30 August 2008

Status Update

Fans of Harold Loves Maude:

Though it may look as if this blog has gone stagnant, do not despair. Posting to this site has been temporarily suspended while a book of Harold Loves Maude is being compiled by
  • Touch Touch Publishing
  • . Once the book has been published, regular posts to this site will begin anew.

    Stay tuned for more details!

    08 April 2007

    Le Stade Du Miroir

    I finally cried tonight.

    It came unexpectedly, in part because I have never cried before and in part because I was lying calmly in bed at the time. I was just drifting off to sleep when I realized the muscles in my throat hurt. My eyebrows furrowed, and my body felt intensely flat, as if I were merging with the bedsheets. I turned on my side, pulled my legs into my body. It was 1:06 a.m.. I hugged my arms together. I ran my hands up and down my arms slowly, and I was sobbing.

    My face tightened and my mouth fell open soundlessly. I couldn't feel tears actually emerging from my eyes, but my face was entirely wet. I did not understand why my throat could utter no sound. My entire body was tense. It was like vomiting without the nausea. Suddenly, I took a sharp inhale through the mouth and made a loud croak that cut through the heavy silence in my darkened bedroom.

    At that point, it was unstoppable.

    What upsets me most about the whole ordeal is that it was entirely unwarranted. Quite to the contrary, things have been quite positive and pleasant of late.

    Over a month ago, my mother took me for one of her infamous afternoon teas in the garden. These teas are known both for their unending potato salad sandwiches and their unyielding conversations. But at this particular tea, my mother informed me that I would no longer be seeing the therapist she had been sending me to. In fact, to my great surprise, my mother informed me that she would no longer be sending me to any therapists. She had enough of therapists, at least so far as they relate to me. I asked her if this meant I was cured of whatever malady it was that sent me to a therapist to start.

    My mother told me she had made her peace with me. That afternoon, a little over a month ago, my mother told me she had finally decided to meet me at my terms. She would no longer send me to a therapist or schedule me for luncheons without first asking for my preferences.

    It has been nothing short of a magical time since that afternoon. I will admit I was skeptical at the start. The very next day, being a Wednesday and my mother's cribbage night, I resisted the urge to delve into a fresh copy of On Death and Dying, anticipating my mother's customary intrusion at quarter to five in preparation to greet her guests. As guests began to arrive and no knock came a gently rapping at my door, I thought I might that moment shed my first tears of relief and hope. So long had I wished to be rid of those evenings at cards. I have never had a penchant for strategy and certainly not one for cards.

    These past several weeks have been a more productive time for me than I have had in years. I once again take my weekly trips into the city to people-watch at the library. I have begun to read at an astronomical rate. I am experiencing a freedom of movement in and about my house that I have not felt in years.

    My days are now up to my own devices. In the mornings, I come downstairs and willingly make inquiries of my mother about her upcoming day, freed by the certainty that I will not be apart of it. And, I must admit, I believe my mother is pleased with our new arrangement. She seems to have continued forward with much the same activities as she did before, but there is now the blissful absence of arguments between us.

    The other day, I came into the kitchen just before lunchtime. All morning, the cook had been working on a roast for a lunch of sandwiches and soup. But I must confess the waft of the roast had seduced me by mid-morning. No matter where I escaped to, the breeze brought word of garlic and fatty juices. It was intoxicating.

    When I made my way into the kitchen, I was startled to find my mother already peering into the oven. I cannot ever recall seeing my mother doing anything in the kitchen, let alone investigating a kitchen appliance. But that morning it was clear that my mother and I were of similar minds regarding that roast. It occurs to me now, that moment might have been the first of its kind for my mother and I.

    I could see immediately that my mother was as startled as I was to meet in the kitchen. She had been near enough to the oven window to create breath fog, shielding her view from the light with her hands to better inspect the roast. My mother shot upright when I came into the kitchen, quickly applying her hands to her perfectly kept hair.

    My nostrils flared at her poor subterfuge, and we locked eyes. For an instant, we stood at opposite ends of the kitchen, a good ten feet apart, eyeing one another.

    Then, my mother laughed.

    I have heard my mother laugh a thousand times at dinner parties, functions, afternoon teas. Yet after seeing her laugh that day in the kitchen, I know now that she had not really laughed in years either.

