The Seasonal Affective Disorder tent is in the town square. I try several times to leave, but find I have no desire to be anywhere that is not a Seasonal Affective Disorder tent. Hundreds of thousands of lumens lured me inside. Another thing in the town square is a group of workers using jackhammers and a crane to erect a Christmas tree. The light in the tent—full-spectrum, the entire electromagnetic spectrum at once—has expunged from my memory everything that came before now.
At 12 o’clock, a lecture begins.
The lecture is given by a nutrition doctor. A doctor of nutrition. A nutritionist. The din from the Christmas tree installation makes it difficult to hear the lecture, which is about gut leakage, depression, probiotics, necrotizing fasciitis, and possible adverse interactions between pharmaceutical drugs and supplements. No drugs or supplements are mentioned by name, on account of lawsuits. Some people in the tent don’t like this. The nutrition doctor wears patent leather rain boots and a fashionable ecru suit. I can tell he’s the sort of nutritionist who, if you cornered him and flashed him a peek of your weeping dermatitis, might recommend a few supplements by name.
“At the age of 25,” the nutrition doctor says, “there is an irreversible tightening of the body.”
People in the tent over the age of 25 nod in support of his dictum.
A person of my age—27—should start taking fleshly matters seriously. I must occupy my body; I must change my life. I take a wide stance, press my palms into my lower back and thrust my pelvis toward the roof of the tent. I am the sort of person who can casually stretch her pelvis in any social setting.
Everyone in the tent agrees to eat cabbage all day long. And broccoli. There’s a word for these foods. Some people here already know the word, but not me. I’ll tell you what it is: cruciferous. I know words most people don’t know. Foreign words! Not that it matters. What matters is I don’t know what’s going on with food. I’m a flibbertigibbet. I’ll throw anything in my gut. (A person can eat anything as long as it gets swallowed.) (I learned this by way of accidental research.) No one insures me, but can you blame them?
The nutrition doctor is taking questions and people are starting to look anxious. A handsome blond tells a story about having his microbiome analyzed. A less-handsome blond asks how it was done. The more-handsome blond says he shat in a plastic tube and put the tube in the mail. His results were online in a few weeks.
I am suspicious of all hygiene tips. I want to ask the doctor if he knows anyone with organs as filthy as mine. I want to ask if there’s a library nearby so I can go there and nap when the tent shuts down. I borrow a pencil and jot a list of questions on the back of a brochure for Elderness Preparation Therapy.
Q: Has anyone become pregnant to save a marriage and, if yes, did it work?
Q: Who among us does not enjoy the sight of their own unsavory body fluids?
Q: Have we been conditioned to respect the nutritionist’s authority or is there an outlier in our midst?
Q: Can we export global warming to Mars? I heard we can.
Q: Has anyone here been the recipient of a stool transplant and, if yes, how much did you pay the donor?
Q: Who’s got urine to sell? Or barter. Barter preferred.
There’s discussion on the matter of deflation, emissions and bad breath.
Loss of childhood.
The nutrition doctor says tomatoes are aninflammatory food. They belong to the nightshade family of flowering plants. Solanaceae. Rule of thumb: If a plant goes by a sexy-sounding name (nightshade) or makes you think of Stevie Nicks, you can be sure it will fill you with tumors if it doesn’t kill you straightaway. The nutrition doctor has been on an anti-inflammatory diet for 26 years.
I am critically inflamed.
Outside the Seasonal Affective Disorder tent a thick slab of clouds loiters above the city. Somewhere else, golden corn grows under a big blue sky. The full-spectrum lights inside the tent are warm, and I smile because they are the only true love I’ve ever known. I will bathe myself in therapeutic full-spectrum light until I am red and peeling and roiling with cancer.
Some people in the tent want to know which foods and businesses to swear off. They want the doctor to name names. They want someone to fry like bacon. The nutrition doctor talks about fish. There’s metal in the fish. You have to be very careful not to eat the metal fish. The doctor says it’s easy to tell a metal fish from a non-metal fish. (“You’ll know it when you see it.”) The tent is rife with code-swapping. A percentage of the audience is comprised of cryptologists. Another percentage runs out to their cars to rehearse shibboleths. I still don’t know how to tell a metal fish from a regular fish, but it’s too late, there’s nothing I can do.
Some of us aren’t meant to survive, even if everyone is constantly telling us how. Even if we have the blueprints for everything we’ll ever need. We just keep buying the wrong pants for our blood types. We shower in microbial poison. We sit and read books and age poorly and acquire no new skills and basically lie on our inflat-a-beds waiting to be snuffed out by a landslide of debt. For other people, dying is a manageable epidemic. Like flat-chestedness.
