiet-time environment is too much. This scene is dead. Some folks are just good at sleeping, sitting up in chairs and going lights out like they’ve got a switch. The rest of us are all playing along to the wishes of our sleep-rich overlords, keeping quiet to ourselves. There’s no community for us waking folk. There’s no daytime cafe car we can go to. Someone across the plane has a window seat, and she’s the one person who’s got the window cracked to let in the earthly sun of wherever over the North Pacific we are, and she’s a hero to me, but I don’t take that as an invitation to talk or anything, she’s just a waking-person icon doing her own thing and giving hope to me and my imagined community of people like me here.

Those who can sleep whenever they want are pretty damn cocky about it. “You can sleep on the plane,” or “you can sleep on the train,” or “you can sleep in the car,” people like to tell me, whenever they’re trying to convince me to adopt a sleep-deprived schedule. But nah, those are your abilities, not mine. I can drift off periodically in a very unsatisfying manner, with seven minutes minutes of idle fatigue or grogginess to every one minute of real sleep, or I can just call the whole damn thing off, do something useful with my time, and sleep at night like a human animal.

Another person just cracked the window for a second, right near me. It’s bright as shit out there, I got a taste of the good stuff for just a second. I guess I just have to suffer through a full sleepless “night” of this? Are we going to squander all the good light? There’s a breakfast scheduled for later, after sundown outside. Are they going to serve coffee and congee, then release us all into the 10pm night to immediately go to sleep? What’s the fucking story here?

Who knows, man? I just gotta do what I do. Ain’t nobody give a shit about my problems.

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A Few Ways of Thinking and Talking About Neighborhoods

I walked through Prospect Park a couple weeks ago and ended up on the southwest side at a small residential neighborhood I’d never really been through before. There wasn’t much traffic through it and there were small houses and big yards. It was a nice place, in the way that meant it was a nice place to walk through but not the kind of place that was open for living in or really spending time in unless you had a whole of money. There were a few stores and restaurants along the road where I was walking and all of them were expensive. The rent must be very high.

I think a lot about who “nice” neighborhoods are useful to and who they are useless to. A lot of people do. It is clear that New York City is changing very rapidly in ways that favor richer, whiter people, and people always think at least a little about clear and obvious changes. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t talk about gentrification. But there’s a difference between how we talk when we know we’re talking about something, and how we talk about those same things when we don’t realize it.

Is this neighborhood nice? Depends who you are. Maybe there are big houses to live in and restaurants that get their food from good farms and people are friendly to you on the street. Maybe there’s nowhere to live and you can’t get anything to eat and people look at you funny. Same place, different experience. “Nice” means “nice if you have a lot of money to spend and high status.” I still speak that language a lot, and a lot of people I know do, partly because I grew up in a wealthy, high-status background and went to school with even richer, fancier people, even though I haven’t spent my adult life with a ton of money to spend and don’t expect to have it any time soon if ever. But also, the language of the high-status is spoken pretty widely in America.

Whether or not there’s any social good associated with it, I’ve always been curious about words and what they’re unintentionally saying, different ways to structure thought, breaking down abstract ideas and changing the variables, looking at where words come from until you can see the concept that bind them together. Usually I just make a lot of puns and facetiously take things literally, but sometimes I rearrange things to help me think in different ways.

Here are some ways to talk about neighborhoods that I find interesting as a break from the normal conventions. It is exhausting to use devices like this all the time but it helps me to do it for a little while:

MAKE EXPLICIT WHO “NICE” IS FOR

E.g., “nice for rich white people” if that’s who has access to the features of the neighborhood that seem positive. It will sound harsh and mean probably, but that’s usually what we’re saying. Not everything has the same implied user. Prospect Park is generally nice for able-bodied people. The Brooklyn Central Library is pretty much nice for anyone who can get there.

(Maybe this will nudge us towards prioritizing more broadly nicer changes).

MAKE THE POPULATION, NOT THE GEOGRAPHY, THE CONSTANT OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD, AND TRACK THAT CHANGE

E.g., instead of “Crown Heights (g),” a  physical (geographic) neighborhood, talk about “Crown Heights (p) 2005” as the people living there in 2005. While Crown Heights (g) is “coming up” in a lot of ways, Crown Heights (p) 2005 is changing in different ways. Commutes are getting way longer (as people move farther away), food is scarcer, there are fewer friends and relatives within walking distance.  I actually don’t know that many particulars about the details and particulars of these kind of mini-diasporas, but I wish more people knew more.

