Thursday, May. 08, 2003
Amy and I were sat on her couch together in front of the television scooping into our mouths spoons full of potatoes and scrambled omelets she’d served on our breakfast plates. I’m usually not one to leave the TV on while there’s opportunity in the room for some great conversation. But Amy and I talk often and deeply enough that on a lazy Sunday morning it’s just as satisfying to relax and be chill together without having to talk.
I was flipping through her 500 channels of digital cable, seeing nothing of particular interest, before settling on Anne Heche and Tommy Lee Jones arguing in the middle of Wilshire Blvd. amidst the creeping threat of volcanic lava. I quit flipping channels only because Anne Heche still sets off those little tingly feelings I get when I have a crush on someone. Oddly, for Amy, this seemed reason enough to watch “Volcano” at breakfast instead of the Independent Channel. Then something happened.
Ever have a flashback?
In a memory within a memory I again saw in my mind’s eye, as I had several days before, the image of an Hispanic man sitting on a bench in a subway station reading a book on how to write and sell screenplays. I was shoveling dirt in Ben & Angela’s yard when the image first popped into my head. As the subway train approached he dog-eared the page and stuffed the book under his arm, gathered a lunch box and a newspaper, one in each hand, and stepped onto the platform. Left alone with a shovel, a wheelbarrow, a backyard four inches deep with sod and my thoughts I remember admiring the guy for making an effort at something in his life besides work. He gets up early in the morning, he does his job. But instead of complaining about it, he finds moments in his downtime to pursue a life outside the job. His blue-collar uniform fit too tightly around his portly midsection, but he seemed otherwise clean, well groomed. Decent. Whether he was reading the book for himself, or to better relate to the interests of his wife or his kids, his formal occupation seemed a negligible part of his identity.
Had he been reading anything else I doubt I would have felt that same associative fondness as he began those first steps toward realizing his life’s intentions. Had he been reading anything else the ideal of weathering life’s difficulties as they come while persevering toward a distant dream would not have occurred to me just then. I had spent the last three weekends and some weekdays helping Ben overhaul their yard into something presentable for my brother’s wedding reception. Though I had spent one entire day by myself in the pouring down Oregon rain shoveling sod, Ben and I together dug up at least ten tons of dirt and grass before laying down twelve cubic yards of brand new topsoil. Over the weeks I had become increasingly pissy and irritable but never forgot that Ben and I made a deal, and that the work would immediately pay off, no matter how soar my wad-of-cookie-dough body felt.
Sat next to Amy with my mouth full of potatoes and eggs I froze as all of this came back to me in an instant. I asked her if she remembered that theory of numbers I wrote months ago. I said, “another theory of mine has just come up.”
Every now and then a thought, a feeling, a memory, a psychic impression left over from some other experience will recur to my mind after a lapse of time in the dark shadows of the forgotten. It could be weeks, months or years since the actual experience, yet my mental image of the event will for no apparent reason - as if the thought weren’t actually my own - pop into consciousness as clearly as if it’d happened the day before. Sometimes it’s a pleasant thought, a point made in a conversation. Sometimes it’s embarrassing or shameful, an MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice song stuck in my head. Sometimes it’s amusing or merely interesting, a great piece of dialogue expertly delivered by some fine actor. Whatever my impressions, it never, ever occurs to me that the memory presenting itself unsolicited might trigger an epiphany in the near future.
Amy and I took our time with each other’s company that morning because I really wasn’t so eager to get back to Ben & Angela’s house for another day of laboring. I was glad to have helped out, of course, but by the end of each day I was too worn out to write. Eventually I lost interest. I had already begun to feel like there was no way I could hold down a regular jobby-job during the day, and keep up my writing at night. I was misplacing a full amount of resentment on the necessity of collecting a paycheck and the fantasy of being a writer. What the fuck is the point? You just can’t fucking win.
The love of a friend like Amy is very addictive. That morning, as the viral depression set in, I would have rather spent the entire day with her doing nothing than fulfill my deal with Ben which would grant me money to buy new equipment and 24/7 access to his computer so I could finally edit on my own schedule. It’s a strange and terrible pattern of behavior for people with depression to preoccupy ourselves with a meaningless distraction that ultimately makes the situation exponentially worse no matter how fabulous the gratification. That’s why drugs and alcohol are as horrible as they are wonderful. If love were tangible I would have injected Amy’s into my veins only to forget about my responsibility to the day job which wears on my body and mind to the point that I hate my dreams for being so distant. Holding her in my arms, I wanted to give up on both dream and reality if I could exist on that exhilaration of loving and being loved by her.
The man in the subway station leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, the book resting open in his hands. It was a scene from earlier in the movie. In the wee hours of the morning, waiting for his work shift to begin, he sat patiently, giving time to feed his mind, to nurture his perhaps secret passion to write a screenplay. It’s easy enough to dismiss the character as Hollywood satire of the working class outsiders. But while I was tired and depressed, and feeling sorry for myself because I couldn’t argue that the world does owe me a living, his image struck a more reflective chord with me.
Why shouldn’t I be happy, proud even, to work as hard as those I admire?
The pangs of addiction and depression seemed to subside as I considered this subconscious encouragement surfacing to my realization. Keep on doing what I love to do. It is possible to do more than simply exist from day to day. It may make living slightly more difficult, but difficulty makes for better writing, doesn’t it?
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