You moved into your own flat. You went to a shop with your mum and dad and bought a desk to study at. The desk has got three drawers. For a while, the bottom two drawers stay empty until you’ve amassed an increasing amount of stuff. Key rings, passport photos, receipts and paracetamol. When you move house, you move the stuff with you. Beneath a few notebooks and rubber bands, there’s a letter from a former lover. You no longer see each other.
You miss someone who moved abroad. Sometimes you get up with that feeling. You’re tired of the space between your two bodies. The presence of an absence. It was already like that, but the space used to be smaller, more manageable. You bridged it by walking or cycling. Now you think about the hole between yourself and death, which you are hoping is endless. If it’s up to you, it will be a landscape, a desert perhaps.
You used to spend entire summer holidays listening to Bert & Ernie cassette tapes. You’d sit on a wooden swing and listen to Bert & Ernie singing: It’s a mess, mess, terrible mess; we haven’t tidied up in a long time. Mess, mess, everything’s lost; we haven’t tidied up in a long time. La la la la la, la la la la la! There are people who are constantly tidying up. They put all their stuff away behind closed doors. If everyone displayed everything, no one would sing any more.
You’re in a study with large windows. There’s a bed someone put there. Someone who believes in the importance of doing nothing. Someone who thinks that looking is better than living. Someone who says: Reality is what you are capable of. You lie on your back on the bed and look up at the sky. Twelve swans fly past the window and you think about the journey of thousands of miles they’ve made through the sky and that if one of the swans gets ill, there’s always another swan who lands with him or her. They wait together on the ground until the sick swan is well enough to set off again.
You saw a piece by Marlene Dumas in the Stedelijk Museum that stuck in your mind. It’s called Don’t Talk to Strangers (1977). It’s a collage on canvas with sticky tape and fragments of letters from friends and lovers that the artist collected. She’s cut out just the beginnings and the endings of the letters. You think it’s a large canvas, maybe four feet wide, you’ve never been good at estimating size. On the left-hand side of the piece, the salutations have been placed in a vertical row, in different types of handwriting. At the right-hand side are all the signings-off. One person ended their letter with a cloud of crossings-out. Or perhaps it’s more like a lump of crossings-out. It’s somebody who changed their mind while signing off. On second thoughts, better not. After the crossings-out, the letter writer closes with: Zzzzz.
Between the second and third z, another z has been added later. So now it actually says Zzzzzz, which completely changes the meaning, causing you to have to change your opinion of it. Causing you to want to lie next to that person. Causing you never to forget this.
When you move house, you move the stuff with you. Beneath a few notebooks and rubber bands, there’s a letter from a former lover. You no longer see each other.
In a book written by K. Schippers you read: ‘Once a female dancer has dressed again afterwards, her body is no longer erotic. I experienced this in a dressing room once. The nakedness is between the dance and what comes next, talking, drinking. It isn’t trying to mean anything in those empty moments.’
You text this to a friend. You hope she’ll recognize herself in those empty moments. You wait for a reply. You type a new text: What I meant to say is that freedom and maybe even happiness are almost always to be found between two meaningful moments.
A lecturer from the Rietveld Academy once told me that when you cook a meal for friends and are busy making it, there’s always a moment when everything’s ready. Your friends have yet to arrive. You sit at the laid table and wait. That’s the crucial moment.
A friend gave you a bulletproof vest. He travels to war zones sometimes. Now he’s got the very latest model. One day there’ll be no one left to kill. He’d put the old vest on eBay, but the police made him take it down. Now you can have the vest for your birthday. You say: A bulletproof vest. He says: Bulletproof isn’t the right word. It is bullet-resistant.
When all the party guests have left and you’ve eaten the last bit of birthday cake with both hands, all restraint gone, you undress. You’re completely naked. Your nipples become hard, even though it’s not cold. You pull your vest on over your head; this is what a tortoise must feel like, you think. You doubt it’s sexy. You walk over to the mirror in the bedroom. Your bare feet on the carpet.
You notice your legs look skinnier when you’re wearing a carapace. You look in the mirror, hold out both arms. You form a gun with your hands. You fire a bullet.
You watch the Werner Herzog documentary Encounters at the End of the World. The camera follows a penguin colony. They walk in a lone line towards the sea. One of the penguins separates itself from the group and walks the other way, towards the mountains. The penguin walks alone for miles and miles through a landscape that has nothing to offer him; he walks straight towards death. You’d want to be that penguin. Later you’re with your friends in front of a bar, unlocking your bikes. You say: It’s so lovely, all of us being here together. At the same time. Us together. The others look at you. They say that perhaps you should go to bed. You don’t have a good reply to this. All the bike locks are open now. Your friends cycle off and you cycle to the other side of the city. At home you fall asleep with tears in your eyes, in such a way that you can barely open your eyes the next day. You shouldn’t have made such a fool, a drunken fool, of yourself.
