My sweat turned to steam today.
Sometime around ten AM, hurried behind the coffee bar of the charming niche cafe where I work, sweat turned to steam, waterfalling from my pores, evaporating into clouds right in front of me, the heat hysterically amused with itself as it warped the air, the espresso, my body.
I ended work at three PM. Approximately five hours. Of sweating.
I walked through sun-stilted Liberty Village and wondered what to do. The patios were packed with happy people. It’s hard to say if they were actually happy because who can know but most people were reasonably pleased to be Sunday-ing on a patio in a “village” meant for luxurious consumption. I walked past them, still sweating, watching myself reflected in windows, hardly recognizable. Something about me looked strange.
Watching my reflection, unhappy with it, probably because sweat-drenched attire triggers irritability, or because working in the middle of the day triggers a very specific type of confusion, maybe even because I wanted to go home to write but I currently hate everything I am writing, sure, even something to do with the self-hatred involved in not being one of these very happy patio people, I felt a displacement a little like character invention. I felt no sense of myself.
Yesterday we shot an episode of Kara’s web series. The shoot was fun, I’m sure the footage is funny but for the third week in a row Kara fails to be the provocative clown I hoped she would be. Instead she is very likeable. She’s actually extremely likeable. No one challenges her. Everyone laughs at her charming ignorance, corrects her and speaks to whatever she’s “missing”. She has yet to make anyone truly angry. I hoped she would be an infuriating idiot. Instead, she’s really fun.
Uh oh. I failed.
Usually I write really detestable characters, satirical versions of the people who I might be angry a, who I am at least hoping to humiliate via the tragically funny presentation of That Shitty Thing They Do. Kara is meant to be just that: A satirical representation of the non-artist’s misunderstanding of what artists do.
That is not what I have done. I have crafted a likeable bimbo. I am having fun being fun. Nothing about this is smart.
That’s a fail. It’s a fail because I have completely missed the point of what I originally set out to do but it is also an indication of an even greater failure: Why haven’t I, why isn’t Rachel, this likable in reality? If it’s so easy for me to be charming, why aren’t I charming all the time?
Simple answer: The charm is fiction.
Extended answer: My fiction is more charming than my reality.
I don’t go to things. There are plenty of places I could go in a night, filled with theatre people, filled with my culture, homes, party homes to my Being, where people know my name, they would welcome me but I just don’t go. I don’t go anywhere. I fear I have nothing to say to anyone. But. Then. I sit down in a chair with a wig on, I call myself by a different name and all of a sudden I can do it. I can ask anyone anything. Even once I take the wig off, there’s a surge of Kara’s energy still present, the feeling of “Sure I’ll go anywhere” lingers until it drains. Until I am tired and lying down. Until I am just Rachel, post-drinking, alone.
The binary distinction is clear: Fiction combats Reality. Kara has a written identity. Rachel doesn’t. I know who I am when I am Kara. I know who Kara will be tomorrow. It’s written or it can be written and it’s hardly left up to circumstance. Kara isn’t changing. In my real life, everything affects me. I sweat for five hours, I screw up a bunch of coffee orders, I am the slowest barista in the cafe and I leave without any understanding of What To Do. Ego melts away, it melts away with the heat of failure.
I cannot be a written character because written characters exist with purpose, with the purpose given to them by me, the writer. My own purpose doesn’t seem to matter as much as the purpose I give to the people I write. I wrote Kara to make a point but my own self: What point do I make?
Am I making a show or am I just recording myself? Am I working or am I just making coffee? Am I sweating or am I just standing here, just happening upon the heat? These moments can be written in any way I choose but I don’t write them down because I want them to end. I want them to end so I can go home and write other people. All I want to do is write fiction.
Reality is good sometimes but it takes being with the right people. I can’t write in loved ones at all times. When alone, I only want to know the people I make up.
Who am I as I walk past patios, hoping no one can see all the sweat I’ve let drip off of me all day, it doesn’t matter, it can’t matter who I am because my entire purpose is to go home and forget about me. Of course I can’t recognize the woman in the window. She doesn’t matter to me as much as Kara who I look at and think about, I really think about what she wants. I never think about what I want. Further, should it appear, should That Thing I Want suddenly appear I often murder it with destructive fear. Is there any way to encourage myself to pursue intention the way I would a character in a story? No. I don’t have time for that. I only have time for fiction.
