What I Did the Day After The Essay I Had Promised to the First Publication to Offer to Print My Words on Actual Paper Was Supposedly Due

…Or, Writer’s Block, College Admissions, Migraine Headaches and The Music Indsutry

1:00 a.m. Give up on the words that are blurring in front of me. Give up on the simple words I’ve tried to read and write to coax myself into reading and writing more complicated ones. Give in to desire for martini that’s been nagging for the better part of an hour. Remember one time something was due and unwritten that I drank a martini and magically wrote it in an hour. Decide a martini is the way to go. Martini will evaporate crippling anxiety that is preventing writing of any kind.

1:04 a.m. Mix martini and sit on floor of hallway that connects my room to R.’s, loosening brain and tongue with idle conversation as we have been doing for the last thirteen years.

3:30 a.m. One and a half martinis and half a bagel with cream cheese later, crippling anxiety is evaporated, but so is verbal ability. Go to sleep with shades open, to take advantage of sun as alarm clock.

10:40 a.m. Awaken refreshed, normal knot of anxiety in stomach (today is the day I must write magnum opus and solve all financial problems so I do not die of bleeding ulcer or stress-related aneurysm!) pleasantly replaced by slight hangover, in stomach only. Alcohol is murder on the stomach. It must eat the lining away or something.

10:45 a.m. Espresso. Accidentally let the cat out of espresso shop as I open door. The cat is black and it does indeed cross my path.

11:00 Eat other half of last night’s bagel with cream cheese, kiwi, orange juice. Refresh yerba mate in gourd I am curing, a gift from R.’s trip to Uruguay. In the last month, I have received both coca tea and yerba mate from South America. Drinking the coca tea constantly and yet sparingly, using each tea bag three times, I have achieved new heights of energy and lost some of the holiday-lethargy bulge. More energy, however, leads to more anxiety and compulsion. By combining my coca tea regimen with a yerba mate regimen, in addition to the daily espresso and nightly green tea, I expect to become super-charged, or have a nervous breakdown.

11:25 a.m. Despite promises to “get immediately to it,” become distracted compiling a list of ideal SAT-prep materials for use in imaginary highly regimented and web based SAT tutoring program I have yet to design or implement. Current SAT prep methods consist of going to kids’ houses, assigning them sections and problems from old exams while advising them to try carefully calibrated combinations of guessing and skipping to achieve maximum score, and then admonishing them gently but firmly for not doing them, while handing them thrice-Xeroxed New Yorker reviews of WB shows to build their reading stamina with complex sentences, which they actually do read. Future SAT prep methods will involve careful internet surveillence of students using their Instant Messaging handles, personalized high-level reading packets compiled from my Complete New Yorker DVD-ROM set, and complicated charts and graphs of their progress I will generate in Microsoft Excel to impress their parents. These charts and graphs, combined with my resolution to stop wearing t-shirts and ridiculous hats to tutoring appointments, will justify my New Exhorbitant Rates, which will in turn justify my new exhorbitant wardrobe, and new exhorbitant health insurance.

12:00 p.m. Time for my Total Shower. I simply cannot write any essay of any kind until I have had a Total Shower. A total shower involves every product in the bathroom and every part of the body.

12:35 Total Shower is complete. Every part of me has been approrpriately scrubbed and treated, but while acrobatically shaving my legs, I have made a terrible discovery. I have these weird visible veins on the back of my left thigh. They aren’t, like, sticking out (God forbid!), but they are kind of purplish-reddish, like the veins on an alcoholic’s nose. I believe they are called “spider veins.” My mom has them on her otherwise unchanged-since-the-age-of-30 legs, but I thought they were from pregnancy or some other bodily trauma one can inflict upon oneself when one is done being young. I didn’t know they could just sneak up on me like this! I’m not done being young! Are they from crossing my legs? Walking? Thinking evil thoughts? Oh, God. This is so horrible. I don’t want to age. I don’t want to die. Is there an afterlife? Then how come nobody ever, ever contacts us from it? We say we can feel people from the afterlife, but really, it’s pretty vague. I’ve dreamt of dead people, but isn’t that just me imagining them? Why is the barrier so impenetrable between this life and the next? Or is it more permeable than we think? I haven’t felt its permeability in so long, but then, I haven’t taken any hallucinogens in so long, either. Or maybe I should just meditate more, and then I will know the afterlife without the anxiety or nausea. But maybe it’s all that cross-legged meditating that gave me these spider veins in the first place, which are now giving me this existential anxiety and fear of death. What is the problem and what is the solution? Sometimes it’s very hard to tell.

