To What Do I Owe This Pleasure? A Self-reflection on Fantasy, Didion, and Failure



Dear Rodney,


I have known you for 21 years now, and I have to ask: why do you insist on living inside of fantasy? Do you have an avoidance for daily life, or are you simply dissatisfied, unenthused? Are you scared? What is it about the fantasy that feels exciting, and why do you do it knowing that you are going to inevitably be sad at the end? Sometimes I get tired of perpetuating the false worlds you create for yourself and I am growing increasingly tired of having to comfort you or kick while you’re down after the fantasy has fallen apart. I’m extending an invitation to examine.


Sincerely,

The very tired, sad, and increasingly lonely voice inside of your head

--


Dear The very tired, sad, and increasingly lonely voice inside of your head,


Allow me.


I’ve been sitting by the window a lot recently. Even now, as I write this (whatever the “this” may possibly be or amount to--I give you permission to decide), I have the window cracked; I leave it open for a better part of my days now, thinking about the short gusts of wind, and if perhaps, I am feeling the same wind as some foregone lover. “Foregone” sounds so dramatic and self-righteous, and I confess that it is, especially because most of those who are “foregone” lovers are not mutual (this is for another time that is just not here). Just outside, there’s a large radiator that hums on and off with little rhythm or logic, and around the radiator on the brick ledge just past my screen there are pigeons flying around. I think it’s nice. I’m neither bothered nor excited by it so much as I am curious. Why here? Is there something special about my window? Is it me? Is there perhaps an overwhelming energetic or even ancestral call to this space that the birds and I have fallen victim to? These questions seem to float around daily as it were. There--the radiator just clicked on. I wish someone was here to listen with me.


Given the surreptitious circumstances between the birds and myself, I was led back, somewhat heedlessly, to the famous opening words of Joan Didion’s 1979 seminal text, The White Album. Addressing, and most often directly embodying the increasing paranoia in California in the 1960’s, Didion writes the following:


“We tell ourselves stories in order to live...We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the

social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”


I feel threatened and somehow found out by Didion’s address to herself and to her readers. For some probably neurotic and yet unsurprising reason, I take personally the very neutral observation that she has chosen to illuminate. Didion herself of course, is a writer, and by default, a teller of stories, so I can therefore carefully conjecture that she has no interest in pointing fingers or telling us that we are “wrong” for imbuing an often subconscious narrative to actually disparate events. I like to think that she is just saying.


The radiator, again.


I confront this quote by Didion because at this moment I feel an overwhelming amount of fear that has in turn yielded a daily dosage of dizzying self-awareness. I am fearful of the world at this particular moment. I am fearful of fleeing the small semblance of safety that my 600-square foot apartment provides, however, I am starting to grow increasingly fearful of staying inside all day. I am fearful of the overwhelming impulse to share my work on social media outlets to justify, somewhat vainly, my creative practice. I am fearful of narrative becoming an illusory fantasy because I know of its inevitability, and I know that it will abandon me, leaving me with remains of a few nonsense images that I chose to so duplicitously craft into a story. Despite my wishful attempts at crafting a narrative where I am pocketed effortlessly at the center, being visited by birds and serenaded by the illogical hum of a radiator, I fail. And so does my narrative--always and inevitably. It fails to remain, for it is too oscillatory, too in flux, and cannot hold onto one specific image. I burn inside the construction of my own narrative, watching as things fall apart. Surrounded by the ruins of straight men who are somehow gay, breezes of wind that are telepathically felt between me and some unknown lover, and birds who are unquestionably wise, I am left with nothing but the traces of my fantasy and an unwavering disappointment which can only be directed at myself.


On the off chance I look an inch beyond where I typically find myself, I am reminded that the birds use this space outside of my window to shit. It feels rather sad in the moment: being reminded that I am not at the center of some narrative, and in fact there was never quite a narrative to begin with. It was me, a few pigeons, a machine. A story was not a part of these occurrences; it was carefully crafted to provide some answers or some plentitude to an otherwise scarce moment of being. A story is never part of the moment. However, I took the bait of parsing down seemingly incongruous mundanities to construct a fantasy. The narrative fails me, or perhaps, I have failed the images.


I look at these swarming images as if they can be made into some palatable timeline. The attempt to even produce some linear logic of experience is futile and frustrating, and most of all, false. There is no absolute. There is no beginning. There is the swarm and the attempt to reason. Inside of the swarm we sit, bare naked, and exploited, we are faced with a choice. We know how this ends.