    That this unprecedented bout of tears should strike me now, in the midst of this glorious time in my life, is unjust. I am certain that I am happy now. For the first time in years, I look forward to each day. I lie in bed each night and imagine the next day, preliving it in my mind. Perhaps I will create a garden cemetery around my mother's failed cabbages and carrots. Perhaps I will go into the city and find the homeless man who circles the block, day in and day out, under the delusion that he is driving; the man is fascinating, obeying the traffic signals at every corner. Perhaps I will place my own obituary announcement in the newspaper again.

    I am shaken to my core about having cried so. A part of me misses my regular appointments with the therapist my mother sent me to, though only because I am fairly certain that this is precisely the sort of thing he would have wanted me to report to him. The root of these tears is elusive, particularly in light of my new found enjoyment.

    For the first time in my life, I find myself worried about my life.

    What does Me know that I do not?

    27 September 2006

    The Indelible Stamp

    I have had a dream of eyebrows.

    In this dream, I see only eyebrows, my eyebrows. I am looking into a mirror, but focused only on my eyebrows. They are magnified and in extreme detail. I am certain I have never looked at my eyebrows in as much detail as I have dreamed them. Now, having had this dream and having subsequently examined my eyebrows, I know that my subconscious mind has always known my eyebrows.

    In this dream of eyebrows, I know that I am preparing for a normal day and it is morning. There are no clocks, nor daylight. I know that it is morning the way things are simply known in dreams. In this dream, I have the feeling of morning. In the morning of my dream, I can see clearly the shape of my eyebrows, the way they rest over my sockets. I cannot see my eyes. Neither can I see my forehead. But both are there, framing my eyebrows but just out of frame.

    In the dream, my eyebrows betray no emotion, but only rest upon my face like a blank check waiting for the day’s charges to be filled in. I am surprised by the expressionlessness of my eyebrows because, in my dream, I am surprised by their uniformity and shapeliness; I expect to see surprise there, some betraying arch or furrow.

    I stare at my eyebrows, noticing every hair and the way they all lie together as a team, no follicle nudging its hair out of step. They are well-shaped as men’s eyebrows go, with no errant hairs spreading to my eyelids at the outer ends. The inner ends, too, seem to form a clean row of roots like stalks of sunflowers all leaning towards my temples.

    In this dream of eyebrows, I realize that they are my mother’s eyebrows. This is not to say that I realize that I am looking at my mother’s face and my mother’s literal eyebrows. Instead, in this dream, I am looking at my own eyebrows and realize they are my mother’s heritable eyebrows.

    Had this dream ended there, I might have been able to discount it, dismiss it as one of those shocking and unpleasant dreams that rears its ugly head just before the alarm sounds. Instead, the dream persists. I continue to focus on my eyebrows, feeling their congenital weight.

    I have always considered myself to be an individual of few expressions. On many occasions, in fact, my mother has made a point of criticizing this fact.

    Upon receiving dark blazer from an uncle, “Harold! Show your uncle how much you love that color on you.”

    Upon explaining my hopes of someday becoming a tailor, “It would iron the lines on my face if you would simply grin when being facetious, Harold.”

    In general, my expressions are: watching, sleeping, confusion. Beyond this, I have never given my face much thought.

    I am concerned about my eyebrows. I am concerned about my eyebrows because I am much accustomed to my mother’s eyebrows and the way they orchestrate the rest of her face. I have spent these last weeks photographing my mother, catching her unawares or much distressed. I have enlarged each photograph, caring only for the expressions. The walls of my bedroom have come to regard me with mixed emotions.

    Here, both eyebrows arch sharply into central furrows, the outer edges sloping down towards the corners of the eyes. The furrows seem to pull the muscles of the nostrils, causing them to flare upwards. These eyebrows are displeased.

    There, the left eyebrow, and only the left, seems to flatten itself out entirely like a miniature horizon as the eye sets below it. Meanwhile, the right eyebrow maintains it composure, holding its arched shape. The skin about the eyebrows is smooth on both sides, yet there is a distinct transition zone of tension in the expanse between. These eyebrows are disapproving.

    Near the window, the eyebrows seem unattached to the musculature beneath, as if they were simply laid on the skin to rest a moment. Those muscles that would hold down the brows instead spend their time tightening the eyes and upper cheeks, pulling it all up into corners by the temples. Even the nose seems to be pulled higher, making use of those muscles freed by the eyebrow loss. These eyebrows are honest.

    I am comfortable watching and sleeping. I am even comfortable with confusion, in as much as I have no particular sense of discomfort or shame when experiencing it. But what of these walls?

