July 11, 2002

Bad Michael

Walking home from the grocery, I did an inventory of all the things I own. There isn’t much, as things, for me, take up a lot of psychic space. The fewer things I own, the more room I have for my thoughts.

Of all the things in my studio apartment – a bed, a desk, two chairs, two computers, a printer, scanner, and maybe twenty books – which actually matter to me? None, really. What about the files – is there anything there that matters? Yes, some photos, although not to the point I would mourn their loss: photos are a crude stand-in for memory.

Oblivio matters to me, not so much because of the pieces I’ve written but the possibility it represents. If it were taken from me, I’d be crushed. Which is interesting because the only significant possession I could think of was me, Michael Barrish. But then I wondered if it would be possible to start again – as a different person, in a sense – for it struck me that I have no obligation to this Michael Barrish person.

I recently watched a videotaped interview of a therapist who continually referred to unseemly or undesirable actions as patterns, as in, “Our patterns make us reach for the Nutella.” The implication was that such patterns are invaders who make us act in ways we otherwise wouldn’t. In other words, they’re much like the devil – little devils you might say. I found myself cursing at the screen. I cursed because the desire for Nutella is real. We can ignore it or suppress it, but we cannot place it outside ourselves.

Years ago, my then girlfriend would often refer to a character she called “Bad Michael.” Bad Michael was responsible for all the things she didn’t like about me. More than once she spoke of surgically removing Bad Michael, leaving Good Michael behind.

Assuming such a thing were possible, the man who would emerge from surgery might look like me and might even talk like me, but he wouldn’t be me. I am Bad Michael as much as I am Good Michael and all the Michaels in between.

I mention Bad Michael and the little devils because the thought of abandoning myself is a lie. One’s self is the one thing one cannot abandon.