I still haven’t written about the lights I saw biking home with Liz and Rohan. It was long past sunrise and we were on the beltway, unilluminated by streetlight except near intersections. Only Rohan had a light bright enough to lead us, and so we biked in front of him. Or slightly behind, anxious about the gap between illumination and non-illumination on a trail that was covered with hazards (pot holes, branches, the occasional dog straying far from its owner). 

We had gotten turned around—coming to pause underneath an overpass, lonely and imposing in the darkness. Rohan mapped out a new path on his phone while Liz and I went back the way we had come, realizing our mistake only when we found ourselves in perfect darkness. I was eager to get home—a ride that had only taken me thirty minutes on my way there was going to take well over an hour. 

Ahead of us on the trail was a cluster of bright lights, tight and focussed and hovering into themselves. It looked like something from a movie about a close encounter with an alien race, the way the lights seemed to cohere into themselves, a coherence that suggested, to me, a kind of sentience or intelligence. 

Whatever it was, it was on the trail, clearly moving but also seeming from my vantage rooted in place. As if it was just hovering, holding its position as it swayed back and forth in the wind, scanning the forest or scanning for us. If it had made a noise, or moved suddenly, I might have turned around or darted into the brush. Who knows what I would have done. As it was I was transfixed, waiting for it to arrive. 

Only when it was almost upon us did its shape find emergence—a peloton, a group of spandexed men riding through the beltway at top speed, in tight formation, with the same bright white light affixed to each of the handlebars of their expensive bicycles. “Keep right,” they called back to each other, as their frames whirred quickly past us. 

We’d stopped cycling, both to wait for Rohan and because we knew it would be dangerous to try and press forward through the crowd. I felt like a rat trapped between four wheels of a car, quivering close to the asphalt. 

Like a speck on the horizon, as far from myself as the lights had been.

Two weeks later I was biking home following a late shift at the circulation desk of the Law Library, making a turn that I have made hundreds of times before. Except I was suddenly on a street that I didn’t recognize, a street shrouded in darkness that my bike lights barely pierced. I turned, trying to correct myself, and found myself in a long alley that ended at the major road I had wanted to avoid. I wasn’t quite lost, but it was disturbing how quickly I had lost my place. I was forced to double-back through a neighbourhood that I knew intimately, that I had lived in and adjacent to for years. Most of my adult life. 

I couldn’t figure out what about it had changed—why I was suddenly so confused, or what part of myself was missing in the darkness. 

What am I doing here? The worthy knight Lanval is neglected by Arthur, his king, when he distributes gifts among his men. Lanval feels dejected and wanders off alone. There he is greeted by two maidens, who tell him their demoiselle is waiting for him. She confesses that she loves him and promises to fulfill his every desire, so long as he tells no-one of her. For a long time, he is able to do this, making friends and throwing parties with his new riches, until he rejects Guinevere and she threatens to expose him as homosexual (the only reason he might have for not being interested in her). What he says is that he loves someone so perfect that even her handmaidens are more beautiful than the queen. Law of transitive properties. Guinevere misrepresents this to Arthur, making Lanval the aggressor, and locks herself in her room, refusing to come out until Lanval is punished. Arthur threatens to have Lanval killed until the demoiselle, who Lanval assumed he would never see again, arrives on a beautiful horse, with a falcon and trailed by a dog (a greyhound). After the trial, as the demoiselle is leaving, Lanval suddenly runs up beside her and mounts her horse, and the two ride away to Avalon. Neither is ever heard from again. 

I meant the office. What am I doing here? I’m sitting in a darkening room waiting to go to work. 

Read psychoanalytically, Lanval supplies himself with love in response to his neglect, a love that is so unearthly and perfect that he has to remove himself from society once he realizes that the two are incongruous. 

How much I like to look at the brick wall in the sunlight through the window of this cafe that closes in fifteen minutes, the colour of the brick almost completely washed out in the hard light of the September sun. Struggling green and yellow ivy drying around the doorway, a few brown strands clinging to a grate above the door. Contrast of cool navy darkness through the windows, ghostly white curtains hazy through the glass, against the absolute sunlight reflecting off the brick that is their neighbour. It’s easy to forget—reading in front of a computer, watching TV, looking at your phone—that the world is made up of such absolutes. Easy to forget the material, reassuring in its indifference, its incontrovertible presence. Inorganic matter is only what it is—it can be changed, of course, but even so it is only ever itself, whatever it has been or will be. A rock fully actualizes its being. Seeing the rock one realizes that being can be actualized merely by looking out your window. 