I have no interest in promoting the idea that we as humans are weak in our naiveté and stupid in our attempt to craft stories that “make sense.” In fact, I directly oppose this. I think it takes a tremendous amount of fortitude and grace to construct a moment. To create that which offers unto us and to others, a look into our being-ness, I believe, is actually an incredibly brave and selfless act. I am forced to remind myself that we are not simply ever representing, but we always just are. Our fantastical attempts at everyday narrative construction are not simply representative of the desire for storytelling as survival--they are survival. We are not producing facsimiles of experience, rather we are always implicated in the act of producing experience. Where the line between what is true and what is representation exists, I don’t know. I know however, that to engage in storytelling, in any capacity, is to survive, and it is perhaps not anything more than that.


What matters, I guess, is not the fact that I failed and failed myself at the construction of a story that I know will be endlessly fleeting from the present moment. What matters is that I did it, and I will continue to do it. I will continue to flirt with image as it arises daily to erect that fantastic monument which are in fact my deepest imaginings, desires, and fears. I will continue, despite being found out. The question of whether storytelling is good or bad feels wholly obsolete and is not the question that I wish to answer, or to even ask for that matter. Rather, I am much more interested in the fact that we continue to live inside carefully constructed stories despite having the knowledge that images always just are: they surround us, and perhaps that is all. Why is there such a firm insistence on crafting a moment that I know is too volatile, and too false, to hold forever? And why is it that in this falsehood I can allow myself to find such tremendous solace? And how can I be so self-aware of my neuroses and still let them run freely, unabashed, for at least a short moment?


We are not weak victims. We are not victims at all. We are, in fact, resilient beings who relish in the capability to make-sense. There is power to be witnessed in our constant willingness to fail. We can never find ourselves outside of the swarm. To see meaning in the void, the space where it cannot exist, is naive, but naiveté does not mean stupidity. If it did, there would be no necessity for both words. It is fun, and exciting, and sexy, and erotic, and human, and sad, and oftentimes it feels like the only reason I can stir up enough energy to pull myself out of my perpetually half-made bed. Even here, I wonder if I am conjecturing too much. I wonder if fantasy should be left alone so as to not rationalize its own magnitude but rather let it be self-actualizing. Should fantasy need to be justified? When do we give ourselves permission to create narrative and why do we need permission?


Birds will always shit. I will always crack any window I sit beside. I will always wish that I am not alone when I am. I will always want the moment that I am in to exceed the limits of what it can offer. I am perpetually dissatisfied. However, I realize in this dissatisfaction that there is more. Whether true or false, I, we, you, willingly decide to take what we are provided with and locate a fleeting moment of satisfaction in narrative; it is not just futile, or naive, it is survival. I think of Certeau--perhaps to create a narrative is to practice the writing of our moment; to be deeply invested in creating the world around us. We are charged with the potential to write and be writing as we are written. Maybe we owe ourselves and others the narrative, then.


As tragic as it seems, I am not a tragic hero. In fact, I am not even a hero. In fact, regarding both of the previous facts, I am not even tragic; nothing about life is tragic. It would seem reductive and vain to again regard this desire for some fantastically tragic event in my life as a neurotically narcissistic tendency, for I have known narcissists, and I like to believe that I am nothing like them. I don’t know why I try to find tragedy in things. Maybe I’m finding myself implicated in the process of meaning-making and in that I’m finding the irrefutably queer desires to be punished, to fail, and to craft, with such futile and fierce attempts, a fantasy of possibility where it is completely impossible. I don’t know if it’s sad, or beautiful, or both. I don’t even know if it’s either. I don’t even know if fantasy and narrative are the same anymore. Does one create the other? Are they always occurring together?


The radiator--you know.


I feel particularly ambivalent about this address. I don’t know what’s been accomplished. I think that even inside of this form I have told myself these digital utterances can somehow manifest into a story, when in fact, they are just symbols represented by some combination of zeros and ones. That realization, too, is starting to make me sad. Maybe it’s enough to live in the “more-ness” of fantasy and poeticism for a short period of time. What comes next, though? What will you, the very tired, sad, and increasingly lonely voice inside of you head, and I do next? Do we submit ourselves to locating satisfaction in what we know to be true, or do we continue searching for more, always? I wish to not exploit myself and others, the world around me, and the things that were not made for me, only for a brief moment of fantasy, but things feel dim right now. I think “exploitive” is a particularly pessimistic outlook, but I can’t seem to devise another way of orienting myself, so I’ll leave you with the following:


Halfway through writing this I decided to put on a paisley bandanna that masqueraded as a headscarf and a pair of prescription sunglasses. I sat next to the window, of course. I would love more than anything in this moment to tell you why I committed such an act, but unfortunately I cannot, and as for, you dear reader, I think you already know.


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