Some of my favorite fictional characters have experienced such a sensation when they’ve found themselves in love, or at least having sex, or something in-between. From Miranda July’s The First Bad Man: “Was all this real to her? Did she think it was temporary? Or maybe that was the point of love: not to think.” From Emma Cline’s The Girls: “There was nothing to figure out, no complicated puzzles—just the obvious fact of the moment, the only place where love really existed.” From James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room:
“I told her that I had loved her once and I made myself believe it. But I wonder if I had. I was thinking, no doubt, of our nights in bed, of the peculiar innocence and confidence, which will never come again, which had made those nights so delightful, so unrelated to past, present, or anything to come, so unrelated, finally, to my life since it was not necessary for me to take any but the most mechanical responsibility for them. And these nights were being acted out under a foreign sky, with no one to watch, no penalties attached…”
And Marguerite Duras’s The Lover:
“He calls me a whore, a slut, he says I’m his only love, and that’s what he ought to say, and what you do say when you just let things say themselves, when you let the body alone, to seek and find and take what it likes….”
And my diary from last year. I started my blog when I was 11 and began keeping handwritten diaries regularly at 15. (I now have about 70 of them, in a fireproof safe the size of a mini-fridge.) Once I graduated high school, moved to New York, and started performing on Broadway in the play This Is Our Youth, I experimented with letting everything about this mind-blowing transition disappear into the ether. There were a few panicked catch-ups that would trail off into “this is pointless”: staring at my laptop screen in the Bryant Park Library and feeling so weighed down by the history of the carvings on the walls that why even try; talking into a recorder on my bed late at night before asking myself who it was really for, if you can really live for the memories you’ll have to look back on when you’re older if you could also get hit by a bus tomorrow, if your legacy makes any difference to you when you finally lose all consciousness, if commodifying everyone I meet into a fictive character diminishes the potential for love. What was I closing myself off from by trying to decide what everything meant as soon as it happened? While it was happening? Sometimes, even, beforehand?
Every night that fall and winter, with Groundhog Day–like repetition: I performed a play as a young woman in New York set up on a kind-of date with a weird guy in his friend’s apartment. After a series of false starts, it ends up going remarkably well and offers a glimmer of hope to each of them as to what kind of human connection is possible in the awful expanse of adulthood before them. In the morning, they have a bad misunderstanding that’s no one’s fault until they both return to their defenses and become strangers again. After the show, I’d go straight to the apartment of a new guy I was kind-of seeing, each of us so skilled at remaining unknowable that it was like a one-night stand, every night. Then I’d wake up in his bed, maybe go out into the world for a few hours before the next show and maybe not, and repeat it all again.
I started keeping a diary again the day after we broke up, scrambling to save what I could, but all my efforts felt futile. On the right night, after hearing the right song, or rereading any of my favorite parts of The Secret History—a devastating lesson on the impossibility of perfection, let alone a kind that can last—it makes me crumble all over again. When I started writing this thing about Infinity, I talked to my therapist about how hopeful it was making me, as if, through the powers of my storytelling, I could rearrange the past and dictate the future, and then how stupid I feel every time I recognize the hubris there. Sarah Manguso in her book Ongoingness: “How ridiculous to believe myself powerful enough to stop time just by thinking.”
“Give yourself a break,” she said. “You had a secret world together. Sex and watching movies and giggling. Sex and secret worlds are the symbolic, and they’re way more powerful than the narrative; than ‘we went for a walk, then we did this, then we did this.’ It’s play. You guys played together like little kids. And that’s not something you can really articulate without sounding mushy.”
“But it feels like bad writing to just say something is indescribable. Though I guess some things really just are.” (Scary thought: What would it mean if they weren’t? If you really could describe everything? The world would be…underwhelming?)
She brought up the debate at the beginning of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, about whether language is precise or fallible. I wrote down the exchange you just read. So here I am again, sad and alone and without any words. Also there’s a spider bite on my toe.
Drawing on a memory can also mean defacing it, adding another subconscious layer of commentary with every recollection. Things get even more unwieldy once they sprawl out across the imaginations of the strangers reading it, should one choose to share. Unfortunately, the thing itself is over as soon as it’s over; dead whether you choose to “kill it with the word” (Goethe, via Bluets) or not. I do think there’s a way to approach writing about one’s own life that cultivates acceptance instead of clinging, and unearths discoveries which simple event-recording, with no real digging or reflecting, can’t offer. This alleged act of murder is also a way of giving birth to something new: There’s an Infinity on the other side of words, too; on what can become possible when you do try to gather up your engrams of an event and let them guide you through writing to a previously unrealized truth.
This is enough. Not in the grand scheme of what remains a million years from now when the earth is dust and holograms of dead future-celebrities are political leaders on Mars, but what’ll I care by then anyways? Picking up the piles of dirty laundry in my brain makes room for new experiences, new partners, new plays. Weirdly, by starting up the diary again and sticking with it, it got easier to surrender to the impact of an event, live in it without immediate reflection, and charge forth like the speck that I am. It’s gotten shockingly effortless to live in Infinity, and trust that I’ll retain what I need to later, and if not, accept the price of a life fully lived.
Over the course of this month, I’ll share on Rookie some of the diary entries which made up that transition. We also want to know what Infinity looks and feels like for you, so head over to our Submit page for more ideas from our editors, and information on sending in your work. Doesn’t have to be made up of words, like mine: send your photography, illustration, collage, playlists, all of it!
We will definitely be celebrating five years of Rookie all month, as well, so stay tuned for some very not-casual joy and reflection in that regard!
Onward like a speck,