Now I Know Me
Into an open doorway,
a wasp or bee or fly –
the sky beyond so bright
with blue and white
it sears the eye.
Autumn is beginning.
Some things go on living
while others begin to die
Autumn is beginning. One day, the wind blowing through the
trees makes a drier, rustling sound. Another day it rains a
hard, steady rain all the afternoon long. Another day, and the
air feels suddenly chill against my skin. Autumn is
beginning. And I – at last, at long, long last – I
have found a job.
My parents raise their faces to the sky, weeping for joy.
Strangers stop to congratulate me on the street. Little
children burst into song. "At last, at last, Simon has
found a job!" Now all is right with the world.
It's only part time. Two days a week I work as a clerk at one
of the newsstands downtown. I stand behind a counter in a
rather poky, dusty little store, selling newspapers and magazines,
cigarettes and lottery tickets, to the people passing by. It's
not terribly interesting work: I've done it all before.
On the positive side, however, my boss is very easy going and pretty
much leaves me alone during my shift. I'm even allowed to smoke
if I want to, right there behind the counter. I find that I want
to. Nothing better expresses my feelings about working than
smoking on the job.
At least the customers here are a nicer lot than those I used to wait
on at the convenience store. That store was located
in the "bad" part of town, frequented by drunks and
drug users, wanna-be hoodlums, small-time shoplifters and, of course,
the occasional knife-wielding robber. Now the people I wait on
are mostly business folk, smartly dressed professional types, always
in a hurry. Hey, hey! I'm moving up in the world!
The salary isn't much, but at least there's a little money
trickling in now. Because of my low-income status I've also
qualified for a small monthly stipend from the state, limited
strictly to the purchase of food – but it helps. I've begun
to be able to pay at least some of my bills. I'm still
sliding down the slippery slope into debt, but the slope has grown a
little less steep, my plummet downward a little less precipitous.
The axe no longer hangs quite so close above my head, waiting to
fall. Curiously, this fact has only inspired me to new depths of
boredom. I can see my future laid out neatly before me now:
unfortunately, it consists of a flat, featureless plain stretching
out endlessly on every side. Sooner or later I know that I will
either a) be given more hours at my present job, b) find another
part-time job of similar sort to supplement the one I now have, or c)
find myself a full-time job of similar sort elsewhere. But
at least the specter of abject poverty no longer threatens. I
find it oddly disappointing. "So," I think, "this
is how my days will pass" – and my months, my years:
working at some menial employment, living on through all of futurity in
this same small apartment. There are no great adventures coming
my way, not even those engendered by the perils of destitution.
Life feels suddenly too small for me – or I for it – my
brain too cramped and cumbersome, too primitive, too limited, for the
kind of usage I'd like to put it to. I feel sometimes that the
desire I have to expand into some larger life is greater than
what my brain and my physical circumstances will ever allow. I'm
not sure what territory is left for me to explore of my inner world,
and yet I have no way of exploring the world outside myself either,
beyond what's offered within the confines of this one small town.
Boredom: it's a new variation on the theme of loneliness.
I have nothing, and no one, through which or with whom I might expand
my realm of experience. Considered in the abstract, I suppose it's
as true now as it ever was that I do not desire the kind of experiences
sought out by most people: I'm not sure they would lead me anyplace that
I'd feel in the end to have been worth the trouble. Which is how
most experiences end up feeling, to me at least – once they've
been had. The past is past; what was worthwhile at the time is
not worth the time spent cherishing it in memory. What I'd like
most is to find a way to expand my ability to experience what exists
now, to find within the present moment and my current circumstances
enough to satisfy. It appears that the only way I can do this is
through the exercise of my will. I've become aware recently that
will, being the most active element I have in my limited arsenal
of psychological tools, is also the most potent; it gives me, after all
– albeit to a highly circumscribed degree – the ability to
express myself through choice. By which I mean, I have the ability
within me to at least be aware of my life, if not to change it
in any significant way; and in so doing may bring this state of awareness
to the forefront of my attention. I can "choose" to
be entirely conscious, to live entirely in the present moment, if I
but will it to be so. Of course, any close examination of
who or what it is that constitutes the "I" which has the
ability to focus its awareness will eventually lead back to the question
of whether any "I" really exists, or is a mere conceptual
illusion. On the other hand, the act of focusing attention may
also be said to exist as a sort of counterbalance to this question,
for such an act, or activity, is expressive not of pursuit (as
is, for instance, intellectual hunger), but of quiet attentiveness:
that is, it's an attentiveness that strives not to possess and consume
for the sake of egoistic enlargement, but which wishes simply to observe,
and, through the process of its observation, expand consciousness through
a concomitant withdrawal of the ego. Hence the question of the
existence of an objectively perceivable "I" is solved via
a paradox: "I" am Nothing, "I" do not exist;
and yet "I," as defined by the state of focused awareness,
am ever existent in the Here and Now.