Cervantes and the Serenity Prayer (More OCD Fragments)

by Matt B. on March 9, 2015

“Something, however (wouldn’t you know?), does happen to come to mind. (I don’t imagine it’s precisely the thing I’m looking for, but I can’t simply throw it out.” – Salinger, Seymour: An Introduction


The girl is setting up at the cafe when I arrive – unloading ice, carrying the free book rack out to the street. There is no noise. I start in on a Kate Chopin story; I’m four paragraphs into antebellum Louisiana when the girl puts Bon Jovi on the stereo.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Except that it’s very difficult to know which is which. I could ask her to change the music, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to cross the language barrier. (Something softer, please?) I could try to put up with it, to turn it into background noise, to spread larger than these petty irritations.

Might it be better to accept some things that I could change? Because trying to change things means fighting all the time, feeling like the world is ill-made – or that I’m ill-matched with the world.


So much tip-toeing around my own life. Where to put my hands? My eyes?


“Go fuck yourself.” Jesus – if you could, wouldn’t you? (Teenage boys try the half-measure all the time, curled up like roly-polies on bathroom floors.) I can’t be the first person to think this.


At the café, excited by the morning. Then – did I stab myself in the eye with my straw?  Click.

The day reshapes itself around the event. Little memorial days, commemorations. Then periods of mourning and grieving, of finding my feet once again. (“We are an Easter people!” a divinity school classmate once preached. Are there other kinds?)


I make little treaties with OCD, mutual accommodations. But OCD is no trustworthy partner; it laps over the brim, pushes, antagonizes, invades Austria.

I imagine I can get used to anything – except having nothing to get used to.


The anxiety is a steer on the tracks – that thick, that solid, that derailing.


Guy on motorbike turns into me without looking, bumps my pinky finger. I yell, not because he’s in the wrong – I was speeding, it’s ambiguous – but because an explosion has happened and only I heard it. He’ll forget – he’s already forgotten – but it’ll ring in my ears for hours.


Living in the wake of apocalypse, the broken-sun gloaming of the morning after. Ash like snow.


Cervantes: “She was more wearied by my weariness than rested by her rest.”

I hope not, N.


It’s 1 pm, and I want to work. Circadian rhythms argue, but I’m not inclined to listen: I’m more afraid of watching inspiration drift downstream.

I suck down coffee, then feel my heart box my chest. The caffeine, or my anxiety about the caffeine?


Why write fiction, a second life? Why do anything but live and narrate (and thereby live) this one?

This feels like a stupid question – writing fiction doesn’t make sense to me, but reading it certainly does. Still, I’m curious: why didn’t Baldwin and Carver and Woolf just write endless volumes of autobiography, like Angelou? Perhaps because they were as sick of themselves as I am.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: