MISFIT DOC: SPEEDBAOT (a love letter in miniature for Renata Adler) – Part 1

Art: Willie Birch “Wildflowers” (15956)

Born as milk, born as depressed Mormon kid reject parents, born as futilist, as futile, as futility itself, born to study and perhaps focus directly on enough to learn, born to study films with wife and watch wife die, born with hatred buried deeply enough that when it happens you don’t tell your parents, I don’t tell my parents, he doesn’t tell his parents, the world is some bad plaything, the night is an enemy, the long nights and Frederick’s crying and the only constant running beneath this horror show is your bleeding wrist hung over the shower drain when madness of head becomes too vexing and a physical case must present itself, born as psychotic checking self out of ward after ward while sister watches child and nights encroach and the madness ensues and wearied mind can’t take it your feeble mind can’t take it his feeble mind can’t take it.


I think I’ve been terrified of doing this—that is; opening up an unnamed folder on the computer with the door shut and no music playing to just write without any structures imposed upon the practice—because I’ve been living under the impression that I’ve got to wait before saying anything important or worthwhile because there’s a good possibility some semblance of success is a few months away and that way when I sit down I can reflect the decisions made in any prospective ‘piece’ against those made in the piece(s) that made me successful. This is a common fear. Most people experience this gray moment of indecision between true creativity and the manic urge spiraling at the end of one’s teenage years. This is not to say you must be a teenager or younger when beginning your career but rather, that whether you’re fifty or fourteen you’ll approach the first few drafts and paint splatters much in the way a teenager approaches a concrete wall in the middle of nowhere with an empty bottle; your angst will guide you in those early months and years and between now (angst) and then (success/complete failure) you will likely have a gray period wherein nothing much happens; and your mind seems to slip away. I see faces and histories as assembled fragments of a life inside these various roles, and each lie seems just as much a part of me as that I told first.


My brother was thin. Before and after the events that led to, of course; he was always pretty thin. We were never exactly sure what caused this or what sustained it through teen and early adult years, it was simply a fact of life, a circumstance by which we were able to form our own worldviews regarding Elliott, my brother. Something about it made me laugh, the way he walked. His leg would sort of drag like he was some English punk rocker in an old B-movie, or some hood in an ‘80s film set in an apocalyptic New York. Whatever it was, he had a gait, he had this manner, this way of presenting himself to the world that made you want to connect with him regardless. Maybe this further complicated the earlier mentioned tendency he had to convince others of qualities he possessed whether he fundamentally possessed them or not, who knows, but regardless his attitude sort of melted into situations, and even in the worst he always found some degree of comfort.


I am now experiencing that gray period. I live alone in a smalltown in Wisconsin where nobody would know me for my work—thus far a limited print run of chapbooks/folios and video artworks that anyone outside of New York and California schools would have a hard time calling to mind. They know me here as a whispering dullard who talks quietly to himself while walking slowly through aisles in the grocery store, and little more. I can’t say that I prefer it this way because that implies a level of control over my desires I can’t purport to have. Mostly what I do here is think.


We are one. I wake up to Frederick crying. Sister-in-law watches over him or watches Mad Men on her computer and you don’t much care which one. Don Draper says something docile, troubled, you decide it’s time for a drink of water.


“Feral laziness,” this is how I describe the months after my wife’s passing to my most recent psychiatrist, and it seems like I’ve hit the nail on the head.


“That’s very good, I like that very much. What about your eating habits? It notes here you were borderline anorexic for a very long time, have you bounced back from that a bit?”


“I suppose I have, yes. The thing is, I feel like I used to really care about eating, y’know? I used to wait for it anxiously, always ready to eat something more or have a nice dinner and whatnot. Now, however, I can see the utility of food, can understand its importance and the need for insertion-mastication-digestion, but there’s no real pleasure involved, no sense of identity gleaned from making a nice dinner. Just shiftlessness, I guess. Shiftlessness reigns.”


I’ve been lucky to have been given this place as a farewell gift from my parents when they both passed on inside of a month two years ago, and the only thing that now remains from those years is their cat and a small handful of photographs left in a dresser upstairs that I haven’t bothered to look through.


My parents and I got along fairly well, all things considered; but they never actually enjoyed my presence and I never enjoyed theirs. What we gave to one another was pretty simple as far as familial mandates and objectives, and very seldom did it reach beyond that. I’ve respected their home for the most part, and yet when I moved into the place I immediately sold almost everything they owned—making room for the pittance of items I’ve acquired in my years: hundreds of books (these are almost equally split between those I’ve read and loved and those I’d love to read) several films, a DVD player, a small television set and enough clothes to wear something new if ever I felt disgusting; though admittedly it hardly comes to that.


Living alone affords you a great deal of freedom as far as hygiene goes. Pragmatism makes me brush my teeth sans toothpaste roughly five times a week and floss twice; baths are taken for the pleasure they give rather than to wash away some dirt that I’d likely never notice unless I suddenly found myself surrounded by other people for several days; and beyond that I eat a simple diet not worth elaborating upon, and go for long walks in varying directions into the country almost every morning.


And Henry is relatively young.

His sister comes in and mentions something about Henry not making it to work. He looks at her as though she’s half-there, and likely is. Warped perspectives and all that as a result of too many mornings spent watching TV and drinking coffee.

Henry drinks ten cups of coffee this morning in sequence.


