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The Tick

By Ayden Crosby

Today, 7 years after he falsified marketing materials for his company’s IPO roadshow and 6 years after he was charged and convicted publicly for securities fraud, he emailed me for the first time. I told him before they threw him in the slammer he had some explaining to do. Now he’s out and not all there. Doesn’t have a full grip. Or so I heard; we don’t talk. But I think this was his way of doing that, answering my request. The email was written in helvetica italics, as if to say ‘look at this, right here’, to say ‘this email and this time is different with a capital D’, ‘... is literature with a capital L’. That may be the case. Here is what he wrote, you can be the judge: 

The tick in my ear had been multilingual. Every morning when my eyes opened, it told me to “get up,”and so I did. The floor was very cold. ‘These are the ideological contradictions in today’s Atlantic Magazine article on ‘surveillance capitalism,’ it had said one day. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, let alone brushed my teeth, but I wrote that one down in my journal, threw it around in my head. It was hard to put into words, pen on paper. When I heard it, it was more like ‘Ce sont les contradictions ideologiques dans le magazine’ but not those words but a feeling, a prelinguistic feeling in French, or something like that; I don’t speak french. It spoke with a brusque ease, by which I mean it conveyed this sensation with a brusque ease, an impressive control and mastery of the language it spoke on that given day, by which I mean conveying a sensation. The tick’s brusque ease came through in every language it spoke (you know by now that “spoke” is shorthand for something else), and it had been multilingual, as described. 

Daily existence is a barrage of labile and impressionistic apparitions. You sit on the bed, make your caffeine beverage of choice, wash the laundry in the bergamot soap – organic and cruelty free; the sun shines on your head and the wind whips in your face as you drive your hungover sister, bucked over, hand on the dash, down the embarcadero; your elbow resting on the sil of the rolled-down window. The wet laundry is cold on my dry hands, she forgot her wallet at the bar. I had lasagna with bechamel before the bar. Now my head hurts because I drink earl grey every morning but this morning I did not, cerebral vasoconstriction now in haywire. On weekdays, I go to work. I put form to function. I play pickup with the neighborhood kids. You have all these cards and sometimes you arrange them in a particular way, sometimes you stack the deck.

It happens to however be the case that apparitions, their relative lability and impressionism notwithstanding, were not really in the tick’s wheelhouse. That came to me as a surprise, because it appears that in every other case things were. Before I let it slip, here is a list of some things that had been in the tick’s wheelhouse:

Which KPIs best indicate one’s maximum philanthropic impact 

Whether or not one should read Karl Marx

The proportion of retirement savings one should allocate to bonds, funds, and more risky undertakings

Whether or not one’s potential savings for a particular month should be allocated to a traditional or roth IRA

How one’s “life story” explains one’s interest in this particular scholarship beyond the obvious and apparently insufficient desire/need for money

Whether or not the recognition that everyone’s projects and interests are sort of niche and trivial could potentially, if followed to its logical endpoint, constitute a form of “bad politics”

Whether or not there are any universal facts, with some type of prior extant existence

on the same note: Whether or not everything is relative

How many texts one should send a potential romantic interest before its too much

Whether or not a potential romantic interests lack of certain common interests constitutes an “ick”

Whether or not one should run for public office

Sometimes it imparted its wheelhouse in German, sometimes Spanish, Urdu, French, Japanese. Sometimes in languages I did not speak and never would speak, in languages I did not know existed. Languages ancient and atavistic with references to objects that no longer were, objects that never were.  

I wish his email had not been so tediously allegorical. I know he wants me to decode the metaphor of the tick, have something to mull over, something that will intrude my thoughts, sear my psyche, make me never forget what we had. What is a better device to make someone never forget than open possibilities, unanswered questions? That’s the philosopher and the writer’s dirty trick. Or maybe he did really have a tick in his ear, but he never mentioned anything to me. He continued on: 

Today I talked with Willa for the first time since it happened. She said it's water under the bridge. She was explaining to me how she was “thinking about'' some topic for a magazine article she wants to write. Something about religious practices and sexual politics, or maybe political economy. You can tell she has the tick too. All that subservience to higher principles. In fact I think everyone I have ever met has had the tick. Thank god I don’t have the tick anymore, I would rather kill myself. All that principle not found within oneself, principle that’s supposed to have prior existence. Ticks give you ideas, tell you of prior existence. Ticks give you all these shiny, gorgeous avoidance tactics against living within the specificity of your own existence. 

This is what Basti got direly wrong. There is no difference between ideas and lived reality, ideas are a part of lived reality. The problem is to confuse an idea with the present tense, because an idea is only lived reality insofar as it is a historical record of the lived reality of the person who concocted it. So to negotiate the present tense solely through this type of record is to numb yourself to your own senses. The point of this is to say that at some point you have to trust yourself and your own ideas, stop schematizing that which is directly subjective, develop and trust your own capability of what we incorrectly call and subsequently degrade as “abstract thought.” 

He spent so much time reading the world through other people’s ideas because he was afraid to open the lid of his senses and find, contrary to what he held dear, that the world is too big for the human brain, and, as a product of the limits of human consciousness, he is much more stupid than he would like to think he is.

On the walk home from seeing Willa I saw the glass skyscrapers and boxy apartment buildings with the sleek coffee shops, fitness studios, coworking centers, fast casual restaurants. When I was young and these things were new I thought it all so chic, cool, electrifying, but now it feels distinctly passé, like we are trying to carry out the dreams of a former generation. I wanted it all so bad and now I do not, and I don’t know what to do anymore. 

I remember the night I realized it didn’t work anymore and never would, years after it came crumbling down and I had already been in and out of prison. I still had the tick through it all: when it crashed, when I sat on the stand, when I went in and still when I got out. That night when the tick went silent was more recent and I went to sleep and not well. Nights followed in which I went again to sleep and not well. I woke up and the sky was grey, low and overhanging. The world jolted and how I had come to understand it all at once no longer suitable. Systems in haywire, supply chains choked, things no longer corresponding. Objects losing referents and referents losing objects. And yet the sun rises again, you keep waking up. No one prepares you for that. All at once you are snapped into the reality that time is moving and that is all you know if anything. 

At this point reading the note I began to wonder what happens to people who get lost in history, unable to reconcile themselves with lost or fading things. There’s this character in a Rachel Cusk essay who says narrative is the aftermath of violent events, a way of reconciling oneself with the past. If that’s the case, then what is non-narrative? What is it when there’s nothing, when, in the aftermath of violent events, there’s only the images, the labile and impressionistic apparitions? I scrolled down. 

I woke up again and again and I did not hear the tick. I never heard the tick again. All I could hear was the color of the royal blue velveteen couch in the hallway and the trickle of the fountain and the way the breath of the man next to me in bed made the back of my neck hot, all things for which the tick had been too loud for me to hear. From then on I only noticed these things, and I failed at everything I ever did again. 

Ayden Crosby is a journalist in New York City. He grew up in California and speaks English and German. 

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