(Maybe this will nudge us towards planning to change conditions for a population rather than for a location – though there’s a dark side to it, as it meshes with some exclusivist, nimbyist points of view)

NAME NEIGHBORHOODS AS PRICE RANGES

Instead of looking for the improvement of a geographical boundary, look for the improvement of “$800,” for example, and try to think of that as a “neighborhood” defined by all the spaces accessible for $800 a month. Some city improvements make these “neighborhoods” better – some essentially bulldoze them. Obviously there are a lot of complications – there are factors other than straight cost that define what’s affordable – but again, it’s a thought experiment to get one more imperfect perspective and help triangulate what’s going on.

(Maybe this will nudge people into thinking about affordability as an essential component of revitalization, as you can’t improve the cost “neighborhoods” without it?)

Anyway, those are some things that I have been thinking about. Thoughts are some of my favorite things but aren’t much use to the world if you don’t do anything. I always liked them anyway.

Two Raccoons Seen

I went for a walk outside late tonight. I usually feel better when I take a walk, but I don’t do it as often as I should. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the time, but usually if I don’t take a walk I end up wasting the time some other way and don’t feel as good, and I’m less productive and present for the rest of my time.

There are a lot of things like this: walking, meditating, reading books or good articles off of paper, exercising, writing.  I don’t choose these activities as often as I’d like to. I guess I’m choosing inertia or instant gratification over them. But taking a walk feels better than scrolling Twitter almost immediately. I’m not sure it’s gratification exactly that the temporary distractions offer. One thing I notice is that addicting interactions tend to fool you into thinking they’re only for a minute, or at least take you out of feeling the context around you, including the passage of time. This isn’t a good thing, but it is an easy thing.

In this case, I had been working from home all day and hadn’t left the house yet, but I was inspired to go for a walk while I was chatting on OKCupid with a woman who was going for a walk. I have Tinder and Bumble on my phone and I use OKCupid on my computer. So to me it’s a site, and to the woman I was talking to it’s an app. I notice some people say “this site” and some say “this app,” but as time goes on “app” has become much more common. It started as a correspondence culture, but now it’s becoming more of a texting/chatting thing. I’m not as good at controlling my time, flowing, and focusing with that kind of communication, but I’m trying to work more on coming to where people are and still keeping my internal focus.

Anyway, she mentioned she was her way back from a walk and that it was nice out, and I decided that I would do the same at some point.

I finished up some work, then took my keys and a rubber band, and I walked up to Prospect Park. It was drizzling, but barely. I went up to the park through Grand Army Plaza, then walked along the paved walkway to the left, on the east side of the park. I was only a couple hundred feet in when an animal crossed my path in the dark. I thought it was either a raccoon or a possum, but it didn’t have the possum’s stiffness, and then I could see it had a furry ring tail instead of that possum’s rat tail.

I immediately wanted to take a picture of the raccoon to share it with people. I thought it was exciting. I rarely see mammals bigger than squirrels on the loose in New York City.  But I didn’t have my phone, or any other kind of camera, with me. And then I felt like I didn’t mind. I liked seeing it, and I could tell people about it later or just enjoy it.

There are all sorts of ways to experience things and communicate that experience, but shared or not, technology-intermediated or not, there’s something really fun and funny to me about the activity of seeing animals, especially when other people get excited about. I love things that break down so simply. There are a lot of animals out there. We want to see them, get a good look at them. I’ve seen some good ones in my day. My parents brought me on a lot of hikes when I was a kid, and whenever one of us spotted an animal we’d try to communicate it to the rest of the party without making noise. My mom was the best at it, and would get very excited and try to show with gestures what kind of animal she’d seen. My dad nicknamed her “The Spotter.” I’ve turned into a pretty good spotter myself.

I turned around and followed the raccoon for a while, and it went off in the woods to the east.

Down on the main field of the park, there was a young woman in a dress crossing the grass alone. The field looked very inviting, empty and well-lit by the night sky and the orangeish lights, but I didn’t want to walk down the hill and scare her, so I walked down the paved path to take the long way around to the field, giving her time to clear off the field before I entered.

On my way down, I saw another raccoon, standing in the middle of the path, staring up at me. The lighting was good enough that I could look it right in the mask on its face.

