19 to Present
by LAURA HOOBERMAN
1. During my college years, I cultivated a brand of sadness that was lithe, trivial and mixed with boredom, which I found shameful. Most of my internal life centered upon the relentless process of apologizing to myself for myself. In some instances, I recognized this tendency in strangers, and to them I either opened up excessively or not at all.
2. I was once told by a man I loved desperately that he loved me, too, just not in the way that he needed to see me all of the time.
3. I once kissed a boy with green eyes and a sort of whimpering, pouting quality of mouth to which I tended to be impossibly drawn. He was drawn to me, too, but he couldn’t take me seriously. We spoke about Europe and Jung in the darkness of his sweat-ridden apartment, and though the blackest of blacknesses, he sought to puncture our intimacy. Our tense touching harbored the impression of anonymity; our unseen forms made contact and then released. For days after, I reflected upon the way his mouth formed the soft phrase, “I’m not going anywhere.” I wondered if he’d meant it, or if he’d already grown tired of me.
4. As a young person with literary ambitions and an irrevocable, cerebral bent, I immersed myself in the solipsistic examination of infinite dynamics of self to self. To this end, I drank profusely, read Infinite Jest, and generally felt kind of sorry for myself.
5. I attended lectures taught by professors of a certain renown who, in the early morning, to a sea of soft faces, whispered. I attended a class where I was the only one who wanted to discuss the queer slant to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I was taught by a professor who drank seltzer with ice in a tumbler at nine in the morning and wore a fedora around the literary department of New York University. No matter what I wrote, he marked my papers with B+’s. I once scheduled a meeting with him to tell him that this wasn’t normal for me.
6. At the crux of my freshman year, I walked in an unfamiliar daze suffering what felt like tiny heart palpitations and the onset of insanity. I listened to “Karen” by The National on repeat, which seemed to capture the strange disconnect between heart, head and hands that my body had suddenly inflicted upon itself. I texted my mother to ask her if it was possible for me to be dying from an amphetamine overdose. Twenty minutes later she responded, “Not really.”
7. The complexities of my relationship with Casey confounded the two of us but bored or distressed all my friends. Harbingers of doom presented themselves with brazenness and profound frequency. We were on the floor of his shower discussing things when he told me, “I don’t know how to interact with you outside of this realm.” The evening withered and beckoned us into its dissolution. When we finally fully broke from one another, I told him, “Ending is hard, but it’s easier than loving you.” “Okay, that sucks,” he said.
8. We met for lunch in the sterile light of a basement cafeteria at a campus dormitory. He told me that my shoes made me look like a Dutch prostitute and that he’d started dating someone who was “sexually illiterate.” His interest in her was cultivated, it seemed, by her interest in him and a set of preternatural good looks. I hoped. I fingered haphazardly and anxiously the insane display of off-colored, lukewarm food that I had, in my nervousness, assembled. We suffered through requisite, bloated lapses in conversation and held deliberate eye contact. As we parted ways, he gave me a long hug and whispered, “let’s not do this again.”
9. Thinking got me intro trouble. Doing got me into trouble. Feeling got me into trouble more than anything else.
10. I have lived, thus far, for five years in New York City, which, as necessitated by the nature of its mythology, rarely exemplifies the nature of its mythology. In order for any of its potential ecstasies to find themselves felt, one must suffer, in equal or greater portion, shades of despair and desolation. And as extremes rarely manifest, the day-to-day sense of triviality and frustration was pronounced, diffuse. I tried to mediate this quality of ordinary life by getting drunk and texting ex-boyfriends. I wanted desperately to be affected by people. As I get older, to most of my urges and inclinations, I mutter, “No. Take a walk around the block. Put yourself to bed.”
11. Incapable of discerning good influences from bad, I regarded people indiscriminately for what new sentiments they could stimulate in me. All the dudes I dated shared a slightly cruel bent and the ability to debilitate, in some manner, my already shaking sense of self. None of these men struck me as particularly happy, but I am fairly certain that at least two will become famous.
12. My sense of guilt established itself paramount and manifested in diverse ways. I kept track of the damage I had done to myself. I wrote relentlessly, and, perhaps exclusively, poorly. Kafka’s The Metamorphosis exposed to me the possibility of perfect writing and simultaneous redemption, and as I was capable of neither, my profound swell of inadequacy arose. Guilt lingered about my flesh and inched the fat from my bones. My body seemed to me to harbor the imprints of some slight, unnatural disaster, which made it all the more surprising to me when I realized that people found me pretty.
13. Petty boundaries presented themselves ripe for the breaking. Kerrie and I once flirted shamelessly with the opening act at a Yoni Wolf concert and then retold the story fondly, as though we hadn’t basically humiliated ourselves. We did things, I think, simply because we didn’t know what else to do. For awhile, I was waking up regularly in a famous filmmaker’s house in Brooklyn and suffering tiny spasms of confusion and nausea. A sense of inconsequentiality permeated as experiments in intimacy and camaraderie mounted, diffused, and pittered into absence. The world was loud and transient, and we did confused things within it.
