FRIDAY, 19 SEPTEMBER 2003
I can’t sleep, and I don’t want to be awake. I want to be healthy and live forever, but I don’t want to quit smoking. I want to have enough money to do what I know is possible, but that’s not my current reality. I’m trapped in a life where I’m doing my best, whilst I suffer from the conviction that things are not working out the way I would like them to.
Despite my present condition, my fingers aren’t trembling as I type these words, and no blood is dripping from my wrists. The material I produce is external proof that I am alive, and it is precisely that which motivates me to write. What I produce are documents that state how I live at any time during my earthly existence, and that testify how I feel and what my particular experience of reality looks like.
(This, just incidentally, is why I don’t care too much whether or not my writings will ever receive sponsorship from an established commercial publisher. What does it mean to get “published” anyway? It means someone who arrives at the office nine o’clock in the morning, who greets everyone in a courteous manner, who slides in behind a desk and presses a button on the phone that will make coffee arrive within two minutes, has read my “manuscript” and considers that my words might turn a profit for the company that provides a paycheck every month that enables this person to buy groceries and at the end of the year take the family down to the coast. I can’t help but think of what the playwright says to the theatre owner in the film, Illuminata, “Who are you to decide on the legitimacy of my work?”)
For years now I’ve been trying to convince an audience of zero that I’m not part of this world; I’m just here on assignment. It sometimes feels as if I’m from another time or place in the universe. I – with the particular name in my passport, and with all the numbers that make me legally part of Civilised Society – am supposed to find certain things out, to answer certain questions. And at the end of everything I’m going to report back to those who sent me, and they’ll say: “Good job. Here’s your next assignment.”
I’ve been trying to explain these things to people who say, “So you write, hey? Why don’t you try to get your stuff published?” Or, “Why don’t you write a few short stories or some articles?” How should I explain to these people that cosmic reports are not intended for the masses to read on their way to work or in the evenings when there’s nothing on TV?
Only problem is, this cosmic assignment came with a few glitches (maybe I forgot to read the fine print). To properly complete the assignment I had to take on an earthly life form, species Homo sapiens to be specific. And like other Homo sapiens can attest, this means that I walk around with a hierarchy of problematic needs every day of this miserable life. For example, I have to eat, and you can’t eat the same things every day because then people say you’re boring (and that matters, long story). Also, you can’t swallow down deep-fried octopus with vanilla milkshakes every day, because then you’re going to end up with arteries so clogged up from all the cholesterol that you may expire one night on the way to the deep-fried octopus place. One also feels this irrational desire to “spend time” with other people on an almost daily basis. This need can at times become extremely annoying, because most people do not understand my highly delicate task on this little speck of the cosmos.
In addition to the need to spend time in community with others, there is also the desire – that gets worse as the person reaches a certain age – to reproduce with one of usually the opposite sex. To beget children is only the ostensible purpose of this activity, though, because the reproduction is usually accompanied by intense pleasure. It is this pleasure aspect that drives most people nuts until they become too old and they realize they’re no longer in the mood for such frivolous activities.
To convince one of usually the opposite sex to seemingly reproduce range in difficulty from the easiest thing on earth to nearly impossible. And to make the satisfaction of this desire really complicated, there are factors like morality, feelings, expectations, disappointments, and the possibility that seemingly-reproducing-but-really-doing-it-just-for-fun can actually lead to the biological result that is the primary purpose for the activity. And then you’re back to morality, expectations, doing the “right thing” and conventions like marriage.
There are ways to escape, for short periods at a time, this incredibly complex interplay between cravings (of which the sexual is but one) and satisfaction. A whole variety of chemical substances is available from people who usually stand on street corners, or at locations where people hang around for hours at a time to make life more bearable. For millennia, alcohol has also been utilized for this specific purpose. The problem – and by now it should be clear that there almost always will be a problem – is that these so-called narcotics can only be taken in small doses. If these substances are not enjoyed in moderation, it leads to messy consequences such as addiction, and a long list of highly unpleasant activities that one must then undertake to keep satisfying the intensified craving. And was the initial idea not to get away from unsatisfied needs?
So here I sit: I can’t sleep, and I don’t want to be awake.
Sometimes I wish – I don’t know if saying this is even allowed – that I can be done with my cosmic assignment. I wish I could wake up one morning and either be back where I came from, or to be just an ordinary man.
If the latter is the case, I would probably choose to be an office worker …
Truth be told, I wouldn’t want an important position in this office – in this imagined life as an ordinary man. And there should definitely be at least a few people I can call “Boss”. I wouldn’t want to be the one making coffee for everyone, but I would like to drink coffee all the time. And I would like a desk with stacks of paper, and maybe a few stamps.
When the clock on the wall hits five o’clock, I’ll be ready. I will close my windows, turn off the lights, shut the door behind me and joyfully shout, “Goodbye! See you all tomorrow!” to everyone still standing around with coffee mugs in their hands. I will crack a few jokes with my colleagues in the elevator, buy the late edition at the cafe on the corner, and patiently stand at the bus stop waiting for the five-fifteen.
After a twenty minute bus ride and a short walk, I’ll arrive at “our house”. I will push open the front gate and follow the cement path to the front porch.
By the time the mesh door slams behind me, two children will already be pulling at the legs of my trousers, each convinced of their right to be the first to tell me their stories. Then an attractive woman will enter the hallway from the dining room, put the magazine in her hand on a table near the front door and embrace me for a few moments.
We will all wash our hands, and sit down for dinner. I will recite a lovely prayer, and then we’ll tuck away at plates full of rice, vegetables and meat. After dinner, my wife and I will wash the dishes, and I’ll tell her what some or other colleague said or did at the office today.
Then my wife will show me the rose buds in the garden – because it will be spring, and the twilight will be just enough to appreciate the flowers, and to see the neighbours’ faces when we greet each other. After helping the children with their homework, we’ll all watch a little TV.
Round about nine or ten o’clock we’ll say “Goodnight”. I will embrace the children one at a time and lovingly kiss them on their foreheads. I will make sure they settle down properly in their cosy beds. I will draw the bedding up to their little chins, give each one a final peck on the nose, and walk to the main bedroom a happy and contented man.
A quarter of an hour later I’ll be lying in bed next to my wife. I will take her tender, warm hand in mine, put my lips near her cheek and gently whisper, “Remind me some day to tell you about my previous life …”