The empty field looked even better from the middle of it than it did from above. Some people were biking and walking around the paved paths above, but I had the field and the surrounding hills all to myself. Near one clearing of trees there were a few trash cans, and right in my path was a big empty plastic Arizona Iced Tea bottle. I love throwing things, and rarely get the opportunity to really let loose in New York. I threw the bottle toward the trash cans, and it carried a little better than I expected. I walked up to it, picked it up, and threw it again, this time getting it close enough to easily toss it into trash underhanded. Like a three-stroke golf hole.

I walked back across the field. The grass looked like it had been cut recently, and there was a little bit of that smell in the air too, but I’d never seen a lawnmower in Prospect Park. I didn’t think that through until I went home.

TANGENTIAL THOUGHT: Aaron Sorkin is a fan of the “walk and talk,” which never seems contemplative. In which TV shows do people just walk? I see it in Atlanta, the Sopranos, and Twin Peaks. Atlanta and the Sopranos both deal with depression.

TANGENTIAL THOUGHT TWO: I liked how Pokemon Go really brought out the joy of wandering around and spotting and finding animals. Technology can have bad and addictive properties, and sometimes these prey on us more than they nurture us, but I thought at least one phase of that game was a good and exciting thing.

A Facebook Ad

While I was waiting for the subway I saw an ad flashing onto the kiosk that tells you which trains are arriving when.

It said:

CLICKBAIT

IS NOT

YOUR FRIEND

And in the corner there was the blue Facebook “f.”

I was a long distance away, so I had to strain to read the smaller writing under the big block letters, which said something about how Facebook was working to end clickbait. There was another ad that said something like “DATA MISUSE IS NOT YOUR FRIEND,” with the same pattern: Facebook “f” in the corner, some smaller apologetic text right underneath the block letters.

Without the text, these looked like anti-Facebook ads, warnings. “CLICKBAIT/DATA MISUSE IS NOT YOUR FRIEND (you will be exposed to it on facebook).”

They had accidentally made an ad that was more true from a distance than up close. Filtering noise is often the most valuable way to discern the truth.

A Bad Thinkpiece I Read in a Dream This Morning

In a dream that I was ending as I woke up this morning, I read a thinkpiece saying John McCain was really responsible for all the things being blamed on Trump, in particular a Republican anti-Trump insurrection (wish that were more of a reality.)

I remember thinking, “that’s pretty dumb and doesn’t seem accurate,” but let’s hear out the case that the editorial writers were making in my dream. Here is their argument:

 

The Republican Backlash Isn’t a Reaction To Trump, It’s a Reaction to Senator John McCain

It’s easy to see the turmoil in politics as a product of Donald Trump’s presidency, but people who think they are reacting to Trump are really reacting to Senator John McCain, who is behind the scenes the most divisive figure in the Republican party.

McCain has a reputation as a bipartisan figure who gets things done and is a statesmen. But he shows up only to mend bills. Republican leaders who do all the hard work resent him for not pulling any of the weight or doing any of the hard work to wrangle votes, and he secretly has a reputation for being one of the most useless Senators.

The divisions within the party are an expression of these long-held resentments at McCain, and they are using Trump as an excuse, but people who understand politics know the real target.

Daily Fiction 24: Genesis

God sat among the voids and the things, settled himself, focused, and tried, or tried not to try.

“Let there be light,” he said.

Nothing happened. God let out a slow radiation of electromagnetic breath, then turned back to his universe, trying to hide his face.

“You need to let there be light,” said F00%$ “You’re trying to make there be light. You’re saying ‘let’ with your words, but you’re saying ‘make’ with your actions. Understand?”

“I’m fucking omniscient,” said God, “of course I fucking understand! That doesn’t mean I actually know what I’m doing.”

“You’re making this more complicated than it has to be,” said F00%S. “Don’t even worry. Just let there be light. Like this. Let there be light!”

The universe in front of F00%S shown with the bright glare of all of existence. He looked it over,  pleased, and stacked it on a shelf.

“Let there be light,” said God. Nothing happened. He screamed and threw a spare firmament spinning into the void.

“Patience, patience,” said F00%$. “You’re forcing it.”

“Well, yeah” said God. “How can I not force it? If I don’t force it, nothing happens. And let me remind you, I am an unstoppable force.”

“The only force that can stop you,” said F00%$ “is yourself.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” said God. “I’m sorry. Thanks for your help. I can’t do this.”

