Journal Excerpt: September 26, 2019 by A.M. Whalen

Journal Excerpt: September 26, 2019 [lightly edited for clarity, but otherwise unaltered]

The noise in my head—voices in different registers, all clamoring to be heard—repeated phrases, like NPCs in a video game that can only say one or two lines. I confess, I thought that one out before I wrote it down. But I think that’s what the voices are, too: a clumsy rehearsal. Because even this is a kind of performance—waiting to be read, to be heard, must be polished, insightful, a—and this is key—complete representation of who I am, my “aesthetic,” everything I stand for, all in one page—which should rather all come together to create a tapestry of Me, but instead I ask even my journal entries to be archetypally perfect. Not perfect in the broad sense, but perfect for me, perfect of me—everything, down to the clothes I wear every day, must be wholly representative. Life is best lived like an Instagram feed: constant obsession, living by the brand… I must resist that compulsion, but it runs deep now, doesn’t it? Even my private journal has been compromised.

And I’m still performing, even now, still trying on phrases—doing it even as I’m calling myself out on it.

I seem to be very angry. Frustrated. Helpless, but constantly furious just under the skin. I had a dream last night about work—about “working from home” on Friday, but forgetting to remind my boss until later in the day—and this coming to mind only after a series of apocalyptic events: a storm coming down, like a cyclone, the sky dark but for a sliver of orange on the horizon, and a huge mass of shamblers—not just all there by coincidence, but some form of community, all familiar to one another. But hundreds of us, being directed toward the red red shore (where we would, for some reason, be safe). Planting our legs in the surf, the foam rusted with that odd red hue. Then, warming to it, going out to our hips, just before the drop-off into the abyss. A friend from high school, her mother lost over the drop-off, then rescued by another woman I knew in the dream, but who don’t know in life. This woman, rushing at us from the beach, yelling, rescuing the mom, me, all of us, warning us of the dangers of going too far. Then a gang of us forming: her, me, the unconscious mother, a young boy (someone’s little brother); and we watch the sky and wait. For what, I don’t know? Just watching the reddening.

Then, suddenly, we realize how stupid we’ve been, standing hip-deep in the red waves during the oncoming storm. And the crowd splits into factions, heads in two directions: one group to the south, the other going north. We follow one direction (I’m not sure which way), caught up in the crazy rush to get out of the surf and search for cover (away from the water, but away from the clouds amassing up the beach, too; toward some third choice). Past the cliffs, we find an old barn of sorts. There is another girl here now—a friend or a sister to someone, yet callously laughing—who opens one of the stalls and releases (not a horse but) a T-Rex, which chases the young boy. And, in this moment, I am both the boy and the rest of us, screaming into the massive jaws of the prehistoric monster and watching myself helplessly, as I scramble out of the barn.

Somehow, though, the boy survives, and we go. Deeper into the town, into another dark, wooden building. Blonde girl reclining on a sofa there, doling out skincare advice. And—yes, it was her: the riot on the beach, the red polluted waters, the gathering storm clouds—she saved us and almost got us all killed. It was all her.

Deeper into the underground complex, and I am late for a discussion group. And, though I’ve prepared my notes from the readings, I am flustered, totally unprepared for the complexities at hand. A bearded old man, professorial type, languidly seated on a hard, wooden chair at the center of the room. Conversation buzzing all around him, but he is silent and still, stroking his whiskers. I suddenly remember, then, looking at him waiting there (for me), that there are lots of young families here, lots of babies in carriages. So I call out to the old man, shouting some of my insights from across the room, (desperate bid at the auction). Thoughts on the existential state of my being, mostly, or existential societal models—the readings for today were all sci-fi, I had made a particular note of how many times the name “Hack” had come up: Hackman, Hacking, Hacker, etc. Somehow, I managed to assert that this was a direct reference to “hacking life,” which was somehow representative to my mind of the existential state in which we all live—making meaning through a grid of images, branding every experience for easy (and profitable) consumption, happy to achieve the status of a minor deity through internet fame—but all gods rule over highly specified domains; we make meaning where there is none, we deify ourselves in order to escape the non-existence of anonymity.

Something like that.

I remember pointedly asking the old man at this point for his thoughts, because I had done all the talking, but the dream breaks apart here; I think I think about going for a coffee with him to continue our conversation elsewhere, but I also think about how dangerous it is to go alone. Then, another shift: back to Doomsday on the beach, and making preparations, but suddenly remembering through all of this that I forgot to tell my boss that I was “working from home.” And the fear of this minor failure is somehow greater than any fear leftover from the darkening sky or the fleeing crowds or the red waves rising toward us… And how can that be?

A.M. Whalen

A.M. Whalen works as a publishing professional in Manhattan. She is also a writer, whose stories and poems concern the voices of ghosts, uncanny carnivals, and portraits of strange women. Her most recent work, Escape Velocity, appeared in collaboration with Double Blind Productions and the Bombyx Collective, as part of the CSA Performance Series at the New Hazlett Theater in Pittsburgh, PA. Originally from Pittsburgh, she currently lives in New York with her wife, brother-in-law, two cats, and three mice. Her familiars are a pair of surly toads named Charlie and Bianca.