When I was a child I would hope to get hurt. For attention. One year my best friend broke her leg. I was jealous. I had a boy in my class kick my leg while I lay down in the dirt because I was sure that would snap it in half. Someone’s mother stopped the mission. Later that day I tried falling down the stairs at home (an impossible thing to do soberly on purpose). I then sat in my room and stared out the window wondering how to take the screen off so that I could jump out.
All I wanted was an injury.
I thought about it. I plotted it. I creatively attacked the need.
It didn’t occur to me that I was a child with terrifying intentions. It did, however, occur to me that if I was Injured, someone would have to love me. Rachel was just a kid but Injured Rachel was a loved child, cradled by many, looked after by everyone. Fiction, sure, it would have been to hurt myself on purpose and pretend like the accident was upsetting to me but Fiction was not sad. Fiction was magical and smart and Better. I pursued fiction for love.
I cannot do that now.
If ever I play a character, it should be known that it is a job. At work, I sweat and laugh at the sweat and make mistakes and laugh at the mistakes. I leave work, crawling out of the skin of whoever it is that can get through that work day, whichever woman I’m pretending to be and then I don’t know who I am or what to do. I see people laughing on patios and I know there is a maximum of three or four people in the whole world who I can really truly do that with. Or who I would call readily to do that with. Who I want to do that with. Who I want.
I can be around anyone. Kara would. I can. We are really the same person. She can charm. I can charm. We can charm. It can be done. But, I don’t want to and I’m sure there is a reason I don’t want to.
I am sure I am mostly fiction.
I can tell by the way I can’t recognize myself: I am sure I am mostly fiction.
If you’ve been close with me, that’s real. But, there are so few of you. There are so few of you who I can walk away from and not feel like I’m transporting back into myself, not feel like I had to go away from myself just to sit with you. There are so few of you who make reality ok.
It can’t happen at work. Work has to be fiction because I’m not a barista, I’m a writer and in order to play Barista, I have to fake a type of Thing and frankly it’s fun. It’s the recovery that’s confusing. It’s the sulfuric residue of fiction, post-fiction, that makes entire hours of my day so foggy.
Returning back into myself after work today, I went to buy a few groceries, completely undecided on what to eat or how to eat or when or why, I bought a total of five things and stood in line for twenty minutes. The cashier was very slow. Remarkably slow. She took her time scanning things which is a fascinating achievement because it takes roughly half a second to scan something (I’ve worked grocery and believe me, slowing down the process is a gifted mistake). I was restless by the time she began scanning my things. She smiled broadly at me. She smiled with a greeting. I laughed and I somehow came back to Earth.
“Hi,” I said, “Hi how are you”
“I am good,” she said.
And I repeated “I am good.”
So she agreed, “We are good”.
And we were.
Her approach to menial employment was smooth and genuine. Incredibly retarded (literally). But awesome for the sake of transparent readiness.
Here we are. It’s all fiction anyways. Grocery stores are emblematic of fictional habit: We don’t need any of this shit but we pretend we do for the sake of completing an adult task. Think about who you are when you grocery shop: No, that’s not you. That’s a person who thinks they need things. That’s not really you. And, if it is, take a seat, stop needing and let Just Being prioritize itself.
I was not myself when I walked into the store or when I shopped. But, by the time I paid, clothing still clinging to me from the sweat, everything swollen and my dog waiting for me at home, the surreal nature of grocery shopping, of walking the streets, of existing publicly, was fading because a woman with braids who counted change at the speed of decaying bodies promised me that we are good and I knew she was right. It wasn’t a smart little conversation about what we do and why, it wasn’t a consequential encounter, it was just very real for long enough to allow my fiction to leave me.
Usually I credit people I love for bringing me back to earth but today, a woman who, while I was waiting for her to start cashing me out, I swore to hate forever, did it all by herself.
I got home. I gave my dog a bone. I took a very cold shower. I sat naked in front of the air conditioner. I am now writing to tell you the truth about who I really am and still I wonder if a fictional character could say it better.
She probably can. Because, she can relax. She doesn’t have to worry about her sweat or her body or her life or her past. But, then again, neither do I. Still I am so sure I am not interesting or smart or beautiful enough to be heard. Escapism is time consuming and lively but it isn’t life. But it is: My life.
The women I write will keep speaking for me and I still look for a compromise between what’s here and what could be. Tomorrow I make coffees again. Maybe if I get it right I’ll be able to accept that This Is Really Me. But, while failing it’s just easier to play the part of a Failure and rest in the certainty that I am someone other than Her, other than the captured and displayed idiot, that this is complete fiction. It gives me hope for what’s real: That the truth is only accomplishment and everything about me that’s failing is a temporary illusion.