April 23, 2020

I have developed something of a ritual in the past week or so. Every day after work, I pack my notebook and the Aeneid into my bag, leave my phone on the table, and walk out of the apartment. I stroll along through Rosedale, cutting through the park where families play together at safe distances from each other. The city took the rims off the backboards and the nets out of the tennis courts, so they're now used as little scooter arenas, dance pads, and futsal courts. The pull-up bars and sit-up benches are all fenced off, so people work out in the grass. The swingsets were tied together or swung around the poles last week, but they're unraveled and hanging freely again. The lawn is pocked with signs saying, "THIS FACILITY IS CLOSED". I weave carefully through the streets to keep space between joggers and dog-walkers with kerchiefed faces, until I wind up at the Shoal Creek trail. Just past 38th street, near the footbridge crossing the water, there's a very climbable tree. Its one huge limb forks out horizontally over the lawn, and as you approach it from the bridge there's this one little knuckle in the trunk at perfect foothold level. Once you find the right lip of bark to hold, you're up in the boughs.

I've been bringing my notebook up here and doing some serious self-reckoning. It has been a painful and laborious process, and I wouldn't say that any of the writing I've been doing recently has been creative, per se. But my hope is that I will clear up some of the creative blocks I've been facing recently. Last night I sat up there until I was sore and it was completely dark; for a while at the end I couldn't see the words I was writing. I have not gone back to re-read it. It has been difficult and frustrating, but also liberating -- I often hop down and walk home feeling confessed and light. I have discovered a small shrine, a statuette of a saint and a prayer candle hidden in the rock wall along the creek. I'm waiting for the right moment -- the right lighting, the right mood to strike -- to photograph it, or maybe I won't.

Shoal Creek at night is a symphony. Crickets form entire sections -- the violins, the violas, the cellos. Toads are brass soloists, katydids the woodwinds, and my boots the percussion. Pale orange of distant streetlights glitters off the rippled surface of the water, and fireflies dive and streak like falling stars in the fading purple gray dusk. Tall grass waves in the dark breeze like silver fingers.

Climbing back up into the neighborhoods brings me to a sort of inverted reality of White Noise. I can see televisions flicker through the windows -- so many illumined faces, tense and speaking, but all I can hear is the crickets, my feet, and the winds. You're right, the supermarket is no longer a steadying place -- but it is still full of psychic energy, a sort of rush, an adrenalized forced closeness to others who are simultaneously a thrill and a danger, a risk you constantly try and fail to calculate as you're taking it. I don't believe I have a staticky figure haunting me -- as I approach each streetlight, my shadow stalks behind me, catches me underneath, and then races ahead to meet me at the next. Yellow streetlight reflected off black asphalt is still black, but a different black than my shadow. My hair is too long, the air is thick and hot and deep, and the despair of isolation is starting to leave me. This morning there was a huge thunderstorm, and I laid in bed with all the windows open and listened to it pound the street. The wind pulsed in damp currents through the apartment.

I have been playing a ton of online chess recently, though -- sometimes with friends, but mostly randomly matched. My college roommates and I were always playing between classes, at the end of the night after coming home from a party, or whatever. The coffeeshop in Troy had this huge, ornate, beautiful wooden chessboard, and sometimes on weekend afternoons we'd get high and go play. Being stoned and caffeinated and trying to outwit your opponent by calculating several moves ahead is a very specific mental state.

I've only read that one by DeLillo. I'd like to read more by him, and I'd probably choose Mao II or Underworld next. I can't give you a good reason why. I've been reading Whitman, a book on medieval history, and the Aeneid, which is my favorite of the epic poems so far:

"Only Acestes now remained, although The prize escaped him; still he bent his bow And shot into the air, showing them all His old-time archer's power and bow that sang. But here before their startled eyes appeared An omen of great import: afterward Mighty events made it all clear, and poets Far in the future fabled it in awe. The arrow flying in thin cloud caught fire And left a track of flame until, burnt out, It vanished in the wind -- as shooting stars Will often slip away across the sky Trailing their blown hair."

Maybe I just like it because everyone is from Troy.