The ceiling light in the bathroom burned out last night. I haven’t replaced it because the four discrete, naked bulbs above the mirror still light up and cast the room in a narrow, autumnal glow. Lit in this way the bathroom seems to belong to another order of life. For instance, the order of the weather. (Dreams, too, but I tend to think anything warm and umbral endures the logic of dreams.) This causes the room to feel molecularly unstable, as if it could sink seamlessly into the air. We live on the third floor. At this altitude it is preferable that rooms not shimmer with unreality. Lately I’ve been trying to cross the threshold of the bathroom without making a sound, as if a loud enough footfall would evaporate the tile beneath me.
It’s both an inconvenient and symbolic thing to have lived in an apartment long enough for the lights to reflexively expire. I still flip both light switches when I walk in and out, and the synaptic failure of the overhead bulb makes me think it’s absorbed all the light in the room and is ulcerating violetly, like a hovering bruise.
Later, when I’m trying to fall asleep, the cats make noises in the dark. If I can I try to decode the noises without leaving the bed. I mostly try to make sure they are not deconstructing anything. If I hear a crinkling, the precise helix of the sound determines whether they are batting a toy around or pulling recycling from the mouth of the can. Sometimes they run after each other, their paws gathering into a miniature gallop, which at the edge of sleep merges gently with the tidal bath of traffic from the open window. The refrigerator clicks on and drones importantly. Horses run into the waves of the sea.
So if “manufactured” is unfair, what is the right metaphor for Britney’s relationship to the pop machine? Scanning the pop culture of the late 90s gives us a better possibility: mecha, the Japanese anime genre where beautiful, tragic youth fuse themselves to sublime, state of the art machines. Britney is not the machine’s puppet; she’s its pilot.
It seemed a melodramatic way of phrasing it at the time but he felt he could only describe himself as having lost control of his body. A pain constantly radiated from the area of his kidneys and stomach, like cracks spidering through a pane of glass. The geography of the body grows obscure when one is locked inside the boundless center of a pretty routine pain, even as the pain itself appears to shatter through its environment and leave whole radioactive blooms of damage. When he thought of his midsection he thought of a crater on the moon through which slow fractures wove.
His perspective on reality adjusted in order to absorb this pain, and he found his focus had detached considerably. It was impossible to inhabit a minute, at least without also having to inhabit and reflect upon innumerable microseconds of pain, cresting within him reliably as the waves on a beach. In order to forget it, he would force himself to go out, and there he would inevitably remember it harder. The detachment cultivated in him by the shapeless flares in his abdomen would cause him to separate the flood of reality into individual threads. Experience, memory, projection, once useful unconscious processes that kept the flow of his existence rich and coherent, were now like severed electrical wires convulsing sparks. No focus or direction to the current of his life, just anxious volcanic eclipses, collapsing into a darkness he now nearly always felt vibrating at the edges of his body.
He had spent considerable amounts of money on doctors, compromising what he had set aside for rent and groceries, which seemed to him more important than an ulcerating ambience in the core of his body. The doctors took blood, scanned yards of his skin, but could not isolate a single source of the pain. Each of their foreheads marbled with uncomprehending veins like leaves in sunlight.
He would try as often as he could to see the bands he liked, the pain having not entirely reduced his ability to lose himself—his body—in music. It was his favorite thing as a kid, and he heard it in the flutter and pulse of James Brown records especially, almost rising from the glowing whorls of its surface—how someone could completely dissolve in a song. How a song could travel all the way through them, head to toe. James Brown did not create the groove, the groove created and recreated James Brown, cell by frenzied cell.
In the minutes before anyone walked on stage, he would look at the other people gathered in the room, gently decrypting what pain they might have to live with, which they carried around like a bag they had forgotten the contents or purpose of. He wondered how they translated this music through their own illnesses, or how they might tune it precisely to the music and feel a warm and evocative symmetry there. Later, all the notes in the songs would appear to him like flares in a life monitor, gorgeous skeletal pyramids that leap out of an unrelenting flatness.