Today I was going to write about de-familiarization, but I think I’ll talk about that some other day. Instead, I’d rather write about how walking home from class I felt like I’d murdered someone.
The gargoyle in thick round glasses who teaches the class doesn’t deserve to be referred to as a gargoyle, but I’ve drawn his likeness several times in pencil, in my notebook, and he really does look like one, or maybe like a turtle, and there is something gargoyle-ian about the way he presides, curmudgeonly, over the history of Canadian literature, in his thick, round glasses: the glasses, though in an Anglo-style, of Borges and Babel. He stands at the lectern and overwhelms us, and we listen and love him, and laugh at his specific, learned, jokes. From eighty-four, the class has turned to sixty-five, but attendance isn’t mandatory, there is no test, and the hours are awkward, so the few of us who go to class regularly love him. In daydreams, I’d thought of him as a potential mentor, and even as a father, though I already have one. It’s difficult not to think of the gargoyle as a father, or a grandfather, because of the confident way he lectures, and his every statement seems peppered with reference to authorities, the fathers of all of us.
The coursework consists of two essays, each fifty-percent of our mark.
During a flurry of mid-terms and other essays, I handed in my first essay, and afterwards, I could not remember what I had done. There seemed to be several glaring errors in my paper that the gargoyle, I thought, would notice and condemn me for, because he’d written a book on the author I’d chosen. The anxiety mounted. Because of the cruise, I missed the first two classes of this semester. The essays were returned last week, but I had assumed they’d be returned on the first day back. For two classes, in my imagination, he called out my name, in a ghoulish voice, and when there hadn’t been a response, he snorted and said “Well, I hope that means he’s dropped this class.” That’s because I had failed the essay, and the errors were so pivotal that I failed it disastrously, to the point where, when I returned, I would be investigated by someone from the dean’s office. Even tonight, when he had already briefly discussed the papers, in a respectful, professional manner, and he had not referred to any outrageous failures–even tonight, when he was reading out the names, I cringed, ashamed for having failed–bizarrely, more ashamed that he would have seen the grade as he was handing the essay back, because then he’d associate my face with it.
I stuffed the paper in my jacket. I didn’t want to look at it yet, especially not among my classmates. In the hallway, I found out that I got a “B”. That didn’t stop the shaking. I kept walking. There was no point in reading the comments. I got a “B”, and it felt like I’d murdered someone, like I’d gotten away with murder. Why did it feel so awful? The paper was the sort of paper that, because it was finished only hours before the deadline, could have realistically gotten anywhere from a 60 to a low 80, depending on who was marking it. Essentially, I wasn’t responsible for its content. A fluctuation of my mood, or the mood of the gargoyle, might have tipped it to an 82, or dropped it to a 64. The “B” felt wrong, because it did not accurately represent the experience of writing the paper, that complicated relationship, but how could it? The gain, the “B”, was Faustian–I would pay for it later, especially if I didn’t learn from it.
Earlier today, after viewing an apartment, I reflected that on the way to the showing, I broke into a run wherever I could, across the street, up embankments–wherever I felt might be an interesting place to sprint. I wrote these words: “Like some people like to hear the sound of their own voice, I like to run.” I ran like a dog. Not the gruelling run of the marathoner, who is punishing himself, but like a dog, who careens through the forest in bursts. My paradise, I realized, is a world where I’m able to run like that every day, maybe in an endless game of street hockey where everyone jostles one another and yet no one is really serious. But on the way back from class, I tried to run like this, and it didn’t feel right. My step wasn’t graceful enough, it didn’t feel natural. Obviously, it was because I’d felt I’d murdered someone. But who had I murdered?
I’d murdered that self who, earlier in the year, had looked on the gargoyle as a father. That self who thought, if he applied himself in the right way, he could become a disciple of the gargoyle. The self who spent so much time imagining a hypothetical relationship that would enrich him intellectually that he failed to take any steps to realize it. One day I will describe that murdered self in more detail.