Friday, October 3, 2014

Boredom: The Hidden Killer

In his suicide note, the actor George Sanders wrote, "Dear World, I am leaving you because I am bored." 
How I wish I didn't identify so strongly with that. But the hours go so slowly as the years go so fast.
I get bored so very quickly, and what a curse! I can stand all but a very small circle of friends only in small doses. I can’t hold jobs because I get bored and lose the ability to concentrate. I leave concerts after three songs. Only the best movies hold my attention for longer than 15 minutes. 
Two things make me feel much better — exercise and hard work. Give me a complicated design job for which I’ll actually be paid and I’m deliriously joyful. But I’ve got a big mouth — I can’t stand when people lacking any visual sense compel me to ruin good work I’ve done for them (by, for instance, compromising the lovely white, or negative, space that is an indispensable part of good design— and no perceptible client-attracting skills. Writing, that for which I’m best known, is a lot less fun, albeit my default setting, in the sense that I commonly try to stave off agonizing feelings of purposelessness by writing a novel.

The world, though, keeps snatching the pen from my hands. I like to imagine (need to imagine!) that my latest, Who Is Keri Fetherwaite?, is a classic of modern American antic fiction, and eminently publishable. But when I wrote 186 literary agents to invite them to consider taking it to market, a grand total of two agreed to have a look, and half of those two had declared it Not Quite Right for My List within 24 hours.
Considering what very hard work it is, do I really want to write another novel that no one will ever read?
The result is the most excruciating sense of futility, the most crushing boredom. I wake up in the morning wondering how on earth I’m going to fill the next 16 hours, and feel very often as though on a long-haul air journey. I have to devise ways to kill time, and this at an age at which I am very well aware that I haven’t a world of time left. I glance at my wristwatch hoping it’s later, hoping that I’ll soon be able to pull the plug on another day and find solace, if that’s the right word, in unconsciousness, all he while loathing myself for feeling as I do. 

On a long-haul air journey, there' the payoff of arrival. In my life, the payoff of getting through the day is the chilling prospect of having, when I wake up, to get through another. I don't think this is how people are meant to feel. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Misery Defied…For a Few Hours, Anyway

My default setting is miserable, but there’ve been a few times times I’ve surprised myself. One was Christmas Day, 2001. I realized I would neither see my daughter (then 17) nor even hear her voice all day, and braced myself for a potentially unsurvivable tailspin, only to feel suddenly, as I feel so seldom, that I had a choice in the matter. The chains that so long constrained me turned out to be mine to break. 
I had a new melody to which I needed lyrics. Within around 40 minutes, I’d written all of Life’s Dare. It was almost as though Somebody Up There were dictating to me. 

I’ve spent the intervening almost-13 years failing to live up to my own song, curling up and aching with despair far more often than staring my accusers down, even while painfully aware that the time I’ve spent immobilized by depression isn’t very likely to be refunded as I near the finish line. 

My First Old Man's Misadventure (TMI!)

Though I didn’t believe it at the time (behold the effects of a childhood spent feeling a lower form of life), I used to be rather a dreamboat. I have photographs to prove it! That I am nobody’s dreamboat anymore, and haven’t been for ages, has been especially painful lately. It isn’t as though I only recently realized that I’m highly unlikely to get better-looking as I become more ancient, but that the mirror seems to be pulling far fewer punches. Virtually every time I look in it I notice how two or more of the deep creases in which my once-lovely punim now abounds have crossed each other. My cheeks are beginning to cave in. Last month, I discovered that one of my eyebrows, which have come to resemble those of a British politician, contained a white hair fully two inches long. 
All of which is deeply troubling, but now I’ve begun noticing the degradation of my body too. I’ve been exercising hard for around 38 years now, and have taken pride — especially since noticing that I was getting a belly and immediately losing around 15 pounds two years ago — in not being thick around the middle in the customary middleaged male way. But this past week I’ve noticed that I do indeed have a little belly, my two 600-calorie days per week be damned, and that my chest is beginning to sag. About which I don’t think I can do jack shit, as it was my attempting bench presses a couple of years ago that brought on my shoulder problems. (I had my right shoulder replaced in 1995, and now must have it re-replaced.) Exercise that would firm up my pectorals are out of the question. I can’t even do curls with barbells. Life is intent on making me look an old man regardless of how hard I’ve always tried to keep looking a young one.
Oh, what the hell, I promised forthrightness and it's time to put up or shut up. Seventeen months ago, I had my first old man's misadventure. It was a Saturday morning. I’d had a cup of tea and a bagel and gone to the Target on Santa Monica and La Brea to price sponge mops. On the way back (it’s about a 30-minute walk in each direction), my bladder sent me a text message: You’re going to want to think about voiding me soon, buster. I thought I had all the time in the world, and made ii back to the apartment complex in which I reside, albeit with my bladder now shouting, “Do something!” The elevator, not hearing it, took its own sweet time. Somewhere around the 7th floor (I live on the 10th), it said, “Fuck with me, will you?” and decided to teach me a lesson. A thoroughly horrible experience that I acknowledge would have been infinitely worse if I hadn’t been alone in the elevator.
Since which I’ve joined the ranks of those who plan their activities at least in part on the basis of the proximity of lavatories. Next stop: joining the ranks of adult diaper wearers. Whoopee!

