When Not to Move

Countries and flags

Even the cosmopolis can feel confining.

I had harboured aspirations of striking out beyond the precincts of my ostensibly humble region and transferring my base of operations to somewhere fundamentally different; somewhere founded on a different design, a local perhaps perpetuated and driven by an ideology of a dissimilar tenor. The trajectory I envisioned, even from the point of my recent journey’s genesis—that first degree—took me up and out of my limited experience to environments diverse and challenging. Goodbye, Toronto! Goodbye, goodbye. Because really, how many jolly adventures can one have in the same local? Won’t the familiarity of a well-worn home lead to stagnation? Doesn’t the well run dry after ceaselessly drawing from it, year after year? And quite honestly, no one wants to be a parochial academic when the world beckons to ambition so compulsively. When you see yourself climbing up onto the shoulders of giants you imagine that giant standing at the epicentre of an unequivocally vital site, somewhere where they’ll see your banner snapping in the troposphere and it will mean something; the little people far afield might be driven to rally or flee.

Possibly, I exaggerate. If not, it’s still an indulgent fantasy. I came late to this.

I phoned a dear friend once many years ago, and I caught her at an unusual time. Her voice was thick with emotion, and as we talked she came to seem genuinely depressed. “My darling,” I said to her, “whatever is the matter?”

“Oh, it’s ridiculous,” she answered.

“Tell me,” I pressed.

“I’ve just finally realized that I’m never going to be a pop star.”

Hearing her articulate this epiphany was a minor detonation. There was a clear and lucid origin of perspective in its essence. Something had sunken in.

The allure of this particular pipe dream was relatively foreign to me. At that point in my life I saw myself as too unconventional, and too contrary, to be suited for any kind of status that relied upon mass appeal. The brand of success I entertained in my own reveries took the shape of a loving peer group and a chance to make a living creatively, but quietly and out of the way; and not so much out of pragmatism but rather an untrustworthy orientation toward brute reality. However, my friend’s realization, and what she was coming to terms with (however tongue-in-cheek) addressed a fundamental mythology that motivates a certain quantity of every project of self-determination. The spectre of destiny draws many of us forward; and it is seldom a modest phantasm that does the work within the formative imagination. Around the corner of the everyday is anticipation for a revelatory moment of discovery, a juncture where the avatars of forces which drive the world suddenly take notice, attend, and carry you off—transmute you from your station and install you within the charmed sphere of the relevant, respected, and adored.

The permutations of these fantasies are, of course, endless; and they drive the compulsive magnetism of celebrity. The public regards, but it also projects; and that delirious projection is a lot of what spurs much of the everyday toil through mediocrity. I suppose it’s most especially acute in the young, before the force of raw statistics begins to wear at your consciousness. However, at some point you have to mourn your chances.

I mourned early. I recovered.

And my ambition has evolved rather than degraded: I haven’t worn down—I’ve sharpened. I’ve fine tuned. This older self I have inherited, thanks to the inexorable dilation of time, entertains much grander designs than what my prematurely pessimistic ego made room for when I thought I was headed nowhere fast. I had always known that I would never be a pop star, but at some point I had become actually optimistic about the prospects of a more modest luminary position in the firmament. My dream machine has been steadily stoked these past few years, and where I would have been familiar tracing the inner contours of my psyche and discerning only resignation, instead I have adumbrated the shape and substance of actual desire; powerful objectives motivated. This is genuinely a surprise.

I blame positive reinforcement: the continuous encouragement of multiple successes after facing difficult odds.

So when my ambition to breach the national barrier surrounding me was forestalled last year, and my long range plans ran afoul of the very real odds stacked against me, I recalled my friend, anguished on the other end of the phone line. This will never be was stitched into the fabric of the sky, and I felt the destitution of a lofty dream aborted.

Never is a brutal oblivion; but never is also hard to ensure. In a universe that thrives on the proliferation of possibilities, of aleatory contingencies and powerfully interlaced probabilities, never is almost as unlikely as always. Not this one, no this time, is so much more palatable, and so much more credible, than never.

The dream can stand some adjustment. I do not need to be stationed in America to realize my ambitions. The well, here in Canada, in Toronto, has not run dry; and whatever arguments I thought made it imperative to shuck this city like an old skin have lost a lot of their validity under detailed scrutiny. Good things can come from familiar territories. Progress without movement can be an exciting way to examine personal morphology. One can trace new outlines over the old shapes on a map. The iterations might create a compelling palimpsest, a record and new manuscript simultaneously. The core of the exercise is solid, is estimable; familiar but still challenging. There are newnesses to learn from right here as much as there.

So I stay. So I commit to inscribing my mark with a fine point on a site that has asked me to use its surface. There are other ways to transcend boundaries and reach beyond one’s original sphere. The world becomes progressively smaller when it consists of continents of text. It can be nice to be at home and to travel without moving.

A Lack of Progress


Apathy and anticipation are both features of the void. At least, when the void is home to consciousness, an awareness positing “I am” despite an absence of purchase; in spite of the featureless lacuna that surrounds the self that has been inaugurated with experience, but which suddenly finds itself swaddled in lack: lack of stimulation; lack of motivation; lack of purpose and lack of any proposal. Yet within that absence possibility gestates. “I” can be spun out into action. “I” might question. “I” might answer an implicit query. “I” might create.

This is easier said than done when there are so few forces to impel progress. Though I don’t sit here without anything to do, there is definitely an absence of pertinence. I have prayed at the alter of the future; I have pleaded and I have bargained; and while I wait for the powers that move my world to mobilize and give form to what must eventually succeed this moment, this non-event that expands to consume days and weeks, I feel I am filled with nothing.

