If you feel strange, strange things will happen to you. So said Rita Dove in a poem called “Best Western Motor Lodge, AAA Approved.” In Sayaka Murata’s “Convenience Store Woman,” a small, elegant and deadpan novel from Japan, a woman senses that society finds her strange, so she culls herself from the herd before anyone else can do it. She becomes an anonymous, long-term employee of the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart, a convenience store, a kiosk for her floating soul, where she finds it easier to shout “Irasshaimase!” (“Welcome!”) and “Hai!” (“Yes!”) all day than to have more complicated human contact. On certain days, one understands this impulse (link).
Complicated human contact. True dat. I am isolated from the life I was living and from the one I want to live, but I am not isolated from complicated human contact. And therein lies the torture. I feel. The novel sounds marvelous to me right now. Voluntary rather than mandatory prison. The review doesn't mention Dostoyevski, but that is what I thought of when I read it. Pinter, perhaps. The impossibility of meaningful communication. Words as weapons, words as self defense. Sometimes we desire only factual, declarative statements. Pictures are better than words. Pictures don't say anything. They just are.
Two books arrived yesterday. One turned out to be an old library book. It still has the card stamp that libraries used for check out and return dates. The book itself is in wonderful shape. It was probably stolen by some pilfering photographer long ago. "Disfarmer." It is beautiful. You look at the portraits and fall into people's lives for an instant, cold and dispassionate. The studio might have been Disfarmer's Smile Mart. Surely the name is ironic.
The other is marvelous. "Garry Winogrand," the exhibition catalog from the Metropolitan Museum. I tried looking at it last night, but I couldn't. I'd look at a few pictures and have to put it down. It was too powerful to look at more than a few at a time. I am not emotionally capable right now. They just overwhelmed me. Perhaps today, I'll give it another try.
I had a lousy day at the factory yesterday. I didn't want to go, and when I got there, I was sorry I did. I didn't want to deal with people, so I closed my office door, a thing I never do, and I put on some jazz. I made some tea. But I had to open the door eventually, and my interactions all went south. I won't elaborate more than simply to say that my position prevents me from responding to others in kind. No, not my position. My idea of what a person in my position should do.
The day was a torture.
After work, I came to my mother's. She sat in her easy chair. "Judge Judy" was blaring. God, oh God, give me strength, I prayed. My skin was torn, my nerves exposed. I'd asked my mother what she wanted for dinner before I got there. She said she would cook. Cook should be in quotes. Maybe I just didn't hear them. All my life has been lived away from most of my childhood experiences. What my mother "cooked" was frozen tilapia. A bag of frozen quinoa heated in the microwave. The fish tasted of fish skin. The quinoa tasted of nothing. I asked my mother from where she got her inspiration for the meal.
"We can eat anything we want," I said. "I try to eat things that make me happy. I'm just wondering what inspired this? Did you have it somewhere and say to yourself, 'This is really delicious. I can't wait to make it at home?'"
I was going to quit drinking, but I had to have wine to get the shit down. Afterwards, I went out to smoke a cheroot and drink a big glass of whiskey. "I'm in hell," I thought. "No, not hell. I am just a prisoner." Why should I be miserable, I wondered? I have a perfectly comfortable life. But it is not my life. My mother is fine with the life she lives. . . I guess, though she complains. She grew up during the Depression which was nothing like the Great Recession but a truer hell. Being of hillbilly stock, she learned to "make do." "Good enough" is a deep and true philosophy. "It'll do."
But it is not mine. It is in me, of course, like a bad gene, but I have tried to modify it. I've tried to take it from its environment to deactivate it.
Sitting here and writing, I can still taste the fish in the back of my throat.
My mother turned the t.v. to M.A.S.H. reruns after dinner. I tried every Zen move I could muster. At ten, I went to bed.
This morning my hands shake. I tremble at my core. In a minute, I must begin to prepare for the day, another day at the factory where I must be careful and try not to step on the landmines while bullets whiz past my head. Then I will come back to my mother's.
I lie in bed at night and try not to think. If I think, my brain gets blacker than squid's ink and I begin to fall into that blackness, tumbling, twirling, unable to breathe my stomach in my throat.
I never want to talk again except to yell greetings. "Hello." "Welcome." Words are lies. I can never make the pictures that Winogrand has made. He left a million undeveloped frames of film. A million. They are held at the University of Arizona. I want to see those images. It seems a crime against culture not to make them available for viewing. I will begin my inquiry today. What do I have to do to look at them? How do I get a viewing? There are no secrets to life there, just pictures. Images. They don't say anything. They just are.