I have felt all weekend like Old Ryan again, and in the worst possible way. I don’t know what has made me feel this way because I can’t particularly think of anything that would. I sedated myself last night to go to sleep, and slept for many hours . . . probably thirteen hours, which is the longest I’ve slept in six months or more. And I got up and finished IVAN’S CHILDHOOD, which I had started at midnight the night before, and had got too depressed to finish. It ends on a huge down note you can see coming a mile away, though it was no less decimating to bear witness to. It was a strange thing to experience in daylight. Afterwards I immediately fell asleep again in my sleeping bag on the couch. I had been awake for probably an hour and half total at that point. I awoke again at five and had meant to take BART into San Francisco to see WINGS OF DESIRE with my friends, but my head hurt and my body hurt and I felt rotten as hell all around, so I stayed home. From then until eight I have no idea what I did, probably just stared at the wall . . . but I fell into a sort of half-sleep again under the glow of purple lights in my freezing apartment. I had dark and dreamless sleep. I woke up to my phone ringing. It was friend my Bethany calling me from Savannah. This was surprising to me only because Bethany had never called me before.

Bethany was in an echoey room and sounded a little drunk. She said, “Sorry, I’m a little intoxicated in this cowboy bar in Savannah.” I said, “That’s all right with me, Bethany.” And she described the bar and told me she was considering throwing up in order to make herself feel better, which I told her she should do. She said she had forgotten how to do it. I said, “Just stick your middle and ring fingers down your throat and slosh them around a little until you hit that magic spot that makes you vomit.” It had always worked for me, anyway. But then she had a change of heart and we got to talking.

I asked Bethany what had prompted her to call me, and she said it had actually been her friend Chloe who had called. I like Bethany and I like Chloe. They’re sincere people. But why had Chloe got a hold of Bethany’s phone just to call me, of all people? And Bethany said something about how I had come up in a conversation that night and they missed me and wanted to talk to me. Well, that was a nice thing to hear on account of my having experienced this rotten day that had not yet ended. Somehow in the middle of all of this she managed to get to the parking lot where her roommates were smoking, including Chloe, and they passed the phone around and I spoke to all of them. She put her roommate Cal on and Cal told me to come to Savannah, and I said I would. And Chloe and Bethany said the same, and that they loved me, and I said I loved them too, and on and on. It was a nice thing. So now it’s three in the morning and I feel worse than death and I’m looking at plane tickets to Savannah.

What’s strange is that I had written Bethany a letter today because she had told me some time ago that something like that would make her feel better. So for her to call me on that very same day was as unsurprising to me as it was surprising. This sort of thing happens to me all the time. I’ll think about someone, usually because I miss them, and then they reappear in my life hours later. I can probably think of a dozen such things that have happened to me in the last six months, and hundreds before that. This is what we in the business call a PLATE OF SHRIMP moment:

If you are open to such ways of thinking, it is of course easier to spot things like this. I ain’t saying it’s necessarily SOMETHING, but it’s not nothing either.

Somehow our conversation continued until she got home. And then she set the phone down on her bathroom counter and she took a shower and we kept talking. Chloe came in at one point and told me she was going to A Boy’s House, and I told her that he wasn’t allowed to be mean to her, and on and on, and then I got off the phone too, and went back to feeling like a big worthless pile of vampire feces again, AS IS MY WONT.

The awful thing about me, the thing that is bone-deep wrong with me, and which can never be got rid of—is that it waxes and wanes like this. I guess I can chalk it up to that anyway. It is of little comfort to realize this, but then again it’s an explanation at the very least. The question is, as it always is


It is true also that I can’t get rid of this dreamlike feeling. I don’t know that it was ever fun, feeling as though I’m in a dream, but it is less fun now than it’s ever been before. What’s worse is that this time it’s something of a twin dream that I am experiencing simultaneously, like two realities overlaid atop one another. I don’t know how you live like that and not feel at least a little bit insane.

In one dream I am in Oakland, where I have lived for nearly a decade. I live alone in a one-bedroom apartment next to Lake Merritt. For the most part, almost nothing is fundamentally wrong with my life other than this looming dread and uncertainty about the world at large, which is beyond my control yet nonetheless lives in the periphery of my mind. I go on walks and watch a lot of movies. I read books and write trash. Sometimes I go to the Wolfhound or Ruby Room like I always have, and I feel all right.

In another dream, I am back in self-exile in Virginia, where I got stranded for nine hateful months. When I was there, I began to grow increasingly despondent and hopeless and figured I would never get back to California despite it being my singular mission to do so. I lived in a condo devoid of any comfort, and which had little furniture. I slept on the floor till two in the afternoon and made breakfast at three, and took baths and read books, and then at night I would walk many miles in the dark through what felt like an abandoned amusement park of my old life there which had been dead for over a decade. When I got home, I’d take an edible and watch a movie. I performed this same empty ritual hundreds of times.

My only friends were a goth girl named Caroline who was a barista at the coffeeshop I went to pretty much every day, and Bethany, who lived in Fredericksburg. The goth girl came along on some of my nighttime walks and one time she even bought me dinner when I was at sort of deep dark low point. Maybe she could smell it on me. And sometimes I would drive to Fredericksburg to hang out with Bethany and her friends, and smoke on top of this parking garage downtown . . . and once we even drove down to Richmond together and got drunk at this outdoor bar. It was the most exciting thing that had happened to me in six months.

