The story begins with two women, naked, in a living room in upstate New York.
In the living room, the blinds have been drawn. The coffee table, which is stained and littered with ashtrays, empty bottles, and a tall blue bong, has been pushed against the far wall. The couch has been unfurled. It is a cheap couch, with no springs or gears or wooden endoskeleton; its cushions unfold flat onto the floor with a flat slapping sound: thwack. Also on the floor are several clear plastic bags containing dental dams, spermicidal lubricant, and latex gloves. There is everything, it seems to me, but an oxygen tank and a gurney.
I am hunched in an awkward squat behind a woman on all fours, a woman who is blond and overweight. Her buttocks are exposed and her knees are spread wide—“presenting,” they call it in most mammalian species. I am sixteen years old. I have never before seen a vagina up close, an in-person vagina. My prior experience has been limited to two-dimensional vaginas, usually with creases and binding staples marring the view. To mark the occasion, I would like to shake the vagina’s hand, talk to it for a while. How do you do, vagina? Would you like some herbal tea? But the vagina is businesslike and gruff. An impatient vagina, a waiting vagina. A real bureaucrat of a vagina.
I inch closer on the tips of my toes, knees bent, hands out, fingers splayed—portrait of the writer as a young lecher. The air in the room smells like a combination of a women’s locker room and an off-track betting parlor, all smoke and sweat and scented lotions. My condom, the first I’ve had occasion to wear in anything other than experimental conditions, pinches and dims sensation, so that my penis feels like what I imagine a phantom limb must feel like. The second woman has brown hair done up in curls, round hips, and dark, biscuit-wide nipples. She lies on the couch, waiting. As I proceed, foot by foot, struggling to keep my erection and my balance at the same time, her eyes coax me forward. She is touching herself.
Now the target vagina is only a foot away. Now I feel like a military plane, preparing for in-air refueling. I feel, also, like a symbol. This is why I am here, ultimately. This is why, when the invitation was extended (“Do you want to stay? I want you to stay”), I accepted, and waited who knows how long in the dark room for them to return. How could I have said no? What I had been offered was every boy’s dream. Two women. The dream.
Through a haze of cannabis and cheap beer, I bolster my courage with this: the dream. What I am about to do is not for myself. It is for my people, my tribe. Dear friends, this is not my achievement. This is your achievement. Your victory. A fulfillment of your desires. Oh poor, suffering, groin-sore boys of the eleventh grade, I hereby dedicate this vagina to—
It is then that the woman coughs. It is a rattling, hacking cough. A cough of nicotine and phlegm. And the vagina, which is connected to the cough’s apparatus by some internal musculature I could not possibly have imagined before this moment, winks at me. With its wild, bushy, thorny lashes, it winks. My heart flutters. My breathing quickens. I have been winked at by a vagina that looks like Andy Rooney. I feel a tightness in my chest and I think to myself, Oh dear lord, what have I gotten myself into?
A Memoir of Anxiety
A Memoir of Anxiety
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
Monkey Mind is a memoir of one man’s life of anxiety and his quest to both understand and overcome it. Anxiety once paralyzed Daniel Smith, causing him to chew his cuticles until they bled. It has dogged his days, threatened his sanity, and ruined his relationships. In Monkey Mind, Smith articulates what it is like to live with anxiety, demystifying the disease with humor and evocatively expressing its self-destructive absurdities. With honesty and wit, Smith shares his own hilarious and heart-wrenching story of anxiety and how he was finally able to tame the affliction.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Smith begins Monkey Mind with two epigraphs, one from The Woman in White that reads, in part, “We all say it’s on the nerves, and we none of us know what we mean when we say it,” and one from Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols” that reads, “Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme.” Discuss both of these epigraph see more