By Meredith Graves.
7:36 AM, bed: Without opening my eyes, I can tell you three things for sure.
- I’m extremely sweaty.
- My blood’s been replaced with syrup.
- The man next to me is out like a light, with his elbow propped up on my butt.
I check the time. I’ve been home from Australia for ten days; my sleep schedule is still FUBAR. All week I’ve gone to bed at four AM with an alarm set for noon, but I am used to, and prefer, waking up at seven. Why am I up now, especially when I went to bed at 3:30 AM? I’m going back to sleep.
7:46 AM: No, I’m not. That voice in my head is hissing, “Get up and go now, and you can get much more work done before you have to be anywhere.”
I’m at the man’s house. He’s been a pretty regular fixture for a few months now. I sleep over several nights a week, but it’s not that grand of a gesture—our houses are only four blocks apart. Last night we went out to see Sick Feeling crash the pose; after, we went on a late-night burger run, which we later agreed was kind of a mistake. At some point, we decided we deserve our own TV show, and spent most of the night conceptualizing it. Before falling asleep, he showed me his new favorite YouTube video: eight hours of meditation drones designed to balance your brain or something. At a low volume, the drones mask my screaming tinnitus. The video is still playing when I wake up.
I fix a cup of coffee with his roommate’s extremely fancy coffee machine (he works for a tech site and has lots of robots around to do his bidding). Like every morning I wake up here, I take to my side of the couch and gaze out the window. There are two deflated silver Mylar balloons caught up in the tree across the street.
8:15 AM: Scrolling through Instagram reminds me that a disproportionate number of my friends are either noise musicians or bakers.
8:35 AM: It’s 20 degrees out. My 10-minute walk home feels like an hour. I’m listening to the new Drake tape again because I can’t get that “running through the 6 with my woes” hook out of my stupid head…you know how that should go.
9:06 AM, home: I shower, fix a cup of tea, and get to work. I shoot my first beauty tutorial video for Rookie. I get a text from ARS telling me she’s listening to Catherine Wheel for the first time.
10:04 AM: It is Nina Simone’s birthday. I listen to “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” After that, “My Sweet Lord/Today Is A Killer.”
10:40 AM: I realize I haven’t eaten—just coffee, tea and cigarettes. The director of the National Choreography Month event I’m performing in this afternoon texts to let me know there are technical difficulties on site and I don’t have to show up until 1:30. Hallelujah. I take off my pants, put on “Beer and Fags” by Hard Skin, and jump on the bed.
I’m feeling so old and boring right now that I’m convinced this is going to be the first Enormous Eye with cataracts. I hit the ground running the second my plane touched down last week, and I am exhausted to the bottom of my soul. I love my new life here in New York and want nothing more than to sustain and augment it. I am happier here than I have ever been, but this is what it’s like being a social introvert. If given the option, I will always choose a quiet day at home.
11:04 AM: Estelle posts a photo of herself looking absolutely flawless in a floral jumper of mine she scored at the clothing swap Lola held last weekend. Estelle is stunning; it gives me pause.
11:20 AM: It’s time to cook. I call my mother. We’re catching up when, surprise! My roommate Chase comes banging through the door, home from a stay with his boyfriend in New Orleans, coincidentally during Mardi Gras. I haven’t seen him since before I left for Australia. He looks like he’s been to Mardi Gras, so I fix us bowls of this simple, restorative vegan black bean soup I’ve made almost every day this week.
12:35 PM: Then, without warning, I’m fading—the fact that I only got four hours of sleep is catching up to me—and now I’m late for rehearsal. I still have to go five stops on the train, then walk a mile to the space, which isn’t heated. I wonder if temperature affects dancers like it does bees, slowing them down and making them sleepy.
1:02 PM, waiting for the G: Reading about Eve, an early feminist magazine from the ’50s, co-edited by Anais Nin, that covered avant-garde theater, beat poetry, and how the pressures of being a housewife made it impossible to accomplish any writing during the day. They made two issues before the publication folded. I realize I forgot my headphones. I wonder if this can even be an accurate summary of a day in my life if there’s no music.
1:21 PM, Nassau Ave: A group of three men stop me on the street to compliment my hair. “I love that color, what is that color called, fuchsia?” My hair is a very pale blue. I stop into a small café. It starts to snow.
1:45 PM, AVIV: Not only have we scrapped the giant remote control spider, but the roof is leaking. Robert (McNeill, of the infamous Country Teasers, also my new friend and director) is standing on a wobbly chair rewiring a light. I tell him the chair will break, he will fall, and hurt himself, and maybe get electrocuted. Eleanor’s keyboard has been misplaced and one of her amps is AWOL. I guess where the keyboard is, then the chair leg breaks and Robert stumbles. Robert tells me to stop having premonitions.
