XXX

Ask people what love is and they will pull a neatly folded definition from their pocket like an old, creased picture (it is usually a list of attributes such as “trust”, “togetherness” and “specular flattery”). Ask people what time is (beyond our regulatory measurements of it) and they invariably succumb to temporary aphasia. J and I were discussing time as we walked through Vingis Park the other day; my head was spinning from the complexity and elusiveness of the thing that says tick-tock (when measured by an Anglophonic clock).

I FIX THE BROKEN DOOR HANDLE, I SHOULD REALLY OIL ITS SQUEAKY HINGES

Once believed to be the fourth dimension, scientists increasingly believe that time is a purely relational measure: of entropy, motion, change. We feel time acutely on a physical level. Its pointed arrow skewers my heart; its glacial creep leaves my cells dying in its wake. We know the madness of time on a psychological level. It is the ultimate grey cardinal, a torture rack pulling us in every direction. It is the syntax of space, the disbelief etched in my face.

I WATCH AN IRANIAN HORROR FILM SET IN THE 1980s, I FALL IN LOVE WITH THE MAIN ACTRESS

My father tells me to write 100 lines (or is it 500 lines?) to punish me. I had been playing music on my fancy new stereo (which he had given me as a gift to say sorry for a recent injustice). He told me to turn it down; I turned it down. Shortly after he came back to my room and told me to turn it down more; I turned it down more. Shortly after he came back to my room and told me to turn it down more; I turned it down more. Shortly after he came back to my room and told me to turn it down more; I told him there was no ‘more’ left to turn it down to, the music was inaudible by that point, at which point he finally exploded into anger, by which point I was exasperated with his scapegoating of my music for his lack of equanimity, his nerve-wracking volatility, which was clearly fixing for conflict, in the familiar form of his youngest son, his reflectively reflexive nemesis, his spilled secrets, but I contemptuously resist, so he hits me with lines, bludgeons me with them, raises them like a mad bidder at auction, and I feel prematurely old, because this has played out so many times, and I am furious not with him, or the ridiculous lines he has ordered me to write, but with my spineless brothers for not defending me as they look on in terror at this pathetic domestic disturbance.

I WATCH A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE SHERPAS WHO WORK ON MOUNT EVEREST AND AM DELIGHTED TO LEARN THAT THEY CONSIDER EVEREST (CHOMOLUNGMA: GODDESS, MOTHER OF EARTH) A FEMALE DEITY

As a kid I loved climbing trees. I was good at it, as J saw for herself when I clambered, sweating and panting, up several trees at her summerhouse to saw off some branches that were overladen with fruit. Perhaps my inclination towards the arboreal can be explained by my hairiness, that increasingly vilified vestige of our ape forebears. (My hirsuteness is, unfortunately, particularly noticeable in Lithuania, where men tend to be glabrous of chest and fluffy of leg.) I probably look like a circus freak to many young people, who see body hair as an unruly intruder, a weed invading their body-obsessed consciousness. The influence of the pornographic body template has clearly extended deep into the popular imagination. It has stripped the body of reality and cloaked it in stark illusion; nudity, the last frontier of humanity, has been transformed into a blank approximation of itself. One prepubescent pussy is as clammy-looking as the next; one waxed asshole portends a puckered vacuum like any other. There is no mystery left to bushwhack your way towards, no knotty entrances to lovingly untangle, no mossy bed to lay your weary head upon. I worry that when the apocalypse comes and all the razors and shaving foam disappear from the looted stores, young people will be disgusted by the hairy fact of themselves. But they will adapt in rat-like fashion and be more concerned with the hairy situations facing them.

A SUNNY DAY, AZURE SKY. THE LIGHT IS SHOCKING, DISORIENTING. THERE ARE ONLY 66 DAYS OF SUNSHINE PER YEAR IN LITHUANIA. THE LIGHT EXPOSES THE DUSTY SURFACES IN MY APARTMENT. I FOLLOW JOHN WAYNE’S EXAMPLE AND LOCK AND LOAD AND GO AT IT WITH A SPONGE. I ATTACK IT LIKE THOSE NO-GOOD, NE’ER-DO-WELL VIET CONG. I WONDER WHY ANY WOMAN WOULD EVER WEAR A THONG.

