:: Article

Walker

By Grant Maierhofer.

Sunday, 11:00 AM. Saw friends last night, felt strange. Went to the wrong house first and it was filled with people I might’ve known. I went to the next house and felt a bit more at ease because I knew it was the place I’d intended to go, but not much. Can’t have conversations with people like I used to. Can’t open up or think out loud anymore. Still. There’s this voice in my head having a conversation I’m never able to really articulate. It’s in there, now, tearing down this moment and turning it into something to fear. I remember in meetings everywhere I’ve gone someone saying that their brain wants them dead. I think I identified with this more than anything said in meetings. I’ve heard it said in a number of zip codes, those exact same words out of the mouth of different people going through the same thing. My brain wants me dead. It’s endlessly creative about the prospect of killing me. I try to soak it in television or eating, but still it succeeds in convincing me of any number of ways in which I ought to be dead. I worry over television. We live in a time where television soaks everything. Some feel indignation about this, they think the book or the world of more serious art should be our concern. I don’t think I agree with this. I have children. I am married. I have a dog. I live in a home and I have a job. Perhaps this creates a bias. I don’t know. Some people seem to think those things are the antithesis of artwork. I can’t agree. Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Those things are the opposite of a certain kind of art, a teenage art, perhaps. Even Larry Clark has kids. No way of living ruins a person’s potential admission into the world of art. Even the worst things could turn. I admire the lazy. I admire the slackjawed. I admire the boredom. I see the potential and I understand why people concern themselves with certain things. New York perhaps. New York’s alright if you like saxophones. Los Angeles and sleep. Oblomov all over the world in the twenty-first century. Fighting against the prospect of a job will be the greatest artwork of any artist’s life. Peter Sotos and Cormac McCarthy both feel that avoiding work is a logical step. Avoiding money, maybe. Or maybe not. How do you like your blue-eyed boy now, Mr. Death? The problem has become a self-awareness, a realization that living doesn’t require many of the things our teenaged selves thought vital. The work of literature is interesting insofar as it responds to this problem. Acting like it isn’t real is useless. I watch television. I watch an insane amount of television and I have every reason to believe that most other human beings do too. The problem then isn’t why aren’t more people reading, but why are some remaining insistent that reading is the answer, the salvation. I own several T-shirts that I hold dear. I love them. They have a story, a message, a density, but perhaps literature is better thought of like this than as some salve uniquely positioned to make better the lives of any willing to work for it. I see writing modeled on Artaud’s but Artaud was going through a hell most people never experience in his head. I’m guilty. I’m guilty. I wanted to sound like him. The writer wanted to be smart. That sort of thing doesn’t matter. The moment in Fargo is what matters for the artist. A modest moment. Just the three cent. An encouraging partner, or friend, or reader. It does matter. It matters as much as a painting of a mallard being used on a postage stamp. That’s significant. That’s everything, it’s beautiful. The problem, then, is when we become convinced it is or should be something more. It’s not that important. This isn’t that important. It’s ok. It’s ok. Still. I am awake in a living and my brain wants me dead. I open the door, my brain convinces me I have committed some horrific act. I write down a sentence, my brain convinces me it’s a sentence more vile than the scrolls of D.A.F. Sade and the police are on their way. It’s an endless thing. Still. It’s a nauseating thing. I write in bile. I tattooed LUCIFER across my stomach because I like the story and Kenneth Anger. Now I have an awkward time taking my children to swim. I create endless, manifold, multiform problems of minor concern and I avoid writing to write about them and process living. I’ve got overdue books. I’ve got things checked out or purchased I might never get around to reading. I’m reading ten things for review and I’ve barely cracked the spines of any. It never ends. This is the message of the work, the moral. It is a never ending thing and it must reflect this. The work is never done and it shouldn’t be. I am trying to process being a parent and process being a husband and process being a worker and process being a citizen and process being a person and at any given point some or all of these have to give. I like to stare. I like to watch the days go by in a stupor. I like the useless day. I remember in Pages from a Cold Island loving it so much because it felt like a warm never-ending Saturday afternoon in some sleepy sunlit park. There’s more to it but like most books I only take the mood. That’s significant, though. It’s a memory. It’s a history. Frederick Exley had endless problems. He was apparently a horrible father. He looked at his children and thought, what can these offer me? He went back to his work, his drinking. It always lets me down. People assume there aren’t enough hours in the day to get the work done and to be these other things. This is moronic. Most of the artists of old worked hellish jobs and awful hours only to come home and jot their notes by lamplight and fight off any number of infections. The work matters, but so does everything else. Everything else matters, but occasionally so does the work. Figuring things out and allowing yourself to sleep. Welcoming sleep. Opening the eyes to sleep. Still.

