We All Live In A Fantasy

My partner and I live in an area of town that’s been quickly gentrifying over the last few years.

Though its now defined by the sheer amount of brand-new mid-rise apartment complexes, the whole place sodden with the smell of construction, the streets are still occasionally pocked in small, single story mixed-use, not quite industrial but not quite commercial, spaces that might have served as small office buildings for commercial kitchen grade equipment or landscaping pottery or art supplies.

While walking around recently, he pointed to one and asked,

“Could you live there?”

I looked over.

It was an old, single-story, faded-brick situation — some kind of small-scale industrial space that had probably been built anywhere between 1940s and 1960s but long since been boarded up, whose windows probably leaked and whose insulation probably seeped lead and asbestos and other toxins.

“Definitely.” I said.

“Me too,” he said.

Which was already obvious. Because we’d talked about things like this before. Everyone has their own variety of dream home, and my partner and are no exception. We’re just fortunate in that we both dream about the same types — which is to say: minimalist. In both size and accoutrements. And although both of us prefer the idea of a glass box, we’re also both the sort of people to entertain the idea of a place such as this.

I liked the look of this place and the way it felt and smelled and seemed in my two-dimensional fabrication.

As I stared at it. And I realized:

If we lived there, we’d be living in a fantasy.

And right as I was about to get a little messed up about that, I thought about all the mid-rise luxury apartments around us and I realized: actually, all homes are a bit of fantasy. Everyone in these apartment units — including us — was primping pillows and pouring coffees and “playing house” with start-kit housewares and sensory lives, trying to make some semblance of existence by surrounding themselves with suitable markings.

And whether we’re living in a broken down industrial building or we’re living in a luxury high rise, we’re all stepping into a role, trying to shape reality around us.

Outside the old building, an overweight, middle-aged woman with lopped, poorly-bleached hair was pouring cheap cat food into a bowl for the strays.

I watched the woman and thought about my mom, who did the same thing with the foxes in their neighborhood, against the requests of anyone who knows this, and everyone does.

“Everyone lives in a fantasy.” I said suddenly, without drawing the connections for him out loud.

“Yep,” he said. “They do.” Because he knew what I was talking about without me having to.

I read like 50 books a year, but I almost never read fiction.

I try, because I heard it’s “good” to read fiction, and I even got myself into a bit of a pickle, because I swore off “bullshit business books” (the “professional” variety of self help that is no less personal fantasy — in fact, perhaps even moreso) but at the end of the day, I just don’t enjoy it.

Fiction doesn’t appeal to me to write because there’s simply too much; it’s to hard to pull from infinity, to try to wrangle the ends of the universe onto a page.

That, and real life is fascinating enough; it’s far more beautiful an exercise to honor that.

(Also, poetry — don’t even get me started… why decorate a thing? Why drape it in pastel fondant flowers when you already had real ones to begin with?)

Fiction is: writing about anything except “the thing.”

There’s a joke about a conversation between God and St. Francis. Paraphrased, it goes:

God: Trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the Spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the
Autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep the
moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves become compost to enhance the soil. It’s a natural circle of life.
St. Francis: You’d better sit down, Lord. As soon as the leaves fall,
people rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
God: No way! What do they do to protect the shrubs and tree roots in
the winter, to keep the soil moist and loose?
St. Francis: After throwing the leaves away, they go out and buy
something called mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in
place of the leaves.
God: And where do they get this mulch?
St. Francis: They cut down the trees and grind them up.

Why mess with a thing like that?

Good nonfiction — the “private fantasy that is real life” variety; i.e., the personal essay” — is beautiful in a way fiction isn’t; beautiful in every way fiction fails. It’s like the smell of heat coming off of concrete, the acidic metallic taste of licking a battery or tweezing a hair. That sharp, sensory reminder: RIGHT HERE. And yet also not.

We all live in fantasy enough already; our lives being fantasy; subjective, all of us carving from it different things and arranging them in our heads to suit us.

I like to dwell on “ugly” things — things raw and rough and a little sad, even, because they feel more real and, as such, feel somehow more safe, in the same sense that emotional avoidance feels safe to those of us who do it (given the choice between that and attachment, or anxiety, or emotional health, which is the goal but can take work to maintain all the time.) Things can’t be cracked if there’s no veneer.

Veneer makes me anxious; what are people hiding? I’d rather have it all laid out, stretch marks and saggy balls and all.

There are only a few types of people:

  • Those who move infinitely outward, expansive in all directions: “anything but this;” “anywhere but here,” moving in every direction but inward.
  • Those who rake infinity over in the other direction — desperate to name, to know, to make familiar… they chase a thing into “nothing” and yet chase it still, carving things out of the picture and filling the thing with silence before ripping that out, too — a great abyss. An abstract inward that simply divides itself in half forever and ever and never ends. Minimalism, but in the abstract.
  • Those who want things held together by objects. A vase, meant to contain a marriage. Matching plates, meant to reassure.
  • And then, the very few: the ones who are here.

I am not those people — not really.

But I adore and respect them.

And aspire to be them sooner than I aspire to chase any fantasy beyond my own.

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