“You just need to believe in yourself” said F00%$. “Have faith.”

“I’m sorry,” said God, “You’re very wise and well-intentioned, but this too damn frustrating.”

God went over to the making range and played with some of the realities they had set up there. He leveled a few mountains, drew a few oceans up into the clouds and dropped them down again, made several species in his image and others. He made some in the image of o0o_c^T^H^, his crush, and he made one in the image of F00%$, but with comically giant, stupid-looking faces, and then he made a few fantastical creatures, like one that had a fire on its back that would never be extinguished even in the water, and one that flew by spinning around so fast it lifted itself into the air. He assured himself he was a powerful and creative God. Then he made a heaven, smited all his creatures, and rested.

In his dreams he saw himself on a void, much like the one he inhabited, but with a gray path through the darkness, constantly moving. He stepped aboard the path and felt himself move. oOo_c^T^H^ was walking up behind him. She raised her hands and there was a flash of light above her, another universe created. God raised his own arms. “Let there be light,” he said, and there was light. The light spun into nebulae, galaxies, planets. He flew through the universe, being everywhere at once but some places more than others, gesturing at planets and imbuing them instantly with abundant life, whole ecosystems, cultures, societies. He popped out of the universe and back into the void, and the light kept creating itself, again and again. He was surrounded by universes. oOo_c^T^H^ stood beside him and he felt their beings merge.

Then he woke up. The void was cold and vast, and the points of light he saw flashing into existence were far, far away. He couldn’t make out any of the entities. He ran to catch up, saw that they were receding faster than he could cover. He wondered how long he had rested. F00%S must have moved on, figured God had grown sick of him, or perhaps he’d grown sick of God. oOo_c^T^H^ had always been kind, had seen some spark in God, he thought, but she had great things to do and he was only a small part of her life.

He could wait until other beings came around again, whenever that happened. It always would, in the span of eternity. He had no reason to doubt that.

But until then the waiting would drive him mad. “Let there be light,” he said. Nothing. Not even an afterimage of a spark. “Let there be light.” “Let there be light.”

The time was long and lonely. God tried and ceased trying, pondered, replayed conversations in his head, imagined what he would create once the world was intact. He had ideas for landscapes, plant life, microorganisms.

“Let there be light,” he said. And there was light.

It was a shitty little universe, uneven and unstable and ugly. But he built his firmaments, he built his animals, and he made a few in his image. It was all fucked. But there was nobody around anywhere in the void to see his embarrassment.

“Fuck it,” he said. “Eh.” He saw no reason to start over or chase perfection. He might not be able to do it again.

And so he ruled over the universe.

Daily Fiction 23: The Circus Assistant

In a certain circus—one well liked because its acrobats were less polished but more spontaneous, its freaks were less perfectly deformed but rather more uncanny, its lion charmers were less confident and therefore more brave—there was a certain assistant who always misunderstood his tasks and got people killed.

His understand of language was very literal, but besides that, he had very little sense of the enormity of the consequences of his actions. All things were abstractions to him, and though he guided himself by simple virtues like honesty, bravery, diligence, and obedience in an attempt to do good, he could not easily discern when bad things had happened.

One of his early tasks had been to fire two daredevils—a husband-and-wife duo—out of a cannon. Noting the cannon’s shoddy build, and worrying that it would crack in the firing, he enlisted the circus’s strongmen to steal a large cannon from a decommissioned battleship as a replacement, and, seeing that the circus’s mostly cosmetic fireworks were unsuitable for the job, saw to it himself that the cannon was loaded with real, top-quality gunpowder.

At the show, the husband climbed into the brand-new, shining cannon, the ringleader counted down, and the assistant lowered the torch to the cannon’s wick. There was a deafening roar—at least a dozen audience members were deafened—as the explosive force designed to send a 500-pound shell over eight miles tore through the cannon. The husband’s body was blown instantly apart, and his bones and charred flesh slammed into the audience at the top of the bleachers, to raucous applause.

At this point, the second daredevil quickly ascertained what had happened to her husband, and what was about to happen to her, and climbed eagerly inside the barrel. The assistant was beaming, and she couldn’t bear to break the news to him that something disastrous had happened. She was still smiling at his sweet innocence when he lit the torch under her, sending her being into the oblivion and her body into the cheering masses.

