I woke up this morning and wanted to write a story. this happens occasionally, although not always in the morning, but instead of aborting whatever had been conceived between sleep and waking, as I would ordinarily do, this morning I decided to sit-down and write.
This urge to write is shared by every other narcissistically self-hating person who cannot sufficiently rely on their looks, their charm or any useful skills to receive the validation and love they so cravenly desire.
So of course, the story I wanted to write was ultimately about myself; an attempt to create an image with which to present to others, to communicate that which I can’t seem to convey in any other form. This is not the story I intended to write, but I ask you to accept as true the following statement: The events in this story have occurred in reality, though perhaps my retelling of them would not quite match those of others who were witness to them…
The decision to write was made possible by the fact that I don't need to go to work – I haven't been working for the previous three weeks – owing to what I call “an episode”, but which the sick-note my Doctor gives to me calls 'Bipolar Affective Disorder'.
A desire to create a distance in the relationship I have with my relationship to myself, is the reason why I've decided to abandon the first-person perspective in this story.
The Author, like every other mammal, has two main preoccupations: pleasure and pain.
The Author liked to believe that they pursued both with Dionysian zeal.
The Author despises boredom, deeply, with the kind of hatred that only fear can create. The Author was once fond of declaring that “boredom, not death, is the enemy of life!” even when only The Author was listening, even when they stopped believing it to be true; not even the skulking thought that the idea was probably just another way to phrase something The Author had once read prevented The Author from hurling the sentence at people with all of the grotesque certainty of a fanatic.
The Author rarely made new friends.
The Author is, by any standard, a piece of shit, their life a litany of terrible decisions.
The Author has spent too many days asleep, and nights drinking alone.
The Author has written this with the intent of stirring some sympathy into the condemnation they hope whoever reads all of this story will feel.
The Narrative Voice has two main preoccupations: motive and purpose.
The Narrative Voice questions how much motive determines morality, then begins to question purpose. It's own purpose.
The purpose of this story.
The Narrative Voice was starting to confuse itself, a common enough occurrence, but this was a confusion that hadn't seemed so flagrantly obvious before.
Confusion; a nauseating feeling, rising over and over again, wave after wave of…is nausea even the right word, or just one appropriated from someone else in the absence of a word that cannot be found? How is it that a word – inert symbol, born from the limited range of guttural noises Homo sapiens are capable of producing – can ever express what the Author is trying to convey?
Another wave; this sickening cyclical movement: what is it? The Narrative Voice knows that all things are first defined by what they are not, so perhaps the question to ask is: what isn’t it?
Well, it isn’t visceral – hardly corporeal at all, really – and yet it is experienced, it is felt, and therefore it is a sensation…but one not able to be crudely reduced to the workings of a collection of organs – no matter how complex – and therefore it is…confusing.
The Author has experienced hangovers and comedowns that The Author likes to believe would kill a lesser person; the kind of hangovers so intense they dangle you over the edge of delirium; comedowns that open up a black hole somewhere deep inside the chest-cavity and threaten to pull you in, to collapse in on yourself until nothing is left but total absence…The Author feels a perverse pride at having known such suffering, at having endured it, because such knowledge allows The Author to affirm that “the mind cannot suffer so much as the body”.
Kierkegaard can fuck off: the sickness unto death is as nothing when compared to the sickness The Author felt when, sometime around dawn, they emerged from a k-hole in a disgusting crack-den their mania had somehow driven them to; a huge and empty void where hours of memory should have been; the things that were seen in The Author's delirium; being forcibly ejected from the house; trying to phone a taxi; forgetting their pin number so many times that the card blocked and The Author had to convince the taxi-driver to wait outside while they woke up their housemate and pathetically begged to be given the necessary money to pay for the ride home.
When eventually The Author collapsed onto their bed, they felt such a profound loneliness and an urge to die that they took a photo of their disgusting face to try to distil the experience into a single image, which would serve as a reminder of just how low The Author could sink.
The phone, and so the photograph, was lost the next weekend.
Judging by The Author's subsequent behaviour, no lesson was learnt from this sordid episode.
The Narrative Voice tried to sneer, and found it surprisingly difficult.
“We both know that your ‘truth’ is adorned; nothing is false but facts are selectively withheld; the story subtly changed, always with the audience in mind…but why? To present yourself as worse than you really are, because you trust condemnation more than affection? Machiavelli was wrong to claim that a man’s fear is more dependable than his love: fear and hate are as capricious as any other human emotion.”