    It may be the case that I have been experiencing this range of expression my entire life, never recognizing it for what it is. If this is so, there must be a stark disconnect between the way I understand myself to be and the way I am perceived by others. Up to this point, I would describe myself as a rather languid and level person; I have believed others would agree. But it could be that I am instead seen as a liar. I may have entertained countless conversations in which my face betrayed emotions that my words denied. This may be why I have only one friend.

    On the other hand, it may be the case that I have only the potential to make these expressions, that my eyebrows are predators lying in wait. If this is the case, one day I will wake up with a stranger’s face. My expressions will be as jarring to others as they are to me. I may make the exaggerated expressions of a child, testing the limits of my expressions and their reception in social settings. But if my eyebrows suddenly switch on, my perspective will remain unchanged. My face will express things that I have not the emotional currency to support. This may prevent me from ever attracting another friend.

    The therapist my mother sends me to is concerned about the photographs. At first, he was concerned that I had taken to spying on my mother, following her about and taking snapshots of her conducting her life. The unnatural interdependency between my mother and I had always worried him, he said. I explained that I continue to have no interest in my mother’s affairs. This generated quite a reaction from his eyebrows. I explained that the pictures were only of her eyebrows, that they were for study, and that they were all confined to the walls of my room. The therapist my mother sends me to then discussed, at great length, whether or not I felt my mother has an overbearing influence in my life.

    I told him I am not concerned with my mother or her behavior. I am concerned with aspects of myself which are utterly beyond my control or hers, those things that are dictated by pedigree. There are countless choices to be made to divorce myself from my lineage. But not my eyebrows. Those will never be mine.

    18 September 2006

    Credit Where It Is Due

    In my excitement over my first friend, and after revisiting my description of finding her, I realize that I did not adequately explain the circumstances that lead to our meeting that Friday on a public bus. I must confess, I did not make this discovery myself. My mother, of all people, is to thank.

    Today, being a Monday, I engaged in my usual Monday routine: I rose at 7:15am; I procured the honey from the kitchen and left tiny droplets of honey rain throughout the hallway before mother's room; I made coffee that I would not drink; I went to the gardens behind the house and sat for a think. My mother sauntered out later in the morning, dressed in her favorite St. John's suit. We regarded each other as best we could. By that, I mean that I stared past my mother and at her shoes, searching for evidence of a honey-sole attack. I also mean that my mother stood four feet away from me and examined by countenance for evidence of an improved attitude.

    "Harold, I do wish you would hurry along and get to your bookstore." My mother has a particular disdain for public libraries or libraries of any sort, for that matter; she claims that knowledge is best left to those who have earned their way to leisure time spent reading.

    That my mother thought to ask why I wasn't heading to the library on a Monday morning made it evident to me that my routines, though habitual to me, may be something of a mystery to others. The therapist my mother sends me to congratulated me on my insight and empathy. I am of the opinion it is best to be clear and thorough when describing one's routines, so as to discourage others from imploring schedule changes.

    On Friday, as per my routine, I took the public bus to the main branch of the public library. On Fridays at one o’clock in the afternoon, the librarian holds a story hour for children on the first floor. Every week, a group of ten to fifteen children gather around on an uncomfortable looking carpet and listen while the librarian reads to them. Mothers and nannies are sprinkled about, some listening to the story, others taking the opportunity to seek out their own reading material. There are always new faces at these story hours, but there are also a number of regular ones.

    One such regular face is that of a boy who looks to be seven or eight at the most. This boy’s name is Thomas. I first became a regular observer of the Friday story hour because of Thomas. When I first happened upon Thomas, he was wearing a loudly patterned cable-knit sweater and dark corduroy pants. In all the times I have visited Friday story hour, Thomas has always been in attendance, sitting quietly and politely towards the back of the group. I have never seen any evidence that Thomas is accompanied by anyone on these Fridays.

    The first Friday that I took note of the story hour, the librarian had just finished reading something like The Story of Ping; I only overheard the very end of the tale, but I am certain that it involved a duck. The story had only just ended, and children were milling about waiting to be claimed by their responsible parties. Only Thomas stood his ground, waiting for a path to clear to the librarian. He approached her as a lawyer might a witness on the stand.

    “I have some questions about that story, please.” Only after having watched Thomas approach this woman countless times since then am I now able to identify why I was so fascinated by Thomas on that first afternoon. Thomas makes direct eye contact with the adults he addresses, a feat that I am not often able to accomplish myself.

    The librarian, on that afternoon when I first saw Thomas, seemed accustomed to this line of questioning. She pursed a tight smile, a move that emphasized the fact that she has no smile wrinkles to speak of. Her mouth and its surrounding terrain are smooth as porcelain, as if she spent her life at library volume and has never partaken much in any sort of decisive emotion whatsoever. She sat down wearing the book as a shield and faced Thomas.

