“It’s Quieted Down” by Nikolai Nikanorovich Dubovskoii. 1890. The State Tretyakov Gallery. Moscow.
Before my eyelids come unglued – I know what the day will be like. If the day is bad, the pain in my head and heart start immediately, the second after the alarm clock’s depth-charge disrupts the blood-warm sea of sleep. If the day is good, my chest feels light, this means that no bird has perched on top of me all night – pecking at my mind.
I know what the day will be like – but I have no control over the way it may turn. The moment when the alarm clock goes off is all I have. A second of indecision on part of the gods. This sounds stupid – I can’t even explain it – and I wonder if Oedipus must have felt the same way at some point or another. I wonder if he was handsome – I reach out to touch him in my dreams. I wonder why he visits me so often – him and Job, and Sappho, and John Lennon, and the nameless.
I am blue. In principle, I like the colour – the blue of my father’s eyes, the blue sky over a field of rye. But when your soul turns blue, it’s sort of like when your skin turns blue – unhealthy. It’s not the blue of my father’s eyes, it’s not the blue sky over a field of rye – it’s the blue of hypothermia and frozen corpses at the morgue. I’m trying to help myself – but it’s like being stuck inside a swamp – which part of me do I pull out first? Does it matter? Can I even do it? The swamp squelches around me, and it holds me in place when the bird comes to peck. The swamp is my bed, my work-desk, my corner table at the coffee shop. I can’t seem to leave it behind.
I have horrible and beautiful dreams. Last night, I dreamt I inherited a house off East Campus. The house had many windows, doors, crooked stairs, cracked mirrors, tinkling chandeliers. The previous owner of the house left a secret – a code with numbers – crack the code, and you will find the house’s many hiding places, and what is hiding in them. The word for hiding place is tainik in Russian – it kept playing in my head, a one-word aria. The phone rang and a melodious female voice read out the code in numbers. Ask the voice to repeat itself, and it would turn monstrous, and go through the numbers again – but the implications of what it was doing seemed very different.
I said – “I don’t want to find this house’s secrets. I don’t want to know what’s hidden under which floorboard. I don’t want that voice in my head, saying 103 – 99 – 95 – 99 – 99 – 99! I want to the phone to stop ringing, I don’t want to listen.” But the phone kept ringing, and the numbers pressed on. I woke up and sang “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” to shake off this feeling of dread – and I noticed that when my face arranges itself into a genuine smile it feels sore and strange.
I’m an aspiring storyteller – but my yarn has grown tangled and worn. Nothing I write takes definitive shape – it’s like trying to chisel something profound out of a rock, and having the entire thing crumble at your feet. I want to take up knitting – if only to savour the process of creating something, anything really. My head is heavy with the weight of my own unpublished ideas – people reassure me and tell me that I’m still very young, but my head doesn’t respond, it still makes my spine crumple.
But I’m trying. I’m trying very hard. Even when I’m so sad that the day collapses onto itself, trapping me between its own extremities. I’m trying.