He makes me cut all my best lines. “Kill your darlings” may be why we don’t have kids. So cut I do, my best and often essential lines. I keep them in a separate notebook and show them to no one, not even him. When I die, this will be my masterwork, my greatest hits as yet unread, comprehensive of my entire oeuvre.
Once I found this echo in his poem: “reckoned leverage of the pouted silence”. Not exactly a duplicate of mine: “You don’t reckon on the leverage your pouted silence wields,” but close enough. Ours isn’t really a creative competition, though if it were, he’d be winning by far, which makes it all the more messed up, right?
“Omnivorous. A writer has to be,” he said. “We’re as one, anyway, my love. What feeds you, feeds me.”
“As long as you’re not feeding on me,” I said. He bent over and bit my arm.
“She said ‘ow’ to mean ‘this is the line where I start and you end,’” he said, and pulled his notebook from his back pocket to write it down. It wasn’t half bad.
So it’s been a while since I’ve mostly stopped writing and taken up photography. Sometimes he’s speechless before one of my shots, or rather he says, “I’m speechless,” which isn’t the same thing, but I’ll take it. I’m always looking for the juncture of ridiculous or disturbing clashes: a man passed out on a bench, arms spread, ribs protruding in front of a billboard that reads: “He died for your sins”, the father slapping his toddler in Toys-R-Us, back-dropped by the pink playhouses and plastic princesses. (We were there to buy yet another pregnant friend a shower present, which adds another layer of clash but that “reads” only to me and Todd.)
That’s right. His name is Todd. Todd Woodright, the, and yes, this is what it’s like to be married to The Todd Woodright.
I printed out one good picture on matte 8” x 10” cardstock, which was a big step for me, self-regard-wise and otherwise. Until then, all my images had existed only as lit pixels. This one was pure right-place-right-time kismet. In the shot, everyone’s stopped at a country intersection. I was on foot, shooting from a corner. In the first car on my right, a lady’s opened her door and she’s leaning out, puking, as the guy heading East is bringing a wax-paper wrapped sandwich to his mouth. In the next car, an old lady has a Chihuahua’s head propped on her shoulder (the rest of his body is invisible). They look oddly alike: big eyes, pointy nose. The guy in the last car, he’s the reason I took the photo. He’s dressed like some kind of crow-wing wizard, in a swooping iridescent black hat, and a beard trimmed around utter hotness: dark eyes, the hint of a smile. He’s well aware that the camera’s on him, and he’s staring right back.
Wouldn’t you know it, that guy showed up in Todd’s next story, taken by The New Yorker, “Intersection.”
I admit it showed imagination to follow the four stories North, South, East, and West: N. wiping her mouth, remorseful for excess, and her excess explored, E. a kind of ballad to the working man (that chimes through the other tales), S. the old lady and the Chihuahua actually conjoined, collaborating on their life’s choices, and W., where my story would have gotten in there and done all manner of naughty deeds to him, Todd made him the hero, of course under a heavy drape of autobiography.
“Intersection” is not without a certain reckoning of the fifth element: a woman standing on the side of the road in leggings and boots, catching a moment by throwing a frame, as necessary to the nexus as the crow-wing wizard. Towards the end, the wizard comes back to the intersection looking for the woman whose path he wasn’t able to see to its destination. She’s not there, and he sings a line from Robert Johnson, “I went to the crossroad, baby, I looked east and west/ Lord, I didn’t have no sweet woman, in my distress.” And the story ends, yearning towards the woman on the side of the road, “Like the mirrors of a teleidoscope, her angle brings the rays of the circle into contact; she makes it happen; she always makes it happen; nothing could happen without her.” But Todd cut that line before the story went to print. He told me, “You can have it. It’s all yours.”
I ran into a writer’s block. Usually words flow from me, like rain from clouds, like milk from cows, like water for chocolate. But now, a huge invisible square had materialized in front of me. I pictured it. An ice cube, unseen yet solid. Tentatively, I put out a toe. And there it was, just as I had pictured: cold, clear, hard. A block in my imagination, cutting off images, plots and story lines.
