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Notebook: A donation, mid-2021 / Alina Stefanescu




It was difficult to avoid the virus.


It was likewise difficult to avoid finding our words infected by the writers we read during the period of social alienation wherein we existed to one another as sources of possible contagion. Collectively, we felt icky.


I hailed my Catholic neighbor. "Ick!" I declared.


"Anything goes," she replied. Her husband had recently lapsed from the one true church and was now pursuing a hobby that involved making things from wood and whistling.


Anything had truly gone and outdone itself, I thought, while standing next to my unlapsed neighbor and surveying the view from her porch, a view that included an unfortunate woman resembling myself doing cartwheels near the remorseless dead daffodils as the man who married the woman known as myself took pictures.


Alas! is a fantastic word when accompanied by Victorian punctuation.


Alas, at this point, our marriage presented itself as a teepee on a meadow, set above a colony of naked mole rats who were born blind and live each day and diligence and mutual aid, maintaining the village of tunnels and rooms beneath the structure that we, in our foolish love, in our petrifying lust, in our insatiable demands for solitude and intimacy, had decided to colonize. Like Fernando Pessoa's rooster, singing odes to liberty because he had been granted two roosts, we would stay in the coop until something killed us. Like Edvard Munch, who reclaimed paintings after they'd been sold in order to paint a replica of those paintings, indulging in an act of preservation which refused to part with the motif and the form that the found memory had become on canvas, my husband and I took naked photographs of each other in places without electricity. Like the early Surrealists who offered tangential space to female artists, giving them the choice between the femme-infant or Andre Breton's inspired somnambulist Nadja, my husband, who aligned himself emotionally with Leanora Carrington, and held himself to the the standard of "slightly crazed muse," believed that he would be adored, worshiped, recreated and then replaced by my next inspiration, which is to say, our children, and the portrait of me nursing children which neither of us elected to frame.


"I identify with Max Ernst in marrying Peggy Guggenheim, since clearly one must have money and visas," my husband confessed, forcing me to identify with Max's spouse, given the nature of our coupling, making it seem as if it was his immigrant wife who best represented Peggy explaining to others that Leonora would never return to Max because she could no longer be his slave, and slavery was the only way she could live with him, which is to say, slavery was the natural order of their relationship.  


I had been with so many people, in multiple forms of togetherness, each with its own inarticulate expectations, that there was little left to offer the neighbor. And if I keep returning to the Futurist truck, it is because the Futurist truck keeps returning, as it did, again, that morning, in the mobile togetherness of the carpool line, where I'd performed a series of waving gestures punctuated by open-window conversations characterized by lack of intention (or plausible deniability of intention), only to find, when I drove home, that the stranger was parked in outside house so I drove past, reluctance to find myself in the intimacy of an encounter, on the doorstep with an intruder whose moves could not be anticipated so much is navigated, requiring the thoughtfulness of risk management and that I was no longer beside another but actually with them, deciphering their needs, absorbing their worries, becoming the blank for their shakiness. When faced with the two, I preferred the suspended animation of the carpool, as articulated by Zygmunt Bauman in his chapter on forms of togetherness, which I read to impress a man I had not slept with.


For those unfamiliar with Bauman, I offer a synopsis of ways of being-with distinguished by the form of anticipated encounter, its physical, emotional, and social proximity. The first form, mobile togetherness, which I experienced in the carpool line, often occurs on busy streets or in shopping malls, where the distance between bodies assumes that present are committed to maintaining this distance, also known as personal space. When a stranger violates the presumption of personal space, he can be considered intrusive. Tempered togetherness is the sort of togetherness arranged in an office or factory. Manifest togetherness is the loose, ecstatic, firework-infected sense of belonging that one finds at a political protest or a stadium sport. Postulated togetherness is a theoretical togetherness, one that requires an extension of abstraction from Nation, race, class, etc. Meta-togetherness, also known as matrix-togetherness, can be found in bars, pubs, and dance halls, the transactional quickie of intense bonding based on mutually assumed intoxication. We are lonely in all of them really. Fucking miserable. Hence the armies of equally-miserable therapists going viral, spiraling across manifest screens with in those hauntological manifestations.


***


I wanted to tell my unlapsed neighbor about my friend, GD, and how this friend went through phases looking for happiness. GD collected prescriptions like Balkan elders save plastic bags. GD watched any blockbuster film with more than four vowels in the title, focusing on the sex scenes, the so-called aesthetic of ecstasy; and then, she watched herself, watching: the pulse rising as eyes met, the gaze following the man's eyes across the woman's body. There were notebooks where her words met those of others, the ghosts she knew better than lovers, the ones whose nightmares mapped over her body like rapture. This was GD's secret, the life she lived with ghosts, the one she couldn't endanger by sharing, since ghosts and viruses had evolved to ruin entire lives out of spite for their therapists.


"Promise me you'll never be happy," GD had said to a friend named Aurelie as they stood outside Joan of Arc's chapel in the village of Domremy-la-Pucelle, a town named after a flea. 


"Never," Aurelie replied.


The two girls used a sewing needle to prick their fingers and sign the promise in blood, leaving legible evidence. Someone who knew GD and Aurelie called this event a "pilgrimage" but no one knew what any of these words meant. No one had ever actually witnessed a "never" taking place. A dog growled in the foreground anyway.



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ALINA STEFANESCU is "doing her best with what she's been given," after having read this particular phrase on the wall of a dentist's office.

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