Emptyish streets, sheen of rain. The college students have all left for the summer, or they’ve graduated and their long lives are about to begin, or they’re sleeping. There is no difference between a college student sleeping and a college student in a distant town. In the morning, when they slumber, you feel a total absence, like a minus sign; but by Boston’s mid-afternoon, wafting pot smoke signals awakening hormonal hordes; at 4 PM or so, they become more tangible and jog by, as if exercise were necessary for them. They are added back to the world.
I’ve been living my life too much in a state of emergency. Instead of consulting a professional, I have come up with a three step solution. Recalibrating my life solution. The first step is to ignore all existing emergencies. Now, this—I can already hear you saying it—can’t last, this is not a workable solution. It sounds in fact like the opposite of a solution. Patience! Wait till you hear my next two steps.
Step two—the real genius hinge of the whole thing—is then, in the absence of all emergencies, in the vast plain of false calm left after the tyrannical banishment of all the old emergencies, to choose to treat the smallest things as emergencies. Take the tension that needs an outlet, and re-apply it, like a salve or leech, to trivia. For instance, that morning, the morning of the sheen on the streets and the city asleep, I put some water on to boil and I realized that there was no oatmeal left in the cupboard. Indeed, I’d simmered my last oats into mush just the day before. No oatmeal! Suddenly I was racing around the apartment, whipping up usable underwear, a shirt, the bike lock, nearly dropping my bike lock key into the toilet in my haste, knocking a coffee cup onto the floor (necessitating a time-wasting cleanup, sighs of impatience and desperation), searching for my wallet in all the previous day’s pants, choosing perversely the socks that will look most idiotic in combination with my sneakers, all of these things done poorly, in an urgent heat, just to get myself out the door. Then there I am, biking along the Fenway towards the Whole Foods (just any oatmeal will not do). Part of the timeline’s gone missing; I don’t quite recall how I got out of the museum and onto the path. I whiz by geese. Yes, geese. I do not feel I can do justice in words to these geese, honking at empty stretches of grass, honking at time intervals, not periodically but at intervals. It’s not a joyous noise but it’s got something, it’s scooped out of some really pungent vat of sound. The geese are all facing in angles, like in a Renaissance painting, ideally miscellaneous honking angles. This randomness is perhaps chosen, to make clear to the other geese that they’re really not honking at them–and to distribute their message to the maximum cross-section of the universe.
Someday, it is inevitable, there will be a collision between myself and a Fenway goose. There will be a terrible clatter, a squawk and cry, some lone bicycle part will roll off down into the muck, and there will just be me and a goose lying there, damaged. People will walk by. I don’t think the goose and I will resent each other.
Anyway, back to my three-step solution. The thing is, having applied unbearable tension to these trivial acts, step three is a kind of hilarious transcendental emptiness—my goal. I swerved rapidly across Westland Ave., curving violently to avoid nonexistent oncoming traffic, I incommoded a harmless pedestrian, skidding my way up to the bike rack, braking just in time to pull my bike into the slot, I rapidly rotated my backpack, zipped it open with a flourish, unlocked the lock, hands trembling, slipped it onto the wheel and rack, almost forcing it on, then turned to face the doors of the Whole Foods like a superhero arriving just in time, and in that moment of stoppage the world—I didn’t quite recognize it. There were a couple of people, aimlessly making their way in and out of the supermarket. There was a man, leaning down to chain his dog, giving it a soothing pat, a there-there. There was a shhh and whirr of wheels in the rain. A scattered chorus of small activities implying humanity’s inactivity. The rain and the cloudiness and the smell of rain in the air. Distant honks. It occurred to me I was going to the grocery store to get some oatmeal.
Like a mantra, or a symptom of incipient insanity, as I walked through the Whole Foods I kept repeating to myself “I am at the grocery store to buy some oatmeal,” partly to prevent myself from buying $40 bags of organic goji berries.
Go ahead, quibble with my math. Replacing what seemed like real emergencies with obviously fake ones (x=y); draining these fakes of import (x minus x); and transferring this back to the more serious zones of life (y=x); and from this fraudulent circular calculation finding yourself suddenly delirious, damp, giggling in the cereal aisle, out of breath from a near goose collision, in love with the experience of a calm Sunday morning… I can’t pretend to a theorem; in fact I’m sure something important has vanished. Luckily, happiness is not a sum.