    In all the weeks that I have been coming to the Friday story hour, I have seen this pattern play out again and again. Thomas listens intently to the story. The children leave. The librarian waits. Thomas begins his questioning. Thomas’ questions often surprise me, mostly because I know very little about children and their capacity for reason. Thomas will ask the librarian questions such as: Why would the duck choose to stray from his family and friends when he already knows that there is danger beyond his pond? Does it seem reasonable to you that the brave prince would spend twenty years seeking one of countless princesses in all the lands?

    As much as I am impressed by these questions, the librarian always seems rather put out by having to answer them. If I could hazard a guess, I would suspect that Thomas’ parent or parents are scholarly types, possibly even professors of literature; if I could hazard another guess, I would suspect that the librarian majored in Library Science and not Literature precisely to avoid having to answer these sorts of questions about the books she so meticulously shelves.

    Thomas is not my friend. He is only a boy whom I have grown to enjoy watching. But it is because of Thomas that I met my friend. Had it not been for Thomas and his persistent questioning, I would never have been on the bus that day, never would have seen the homeless TV Guide aficionado, and never would have met my friend. In a way, I owe a great deal to Thomas.

    I have decided to honor Thomas in some small part of my own, a homage to he would brought about my first friendship. Today, I approached the gardener and looked him plainly in the face. I met his eyes, which I learned today are crusted about the corners and seem to crack along the surface for moisture. I met those Saharan eyes and bid him a fair day. Every other Monday when the gardener comes to visit our home, I will make a point of looking him plainly in the eyes and speaking to him.

    While the gesture may be slight, it requires my utmost dedication, perseverance, and reverence. If friendships have their thorns, then this will my part towards pruning its hedges. Every other Monday now belongs to Thomas.

    It might do me well to stop burying the skeletal remains of our roasted fowl dinners beneath the tulip bed.

    12 September 2006

    Close Your Eyes and Think of Me

    I found my friend this Labor Day weekend.

    I was riding the bus on Friday, taking my usual route to the library, to watch the children's story hour. Or, to be more precise, to watch a boy named Thomas question the librarian after the children's story hour. On the bus, there was an able-bodied homeless man who was sitting towards the front in a section clearly marked Handicapped Only. The man was reading a TV Guide and chuckling to himself with some regularity. The man was unquestionably homeless, but he wasn’t bothering anyone. He just sat, enjoying his TV Guide immensely.

    I sat watching this man for several stops before I noticed the girl sitting ahead of me was also watching him. She seemed to enjoy watching this homeless man as much I was did. She turned and looked at me, shrugging.

    “I could watch that man all day,” she said. Then she pulled the stop cord, got up, and hopped off the bus.

    I was surprised to hear her make that comment because I had only just thought the same thing myself when she spoke. She was an adorable girl, not in a sexually attractive sense but in the utterly platonic sense. This girl was adorable the way a kitten or duckling might be adorable. She had a round face with tight dark curls hanging down just below her ears. Her eyes were small, squinted, and framed with dark eyelashes. She had an unnaturally wide mouth that made her smile take over her face. As she got up to leave the bus, I noticed she carried a worn shoulder bag that carried a equally worn journal with heavily crinkled pages; it was evident from only a glance that this journal had been thoroughly soaked at some point, but its owner had decided to let it dry and continue on. She was also wearing a plain, white tee shirt with a single word printed on it, in a simple black font.


    My first thought was that the shirt might be a Yoko Ono reference. My second thought was that the period on her shirt made it complete, that the shirt would definitely be the lesser without the punctuation. I was so taken by this girl on the bus that I followed her off the bus, four stops from my destination at the library.

    The longer I watched this girl, the more I enjoyed her. She was a tourist, that much was clear. She had a large folding map with exaggerated illustrations of the local points of interest. She frequently asked for clarification from the passing strangers on the street. I was most impressed that she seemed to experience no shame or hesitation with her tourism, freely displaying her map to all the world and approaching others as if they had been old friends. I envied her immediately.

    After half an hour of walking about, she entered an Indian restaurant that boasted an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch for $7.99. The host tried to seat her by the front window, but she requested a table for one at the back end of the restaurant, right outside the kitchen, and out of the direct footpath of the buffet. I must admit that I was relieved she asked for the table away from the window. With her sitting at such a distance, I was able to watch her have lunch from the street, standing right outside the window. Had she been seated by the window, I would have had to have lunch at the restaurant myself and, I admit, I am a bit of a coward when it comes to foods I am unfamiliar with.