That’s how it was in that circus. All of them enjoyed life, but they understood it as a journey full of spontaneous and serendipitous moments, and they decided not fret over the outcomes. They were the people’s circus—a circus that did not seek to smooth over the flaws of humanity, or of life, with an illusory slickness, but rather to show how it still contained wonders, wonders that made us fear the horrors a little less. And this assistant was a wonder himself, and contained wonder in his mind. So when he replaced the trapeze with bear traps, or fed the lower half of the satyr to the lions, or evacuated all the animals and exterminated all the people inside the tent with gas, nobody saw reason to complain, because the wonder within the world had not been diminished, so there was no real threat to life.

Then, the World Trade Center towers came down in New York. Though the assistant was not responsible, and though they still loved him, one circus performer, a security guard, began to feel it was his patriotic duty to turn the assistant in. Wonder, he had thought, was a thing of the past, and nobody should indulge in it any more.

He knew that many of the other performers didn’t feel the same way, but ventured to attract kindred spirits. He began blustering loudly in the lunch room, then stepping out conspicuously for a cigarette, hoping others would join him.

Eventually Ronald, a young, doe-eyed assistant, but one far better socially adjusted and more calculatedly self-serving than that senior, language-deficient assistant, stepped outside to talk with the security guard.

“I think he’s a menace,” said Ronald. “He’s just got no sense of pragmatism.”

“Do you have a sense of pragmatism, Ronald?” said the security guard.

Ronald nodded, and took a drag of the cigarette.

They decided that it was time for the assistant to have an accident of his own.

[to be continued]

Daily Fiction 22: A Message From The Human Resources Department At Nestor Consulting

Greetings valued employees,

I am going to communicate with you honestly. Honest communication, at the times scheduled and ordained by the company, is tantamount to our success here. And let me add, premptively, that there is nothing inherently dishonest about restricting the honesty of our communication to certain times, directions, and areas. Honest communication is a two-way street, and like any good two-way street, it only functions correctly if all the rules are stringently obeyed. So when we reprimand people for running red lights or exceeding the speed limit or driving off-road with their honest communication, we’re no more opposed to the principle of honest communication than two-way streets are opposed to the principle of driving. We enforce these rules only because we value our two-way street of honest communication so highly.

Likewise, when it’s time to come to work, we do expect you to drive down that two-way street and meet us halfway. Because we’re already driving to that halfway point, and then we’re driving back after we pick you up, so really if you meet us halfway, we’re driving twice as far. And we’re glad to do it, we are just letting you know how we see ourselves in this analogy so that you’ll understand our frustration. This is some of that vaunted honest communication we’re talking about.

In the spirit of this honest communication (and let me assure you we do indeed have spirit, soul, and all those other valued human characteristics in this company), I’m going to let you know that I was frankly dissatisfied with the lack of enthusiasm some of you displayed in making your responses to the company Wellness Survey. And to be frank, and to put a human touch on it, Livia, Tyler, and Taylor were all somewhat offended. Because here they were, in asking for honest communication from you about your own wellness, making a gesture of kindness and friendship, and the surveys were not all returned in that spirit.

But they are willing to forgive such slights, even to go beyond forgiveness to active love and concern, because what was more pressing to them was actually their concern over your wellness! Imagine that: you spit in someone’s face, slap that person in the very spot where that spit landed, and in return, all they want is to know if you have a stomachache or a headache, and make you feel better. You don’t even have to imagine it: that’s what Liv, Ty, and Tay are doing for you right now.

They want me to reassure you of your value. And I would like to do so. Not only because they asked me, but because it was an individual concern of mine, though not one I would have acted on had it not also been in the interest of the Nestor Consulting family, because I do understand that this company is bigger than I am, although the entire company consists of little “I”s like me. And I, we, they, all want you to understand that.

You are nothing if not valued. Those of you in the copywriting department know that words, and sets of words, have various context-specific meanings, but in the recurrent spirit of honest communication, I’ll let you know that that statement is intend both in the idiomatic sense—i.e., you are highly valued first and foremost—and in the more literal sense—i.e. if you were not valued, then you would be nothing.

I want to ensure you all that you are all valued, and that this can be deduced from your very existence here, an existence that the company would not countenance were the prerequisite of value not surely met.

[to be continued]

Daily Fiction 21: She Sells Seashells by the Seashore

She sells seashells by the seashore.

