Featured image via citydictionary.com
“The problem,” my sister is telling me, “is that they’re all doers. Every single one of them.”
We’re sitting on the couch in my parent’s house, several years back, talking about our dating lives, which means that what we are really doing is sharing frustrations. I am having a hard time articulating just what it is that I find so maddening about the process, when my sister gets right to it.
“Every woman I go out with,” she says, “is into activities. Bike riding, rock climbing. I just want someone who likes to watch TV.”
Yes, I think. Exactly.
It’s not that I’m so invested in the idea of watching television. I just find all this focus on doing to be exhausting.
In my family, we nap. Which is not to say that we lack motivation or that we shun time-consuming accomplishments. My father is a hard-working physician, my mom highly committed to her various community-oriented projects, and my sister an ever-hustling freelance sign language interpreter. But when we’re not doing these things, we like to sleep. Or just laze around. We do not have an overabundance of energy.
If there’s one person who stands as an exception to this rule of professional-accomplishment-followed-by-extensive-downtime, it’s me. It’s not the extensive downtime part. Sometimes my whole life feels like an endless stretch of downtime. But the other side of the equation? For the past seven years I’ve devoted myself almost exclusively to the pursuit of various freelance careers (film reviewing, medical transcription), only occasionally achieving anything like “professional accomplishment”. What this means is that I spend a lot of time sitting—or very often laying—around my apartment.
Last year, weary of the freelance lifestyle, I took a job for three-and-a-half months at a bookstore in the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO. Given its proximity to the waterfront—as well as its policy of stocking ample New York-themed paraphernalia—the store attracted more than its share of tourists. Our interactions with these visitors consisted largely of instructing them on how to get onto the Brooklyn Bridge, but once in a while they’d mumble something about the “DUMBO arts district” and ask where all the galleries were. As far as I knew they didn’t exist. Or there were a few tucked away in places where I didn’t know to look. But the promise of the neighborhood as arts enclave, which may have seemed strong ten years ago, had long ago evaporated. All I could see when I looked around was million-dollar condos and an ever-shifting assortment of tech companies.
Among these new businesses was an abstractly titled entity that was housed in the building next to the bookstore and where I once went to work an off-site event. The company was hosting a presentation by an entrepreneurial guru and I was there to sell copies of his latest new age-inflected book. Before heading over, I searched the company’s website and found it full of impressive sounding claims, but after ten minutes, I still could not determine what it was that they actually did.
Although the talk was well-attended, only a handful of people made their way over to the book table and, of these, only two made a purchase. The rest wanted me to sell the book to them, to give them the elevator pitch, but since I hadn’t read it and had little interest in its contents, my efforts were anything but inspiring.
My father is telling me about all the new start-up companies that are opening in his town.
“Yeah, but start-ups,” I say. “They’re really not good.”
“Start-ups mean jobs,” he says. “Why aren’t they good?”
“Well, because, you know, start-ups, they don’t, I guess, they don’t do anything.”
Live photos are more than just photos. They come alive when you touch them. And then they go back to still when you let go.
What is it about inaction that is so endlessly inviting? The ease of inertia, the shucking off of responsibilities. There is something that is difficult to resist. But in not resisting, there is always a sense of guilt. Always the feeling that you are leaving things unaccomplished, which is a crime against (depending on your sense of self-importance) either yourself or all of humanity.
A YouTube commenter on an advertisement for the iPhone’s live photo function:
OMG! NOO. What? I’ve never seen that… wait. I did see that before. It’s called a GIF. Animated pictures existing since the beginning of fucking computers! Bullshit. But hey. Its Apple. We need it or we’re doomed.
When I think about all the effort that it takes to run even one tiny part of the world, one system, whether something small like a coffee shop or considerably larger like the New York City sanitation department, it seems unimaginable. The fact that some grouping of people, each member performing his or her specific task, can sustain an entire multifaceted operation is rather beyond my ability to conceive. The daily maintenance of my own person seems chore enough.
It is true, however, that one reason why I lack the energy to complete monumental undertakings—or even modest ones—is that I take plenty of medication. 40 mg of Celexa every morning and a small dose of Klonopin before bed are enough to sap me of a good portion of my daily vitality.
For a long time I do not realize this, and so, in an effort to improve my energy levels, I change my diet, experiment with supplements. Nothing works. Finally, I figure out that it has to be the anti-depressants and when I do, it fills me with a sort of despair since there is no chance of me going off these drugs.
I am an avid baseball fan, which means that I like to watch Mets games on TV. Occasionally, I will head out to the ballpark, but I much prefer to watch at home.
When people ask me why, I explain that, unless you can manage to snag prohibitively expensive seats, you can’t really follow the intricacies of the game in person. When I’m at home, granted access to the camera’s privileged view, I can track exactly how the pitcher is approaching the batter. From my usual perch in the upper deck, I can barely differentiate curveballs from fastballs.
But is there more going on here than my high-minded justification lets on? Might it be that I prefer to watch on television not because I can follow the game more closely (my attention wavers anyway), but because I’d rather be on my couch than be out in public, interacting with people other than the announcers I’ve become accustomed to hearing (Keith! Ron! Gary!)? Might it also be because I don’t want to have to share my team with people I don’t know, to acknowledge the social aspect of the game that denies me proprietary rights to the Mets? It seems certain that some combination of laziness, social anxiety, and a false sense of ownership are at play here.
“There’s nothing worse than bruises on fruit”
“The Spanish Empire was great. No, it was great.”
