“eNotes from Underground”
by Haran X
Part I: Underwear
I’m closing my Facebook account. Permanently. All it does is foment resentment at other people: men of action, with their ornately edited lives. Selfies, group selfies, chai lattes. You get the picture. Literally.
By contrast, life has rendered me a dormant mess, garbed only in my boxers, my thighs warmed by a poorly ventilated laptop.
Me, and dozens like me, are the self-piteous victims of Western individualism: a lost generation in a culture that views people as bounded entities. There is a price to be paid for continually celebrating the sole artist and the single politician, for extolling personal, socially-unembedded achievement over collective, communal values. We are the ones paying that price.
Friday after Friday, spent alone in my hole. There is nothing to entertain me, except to engage in unbridled feats of onanism*, limited only by the bandwidth of my internet connection and one’s capacity to resist repetitive strain injury.
But even this self-sufficient pleasure fails to rustle me from my anhedonic state. Instead, I end up crying. Crying and wanking simultaneously. The saline tears lubricate the withered shaft of my penis; desiccated through year after year of sexual undesirability. The ritual is repeated ad nauseam – my life, like the ancient, once-fecund deposits adorning the tissues around me, has stagnated.
Well, I say ‘my life,’ but it is a narrative carved vicariously through online social networks. It is a journal of other people’s travels, celebrations and traumas: das Leben der Anderen.
This can’t go on, I need to leave my hole, to claw myself out of this online chasm.
So I sign up for Tinder. Perhaps my averagely symmetrical visage and feigned list of hobbies can paper over the gaping defects in my personality? Defects, presumably inflicted by a dodgy assortment of genes, and then widened through gradual rejection from the environment: both real and virtual.
Soon, however, any overly romanticised notions of finding a kindred spirit become fettered, not by misanthropy, but by mathematics. It’s a numbers game: I must maximise my chances of a positive outcome, whoever she is.
I swipe right 500 times. No matches.
I continue to swipe right. No matches.
All those squandered swipes have an opportunity cost. If I had swiped right on my desiccated appendage 500 times, I at least would have derived some carnal pleasure. Alas, Tinder, like the hirsute palm of my hand, remains a barren wasteland in which to sew one’s seed.
Changing one’s mode of interaction with the real world has no effect either. OKCupid, eHarmony, Match.com, it doesn’t matter, I’m greeted only with silent dismissal. I even flirted briefly with ‘Uniform’ Dating, but everyone was the same.
Indeed, online dating bears blatant similarity to job applications in the ailing post-2007 labour market: a sorry tale of hundreds of rejections and non-responses, an alarming need to fake confidence and credentials in person; before finally being let in the back door via nepotism. This must be the Western capitalist dream my immigrant parents used to bang on about.
* And not just the literary onanism in which I will conspicuously indulge for the remainder of this account.
Part II: Apropos of the wet dream
Prolonged solitude takes its toll; even the solitary ocelot requires the occasional acquaintance. The toll is both mental and visceral; I’m kept awake by a peculiar species of chest pain, that type borne from loneliness – a dull tightness that is often misdiagnosed in certain perennially-single demographics as an asthmatic allergy to cat’s hair.
The pain doesn’t subside. Even those motivational quotes that litter Tumblr, the type that command you to “Begin each day with a smile,” somehow fail to give succour to physically-instantiated pain.
Hmmm, I might as well see my doctor then, if only for some sterile company.
He quickly suspects the sensation is psychologically crafted, betraying a weathered familiarity with such trite, resource-wasting ailments.
“Why do you think your mood is low?” the GP enquires from the safety of his Foucauldian gaze.
Oh God, I can’t tell him I’m lonely, can I? What kind of pathetic reason is that? I also doubt that a prolonged lack of company is a legitimate medical diagnosis. Shall I fake a tragedy; a death in the family or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; the latter concocted from binges on Call of Duty? Nah – that would belittle the plight of actual sufferers.
Oh dear, now he’s staring; he requires some response. Quick! Say something, anything.
“ My eyes and skin are functioning normally, but the world appears so cold and grey. Once florid and majestic scenes are now dull and emotionless. I no longer feel anything, except a smouldering frustration at the blandness and futility of life. It all seems so pointless. I eat, I sleep, I exist, but for what? A paean to nothing…
…I feel like the eponymous protagonist of Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus, eternally condemned to push a boulder up to the top of a mountain, only for it to roll back down. I mean, why must we suffer the tyranny of human existence?”
“Look mate, I only have 8 minutes,” he interrupted.
“Here take these and comeback in 6 weeks. We’ll see if you’ve improved.”
He hands me a prescription for 20mg of Citalopram – an antidepressant medication or Selective-Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) to be precise. Ah, this must be Western medicine: boiling humans down to their component chemicals and neurotransmitters, blissfully ignorant of the society in which we’re encrusted (or not, as in my case). Is it any wonder that collectivist Eastern societies have lower rates of depression than the individualist West, even among those genetically predisposed to the black affliction? No, I’m not depressed per se; I’m just fucking lonely.
“Errm, are there any side-effects?” I enquire.
“Oh, they might cause sexual dysfunction. Is that going to be a problem?” he replies.
What queer irony is this! The very cause of my condition is an inability to obtain intercourse. Now, on the (admittedly miniscule) chance I am actually handed a copulatory opportunity; I’ll find myself entangled in some flaccid farce. Furthermore, it will put a soft end to the daily autoerotic self-medication that makes this solitary life vaguely liveable.
“Oh no, that shouldn’t be a problem,” I answer, mentally preparing to be rendered impotent and anorgasmic.
Returning to my hole, I peel back the foil covering to expose today’s tablet. Instead of placing it directly in my mouth, I photograph and upload it to Instagram; not for my own records, but for the enjoyment of those men of action who painstakingly document banal, ingestible ephemera for posterity.
Soon, I am drowsy, presumably because of the pills. Science tells me this is an unwanted side effect from blocking the action of histamine in the brain. Nevertheless, this ‘unwanted’ effect is greeted with open arms – one welcomes sleep’s stupefying shelter from the lonely blows dealt by waking life.
That night, I am caressed by a woman. Her feminine, artisanal hands run down my spine as if she were reading a Braille biography of my life, while my woman-naïve fingers waltz through her hair. Our bodies are warmly entwined: this is not lust or ribald fantasy, but basic human intimacy. Yet simple tactile sensation evokes something more profound and ethereal. If only there were some way to prolong this fleeting fiction for posterity?
As I awake, I look beside me. No-one is there.
Instead, I am confronted by the blank, pristine whiteness of the ceiling above me. On closer inspection, however, it isn’t blank. There are ornate little cracks, small dimples, innumerable shades of white, grey and black. What I thought was a dull, perfunctory rectangle actually turns out to be a pointillist painting. All these intricate details: clever shadows, interconnected lines and hidden contours; to think there was this whole world I hadn’t before noticed. This must be what Buddhists term ‘sati’. So immersed am I in this present, moment-to-moment sensory experience, that I am temporarily unaware of today’s looming solitude.
I’m not sure how much time elapses in this Zen-like state, as I’m lost in concentration. Western psychologist Csikczentmihalyi calls it flow: complete and unfettered absorption in some activity. Unfortunately, such mental respite is short-lived; the flow is suddenly stemmed. I notice some moisture, but it is not on the ceiling. My eyes shift downwards to reveal a fecund deposit, also blankly and pristinely white, situated in the upper-middle region of my pyjama trousers.
Today begins with a smile.