I am caught in this contradiction: on the one hand, I believe I know better than anyone and triumphantly assert my knowledge to the other (“I know you—I’m the only one who really knows you!”); and on the other hand, I am often struck by the obvious fact that the other is impenetrable, intractable, not to be found; I cannot open up the other, trace back the other’s origins, solve the riddle. Where does the other come from? Who is the other? I wear myself out, I shall never know.

Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments

Watching some old western with Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe on AMC, the commentator mentioned Mitchum’s method of dealing with Monroe’s method acting: he’d slap her on the backside, and say, “let’s just play this scene like real people.”

I left late in the afternoon, on Christmas Eve, for the drive to my parents. It seemed to be a good omen to enter the freeway behind a ’66 Chevelle SS, 427, belching smoke and fire with a front windshield cracked like a spider web radiating around its rearview mirror. The drive was smooth, only five sections of one-lane compared to the eight of the Thanksgiving drive. I got to the nuclear power plant at Russellville as the sun went down.

I always have a Wordsworthian spot of time when passing through Russellville, and this time was no exception. The clouds were fanned out like the fronds of a palm leaf, irradiating electric colors around the pure white water plume. I took out the tape of stories I was listening to, from James Joyce’s Dubliners. Eveline pissed me off. Why didn’t she have the courage to go with her lover?

I was starting to get drowsy anyhow, so I put on The Grey Race by Bad Religion. Nothing like punk-rock with multi-syllabic words to wake you right up.

splintered dreams of unity (our lives are parallel)
so far from reality (our lives are parallel)
independent trajectories (our lives are parallel)
separate terms of equality (our lives are parallel)

. . .

side by side suffering loneliness (our lives are parallel)
phoney collective progress (our lives are parallel)
accepting that it’s all such a mess (our lives are parallel)
gesturing without hope of redress (our lives are parallel)

For some reason, the anthemic quality of the “punk rock formula” sank in. Marching lockstep into the sunset of alienation? There’s just something decidedly odd about that.

But I decided that this year would be different. Last year, Christmas was an adventure. I read Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus on Christmas day, then drove through the worst ice-storm in a decade to get home. After getting home, the power went out for a week and I shivered under the covers listening to Tom Waits through headphones. Not this year. Please, not again, this year.

I suppose that’s why I took the Barthes with me. I was hoping for something more uplifting, and I suppose I found it. I couldn’t sleep, as usual, and made my way through 160 pages. Mom and Dad seemed to be recovering fairly well from David’s death, but there was this sort of aura. We talked about David’s kids, mostly, and how they were doing. It seems that James had his license suspended, and Mom mused about how “26 is such a difficult age.” It was for me, that’s for damn sure. As I recall, I was living out of my car, and showering at friends houses so that I could keep my job. My brother seemed to be in fairly good spirits, given that he lost his job just before Christmas. We sat and traded stories of crazy youth for a while. Sometimes it helps to remember that once upon a time, things were fun. I suppose that’s why the bad part of those years doesn’t bother me that much. They were fun years, after all.

Driving back, the sky was dark and I wasn’t in the mood to listen to literature. I put on a tape of the Meat Puppets first four albums, and remembered how much fun I was having when those albums came out. It isn’t punk rock to march to, unless you’ve had an incredible amount of acid.

Got no head
It’s a bucket with teeth
It likes to dream
It likes to sleep
It knows hot
It knows cool
It know what’s what
It’s no fool

Fill up the bucket with
Whatever you got
Make sure it’s something
That the bucket likes a lot

That’s about the size of it. A brief holiday pause, and then back to filling up the bucket.

The Barthes book has triggered a lot of little epiphanies when it comes to the process of writing, and just “who” I think of my audience as. I suppose I want to keep writing in a rather special way: with a goal of the state of constant arousal. It seems like a higher way to use language, rather than just reporting the state of disunion.