I rest on a bench and swallow negative ions until the Taoist Tai Chi Society arrives.
They wear blue t-shirts and rub invisible balls.
The Taoist Tai Chi Society invites us to join them and open our blockages. I transfer weight from my front foot to my back foot. Contrapposto. This movement is of tremendous importance because it opens up my pelvic region, the most clogged of all my regions.
I lead with my pelvis.
I strum the pei pa, then I whip the stork.
A pigeon breaks into the Seasonal Affective Disorder tent.
The pigeon is made blind by the full-spectrum lights. Everyone is supposed to keep a still mind; our minds are not to be distracted by a deranged pigeon flapping around like a moron. The pigeon deposits a stream of feces on an outcrop of Himalayan salt lamps. The pigeon caroms off a floor speaker, thrashes beneath a guy rope, and hobbles out of the tent. Overjoyed, I push needle to sea bottom. I twist ankle. The Taoist Tai Chi Society is very supportive. I resolve to abandon my society and join theirs.
Volunteers begin circling the tent, patting people on the shoulder and whispering. The volunteers wear park ranger vests so we know they’re involved in a more official, less desperate way. One of the park rangers guides me to the tea urns and asks about my self-care rituals. I tell her I’m suspicious of all hygiene tips. She says self-care is not the same as hygiene. I wonder if she knows I work in a call center. I wonder if she’s lost interest in me, and she turns to stroke the marbled leaves of a plant ensnared in an enormous macramé dreamcatcher. “Is that kale?” I ask, because people are doing really incredible things with hydroponics these days. She continues rubbing the plant and after some moments pass I ask if it’s ayahuasca and the park ranger kinks her face with pity and wanders off to mingle with people who know about the natural world and don’t work in call centers and probably never fall asleep in the shower. I snap off a leaf and press it to my lips.
In the corner of the tent is a booth. A hand-lettered sign taped to the front reads, WHEN RECEIVING UNDER THE TONGUE, TRY NOT TO MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR THE DROP MINISTER TO PLACE IT THERE. YOU REALLY NEED TO OPEN YOUR MOUTH AND STICK OUT YOUR TONGUE. WHEN RECEIVING FROM THE CUP MINISTER, JUST TAKE THE CUP IN YOUR HANDS AND DRINK AS YOU NORMALLY WOULD. Behind the booth are two sumptuously bearded men holding small white towels and ampoules. One of the men holds a chalice. People approach with reverence and tilt their heads back. I inch closer to the booth but am stopped by someone who wishes to discuss tumors. “It’s like I’ve always said, if you have a tumor and you want to watch it grow, just drink a glass of milk,” is what I am told.
Also: “Diseases are a delusion manufactured by the all-o-pathic community. They’re taking everyone’s money.”
Something pops behind my eye and for a moment I understand—manifestly—that this is what an aneurysm feels like. But it is not an aneurysm. It is a matter of the outer world. It is the generator powering the full-spectrum light. Something has popped. The park ranger volunteers locate one another, huddle, then separate. They ambulate through the tent, passing from group to group, whispering. According to the volunteers, the full-spectrum lights will be turned off shortly. Everyone should help themselves to a blend of stress-busting tea and move on out. We don’t have to go home, but we can’t stay here.
“Wait! What’s the next step?” someone shouts.
“Did anyone get a tote bag? I heard there’d be tote bags,” someone else says.
A woman crashes into a tea urn and crumples on the synthetic grass. Several people rush to her side, demanding to know what she ate for breakfast. Everyone seems to be blinking too much or not enough. In lieu of being brutally expelled by the others, I force myself into the town square.
As the tent comes down, I sit beneath the Christmas tree and watch couples link arms and wend along the sidewalk.
“Does anyone know when the sun will be back,” I ask in a voice that is not quite mine.
No one knows.
Darkness settles around my shoulders. I try stretching my pelvis with a healthful attitude, but there’s no point. I am tired of this life and its interminable adumbrations for improvement. I walk to a dumpster and lie down beside it, trembling in the absence of suasive discourse. Towering over me is an expanse of laminated timber and generous windows, lofts inside of which people are mindfully fucking each other. Swallowing soups made from rare root vegetables. Falling asleep in unflattering positions, washing improperly, berating their children, weeping on the toilet, yearning for the wide-open country. I breathe out. The world moves, and I move with it, and nothing can be done to stop it.