PROSE / WORD SLINGING / Words

How to Stagnate by Max Cothrel

Be born; the simple act of living is supposed to have a meaning that we spend literal lifetimes trying to discover, so try that. Be a baby, an infant, a toddler, a child. Learn hard lessons fast and make easy mistakes just enough times to stop making them (e.g., spill your juice, drop your food, piss your pants). You don’t have to intend any of this. Just do. Start. Begin. Face a direction, and head down a path—with or without a purpose. You don’t even have to pick one. This early movement might never haunt you the way it could, but you still have to exist to do nothing.

Age. Grow, develop. Start to have proportions resembling a human being. Learn the names of things, of people, of your parents. Create expectations of yourself—for you, for others. You can make them inadvertently big expectations or impressively small expectations or Dickensianly great expectations (e.g., respectively, start to show interests in things, tie your own shoes, try to bring to light the plight of the working man). Begin to approach a specific definition of your Self, but take your time; there’s no rush. You don’t have to decide to be a lifelong fan of anything yet. Believe people when they tell you that you’re special.

Hope. Aspire. Dream. Have heroes and mentors. Find your Romantic side; find beauty in something and chase after it. Claim a favorite subject in school. Thing big—no! Think grand! Begin projects in fervors. Light a fire and stay up late with your creation. Find books to read; buy a guitar; draw unicorns in all your notebooks. Set out to form a more perfect union—of men, of marriage, of bacon and cheeseburgers. All the while, believe—in yourself, in g/God(s), in Fate—and doubt only the temporal constraints of morality; you can live forever if you avoid death long enough.

Break expectations; i.e., disappoint. Wake up late and sticky on a school day, with a hangover. Lay in bed and will your eyes to ignore the light coming in through the blinds and curtains on your east-facing windows. Nap often. Wear stained shirts Avoid the stack of books on your desk as if the two you went on a bad date; take note of how dust collects around and in between the guitar strings; find a unicorn drawing in a childhood notebook and throw it out in mild disgust, but miss the trash can and let it sit on the floor in a crumpled ball for a few weeks. Start smoking, start drinking, don’t eat right. Waste your youth, your health, and your time on cigarettes and alcohol and bacon cheeseburgers. Catch yourself staring at flesh, but never offer pleasant greetings or even the fleeting warmth of a passing smile if it returns your gaze. Watch reflections in puddles and keep smoking and keep drinking. Pay for your education with money you don’t have so that a part of you exists on credit. Read what they tell you; re-read it when you don’t understand; re-read it again and if it still escapes you, just move on.

Get a job, get married, get [your wife] pregnant. Start a career and a family. Get pet(s), get house(s), get credit card(s), get mortgage(s). Find a nice place to settle down—the kind of noun derived from the abbreviation of an adjective—ah, the suburbs. Live happily and without undue excitement, as if you’ve always lived this way and always will. Shelve the books you never read, store the guitar you never played, and buy you children notebooks with unicorns already printed on them. Believe in things still, but mostly out of convenience. Get frequent headaches you can never explain from gritting your teeth—not grinding, just holding the muscles at the joint of your jaw in a constant, unconscious clench, in a single permanent chew. Let your consumption of bacon cheeseburgers slowly decline but never totally drop off over the course of decades. Sit around a campfire a few nights out of the year, but don’t tell stories.

Grow old. See your children’s children become a reality and feel something neither successive generation can understand because how could they? Go on walks despite the challenge of it, for the challenge of it, as a Fuck You to your own age. Buy canes and start using them; admire their dignity when you are relegated to a walker or confined to a wheelchair. Creak, ache, ail. Get to a point where your eyes can’t read and your hands can’t play or draw or work. Never think of it as a downward spiral; just think of it as growing up. Huddle near furnace vents for warmth; the whole world will seem colder.

Die. Don’t act like you don’t have to. At least if you die actively, you can have some choice in the matter. Die alone; die surrounded by family and friends; die in a freak automobile accident involving yourself and two trucks, one carrying bacon and the other burger patties—become like so much dead meat. (What? No cheese?) Forget your books, your guitar, your unicorns—you can’t take it with you is what you’ll think.

But anyway, just die and in that final second of consciousness feel the heat of stars—more stars that you can comprehend—floating in a vacuum and burning and burning and burning with more intensity than you can imagine. Feel suddenly a universe of insignificance around you and die, for your own sake, right then, before you can reduce its scale to human consideration and begin to rationalize how you do matter so you don’t have to face how you don’t matter, how you never mattered, how you won’t matter, how you can’t matter. Die without pride and without honor; die without fear and without remorse. You can’t take it with you is what you should think. All your butterfly effects amount to a molecule of water in a stagnant puddle. Just die, goddammit. Realize that “being born” happens in the passive voice.

Never ask, “Why bother?” Because being able to ask means you can’t not.

Photo: Adaptation

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