Walking through my beloved neighbourhood of Žvėrynas, I see a man painting a picket fence. I feel envious as I watch him apply an even coat of olive green paint to one of the pointed wooden uprights. The fence surrounds a strikingly cubical white house which looks like it could have been built in the 1930s but was almost certainly built in the 1990s. I get the feeling that the man is the proud owner of the house and not a paid worker. His brush strokes are slow and measured and he emits an air of self-assured calm. He is wearing flip-flops, shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. His secret-bearing children are probably at school. His wife, expectant with slow-gestating regret, is at work. The lawn is neatly mown, the bushes are well trimmed. His wife probably trims her pubic hair into a strip resembling a hallway rug: “Welcome,” is implicit in it. But there is something lacking in the otherwise solid structural integrity of this picture of domesticity. The clock says tick-tock with a stutter. The doorbell says ding-dong with a tinny note of hesitation. No, this is not the portal to the fifth dimension I hoped it was.

AN URGE TO SPLURGE, TO “DISSEMINATE CURRENCY” (“Everything is Illuminated”), OCCASIONALLY SEIZES ME LIKE A SUDDEN HARD-ON. IT NEVER LASTS LONG BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING I WANT. I AM RICH IN SHOT GLASSES, FLUSH WITH COFFEE CUPS. BUT IN THE SMALL (ONE ‘X’) MAXIMA IN ŽVERYNAS THE URGE SUDDENLY COMES OVER ME. I LOOK AROUND. YES, THAT WILL DO NICELY. I BUY A SALT AND PEPPER POT, REDUCED TO 0.79 CENTS PER UNIT. I DON’T USE SALT SO IT WILL SIT ON A KITCHEN SHELF LIKE AN HOURGLASS SUSPENDED IN TIME.

B and I are in a church in Highgate. We have just come from visiting Karl Marx’s grave. B’s father was an honest-to-god socialist, and one of the most decent men I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. We felt little except the stirrings of late-morning hunger, irritation with the face-slapping melodrama of the wind, and a desire to flee when a large group of Japanese tourists approaches on the gravel path. It is Saturday. We are poor. We aimlessly walk around all day, exploring the city, treating ourselves only to a cup of coffee. The church is empty. I am overwhelmed by feelings I cannot understand. I look up and see a mass of dust particles slowly swirling around a ray of sunlight coming through the stained-glass window. It is beautiful. It is Epiphanic. It is a recreation of the cosmos that I can actually comprehend.

B, E, G, H, I, J, M: A PATTERN IS EMERGING, A LANGUAGE IS SLOWLY FORMING. BUT I WON’T HAVE TIME TO SEE IT COME TO LIFE. MY BOAT HAS SAILED, THAT TRAIN HAS LEFT. THE ONLY CONVEYANCE STILL OPEN TO ME IS THE CONCENTRIC MOTION OF CYCLICAL TIME. A HAPPY ENDING IS SO FAR OUT OF THE QUESTION FOR ME THAT IT RESEMBLES AN ANTARCTIC RESEARCH STATION OR MARS LANDING. ALL I HAVE LEFT ARE FRAGMENTED BEGINNINGS CONDENSED BY THE FEROCITY OF VELOCITY OF THOUGHT INTO ABORTED COMPLETION. I PRAY THERE ARE NOT MULTIPLE UNIVERSES CONTAINING ALTERNATE VERSIONS OF OURSELVES. THERE ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH OF THOSE VYING FOR VALIDITY IN THIS LIFE.

In the novel Moscow-Petushki, Venya is an alcoholic living in Moscow. He is so routinely drunk that he has never managed to see the Kremlin. One day he decides to take the train to Petushki, a place he describes as a sort of paradise. He feels that if he can just make it to Petushki everything will be alright. But as he drinks whatever he can get his hands on during the journey (including nail polish remover if I remember correctly), he starts to lose all sense of direction; sometimes the train seems to be going forwards, sometimes it seems to be going backwards.

COVER YOUR EYES, PEEK THROUGH YOUR FINGERS AT THE HEADLINES, HOPE YOU’VE MISSED THE NEXT STOP

The view through the window looks familiar. There is some 1930s-style demagoguery. There is a vast swathe of Victorian poverty. That over there looks a little like medieval serfdom. Ooh, did you see that Pagan monolith go by? What about that brutal Roman public spectacle, eh? The advent of the railways portended an indefinite age of progress perfectly symbolized by their lean, linear tracks. But trains reach their destination and turn back on themselves. Locomotion, contrary to appearance, is pendular, like the history driving it notionally forward. We can’t even cope with three dimensions, we have to level it to two. We are stick figures living in pop-up houses speaking in speech bubbles. Driver, look out, that damned Anna Karenina is on the line again..

 

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