Diary Fragments

On Saturday, I plan to relax and then go out to see a friend DJ at a club in town. A post-punk night, she is restricted to only playing music released prior to 1989.

I sleep most of the day instead and don’t make it out.

On Sunday, I do not feel rested. I head to a coffee shop in Heaton to read and write. It rains periodically, clouding the neighbourhood in a fine mist. I set up at a wooden table outside regardless so I can smoke. The table is covered in a green film — some sort of moss or algae — which is activated by the moisture in the air. If it wasn’t so dark, it would be neon. It rubs off on my fingers. I rub it off but still end up with the taste of it, the grit of it, in my mouth somehow.

I try to read but feel nauseous, a little dizzy. My eyes feel untethered, oscillating drunkenly around the page. I start to write instead and the nausea subsides, my eyes more able to focus on the words as they appear, rather than the lines already inked to the page.

My hand cramps up almost immediately, but I write through the discomfort — a further distracting kind of pain.

I wrote about myself so I wouldn’t become paralyzed by rumination — so I could stop thinking about what had happened and be done with it.

More than that, I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention. Experience in itself wasn’t enough. The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it.

Imagining life without the diary, even one week without it, spurred a panic that I might as well be dead.

Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness is a diary of a diary, or a diary of a diary’s end. She explores the same condition I am wrestling with and translates it into a kind of prose poetry, fragmentary and circling towards a void, where writing is finally, maybe, to be denounced.

Hypergraphia, the overwhelming urge to write. Graphomania, the obsessive impulse to write. Look up the famous cases if you’re interested. Nothing about them ever helped me with my problem.

I talk to my friend, who says I have inspired in her a similar compulsion. She flatters me but all I think about are the negatives. I am a lonely person to live with, I confess. I know that to be true. It has been said repeatedly. Home is where I write, or where I flee from when the compulsion takes me — either way, if there is not an event or social occasion to be engaged with, I sit with pen in hand or sleep.

I need to write, I tell myself, to make writing my life, because life itself feels so difficult to understand on its own terms. Writing grounds me. But in the same way that the sating of any addiction does not always lead to a healthy lifestyle, I am often aware of the things that writing keeps me from, the other ways that life might be lived.

Manguso: “I write the diary instead of taking exercise, performing remunerative work, or volunteering my time to the unlucky. It’s a vice.” She continues, explaining that she “started keeping the diary in earnest when I started finding myself in moments that were too full.” This too resonates. Writing as a way of grounding against nausea, against the overwhelm, that existential nausea of life felt too intensely (or perhaps life felt at all).

On the table next to me, the complete translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in all of its 800-page density. I want to read what she has to say about D.H. Lawrence, some 200 pages in, but struggle to contextualise her argument by dipping in halfway through. I start at the beginning, but it only compounds my nausea. The gravitational weight of the book, intellectually and as an object, pulls me apart, like a body drifting toward a black hole. This treatise on becoming unbecomes me.

I wonder how she wrote it. Was its enormity fuelled, like Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, by amphetamines? Was it the writing drug that fuelled the production of such density, of thought’s fullness rendered in its entirety? The book feels like the aftermath of a writerly explosion, that moment when the voided space of fiery experience refills with the back draft of solid air. It knocks you over, obliterative, a hard block of time.

A person’s diaries, if maintained long enough — Manguso says hers is 800,000 words long — would surely be even denser. But here time is recorded in another way, drifting, fragmentary, unhardened even when printed out. It captures, in Manguso’s word, an ongoingness.

Such an enormous tome, exploring the becoming of woman, the limits placed upon such a becoming by the social, the social conception of the body, the body of the work weighted, not so much becoming in itself but dragging me down, my back aching, too many books lugged around, this one the biggest, the weight of experience even heavier, nauseating.

I am nauseous because I am tired, I tell myself. I am due at my friend’s house for dinner in two hours. The coffee shop closes at four. It is four now.

I go to a pub up the road and nurse a pint, wondering whether I should go home and briefly nurse myself. I worry I won’t get up again. I worry I will have depleted myself and not make it home from dinner.

Writing again, the nausea again subsides. I feel it leaking out of me in other ways. The beer makes me sweat, my stomach cramps, but at least my head is clear, distracted, no longer spinning. Writing fills up the time of the present. The present is written and avoided. It bubbles up inside me, feels like wind. I belch but feel something solid hitching a ride. I fart into the mottled felt of the bar’s furniture. My body is working away at something unseen. It is bloated, a food baby from a pregnant moment, constipated time flowing irregularly. What a burden a body can be. Let me live, I think, to the body, keeping a frustrated silence, annoyed and not speaking to the mind.

Ninety minutes left to go.

Ninety minutes filled with the Women’s Euro finals. England versus Germany. So many blonde ponytails bouncing around the screen. Still the cantankerous old man holding court at the bar. The referee makes a call that is not in England’s favour. Impassioned but still himself, she’s a “useless old tart”. The German team are all “dirty krauts”. He cheers on the nation, on the women’s football team, with a broadcast that is perhaps the biggest platform the women’s game has ever received. I can’t help but laugh at how he slots this new experience into his hardened thoughts and way of life. It is fun to hear him so invested in the match, even if his nationalism and sexism is only partly dented in response. No new tricks for the old dog.

Dinner is lovely. I’m elated and a bit tipsy. I get the last bus home and sleep, but wake up on the hour every hour from 3am through to 4am, 5am and 6am. From 6am to 10am, I dream.

Some months ago, I dreamt that I was in Amsterdam, but it looked more like Miami Beach. I was staying in a beautiful-looking hotel with my Dad, but the room was exactly the same as my London flat. It had a stunning bar on one of the top floors where I’d go for cigarettes. But despite all of that, I felt really oppressed by it. I found the architecture stressful, the glamour of the place intimidating. I couldn’t enjoy it, feeling like an imposter or an anxious squatter who has found a spot to rest but knowing they shouldn’t really be there.

In the dream, I couldn’t sleep. There was a school group of teenagers staying on our floor of the hotel and they kept me awake all night with their antics. I’d go into the corridors to scowl at them. Lying awake in bed, I saw a man jump from the bar above and plummet past our window.

It was, in the end, a very disturbing dream, combining all of my anxieties around travel and sleep and death. But I forgot about it completely. It was not a dream that, I thought, had stayed with me.

Last night I had another dream about being on holiday. I bumped into a girl I used to date at university, along with her twin sister. It had been a decade since we’d last had a conversation and so we fell into that ripened familiarity, candid and cajoling, returning to a prior mode of relation, the frayed edges of which were protected by the distance of time.

They were going on holiday again soon, they said, to Amsterdam, and described a hotel in a region of the city that sounded familiar to me. I began recanting my previous dream in this one, then found myself suddenly before the hotel in question, which was named “Chaza”, and through which I suggested I could give them a tour.

Recalling the moment the body fell, I decided against it. I left them and went to the sea, and in the sea I woke up.

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