Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day in the Life

The biggest question for an entire day can end up being "do I have milk?" And the most significant activity for an entire day can end up being the trip to the grocery store to get milk.

"What do you want to do tonight?"

I must check to see if anything has come for me, if there is anything I need to pick up or file away. I need to check my email, and my apartment mailbox, and then, if nothing has come, I settle for messages intended for me insofar as I am a member of a set, like a mailing list. For instance, I will read a magazine. Or I will read the news on the internet.

"Want to watch a movie? Want to play a video game?"

I don't know what exactly I am waiting for, but most of my time is spent passively deferring the present moment. If it is the afternoon, I anticipate the evening. I fill the time, or, the time ends up filled anyway. Or, in the least, it passes. It is punctuated biologically - I have to eat, and sleep, and drink, and bathe, and other things - but it is not punctuated spiritually without some impetus (usually of an external origin) sufficient to overcome the inertia of my drowsy soul.

"Have you eaten? Want to go out?"

I wait patiently for events. I do not often cause them. I do not often create a situation or an event that is compelling, either to me or to the people around me. When I do, it feels dangerous and risky. I wonder how it might be dismissed or criticized or laughed at. It is easier not to posit anything, but then, not positing anything is poisonous. So I wait to think about what I ought to posit.

"I am so angry; there were no parking spots left." 

How can the dishes come to mean so much? What kind of world permits the dishes to dominate an entire day? Even a couple of days? Why can't they just be the dishes? Who allowed the dishes to become a goal of their own? Why should the dishes cause me to feel anxiety and apprehension? Why is it that every move I make in the apartment is made with the dishes as a reference point? How could it be that the dishes are such a potent symbol? Why can't I figure out what the dishes are trying to communicate? Why can't I figure out the meaning of the dishes? Why don't we have any clean dishes? Why can't I do the dishes, if it is not my turn to do the dishes? What prevents me from fixing the problem of the dishes?

"I dunno, I might read or something. Let me know when you are coming back."

If I intend to be a paying customer, I can go almost anywhere. If I do not intend to be a paying customer, my options are limited. I cannot stay in many places for very long before I am asked to purchase something or leave. If I park my car and remain inside it, just to be able to sit for a while in a place that is not my apartment, I am approached with suspicion by the police. At night, I can stay inside my apartment, or drive, but that is about it. If I choose to drive, I do so without knowing where I will be able to stop and park, apart from my apartment parking lot. So, I mimic purposeful driving, and turn the mode of transportation into a destination of its own. It is like choosing to live in a hallway.

"Eh, nothing really happened today. I made a couple of sales. Almost made a grown man cry. Not in a happy way either; he was a grown man, and it was weird." 

Some days it feels hard to believe that the plans for our cities and suburbs began as ideas in the minds of actual people. The results seem more closely fit to a computer-generated model created for maximum efficiency and economic benefit. It would seem that the invisible hand, in addition to everything else it does, also shapes and forms our communities according to its inscrutable designs.

"There was this hipster today." 

When I was growing up I thought this was almost tragic: how a tall building could put so many people so close together without their being able to tell how near or similar they were to those above and below them. Sometimes, in big cities, I would wait, and watch, and wish that somehow, one of the people in the windows would brazenly defy the order of things and speak directly to the person on the floor above or below their own. I squinted so as not to miss the crazy possibility of this vertical dialogue. It would be nothing short of revolutionary! But my hope was pulled up short, and everyone in view spoke only to others on their level, if they spoke to anyone at all. I did not understand why the need to communicate could not overcome such apparently slight obstacles as floors and ceilings. Then I came to learn (or: I was taught) that I had been overestimating the need. Many people are perfectly content to quietly remain on one level for the duration of their lives. Rilke says that some people live as though pacing one strip of floorboards even though the entire house is open to be explored. It is easy to judge "those people," but then you see yourself pacing with them across that one small space, and so.

"If we put up some more pictures, the walls would not be so blank. But we're leaving soon enough so I dunno. If you want to pay for it, I guess."

After buying a bagel for dinner I almost threw away my change. This is because I have become so unaccustomed to paper money and coins that they felt like discardable waste in my hand. Used packaging.

"I reached for the glove that fell between the seat and the console, and pulled up something that I didn't recognize for the first couple seconds, and then I realized: this is an old banana peel! So I threw it out the window and two days later it is still there in the snow where it landed. Seriously, it was for, like, a couple seconds that I just couldn't even recognize it."

Gmail offers a status update option similar to that of Facebook. Implicitly, it also asks you, "what are you doing right now?" That is a damning question.

"But think about it. Wouldn't it be great to be a baker for a while? To be mentally and physically and maybe even emotionally involved in your work?" "What, in baking?"

If I lose my pen at work, I may become angry and unsympathetic towards others for the rest of the day. Should it concern a person, when the small things in his life are never just small things? When a healthy sense of right proportion in responding to his life's circumstances has been lost? Who gave so much power to traffic lights and automatic doors that are locked after a certain hour? Shouldn't emotions of this caliber be directed at something a little more consequential, with a little more heft?

"Well, the first thing I want to say is that I don't have any answers for you." 

A couple of weeks ago a car alarm went off, and it kept going off intermittently for days. Its obnoxious cadence would reemerge in the pauses of a conversation, in the silence after a movie, and at bedtime after lights-out. I laughed every time I heard it and swore at its impertinence. It persisted. I casually mentioned it in conversation with friends as one more example of the peculiarity of our lives. Finally I began inclining to receive a message from it, and at that point, it stopped.  


  1. Having lurked about your blog for a while, I suppose I should say how much I liked this entry. It reminds me of another writer, but I can't put my finger on who. Anyways, great post.

  2. Man, things isn't easy. You've articulated how I felt the year after graduation a whole hell of a lot better than I was ever able to. I wish I'd written anything this perceptive and funny when I was in that funk. We get down on this way of living, but I think sometimes it's inevitable and I do believe that it's usually only in our lives for a time.

  3. ditto, ditto. post college oh crap indeed! i read this and feel a little convicted about my own life, how this seems to be something you're currently experiencing and something that steve has moved beyond. have a moved beyond it? did i ever fully experience it/how much am i experiencing it now? it's 4:40, and i really thought it was 2:15.