 

I remember my father as a grandpa caring for my son Hollis, answering my wife’s and my questions or holding and talking to the boy on our last vacation in Montana. I remember the relief that seemed to slowly build in his demeanor as he cleared 60 and settled into a state of comfort and curiosity. I remember waking up early and my father telling me those hours were his favorite in the day. He’d drink his coffee, get the paper, prepare himself for work and even exercise before arriving at the hospital early. I remember wondering if he liked the gray-blue light of those hours and felt comfort where most of us feel angst. My dad didn’t, so far as I can tell, know precisely what he wanted from each day, and if he spent much time reflecting on spans of time he seldom mentioned it. He’d make a note of previous moments as he’d read them in his 10-year diary, but short of that my dad seemed driven, each day, to figure out exactly to what of life he’d best direct his energies. I don’t think the whole of this will dawn on any of us in any sudden plop, as he was the sort of figure to create a sea of memories where much of life amounts to droplets. I don’t want to reach the end of my learning from my father, and doubt I’ll ever have a tidy sense of exactly what he’ll mean to me. My father didn’t stop, and wasn’t interested in the kinds of settling down most of us concern ourselves with. He worked, and he searched, to find something out about living each day that he woke up. I wrote the previous with some additions and it was included in a small pamphlet we gave out at my father’s funeral. I didn’t speak at my father’s funeral because I didn’t feel comfortable. I felt guilty for not speaking which is why I wrote what I wrote. I wanted to try to use writing to say something about my father that I couldn’t exactly say out loud. I don’t know if I was successful, but as I’m assembling this accounting of the past few years, I find myself returning to it. My father was a complicated person. When I was thirteen he told us he wasn’t sure of his identity and thus he and my mother got divorced. I remember once when I was fifteen calling my brother and sister to try and tell them I felt I didn’t understand my identity too. Neither of them remembered when I told them this but I’m fairly certain it happened. I said I thought I was bisexual and I wondered what that meant. I’ve told people this since then and I’m not sure why it matters. I don’t want to be afraid of someday leaving my family like my father felt he had to. It wasn’t a drastic rift, and my father reconnected with all of us in time. He and my mother were best friends. I guess it seems important to acknowledge this within myself so as to avoid ever leaving in the future. I’m comfortable, and a lucky person to have what I have. I have beautiful children, a beautiful wife who’s doubtless my best friend. This is sentimental but it’s real. I don’t know why I’m writing all of this or whether any of it matters. My father was born into a generation where he couldn’t feel comfortable living in a purely honest manner with himself. And yet I have a hard time imagining that a family life and a relationship to my mother weren’t things he also wanted. I guess that’s a gift I was given early by my family and my father, an understanding of how complicated these things actually are. Living is the most difficult thing on the planet. Staying around is an impossibility. It’s a nightmare to wake up in the morning. We don’t have a choice after awhile.

