Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nothing Is A Sinking Something

"Fear of being no good. Also fear of being overlooked. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear that one's efforts and striving will come to nothing. Fear of the step that leaves no trace. Fear of the forces of chance and nature that wipe away shallow prints. Fear of dining alone and unnoticed. Fear of going unrecognized. Fear of failure and making a spectacle of oneself. But above all, fear of being no good."

--Roberto Bolano, 2666

Why force the day to its knees when it's perfectly willing to go down without any assistance?

I used to sit out on an old railroad trellis above the river in my old hometown, watching nuns walking in quiet circles in their convent garden, and waiting for darkness to fall and the fishermen to emerge like ghosts from the brush beneath me and begin their routines. They'd turn on their transistor radios and dial in the only local AM station, and from up and down the banks I'd hear the sounds of a baseball game, maybe, or Roger Miller, or Tony Orlando and Dawn, sometimes oddly staggered or not quite in sync, an almost imperceptible lag in each radio's signal so that the sound was like a skipping stone that slowly disappeared into the gloaming upriver.

I supposed you could take that river somewhere, and used to think ideas like that were grand.

It was already such a fast world, but I couldn't wait for it to go faster.

I always wondered what the first night as a nun must be like. Did they just stand there in the dark corridors of that imposing place built of stone, listening to the silence and wondering what they had gotten themselves into? Everything had been given, and perhaps they already had the sense of their old lives and identities receding, and thought of their families now embarked on the long drive back to some small town in Iowa or Wisconsin.

One night I encountered a young nun, in full habit, along that same river. It was a foggy night, and I heard her before I saw her. She was crying. The experience spooked me, this crying nun suddenly appearing out of the swirling fog. I remember she looked up briefly --I saw then that she was very young-- and then veered away from me and was once again swallowed up by the fog.

Almost every day I went to the library, and every trip to the library was another step out of town. Thirty years later and I am ninety miles away. I always thought I would be much, much farther. And further.

My father called me 'precious' right up until the day he died.

Now: the mind's Border Collie is a defeated dog.

I never in a million years thought it would get so late so early.

What can I tell you? I'll tell you what?

You want some hopeful line of American hooey? You want one of them big things to look at? Another goddamn gizmo to make you feel like you're connected to all the things you're disconnected from?

You want a soundtrack --happy, sad, mopey, broken, anxious, heart pounding-- so you know where you are in the story and what you're supposed to be feeling? You want a scene of dad and the kids washing the car in the driveway, complete with the obligatory shot of the lovable dog trying to shake itself dry and sending everybody laughing and squealing? You want a birthday party, honey? You want some balloons? A pony? Everybody you've ever known and loved popping out of the closets and from behind the furniture and shouting, "Surprise!"?

You want a big porch with comfy chairs and bright flowers and the intimations and insinuations and implications of a lazy summer day? You want a Ford truck kicking up dust on a country road, and some of that boot-stomping fake cowboy bullshit?

You want somebody to give you some memories to replace the ones you no longer have?

You just want to feel better? What ails you? Never mind; I can't help you with that, but you just sit tight and something will come along. Ask your doctor about that thing you saw on the TV.

It was better when guns were muskets and blunderbusses. Such better words, almost Seussian. Muskmelon and cantaloupe: as if either one of those names wasn't sufficiently inspired.

I've gotten away from the subject. I'm sorry; it's late. You want me to sell you something, but I'd just like to figure out if I have anything left to give you first.

You want something breathtaking? Something breathless? A story of breakdown and redemption and some love-conquers-all, TV-movie-of-the-week confection? You want intrigue? Some kind of escapist, sorry-state-of-the-world action-male shoot-em-up with car chases, jaw-dropping stunts and explosions, and stoic heroes and femme fatales and that sort of thing?

Or maybe you're in the mood for some quiet, bittersweet nostalgia (etymology: the pain of returning home), a coming-of-age yarn crammed with life lessons --lonely boy, dog, railroad tracks, wise old hermit, etc.? You want a dollhouse romance, complete with talking animals? Some twinkle-twinkle-blah-blah-blah? You want a new pair of shoes?

You want some comfort food, or something spicy? You want a big, stiff drink or a wee glass of sherry?

You want some of that tired old wise-beyond-her-years kid stuff?

You want a hurtin' thing, a big, messy jukebox epic that'll make you cry out your nose?

You want something real and plain spoken?

You want to know what next? What now? What then?

You want the truth?

I couldn't give you a single damn one of those things, honey.

All I could give you was this.


  1. You'll forgive me, sir, but I believe you left out the last line of that Bolano paragraph: "Fear of forever dwelling in the hell of bad writers."

  2. Thank you, Meers, but that was deliberate. I couldn't bring myself to type those words.

  3. Don't go changin'....

  4. Grateful for your words and wonder, Jergie.

  5. I just want to play stickball into the evening with the neighbor kids, well past twilight, beyond the point at which the grownups, on the porch with their Manhattans, bother wondering how we can see the ball at all.

  6. I feel like that's exactly what I'm doing.

  7. "You people are never happy." I want the story of Jergie and Meers.