14. I developed insufferable habits. I alternated ordering cappucinos and bellinis at cafes while trying and failing to write things. I got drunk and wrote lines from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" on the bathroom walls of the exclusively gross bars I frequented. I became familiar with insomnia and hangovers. I settled into a mode of existing that straddled awkwardly some barrier between neuroticism and nihilism, which proved unsustainable.
15. My interest in moralizing subsided when it seemed to become impossible to justify any of my impulses to myself at any time by any logic whatsoever. My institution of self knowledge sort of came to rest on the Myers Briggs test and episodes of Mad Men, which have both been vastly valuable resources for me.
16. Exhausted by Manhattan, I made the misguided move to North Williamsburg, which proved emphatically to be not far enough.
17. In Williamsburg, everyone looked at everyone. The act of looking and of being seen created a reciprocal composite that plastered itself over the experience of existing in an infinitely public realm. The neighborhood and its cameras craved spectacle, and even at its outskirts, one felt compelled to consider deeply the appearance of self. On a date, I blithely mentioned that my bangs were so integral to my appearance that people often told me that they didn’t think they’d recognize me without them. “What other problems you got?” he asked.
18. On Bedford Avenue, I ran into a man I’d dated years prior and felt satisfied that his new movie had come out to sort of shit reviews. He looked pale and strung-out and dirty, but he was doing exceptionally well in his new job at Vice. At a piano bar in Greenpoint, we connected in a forced, dull way. Remembering more of him than he had of me, I reveled in the opportunity to suppress all my habits he’d found irritating and adopt the affects of someone slightly more to his liking. It was an experiment in utilizing my neuroses so as to suffocate my neuroses, which I found intriguing. Later that night, in a brief moment of comfortable intimacy, I accidentally mislabeled James Blake James Blunt and sort of understood why he’d broken up with me.
19. I attended parties in Bushwick where people spoke casually but compulsively about Kubrick and Heidegger. On rooftops and fire escapes, drunk kids made slurred, personal revelations and went home with one another. Typed amateur screenplays on old wooden desks fluttered in stray wind. My preferred party game was guessing peoples’ Myers Briggs types. Though I was almost always correct, I managed to endear myself to precisely no one.
20. After a night of drinking at Night of Joy, I texted Luke, “I’m making bad decisions for everyone.” “Tell me about your bad decisions,” he responded.
21. I befriended beautiful and intelligent girls who, without exception, felt that they had something to prove. One balanced her time maintaining a 4.0 GPA and blowing pungent pot smoke out the window of our dorm room in a weird effort to lift herself from the oppression of cliché. Another occupied herself by finding increasingly elaborate methods of masking a long-term eating disorder. Still another shouted at me, during a discussion of a disappointing break-up, “but I’m so smart, Laura. You have no idea how smart I am.”
22. Between 2008 and 2013, my historic fear of aloneness evolved into such a profound reliance on my solitude that I could sustain myself for days on end on my thoughts alone. The compulsive need I felt for silence made my choice to live here seem bizarre, rooted only in impossible abstraction. I tried to leave New York once, but it didn’t take.
23. As time passed, we all kind of started to grow up and practice settling down. I watched one of my best friends fall for and engage in serious relations with a dude that I had once unceremoniously but fervently referred to as a shithead. For whatever reason, I took this as an omen of audulthood.
24. Where I had once craved laceration and sublimation in equal amounts, I began to hanker for consistency and control. I satisfied myself, in this respect, by habitually making my bed. If I was feeling reckless or indulgent, I practiced prolonged eye contact with strangers in the street. I started reading a lot of George Saunders and cultivated a healthy terror of things to come.
25. There is a sense of profound discomfort that arises from existing in spaces made familiar by occurrences that have long since ceased to feel familiar. A tangential rationale explains why I have lost contact with most of the people I knew in college. What exists between me and the people I used to know is not bad blood, per se, but blood still comes to mind. I cannot fathom how much of myself I unwittingly lost to others when I hadn’t the slightest sense of what I was made of.
26. I want relationships, lately, without the hassle of cultivating or participating in them.
27. I moved into a windowless bedroom in Greenpoint, which expanded upon my personal, thematic divide of internal versus external. I once walked unknowing into an erratic storm in March that sent snowflakes jittering stupidly toward the sun. The air went soft for a moment. There was a rush of wind, a soft moan in the cavern of my ear, and then came the hurricane.
Laura Hooberman is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Greenpoint. This is her first appearance in these pages. You can find her website here.
Photographs by Sabine Wild.
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