 

I remember talking to the counselor and I remember that night watching the Robin Williams film and feeling comforted watching this film that I’d seen elsewhere while not in this place and feeling connected to that self who had seen this film outside of this place and I remember calming myself down as much as I could and I think someone told me to think of it like a hotel and I think I tried to when I slept and I remember looking out the window at night after going to bed after watching the film Flubber and maybe eating a snack I wasn’t a Type 1 Diabetic yet I was seven years old I was on some kind of medication maybe Guanfacine maybe Tenex maybe Methylphenidate and I was given my medication along with the others who were given their medication and I stayed there that night and I don’t remember if I stayed another night after that or left the day after that to become an outpatient seven year old mental health patient at some point I did get to leave and I got to stay at my grandparents’ house in Minnesota nearby and every day my mother and I would drive to this place and I would spend the whole day in this place trying to remedy myself and I remember them talking about the Ronald McDonald house where some kids went after and I remember all of this well enough and the counselor I saw after that in the new place and I don’t know if there was a big argument about my staying there inpatient I don’t remember a big argument I remember crying I remember being sad I remember feeling scared and maybe begging my parents to switch me to something milder I didn’t want to be in that place I didn’t want to experience that place and so after one day maybe two days maybe three days I was excused to become an outpatient instead of inpatient but that night I remember that place and that sensation of looking out the window and seeing the dim faded orange light and feeling myself sort of captivated by that and the month was December and I was seven years old and I hadn’t experienced a whole lot and I was trying to make sense of things and I knew that I was on medication for my skull or mind and I knew that I had seen a counselor for my skull or mind and thus I was in this place for my skull or mind and I’m not sure what stuck from this and I’m not sure what I’ve retained from this but I remember the night and that window—I would experience a similar feeling twice years later, first when in rehab for a month, second a year later when in rehab for roughly six, always the first night and a window—I remember that experience and feeling sort of cold but feeling that in some ways I had grown older in that moment or experienced something older out of my experience as a young person and I stared out and felt myself cold and I went to the bathroom and I thought about the shoelaces being removed and I thought about the notebook how I’d been sort of excited talking to my mother about writing in that place as a means of coping I think my therapist had encouraged me to write as a means of coping somebody had told me to write as a means of coping and I lay there in bed in the simple gray room and feeling the walls sort of closing in and noises outside kids screaming people losing it people losing their grip and feeling discontented and this persisted over the course of the night in the dark occasional noises and screams until eventually until suddenly the light was too bright from morning and I remember detesting that light.

 

