I’ve been trying to teach myself to drum on and off since childhood, occasionally acquiring some rudimentary skill during times of frequent practice, only to lose it afterwards, muscle memory jettisoned after long dry spells, years of disuse. I imagine interior landscapes: frazzled, frayed, cobwebbed ruins, like backgrounds from frames of Scooby-Doo.
All of it seems memorable in retrospect. I remember a clickable icon appearing in the upper right corner of a newly opened Word document, or a text message arriving on my phone. Both events occurred. Updates have something to do with ontological transformation. They introduce novel forms of interruption and collaboration into the lifeworld. Through them, I find myself rediscovering ancient play-scripts: theaters of mind anchored to toys and action figures, consensual hallucinations, collectively experienced fictional beings. Of course, collective authorship can take other forms as well, Zoon in dialogue with Oikos. “Listen: go out and take note!” reads the received instruction. “Don’t ask where: just go!” So I do — promenading excitedly to a neighborhood park. I walk first to a small wooden pavilion to sit in its shade, but turn away upon sight of a purse left on a table, preferring instead to sit at a different table on the far side of the park, near a stand of trees. Sunlight warms my forehead. Kind words kindle kind dreams. Before long, I’m home again, feeling a bit distracted by worlds of possibility. The story involves beams of light, squirrels appearing, eyeing us, making contact. The story involves forests and rock creatures, Lego ruins amid gardens overgrown with weeds. “Time for a little ventriloquism,” says the narrator. “Become an ensemble and speak each part.”
The verb I’m searching for to name the act I wish to practice is close to, but not quite synonymous with, “to occupy” or “to establish,” but it entails as well something like “settling in,” allowing oneself time to sit, lean back, hold space, find comfort. Of course, even this is sometimes more than our powers permit — in which case, look around, take note. Writing can occur anywhere, as long as we relax and let it. Close eyes, listen. Where do we go: figures stretching? Lying on one’s back watching TV as a child? Or maybe sitting at a computer playing a videogame, one’s avatar moving through an imaginary neighborhood on one’s Commodore 64. Computers entered my life offering generationally-novel, semi-private play space: bulletin boards, text adventures, programs stored on floppy disks. My parents weren’t able to keep up with my forays into virtual environments; they were busy working, cooking, cleaning. I could wander off unsupervised, sometimes for several hours at a time, playing peculiarities like Ghetto Blaster, where I’d speed along a maze of streets collecting cassette tapes while dodging psycho killers and junkies.
(It’s a remarkable game, well worth a walkthrough, even if just to hear chiptune originals like “Macrobiotic Brown Rice Lentil Blues,” or the moment when, like a forlorn Werner Herzog, the player narrating the walkthrough mutters, “Don’t know where to go. Ah, that’s the trouble with time. Give 25 years and you don’t remember what you’re supposed to be doing.”) Why do moments of uncensored thought lead me here? Why do images of this sort arise into consciousness when I seek to enter an enlightened state? Perhaps these images are ones I need to consult when learning to face my shadows. Simons and Chabris awaken me with their Selective Attention Test. Back to the task at hand.
For the past few days, I’ve felt an urge to “do things around the house” after smoking. This is somewhat out of character for me. I’m not a “messy” person, per se — at least not in a way that ever bothered me. But I’ve over-corrected, maybe, steered closer to messy than was necessary. It’s long been known among my family and siblings that my father is a bit of a “clean” freak, cleaning his house daily as if by ritual. As a teenager, this ritual seemed to be an absurd or at least wildly exasperating “event” always going on around me — and never with any tasks that I could perform sufficiently, in light of his exacting, idiosyncratic standards. We used to get in each other’s way a bit as a result. I’d be watching TV with friends after school and he’d force us all out of the room so he could vacuum. Once I moved out and we were no longer living under the same roof, we were able to laugh and joke about it. But when I was a teenager, it drove me nuts. A friend’s parents had a sign hanging in the living room of their home stating, “A clean house is a sign of a life misspent.” Something of that sentiment was agreed to by Sarah and I, and as a modus operandi, it’s worked well for us. As I prepare to become a father myself, however, I find myself asking the old questions anew.
I lived in a world of imaginary friends when I was a kid. Yet when I try to visualize these friends, especially the ones I called Mr. Spaso and Goo Goo, nothing comes to mind. What I recall instead is a frightening encounter I once had with a life-sized stuffed scarecrow that I mistook for my grandfather. The scarecrow sat in a wooden chair in my grandmother’s doll room. The room was dimly lit, tucked away in a part of the house rarely frequented by others. Happening upon it one afternoon, I peppered the scarecrow with questions, addressing it as if it were my grandfather. There was something about the creature’s nose that reminded me of his. When the figure didn’t respond, understanding dawned and I freaked. Why did this realization, the discovery that I’d been speaking with an inanimate object, fill me with shock and horror? Why do I remember that and not Spaso and Goo Goo? (What’s the best way of trance-scribing that name, by the way? Spaso? Spotso?) What was the story there? Why do kids sometimes go through an “imaginary friends” phase? Western societies demand that a distinction be drawn. They teach us to shape attention, fixing it for the most part upon socially shared, spatiotemporal objects, entities, and beings. Boundaries are established, perceptions and preferences trained to what others teach us to recognize as “actuality,” responsive presence, a multiple, additive-and-subtractive, evolving, de-concealing, totality-containing, self-consistent Big Other, from which can be recognized and distinguished other possible and impossible worlds. With my imaginary friends, I remember only conversing about them with others, requesting that my parents allow seats for them at the kitchen table. Was there ever a phantasmatic side to these friends? Did I ever imagine them possessing form beyond language, form that I’ve since forgotten? Or did I think of them exclusively as inventions, made only for the sake of a game? Case shelved for the time being, pending further inquiry.
Well placed to notice memory’s modularity, losses and accretions, rooms refurbished by time. I was real or so I thought. Like a golden birthday balloon made of creased mylar, I press against a ceiling, inside filled to bursting, wondering how I got here. Birds, planes, sunset skies of pink, orange, and blue. Time with family overwhelms me, wears me down. The finest moments are the silent ones, a light breeze, water lapping the sides of a canal.
Is there still a Freudian subject in the age of Big Data? Scanning a bin full of books at Goodwill, I encounter an ominous concatenation of signs: “The Crippled Lamb”; “The White House Transcripts”; “Herman Kahn”; “1984”; “Armageddon.” Push away these titles on the surfaces, however, and one can happen upon a far more hopeful arrangement: a psychology textbook; a collection of “parable-stories for those on a mystic journey”; a study of the “theology of romantic love”; a guide showing how to set up a “children’s house” — an environment for learning based on the Montessori method, “where children can be their own masters, free to learn at their own pace.” Is there a name for the belief that reality has been edited, updated, revised? Just like that, rifts seem to form in memory. New dimensions are added to ease tensions in the fabric of the totality. By these means, those who adequately desire a thing can suddenly find in their immediate environments resources enough to bring their wishes to fruition.