Though I can’t find it now, I have written before about the Argumentium Ornithologicum, an idea from Borges that in imagining a certain number of birds unknown to the imaginer, the only one who might know how many birds were visualized is God. This is an argument for God’s existence because the number is certain, yet unknown–whoever, or whatever, “knows” that number is God.

And yet the God that knows how many birds you imagined–even if you do not–is not necessarily the Christian God, except insofar as that God is frequently said to supply the lack that is produced by human experience. Lacan says God is a necessary consequence of language, that language is what gives human beings the capacity to imagine abstract quantities that far exceed their worldly counterparts. The distance between what can be held or apprehended and our imaginations is the lack that will always be part of the human experience. Language provides fuel for desire, because it imagines us arriving at a fulfillment which is not meaningfully possible except in a moment, if at all. It is often nearer to us when it is anticipated–who has not felt closer to some imagined good when standing on its threshold than when pressing it close against the skin?

In the book of John Mandeville he mentions a hill in the holy land on which four angels will stand and with four trumpts shall blow and announce the end of the world. This hill is identified as Mount Tabor, but the hill St. John actually identifies in Revelations as fulfilling this purpose is Megiddo (which means “Armageddon” in the Greek language that St. John wrote). Undoubtedly Mandeville made a mistake (he does so frequently), or relied on a corrupted source. But I prefer to imagine that the answer is uncertain, somewhere between the two, or perhaps on another hill not mentioned in either of the two sources. One of these hills, the two known, or a third, unknown, must be the hill in which the angels must appear. But the true answer is (for now) known only to God.

When I think the word that brings me closer to him time slows down and I am somehow newly distinct from my surroundings, in a pocket space where it is just me and the word and he who the word brings me closer to. Only closer. He is still far away. The world both expands and shrinks, shrinking to the size of my comprehension but producing a new understanding that whenever I stop and focus in this way a new point will open up that I can crawl into. Crawl is not the right word. Instead I am enveloped by an understanding that space is doubled, that I am doubled along with it, an uncanny version of myself that can only pronounce the word that brings me to him. Pronounce the word that reminds me that without it I am nothing: delicate and ready to crack at the slightest notice. Made up of cracks. The word brings me to myself, which is to say outside of myself, surrounded by an absolute fog that reminds me I have more to lose. That loss is pleasurable. One day I will not need the word, I will move beyond its boundaries, to what is signified, stripped of the need for signs. But when that time comes I will have nothing more to report to you. 

When I open the book—Nicholas Love’s The Mirror of Jesus Christ—to resume reading for my special fields exams in the fall, I start to hyperventilate. My chest tightens and I feel an incredible sense of panic. I need to take another day off, or a week. I haven’t been taking care of myself, telling myself that I’ll “have time” to re-centre, to relax, after the hard work is done in the fall. But the truth is that it will never be done in the way that I imagine. I will always have more work to do. I have been going at a pace that has been unsustainable—every book I finish has only made me feel more panicked, more like the project is slipping through my fingers, like I won’t know what to say when the time comes. Even though I have had many ideas and I know I will I find the words once the questions have been posed (it’s perhaps only that they have not been posed, that they could be anything, the absolute quality that they embody, which is what is so unsettling to me). When it’s done, I know I’ll have entered into the stage of my studies that I’ve been waiting for all along, that (as long as I do not face needless obstruction) should be more-or-less smooth sailing… 

Even now, writing about it, though I’m only moving laterally, certainly not doing anything even close to the thing itself, only sitting in a pleasant, quiet room with Rachel sitting next to me and one of my fields texts at my feet—I feel close to breaking down, like a neurotic nineteenth century intellectual with frayed nerves, recently prescribed three months vacation at a hot spring. That amount of time (three months) represents an impossible luxury that in no sense of the word could I afford. And yet—it also seems like, perhaps, the only potential solution, maybe because it happens to be the one that’s so far out of my reach.

He felt, lately, that when addressed he took nothing in. As if the words weren’t aimed at him or had been reflected back at the speaker, like he had parried them with a pose or with his body language. It was difficult to engage in conversation when he felt this way, disconnected from his partner—whoever it was—always looking off to one side, as if seeking an escape. Or perhaps he wasn’t seeking escape but looking for a kind of signal, like there would be someone dressed in a neon yellow jacket with brightly coloured flags who could provide him with distant aid. But what he was really looking for—that was difficult to know. In fact, if you had somehow managed to catch him in a moment of lucidity, cornered him and asked him what it meant when he floated off like that, he would have only cocked his head back at you, gazing over your shoulder as the bonds of his senses loosened their hold.