Since I was roughly seven years old there have been around four situations wherein I went completely without psychiatric help or mental health medication. These typically aligned with my time spent at various colleges, stumbling my way through an undergraduate education in English. I remember always the gesture, the pills jettisoned from gold-yellow containers or plastic tubes of white, poured from hand to air to toilet bowl and stared at for as much as several minutes pondering my decision, everything tinged with regret and perceived mistake but done nonetheless. I believe that the best writing comes from presenting oneself with a slew of problems, or one central problem, and figuring out how to move forward from this. What happens in these pages is my attempt to move forward. It is an appreciation and presentation of the moments from the texts available from Edit Publications and Tan Lin that have moved me profoundly. It is an appreciation and presentation of Geoffrey Sirc’s ideas and other composition scholars who have moved me profoundly. It is an attempt to bring my own ideas together with theirs in the form of pasted blog posts, screenshots, and manipulated images that indicate my fascination with the process and praxes of all aforementioned, and several others. I believe in the freedom of the individual to completely fuck up their life and watch it burn. I believe in lots more than this. I believe something new every miserable second I’m living. I wake up in fear and feel slight fear all day and this is an obsessive personality. The pills don’t take it away, not enough, not completely. Still. I take 600 milligrams of an antipsychotic and the highest dose they’ll offer of an antidepressant and I still have these thoughts. I eat too much. I overeat. I don’t exercise enough. I don’t take care of myself. Still. I don’t give myself the things the human seems to need. I don’t feel my life glowing around me or in front of me. I feel that my life is unfolding in spite of my desire to have it stop and melt in front of me. I don’t think that this world is made better or worse by the work of someone writing in this manner. I don’t think we need much of anything. I think back to an ancient people. I think back to the fear they must have lived with. The fear of being eaten. The fear of being killed. The fear of watching your children starve in front of you. The fear of freezing to death. The fear of starving to death yourself. These fears are my fears, in warped modernity. That’s what I’m led to believe. I don’t know about the truth of the matter. I empathize with the ancient human psychopath. I imagine most humans were killers, awful things. I imagine the world was a miserable place. And yet in a cave in France someone still painted on the walls, they spat and they bled and etched themselves on the walls just like Bobby Sands and the prisoners did. Our revenge will be the laughter of our children. My revenge will be the laughter of my children. My revenge will be a laughter surrounding the fire and staring up at the heavens of life and having nothing to contribute to the putrid churn of civilization. A warlessness. A debtlessness. A murderlessness. Something to satiate the thirst, the hunger. A safe place for all to rest. Waking in the morning and drinking coffee in the unforgiving light and warming to the day with the liquid in your chest. I think often of a moment in a novel by Samuel Delany, The Mad Man. The novel features all sorts of extremes of sexuality undertaken by a graduate student in philosophy. Clubs where everyone’s drinking urine and the like. There’s also an obsession with the homeless, something Delany carries through most of his work. Delany’s life partner was a man he met on the street. Anyway. These moments of extremity transpire. Nights in clubs and surrounded by bodies and sweat and piss and so much bacchanalian intensity. Then, it comes close to morning and in a haze the graduate student wakes up nestled next to a homeless person in the park and they’ve got hot coffee from somewhere. This is a problem I have. The memory of reading this is vivid, and yet I doubt whether I could reread the book and find exactly this. I imagine this cold morning, a park with a sense of slight danger in New York. Studying most days and trying to fuck to escape for a few hours. Then the coldness and shivering of mornings that way. And how wonderful a piping hot cup of coffee, from a stand or a convenience store or someplace dirt cheap, how wonderful this would taste and feel, how human this moment would feel. It’s something so beautiful that it’s become pure feeling in my head. It’s something I think about in life and in art. When I used to write I often went out late into the night when I’d finished to try and experience something. I’d lay in the middle of the road hours before dawn in my underwear feeling that mix of fear and exhilaration, newness. I sought this out most nights. I would work, and the work I would do has been burned or thrown into the trash, then late into the night I would walk and I would leave that place of comfort and feel complete connection to all of living. I did it in Chicago and I did it in Minneapolis. It’s an indescribable thing that I’ll spend the remainder of my living trying indirectly to describe. I think it’s how Iain Sinclair must feel about London, must feel about his walks. It’s how I feel. It’s how I connect to whatever notion of psychogeography hasn’t been co-opted by selfhelpers. It’s something in my guts. Still. I believe that there are times wherein we can connect with the whole of living without any interaction and silent reflection. I believe this is the domain of art, of writing, of many things. I believe in the capability of every living soul. To walk is not simply to encounter a city in a new manner, but to encounter a self within that hides and sleeps during the dullard moments of the day. There is piercing beauty accessible at all hours and in all moments in living. There is something more profound and powerful than any nation or debt. We have to seek it out. We might sleep and rest and go through months of indifference. That is part of the work too. The lazinesses must be part of the work. The horrible food must be part of the work. The anger and petty frustrations must be part of the work. The embarrassing moments and flaws and mistakes as parent as husband as employee as worker as citizen must be part of the work. The imperfection must be the work. The failure must be the work. A moving and movement of human presence in the days of one’s living and the realization that life has gone on without our say. My father’s passing was a moment to connect forever with the life of him. My son’s difficulties are a moment to connect forever with the life of him. My daughter’s beautiful sense of things and relentless energy are an opportunity to grow and figure things out. My wife’s determination and ambition are lights ever connecting me to the dock of living. This is the work and it is all the work. My every failure is the work. My miserable day is the work. It is the smear of identity wherever it bleeds through. Still.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Grant Maierhofer is the author of
Flamingos, Gag, Clog, Postures, and the forthcoming nonfiction work Peripatet, from which “Walker” is excerpted, and Drain Songs, forthcoming from FC2. He holds an MFA from the University of Idaho where in his final year he was the Hemingway Fellow. His shorter work is available in Egress, 3AM Magazine, LIT, Always Crashing, and via his website grantmaierhofer.fail.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, February 23rd, 2019.