I think that we’re in a void. I think – as I watch my clothes spin around in the giant machine – that like all other human beings I have inherited a lot of false ideas, ideas that have us believe that there is something propelling our existence.
I move my eyes from side to side pseudo dramatically, becoming aware that I’ve actually been mouthing my thoughts. I’m ‘so’ preposterous. I giggle, I giggle at my cynicism: a glance to the young, pretty and tanned woman across the laundrette reading a novel of some sort. I ‘chortle’, I ‘chuckle’, I ‘snigger’, I ‘titter’- I’m such a miserable bastard. I let out a loud ‘guffaw’, but stifle it. It ends up sounding like a depraved hiccup and the thought of what an oddity I might seem makes me laugh even more.
The woman looks over for a second, only a second – but it would be enough to rouse my imagination were I prepared to let it, to let that second run wild. The woman’s face, the soft skin and warm pink cheeks could conjure up a whole host of fantasies. She looks so carefree that I could imagine scenes of us just sitting together laughing over nothing – I could see scenes of an insouciant life, of sunny days and held hands. My imagination could carefully run its sticky fingers across pretend moments, editing them and selecting the ones that have the most elating effects, the ones that most tenderly massage my ego. And the best clips could then be played and replayed in front of my mind’s eye and I could sit gawking like a child at the cinema being secretly awakened in the darkened room. But, though I realise such fantasies have crept in under the carpet of ‘could’ – ladies and gentlemen “THE CARPET OF COULD” – I try to ignore them. It doesn’t bother me that they’re trite, or fleeting, or lascivious (please, the more so the better); what bothers me about them is that they’re not my own. I’ve been conditioned to have such fantasies, I’ve been conditioned by a saccharine consumer society, so prevalent … so prevalent that it has even shaped our dreams. My wish would be that I could break the coercive contract I have with ‘it’, but I can’t, we can’t. I think, “Language is communal and the ideas or fantasies it shapes require a social impetus to survive, otherwise they are destined to atrophy”.
The woman, who got up without my noticing, passes close by to take her clothes out of one of the machines and I catch the faintest ‘whiff’ of her perfume and then, after a respectful moment, I glance at the soft arch of her back as she leans forward to pull out a few stubborn socks. I think – as, ‘as a tear almost wells up in my eye’ because these odd moments, these sudden flows of emotion and fantasy hurt to my core and callously insist that there is really ‘life’, that it is beautiful, but that it goes on someplace else, and I, and I feel desperately lonely – I think I must do something to avoid these things, these painful things. I think, as I notice that a red item has bled, I think, as I come to terms with the fact that I will be wearing pink underwear from this moment forth, that this feeling, that life goes on elsewhere, is probably commonplace. I think, “The human world is appearing more and more like a series of slippery allusions to some other place”.
I walk and I mumble and I hum. But I don’t just do this of course, I also reflect upon myself walking and mumbling and humming. I think (and contrive to state, slowly), “I lack free will”, I think, that this stream of consciousness, these self reflective moments are part of the smooth yet complex vacant tapestry of myself. I think, “Why aren’t there more passages in books and films where characters walk, in between tangible places where the ‘significant’ events are thought to take place, mumbling and humming? I think – pausing to consider how to express a thought eloquently, failing – that this vibrant clamour might prove a useful counter-point to the incessant phantoms haunting me. I think aloud, “I have to find a way to take control of my fantasies, or I will continue to suffer a painful longing for things that don’t really exist”.
I look at a passage I jotted down from a book: “Truth has no systematic evolutionary advantage over error. Quite the contrary, evolution will ‘select for a degree of self-deception, rendering some facts and motives unconscious so as not to betray – by the subtle signs of self knowledge – the deception being practiced’.” I think that to avoid self deception, to not indulge in the ‘fantasies of the world’ even though you know ‘in your heart’ (sic, so sic) that they’re false, might be to give yourself a considerable disadvantage. I think, “Fuck”. Then I laugh at the word Fuck. I find the expression “we’re fucked” most ‘hilarious’ especially when it’s true and especially when it’s not.
I realise that I’m not really concentrating on where I’m going and that I never do and because of this I think, “Our movement through life isn’t effected by how conscious we are of it”. I catch the bin bag I have full of clothes on a protruding branch. It catches and without thinking I pull angrily. It tears and some of the clothes start to seep out. The dark sky chooses this moment to relieve itself upon me – “Oh dark sky, why dost thou piss upon me” I concoct later, though don’t find it very satisfying – that I should imagine the sky to be raining down upon me is incredibly egocentric. I’m feeling giddy and wobble around and manage to tread some of my clothes into the dirt. As the rain really ‘comes on’ I think and start to giggle, “I’m fucked”.
