Lean away from it. Turn in a different direction. Cut against the line. Let it drip beyond the chalked radius. Natalie Goldberg Writing Down the Bones (cover by Joe Brainard): “I cut the daisy from my throat” is better than “My throat was a little sore, so I didn’t say anything.” (Perhaps even by writing that second line the first one is entirely ruined.) Write first without editing yourself. A sustained period. Do not go back, do not cross out. I am working at the front desk of the library, so it is difficult. She is thinking about writing in pen, in which the mind is always faster than the hand. This is less obviously the case on a computer, where I have often found myself able to move much faster than the mind can think (though I try to avoid it now).
Goldberg however was working in a different era and does not have much familiarity with computers, describing them carefully, as if they are magic objects: “the computer automatically returns the carriage. The device is called ‘wrap-around.’” Wrap-around. That’s what I was talking about earlier—writing faster than I could think. That’s how I learned to write, first seeing how fast I could go—one, two thousand words. Sometimes good ones. Sometimes quite bad. Now I typically write about two-hundred-and-fifty to seven-hundred-words in a fifty-minute period. Depending on how much of the story I can see. I’ve already strayed far in this experiment—“Don’t. No.” was meant to be my theme. But in truth I mostly wanted to write about cutting the daisy out of the throat. What does it mean to cut across the throat, to pull out a flower? To extract a delicate green stem and the petals stained with blood? And why does it feel to me so obvious that this has something to do with writing?
Seeing Anne Carson on Monday is like surprising a gazelle climbing a hill on the savannah. It is like coming across a stand of three or four birch trees suddenly in a forest of maple. “I always sound so together,” she jokes at the microphone after she is introduced. We take a wrong turn from Charles street. I lead Caroline (who I have met incidentally) to the rear of the building, where there is no door, near the dumpsters. But inside the chapel I realize that the rear of the building is precisely where the reading is located—its four massive stained glass windows look out over that back parking lot. I want to take a picture of Carson standing at the foot of those windows and dwarfed by the light passing through them. But the architects of the building, who may have anticipated smartphones over one hundred years ago, ensured that the light would be low enough that the windows would always be dazzling by contrast. This is so no one inside forgets about God even when they allow their mind to wander. I see on the screens of phones raised in front of me that they are only able to pick up those four wide blocks of light. Carson reads us a story about a woman who is a forsenic splash expert who with the help of a corvid friend named “Shortpants” annoys local mafioso. It is somehow both paranoid and earnest. The protagonist reads verbal patterns like a poet. I imagine writing my own story, beginning somehow with that wrong turn. “Looking up they saw the chapel where the reading would take place. In the window a white face suddenly turned away. Impossible to say with any certainty who it was.” In the hallway outside the chapel they are selling a selection of Anne Carson’s books, including one that has yet to be released. But Anne Carson is standing about ten feet in front of the table, standing next to but not talking to one of the event’s organizers. She looks bored and casual. She is after all just a human being killing time for the same reason we are. But it is impossible not to feel scrutinized. I purchase a single book and find my seat. It’s Monday and soon we will be listening to a woman who I imagine has meant something to all of us. I keep wishing I was reading her on the page and vow to spend more time with her. A poet later claims on Instagram that they fell asleep in the second row. And as Carson introduces herself she says that her great-grandfather, one of the founders of the university, died when he accidentally mixed too much lead into his shampoo. “You may find his portrait downstairs,” she tells us. But I don’t.
Fifteen minutes sitting at the table next to the mirror, waiting for Noor. There’s no wifi and we may have to leave when she arrives. I’m happy to be reflected in this way, I mean out of the corner of my eyes, I mean this screen reflected, my fingers typing, though I hate now to look at my own reflection directly. But the subject of the book I am writing at the moment is just this sort of glancing irritation.
Two weeks of working with Noor whenever possible.
Should have realized that it would be painful to take the train to Jane, to visit a station I have not seen since the summer. But what is not painful? What passes smoothly? Last night I was jittery on the squash court, swinging wildly, often well off the mark (though twice I almost sent the ball into Mark, my conveniently named opponent). But I knew that my fitness level was higher than it was in September, and despite the fact that I was practically radioactive I managed to take two games, including the final one which was for “all the marbles.”
Speaking of radioactivity, Sunday afternoon after the scare had died down I went for a run, and came back with a strange rash on the lower edge of my stomach. It’s gone now, and I assume it was only the cold against my flesh, oddly lingering even past my shower, but it was easy at the time to wonder if it was indicative of some trace of Pickering floating through the air. But if that was the case, why not my face? Why not my neck? Why not my eyes, or my lungs, or my ears? Why did they all escape unburned?
