Now Zero: In Through The Out Door
This month Ella (or something like her) has dinner with Andre and puts on a happy face
“These evenings are really like sort of sickly dreams because people are talking in symbols. Everyone is sort of floating through this fog of symbols and unconscious feelings. No one says what they’re really thinking about. Then people start making these jokes that are really some sort of secret code.”
The problem I always have writing this column is what I’ve come to think of (however inaccurately) as the slugline. You know, the establishing line at the top, “This month Ella murders all the inhabitants of a small village”. What happened this month? What happens any other month? Spoke rubbish with an ambassador (success), tried to XR my way onto some dick (fail), rescued a damsel from an Airbnb dragon and wrote a couple of short stories (somewhere in between). There’s always too little and too much to say. Or perhaps I’m only afraid to really say it: Nothing. I’m pissing my life into the wind like everyone else. And worse! Enjoying it.
Hallowmas season is back. Shahdaroba! The veil is said to be thinnest here and we’re also well into scorpion time. Speaking of which, I can’t tell if I’m preparing another great moult or growing sclerotic but lately I’ve no tolerance for fools. Trickster types are fine – indeed the relief of an authentic performance is as necessary as the tirelessness of one’s own character – and so I started the month watching fool of the hour Arthur Fleck, but put on your happy face because I’m going to spare you the tepid take. No matter how underwhelming his movie is, I’m talking about the kind of fool who won’t (or can’t) even acknowledge that he’s a character in it. Quite often he’ll play the miserable type in order to save face but to keep up the pretense he always has to embezzle further misery from those around him. What could be more monstrous, more ghostly and ghastly than the characterless? Some sort of half-assed proposition from him I’d imagine. I think I’m averaging one a week right now.
“We live in a world in which fathers or single people or artists are all trying to live up to someone’s fantasy of how a father or single person or artist should look and behave. They all act as if they know exactly how they ought to conduct themselves at every moment.” (My Dinner with Andre, 1981)
I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. Yours and mine, the garden variety. And as a result, trying to live in the “invisible planets on this planet” by surrounding myself with the bravest of brave men. So now my life is full of women.
LESLIE: Larry’s a poet but he works for an advertising agency. And ah, Sally’s an actress but she works for a photographer. Paco’s a policeman, he works for the police department.
SERPICO: I wanna ask you something, how come all your friends are on their way to being somebody else? Think about that.
The other and bigger problem is that I never have any idea of what I should say in the column either, believing deeply that to be most eloquent is to be silent.
So, I tried meditating. The mind is a coach and horses, a singing wire, a dissolving garden I thought as I failed to reach the place beyond language. And then I heard Bercow’s voice bellowing ORDERGH ORDERGH from inside my own head and felt too aroused to continue. Aside from that the sanest thing I did all month was to ask my favourite piglet to kiss her sandwiches before she eats them and I can’t really explain that.
On around the nineteenth I learned that pigs are pregnant for precisely three months, three weeks and three days. Ah yes, the dark feminine. Around the same time I happen upon a different curly tale written by my mother some years ago. Viviparity by the power of three, fearful symmetry indeed.
Perhaps it’s a sign. Perhaps the sexy cop costume I bought last year might finally do if someone invites me out of the wallow for Halloween. For in the wallow I have been, having quit my day job to go back from chronos to kairos time where I belong. The mud is all sorts of pointless, sludgy things (emails, LinkedIn) but it’s also decent meals and long walks along dark canalways to the Feng Shang Princess. One trotter at a time.
Wallowing is the sign of a healthy pig. They roll around in the mud to regulate their temperature and protect pale rashers from the sun. Swine have few sweat glands, high levels of body fat and a barrel-shaped torso that stores heat so wallowing is more efficient for them than sweating would be even if they had more sweat glands. The mud keeps parasites at bay too. I suspect my small passel of hogs will roll on.
As Be Here So Be Now
A few nights before Halloween Spooky Brexit is cancelled (of course) as I find myself in the setup to a real horror story: house and cat sitting as a favour in a small village a few miles outside of London. It’s a beautiful house but there are arguing doors (weak Feng Shui) and windows on all sides (VERY weak Feng Shui). I know this because I googled it but someone did tell me when I was quite young that if you can see all the way through a building from front to back it means the energy of the household will be drained out like blood. Outside there is a garden not unlike the one that drowns a child at the beginning of Don’t Look Now - scratchy green and English in all its bored affluence. Left alone it would all be wild briar and hundred-year curses. Beyond lie barren fields, strangled woods and the thorns of exurbia. Home.
In the evening as I write I realize I haven’t heard another human voice for over four days and drift to /nosleep. I light some candles and stare into the dim glass.
Not for so long but long enough.
I don’t know it but downstairs the back door into the long broad garden is gaping open. And now here I am, having Troxlered myself into a cute sweat. The perfect excuse for cutting a run-on sentence as short as a blunt axe into a sku—.
Just kidding. No new hollow men crept in. I just walked downstairs and shut the door. But when I tried the mirror hallucination thing I saw a Man Ray print burning out from within around two white coals. A map of shadows uncannily like this, which makes a lot of sense if you don’t really think about it. The most frightening thing in my life is (as usual) me.
I keep thinking about the line in My Dinner With Andre in which New York (which is of course, the whole world) gets compared to a concentration camp built and staffed by its own prisoners. I’ve been worrying that I have the opposite problem. I think I might have locked myself out. Perhaps there’s still time to go in through the outdoor.
Ella Plevin's column Now Zero is published once a month. Last time, she went to the ballet and wrote about traversing artforms, borders, and identities.