“You don’t respect my career,” she told me.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t respect her career, I hadn’t even thought of it as a career, or as something that could be respected, and even the implication that it was due some respect or that someone could see it as something to be respected confused me, and angered me for some reason. Of course I didn’t respect her career. But the accusation in her voice, the bluntness of her phrasing, made me feel defensive, as if admitting to not respecting her career was some gateway to respecting it.

“I, uh, I…”

“See,” she said. “You don’t.”

“Of course I don’t!”, I wanted to yell. “You sell seashells by the fucking seashore. Who sells seashells by the seashore!?” But she sells seashells by the seashore. She sees selling seashores by the seashore as inherently legitimate, or at least not as self-evidently dismissable.

“It’s not a matter of respect…” I said.

“Oh, it isn’t?” she said.

It was, of course, a matter of respect. That was just the part of the matter I didn’t want to discuss. So I said it wasn’t what it was. I didn’t want that to be what it was. The line of questioning was scaring and confusing me, and I resented her for it, even moreso if she was right.

“No, I mean, I just don’t, I dunno, I think I just don’t understand it.”

And I realized I didn’t, that was the truth, but in a way it wasn’t the truth—it was an excuse, a deflection. Because while I didn’t understand her career, it wasn’t the not understanding that I was feeling, it was the disrespect.

And why didn’t I respect it? The reason I thought so was because there are so many seashells at the seashore and it’s ripoff to buy them right there. It’s almost duping people, telling them there’s nothing in the ocean, by implying that seashells are a thing you have to buy. And I saw people falling for it. I saw them talking about seashells, as this “Seashells” product, as if only her Seashells were legitimate seashells, and soon her brand, her version of experience, would become the “Seashell” of the conversation, and my seashells, the seashells that felt more real, would be this quaint and silly thing, and I would feel crazy and alienated.

The truth is, I didn’t really give a shit about seashells, though. I could get my paranoid imagination going around them, but it was never about the shells. It was about modes of experiencing the world, and I was paranoid that hers would become more popular than mine.

And maybe that was cover for worsethat I just wanted to be better than her, that I didn’t want to give her confidence and power over me, that I wanted those things for myself.

“Yeah, you definitely don’t understand it,” she said, and it was an insult, but the kind of insult that lets you off the hook. She had made an accusation, but it was an accusation that was based on my lie about myself, a lie for cover that turned out to be the truth.

We walked for awhile down by the seashore. I liked to do that with her, but not so much when she was selling seashells.

“What did you think of me when we first met?” she asked me.

“What, when you were selling seashells down by the seashore?”

“I still do, you know. It’s my career.”

“I know,” I said, “I’m just saying you were at the moment. It’s something I remember.”

I do remember the moment. I was walking with another girl, one who I was in love with, but I had felt her disconnecting from me lately. We were walking in a crowd, and one of the other people asked her a question, and she answered them so easily and naturally, more relaxed and down-to-earth than she had ever seen with me, and I wondered if I had never even known her, and I wanted so much to still feel the same way with her, but that her, the one that seemed to be simpler and freer than the self she had with me.

And we walked off the boardwalk, and here was this other girl selling seashells down by the seashore.

There was something in her eyes that I read way too much into. Her eyes and the nose, her eyes with the nose between them. I felt that I knew her. There was a nugget of something that, with my imagination, I could make into an imagined person, and onto this imagination I projected so much love, so much depth, so much humor, intelligence, energy, and most of all that, in the imagining of this person, I could imagine her and I connecting and knowing each other and knowing who we were so much more than I could with this girl I was walking with, the one I currently loved.

I bought a seashell. I bought one for the girl with me.

Anyway, yeah, I remembered how I felt.

“So what is it you like about selling seashells down by the seashore?” I asked

“I never said I liked it,” she said.

We kept walking

“But thanks for asking. I think seashells are pretty. People associate them with the beach. People say they like doing stuff like picking out seashells themselves,. but really, they want to have it without doing all that boring stuff themselves. And most of the seashells are broken anyway. It’s hard to find good ones. So I sell people the ocean they want, the ocean they could have, instead of the ugly “real” ocean. It’s better.”

“Whatever,” I said. We were disconnecting.

“Plus,” she said, “I like digging for the shells myself. There’s nothing better.”