1:57 PM: Morgan, the singer of the first band whose record I’m putting out on my new label, sends me an email with the subject line ‘Last Minute Cover Art Change.’ I panic. Turns out it’s just a mockup of the actual cover done in the Drake handwriting font.
2:14 PM: I’d rather stare at my phone than interact with a freezing room full of strangers. I read the following poem, by Steve Brooks, from the Spring 1971 Paris Review:
the breakfast show
when i’m in someone else’s new york style apartment
i like virtually anything that’s playing on the fm radio
when i’m at home i can’t find anything that i like
i don’t like rock and roll or classical music
the girl reading sylvia plath is too playful
instead of filling my room the radio is a hole
strange winds blow through
the day begins when you wake up
that is the moment people make their demands
clear determined voices reach into my bed
thousands of options are made insistently available
i move to escape through the silent unsealed radio
but someone’s pushing buttons
and strange winds blow into my room like hands
Robert is pouring black ink into a spray bottle. I am cold and I need to eat again. I am wearing roller skates.
3:06 PM: A dancer’s friend (perhaps a boyfriend) whose hair is styled like Kool Keith’s “Black Elvis” wig shows up with flowers for him. I can’t feel my toes. I don’t know a single person here.
3:35 PM, Nhà Minh cafe: I cut and run for a minute because I feel like if I don’t, I’ll get sick. There’s a shiny new café across the street called Nhà Minh that appears to be exclusively staffed by hot dudes. Big warm bowls of dense grains, steamed vegetables, and shredded ginger for six dollars, and they’re playing Biggie, Tribe, and the Pharcyde at blast-volume. I order a rose tea, which turns out to be just hot water poured over dried rosebuds. I reflexively gasp and grab at the jar. The guys at the counter seem to get a kick out of my joy. I revive so quickly: I am sharply alive. I feel amazing.
I love being alone more than anything in the world. Living with my level of anxiety means that leaving a crowded room feels like the first moment you surface after swimming too deep. It’s someone pretending to kill you with a pillow over the face. They pull it away at the last possible second—just kidding.
What is it that causes television interference, magnets or radio signals or something? That’s most social settings for me. Other people cloud my signal and inhibit my ability to function, preventing me from receiving or transmitting information. Most days, things only feel real and accessible when I’m alone.
4:00 PM, AVIV: I come back to a changed world. I missed the first two performances, but the third act is making vocal loops of screaming hell terror while a couple furiously makes out next to him. They eventually strip and lie on the cement floor.
4:10 PM: The dancer on now is performing to a recording of Allen Ginsberg reading his poem about America, where he says, “I smoke marijuana every chance I get.” When I was 19, my mom asked me if I smoked pot and I quoted that to her. Someone brought a baby; the baby begins to cry.
4:20 PM: We are performing Robert and Eleanor’s “Spidering Into The Hole,” a movement piece wherein three women play the same character, whose name is Tina. A recording played over a PA directs Tina to repeat certain actions, sometimes alone and sometimes in different combinations as “duets.”
The room is dark. As Tina moves, she is lit by men with flashlights. One performer swings from the ceiling, trying to play synthesizers that are nearly out of her reach, while another performer walks along the walls of the room. My iteration of Tina emerges from a small closet (I’ve been hiding there all along, unbeknownst to the audience) and begins to put on roller skates before being instructed to instead clean one wall. My spray bottle is full of black ink.
Robert gives me the skates to keep, and we agree to have a dinner party where we will perform this again. He says he will make a nice pasta dish. I’ve committed to a cake.
Right before I leave, I find a gold rubber cockroach on the floor. It has a safety pin attached to it, so I affix it to one of my skates.
4:30 PM: I am so happy to be out of there. I get in the first cab I see. I can’t feel my feet and the cab driver is rude. I go straight to my bed to warm up. I wonder if jet lag can really last ten days.
6:01 PM, home: I wake up when the man calls to ask about my performance. I must have drifted off. I’m embarrassed that people will read this and know once and for all what a boring old man I am, but God, you’ve gotta know, I haven’t had a boring Saturday in so long. The idea that I put in enough work this week to guiltlessly watch The Daily Show and take a nap…
7:30 PM: I can’t fall back asleep, so I decide to walk up to the market. Me and food are having relationship issues lately. I’ve lost my taste for bread, meat, all dairy (except cheese, which I want constantly), eggs, processed food, candy, most condiments, anything heavy. Most of my diet right now is raw fruit and vegetables blended into huge smoothies, rice, tofu, fish, almond milk, black beans. I’m trying to trust my body as best I can.