12:40 p.m. Resolve to wear mascara every day.

1:00 p.m. Write other things (like this meditation on my own neurosis), besides the things I’m supposed to be writing (meditations on our society’s neurosis).

1:25 p.m. Lunchtime. Reheat gingered kale and tofu from last night, with some leftover polenta and avocado. Soak some feta in olive oil and enjoy with walnuts. Finish off with a grapefruit with some honey and some 78% dark chocolate. Nutritious and delicious!

2:02 p.m. Now that I am fed, washed, clothes and twice-caffienated, now I can get right down to it.

2:03 p.m. Google “adult undiagnosed ADD”.

3:37 p.m. It occurs to me that I am drowning in words. Words are the building blocks of my whole existence. I write to live and live to write. My whole life is built around reading and writing, carving out the time to do it, entering the world through it. I carry a notebook everywhere I go. As soon as a student is engrossed in a math problem, I open it, write in it. Something happens and I write it down. I overhear an amusing conversation and I write it down. My walks in the city are organized by the locations of bookstores. I can hit two or three in one day. I keep meticulous lists of books I’ve read, books I’m going to read, books I want to buy, books I’ve lost and need to replace. My most frequent recurring nightmare is that I’m in a bookstore and I’m going blind. My mother says that when I was a kid she’d have to drag me across the street because I’d be reading a scrap of newspaper floating in a puddle. If I sit down to eat alone, it’s always with reading material propped in front of me. I don’t leave the house without something to read. I don’t go to the bathroom without something to read. I’ve had glasses since I was eight and been legally blind in both eyes since I was ten, and still I squint away for hours a day at tiny letters on a page.

The world is kind to my addiction. Bibliophiles enjoy an exalted status, far above movie lovers or videogame afficionados. There are box book superstores to oblige our every whim, internet book-shipping services awaiting our orders. (It is my most treasured dream that I will one day be solvent enough to sign up for “Amazon 1-click,” and no longer have to compulsively rearrange the items in my shopping cart to fit my budget. Instead, I will click once and books will arrive at my doorstep.) The Brooklyn Public Library allows me to demand that any book be sent to the local branch library across the street, sends me emails when they arrive. There is a row of fifty books behind this very computer, a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with fiction, a hundred or more academic books stacked on the floor and more than a dozen books I’m “currently reading” piled on the nightstand. And that doesn’t include the weekly allotment of the New Yorker, the Sunday Times, Harper’s and various sundry periodicals. Not to mention the not-exactly-printed words of the internet, the endless Googling, the information gluttony of Wikipedia, the articles and essays and columns and stories and of course, the blogs.

No wonder I feel as if I’m always behind on my reading.

And there’s no reason for me to even read, because if I’m not reading, I’m writing. I could be marooned on a desert island and not lack for reading material, as I could scratch notes in the sand with a stick in the morning and read them over in the afternoon until the tide came to wash them away. “I think that howler monkey hates me. This coconut reminds me of a feeling of lonliness I had as a child. Essay (?) Collapsed dichotomy: the fantasy of escape and the nightmare of abandonment. Silliness of palm trees.” I make notes, I write things down, and so, too, am I always behind on my writing.

I don’t mean for you to think that I’m well-informed, or knowledgeable, or that my vast amount of reading material is anything I’m proud of. Quite the opposite. I’m an addict. My eyes must flick from left to right across and eight-inch page, my brain must fill with words, and these words must come out in a different order on another page, or I will cease to exist. Or maybe it’s the other way around? Maybe I am not devouring the words, maybe the words are not so much my fuel as I am theirs.

No wonder I am so bad at meditating. No wonder I have spider veins.

4:35 p.m. Some of the people you used to know can be found immediately on the internet, and some of them cannot.

4:55 p.m. Is ten minutes to five the time I told myself I should leave to arrive in the West Village at 5:30, or the time I should start to leave? Is that the clock I set five minutes fast so I would be tricked into being on time? Or five minutes slow so I would be so paranoid about being late I’d be tricked into assuming the clock is ten minutes slow? Am I early? Am I late? What is time?