I’m at Jane for the book, to remind myself of an atmosphere, a feeling, that exists here. Before the city dissolves itself past Jane station (even as it multiplies itself to the point of illegibility). I’m also at Jane to abide in radioactivity, at least for a moment. At least for now. To let things be a little painful. To feel this radioactive half-life—however I have been burned.
Perhaps the lure of first-person narrative is the opportunity to see other human beings think. To see how they think but also to see them in the middle of thinking. To catch them in their interiority. This is the appeal of having characters who have spent an entire narrative apart meeting for the first time, the moment represented from both sides. Seeing what is elided. Seeing what is misunderstood. Seeing what has been heretofore misrepresented to us, the limitations of the human subject when viewed from the outside. (Purported shabbiness is revealed to be composure, or vice versa. Confidence is anxiety. &c.) (This can also work for characters who have been separated and reunited after a long and painful journey—we see their sacrifices and so better understand their joy.) These limitations contrast with the represented interiors of the human subject, which are often limitless, or which seem limitless, or are in any case much more expansive than they could ever hope to appear to others. We can reach out as far as we want, but sometimes there is nothing there reaching back to us.
Inside, the only limit is our imagination—which too often to our detriment is not a limit at all.
Wondering how the other thinks. A process completely unknowable to us. This is part of the rupture inherent in speech, the cracks that it introduces through the uncertainty of both the abstract and the unknown. (If only we could know for “sure”!—a leap of faith is often required.) In fact, as fiction often chooses to represent, our own thinking is even often a mystery to us. What we want. What we desire. What we deny. What we are doing to ourselves or to others in the name of things which appear real to us but from the outside reveal themselves to be false: duty, propriety, social pressure… The pain, the difficulty, sometimes even violence that results—in fiction it is both easy and difficult to understand.
Open palm. Keeping your hand still. When I was lonely I used to sit in Queen’s Park, at a picnic table, and try to call the squirrels to me. Until one came too close and took a gentle nibble of my fingers. But it was then that I learned to surround them on only three sides, leaving them room to escape. (I would hope you do not in any sense feel “surrounded.”) Absurdity: to wake up into a world that seemed estranged from reality only because warning klaxons were not sirening. Quick text to my parents: they say to bring water, if you do go, because the pipes have been shut off. In any case 79 km more reassuring than 35. But of course no reassurance of the kind that I desire, even though a later text was sent acknowledging the error.
On the walk to school this morning thinking about epiphany. Two epiphanies: one unrooted and one tied to action. I have more faith in the second, though the first was en route to the other. But I expected, that first time, that epiphany itself would somehow provide a religious transformation. Enough to return us to where we should be. But how is religious transformation achieved? Only religiously—that is, through continuous action, constant reinforcement and refreshment. Perhaps there are two kinds of lovers just as it is sometimes said there are two kinds of religious followers. Those that love predominantly in an idealistic manner and those who understand the practice of love, the duty that it requires. Both are necessary—but to love completely these two methods (perhaps not distinguished in any other sense than what a person has been raised to, perhaps even often found to various degrees in the same person) must be combined.
What does Miami mean to me? Pink skies. Vivid greens. I had followed you there. I had wanted to post about it publicly–just to say “I’m in Miami.” A simple statement of fact. But what Miami meant would have been immediately clear to everyone–Miami, its pink skies, its escape and easy neon drama. It would mean I was with you. I said, “It doesn’t have to be such a mess, you know.” And you said–this was a dream, or the closest that a hallucination can come to a dream–something which seemed to indicate that it wouldn’t be a mess forever. That it would, perhaps, work out for us. But that you didn’t have an exact timeline–it was something you needed to explore.
We were in Miami together. You told me to be patient, as you pulled me close to you, wrapping your legs around me–we were clothed but in public, lying on a blanket at a “dock” underneath a bubble of glass, a little pool, and hundreds of chairs set up for seniors drifting in and out of the structure. The kind of architecture that only makes sense in dreams.
The situation, I thought, didn’t make any sense to me, and I told you that. “We’re already together,” I said, “in all but name.” Which wasn’t true. But I thought I could feel it coming. I wanted it more than I had ever wanted anything. Then we arrived at an airport terminal, with two others, a man and a woman. We got separated–in this Miami the airport terminal was like an MC Escher etching, with sudden descents and confounding corridors. From the lower level I could see you walk away, not alone, anxious for you to stop at the nearest escalator. I wanted you to wait for me while I found my way upstairs. But I was strangely confident that, in time–perhaps not even too much time–we would reunite.