I didn't have an umbrella and that is significant, it is perhaps further proof of what I want to try to talk about here. Even though I must have bought at least ten umbrellas since moving to New York, I no longer have even one, have left them all over this city, forgetting about them as soon as I am inside somewhere and only remembering them later far from the place, "Wait, didn't I have an umbrella?" So to get milk for my coffee and shampoo for my frizzy head of hair, I walked to Walgreens in the light rain without an umbrella, and I got to thinking about my reading habits of late and why I am so worried about my love of Philip Roth, about what it could mean about me; how, and in what ways I have changed as evidenced by my changing reading habits.
And you see, I am flying on a plane this evening to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family and this is why this issue of self-image and self-presentation is nagging at me now, because I know that it will be nagging at me even more as I am sitting around a large table with all of my relatives and they will want to hear about my life, how am I doing, if I am ever going to go back to school, and what - this huge existential question tossed about as casual dinner chit-chat like it is the fucking weather or something - asking me what I am going to do with myself, what I want to do with my life. And yes, so the question, questions have been a little more amplified than they would normally be. I will hear about my younger sister's time in India, which I really do want to hear about. I will hear about cool places my mom went to for work. I will hear about my younger cousin having lots of features published in the Baltimore Sun. I will see all sorts of babies produced by aunts and uncles who were my age not too long ago. And then I will confess I have no clue what I am doing with myself, that I work at a job I hate that pays absolutely nothing, and I fantasize about moving to some hick town and listening to Neil Young until I die.
And is it really that time of year again? I was in a similar state last Thanksgiving and resolved to myself that by the next time I saw my family I would have my shit together, but I don't, and there is no clear date coming up where I see myself having my shit together.
And this is why I am a little worried about my love of Philip Roth because I think that all these things may be tied together, that in high school, I would read poetry, no matter how bad it was, and love it - that I cannot think of the last time I read poetry and was moved by it, where it inspired me to dream. Maybe what I am really worried about is that I have lost that dreaming capacity, that now I am reading nothing but Newark family dramas and that they are all I want to read. When was the last time I scribbled notes, thoughts, lines in a notebook? Is the last time I wrote anything resembling poetry almost two years ago, a poem I found recently in a notebook written about seeing the outline of Ben Haber's penis through his spandex shorts?
I am reading Roth's American Pastoral right now, a book that yes, and no, I don't mean to sound elitist, but that yes, is so suburban, is so bougie. I think I can picture the book in the hands of so many relatives, of so many adults. And I love it so much. There is nothing difficult about liking Philip Roth. Everyone likes him (save Bonnie). But it is also incredibly easy to like those people I used to read then, Ginsberg, Henry Miller, all the Beats. It is probably easier to like them, just because of that alternative appeal even though they are all so mainstream also. But it isn't really just sex appeal that I am worried about here, that someone will see me reading Roth on the subway and think less of me, think I am so typical - it is that I am the one looking at me on the subway and thinking that, that I am so typical.
And I don't know why I am using "typical" as a term of derisiveness. Really, I just don't know anymore, but this morning I was worried and thinking about all this as light droplets hit my face since I cannot hold on to an umbrella to save my life. It all seems like part of the same problem, the inability to hold on to an umbrella, the inability to get excited about poetry, still working at the Strand, and Philip Roth. Again, I am just not sure, and please don't ask me what it is I am unsure about, because even that, I am not sure about. I will tell you this, though - that I am sincerely excited about seeing my family, eating food at a table with them, and perhaps more than anything, open stretches of sky, strip malls, and one townhouse development after the next. My mom is picking me up at Dulles around 9:30 tonight, and I am going to hopefully sit up front with her and control the radio and do the thing that for me is how I imagine eternity. I am going listen to songs I like as we drive along highways in the black night.