A friend, on our walk in late winter, both of us masked, confessed that he was more careful now than months ago, with vaccination in reach and immunity tangible. We’ve come this far. Don’t throw the future away here at the end. And so we have practiced restraint. And the days begin to warm. My heavy coat is put away. Rue Cler has opened after a year of hibernation. I can taste the moules frites. I have the urge to say thank you, and toast our health, and those we lost. Inshallah.
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Are you still a fan of the space between things?
Yes, of course.
I’ve often wondered—would the ultimate result of such a stance by a writer not be a white page?
Could, I suppose.
Why then aren’t you dedicated to creating blank spaces?
Been done. You end up staring at “White on White #17” on a gallery wall and feeling ready for lunch, or a drink. But I think you’re confusing the space between things and blank space.
I know you’d love to discourse. Would you please?
Never thought you’d ask. And you know this. It’s all very simple. Everything is a cocreation. There is the artist’s creation, or the tree falling in the forest, or the memo at work, or the lover’s gaze, and there is the recipient, the observer, the other who is participating, and the act is a dialog between or among them, and the meaning exists in the space between. It’s a richly textured space.
I can speak only for myself.
And so you send writing into the world and it is completed only when it reaches the other?
What if the other really dislikes it?
That’s no fun, but c’est la vie.
Might as well jump off the cliff?
No. I’m also having an ongoing conversation with myself, and I’m a tough critic, and if I’m pleased, I’m pleased.
Is there a space between you and yourself?
It’s the same size as the one between you and me.
I’m afraid not.
What an odd question.
Everyone wants to give advice, don’t they?
Sometimes it seems.
And these words are available on the internet, aka the universe’s advice column, are they not?
In a very little corner of it.
The world is full of advisors helping us use our time more effectively, turn our anxiety into an asset, sleep deeper, and wake brighter. So full that it seems advising is the primary aim of our species, doesn’t it?
I take it that you would counsel that I should be advising.
Why not give it a try?
I have no advice.
What did you do yesterday afternoon?
Listened to Keith Jarrett, read Liu Cixin, and fell into a deep and wonderful sleep. It was the weekend. I’d just dug a drainage ditch for the outlet from the sump pump.
Well there you go!
Surely you can make something out of that.
I advise you to undertake strenuous physical labor, shower, listen to good music, read a fine book, and fall sleep.
Excellent. What benefit will accrue when I do this?
You would be asleep.
Out of nowhere?
Is goodness so hard to find?
It can be.
Give me a moment.
Done. Nothing good at hand?
Give me another moment.
Done. What does it say that you have no positive word within easy reach?
That it’s . . . never mind. OK. Last Wednesday the sun came out after weeks of cold and rain. Almost seventy degrees in the afternoon. We drove to a nearby brewery where picnic tables are scattered about the lawn and harmonious distancing is practiced. We sat in the sunlight with our droughts. A group of motorcyclists passed in the adjacent road. Loud, yes, but not a gang of threatening malice—a caravan of riders with the wind and sun in their faces. In the beer garden, a dog escaped its owner and ran to the street, up the sidewalk, and into a large grassy lot, where it chased dancing scents at a gallop. Fear and concern among all the people gathered. And then the rapturous dog, so happy to run free, but so close to danger, returned to its owner’s caress, and we all sighed and cheered in the sunshine with our golden drinks and the echoing song of the riders.
That wasn’t so hard, was it?
Oh stop it.
Are you smiling?
Dogs have saved my life yet again.
How thin is the veneer of civilization?
Thinner than you would like it to be.
It’s cracking then?
Veneer always cracks.
Then, are we in dire straits because it’s cracking, or are these days standard fare?
I could say both.
Oh for heaven’s sake, why would you do that?
I wouldn’t. Yes, I know I can be irritating, but I’m not sure why you’re asking me to assess the state of our communal being. Who am I to do that?
Who do you have to be?