“And what would you know of ‘human emotion’? You’re nothing more than the voice of inertia: if it were left to you this story would go nowhere" The Author replied.
"This isn't a story, and it isn't going anywhere: there's no coherence, no plot, no real characters…this is just a ridiculous attempt at a Mea Culpa, and it's failing."
There was a silence that lingered too long.
The jobless man looked blankly at The Author, saying nothing, as if he were utterly indifferent. This is not to say that the man was callous, because how could we possibly know that? But for whatever reason(s) the man was simply unable – or unwilling – to interpret what he saw before him any in any other way.
The Author wants to imagine that the jobless man thought, as he watched someone at least half his age talking incessantly, that “Some people make their own problems. Why make things more complicated than they already are? Just stop worrying and fucking enjoy yourself, 'cos life doesn’t last that long.”
The Narrative Voice is unsure if it’s condescending to imagine the man thinking such thoughts, and worries that it is almost certain that expressing doubts about the content within the content is a bad idea.
The Author doesn’t give a fuck, and decides to go drink until unconsciousness descends…but then decides that since life really doesn't last that long, there must be better ways to experience it than through the hazy gauze of intoxication. So why not try to continue this story?
The Author declares to themselves "we have art in order not to die of the truth…or liver failure". To the jobless man, The Author says:
"I've only just woken up. Well not right now, obviously, not literally. I mean I've only just sort of become used to the idea of functioning in the last half an hour or so. And I've only been literally awake for about an hour. When I woke up, or rather, stopped being completely unconscious, I had my head jammed into the corner of a dirty sofa, and my brain jammed up against the front of my skull. Not exactly the best way to start the day is it?
I don't remember the walk to get here, not properly. There was just the stink of stale smoke and stale me, an awful taste in my mouth and the sound of my phone alarm going off like a demented little shit. Then confusion and then it was just, 'Fuuuuuck!', and the next thing I knew I was pretty much here already.
It was so surreal, the sensation of walking here. The parts I think I can remember, anyway. I'm still drunk from last night, or this morning or whatever, and sights and sounds are all fractured, sort of fucked up like they aren't finished yet by the time they get to my brain. The colour spectrum is warped and limited to this background of faint grey, while red and yellow swim about painfully in the foreground – like it actually hurts – and blue stabs me if I look up for too long.
You know what it feels like to be hungover though, everyone does. So I wont go on about it and I'm not trying to boast or anything stupid like that. It was just weird, that's all…oh, here's your lighter back by the way. Cheers for that…it puts you in a strange place, this sort of thing. Not feeling right in your body I mean. I don't just mean feeling uncomfortable: those sorts of feelings aren't nice, and they aren't normal but they're based on normal sensation, the normal way of feeling, they're just the opposite, or the antagonists of normal feelings. Do you know what I mean? Like, having a headache, or some other kind of ache, or holding in a piss or whatever, they're the negative version of normal feelings…yeah, sorry I'm rambling now, never mind. I'm just trying to say that it puts you off being able to function like usual if you're feeling and seeing stuff in a weird, abnormal way, a way that isn't supposed to happen. Looking at some of the charming bastards coming to this place is freaky enough as it is! Can you imagine how it felt when I walked right into a toothless old drunk, with his thousand yard stare and his mangled beard? Then again, imagine what it must've felt like for him to walk into me…
The point of all this is to say, well, I'm not in my usual state of mind right now. Feeling creepy, you could say. You know what I mean, right?
Oh shit, this way of talking just isn't quite working, is it?. It's all one way, just me throwing words at you, but I'm trying to anticipate your thoughts about my thoughts before I've even actually explained them properly and then they become something else and then…"
The jobless man stared at The Author and said nothing, hoping they would go away. The Narrative Voice was distraught. The Narrative Voice had lost control of the plot, of the purpose. It was all twisting and turning and falling in on itself.
The Narrative Voice decided to take control.
So they went into the building and through the motions, trying not to look around or to think, not that any thoughts were desperate enough to bring themselves to attention, until they were sat down on an ugly chair waiting for their turn to be examined like a cow getting checked over for diseases – the same questions, the same commands: show your gums, let them open your mouth – when their mind started crawling up from the slimy pond of the hangover and they noticed someone they used to go to school with. He was sat on a chair a couple of yards away. He didn't seem to notice them, and they didn't really know if he would've recognised them anyway. They felt painfully sad seeing him there. They felt sorry for him.
So fucking patronising: who is The Author to be feeling sorry for anyone as if they were a better person?
