The Floating Future


I have been making a daily schedule to try to force myself into discipline. It’s sort of working. I think that if I just keep at it, slowly I will build a daily structure, and suddenly my future, the second half of my life, doesn’t look so confusing, foggy, possibly pointless, floating. The prospect of developing a routine makes me feel that going forward, my daily life can be more grounded, steady, even meaningful: I have work to do and a formula for doing it. There is always the task at hand to attend to.

If I can just keep this fact in front of me.

Maybe I think that if I plan myself out, then I will have to follow the plan. I often enjoy making the plan but have no interest in practicing it.

I am trying to make money, to write, to fill my days. Each day feels like a stretch of empty sand, a desert. A swallowing sky. Am I moving in the wrong direction? Am I even moving? Each day looks entropic, featureless, empty of interpretable information.

I think like Sarah Manguso, I worry that if I don’t write it down, it won’t ever have existed, and this fills me with dread.

I just finished reading Manguso’s Ongoingness. It is a good example for me: clean, spare, light-of-touch: her theories of time aren’t locked up in thick knots of science and philosophy as I tend to tangle, and therefore aren’t sophist, but entirely authentic, experiential, natural outgrowths of the narrative moment as it unfolds.

Manguso writes, “I no longer believe in anything other than the middle.” Even if only in this version of the universe, it is true that time just keeps going. We are entirely timebound creatures, determined by the relentlessness of the temporal dimension.

In disregarding the prerogatives of either capital or “progress,” I am only pretending to disregard time. What I end up disregarding is just any kind of follow-through: I am stuck in the unresolvable present moment.

I think the mistake I am making is to expect from myself some kind of ordered agency. Time will use its instruments–capital, progress–to roll through its sine-curve of destruction and construction: I can only ride the waves. I can try to ride the waves.

I’m jumping off the other end. I’m done. I’m about to begin again. I don’t understand it, but I live inside it, and so abide by it, whatever it is. This whole thing. This itness that is everything and nothing. The present moment.

I’m trying to wake up. I’m on the other side and I might never resurface. I might be stuck here, unsure as ever how to flip things into action. Just waiting. Trying to sit it out. Trying to join in. I am all fluster and din.

I am nothing again and again. But that’s a sleight of hand. I am fine, I am everything, and more. I have money to live, I am supported. So nobody reads me, I still care, just barely, in this tormented way, but still. Good enough. Anything to keep me engaged.

I rely on beer and pot to relieve the aching neurosis at the heart of my predicament. I have to face this thing. I have to wait out the discomfort, the utter emptiness that I feel when I am trying to make my way through each day. Even the small decisions are unmakeable. It’s a certain kind of paralysis, coupled with dread.

Get a job, you lazy bum! I cry desperately. Don’t be such an idiot! Make a decision! Be a grown-up! Now that I am halfway to 90, it feels too late.

This is nothing but feeling foolish, seeing myself coming up short. But that, of course, is the lesson: to put up with feelings of failure and yet persist. To feel foolish, humiliated. When such extremity is not even called for! Who cares if I am foolish to the world, to anyone? Only that I am foolish to myself.

Notwithstanding such setbacks: am I moving in this direction? Am I moving, or standing still? Am I awake or dreaming, acting or only fitfully watching? I am clearly only fitfully watching. But I’m scanning for the path out.

The path out might have something to do with narrative, a kind of temporal skeleton. Narrative is what grabs people by the gut, what makes the writing worth spending time with. Because, of course, narrative is our mechanism for making meaning in time. As philosopher Paul Ricoeur puts it, “speculation on time is an inconclusive rumination to which narrative activity alone can respond.”

Somehow, despite the spareness of detail in her book, Manguso manages a narrative: of motherhood, of writerhood, what have you. Narrative is what I lack in my endless empty days: a story I am telling myself, a vision of how my life is or should be unfolding.

I’ve always thought that time is our respite, the blessing of an end. We both fear and desire death: in the words of critic Peter Brooks, “what we seek in narrative fictions is that knowledge of death which is denied to us in our own lives: the death that writes finis to the life and therefore confers on it its meaning.”  What else is apocalypticism? Let it roar through us, burn us down, this vital energy.

We have no choice. Time keeps up its certain pace. We are dry leaves on a ragged wind.