    I am ashamed to admit that the foods that I am familiar with are primarily those that my mother has prepared for me or ordered for me at various dinner functions. These foods include, but are not exclusive to: prime rib, roast leg of lamb, potatoes au gratin, baked Alaska, rice pilaf, and Yorkshire pudding. Outside of these and similar culinary arenas, I have always felt the slightest sense of apprehension.

    What delighted me most about this girl's lunch was simply that she watched her fellow diners. She helped herself to a plate from the buffet, then proceeded to nibble at it as she watched others. At first, she watched a heavy set man with a red face make his way through the buffet line, using two plates to accommodate his appetite. She had a look of serenity about her while she watched this man, vicariously enjoying his enjoyment of the all-you-can-eat buffet.

    Next, she watched a young couple chat over their lunches. They seemed to talk seamlessly, one partner's dialog running without interruption into the other's. I could see the girl's eyes bounce back and forth between them, following the verbal volley. I am certain that she, like me, was amazed that there are those people in the world, those people who have found the way to take jarring and halting stops out of conversations.

    She ate only half her lunch, left a cash tip on the table, and came back out onto the street. She walked right past me, taking luxurious breaths of the afternoon air and walking down the block. The girl has an unusual gait that I had trouble defining at first. But as we walked through the downtown area, I realized that her shoes were too large for her feet, creating something of a floppy clown's walk.

    I was elated when she turned towards and then entered the main branch of the public library. Not only was I following the most intriguing person I have come across in all my life, but she was heading to my favorite Friday afternoon haunt.

    As we crossed the lobby, I could see that the children's story hour was wrapping up. Without a second thought, I followed the girl up to the second floor where the periodicals are kept. She walked briskly up and down the aisles of Recent Periodicals and swept up a copy of The New Yorker with her left hand without missing a step. She gave the distinct impression that she had come to the library with no agenda whatsoever but to pick up an interesting read and enjoy the afternoon; simultaneously, she also gave off the distinct impression that, while she was a tourist to this library, she had no doubt she would find her periodical of choice effortlessly. She made her way to the cushioned armchairs near the second floor windows, kicked off her over-sized shoes, and nestled down to read her magazine.

    My mother has always held a firm stance on The New Yorker. It is her view that news magazines, by and large, are vulgar and editorial. However, a news magazine that fills its pages with fiction and cartoons clearly does not spend sufficient energy gathering the news before going to press.

    Once, at a dinner party, my mother made this very point and another guest argued that The New Yorker provided the world's news in its larger cultural context, each issue acting as a reflection of the Western sentiment as a whole. Mother said nothing, but never invited that man to dinner again, claiming he was an Exeter mind in a Harvard suit.

    The therapist my mother sends me to asked me what I thought mother meant by that comment. I advised him to never pursue that line of questioning with my mother.

    That afternoon at the library, I sat at a study table watching this girl read. She would stop every so often, gazing out the window to the concourse level, then jot a few notes in her water-damaged journal, then continue reading. We were there for over an hour before I decided to approach her. First, I waited for a moment after she'd finished her jotting but before she moved back to reading; I know I would prefer to meet a friend when I was not in mid-thought.

    "Is that a Yoko Ono reference?" I spoke at a regular volume and startled her, to say nothing of the irritated and shushing patrons.

    "I'm sorry?"

    "Is your shirt a reference to the Yoko Ono ceiling? The one with the ladder you climbed up all the way to the ceiling, to read only 'YES'?"

    The girl smiled and tucked her feet under her body on the chair.

    "Right now," she said, "that is what it means. By tomorrow, of course, it may be something entirely different." She smiled at me again.

    "Harold," I offered.

    "It may mean something very different tomorrow then, Harold. That's why I love this shirt."

    She went back to reading The New Yorker. I took the bus home.

    The therapist my mother sends me to was quick to point out that I may never see this girl again, that I failed to initiate a relationship because I did not sit and talk with her. I told him friends often drop each other quick notes or calls just to keep in touch. I pointed out that companies like Hallmark have made their empires on it. Friendship, I told him, should not be measured by the length of its conversations.

    The therapist my mother sends me to pointed out that I failed to get her number or address, so my seeing her again is subject utterly to chance. I told him that many friends go years without seeing each other or communicating at all, but remain friends. In fact, all of my mother's closest and lifelong friends are those whom she sees most infrequently. He thought the better of commenting on that point. I could tell.

