It’s a new day and I’m sitting in a different café. New day, different café. My motto. I’m at the Cedar Lee Phoenix in Cleveland Heights. Lee is a road that runs from the hood in the southern part of Cleveland all the way up north to Cleveland Heights, and Cedar runs from Mid-Town up through the stylish Cedar-Fairmount neighborhood (home to the famous restaurant and jazz venue, Night Town, which is owned by an Irishman who has adorned the walls with portraits of various Irish authors, including James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and William Butler Yeats), all the way out to the country, where my father owns five hundred acres of property, on which are five houses which he is refurbishing and trying to rent out, as well as a barn that we have fixed up. The barn holds a lot of significance for both my father and I. It stands tall, and is made of almost caramel colored wood, with a green roof. My father’s dream is that generations of our family will enjoy this barn and the land. He brought in a large table with many chairs so he can hold gatherings for the family and conferences for his business. There are also a few comfy chairs which look like thrones. Two of them were re-upholstered by a fifty-seven year old man named Tom, who runs a small upholstery business by himself in the small but growing town of Willoughby, which is also where my father’s manufacturing company is located. Tom has been married three times but is alone now, and prefers to spend most of his time reading books and thinking about his children and grand-children.
When he came out to the barn to deliver re-upholstered green chairs he had worked on, we had a long discussion about religion and history. He imagined an alternate timeline where the Spanish dominated the seas, and became the primary influence on the founding of the United States. He emphasized that even the most taken for granted and momentous events in history are contingent and were not pre-destined, and could have very easily gone a different way. I suppose this explains the appeal of books such as Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America or the video game series Wolfenstein, which imagines a techno-futuristic America that is run by Nazis, and of course it was Tom who got me thinking of these things, when we talked at the barn. I, unlike my father, view the barn as a literary refuge, where I can think and write and read. I have a small collection of books on the second floor and a desk. I think of it being similar to the attic space in his friend’s house that the narrator of Thomas Bernhard’s masterpiece Correction retreats to when he needs to think intensely, and get into a zone where he can understand the most difficult concepts that he encounters in the works of thinkers such as Hegel, but he can’t stay in that space for too long lest it destroy him. One cannot remain in such a mental zone for too long. It is good to be able to reach those highs of concentration, and it takes great discipline and the right surroundings to be able to, but it is unbearable to remain there for too long, which would surely lead to madness, where one could quite possibly fall into the abyss and lose touch with the world around, which is also an idea that the philosopher Richard Eldridge talks about in an essay on Stanley Cavell, namely negotiating the omnipotence one can achieve in solitude with the need to be in the world. Anyways, the barn is one of those places where I can get into this zone and think very intensely, and it is where I did a semester’s worth of work in a week and a half, which I had to do because I was pulled out of school last spring and put in a mental hospital where I spent three weeks, during the supposedly best time to be alive, being a second semester senior in college, which I was and still am angry about, having to miss that period of time with my friends and my work in order to be hospitalized, but this did give me an interesting challenge of having to do a half semester’s work load in a short period time, in order to graduate, and I love a good challenge because life is meaningless without such trials. I finished the work and got good grades, with my back against the wall, so to speak, doing most of this work in the barn, where I spent hours upon hours and even had a small mattress pad set up so I could sleep there, and there was a small diner five miles away I could drive to and get food so all of my basic needs were met. I was able to write six papers in a week and a half, including my thesis, which I wrote on Heidegger and technology, drawing on previous work I had done on Bernard Stiegler while studying French philosophy in London the previous fall and winter at King’s College, but it was in the barn where I compiled all my ideas and put them in one document, my thesis, the culmination of my undergraduate years, and it wasn’t just the thesis that I wrote but also a paper on Jean-Luc Nancy and Richard Rorty, as well as a few others. In the barn I read voraciously, books by Perec and Duras, Danilo Kis and Roberto Arlt, and many more, and I somehow finished all my work for school, and since then I have felt empty because I haven’t had another similar challenge to take on. But in any case, the barn is a retreat for me to cloister myself from the world and enter another one, where I can reach the heights of thought necessary to be productive in my work, both in study and in writing. And if you take Cedar Road back west from the country, where the barn is, you’ll eventually reach Lee Road, and at this intersection is where I am now. I mainly work at cafes, where I can be productive without having to deal with the terror-inducing potential mania of isolation, and there are people around me so I don’t feel alone. I run at about seventy-five percent.