Hm. I suppose the consequence of cracked veneer depends on the quality of the underlying wood. If it’s not sound, when the damaged veneer lets the elements in, the structure will decay and eventually, worst case, collapse. On the other hand, if the infrastructure is sound, and the piece is in a sufficiently protected area, you’ll have grandmother and grandfather’s dining room suite, whose wear and tear is a familial history map, maybe even a beloved one.
So then, now that we have our metaphors and allegories in place, what have we got? A cherished if bruised dining room table, or a sideboard laden with memories and meanings that will no longer stand upright?
I like the memories and meanings bit. We’ve got that, whatever else.
You’re really not much help, are you?
Less than you’d like me to be. But then, you always ask too much.
Because she doesn’t want to. We could call in the psychologists and make it more complicated, I suppose, but let’s not. Time for bed…I don’t want to…I can tell you’re tired…Am not…You need your sleep…No I don’t…Everybody needs their sleep…Do not…Well, there was one girl who never slept…So…She’d heard of the thousand stairs…Mm um…You’ve heard of the thousand stairs…No…In Zanzibar, and at the top is a fabulous treasure…What?…Well, it takes a long time to tell. Are you sure you can stay awake?…Yes…She’d heard of Zanzibar. I don’t know how. I think she was the daughter of a famous explorer. And she hiked for many miles across desert and through jungle to reach the stairs. The weather was terribly hot, and she walked for hours everyday, exhausting herself. Putting one foot in front of the other. She wanted to sleep so badly, but more than that she wanted to climb the thousand stairs. Finally, after months of walking, she arrived and saw them rising into the sky so high that the top disappeared into the clouds. She sat for a moment, and it was then she saw the little bearded man sitting calmly on a stone at the bottom of the stairs. She said, “Hello,” and the man smiled and asked, “Are you here to climb the stairs?” She nodded. She was very tired by now but only wanted to rest for a while. “You’re wise to stop and sleep before climbing,” said the old man. “Many others have tried to climb without rest, and they never reached the top.” The girl asked, “What happened to them?” and the man said, “They all fell, but when they fell they became birds, and now they live among the trees in the jungle.” And then…the girl…(parental murmurings…goodnight).
Reprinted with enthusiastic permission from Ask Uncle Bob, 2012, with Uncle Bob’s hopes that it will work for you.
Vous êtes invités à vous inscrire pour recevoir les transmissions hebdomadaires des chapitres qui commenceront bientôt (en anglais).
The rest of the blog has suffered as preparations are finalized for the launch of the third serialization of Body in the Pond. (Suffering is the state of all being, say the Buddha and Mr. Camus, so no need to worry.) Launch will take place February 1. Canada, Colombia, Morocco, Spain, and Switzerland will then join the list of international destinations. Steadfast England, despite Brexit, has participated in all three rounds. (England loves serials. Thank you Mr. Dickens.)
One overarching rule was in place for rounds one and two: No feedback would be tolerated. It was, of course, broken, as all rules are. So I will say only the following: This is a work of performance art. It is not a writers’ group project. How can one say this politely?: Critiques are not sought. Comments such as “enjoyed it with my coffee every Monday morning” are welcome.
“Song of the Lake” has been posted, to be read in a soft monotone—the murmur of small waves at a lake shore—to children who mistakenly believe they want to be awake. The work was recently published in a private edition with photographs by the artist William McIntire.
Post-holiday preparations are now feverishly under way for the third international serialization of the novel Body in the Pond, a tonic for dire times.
Feverishly being a relative term.
Let’s say, this round begins this winter, when we’re cold and quarantined, when we all need a regularly recurring bit of warmth and light from a humble performance art project in the Dickensian tradition.
A chapter (or two), every Monday in your email box.
Sign up at unfetteredlit_at_gmail_dot_com.
Free. The only follow-up email you will ever receive will be a request to refer others.
Feedback is not only not requested but will not be tolerated.
Body has been read by readers from India to Taiwan to Jamaica to England to Democratic Republic of Congo to the United States and, well, probably elsewhere, who knows.