I’m very careful to pee before going out on one of my traipses lately, but my bladder and I still haven’t repaired our friendship. Maybe once a month I have to duck behind something right out in public, risking humiliation or even arrest. I tell myself that if I were a dog, no one would raise an eyebrow, with or without a two-inch white hair. I am no dog, though, but a man. A potbellied old man who pees behind bushes, too proud for adult diapers.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Slanted Playing Field

I made it until nearly 1 p.m. today without feeling very miserable, but I had help, in the form of one of my tutoring students, who was heartbreakingly downcast today because a senior nurse at his hospital gave him a very hard time over the weekend for his Salvadoran accent. My driving him back and forth to the Beverly Hills Public Library, where he got his own card and checked out two more short novels by his new favorite author, John Steinbeck, noticeably raised his spirits, which in turn cheered me. But by the time I’d dropped him off at his bus stop, come home, and had some lunch, it was too late to head for the beach, so here I am, in midafternoon, gagging on the black dog’s ugly thick fur.

The sun is shining and it isn’t too hot. I look out my 10th floor windows and imagine everyone in sight — perhaps a fifth of Los Angeles — living a more interesting, more fulfilled life than my own, with meaningful work to perform, places to go, and people to see. Nearly all, I would guess, are very much less lonely, and whom do I have to blame for that other than myself? At this moment I am estranged from everyone on my very, very exclusive personal A-list.

It isn’t, mind you, that I’m incapable of recognizing that many people are sweet, generous, kind, thoughtful, loyal, thrifty, and obedient (a smidgen of humor for Holly!), but that none of that, in and of itself, is enough to make me want to spend time around them. erMost people bore me, and I’ve got enough of a boredom problem without putting myself in situations in which extricating myself from a stultifying conversation, let’s say, would hurt another’s feelings.

On a case by case basis, I don’t feel that I’ve failed to meet halfway any of my tiny inner circle. But when I step back and look at the big picture, I see one whose loneliness is a function of his inability to get along with anyone, someone who’ll probably die soon — social isolation is known to decrease longevity — and alone.

You know with whom I get along really well? Complete strangers (not counting our faithfully LIKEing each other’s posts and sending each other occasional messages of encouragement) who’ve somehow become friends of mine on Facebook. I haven’t spent 30 seconds in their presence, but I feel I can count on them to hear me crying out in the darkness, and to offer consolation. There are days when I can’t imagine what I’d do without them.

There’s something beautiful about that, and something deeply pathetic.  If we were to meet for a frappuccino or something, they’d probably change their minds about me pronto, or I’d get bored and want to hurry home to stare enviously out the window at people living lives more fulfilled than my own. Or, most likely of all, the Groucho Marx Syndrome would kick in, and I’d think to myself, “Do I really want to be seen with anyone so desperate as to allow herself to be seen with me?”

I like to imagine my students all like me a lot, and God knows I love them, but I can’t pretend the playing field’s level. Maybe I’m capable of being likable only when I’m in a position of power.

A Zero-Sum Game

I grew up with salt air in my lungs, and the sight of the ocean rejuvenates me. Last Friday I decided not to pretend I had something to work on, and took myself to the seashore, skin cancer be damned. I went to the stretch of Santa Monica Beach just south of the pier for a change, rather than that a mile north of it, where my mom used to take me when I was three, and do you know what it was? Absolutely heavenly. The soft, warm breeze was a caress. The water glittered, and made the most beautiful music as it swept onto the shore. 
Everywhere around me, people were beaming, as how could they not? I went for a long walk, and smiled at the young parents building sand castles with their kids, or holding the little ones’ hands as they ventured just a wee bit farther into the gorgeous ocean. I remembered how sublime it is to have your child depend on you like that. 

There are a great many things I can’t do, but perceive beauty or experience pleasure aren’t two of them. The problem is that I’m so aware of their opposites. As I write this, life looks to me like a zero-sum game, with every bit of beauty countered by equivalent ugliness, every bit of joy cancelled out by comparable despair.
I recognize that the only sensible strategy for living in the world is to rejoice in the one and try to ignore the other, and there have been stretches when I’ve been able to do exactly that. 

How very brief those stretches have seemed lately.