[to be continued]

Daily Fiction 20: The Gaslight

I went into my psychiatrist’s office last week. It’s on the second floor of a restaurant, a Montreal-style deli. They call their pastrami variant “smoked meat.” It’s good but it’s too expensive. When I’m poor I never have the money to go there, and when I’ve got more income I’m so used to nice food it doesn’t feel worth getting excited about some pastrami.

I still feel like I should go there, because I like to kill two birds with one stone, and to feel like the place has some special benefit, a feature I can use thanks to the convenient location of my psychiatrist’s office. I’m very suggestible that way. I’ll get polarized sunglasses, for example, and start finding excuses to go to the water, so I can look underwater with the polarized lens.

Still, I rarely end up going. Last week there just wasn’t time. I came in after work. I was a little bit late. I opened the little shoddily-painted white door next to the deli and went in to the unlit staircase and up past the restaurant office and knocked on the door to my shrink’s office.

“Yes?” he said.

“I’m here for my seven o-clock” I said.

“Come in,” he said.

He was sitting in his office with his head resting on one hand.

“So what’s going on?” he said.

I told him my vague worries—that I was getting older, that I was’t gonna find love, that people were laughing at me, that I was going to get cancer, that I was mediocre, that, though I wasn’t depressed at the moment, I was going to succumb to depression inevitably unless I constantly worked hard to keep my safety net up, which seemed like a huge hassle.

He sighed.

“What do you think about all this?” I asked him

“I think you’ve gone mad” he said.

“Mad?” I said

“Yep.”

“Gone?”

“Yep.”

“So I wasn’t.”

“Obviously you weren’t always mad. Now you are. You’ve gone mad. Is this making sense to you?”

“Not really,” I said.

“That’s because you’ve gone mad,” he said.

“I don’t think so.”

“Of course you don’t. You can’t trust a madman to self-evaluate as mad.”

“Well, look, sure, but like, I think I would know if I was approaching going mad, like if things were out of wack, like I would at least feel like something was crazy. I dunno. I feel like this is all pretty normal.”

He raised an eyebrow. He really managed to get that eyebrow high.

“Do you?”

I did. But I didn’t really understand why he didn’t back me up there. He was usually saying that kind of thing himself, to reassure me. That’s really all I wanted that day, someone to validate my self-reassurance. But he hadn’t been like that at all today.

“Yeah…” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, pausing to take a long sip from lowball glass with a few mostly-melted ice cubes and some clear beverage. “That’s the madness talking.”

“Okay, well what exactly do you mean by ‘mad’?”

“You’re in a state of madness,” he said. “Take a brochure.”

“Where?”

“Where? Out in the lobby. Not now, not now. After the visit.”

“What visit? All you’ve done this whole time is call me mad.”

“Wrong,” he said. “I’ve diagnosed you as mad.”

“Okay, well, let’s say I am mad. What are we gonna do about it?”

“Do about it? Madness is incurable. Best we can do is send you to the looney bin!”

“Jesus,” I said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you.”

I got up and walked out the door.

“Hey man,” he said “I’m just gaslighting you.”

“Gaslighting me?”

“Yeah. It’s fun. Want to try it?”

“What?”

“You wanna try gaslighting some people? I’ve been doing it all day. Passes the time. It’s funny. And because I’m their psychiatrist, people really listen to me. You can get away with a lot of crazy shit if you just commit hard enough.”

“You’re crazy” I said.

“There, now you’re getting the hang of it,” he said.

I explained to him that I wasn’t a psychiatrist. He told me that it was fine, it would just make people crazier if I pretended that I was him. and acted like everything was the same.

I had to admit it sounded like a pretty good idea.

He went to hide behind a file cabinet, while I sat in the chair that he was in. It was 7:30, which was time for his 7:30. There was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” he said. The door opened. A tall, hefty-framed red-haired woman walked in. She looked at me and raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t as high as the doctor had gotten his, but there was more subtlety. She put one hand on a hip.

“Dr. Millstein,” she said “Are you gaslighting me again?”

“No,” I told her.

“Ha, very funny.”

“What is it you find funny?”

“Ah, come on. Gaslight me once, shame on me. Gaslight me twice..well, you better gaslight me so good I’ll forget that I was gaslit before.”

Millstein popped out of the corner.

“Fine,” he said “Ya got me.”

“So you boys are gaslighting people?” she said.

“Trying to,” he told her.

“Shit, I’ll gaslight with y’all” she said. “I’ll gaslight so good you’ll think I set a fart on fire.”

[to be continued]