This last part, particularly the notion of ‘varying directions’ holds some great importance with me. You see, being in this rather gray period in my life, I’ve taken to doing things that not only—rumor has it—can broaden one’s intelligence and perspective (here, that would be walking in different directions on a regular basis and exercising a small level of problem solving to get from A to B; an activity which, I’ve heard, can enhance one’s IQ a great deal if done seriously) but things that can also serve to render my work—be it the writing or the visual—entirely unlike all that which has been created before me. A great deal of impossibility rests uncomfortably within this sentiment, for I’ve already mentioned the books I’ve brought along—each one essentially an encouragement to become less original with every word I write—and the films; the lot of them mostly ‘art films’ that hinder my work every time I pick up utensils to paint and draw, let alone film something of my own. All of this, however, makes precious little difference because along the way I’ve managed to retain that childlike sensibility of idolatry one gains when starting out. I’d love to be this generation’s Pasolini, Acker, Sade, or even Gary Indiana if given the opportunity—but there we have that concept again of opportunity vs. simply doing the work on your fucking own and letting things happen as they may.


He was endlessly talented at convincing others of things about himself that he himself was not entirely sure about, my brother. There must be a phrase for this, a word from the pantheon of self-help, something. It’s difficult to hone in on but rather easy to describe. Perhaps he was simply full of shit. That wouldn’t really be so bad, looking back. Is that sort of thing so bad? Looking back? Degrading the memory of loved ones, that sort of thing, it’s always touchy territory. But this doesn’t feel like that. It isn’t as if he actually went around attempting to con(vince) others that he was things he wasn’t; more like he’d get the germs of plenty of ideas and each of these seemed so appealing to him that his passion for them would convince others they were real staples in his worldview, whether they actually were day-to-day or not.


I don’t know, and perhaps that’s the only reason I’m able to sit here and write something other than the missives I’ve labored over so intensively these past months. I don’t know, and perhaps that makes this unworthy of my time or anyone’s time. I don’t know, and all I want is to know, to understand, to create. I don’t know, and yet I can’t seem to stop.


I watched him frequently. I don’t think it was quite because I wanted to be like him, I don’t really think that at all. I just found him sort of curious. You know when you find an animal that’s so obviously preoccupied with something totally trivial, like a split-in-half hospital bracelet outside some apartment building; or an empty bottle of 7-up that looks as if it hasn’t moved for centuries, that sort of thing, it just draws your eye and because you’re quite certain you’ll never see anything quite like it ever again, you keep looking. You keep staring. That was my brother.

He wasn’t a bad guy, and I’ve never really thought of him in ethical or moral terms. To take what he’d do with people—convince them of things without fully feeling committed to them himself—and turn it into something more, something conscious and highly orchestrated, seems misguided. He was simply trying things out. Most of us are trying things out way more than we’re willing to let on to the world. Most of us wear things and present ourselves in certain ways that strike others and forge relationships when really we’d just decided that very second to act that very way out of mere curiosity, and thus a sort of endless loop where you can’t really stop watching my brother, and he can’t really stop trying things because through blind luck everything he’s trying has held your attention for hours on end.


There is no longer a young man named Henry Crane, and yet it seems only moments ago he sat right next to me. Things work that way now. I guess that’s how things work. Things worked that way for Henry Crane, he’s no longer around.

I’m right here, yet I’m not important.

Here is Henry, watching TV early in the morning, something’s on, something good that he likes and he’s laughing. In his eyes you can see the reflection of what might be an American sitcom, but nothing reveals the contents of the screen beyond Henry Crane’s reaction, and that’s enough.

He laughs, he laughs loud and seems for a moment to be looking at something beyond the screen and through it, as young Americans tend to do when in the presence of a TV.

This seems to be enough to get him going.

He’s no longer going to go to work, however. Something has changed. Something has erupted in his brain like flowers that only bloom once a year, perennials? Watching it happen you can’t believe it actually exists in this world, and yet to look at Henry there’s nothing in question that his is a young American male existence currently experiencing some sort of change, and it’s the change I first bore witness to.


I remember this one moment when he decided he’d like to be a lawyer. For an entire afternoon he rented any book vaguely related to the field from the public library and sat poring over them as though in his third year of law school. It wasn’t exactly a tragic situation, more like a, um, farce, but he looked so committed that you couldn’t help but wonder what it was he was learning that day about the legal system and its requirements and hours of study that other humans might never fundamentally know. You just couldn’t really be sure. I guess that ties into the curiosity stuff as well. This idea that the person you’re watching has such a look of genius in their eyes that you can’t take your own away, it’s a double-edged sword; because you’re also sitting there wondering whether that look of genius is something like authentic, and if this is the case he might come away from those law books convinced of something that fundamentally changes our concept of the word “Justice” for all time, or he might simply try on a new hat tomorrow. Either way it doesn’t exactly matter, because my brother was somebody who looked passionate and involved regardless of what it was he happened to feel taken with, and thus in watching him you were convinced enough that something was substantially going on, and being convinced of something substantial occurring in a world largely mired in trivialities is a quite important thing, whether it can later be picked apart as authentic or mere blind luck and superficiality seems irrelevant, for those hours spent watching him were some of the most applied and documentary in all my years, and I’d wager I learned more from them than working through college with my back caving in on itsel—


Grant Maierhofer is the author of Marcel (The Heavy Contortionists) and the forthcoming novel Postures. 

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