But every night I was alone. I missed my friends in California but I felt powerless to get back to them. And though I was not happy, when I think about it now, there was a sort of airtight certainty to living there, that every day would be the same, that things would mostly be neutral, as though I were floating in lukewarm bathwater, and that in all likelihood nothing could meaningfully hurt me. My biggest expenses were gas and coffee, because driving around at sundown with a cup of gas station coffee was the one thing that really made me feel good. Sometimes I would drive around the rural parts where I had grown up, and I would pick out places where they could shove me into the ground once I finally died, thinking there was no escape. I came to accept that maybe that was my fate. It was a childish thought, but I kept on thinking it because there was no one else around to roll their eyes at me.

Somehow I got out. It just happened one day. Yet now I don’t exactly know how it happened because it happened so quickly. What has contributed to the strangeness of this feeling I have, and why I can’t shake the fact that I am still dreaming this life while asleep in Virginia, is that I can’t remember how I got back to California. In a dream, you always appear in the middle of it. You can’t remember when the dream began, or how you arrived in that place and at the point in time. I still feel like I’m in the middle of it. That’s why I feel so crazy.

To wit:

Tonight I went driving around the lake and I still had that dreamlike feeling. Outside it was raining. I had no idea it was going to rain tonight. In California, you sort of always have an idea when it’s coming, what with there being so little of it. It was cold out and I was listening to Elvis, and I turned on the heat and the windshield wipers, and I branched off the lake and drove up and down Broadway to see what it was all about. I was alone and it was nighttime and I was driving a car. That was one of the good parts about Old Ryan. I used to do that all the time with the Doomsmobile and the Datsun, and now I was doing it again after two years of pandemic isolation and sadness. But because I am incapable of ever allowing myself to feel joy, I did a thing McCune and I call “looking behind the furniture.”

Sometimes when I get too stoned, I will leave my reveries, or else am pushed out of them, and then I start looking behind the furniture. You never want to do this. You pull the dresser away from the wall, and god only knows what’s hiding back there, or what’s going to crawl out. It is best to sleep upon a shooting star rather than go searching through the dark places inside yourself. As anyone who has been there will tell you: in the center of it all, in the deepest layer of your mind, surrounded by blackness and lit dimly, stands the Grim Reaper. It is possible to turn away and go back, to escape that place to once again feel beautiful and sail through the stars. But sometimes you just get to lookin and a-lookin . . . and of course there is such a thing as looking too long. I know this because I have made a bad habit out of it. It is difficult for me to imagine that it hasn’t done irreversible damage.

As I drove through the rain tonight, absolutely stone-cold sober, something happened to me, like I short-circuited, and I went to that place in my mind anyway. I saw him standing there once again: the Grim Reaper. I did not feel fear, but rather a sort of tired resignation. Thing is, it’s not a question of whether or not you’ll go down . . . it’s a question of how long you can circle the drain. I was certainly in a drain-circling mood just then. I wondered at it. And because I am having an Old Ryan Weekend (in a bad way), my mind went also to that dangerous thought I sometimes have and act upon, which is to abandon my entire life, to set it on fire, and go to another city thinking that will heal me of this thing. Once it nearly killed me, as the worst decision I ever made in my entire adult life was to leave Oakland for Portland, where I had the most disastrous year of my entire life. This was all the way back in 2016, and yet still I feel wounded by it. It is one of the many things that hangs over me like a curse.

It would be foolish to act on this impulse at this point in my life. I sometimes delude myself into thinking I have nothing to lose, and thus am immune to harm, but that’s not true. Maybe in the past I was able to convince myself not to tabulate the good things I had so that it would be easier to turn my back on them and have them be swallowed up in the abyss. To do that now would be suicide. I have to reverse the curse. I hope I am able to do it because I cannot bear this feeling anymore. It’s just that every day I understand a little more and a little less, and it has left me feeling completely lost. I run the risk of coming off as self-parody here, but I really do feel completely alienated by essentially everything around me. All of this feels so gross and empty. I don’t know what any of it is anymore, or how I’m supposed to meaningfully interact with it. I can’t live without culture. Where is it? It is almost insulting to me that we’re supposed to live inside this thing like this. They have designed a world for us out of pure contempt because they think we’re total morons, and they’re not wrong. It’s just that I don’t know a place where you can go to escape it. What good would it do me to erase the thing I have here in order to be let down again someplace else? I wonder.

I have one foot in this dream, and another foot in the dream that was my lonely sleepy unreal self-exile in Virginia. It only takes me a fraction of a second to know which is the better dream. Still . . .

Outside it is still raining. It is also now four in the morning because I just realized I lost an hour to the time change. I’m going to drink some NyQuil and hope for dark and dreamless sleep. In the morning I will probably buy a round-trip ticket to Savannah. It’s the only thing that makes sense to do right now.

And now the old refrain:

Sorry, soldier: that love’s gonna have to come off. Nurse, I trust you: go ahead and put on the song that makes you lonely.