The Help Desk

For those in distress

Willa Nasatir, Braid, 2013. Pigment print, 27" × 34". Courtesy of the artist.

This is the first installment of Kristin Dombek’s advice column. Questions can be sent to askkristin@nplusonemag.com.

Dear Professor,

Sometimes when I sit outside on my day off and wait for the sun, instead of the sun there are clouds, and pre-rain humidity, and mosquitoes. This summer, I have heard, the West Nile virus is coming to town, but sometimes I still can’t get myself to go inside. I bring out sunglasses, water, a beer, a hat, a light quilt, a pillow, and sunscreen in case the sun comes out. Then I stay outside until I’m hungry and thirsty and have drunk all the water and have to pee. It can be totally clear that the sun is definitely not coming out, but I’ll stay outside until it gets dark and the trees begin to look stern and worried, and it feels like things are looking at me sideways, suggesting a future rain and some imminent danger. I am thinking about things, over and over, but I can’t really explain what I am thinking about, and I’m not doing anything useful. It’s a little bit exciting, the abandon of sitting there anyway and all the nervousness and desire that entails, but I still don’t know why I am outside, and why I can’t move inside. What am I waiting for? And why do I want it so badly? Will I ever be able to go inside or will my desire determine everything?

Sincerely,

Waiting on Long Island

Dear Waiting on Long Island,

I do not know what you’re waiting for, or why you want it so badly. But what is inside that is so important? Your question leaves us wanting to know. Maybe it is laundry, or writing, a family obligation, an exercise video, or catching up on emails or tweets. Whatever it is, if it is really true that you are spending too much time outside doing nothing, alone, and you feel badly because of it in a way that makes the problem worse, and makes you a bad friend or boyfriend or writer or mother or activist or whatever love calls you to be in the world, then you will have to be more disciplined.

Some things you could do to become more disciplined are the following: (1) Make a list of things you want to do on your day off, on a Post-it note or some kind of paper you like, and then scratch off all but three things on the list, prioritize them, and put the list in a corner of your apartment or house. Every time you do something on the list, scratch it off, and then eat a piece of chocolate or something. When you’re done with the list, then go sit outside. (2) Instead of sitting around wishing you were the kind of person who would be capable of that, split yourself in two. Imagine that the other part of you, the part that is supposed to get the work done, is a small belligerent puppy who needs training. Not abusive training — we should probably treat nonhuman animals as if they are as important as we are, as beings — but the kind of training you have to give to a being who is not you but with whom you are interdependent (like a spouse, a child, or a puppy) in order to get along. Don’t be mean. Just ask it to go inside. Then do the same for every task you think the puppy should do. Do this without feeling every single little fucking feeling that the puppy feels. Remember, that little puppy seems adorable and endlessly deserving of indulgence, but cuteness is a fiction manufactured by biology (big eyes, huge head, stumbling around, taking lots of naps, and then looking all helpless and sleepy) in deadly collusion with consumer capitalism (spend all your money on dumb adorable things that do you no good and then, in despair at your brokeness, do it again) to try to get to you to waste your energy caring about things that suck the life out of you. (3) Consider the possibility that you’re drinking too much, or not really in your right mind, and join a recovery organization or yoga cult that will impose its idea of order onto your discombobulated, disarrayed, disaster of a self, and get stuck there instead.

If what is most important is really that you become more productive, that you do more things on your day off. If this is what you mean by “going inside,” as opposed to letting your “desire determine everything.”

The way you describe your paralysis reminds me of the guy in the beginning of Infinite Jest who is waiting for a pot delivery. The guy wants to go on a three- or four-day weed-smoking binge, which he is pretending will be his last one. He has cleaned his apartment, bought a new pipe, rented “film cartridges,” manufactured a vague emergency on his outgoing message, and now he is just worrying, like about whether the dealer will buzz or call, and waiting. The waiting becomes excruciating. After ten pages, his phone rings and his doorbell buzzes at the same time, and he can’t decide which way to move, so he ends up splayed in the middle of his apartment, arms and legs stretched out toward the door buzzer on one side, and the telephone on the other. And Wallace leaves the guy there, crucified in the shape of an X, a chiasmus, a portrait of profound stuckness. We don’t know whether the guy gets the weed or not. In your case, nothing tangible is coming, not even the sun, but you are stuck anyway. Wallace is trying to show us something about addiction; interestingly, you call yours a portrait of “desire.”

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