You make a few dates to fill your diary. Then you cancel the dates; you’ve bought your own freedom, fought for your time. You didn’t have to do anything for it. It doesn’t make you feel any better though.
You read something about David Lynch’s Twin Peaks on a newspaper’s website. Twenty years on, Twin Peaks is making a comeback, just as Lynch had announced at the end of the series. Not long later, Lynch pulls out of the project. He hasn’t been given enough money to turn Twin Peaks into the series he wants to make. All the actors from Twin Peaks make a short film in support of Lynch. They ask the station to invest more. No Lynch without Lynch. They say things like: Twin Peaks without David Lynch is like a doughnut without a hole. You think about the hole in a doughnut. Is a hole without a doughnut a hole? A doughnut without a hole a doughnut? And then you think about Twin Peaks again. You watch the film from beginning to end and then play it again. You’re really shocked. All those beautiful actors and actresses — Sheryl Lee, Sherilyn Fenn, Kyle MacLachlan — have become old, fathers and mothers. Men and women longing for the past. You’d forgotten for a moment that this is how life goes, everything is lost. Even David Lynch’s world. He wrote a book about making films and art, about the creative process. The book is called Catching the Big Fish. In one of the chapters he writes: ‘The mind tricks itself to escape some horror.’
You cycle through a wood on an island, a sandbank in the sea, and you need to pee. It’s half past four in the morning. This darkness is new to you, it doesn’t exist in the city. On your way home, you see traffic lights, a crossroads and the lights of the apartment blocks and car headlights.
Always the same. You cycle and the wind — it doesn’t matter which way it is blowing, the wind always comes off the sea here — glides across your bare arms, through your hair. You can hear your coat flapping in the wind, like a sail. You’ve just come from a party in a hotel room. The music was quiet. You didn’t know anyone, you just ended up there. You still need to pee, but call a friend. He doesn’t answer, he’s already asleep. You know exactly what that looks like: he’s lying on his side; his lips are pursed, as though he is kissing the air in his sleep. I’m calling you, you say, just to say I can be alone. But only because I’m not alone. Then you see the lights of the holiday park. You know you can hang up now.
You’ve got a biscuit tin filled with undeveloped rolls of film. One Tuesday morning, you get up, the week has already begun, you take the rolls to a printing shop. You want to experience what it was like. The shop smells of rat poison. You say you’d like to have the films developed. The man behind the counter tells you it will take a fortnight. You say: I’m in no rush. When you get home, you tidy up. Everything has to be made ready for a return. When you look at the photos you are so recognizable, it’s unfathomable how you’ve grown in the meantime.
You listen to a piece of music being played by a small orchestra over your headphones. You hear the violinist breathe, it’s as though he is blowing. Soon he’ll become inaudible, both his blowing and the violin.
You’ve got one female friend who asked to be friends with you. She sat next to you on the arm of a sofa. Someone had introduced the two of you in order to shrug both of you off. You’d chatted for a while and she’d asked: Will you be friends with me? Generally you’re not interested, you’ve got enough friends. If you had to take care of all of these people when all hell broke loose, either you’d have no time left or you wouldn’t be a good friend. But you hear yourself saying: Okay. You mean it. Even though the friend said later, because now you were friends of course, that you were too judgemental of people. That’s not nice, you said. Lots of things aren’t nice, you thought.
But you held your tongue. You even said you’d pay attention to that in the future. You were in the dunes together. She’d watched you as you walked along that endless Dutch beach, headed towards the sea. They all know you want to swim, she’d said. You’d come back to eat nuts and drink wine with her in the dunes. She’d said she loved you and you’d said: I love you too. Later you’d gone to Berlin together. In a pub with red furniture she’d asked you whether you were sure you didn’t want children. You shook your head. You didn’t want to be judgemental about people who did want children, but then she couldn’t judge you either. You didn’t think it was fair, children. She thought it was a pity because she’d have liked to share motherhood with you. She said in that case you should share something else instead. She offered you a cigarette. You both went outside and she lit your cigarette and then hers too. You took two short drags and thought about something a lung specialist had said on Radio 1, that she’d seen people drown in their own blood. You gave your still-lit cigarette to a young tramp who happened to walk by. He thanked you as though you’d just borne him a child. You wanted to add: Don’t drown in your own blood.
You listen to a piece of music being played by a small orchestra over your headphones. You hear the violinist breathe, it’s as though he is blowing. Soon he’ll become inaudible, both his blowing and the violin. You’re listening to a concert in which more and more instruments drop away. At first the orchestra begins to play the piece as it should be. It sounds lavish and lovely. At a certain point, after playing for a few minutes, first one and then the next musician stops. First the violin stops. The man puts down his violin, gets up and leaves the stage; you can hear him doing this. After this, the rest follow. At the end of the piece there’s just a timpanist left. All you hear is boom- boom-boom, like the familiar beating of your heart. It makes you cry and wait for someone to lay their big hands over your eyes.
You sit in your study. You know what’s going to happen next.