But it's what they felt.
He didn't deserve to have to keep coming to this place. He'd made no conscious choice that led him here that he could be held responsible for. He's part of a lost generation and it isn't his fault that it's left him without a job, labelled economically useless and so subjected to the humiliation of performing tricks just to beg the state for barely enough money to survive. History, or society, or whatever you want to call it, has swept him along just like the rest of us, but where he's washed up is an accident. He did everything he was supposed to do. He did exactly what he was told. It was just unfortunate for him that he wasn't very good at anything.
Just another zero, just another mediocrity.
That isn't his fault.
The Author remembered him as being a passive object, a part of the background of their school years, like so many other kids were and as they certainly were to the others, but that isn't true to their actual experience of him. They've only imposed that idea onto the images contained in their memory because there are so few of them left. No, he must have meant more to them back then, when they were both trying to create themselves, because otherwise why would seeing him here provoke such sadness? Maybe it's because he always used to blush so much. That doesn't sound like such a remarkable characteristic, and even if you knew that the skin of his cheeks didn't just flush a gentle pink, but were deep and violent gushes of red splashed across his entire face, that could be summoned by the mere mention of his name, it still wouldn't be enough to convey what must have it feels like to have your body betray you so often, and so needlessly…
When The Author was younger they thought they were living a life of existential freedom, of true authenticity, by doing only what they wanted; coasting through school with minimum effort, without diligence or ambition and relying on a natural intelligence to achieve sufficiently acceptable grades to be left alone. The grades didn't fall enough for their parents or teachers to care much, or so it seemed. The Author began to see life as just a game, and realised too late that that the game they were really playing wasn't what they thought it was and they didn't understand the rules; didn't realise they were being prepared to become Human Capital; sentient money; profit with organs.
The utter lack of effort when they were young left The Author with a low capital value. A worker with low capital value becomes trapped in a series of dead-end, menial, soul destroying jobs. This can make a person's life shit, but it was The Author's own fault. Without knowing it, they'd willing wasted their brief reprieve from the drudgery of wage-labour on drugs, poetry and trying to fuck whoever they could: the shock that smacked them in the face when they were forced to become a worker hit harder than anything they had ever experienced before. The pain grew slowly and now suffused them entirely.
The first time they lost a job, they were eventually given an appointment with a kind-looking woman. They had taken a book with them to ignore the interminable bus ride and all the waiting. After a while the woman noticed the book and exclaimed with delight that they too enjoyed Kafka. They talked mildly for a while about which of his books they considered his best. Then she said "Well, we can't have someone who reads Kafka being unemployed! Let's find you a job."
The Author still doesn't understand why reading The Castle made them more worthy of employment, but after reading the novel a second time they knew that they had finally understood something that had previously been just out of reach.
They were never able to keep a job for long: too many obviously false excuses for the weeks taken off as sick because they were too ashamed to admit to their exploiter that they were plagued by mental illness. The mental illness they'd tried to ignore for years.
So there were always bouts of joblessness between drifting from mind-numbing job to job. When they were fired from their second job and returned to the building the friendly woman was gone, and an atmosphere of condescension seemed to pervade the place. A condescension that rapidly mutated into disdain as the years passed.
Eventually The Author shed their shame about their mental affliction and was able to keep a job for several years, but soon enough the drudgery, the futility and meaninglessness of the work – but above all, the finite time that the job took from them – became too much, and so for once they voluntarily quit a job before they were fired.
Which is how they found themselves back in the building, sat near someone they once vaguely knew, waiting to plead to the state for money. The Author knew enough about economics to know that they'd be given at least some money, however temporarily. Surplus value must be extracted from us all, but for that to happen first we must be given at least enough money to spend in order to survive and so contribute more to the economy than we receive: when money is spent it circles around and around and everywhere along this circle people are waiting to make a profit…but voluntarily quitting a job is akin to a sin now, and those who sin too grievously are not considered fit for salvation.
Perhaps they would give The Author nothing this time.