    I told my therapist that as far as I'm concerned, and my concerns are the only concerns that concern me and ought to be the only concerns which concern him when he is working with me, a friend is someone with common interests, who challenges you to act outside of your routine, and whom you think of with some regularity and fondness. My concern with finding a friend was the only concern I came to him with. This girl and I meet all of these criteria to my mind. We both watch people. She got me to alter my Friday afternoon routine. She will think of me when she wears that shirt because I spoke to her, and I will think of her at the library because she spoke to me. This girl and I, I told my therapist, are friends.

    The therapist my mother sends me to told me this girl could not be my friend because I do not even know her name.

    I took a taxi home and thought about my first friend.

    29 August 2006

    I Have Lost an Idea

    All last week I was plagued with a recurring nightmare.

    The first evening of the nightmare, I had been listening to Joni Mitchell’s Blue album. I am quite fond of this album; my mother detests it as my penchant for eras I never experienced. As I listened, my ear caught a particular line.

    When I think of your kisses, my mind see-saws.

    That lyric rang out so clearly to my ears that evening in a way it had never done before. I think it was all the more particular to my mind because I had, up until that moment in the lounge, believed the line to be –

    When I think of your kisses, my mind sees stars.

    After hearing this line for the first time, for what it is, I also had the first occurrence of my nightmare.

    I am unaccustomed to fitful sleep. I have always, as a rule, enjoyed the average eight hours of sleep each evening. I have, over the years, developed something of a bedtime ritual. I begin by taking a hot shower, making sure to both shampoo and condition my hair. I take extra care to lather my underarms as I am disgusted by my armpit's ability to accumulate deodorant clumps; these small white masses have a manner of metastasizing and becoming hopelessly bonded to my underarm hair. I typically pee in the shower as well; in truth, I feel as if I have skipped a step on those evenings when I do not need to. I also brush my teeth in the shower, but more for convenience than a sense of habit. Unlike with urinating, I would still feel a sense of completion if I were to brush my teeth out of sequence.

    This ritual is important to me because I enjoy the feel of clean sheets as I fall asleep. The highlight of travel with my mother is hotel sheets. They are always pristine, crisp, and industrially clean. Taking a shower just before bed helps me to keep my sheets as fresh as possible.

    The therapist my mother sends me to asked why I don't simply change my sheets daily. I told my therapist that I have been banned from approaching the laundry machine after an incident with a number of mother's table linens and gelatin. I told my therapist that I have also been banned from making undue work requests from our housemaid because, as mother describes her, she is an unfortunately constructed woman on the brink of the lower class. I told my therapist that, in light of my mother's edicts, I thought it wise to limit myself to changing my bed linens only once a week until such time as we have a more sightly housemaid.

    In the meantime, I explained, I recognize my evening bathing ritual.

    On the night of Blue anew, I was able to complete my bathing ritual, but was distracted by a lingering sense of shock.

    The therapist my mother sends me to asked me what was so shocking about the shift from seeing stars to see-saws. I told him that it likely made quite a difference to an astronomer or a child.

    Each night I would wake from my nightmare entirely dampened. I would refer to it as having a cold sweat except that there was nothing cold about it. I would wake each night in such a humid state that I would need to get out of bed and stand with my limbs akimbo and swinging to cool myself. My hair along the scalp would be wet, giving my hair an athlete's volume as he breaks a sweat. The back of my pajamas would feel thin as the fabric clung to my skin. Worst of all, there would be a damp imprint on my linens and pillow as if a great anthropomorphic sponge had been laid and pressed onto my bed.

    The therapist my mother sends me to asked me to describe what happens in the nightmare. I told him that I wasn't upset about the nightmare. I was upset about the state of my bed after the nightmare. I asked him if he knew of any methods to make the effects of nightmares less destructive on one's laundry and linens; after all, I am uncertain of what brought on this recurrent nightmare, but I would like to be prepared if it is to recur again. He told me that it would be necessary to analyze the contents of the nightmare if I was ever to understand why it caused me such troubled sleep. To sleep, he said. To sleep, perchance to dream. Aye there's the rub.

    I reminded my therapist that Hamlet was speaking of death, not nightmares. In any case, I failed to see how discussing the electrical impulses of my brain would prevent them from causing such violent sweating.

    We spent the rest of the session identifying Rorschach blotches.

    I have always loved Joni Mitchell's Blue. I have loved it from the first time I came across the record at a small flea market near a farmer's market where my mother was searching for a particular type of honey that is meant to bring renewed luster to the skin. But, more to the point, I have always understood what I meant in saying that I loved Joni Mitchell's Blue.

