Nothing more, nothing less.
A piece of toast. It looks like it’s asking to be finished. But it also looks like it’s enjoying a last moment, a victory bask in a sliver of sun that streams through the window and over a sink that doesn’t work. Or, doesn’t work entirely. It’s the plumbing that I still haven’t gotten to yet, nine months later. But I can wash dishes in there. And spit in it. Pour foul shit down the drain. That’s something. That’s not nothing.
I can’t stop looking at this avocado toast. I’m referring to the me who lives in the present tense - the one who’s trying to think up something, anything, to say about this toast. The one who struggles, day by day, minute by minute, with the flip side of passion: the fear of failure, the fear of letting go, the fear of giving up.
Apparently the me from the past, the one who took the bite, took this picture, also enjoyed looking at it. Enough to take the picture. The me from the past placed the toast on the counter and thought, that looks nice.
I keep changing and these different versions of me keep piling up. I’m proud of myself for taking the time to take the picture. I’m always proud of myself for taking the time to take the picture. Billions of people capture billions of photographs, but I broke from the pack. I use a thrifted 35mm camera. I take one or two pictures every few days and it’s an ordeal. Plus, there’s always the risk that I’ll lose an entire roll. It happens. It makes me want to cry - all of those memories, lost.
What does any of this mean? Why? What is it with me and this obsession with breaking from the pack? Is it ego? Is it creativity? I don’t know. What I know is that I am starting to put in the time. I’m paying attention. I’m having moments. I get on my knees, often, and pray that I can make a life worth living by stringing together a bunch of moments worth having. It’s a strategy, an approach. It’s a hook to hang on.
These different versions of me are really piling up now. Lonely Bill. Happy Bill. Sad Bill. Adventure Bill. The Bill who bakes bread and says, “I’m never again going to eat store-bought bread,” and the Bill who, a few days later, eats an entire loaf of Sara Lee-brand white bread, sitting in the dark, listening to the radio, thinking, this, actually, all of it, is okay.
I can’t say too much more about the Bill who took this picture, but I can say this: he got the camera, wound the film, adjusted the light, the focus, the stance. He got it. I love that version of myself. He breathes. He turns his time into gifts, flings them into the future. This particular gift, the ghost of avocado toast, is something that now I can treasure. And share. I’m sharing, reader, with you! Isn’t this fun? Isn’t it?!
But here’s the thing: It might not even be toast. It kinda looks like bread. Perhaps it tasted horrible. Perhaps it was a miserable morning. The light doesn’t look like warm light. It looks, actually, like cold, light. Cold, cold light. It looks like one of those mornings in Fairplay where I woke up and wanted to cry, immediately, furiously, but was too cold. Didn’t have the energy. My propane heater works half the time. Sometimes I wake up, shivering, and my thermometer says 5. 10. Fahrenheit. Perhaps the solar panel was covered in a thick layer of frost. Meaning: dead. Perhaps I forgot to plug the panel into the battery. Perhaps I didn’t even know why nothing was working. Perhaps I was too lazy to figure anything out.
I think – so often, too often, multiple times per day – of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. Her words are on a loop in my head: So many things seem filled with the intent to be lost. This is the cost of eliminating distractions from my life: My brain is a whirlwind of poetry and words. Language. Some of it stolen. Lots of it unwritten, just thought. All of it feels loaded. Pregnant. Purposeful, I just don’t know why. I also don’t always know if I care or not.
That the avocado toast might actually be avocado bread feels like a metaphor for everything. The teeth marks are gummy. There are no crumbs. What do we do when the truth is a lie?
After months of silence, I’m sharing again. In the meantime, Toni Morrison died. Toni Morrison died.
Toni Morrison died, so I reread Song of Solomon. I had the thought: I don’t have time for this. Then I had the thought: Nothing is more important than this.
