He had had one hundred thoughts in one hundred and one days. That meant that there were one hundred thoughts less, or properly speaking ‘fewer’ to have. Those days and those thoughts were gone. With regard to such counting, whether forwards or backwards, brave and young Stephen Dedalus claimed that he was lucky to stumble upon a good thought once in a fortnight, or every two weeks. Likewise, in Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, there’s no six piece thin affair but a gigantic orchestral hullabaloo about every fortnight, too. Again, then, with regard to the former, that doesn’t seem to be a whole lot, in truth, especially in the age of adolescence, that newfangled notion that is time’s comfortable muskeg people get stuck in between childhood and being grown up today—ever since the average human lifespan became rather ridiculously long, attenuated to the slow decline of sloping downward into a near horizontal buzz along the manmade asymptote of near nothingness for decades of palliative discomfort and some peculiar kind of peering out somewhere. As to the latter, having a festive lawn party under a tent with a couple hundred uninvited guest who come in from nowhere, that seems to be obscene in its frequency, as was the intent of Fitzgerald to display and Mr. Gatsby to purposefully have, to drag in the diamond dregs so as to perchance collect his lost pearl Daisy, if not purloin her. As for the ticket-taker whose story begins this lacklustre note, he had taken to mind once as a child that numbers themselves worked like this: you start with 1; you double that and get 2; and after that (3) you’ve got many. And, while he also, with his little handheld penlight ushered others into the movie theater velvet quietly to their seats when they arrived a bit late for the show, and was very helpful to them, he kept, like a bushy-haired, gray-tailed autumnal squirrel losing more than half its acorns due to luck, fortuity, and nature’s misfortune, his remaining day’s comments mostly to himself.
I had been having an online conversation with a guy about a very well-established writer. And prior to this I had sworn to myself to never say a critical word about another writer. It’s just not good grace. It’s just not good politics. I know it is not in anybody’s good interest to utter a bad word about a fellow writer, or another human being for that matter, that aims downward. It can only come back to bite me, too. I know all that. But I must take aim. I must enter the henhouse. And I must play the fox. Now, I’m a half-way educated man, and I can say in French Pascal’s very precious, “When you read too fast or too softly you hear nothing.” And for me, as a writer, the same holds true. Every syllable I’ve ever written, I’ve heard in my own ear. And that’s the way I do it; there’s no other secret. I may be all geared up in bright green shoes and little lightweight shorts to go for a four mile run, and I’ll hear, bouncing out the door, a whole line in my head. And the point is that I’ll go for my run, down the washed-out gravel of my driveway and up the hill, and down the road, and back. I never worry about that line. I hold it there lightly in my head, never hard, never fearing that I’ll lose it, never in a hurry. And while I’m out there, I’ll hear a few more perhaps. Maybe a second. Maybe a third. Other phrases I hear I know they may get lost and that’s no matter at all. You go to the store for milk, chips, and four ears of corn; the rest can be forgotten. And if it comes back to you, it does. It’s no great matter. It’s what really makes me a reader.
A real writer is actually a reader. Everything is heard, just as if you are actually reading it. That’s all. And my job is to get what I’m reading down, to be able to keep it there a little while for another person perhaps to read, too. That’s all. But so many people who make novels, and there are so many of them, they don’t seem to me to hear a word at all. In fact, there’s nothing in their writing to be heard there. They are not even the shells of cicadas that ever buzzed, nor the brown crusty ones of locusts that burred away the summer’s night. There’s just no sound to them at all. They’re just truly writing, and they are just truly writers, when that means that the words themselves put down on paper or on a computer screen are themselves the bearers of ‘meaning’ connected to some lobe of understanding in the human brain. Something like that, although it’s hard for me to articulate.
If you pick up a copy of the The Pale King by the sadly late David Foster Wallace, you will hear immediately what I mean. In it are the ghosts of Jack Kerouac, Thomas Wolfe (the Look Homeward, Angel one), Gatsby’s Fitzgerald, Salinger’s Catcher, and all those true writers who really are engaged in reading the world because they are listening to what they hear. The rest, I have no time for them, for their gross, and self-satisfied, and maladroit, and pompous, and smug-multitudinous and often fancy (to show all this to be true) superimpositions of unheard worlds that never were, never are, and never will be, however well-schooled and intelligent these prove themselves they are to us as they come across my drowsy eyes in their arduous making and vast laborious undertaking.
There is something to say about a photograph that can be lost. For if it can be lost, it can also be found. And those who know about negatives, know, too, that these negatives are generally scattered here and there. These are about as good as gone, though, as a last resort—a very last resort, they were sometimes resorted to. One would hope, shifting packets, sifting through the pile of debris, to find reddish-tinted strips of plastic, or the gray-and-black and clear-to-clearish ones, to find the missing picture—or, rather, the negative from which the picture was special ordered-up, or just peered at in its tiny rectangle and, through the light it was held up to, remembered. But today, with today’s “cameras,” which are really not cameras at all (they are merely scanning machines), there is never any real sense of finding and losing anything. Yes, there can be locating (and re-locating), as well as mis-filing a ‘picture’, but without anything to be held in the hands, there is really nothing to behold. And so, too, does it go with the passing loves of our lives that have passed by the “lens” of our DSLR-cameras. At best they reside in some skeuomorphic folder on our skeuomorphic desktop; at worst, they are deleted. Nothing. But a picture, a paper picture! One that was taken with a 35mm camera! One does not have to have the face or the body or the smile or the smell or the garnet necklace given to our loves in these real pictures to feel them body & soul, to feel a lifetime later the loves that we have all forsaken and blown and destroyed. All of them. In piles and stacks in shoeboxes in cartons in plastic bins we keep them. We keep them all. And some, though they are there (they must be!) we can never find again. In the multitudinous past, they elude us all of our lives. Still: there is something gorgeous about these post-card romances even if immediately afterwards, in the break-up, one had had an unaffected scorn for them all.