SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
April 5, 2015

The Wages of Sloth

 

For the last few weeks, the brain has been feeling dried out and empty, the space behind the eyes a howling, arid plain. It happens every now and again. After finishing something big, a novel, an article, a slew of little things, once it’s wrapped and set aside comes the inevitable silence and dead space as I try to decide what’s next. Sometimes it lasts a day, sometimes a month or two. Then it goes away. But while it’s happening, when there are no thoughts, no big projects to work on, nothing to focus on, when the va-va-voom has dissipated, things can get pretty bad. I feel no compulsion to work on anything, do anything at all, and those things I do force myself to do I do by rote, and resentfully. In short, I’m bored, and for me, being bored is worse than cancer. Time was I used to keep it at bay through a grab bag of high spirited criminal mischiefs, but that’s less of an option nowadays.

            Apart from drinking and smoking more and wandering aimlessly about, I’ve noticed there are a number of very tangible and real side effects that accompany Dry Brain Syndrome (as it’s known in medical circles). I can always tell there’s little action in my waking life, no stress, no nothing, when I begin to dream more. No, “more” is the wrong word here. While asleep, I begin to dream incessantly. I’m besieged by dreams, assaulted by dreams. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of dreams a night, beginning the moment I close my eyes. Sometimes a handful of the dreams are connected, but most of them remain merely little clips, sneak peeks into some larger story I will never know. And when I wake exhausted and foggy, I can still recall a number of them in vivid detail. When I’m bored the dreams become much louder, much more intense, and most take the form of nightmares. Like that one about the three drooling, sinister teenagers with Down’s Syndrome (two boys and one girl) who keep fading in and out of the walls. When things are stressful or otherwise lively, when I at least have something to keep me busy for much of the day, the dreams go away, or at least the intensity level ratchets down a bit, given there’s nothing to compensate for, brain-wise.

            But worse than the dreams (which can be as entertaining as they are terrifying and exhausting) are the physical manifestations of sloth. When I’m working on something, I can sit motionless for hours at a stretch, completely, almost psychotically fixated on whatever project is at hand, never thinking about eating or pissing or standing. The same thing happens when the Dry Brain creeps up on me, except then I’m not doing anything, not distracted by what’s in front of me. Just sitting for hours in this hard, straight-backed wooden chair I began using after blowing my back a few years ago. It only takes two or three days of this before the sores begin cropping up. I don’t even notice it happening until they’re already well-established. Specifically there’s that recurring one on my tailbone, a bulbous, oozing little thing that can be extremely painful until it finally bursts. Foul little things they are, and they tend to make life even more miserable than usual.

            At least with the tailbone sores, I know they’ll burst and go away eventually (until the next time), but more troubling are the cysts. I seem to be unusually prone to cysts, which start bulging out of assorted pressure points around the same time as that thing on my tailbone. This time they seem to be concentrated on my ankles for some reason, though I guess sitting the way I do, it makes sense. The cysts tend to concern me a little more than the oozing sores. They might be reabsorbed into the body, they might not. And when they aren’t, when they simply keep growing after I’ve noticed them, then I’m left with two options—either the “Wild Turkey and the shoe knife in the bathtub” routine, or, once I can no longer slip into my shoes without screaming, another fucking doctor.

            Those are the only two manifestations I’m dealing with this time around, but there have been others, too many to count, which have sprouted up on every part of my body at one time or another in the past, always under similar circumstances.

            The maddening flood of dreams I can take or leave, but this array of alien growths, all these pustules and sores and cysts, always gets me thinking back to David Cronenberg’s 1979 film The Brood, in which fear, anxiety, and internalized rage are expressed as grotesque eruptions on the surface of the flesh, and in extreme cases as a pack of murderous midgets.

            Because in many instances (for me anyway), having nothing to do, being under no real external stress, can become a very real source of mountainous internal stress all its own, especially considering the only way I’m going to get paid is to come up with something else to do. In that way, I guess all these sores and pustules and what have you serve a very real purpose, in that they give me a little something to worry about again. They also keep me from sitting too long. I guess I should be grateful.

            Now I just need to figure out how to get rid of all these midgets scurrying around the apartment before they break anything else.

 

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