Real

Follow your whims through the dark.

Notes for an Apocalypse (1978) by Dorothea Tanning

Sometimes I get sad because for years, I never did anything real, I never did anything fun. I moved away from my interests, I hid from my curiosity, I was trying to be like everyone. Remember the inquisitive drunk I once was, firing questions around the room, aiming questions at the moon? I almost broke my wrist one night on an icy crosswalk. I lost feeling in part of my calf after passing out in the wrong shape. My walk of shame collapsed under me the next morning. My head pounding, I said to myself: Never do anything real. Never do anything fun.

I had a lot of scorn for the straight white hopes around me, girls with monogrammed things, girls with giggles that didn’t turn sour, girls with gold chains, girls who liked to point out what was cheap, girls who liked to get mad at the rain. They made me want to be cheap, just to show them what was real. They made me want to stand in the pouring rain, just to show them how to let chaos bounce off your skin. But I only felt powerful for as long as it took to find someone who made me want to give in.

In between the someones, I had some swagger. I could command a room. I could trip and fall and laugh at myself. I never asked for a hand. Caring felt ugly. Listening felt galling. Look the other way to get my attention. I can run very fast to keep up. Take all of my real, take all of my fun, take these limbs, take this mouth, no more noise will come out.

Imagine the freedom to be industrious, to accept instruction, to follow your straight white hopes in a straight white line. It’s incredible what you learned at your schools, how to fit in, how to be smooth, how to pretend you need much less than you do, but still demand much more than you need. You never had fun but you didn’t care. That wasn’t the plan. You never felt real but you didn’t care. You wanted to be a professional man, or his wife and his life, or his slice and his knife.

That wasn’t me. Even when I felt too big or too small, I always belonged to myself. I gave away all I could give, but I was never pretending or playing a role. I liked to improvise, even when the audience got up and wandered out.

Someone wrote this week that it’s hard to be an influencer. You have to please your audience and fulfill its whims, you have to change with the winds and shift with the trends. That sounds more like retail to me. Does the word “influence” really apply? Who’s in control, the screaming audience, or the man singing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” for the ten millionth time?

If that’s influence, I’d rather have none. Count backwards down to one, and watch me disappear. At least the last one here will see something real. The world’s best art, best architecture, most brilliant writing, even the best retail boutiques, are the manifestation of one person, pleasing themselves, figuring out how to feel satisfied.

Let’s feel it together. No one needs to play puppet or puppet master. Let’s stand in the pouring rain until all those monograms wash off your skin.

Let’s belong to no one all over again.

***

My neighbor died last night. The ambulance came but then there was no rush, a bad sign, cops in masks standing around outside, shifting their weight from one leg to the other, staring at the gray house.

When we moved in, he had kids and a wife. Then his kids moved away. Then his wife moved away. Then he started to lose weight. For ten years I’ve watched him disappear. I baked cheese bread and left it by the front door if no one answered, to stop him from getting any smaller. On Saturday I made cinnamon rolls and we packed them up on Sunday and forgot to bring them on Monday and now he’s gone.

Don’t miss this window of real. Wipe off your knife. Cut a new slice.

Don’t miss this window of fun. Count upwards from one. Tell me the truth.

You know we’ll lose everything soon. I feel like I’ll never have proof. Take some of my power, I don’t need it now, I have extra courage, don’t be aloof, I’m pleasing myself, the great mutation. All I want is you.


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