    I have loved Joni Mitchell's Blue the same way I have loved funeral processions, loved the smell of tension in a room after the meeting of a deadline, loved Magritte's Empire of Light, loved cornbread. For each of these things, I have enjoyed their strengths and weaknesses, neither celebrating those things that made them superior nor castigating those things that made them inferior. What is the good of emphasizing that perfect way that cornbread absorbs butter, only to turn about and criticize the way it disintegrates at the slightest nudge? These are both characteristics of cornbread and, so, reasons to love cornbread.

    I have always comfortably loved things because of their entirety. Perhaps this is why there are so few people whom I love, the proclivities of people being so less suited for balance. Their motives and abilities are so much more difficult to understand, to even ascertain.

    But this shift from

    When I think of your kisses, my mind sees stars


    When I think of your kisses, my mind see-saws

    changes everything about loving.

    See-saws are unstable. It is their nature. If the mind see-saws, it becomes this teetering thing, capable of anything. Kisses may lead to laughter, to embitterment. It would all depend on the weight of the players on either end. And what of days when a player has had a large lunch?

    The therapist my mother sends me to told me that my interest in this lyrical shift is merely a diversion. I asked him what he felt I was trying to divert attention from. My therapist told me that that was precisely the question he wanted me to answer.

    I think the therapist my mother sends me to may be something of a lazy thinker.

    In my nightmare, I have finally found my friend. We are on the dirt track of a dog racing course. My friend takes the place of the rabbit on a track at dog races, but I am cemented to the starting line. As my friend races away, I am forced to watch as he slowly grows smaller with distance. Then, when he is out of sight, I must wait for him to come up again behind me. I cannot seem to even turn my head to anticipate his approach. I am forced to stare straight ahead, as if awaiting the starter’s gun, and wait for my friend to pass through my field of vision again.

    21 August 2006

    An Unreliable Narrator

    While last week I lacked imagination, this week I possess it in abundance.

    This, at least, is the position of the therapist my mother sends me to. The two of them held some sort of forum together, a parent-analyst conference. The topic of discussion: Harold’s Progress. Despite a number of protestations from my therapist, my mother assured him that her complaints regarding my progress would remain strictly beyond the confines of my therapeutic sessions; and, afterall, she was paying for these little chats.

    According to my mother, my therapist feels that I am a liar and that my inability to tell him the details of my life accurately is the only blockage between my current state and psychological wellness.

    According to my therapist, my mother is concerned with my interpretations of everyday events and that she would like our therapeutic sessions to focus on these issues for the next month or so.

    I await the pending judgment as to whether or not my previous description of their meeting qualifies as a lie or as a misinterpretation.

    In either case, the therapist my mother sends me to focused our entire session this afternoon on the nature of truthfulness. He explained to me that, in general, truthfulness is regarded as presenting an accurate representation of events or beliefs to another. He added that there are, of course, matters of perspective such as explaining one’s side in an argument. However, beyond these exceptions, truthful representations of events is generally an easily agreed upon matter. I asked how, then, truthfulness is to be determined in the case of arguments. The therapist my mother sends me to said that I shouldn't focus on these exceptional cases. But, I told him, disagreements are a fairly common exception.

    I am fairly certain that the therapist my mother sends me to ended our exception with a request to continue this line of questioning with my mother; it was hard to be sure as he muttered to himself and made a note in my file.

    Getting back to the point, my therapist began again, truthfulness is an easy state to achieve. As a simple demonstration, he asked me to describe his desk.

    I have spent many hours examining the desk of the therapist my mother sends me to. There is no couch or comfortable armchair. There is a moderately uncomfortable mahogany colored chair for the patient that sits just out of arm's reach of the desk's edge. This distance has always made examining the details of smaller or obliquely-angled objects more difficult. I began my description.

    The desk is sturdy and broad, made of a real, dark wood, I told him. All of its legs have been raised by several inches by lifts, giving the desk a more authoritative presence in the room. The high back, burgundy leather chair is also elevated to its maximum height, a fact that is evidenced by its slow but audible exhale when my therapist sits down. Together, the effect is to make my therapist seem more ominous and established presence at his desk than when meeting him standing up.

    The therapist my mother sends me to interrupted me, instructing me to actually describe the desk. For instance, he suggested, what was on his desktop.

