To begin with self-referenciality, this blog is beginning to resemble my now defunct autobiographical coffee shop blog, Psychocafegraphy. I was more distant then, but the mystical, hyperbolic, half-baked wisdom is returning. To write anything at all these days I have to push myself up against gears, grind myself a bit. Not because I love making it difficult (well, okay, maybe), but because it's easiest to mine solipsism for a topic, and because I don't know how to muster the attention for any other kind of writing than the bear-my-soul variety, even if (often) through a layer of metaphor.
What emerges in the confessional I've turned this blog into, though, is a sense of having bullshitted. Ursula le Guin's complaint against the written medium is that once you've written it down, you can't change your mind. She was troubled enough by this to publicly disagree with her own novel (The Left Hand of Darkness), and capitulate to critical interpretation. In autobiographical writing, what's troubling about the written word becomes uncanny--all these ghosts of yourself floating about wily-nilly. It brings me to yelling profanity at myself on a daily basis. But along with the megalomanical shame that comes with putting an intimate picture of myself into permanent language, there is an odd kind of relief. Even though niggling tendrils work their way out of it, the door has been shut on whatever subject I just wrote about. But actually, if I shut the door firmly enough, I find that it's wide open again. Writing Psychocafegraphy, the doors were literal and geographical as well as personal. I was closing off whole areas of the town to myself, revealing my ways of inhabiting each and (eventually) every coffee shop. It didn't matter that almost nobody read what I wrote. The glimpse of myself in the mirror was enough to make me avoid certain places and to multiply my already obsessive self-consciousness. Eventually I just shifted. The coffee shop I vehemently loathed on the blog became the one I frequented most--a new secret to inhabit.
I bring this up because there's this pizza place. There's nothing about it I like, and the pizza is, well, grody, but I go there habitually. I don't mean I go every day, or even necessarily every month. There's nothing regular about my visits, but they have a certain consistency.
It began with my visits to the University library. That library and the whole end of town that surrounds it have come to signify independence for me. It was on the university campus after all where sanctioned independence was first given to me in the form of Academy, a kind of academic summer camp for the "gifted and talented" (whatever that might mean). I can't remember how long it lasted. It may have only been a week, but for the duration we slept on campus in dorms. I think. I can't remember the dorms either, only vaguely the cafeteria, or merely that there was a cafeteria, that illicit items could be found there such as donuts, and that my friends and I indulged in them accordingly.
In high school, before the library was remodeled and it was decked-out in dingy browns and dark, pebbly concrete, I went there with lofty ambitions of soaking up the knowledge that the shelves were stuffed with. For some unknown reason the subject my whims landed on was astrogeology. It was literally and conceptually far off enough. I read about the geology of other planets, understanding hardly a word. It was the sheer reaching I wanted, to be in that position of trying desperately to understand something that vast and impressive, of looking up at it in longing incomprehension--a more or less religious experience.
Unsurprisingly, it was a girl a few years (or two, or one?) older than me who I held in a very similar regard to astrogeology who drew me there. I can't remember exactly how the two of us ended up in the library at the same time. Maybe I accompanied her there, on some errand for a book or to use their computers, or maybe when I went there to research my project on Buckminster Fuller I ran into her. In any case the place became hallowed in connection to her. She had read wider and more earnestly than I, and here was an opportunity to reach toward her. The library had become a shrine.
In my last year of high school, the library was the place we met to study for our comparitive government AP exam. The university was also where AP Chemistry labs took place, and where the video production class was held. It felt kingly to leave the high school campus. In my precociousness it was like being given another year of age ahead of time. At that time age was something I wanted.
I went to school at that university, too, for a year, during which time the library was being loudly renovated. But it wasn't until I left for Maine and came back with late essays to complete over College of the Atlantic's winter break that I found myself spending so much time at the renovated library, and going to Giseppi's pizza for dinner. I did so out of a desire not to go home just yet, despite being hungry. I found I craved it, the disgustingness of it, the assumption that my brother would disapprove.
In the summer I stayed out of the house for as long as possible by coming to the university and when I got hungry taking a Giseppis lunch special on a paper plate to the wide lawn next to one of the university dorms. The grease soaked into the plate. The lemonade or iced tea that I always got (a drink comes with the lunch special) was acrid, and the pizza itself was overcooked and sometimes stale. But I loved it, sitting there in the grassy shade of a tree, eating my nasty lunch and reading a book. I always wanted either to take my pizza to the dirty picnic table just out the door under the awning (if raining) or to the field across the street (if warm) because the inside is so abomidable. A cramped space with long bench seating on either side, bright red oilcloth covering the tables. It's filled with a few old arcade games and a teleivision always turned to some variety of sport. The walls are covered with photos of local sports teams, and loyalty to the high school football team, the Grizzleys, is declared loudly by stickers and logos painted on the walls. It is, in short, an utterly alien space for me to sit in.
Today I choose to sit inside, despite the warmth outside, contemplating fading photos of footballers. There is a picture of three teenagers atop a snowy mountain (either Mount Ashland or Mount Shasta), holding up a Giseppi's pizza in a box, showing it to the camera and to Giseppi's--we took your pizza up here! I wonder how cold and hard the cheese was.
The people who work at the counter have always intimidated me. I always sound stiff and out of place in the (to me inaccessible) comfort of brusque manners and dingyness. Coming here is for me an exoticism; it's an encounter, just a little frightening. For a timid yuppie in Ashland, this is as close as its gets to the titillation for slumming it.