The reason I don’t last at the bookstore is because the owner is openly contemptuous of his employees, and even though he only pops in about once a week, his presence is so noxious that it makes the prospect of continuing to work for him impossible. An obsessive neatfreak, he’ll come strolling through the front door, survey the floor, walk over to a chair, then come back to the register and instruct a bookseller to leave his perch and move the errant chair into what he deems its proper place.
But even when he is not present, the atmosphere is awash with toxicity. His sneering rigidity is bequeathed to those below, our direct supervisors, and given the two-tiered physical layout of the store, with the administrative offices overlooking the salesfloor, there is the constant sense of being watched as we go about our business. This is intolerable and so in short order I find my way back into the relative inertia of the freelance life.
The Northside Festival, based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (second most common question asked by tourists at the bookstore: “How do I get to Williamsburg?”) is held every summer and finds “over 100,000 creative and cultural trendsetters converge… to uncover the future of music, innovation and content.” There is a whole slate of “new innovation speakers”, a free “innovation expo”, as well as a film festival and a full concert lineup. “A single day,” the website notes, “might include discovering your favorite band, the next big start-up, or the best film you’ve seen all year.”
I am no longer active in the dating world, but when I was, I made use of ample websites and apps in order to meet women. I’ve always been too shy to approach anyone in a bar and one negative aspect of working at home is that I did not tend to make many new acquaintances. Turning to the internet, I joined OKCupid, continually checking both the website and the mobile app, and later signed up for the app-only Tinder. Given my penchant for obsessive behavior which characterized my dating practices for the few years that I was in the game, I had, at one point, as many as seven dating/hookup apps downloaded to my phone. It is tempting to dismiss most of these tools as useless, but I would not have met my partner without them.
When I say that I am given to inaction, it is only at certain times. In general, I vacillate between an ascetic inclination and a tendency toward over-indulgence. I have gone for long periods of time subjecting myself to a stringent code of behavior—dietary restrictions, fiscal limits, a ban on alcohol consumption—which created a feeling of self-purification and also ensured that I had very little interaction with the world. After living like this for a while, though, it would become impossible to continue and then I would go out every night for a week.
During the time I worked at the bookstore, there were constant mumblings about the store losing its lease. Opening a decade earlier when rents were far cheaper, the store was nearing the end of its original ten-year contract and was in negotiations with the landlord. Word was there was no way they were going to be able to meet the new rent demands.
This should have been an easy narrative to write. Plucky independent bookstore owner versus evil real estate conglomerate. A center for the arts sacrificed for the continued gentrification of the neighborhood. But we could not view it in these terms. The owner’s contempt for his own workers made it impossible to see his predicament as any sort of righteous calling.
From the DUMBO NYC blog:
Townsquare Expos, producer of some of the largest expo events in the Tri-State region, will bring Trade Brooklyn, the largest business-to-business trade show of its kind, back to Downtown Brooklyn this spring.
Trade Brooklyn aims to explore and celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit and explosive business rebirth occurring in the area. Expected to draw over 2,500 business professionals, and with over 150 businesses exhibiting on the show floor, Trade Brooklyn promises to be bigger and better than ever.
The Mets continue to be the deadbeat, alcoholic uncle of the MLB family. The organization’s latest source of embarrassment comes as the result of an under-the-radar decision to lease out a Citi Field storefront to Amway, the notoriously shady “multilevel marketing” company that makes its money by ensnaring people in a pyramid scheme.
Watching sportscasts, the announcers would have you believe that it’s your civic responsibility to support your local team. When they’re covering a ballclub that is doing well but whose games are nonetheless sparsely attended, the broadcasters become accusatory. As if by not investing in tickets, you’re not just a bad fan, but an inadequate citizen.
Although I don’t count my preference for baseball telecasts among my sins, I am perhaps in other ways an inadequate citizen:
I swear loudly in public.
I get all my news from Twitter.
I don’t support my local businesses.
I spout self-righteous political rhetoric without taking any action to fix the world’s problems.
I vote for third-party candidates.
I receive benefits despite being “middle class”.
I’ve gone through three iPhones.
I am not “community-oriented”.
I always prefer sleeping.
Is there any theater that better quickens the imagination, that more effectively awakens thoughts of tenderness, than the bed in which I sometimes find oblivion?
I would like to think that there is the possibility of something radical, or at least progressively anti-progressive, in my stance of refusal. That by not participating in a culture of endless innovation, I might somehow be making a conscious stand for inaction, for a non-monetized life.
I stay inside and write words that are not intended for publication. I stream videos of old hip-hop songs.
That if everyone did as I do, we could somehow halt our endless quest for progress and rethink our priorities about what exactly it is that we want to put out into the world.
The indigenous art of all epochs destroyed by missionaries.
That we can, paradoxically, improve by not improving. Or by improving differently.
After my last shift at the bookstore, I go home. I return to my apartment where I have my couch and my television and my bed. I pick up the remote and put it down. I pick up a book and I put it down. I pace up and down the apartment and then I put on a jacket and head out into the Brooklyn evening.
I walk down my block which I have walked down thousands of times before. I continue to walk down the street and I do not know where I’m going. I keep moving until I come to an avenue lined with bars, a vast array of dives, pubs, sports bars, dance clubs, and lounges, each one larger and more packed with people than the last.
Andrew Schenker is a New York-based writer. He serves as reviews editor at The Destroyer and is an MFA candidate at Bennington College.