    Beginning again, I described the landscape of the desk's surface. A computer monitor sat at a forty-five degree angle on the left corner of the surface. The screensaver was always running its photo slideshow whenever I had been in his office, but I had noticed that all of the images were of famous works of art. Also, I added, these images were all clearly labeled Christie's and, therefore, downloaded from the internet. At the opposite corner of the desk is my therapist's coffee mug. I have never seen him drink from it, but it is a fixture of the desk landscape. It is a glass mug with the emblem of the American Psychological Association etched into it.

    The therapist my mother sends me to let his pen drop onto the desktop and began to rub his temples. Despite my best efforts to describe his desk, my therapist informed me that he has a simple mahogany desk set with a computer monitor, papers, and coffee sitting on it. I asked if it shouldn't be 'setting' on it, but he did not answer. He told me that my muddled description of his desk was untruthful because it was made up almost entirely on my own conjecture and contained very little fact.

    I told him I think we have different understandings of what it means to be truthful. He asked if I thought it was possible to have different meanings of truthful. I told him I obviously did believe it was possible because I believe it is the case between us. The therapist my mother sends me to only sighed and motioned for me to continue.

    I told him that I believe that truthfulness can be in seeing the meaning in things without regard for their labels. By way of example, I asked my therapist if he had ever read the poem Ballad of Orange and Grape by Muriel Rukeyser. He said he had not. This, I told him was likely the reason why we have different understandings of what it means to be truthful.

    My therapist said that truthfulness is not decided by poetry, but by accuracy. My description of his desk was untruthful because it was laden with all of my interpretations and assumptions about him, giving an outside listener a wrong understanding of his desk. His own description, on the other hand, was accurate and factual, detailing the objects on and around his desk so that any man on the street might recognize this office from a photo array. His description was truthful because it was specific and unbiased; my description was untruthful because it was vague and subjective.

    I mentioned that my description in no way implied some sort of conscious effort, that I was in no way suggesting that he had consciously tried to make his office communicate these sorts of messages. The therapist my mother sends me to told me that all this had been enough for the day and said he would see me next week.

    I still do not understand what was wrong with my description. Why is it untruthful when the desk of a therapist, a healer, is designed to bolster only the man who sits behind it and not the one who sits before it? Why is it truthful to describe the objects in the office, which are not particularly dissimilar from any other office in the world, without giving notice to those aspects of the office which make them uniquely owned?

    The therapist my mother sends me to has implied that there is something wrong with the way I see the world. This is precisely why my mother sent me to him in the first place. It would appear I've made little to no progress over these many months. At least my therapist already has a topic to discuss at the next progress meeting.

    I still believe a friend would help, a friend who believes in the difference between orange and grape.

    Ballad of Orange and Grape
    Muriel Rukeyser
    After you finish your work
    after you do your day
    after you've read your reading
    after you've written your say -
    you go down the street to the hot dog stand,
    one block down and across the way.
    On a blistering afternoon in East Harlem in the twentieth century.
    Most of the windows are boarded up,
    the rats run out of a sack -
    sticking out of the crummy garage
    one shiny long Cadillac;
    at the glass door of the drug-addiction center,
    a man who'd like to break your back.
    But here's a brown woman with a little girl dressed in rose and pink, too.
    Frankfurters frankfurters sizzle on the steel
    where the hot-dog-man leans -
    nothing else on the counter
    but the usual two machines,
    the grape one, empty, and the orange one, empty,
    I face him in between.
    A black boy comes along, looks at the hot dogs, goes on walking.
    I watch the man as he stands and pours
    in the familiar shape
    bright purple in the one marked ORANGE,
    orange in the one marked GRAPE,
    the grape drink in the machine marked ORANGE
    and orange drink in the GRAPE
    Just the one word large and clear, unmistakable, on each machine.

    I ask him: How can we go on reading
    and make sense out of what we read? -
    How can they write and believe what they're writing,
    the young ones across the street,
    while you go on pouring grape into ORANGE
    and orange into the one marked GRAPE - ?
    (How are we going to believe what we read and we write and we hear and we say and we do?)
    He looks at the two machines and he smiles
    and he shrugs and smiles and pours again.
    It could be violence and nonviolence
    it could be white and black women and men
    it could be war and peace or any
    binary system, love and hate, enemy, friend.
    Yes and no, be and not-be, what we do and what we don't do.
    On a corner in East Harlem
    garbage, reading, a deep smile, rape,
    forgetfulness, a hot street of murder,
    misery, withered hope,
    a man keeps pouring grape into ORANGE
    and orange into the one marked GRAPE,
    pouring orange into GRAPE and grape into ORANGE forever.