"let me throw the book overboard"
It was the last days of IRL is the first line to a novel about 1994 I want to but might not ever finish writing. Or all the novels that I do and do not make are already half-made in my journals, some in Word docs, some written in the stories I like to tell to people at bars or while walking with my friends in cities, like I how I was tweeting with my friend Ed today about how I am such a relic of the 90s like a Grecian urn of disaffection in which the lovers chase not each other but the sublimity of pure and virtuous failure and never washing their hair. Failure is a difficult thing to chase and never catch, for to chase and fail to catch failure is, if you are going to be true to the algebra, a math otherwise known as success.
But failure was big and alluring like nothing else then, failure was boundless and unexplored and vacant-seeming like oceans and space and pages on which we all tried not to write. There was something so evocative in all the emptiness of knowing you would be as erudite as Fugazi but never even that impure, the secret genius of yourself so utter and utterly drowned in the soft weedy hours off in dirty apartments in the middle of nowhere in which everyone agreed that we would rather die than try, and some of us did. Every diet coke can was stuffed with the butts of cigarettes. Failure was also the sounds of the amps turned too loud at the house parties, all that pleasant muffled ear-ringing afterward of knowing you'd fucked yourself up for life. Our lives were supposed to be made of permanent squander: that was the only redeemable way to be a no-thank-you child of post-Reagan empire. If we had to be a cliche, let it be dissolute. And sometimes I've asked myself in poems "Must we rock til we die?" and the answer has always been an unfailed failing yes. Once you have gone all in on all that beautiful loser there is never not rocking, even if you promise yourself that every song of your youth was a lie.
And most writers who have any success are actually just winners no matter how they self-present, winners with winning habits in winning places born from winning people educated as winners looking like winners with their winning new yorker profiles about winningly winning, too, even as they win at presenting as losing, but not me, I have lived the shit bottom of the barrel life for more years than I have ever lived any other kind, most of it my own fault, crying in parking lots outside the call centers crying in break rooms crying in cubicles and restaurant kitchens crying without jobs and also crying with them, crying for love and also against it and also because of it and without it, tears always falling down my bloated unhappy face as I insisted that I was prouder than my circumstances but never figured out how.
Once I worked for and was fired by a company that sold anal thermometers and cadaver hooks for meatpacking plants and stockyards. Or I'd work in call centers smoking ditch weed and crying softly high in my Mercury Tracer during breaks and getting fatter and fatter off the vending machine food until I'd quit by driving away and saying nothing, stay unemployed until my checks would bounce got another call center did the same. I wept and ate too much and got high and slept with whoever and turned the music too loud in my friend Jeff's broken-windshield Nissan Pulsar and yet could never shake the feeling all during that somehow the hours of our lives were worth more than to be spent in the sheer and total hell of sheer and total hell. Dimly lit unhappiness was the hit of the decade, the one in which I refused to watch any of the movies they tried to make about us. Oh not true: there was Slackers, there was Drugstore Cowboy, there was everything by Gus Van Zandt. There was that time I got drunk on one of those gallon jugs of Gallo wine and heckled Henry and June.
I remember clothes only second to how I remember unhappiness, how I wore this faux black fur double breasted vintage coat, high black boots with a silver buckle, vintage silk slips and cheap tea rose perfume. I know I read a lot then, too, but my memories are still of getting dressed, what my friends wore, break room hells and counting out coins, the thrift stores at which we got our garments, getting ready for parties, how to put on the black eyeliner and shoplifted brown lipstick from wet-n-wild.
Clothes are a better place for girls to keep their histories than stories. Stories betray girls by saying what we really were according to the rules of some game we had never agreed to play. Stories are about the painful aporia of having to both appear and exist, the things done to us, what we are trying to cover up by getting dressed. But if we kept our histories in clothes, these were the annals only of our own actualization and no one would put in quotation marks the bad things the world had said our way as we walked by on the streets.
I remember that in my devotion to every minorness of that decade (the one that ended with the birth of my daughter in the last months of its last year), I really loved that book by Melville, The Confidence Man, which also contains this warning:
perhaps you think that Tacitus, like me, is only melancholy; but he's more—he's ugly. A vast difference, young sir, between the melancholy view and the ugly. The one may show the world still beautiful, not so the other. The one may be compatible with benevolence, the other not. The one may deepen insight, the other shallows it. Drop Tacitus. Phrenologically, my young friend, you would seem to have a well-developed head, and large; but cribbed within the ugly view, the Tacitus view, your large brain, like your large ox in the contracted field, will but starve the more. And don't dream, as some of you students may, that, by taking this same ugly view, the deeper meanings of the deeper books will so alone become revealed to you. Drop Tacitus. His subtlety is falsity, To him, in his double-refined anatomy of human nature, is well applied the Scripture saying—'There is a subtle man, and the same is deceived.' Drop Tacitus. Come, now, let me throw the book overboard."