When I open the front door, I see three inches of snow has built up on my steps. It’s dark now, and the streets are quiet. Next to the Pentecostal temple, someone’s having a baby shower that looks cooler than any club I’ve ever been to. There’s a banner in the window— It’s A Boy!— and people of all ages are dancing to extremely loud techno.
I buy a two-liter of seltzer, a bag of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies a grapefruit. I pass the baby shower again on the way home. I eat five cookies and now my hands smell like them.
9:25 PM: I want to stay in and catch up on the news and fall asleep, but I’m determined to fight it and wring the last bit of story out of the day. I am going to Daniel’s house to dye his hair. Bonus: He lives with Ray, my guitar player, who I love more than life and regard as a kid brother, as well as Ray’s lovely girlfriend, who just moved in last weekend. If I’m bringing out the sled dogs for anyone, it’s them. It’s going to be a late night. The man said he’d like to come along, that he’d pick me up and we’d be there before ten. I come across a section of Dorothea Lasky:
I am not mad
I’m not mad any longer
People eat tomatoes
People eat bread
10:29 PM: The man finally arrives. He’s been in Manhattan visiting friends, he’s wearing a very handsome sweater. I love to look at him.
11:37 PM: Daniel’s apartment is large but not ostentatious: a combination of free furniture and repurposed salvaged materials, warm, well-lit and clean. Not even a little contrived, and very comfortable.
These days, I go to bed dreaming of a nicer apartment. It’s part of my whole Elaborate New York Fantasy Life Theory, that if I persist in working every day until my brains are scrambled eggs and I can’t take it any more, then someday I might be able to afford more than a 10×12 bedroom with a permanently stained carpet in an apartment with a moth problem. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get a desk. So many of my friends are successful. On my worst days, I am bitter and jealous, but that’s money talking (in conversation with history).
I surprise Daniel with my leather jacket. It fits him very well, and he’d mentioned wanting to borrow it for an upcoming trip. Ray pops into the room briefly to deliver some money to me. Ray was only 20 when we started the band, and I can’t help but think that he looks very mature in this terribly grown-up apartment. I see Zoe for all of six seconds. Last time I saw her, she had hair to the middle of her back— now it’s shorter than mine. It’s a huge change, and she looks lovely.
First I drink scotch, then Daniel makes us each a pancake (he puts the butter and syrup on mine for me without asking. Sometimes it feels nice to let people take care of me in small ways— also, how cool is it that some people are naturally nurturing without being patronizing or expecting a parade in return?). We listen to Songs:Ohia and I dye his hair gray.
The cover of the National Geographic on the coffee table is focused on “The War On Science.” Global warming isn’t real, vaccines cause autism, the moon landing was fake. It all works, except the addition of “Genetically modified foods are dangerous.” From my limited understanding of things, the corporations that genetically modify food and promote the use and sales of genetically modified seeds are monstrous and evil. They’re also associated with animal agriculture, the pharmaceutical industry, and countless other capitalist conceits that result in the violation of human rights, even if only via their lack of disclosure about the true long-term effects of their product. I don’t have high hopes for genetic modification of plants. I’m not sure they’ll be found to benefit animals or people in the long run.
Food is so important and plants mean so much to me. I think about the summer I built a huge garden out of nothing in my backyard, and fed so many people from it. In all my life, that’s one of my greatest achievements. It was an act motivated by love. I wonder if I’ll ever have that again, and if so: When?
12:40 AM: It’s 10 degrees warmer out than it was all day. The snow has long since turned to rain, what managed to stick is melting, and it’s turning the city into an ice rink. The man runs through a few of Ma$e’s greatest verses for me on the walk to the car. We stop at my apartment so I can grab a few things, and the iron stairs feel straight menacing. Even the handrails are slicked with ice.
1:55 AM: I’m a little stoned and in bed—not my own, but his. I’m happy to end today where I started. He walks in to ask if I know “the name of the chamber you go into where you lose your senses.”
There are so many sirens tonight. I was raised in a place where it regularly gets down to the negatives. I know the realities of this weather involve accidents, frostbite, destruction of property, people falling, being hurt, being housebound (or god forbid, unhoused and forced to sleep outside in this), unable to get to work, unable to access vital resources. I think about the last few years of my grandfather’s life, when he needed a cane to get around. Every time I hear a siren I pray it’s the last one; then there’s another, and another, and again.
2:03 AM: I get up one last time to go quietly into the other room and say goodnight to the man, who will stay up writing until sunrise. My last task before going to sleep, always, is to look over the list of things I need to accomplish tomorrow. These nerves could kill me, and soon, if I don’t get them in check. It will be morning before I am ready, when those “clear determined voices reach into my bed.” The syrup in my veins will quicken. I’ll thaw a little, and begin.
Meredith Graves is @gravesmeredith on both Twitter and Instagram.