Charles Jensen PENSEES

after Pascal

When I go for long periods of time without writing, I think I’m washed up, that I did everything I was meant to do, and it wasn’t much, and that the usefulness of my life has exhausted itself.

When I feel bored, it feels like what I imagine death feels like: like you can’t, no matter what, find something to occupy your mind.

Sometimes when I work on something and I’m really into it, I can focus my attention so hard I can’t even hear. I can’t even hear someone calling my name. So hopefully no one I love is going to be murdered in the next room while I’m really concentrating on something.

When I cook, I feel filled with a sense of purpose, control, and kindness. Purpose because the task has a beginning and end. Control because everything’s up to me. Kindness because I’ll serve this to someone I love and it makes me happy to love someone with food.

When I go for long periods without dreaming, I wonder what’s wrong with me. But then again, when I wake up from vivid dreams, I think, Jesus Christ, what’s wrong with me?

When people hit on me, I wonder why it’s almost always in a completely pornographic and horrifying way. Then I wonder why I’m so Anne of Green Gables when it comes to sex. Then I feel like having sex, but probably not with this person.

When people hit on me but then they say something really vapid about art, it’s like that scene in The Point of No Return when Harvey Keitel pours acid all over the dead body in the bathtub and it dissolves. Except my penis does that. And sometimes my heart.

When my boyfriend kisses me, I wouldn’t be able to hear someone calling my name unless it were him.

When my boyfriend laughs and its just the two of us, it’s different than the laugh he uses in public. That one’s louder. But I know mine is realer.

When I think about watching my mother die, I get so sad it feels like I sink so deep into my body I’ll never be able to claw my way back up the surface and breathe again.

When I think about what it would be like if my mother were still alive right now, I wonder if she’d like the poems I was writing or if she’d read them and then look at me with that almost confrontational look and say, I don’t get it.

When I think about my mother, I try to think about the last four years when she was sick and she realized it was time to be happy and, though she didn’t say it out loud, I’m pretty sure she thought to herself, Who the fuck cares now?

When I think about my mother, I remind myself not to wait until I’m sick to get happy.

When I think about being happy, I often picture myself alone—not because I don’t like people, but because I like missing them so much more.

When I think about all the people I’ve known who’ve really been important to me, I realize I don’t talk to many of them anymore, but not because I don’t still care for them and remember them. I don’t know why it’s like this, but it is.

When I think about what I was like when I was younger, I feel embarrassed, but I also try to be forgiving because I was so much stupider then, yet my opinions were louder and stronger than they are now.

When I think about smoking, I feel so glad I quit, and I also think about how wonderful the idea of smoking is.

When I think about my favorite things in life, I realize how many of them work best when you’re alone, like playing guitar horribly and playing 1-player video games and reading books and running on a treadmill. And then I realize smoking was the only social thing I was ever good at, but it was killing me.

When I think about socializing, it often makes me want a drink, since everyone comments on how much more fun I am after a few cocktails. It often makes me feel like they’re right, I am more fun when I’ve been drinking, and I wonder why I’m not that fun all the time.

When I think about how people see me, I hope they think I’m a nice person, because mostly I am, though I think we’re all allowed to be unrepentant assholes like five times in our lives, and I’ve still got three times left.

When I think about the people who’ve really hurt me, purposefully and knowingly, I wonder if they will die the horrible deaths I’ve imagined for them, or if they’ll at least be publicly humiliated like characters in a TV sitcom for teenagers.

When I think about humiliation, I think about how jealous I am Wayne Koestenbaum wrote a whole book about it, and how one night I told Wayne Koestenbaum I loved his red chinos, but he acted like it was kind of an insult, though it was sincere. I love red chinos.

Sometimes I think about New York, and how living there can’t possibly be worse than living in Washington, DC, though I can’t think of anything worse than living in Washington, DC, again.

Sometimes I think moving to Washington, DC, was a huge mistake because my mother was sick and I should have stayed behind to care for her and even though my job in Phoenix was giving me shingles, it was still better than the job I had in DC.

Sometimes I think I’m too angry about things that happened in the past, things I can’t change, and I want so badly to be the kind of person who can rise out of the past like a mist, beautiful and translucent, knowing exactly which direction to move.

Sometimes I want a do-over, and I wonder why we had to go and make life so complicated that do-overs aren’t really part of the process anymore.

Sometimes I wish I were still a kid, plus then I could stop worrying about whether or not people thought I was gay and just start having sex like every other gay kid I’ve ever known did.

When I think about the gay guys I know having sex in their early teens, I get sad and jealous because I spent so much of my life being afraid to let myself be myself, and by the time I got around to it, I wonder if it was too late.

Sometimes when I think it’s too late, a stranger will say something reassuring to me, which is equally miraculous because strangers often frighten me into silence.

When I think about the kindness of strangers, I feel grateful, and I remind myself to feel grateful more often because gratitude feels good, like pulling on a pair of pants that fit like they were made for you.

When I think about clothes, I want to go shopping, and I wonder how many pairs of denim are too many pairs of denim. I wonder if you know that was a trick question because there’s no such thing as too many pairs of denim; denim is classic and timeless and very American even though it was the uniform of the working class until it became fashionable for everyone.

When I think about America, I feel scared, and sad, and full of privilege I didn’t earn, and regretful of said privilege, and I think about the plights of the poor, the black, the undocumented, the disenfranchised, and I feel so bloated with the arrogance of America I wonder if I’ll ever see a day when there is a true kind of freedom for all, or degrees of freedom for many.

When I think about freedom, I honestly think of Scandinavia. Don’t they seem like they’ve got a lot of things figured out over there?

When I think about Europe, I remember traveling there when I was sixteen and what a weirdo I was at sixteen, and how even more blunt I was then compared to know, and then I feel grateful that time has softened my delivery of opinions, and taught me to listen more and speak less.

When I think about listening, I feel relieved. I would almost always rather listen than speak, unless there is a microphone in my hand, at which point I feel full of things to say, especially if there’s an audience in front of me.

When I think about public speaking, I feel joy, not dread. I would almost always rather speak in public than have to speak at, like, a dinner party of strangers. Unless someone handed me a microphone at the dinner party and asked me to say a few words. Then I wouldn’t shut up, probably.

When I think about bravery, I think about the people in this country who are putting their lives on the line to push justice forward. I think about people in Ferguson and Baltimore, and I think about people who fought against Prop 8 in California, and I think about Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her long black robe and her austere glasses and I want to celebrate what a badass she is, because she is taking shit from no one and that’s exactly what America needs.

When I think about what America needs, I feel certain I don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s a good way to start the conversation so that everyone has some say.

When I think about conversations, I am glad we got to have this one. I’m glad I’ve had a chance to say what’s on my mind. Sometimes there’s a lot of stuff there. And honestly, sometimes there isn’t.


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