the solitude was intoxicating. On my first night there I lay on my back on the sticky carpet for hours, in the murky orange pool of city glow coming through the window, smelling heady curry spices spiraling across the corridor and listening to two guys outside yelling at each other in Russian and someone practicing stormy flamboyant violin somewhere, and slowly realizing that there was not a single person in the world who could see me or ask me what I was doing or tell me to do anything else, and I felt as if at any moment the bedsit might detach itself from the buildings like a luminous soap bubble and drift off into the night, bobbing gently above the rooftops and the river and the stars.
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Regardless of the advertising campaigns may tell us, we can't have it all. Sacrifice is not an option, or an anachronism; it's a fact of life. We all cut off our own limbs to burn on some altar. The crucial thing is to choose an altar that's worth it and a limb you can accept losing. To go consenting to the sacrifice.
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People need a moral code, to help them make decisions. All this bio-yogurt virtue and financial self-righteousness are just filling the gap in the market. But the problem is that it's all backwards. It's not that you do the right thing and hope it pays off; the morally right thing is by definition the thing that gives the biggest payoff.
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Now death is uncool, old-fashioned. To my mind the defining characteristic of our era is spin, everything tailored to vanishing point by market research, brands and bands manufactured to precise specifications; we are so used to things transmuting into whatever we would like them to be that it comes as a profound outrage to encounter death, stubbornly unspinnable, only and immutably itself.
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In all your life, only a few moments matter. Mostly you never get a good look at them except in hindsight, long after they've zipped past you: the moment when you decided whether to talk to that girl, slow down on that blind bend, stop and find that condom. I was lucky, I guess you could call it. I got to see one of mine face-to-face, and recognize it for what it was.
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Obviously, I have always wished I could remember what happened in that wood. The very few people who know about the whole Knocknaree thing invariably suggest, sooner or later, that I should try hypnotic regression, but for some reason I find the idea distasteful. I'm deeply suspicious of anything with a whiff of the New Age about it-not because of the practices themselves, which as far as I can tell from a safe distance may well have a lot to them, but because of the people who get involved who always seem to be the kind who corner you at parties to explain how they discovered that they are survivors and deserve to be happy. I worry that I might come out of hypnosis with that sugar-high glaze of self-satisfied enlightenment, like a seventeen-year-old who's just discovered Kerouak, and start proselytizing strangers in pubs...
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I read a lot. I always have, but in those two years I gorged myself on books with a voluptuous, almost erotic gluttony. I would go to the local library and take out as many as I could, and then lock myself in the bedsit and read solidly for a week. I went for old books, the older the better-Tolstoy, Poe, Jacobean tragedies, a dusty translation of Laclos-so that when I finally resurfaced, blinking and dazzled, it took me days to stop thinking in their cool, polished, crystalline rhythms.
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The Place would already have started the leisurely, enjoyable process of digesting her into just one more piece of local gore-lore, half ghost story and half morality play, half urban myth and half just the way life goes. It would eat her memory whole, the same way its ground had eaten her body.
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