The Cedar Lee neighborhood is also important to me because I would often, and still do from time to time, go to the movie theater located here, which is one of the only theaters in the area that shows independent low to mid budget films, as well as critically acclaimed, more artistic films that aren’t superhero movies. I would often go there in high school, after getting dinner at a nearby restaurant (the cuisines of many different nationalities are represented in the Cedar Lee neighborhood). The movies shown are kind of cliché, kind of hip, but definitely “mainstream” to a film buff from LA nor New York, but this is what I had to work with and I loved it and still do, so I would go to movies like The Artist, Seven Psychopaths, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Boyhood, and Moonrise Kingdom, movies that I still enjoy. Cedar Lee Theater is the place that got me into film in the first place, and film remains a strong interest to me, as well as literature and certain video games. All three provide vital entry points for me into certain worlds and landscapes, and as Jacques Derrida said, literature is more interesting than the world, and I would expand the concept of literature to include film and some video games that have certain literary, narrative qualities, or perhaps some entirely different qualities that can’t be pinned down.
So it was Cedar Lee that got me into film, the Cleveland Museum of Art that got me into visual art, and Mac’s Backs Books that got me into literature, all back when I was sixteen, and these developments made school much more interesting for me, and it was in high school, at University School, where I began, as a junior, to develop my identity as an intellectual, on top of my existing identity as an athlete, both united by discipline. Athlete and intellectual, mind and body, and it was also during this time that I began to develop a sense of fashion, fashion both as a means to reflect my identity and a way to look good while out with friends, or girls. At this time, in 2010, I began to synthesize the major aspects of my identity and, I hate to say it, my aesthetic, namely being a hipster-intellectual-athlete, equally at home on the court, out with friends, or in a library. I’m not sure if it will prove fruitful to look at myself at various critical points of my life, but nevertheless it is important to me to attempt to trace my development and study different periods of my life, not to discover the truth about myself nor to simply embark on a writing exercise, but because this process will result in a work, a tapestry and web of connections that give an account of a life, my life, and a portal into a world, into thought itself, and the result will hopefully be a work that remains, like Lily Briscoe’s painting in To the Lighthouse, everything will be destroyed, but not words, not paint. This text is alive. It is me in words, not quite a work of fiction nor an autobiography, not quite a memoir, but a work of literature in Nancy’s sense as put forward in his idea of “literary communism,” and I suppose also a combination of the various things it isn’t. I shall attempt to give an account of my life and development, my path crossing with various people who are now ghosts to me, places that have become haunted, my pen oozing ink like a snail leaving a trail, mixed with the debris of the culture(s) I am a part of and that make me me, because of course we have learned from post-modern thought that there is no isolated “I,” cogito ergo sum, but it is rather the “I” that is a product of culture, and it is caught in a complex network of social and technological relations, and the “I” extends beyond itself as the reward for its being annihilated, at least in the classical sense, I mean in the sense that my friend Rob calls his laptop his “dry” brain whereas the one in his head is his wet brain. I am not attempting to break out of this network in a Kierkegaardian, poorly interpreted Heideggerian sense of achieving authenticity and becoming closer to God and nature post-separation from the profane sphere of the “worldly.” I know I can’t do that because I’ve tried. To quote Perec from W, page 42, “I am not writing in order to say that I shall say nothing, I am not writing to say I have nothing to say. I write: I write because we lived together, because I was one amongst them, a shadow amongst their shadow, a body close to their bodies. I write because they left in me their indelible mark, whose trace is writing. Their memory is dead in writing; writing is the memory of their death and the assertion of my life.” Let my writing be the trace of the events and the people who have formed me, and the assertion of my life.
William Lennon is a writer based in Cleveland, Ohio, and the editor-in-chief of CRB.