So The Author sat and waited, trying to prepare a coherent line of argument that most mental ill-health is more than just a bio-medical fuck-up but also an epiphenomenon of the environment. Circumstance is as influential as genetics and the material conditions of the City, of the World; of us all embracing the death-drive, a slow collective suicide, are contributory factors. How was a person who represented such low capital value as The Author be forced to live in this society and not break? How could they explain that growing up after the end of history had left them with an emptiness, a lack of suffering which became a form of suffering itself because the only cures on offer seemed worse that the symptoms; then how the realisation of the lost future, the contrast against the world as it is, had created a revolutionary posturing emptied of affect by a nihilism that would be furious if it weren't undermined by the tepid melancholy that filled the space between the extremes of euphoria and depression; that the gluttony of late capitalism made The Author feel sick; that there were some mornings when the quality of the light made the City seem terrifyingly obscene…and how, despite this, the world still seemed beautiful sometimes, and on those days the emptiness overflowed with an almost mystical feeling and words and images came to The Author, and all they wanted was the time to write them down and to feed and protect loved ones without causing harm to any one or any thing in the world…but always the emptiness eventually returns and then the only way The Author knows how to endure those evenings preceding the forced awakening and return to work is with alcohol and benzodiazepines, because the effect of the prescribed medication was hard to discern? Although the suicidal thoughts had admittedly become a faint echo, a near-constant ambient noise rather than unpredictable bouts of screaming.
They knew it would make no difference trying to explain all this; that the other worker they would soon meet wouldn't really be listening, but they decided that their line of reasoning was worth remembering and so tried to commit it to memory.
Not having attempted to write those thoughts for years, it's impossible to know how much of what has just been written resembles the real experience of that moment and how much is of it is fiction.
As for the other person, and everyone else in that place who found themselves temporarily – or permanently – without employment, The Author can say nothing.
The person, once a boy and now a man, The Author had recognised, is a living creature. The Author really did go to school with them. Any details as to how he felt, how the trajectory of their life landed them in the same position as The Author, could only be conjecture.
The Author could tell you the person's name, but it doesn't belong to The Author, it belongs to a real person.
When The Author's name was called out, they left their seat and went to be judged and to justify their existence.
The Author knows they are deliberately misrepresenting the truth, whatever that may be. The Author has done some good in this world, and they're one of the lucky few out of the billions of people on this planet who live lives unimaginably comfortable to the rest, and yet…
The Author doesn't want to be known in their entirety. They want to be disliked. The reasons for this are an admixture of shame and regret, fear, remorse and a sincere desire for repentance: shame and regret for what they feel can only be described as a wasted life; fear that any attempt to express what lurks within them will be doomed to pathetic failure unless hidden behind a deliberately obtuse form; remorse and repentance for all the shitty things they have done in their life (and perhaps a little martyr complex: give me all the hate you feel, I deserve it).
Everyone involved – writer and reader – knows that this experiment has failed; that this is no story at all, just dislocated lines attempting to convey something that The Author believed (and still believes) can only be conveyed indirectly.
Can writing retain its efficacy even if the empty edifice of pretence is punctured and the intention and attempted meaning are explicitly stated instead of veiled and shrouded in customs and idioms and the Sibylline ritual of words correctly arranged on a page or a screen?
The Narrative Voice has lost control again, and knows there is no way to help The Author. What The Author wishes to achieve is something much more than an apologia for their existence, and knows also that The Author is correct to believe that the only way to attempt this would be to try and escape from the confines of traditional form. They knew it was bound to fail, but that made it no less disappointing…The Narrative Voice is the link between the subjects and the objects; to be a character, to become part of the story, to know the whole story at the same time and still play a role within it seemed impossible.
Perhaps some things must simply be passed over in silence….and that is no original thought. Although it has to be possible that some arrangement of words, even if they have to be completely new words, can make a connection that has never been made before; can construct a new bridge across the spaces between everything.
It has to be.
Language can never stop growing because then it might conceivably, in some distant impossible future, fill up and extend it's web so that all of the spaces in-between are filled and everything becomes so dense either all is understood, or nothing is.
We live there, in those spaces; in the unsaid where anything worth trying to say exists…but because it can never be said, it ceases to exist and gently disappears, leaving nothing behind: a true nothing, beyond what we can comprehend, because we are subjects that are objects amid innumerable other objects. Without the spaces between us, what would we become?
Maybe nothing at all…the meaning is not there in the words themselves, yet it is somewhere.
The meaning is a black hole and the words swirl across the outer edge in constant tension between futility and salvation.
4 thoughts on “The Failure”
Hey, I am nominating you for The Blogger Recognition Award. https://wordpress.com/post/varjakbaby.wordpress.com/4171
Hey, thanks! I didn’t even know such an award existed…I’ll dutifully nominate others after Christmas. You’ll be on my list: you should write more poetry comrade…
I’m reading your chapbook. The poems are so abstractly intense in stillness I can only stomach a few at a time before I explode like a melon full of nitroglycerin. It’s really good.