5:30 p.m. My student, a shy, serious, awkward eleventh-grader with radical politics and an oddly formal way about his speaking and writing, has decided he wishes to attend a very prestigious university. For some reason, his test scores are quite low and belie his actually extremely collegiete intellect and manner. Possible reasons for this include that he doesn’t really study, doesn’t listen to me when I explain how to do things, might have some undiagnosed visual or auditory processing disorder (not to be confused with obstinate laziness), or in typical teenaged fashion, is so mortified that this arcane skill does not come easily to him that he has yet to admit to himself that he actually needs to study. I try to gently explain to a student that you can only go to very prestigious universities if you are a huge, giant, superhuman, perfectionistic-to-the-point-of-being-suicidal grademonger with near-perfect SATs, and he, both fortunately and unfortunately, is not.

The college admissions process has become subject to a horrible form of inflation in both competitiveness and capital. Schools that were safety schools of elite students ten years ago when I was applying are now “reaches” for those students. The cost of tuition has nosed up from $30,000 a year to $40,000. I work for families with college funds squirrelled away somewhere, families willing and able to provide their kids with $160,000 educations. Most of the kids I work with are average-to-above average students. Having been one of those perfectionistic, nearly-suicidal grademongers myself, having gone to one of those impossible, expensive schools (a complicated experience as a result of which yes, minds were opened, and yes, doors have opened, but wasn’t worth the enormous cost of anxiety, money and what I now realize could have been my childhood), I assume that there are plenty of colleges to attend if you are not the snot-nose I was. There aren’t. The minimum score on the SATs is 200 in one section. The maximum score is 800. That would make the middle around 500. If you get a 500 on every section of the SAT and you come from New York City, your choices are severely limited. Your parents will be hard-pressed to find a satisfactory school they can pay $160,000 to send you to, where you can drink on their dime for four years.

That’s where I come in. I’m supposed to motivate (that means, wheedle, cajole, force, frighten, sweet-talk and otherwise maniuplate) resistent teenagers into working their asses off toward a vague goal they have little interest in achieving. Oh, they want to go to fancy colleges and are hurt and angry that it’s not an easy road. But they don’t want to be who they need to be to get in, which is not exactly a well-rounded scholar-athelete who cares about the world. It’s a sniveling, antisocial perfectionist who stays in Friday night learning obscure vocabulary words, who is also a well-rounded scholar-athelete who gives the impression of caring about the world.

I know it’s not like this everywhere. I know New York City is a sick, competitive bubble where people fight like dogs for commodities–restaurant reservations, movie seats, spouses–that are readily obtainable elsewhere. It’s only because New York City is what it is that I can live here. It’s most ironic, really. It’s the worry, anxiety and ruthless competition that I so bemoan, and it’s the worry, anxiety and ruthless competition that makes my life possible. In a city where most people struggle more than any other, I can survive (and by survive I mean share a 500-square-foot apartment with one other person by turning the living room into her bedroom and keeping a couch in mine) and some months even thrive (and by thrive I mean go out to dinner and save several hundred dollars at a time) here like the parasite I am when anywhere else I’d be a financially dead little social pathogen. I’m like a weird species that can only live in the climate of New York City. Anywhere else I’d be working 40 hours a week, making phone calls at the command of a middle-aged parent of two. Only in New York are parents so terrified of failure–their own and their child’s–that they will pay me as much as they do without batting an eye. The price I pay is that I’m doomed to repeat my high school experience over and over and over again. It’s like a horrible nightmare in which I’m forced to use average-scoring proxies to try to reproduce my own freakish test results.

The joke is, all of these so-called “average” students are really quite brilliant. They have interesting things to say about almost everything. The SAT doesn’t measure this, doesn’t really measure anything except if you can be frightened into paying attention to something boring for 3 hours and 45 minutes, which, come to think of it, is a perfect prerequisite for life maybe not in, but after college. It’s almost like a lottery, because there has to be some way to pick out a fraction of an applicant pool to receive the honor of buying a piece of paper for the cost of a medium-sized house.

