The Toll

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: This? Yeah, well, dope smoke that, motherfucker.


I want to say I’m not quite sure what I’m doing anymore. But then I’m not sure what it means to say one is doing anything anymore. The reflexes seem to be in functioning order… Be witty. Be urbane. Charm those around you, and most importantly, impress. You never know… You never know…

These are the offerings we cast into the blackness–nowadays. This is what throws us on our bellies, what we burn. This is what it means to live in a world without bubbles of air, where the social has flooded the most ad hoc recess, the most hidden pocket. Always guarded. Always poised to be poised. Always polite, lest… who the fuck knows?

Bury that scream deep in the meat.

Look, it says. Just give it to me, whatever it is it wants.

You were never good at the game–or at least you rarely count yourself as such. If you were, it would be easy. And it’s anything but. You look at them wondering that you wonder, huddling about a spark of pedestrian superiority, the glee of seeing, the one that twist smiles into cramps, like toddlers hiding in plain view. What joy there is in deception!

Bury it.

Where is the agon? The strife? What you call ‘professionalism’ is prestidigitation, the absence of personality made indicator of truth–the faux voice of no one to cement a faux view from nowhere. The winnowing of idiosyncrasies as grace. Nowhere is the mania for standardization more noiselessly sublimated than in academia.

Life has become a conflict of machines: the stochastic wave of your nature, paleolithic consciousness shooting the translucent curl, versus the deterministic demands of a metastatic bureaucracy, forever punishing you for your margins of error.

And now look at you, weeping for reasons no one would care to admit.

Shush. Shush, you fool. The belly is full. The bowel voided.

Honesty has always been an angle.

Smile for the camera. No one can pretend not to be a politician anymore.

Set a great stone before the tomb.

I like talking to addicts. I like thinking I can see further, that I have some kind of wisdom to impart. I mourn the flutter of indecision, the wary squint,  when something in my tone or vocabulary gives me away. I like learning the lingo, the names of things illegal. I like bullshitting about things that seem worth bullshitting about–though only at the time. I like to be the one that knows. I like that my life has been tragic, that I can stop strangers cold with my memories. And I find it strange, this inability to arbitrate between personas.

This is soul rotting stuff, this.

Philosophy sets you at odds with your origins as it is. It alienates and isolates you, especially when all seems convivial. Or maybe you’re ‘just-different-that-way.’ Maybe I’m ‘you-had-to-be-there’ like, all the way down.

But I doubt it.

To be a philosopher is to forever hold your tongue, watch what you say. They grow quiet around the turkey when you speak, out of forbearance, not interest or deference. They endure more than understand. They refuse more than fail to recognize your ‘expertise’–and how could they not, when it would relieve them of their humanity? To accord you authority would be to concede their right to judge and believe, to dare hold forth a world from their small corner.

How could they not despise? Lampoon your cartoonish pretension? And above all, how could they not distrust what you see?

All theory is megalomania, a crime against interpersonal proportion. Could you imagine actually telling them what you believe? That they are hapless, cretinized, duped, tyrannized by their purchase patterns, their stories, their comedians and body-mass-indices?

That they are the They? The hoi-fucking-polloi?

But then it cuts both ways, doesn’t it?  Maybe you catch a glimpse of it, now again, the lunatic scale of your defection. The inkling of undergraduate condescension–of patience.

The knowledge that you would be murdered were this any other age hangs like implicit smoke about you.

If you are young, you’re still working through the consequences of what you are becoming. You still resent. You still primp and preen, declaim before make-shift worlds. You can still taste the transformation of frustrated pride into ingrown loathing. If you are not so young you have already learned to be wry and acerbic, to speak only to make the people around the turkey laugh or wonder. You find refuge in observation, and even manage to flatter yourself, on occasion, for your anthropological isolation. If you’re lucky, you recover joy in ways devious and orthogonal. You heap abuse upon what you have become as both lubricant and prophylactic. You imagine Zizek fucking groupies, wag your eyes at the circus that was once your passion.

You let mystery become the one simple. Perhaps find wisdom in exhaustion.

I’m not sure what I’m doing any more. What I’m writing or for whom, whether it’s important or outrageous or pathetic. I’ve never been a robust person. I’ve always been frail in ways that stoke a father’s outrage, enough to worry that I’m not a match for whatever it is–let alone this. Always faintly amazed that I have survived. And always driven.

All I know is that indulgences exact a toll.

Back when I was doing my PhD a friend of mine would walk his dog every night, one of those toy breeds that sound like rats when crossing hardwood floors. A classmate of ours, a solitary soul, happened to live a few doors down. He would see him through his patio doors every night, laying motionless on his couch watching the tube, soaked in erratic prints of white and blue. Every night. Passive. Watching. Wordless.

Never screaming.

And he would wonder about him. Theorize.