The light fitting in the bathroom, I’ve discovered, has badly corroded. It’s dark. Fact : no amount of changing bulbs would improve my current situation. I find myself in an unnatural position trying to efficiently wipe my arse by the light from a street lamp outside the window. After another day of disillusionment and ‘phantoms’ this pathetic ‘drama’ seems like a ridiculous ‘final straw’ or ‘ironic twist’. As I picture the scene to myself and consider it against my overgrown aspirations to be a ‘great artist’ or ‘writer’ or ‘philosopher’ – with the raving mind that comes from exhaustion – I start to laugh again, I think, “Free yourself from trying to be something”. Because I’m tired I find it difficult to linger on any particular thought. The orange light presents the tiny bathroom to me like a vision of a future dystopia (‘where everyone has to clean themselves by the light of street lamps?’ strikes me later as being ‘hilarious’, though it didn’t ‘strike’ me at the time). I take this ‘vision’ in for a few moments, enjoying moving my arms slowly like a cyborg, but then another change takes place and it seems disgustingly contrived. I spray a natural air freshener that smells of rose petals. I think, maybe this is a story about love.
I lay back on my bed, surrounded by the clutter of someone who’s lost the will to be clean and tidy and close my eyes. The usual retinal static greets me with a negative image of the room floating in front of a background of capillary red. People, though don’t ask me to name names, often talk about feelings as if they’re the most natural things you can hope to possess, “follow your instincts” these anonymous people chant like a mindless horde in my aching head. But I don’t believe this at all, I don’t trust my own feelings. (Perhaps that’s why I’m in such a mess – if I trusted my feelings I might be making small talk to a woman from the launderette right now.) Situations manipulate feelings, we are conditioned to associate certain signs with certain feelings, and we ourselves conduct intimate rituals to convince ourselves of our feelings. At some level feelings are confused and intertwined with social behaviour. This isn’t a good reason to simply ignore them, they might be quite important, ‘points of resistance’ to a rationalized world, but I treat them with suspicion, sometimes contempt. I eat foods that I have previously said I don’t like, I try to embarrass myself by doing unexpected things and I try to take pleasure in thinking about things that perhaps I shouldn’t.
I think, “I hate the word ‘authenticity’”. People often think, and again this is those same unnameable people – all phantoms no doubt – that to write authentically you have to be able to present the world ‘as it is’, that the world or your inner most self must come forth ‘naturally’ on to the page. They are prepared to acknowledge that the ‘real world’ has an impact upon writing, but not that writing has an impact upon the ‘real world’. I, however, have witnessed the effect that being a writer has had upon me. I contort my life in anticipation of my being able to ‘draw upon’ it for inspiration and when it’s dull I exaggerate. I think, “I’m a ticking bomb waiting to explode.”
In the morning:
After a quick shower I decide to go for a walk, to go in search of an ending. I think, ‘what does an ending look like?’ I pass people, traffic, old churches and modern office blocks but none of it looks like an ending. I start to worry that I’ve not included enough information thus far to actually find an ending; there hasn’t really been any character development except for my own and I turned out to be a cock. Likewise, there haven’t been any significant events that we might now be anticipating the climax to. I think, “No secrets await you”. I seem to start walking in circles as if lost for where to go. Passing a group of builders who are listening to the radio I catch a few words of a song, the Smiths: “and when you want to Live how do you start? Where do you go? Who do you need to know?”
After back-tracking a number of times I turn toward the ‘inevitable’, I walk towards the Launderette. Yesterday I was flippant about my feelings for the woman I saw. In fact, I’ve seen her before. She dresses unusually, seems to have the courage to take life on. She’s intelligent and witty and I’ve known her since school. I’ve lost faith in everything that I feel she could help me to retrieve, but I want it anyway. This yearning, this feeling of nauseating longing, this is the type of experience I was talking about. There’s no critical distance, it cannot be thrown off with rash remarks – it matters. I’ve convinced myself through a daily ritual of desire that this does matter. I think, “Perhaps it matters only because I want it to matter because I want this to be a story”.
I stare in through the murky glass windows of the launderette. She is sitting nowhere. It’s dark and a padlock has been put on the wire mesh over the doors. A terrible feeling grabs me. I think, “Things are fleeting, born by infinite movements and transformations and life is just part of that process, there’s no reason why it should make sense.” I take my note pad and rip out a blank page. I think, “This is out of your control”. I scribble frantically. I tenderly slide the note under the mesh so that it remains visible. I let out a sigh, “now she’ll know”. I think, “time to go”: A scene of me walking away. The note reads: “This is an ending”.
 John Gray’s Straw Dogs (2002), including a quote of Robert Trivers.