Finding time. Making time. Using time. Spending time. Losing time. There are so many things that we do with time besides worshipping it. Toni knew. She knew a lot of things about a lot of things, and she told us. For example, I’ll never think about bed-making the same after I learned how Toni feels on the topic:
She [Toni Morrison] marveled at the ways of being that people have let go of, that mystify her. When she found out that I had never slept on ironed sheets, her mouth hit the floor. “Do you make your bed every morning?” Rarely, I said. “Well, how do you get in it?” she asked. “I don’t know, I just straighten the duvet and get sort of comfortable in the tangle and climb in.” She groaned. I told her that my mother said there was nothing in the world like ironed sheets. “Your mother is right,” she said. “There is nothing in the world like ironed sheets.” She remembered a trip down South, when her host put her sheets out to dry on the jasmine bush — or was it a frangipani tree — and then ironed them. “Oh,” she said, inhaling deeply as if the sheets were still in her hands, “it was a sleep like no other. I’ve never had anything like it since.”
So, Toni’s dead and I’m still here, wondering if it’s even remotely okay to say something like this: I want to pick up where she left off. She left batons all over the place. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. Hundreds of thousands of batons, everywhere, waiting to be picked up. Waiting to be walked forward.
I have been telling new and better stories - about myself and my place in the world. But not on the internet. Until today. I’ve been telling them to my journal. The camera, and this piece of avocado toast, has something to do with this new approach. I have almost a hundred photos now. They’re 4X6 prints in a little wooden box. They also exist in a digital folder on my digital “desktop” named “social media fodder” and though I’m sometimes tempted to blow my load, to just share them all in one fell swoop, I know better than that. Instant sharing is an addiction. Over-sharing is a failure. This will work better if I release my life slowly, intentionally. If I take a month to finger a physical photo before I decide what, if anything, I need to say about it.
Intention. Attention. These are the words. Time. Memory. These are the vectors. Life. This is the mystery. Mystery is sacred. Sacred is spiritual.
I tell my stories to strangers I meet in parking lots and rural libraries. And in the meantime, the grimy globe keeps growing older. Those aren’t my words. I stole them from Troy Jollimore, just like he stole that book. I see his name everywhere. I think it means that my attention is starting to focus in the right direction. I also keep seeing Jane Hirshfield. Ocean Vuong. These people that take up seats in my brain. Mary Karr is there. Susan Sontag is there. Jia Tolentino is looking way too good and way too fun and way too young - it makes everyone else suspicious. But we can’t not feel like we love her. Rumi and Richard Powers immediately hit it off. Thoreau wants in. I mean, he’s in, but he wants even more in. Powers is down. Rumi is skeptical. I’m torn, because it’s fun to be torn. Huxley sits with Georgia O’Keefe, George Saunders, Kerouac and that whole crew. Mary Karr makes some strange face at David Foster Wallace who sits at the head of the table, against his own will, obviously. This is my brain, David. You will sit where I tell you to sit. He’s pissed. He pushes his palms into his temples and moans. I don’t care. We owe each other nothing. We owe each other everything.
A few days ago, Tommy Orange made a powerful entrance. Everybody stops. We’re all rapt with this guy because we’re all addicted to something. Some of us worse than others. Me and Mary Karr and David Wallace all get the same lump in our throat. We want to cry, but we won’t.
Here’s a more normal way to describe what happened: I found There There in a Free Little Library in Taos. It. Is. Explosive.
I completely forgot that I’m supposed to be telling you about avocado toast.
I completely forgot that I’m supposed to be figuring out, once and for all, what any of this has to do with social media - with my new approach to social media. I just explained this, at a cafe, to a barrista. Not the barrista, but a different barrista that I met at a different cafe. He walked up to me, just now, and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “So you’re cheating on me?” because normally I write at his counter, half a mile from here.
I’ve been in Taos for a week but it feels like I’ve been here forever. It feels like I might stay here forever.
The experiment is simple. It is this: Will anybody, anywhere read any of this?
If I put my unfiltered conciousness on a platter - who will join the feast?
And - even scarier - am I capable of letting it all out? Will the photos help? Am I capable of slowing down? Are you?
It seems, maybe, miraculously, like the answer could be yes.