Of course any concept of nothing in this universe is an illusion. We are most assuredly surrounded by something, made of something, inundated with and by things both within and without. The concept of being truly alone and bereft is a conceit that comes out of frustration, boredom, and powerlessness. The feeling of nothing that can surround the self like a pure, mathematical zero, is primarily a product of waiting. When and how, questions that assuredly exist, which count as something more than nothing, gesture towards a yearning: a desire to know the formation of developments in time, to predict a future less featureless and wanting.

What is hard to remember in times where the world proffers no stick and no carrot is that motivation and actuation flow from the agency that emanates from the I that is constantly trying to know itself—the only engine that any of us can recognize implicitly; vitally. I question the nature of my own facticity during these times of lassitude. Where can you locate the locus of identity when there is so much unbounded, unremarkable stuff filling the regions of awareness? How might one find the centre? Why can I not materialize an engaging product of my various quantities, unseen but felt all akimbo in the disordered vault of my psyche? Does the knot that questions ever receive a form of definitive answer?

So much work goes into the attempt to accomplish the impossible—to observe oneself observing; to turn back upon the origin and affirm that it is real and not some solipsism. It is a yearning that works against the mechanics of the real, an attempt to corral the symbolic into the service of proving its own premise; but this statement is unprovable. Our paradox has no resolution. These collections of atoms turned upon themselves, asking what they are and how they came to be must also answer their own interrogations in such a way that they might justify their anguish. I am here as long as I am, and, no matter the circumstances, here has no rest. Out of the something that masquerades as nothing, out of the ostensible and jejune lack that threatens the awareness of self that floats unbounded and undirected, one must posit. One must assert. One must commit to a protean premise that can justify the work of experience. If action is to define the self, then each articulation of consciousness is an irrefutable stroke recorded in the void; the void that is never empty. These strokes accumulate, they cluster, and, though they may not ensure a definite margin to separate act from perception, each movement is a decision that affirms and directs life. Life is the business of sustaining an ineffable spark. Even cocooned in absence it burns, mystified by its own light.

Touching Choice

I’ve been out of the pages and into the streets: down the highway: to different halls. I’ve been reconnoitring; figuratively; physically. The future, you see, has sent out invitations, and I need to assess which trajectory I most desire to travel. I need to figure out in which direction to launch myself. These are heady times.

But you can never truly get what you want, says Lacan. The objet petit a resists every attempt to possess. In this case, the inaccessible real and the perpetual deferral is any satisfaction with whatever choice is adumbrated; or even committed to. I have options, each which will fail to satisfy, but none of which will prevent the attempt to enjoy. In the end does it matter to whom I say “yes”?

Of course it does. It’s a smoke screen to suggest otherwise. The shape of the future arriving may not lead to a subsequent future after that worth vying for. I need to want to fight the interminable fight, and strive for that petit a, which, in this case, may involve struggling to define the indefinable elusive for many more years to come. A radical ambiguity is part of the appeal.

If only I could decide where I want to live, what I want to owe to whom, and how best to plunder some incomparable booty from the universe.

I’ve worked hard to get to faced with this predicament. Do I enjoy it now that it’s arrived? Can I live in this moment satisfied with the accomplishment, or is it a perpetually postponed arrival to a destination I can all but connect with? I’m reaching out. My fingers are extended. Contact is a hair’s breadth away . . .

Everything moves forward.

Unconscious Reading

It is worth noting that the books do not close after dark: not when the sun goes down, nor when the lights go out. My Kindle gives off a sallow, uneven glow that only serves to cut out its unnerving “stable text,” even after the rest of the apartment is shut down. I can read wrapped in the approximate gloom of the urban night. And even after I’ve deactivated my 21st century reader and put it aside, sometimes, I still go at it. There are periods of sleep where words will scribe themselves through the pages of my dreams. There are times when I read my unconscious.

I suppose this is the result of being so absorbed by the act. Reading is the constituent, cerebral material that composes the greater share of my commitments, my ambitions, and my pleasures. Yet I always feel behind. It doesn’t happen fast enough. The list is too long. My eyes, my brain, are too slow. These past four years I have been trying to catch up, to inscribe a state of knowing on a space of acute ignorance, but there abound more and more possible texts to assess and consume. Beyond reading lists, beyond recommended articles and current distractions, there is a paralytic superabundance of things written down that it would be useful to encounter; and there is only so much time.

This is a situation that I must make peace with. Reading and dreaming share a coterminous relationship for the academic in training: sleeping or waking they are activities that superimpose upon one another and share the same boundaries of experience. They expand as a fused, organic unit. I need both to continue forward; I am bound up by both as I plan and galvanize the trajectory of my future; and the spectre of improbability haunts both their enactments.

“Have you heard the speech?” asked a professor last fall after I had asked him for a letter of reference.

“Which speech?” I responded warily.

“The one where I tell you that there are no jobs, that the whole institution is in flux, that tenure may be a thing of the past—”

“Oh, that speech!” I said. “Yes, yes—I heard it when I first decided to come back to school.”

“Alright then. I just feel I have a moral obligation to warn you off.”

“And I respect that.”

Which is true. What I told him then, and what I’m affirming now, is that there is little else that I can envision myself doing besides this. It is not apathy that has driven me to this point—it is genuine ambition. I have tried other avenues, other prospects, and the result was not only underwhelming, but also depressing, and somewhat claustrophobic. The dream has always involved many books, and disseminating the texture and tenor of thought. Contributing to the sum total of human knowledge. There is no other professional arena for a humanities major. My only option is to think and write my way forward, and heed my unconscious as it discloses itself in phrases: words scribbling their way out in the dark.