Thursday, February 12, 2009


Why am I doing this?

Let's start over.

Why am I doing this while I'm sick?

Its true that when you're sick you no longer have a memory of what regular life is like. The same can be applied to when you're healthy: being sick just becomes a concept, rather than a stuffy mess.

When my grandmother got sick she was always a terrible nuisance, as grandmas are wont to be. She would bitterly complain and stew, pout and grump and generally make Saturday visits something of a wistful 'I wish I was anywhere but here' sort of experience.

Yet after the illness had taken its toll she'd always claim it was never as bad as all that.

This brings me to Dostoevsky, whose 'Notes From Underground' I used to think was the most important book of the past 200 years. In it, in the passage which is especially noteworthy and has for me retained some awesomeness, he describes having a toothache:

"Ha, ha, ha! You will be finding enjoyment in toothache next," you cry, with a laugh.

"Well, even in toothache there is enjoyment," I answer. I had toothache for a whole month and I know there is. In that case, of course, people are not spiteful in silence, but moan; but they are not candid moans, they are malignant moans, and the malignancy is the whole point. The enjoyment of the sufferer finds expression in those moans; if he did not feel enjoyment in them he would not moan. They express the knowledge that you have no enemy to punish, but that you have pain; the knowledge that you are in complete slavery to your teeth; that if someone wishes it, your teeth will leave off aching, and if he does not, they will go on aching another three months; and that finally if you still protest, all that is left you for your own gratification is to thrash yourself or beat your wall with your fist as hard as you can, and absolutely nothing more. Well, these mortal insults, these jeers on the part of someone unknown, end at last in an enjoyment which sometimes reaches the highest degree of voluptuousness. I ask you, gentlemen, listen sometimes to the moans of an educated man of the nineteenth century suffering from toothache, on the second or third day of the attack, when he is beginning to moan, not as he moaned on the first day, that is, not simply because he has toothache, not just as any coarse peasant, but as a man affected by progress and European civilisation, a man who is "divorced from the soil and the national elements," as they express it now-a-days. His moans become nasty, disgustingly malignant, and go on for whole days and nights. And of course he knows himself that he is doing himself no sort of good with his moans; he knows better than anyone that he is only lacerating and harassing himself and others for nothing; he knows that even the audience before whom he is making his efforts, and his whole family, listen to him with loathing, do not put a ha'porth of faith in him, and inwardly understand that he might moan differently, more simply, without trills and flourishes, and that he is only amusing himself like that from ill-humour, from malignancy. Well, in all these recognitions and disgraces it is that there lies a voluptuous pleasure. As though he would say: "I am worrying you, I am lacerating your hearts, I am keeping everyone in the house awake. Well, stay awake then! You, too, feel every minute that I have toothache. I am not a hero to you now, as I tried to seem before, but simply a nasty person, an impostor. Well, so be it, then! I am very glad that you see through me. It is nasty for you to hear my despicable moans: well, let it be nasty; here I will have a nastier flourish in a minute...."

And as we all know Dostoevsky ended up in prison with a prostitute in Siberia, so well done there.

Perhaps, then, these entries which have all been composed during my prolonged flu are my moans. At least we must agree that there is something malignant in copying such a long block of 19th century Russian lit.

* * *

So I've decided I need to eat healthy to get well. This means I ordered two large pizzas from Dominoes. Not that I particularly care for Dominoes, mind. Just, they're the place that delivers in a snowstorm in this wretched town.

Figuring I should consume some greens I got the pizza with spinach.

So while I listen to Peter Frampton's 'Do You Feel Like We Do' on repeat, trying to guess which part I like more and drink lemonade made from a plastic container of powder my health benefits. Whether in spite of or due to these actions, I cannot say. My hunch is 'due to'. Frampton, pizza and lemonade is a good combo.

Incidentally I used to think (about the same time as when I worshipped Dostoevsky) that cheese pizza, lemonade, and kosher dill pickle was the best meal in the world. High school was a special time. A time which, with some slight trepidation, I seem to be revisiting, this time on the 'grade-giver' side of things.

Also: that story about my grandmother is fictitious, I think. At least I have no recollection of such events. But it made for a decent little story to relate to. Even if you don't know someone who actually does do that it seems like such a reasonable human response that you apply it to someone you know.

Or, to paraphrasenly mangle a concept from Joan Didion: History according to me. (Didion's point, in On Keeping a Notebook, is that our records are best for preserving how it felt to us, not as a real depiction of factual events. This piece was also one of the saving finds of high school.)

For example:

"At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary; my approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day's events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best. What is this business about "shopping, typing piece, dinner with E, depressed"? hopping for what? Typing what piece? Who is E? Was this "E" depressed, or was I depressed? Who cares?

In fact I have abandoned altogether that kind of pointless entry; instead I tell what some would call lies. "That's simply not true," the members of my family frequently tell me when they come up against my memory of a shared event. "The party was not for you, the spider was not a black widow, it wasn't that way at all." Very likely they are right, for not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters. The cracked crab that I recall having for lunch the day my father came home from Detroit in 1945 must certainly be embroidery, worked into the day's pattern to lend verisimilitude; I was ten years old and would not now remember the cracked crab. The day's events did not turn on cracked crab. And yet it is precisely that fictitious crab that makes me see the afternoon all over again, a home movie run all too often, the father bearing gifts, the child weeping, an exercise in family love and guilt. Or that is what it was to me. Similarly, perhaps it never did snow that August in Vermont; perhaps there never were flurries in the night wind, and maybe no one else felt the ground hardening and summer already dead even as we pretended to bask in it, but that was how it felt to me, and it might as well have snowed, could have snowed, did snow."

Here in Vermont in February there are flurries. And amidst the music, pizza, Dostoevsky and questionable history I'm still here, typing away, with a stuffed-up head and Joan Didion for comfort. Just wait, I'll have a nastier flourish in a minute....

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