Wednesday, December 12, 2007

That Thing You Do

To find anyone who'll talk about it, you have to turn to novelists. Martha Stewart never mentions it, Oprah's mum, and you'll never hear a peep from Dr. Phil. You can't find it in some sidebar in Glamour or Cosmopolitan, and even your friends aren't supposed to admit to it. Life in America is about moving up, on, and forward, and God help you if your preposition is facing the wrong way.

I'm talking, of course, about down and out, back and away. I'm talking about the part of you that rolls down the window in the middle of the snowstorm, the part of you that doesn't floss and goes out anyway and leaves the door one careful fingersbreadth ajar. I'm talking about self-destruction.

So is Michael Chabon:

Over the course of his life as a writer, he...had become his own doppelganger, a malignant shadow who lived in the mirrors and under the floorboards and behind the drapes of his own existence, haunting all of Q.'s personal relationships and all of his commerce with the world; a being unmoved by tragedy, unconcerned with the feelings of others, disinclined to any human business but surveillance and recollection. Only every once and a while...did his secret sharer act -overpowering his unwilling captor, so to speak, assuming his double's place long enough to say or do something unwise or reprehensible, and thus to ensure that human misfortune, the constant object of the Other Q.'s surveillance and the theme of all his recollections, continued unabated in Q.'s life. Otherwise, of course, there would be nothing to write about.

None of us wants to lay waste to ourselves, but still there's that urge -more of a throb, really- to set one toe to the ramshackle structures of who we are and...push. Many of us fail to recognize the urge for what it is, calling it sloth or mischief, lust or drunkenness or rage. Many of us go weeks, or even months, without feeling that particular pressure behind the eyes, the itch at the back of the neck.

But then it's back, pink and virulent and raw. In high school, in college, -even in graduate school- I would deliberately delay studying for exams until the last possible moment, until it was unavoidable that I would be underprepared. Then, after an excellent night's sleep, I'd shuffle into the exam room, head bowed, eyes lowered, thrilled to the quick.

There are the job interviews I've faked, the concerts I've given on two rehearsals or less, the pleasure I've taken -compact, visceral- in saying exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. I like to look cursorily at maps. I like to lose directions. I like, when I know the way, to wander off onto a side street and think: I bet I can get there from here.

Is any of this good for me? Probably not. But it's kinda fun. And I'll let you come with me if you want.

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