The other afternoon in Skyrim, as my housecarl Lydia and I delivered our mortal, respective steel-sword jabs and firebolts to the reanimated corpse of King Olaf One-Eye in his tomb, a fat fly, in real life, flew into my temple.
It’s late November. Although I do keep my south window open to air out the smoke from the cigarettes I smoke in my nonsmoking apartment unit, there’s otherwise no reason for flys’ presence in my apartment. Perhaps it’s the rotting ramen scum splattered on the dirty dishes in my sink that they’re attracted to. Yesterday, two small flies buzzed around my apartment. I gradually weakened them with bursts of Febreze – weakening the unclean with sterility, like casting healing spells on the undead. They either flew out my window or died somewhere inside, their corpses missing or stepped on, rubbed into my apartment’s thick, brown carpeting. Maybe the fat fly that 9/11ed into side of my head was their mother, and she was furious. Or maybe it was the reanimated corpse of my good friend Eric, who ODed on New Year’s Eve, 2004, and he was telling me something. Telling me that it’s not okay to have logged 35 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim after having owned it for a mere week.
I paused the game and stood up and reached for Edward P. Jones’ story collection, Lost in the City, but immediately felt guilty about using books to kill a fly, and left it on my bookshelf. I chose, instead, a Spokane Values coupon brochure, settling on the practical newspaper-or-expendable-print-material-as-fly-bludgeon cliché. I chased the fly around my apartment, wearing my Oxford sweatpants, and the button-up shirt I’d worn the night before in an effort to “dress up” for a friend’s birthday, which she didn’t show up to, the shirt I slept in. The fly was sluggish and easy to whap, but without a surface, my swipes did very little, except cast the fly farther from my reach. When the fly buzzed over to my bookshelf and settled on In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien, I remembered the interview some fellow Barkers and I conducted last spring, the interview I’m supposed to be shaping, the interview I was so excited about having landed, the interview my Vietnam war historian father was so proud about my having landed. I remembered that I used to be in school, that I used to work hard, or at least was under the impression that I was working hard, when really my two years of grad school were little more than me hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock of life. I took a swipe and the coupon brochure slapped Alice Munro, Henry James, John McPhee, and Tim O’Brien, but it barely touched the fly, who buzzed away, and off into a corner.
What the hell am I doing with my life, I thought. I then pulled out my laptop and started writing.