Hemingway

Low rays of sunlight slipped through the blinds, dancing slightly, flickering through the passing clouds outside, and settling on the leaves of plants below. Several moments passed while I stared blankly at the bright patterns before I abruptly shut the notebook in my lap and securely slid my pen into its elastic loop whose sole purpose is to ensure I’ll never be without my pen. Thank God for small favors. Placing my notebook on the coffee table, I got up from my seat on the couch and walked over to the kitchen for some water. I filled my cup from the faucet and immediately drank the entirety of its contents.

It all started a few years before- the book or narrative or whatever you want to call it. I guess I never felt confident enough to put a label on it. But whatever it was, I started writing it because I somehow felt like I had stories worth telling, stories that the world just really needed to hear. My stories were so impactful, so relevant, so insightful, or at least they seemed that way to me. So I decided to begin documenting them through beautifully precise and articulated words. So precise, in fact, that two and a half years later, my notebook is lying closed on the table with its pen snuggled in tightly, holding safely inside what amounted to not much more than a few dozen illegible half-thoughts and some sketches that were trying way too hard to appear effortless. The whole damned thing now seemed humorous, at best, and completely asinine, at worst.

Pulling myself out of the momentary daze, I grabbed a beer from the fridge, walked back over to the coffee table, picked up my notebook with impressively little determination, and walked outside. I settled on the porch swing, the one whose very existence was motivated by fantasies of peaceful evenings when my anxiety would quiet down and my creativity would speak up. I popped open my beer and pulled a cigarette from the pack beside me. Several long moments passed while I sat motionless listening to the evening.

With a sigh of determination, I lit the cigarette and opened my notebook to my most recently (and frequently) abandoned story. I had started this one a night about a year back while living in New York and feeling a relentless uselessness in everything and everyone around me. I read the words on the page to myself, unsure of what to do with the scarce few lines I had managed to scribble down.

There are times when the world is engulfed in a blanket of pointlessness. And all the people are running around doing this and that and working on their work and fighting their fights. But when it really comes down to it, they’re just pointless people doing pointless things.

I’ve started looking at the people around me in the streets, on the subway, at the park. I try to think of their lives and what meaningful purpose they could possibly find in them. What makes them want to keep going, day after day? What is the point of it all, to them? Sometimes it gives me comfort to know there’s nothing unique about my problems. To know that other people feel the same emptiness I feel. Sometimes it encourages me- if they have something to live for, maybe I do as well. But other times, it just depresses me more. I feel so fucking sorry for them, running around like there’s a point to it all, when really, they just haven’t found out the Big Secret yet. With time, they will inevitably come to understand it on their own, and hopefully by then they’ll be jaded enough to find it merely an expected disappointment rather than a crippling heartbreak. But not now- they’re not ready yet.

All I had were strings of questions without answers, ramblings that went nowhere, and paragraphs that ended too quickly. I really thought I had something worth saying, but I had started to realize the whole damned thing was just me grasping at straws.

Looking for a reason why I’m like this.
Needing a reason why I’m like this.
Trying to be special.
Trying to be optimistic.
Trying to be better.

Or maybe just trying not to be forgotten.

Again, and without having added a single word, I shut my notebook, tucked in my pen, and walked inside. I put my notebook down, not on the desk where I would typically keep it, but in the drawer below where it couldn’t see me and judge me. I threw my empty beer can into the bin and poured myself a glass of gin. I returned to the porch, alone, with neither notebook nor ambition.

The night was coming on fast. I settled into the chair this time, pulled another cigarette from the pack, and picked up my phone looking for something to either lift my spirits or amplify my sorrow. It could have gone either way, really. But I felt unsettled, so I begrudgingly got up, walked back inside, and retrieved my notebook for what would later reveal itself to be the last time for months (a fact that would have defeated me, had I only known it at the time). I topped off my gin, since I was already there, and walked towards the back door. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I crossed the room, and something about my reflection felt unfamiliar. My eyes seemed different, but I couldn’t tell if they were too empty or too full. I shook my head in a subconscious attempt to throw the thought from my mind before I started to understand it, and I returned to my post on the porch. Opening my notebook, I started to read where I left off.

I know I have to figure out how to fight my way back to me. Somehow, during all the bullshit and accomplishments, I’ve lost myself. I’ve sacrificed who I am to make it work. I’ve given up asking for what I need. I’m paralyzed by indecision and uncertainty. There’s so much noise, and I’m not even sure which direction it’s coming from.

If there’s a single staggering moment of joy and beauty in this world, I can’t seem to find it. I’m grasping for something, and I don’t know what. I’m looking for the right words, touch, moment, feeling, and it’s just not there. I wish I could stop trying so hard and just rest without being overcome with alternating waves of guilt and apathy.

We’re all running around like little machines, programmed to do the things we do and mind our own goddamned business. It’s amazing how good we are at ignoring the world around us. I walk through my path, day after day, and I don’t see anything. I don’t notice anyone. I don’t learn or grown or change. I’m a static character in my own story.

I reached down and pulled the last cigarette from the pack, put it to my lips, and held up the flame. I flipped back to the first page of my notebook, the notebook I selected specifically for this brilliant project of profound creative expression. I read, and then reread, the words I had written on that first page.

Writing about something gives you ownership over it, a power to quite literally hold its destiny in your own hands. You are the author, the artist, the creator. You are in control of the story.

This story is about my mind. They say learning to control your mind is one of life’s most important lessons. But my mind, like my story, was never something I could control. Nonetheless, I find it to be a terribly beautiful thing.

I closed my notebook and smoked the rest of my cigarette in silence.

Photo by Samuel Austin on Unsplash

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