7:10 Leave tutoring unusually exhausted. Why should these teenagers listen to me? Why should they work so hard at something that doesn’t come easily to them, that they don’t love? Why shouldn’t they bubble in their answer sheets so they spell out “FUCK YOU”? If I had it to do over again, I’d probably do that. And then I find myself unfairly agitated with them, agitated that they expect to reap rewards for work they’re too lazy to do. There is something about resenting teenagers tied up in the American consciousness. There is no more villified, fetishized demographic on earth than the American teenager. Most days I have endless empathy and patience, I am their ally, the good fairy on their shoulders, the life coach they both hate and love and somewhat trust. But on bad days I am annoyed, I think horrifying, adult thoughts. “Life is tough! Get used to it! It’s not all fun and games! Life is work!”

7:30 p.m. I have a full-on migrane headache. It feels as if a stake is being driven into my right eye, another into my right temple and a third into the bump on the right side at the base of my skull. They meet together at an intersecting point in my brain and that point is the epicenter of al pain in the universe.

So I go to a loud rock and roll show.

My brother’s friend, who became my friend when we all took a road trip in Northern California together in the summer of 2003, has started a band. In addition to starting a band, he has started a record label and a distribution company. I’m not quite sure of all the details, but in a Dave Eggers/McSweeney’s-esque way he has begun a process of self-promotion that could, if all goes well, end in personal success and indie art-promotion bliss. He is independently wealthy and has been able to make his band’s first record with a number of trappings unavailable to first-time bands, like producers and unlimited studio time and dramatic hirings and firings of drummers.

This evening the record label (which is really just the band) is holding a showcase in a recording studio somewhere in Chelsea. In a black box of a room, they are playing to several dozen people, a mix of hipsters and the middle-aged men who try to discern what they like.

Genre descriptions mean nothing to me, but if I were to take a stab, I’d say they sound like U2, but less anthemic. Like Pink Floyd, but more energetic. Like Led Zepplin, but coming down from acid. I don’t know. They are loud. They are fast. The songs are long. I hear that on their album there are more electronic elements, but in person, they are a rock and roll band. Music is so entropic these days I’m almost terrified to say anything about it. I listen to things people put on and either I feel like having an orgasmic crying jag, jumping off a bridge, plugging my ears or continuing to read The New Yorker. I love music, I love rock and roll, I believe that music, especially live music, is the most powerful tool of emotion and liberation available to us and anyone who lets music take a secondary position in their life has let living take a secondary position in their life, but I hesitate to engage with music beyond the momentary experience of listening to it. Reading and writing about music is incredibly boring and unsatisfying to me. Reading and writing about what happens where music is played and among people who play it is another story, but finding the exact combination of [other band’s name] on [drug] to describe something new depresses me.

From what I could hear through my migrane stupor, the band was radio-ready. But what interested me the most were the two videos they had made, which were projected on a screen after their set. The front man of the band knows several people in the movie industry, including a girl I once met a paella party he threw, who shot the two videos. This girl is no joke. She has shot for this band two full-length totally professional MTV-ready videos, one of which stars Domonique Swain, a bonafide movie actress (she played Lolita in the contreversial remake of Lolita). She is also someone’s friend’s cousin.

What fascinated me about these videos is that they were perfect executions of the entire vocabulary of the music video. The band plays unplugged instruments in a desert while the camera pans in full 360. The band is frozen in time while a single leaf continues to blow. Domonique Swain, a little older and less Lolita-like, is nonetheless dressed in sexy-girly clothes and flirts with the bandmemebers, an intergalatic group of space travellers who stop off at a desert supermarket to buy milk. They take Domonique Swain onto their spaceship. A painfully beautiful girl swings on a swing inside a jail cell. There are naked dancers. There are white feathers. There are strange syncopations of time with music. I’m not sure I even watched these videos with sound, and yet they had a rhythm and sound in their images.

I was never a watcher of music videos. Most of the bands I liked didn’t have them. And so I still regard them with a mix of illiteracy and enthrallment. They are, as far as I can see, pure fetishism. They are fashion layouts come to life. Leaving aside the beautiful girls, the naked male dancers, and the almost secondary images of the band themselves, whaling on instruments connected to nothing, I am still transfixed by lurid perfection of the inanimate objects in every image of the video. The milk that the intergalatic spacemen/bandmembers buy is perfect milk, and they take it from the shelf of a perfect refrigerator, which is lit in perfect, greenish, dream-supermarket light. The leaves that blow away from the ground to reveal a beautiful girl (or do they reveal dust?) are perfect leaves. The feathers on the skirt of the girl on the swing in the jail cell are perfectly white and perfectly soft-focused.

I predict their album will sell.

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