I extended my fingertip. It burned like ice, like frost, like tears. I stuck out my tongue to taste, bitter rime and malarial heat, flooded my mouth, scarring my illusions, blistering holes in my inspiration. Pulling violently backward, my tongue stuck to the writer’s block, staining its glass clear surface with a u-shaped, blood-red layer of cells. I screamed.
Driven by frustration and desolation, I threw myself at the writer’s block.
Seven days later I awoke, my head bandaged in cool, damp, anesthetic-scented linen.
Do artists stumble upon painter’s block? Is a painter’s block translucent like mine, or colorful? And what of performers: musicians, dancers, or actors who do not invent their art? Can they too run into a block, even though they are given notes, steps or words?
What about plumbers…? One day a plumber goes to repair a toilet. Suddenly it appears to him as a white stone-smooth blowhole. He is looking down into a swirling sea, or perhaps a pallid tunnel into another dimension. He is helpless, no longer seeing pipes and valves, but miracles of water and light, time and space. He cannot tinker with these infinities. His life has become unregulated. He can no longer find the repair valve.
Can a CPA suffer accountant’s block? Is there a time when she cannot do the math? The numbers will not add up, but gavotte from their rows, shimmy beneath tables, limbo under graphs and sidestep beyond the total line. They refuse to stack up—looking like a black and white, minimalist Miró or a dancing Rorschach.
And what of soldiers? Are there times when military men parading in goose-step perfect order listen to a different drumbeat? Without even firing a warning shot, they discover they cannot kill another being, no matter the nationality. Unexpectedly, all flags appear to be meaningless bits of fabric. Uniforms become clothes; stiff, uncomfortable, without distinction.
Is that what happens to marriage? A love block, ending in divorce or worse? Is that what happened to my husband? Did he awake one morning to a stranger? Turning in bed to see me distorted, twisted, as though through the lens of a funhouse mirror that has lost its humor?
I am grateful for my block. I am much more tranquil now that the juices of genesis are not fermenting inside me. I need not worry if my words paint a picture, or if my pictures tell a story. I can read without considering subtext. I look at a flower without reflecting that its ultraviolet coloration is invisible to me. I listen to the wind, all curiosity about vibrations I cannot hear, gone. I do not care if insects possess intelligence and emotion. And though I know that during metamorphosis, bodies liquefy and reform, I no longer question if the butterfly is a new being or the same caterpillar in a party dress. I do not wonder about transmutation, reincarnation, or if journeys end in lovers meeting.
I am far better off than the poor plumber who cannot look at a faucet without contemplating the universe. The unemployable account who, hearing the music of the spheres, cannot add, subtract or multiply.
I thank God for my writer’s block… without ever stopping to think about whether God exists…and if He does should I capitalize His name… or call “Him”, “Her”, or “It”?
So many things not to envision, each second filled with a trillion, gazillion of mysteries not to consider.
I think the plumber is quite desperate now, although I doubt he will be quiet. I hear him trying to create a symphony on pipes. The accountant is not still either. She is punching out a non-linier minuet on her calculator. Thoreau lied. No one is going to their graves with the song still in them.
I reach over to my nightstand. Someone, perhaps the kind soul who bandaged my wounded head, has left me earplugs. They are soft, scentless, colorless, made of wax, I think. I mold them in my hands, curving them into the shape of South America. Then I place them into my ears and push. Blessed silence! Besides them is an indigo velvet cloth. I wrap this around my eyes, cradling my face in its soft darkness. It blocks out the sun. Completely. I still my breathing, waiting for sleep to hold me without dreams. So this is the way the world ends, whimpering stilled, color muted.
A miracle born of impossible love. I am here. Although these words emerge by command of your own fingers, I am here. I touch the keys through your fingers. But you did not create me. Perhaps I have created you.
I had been to this place before, although I know not how I came. Here in this room, I watched you, loved you, for two hundred years.
At earliest glance, your room was as any room. It had color, fabrics, windows—but windows of such unvaried clarity! I saw a floor covered in a material like velvet, soft, smooth and of one color all the way across. After a few moments, the light itself struck me with its constancy of brightness; a steadfastness of light such as I had never yet beheld. Surely that could not have been a part of my imagining!
No such light exists at night. Not in my time and place.
I looked through half-spread fingers at so much wonder I could scarcely take it in. In truth, so exotic was this place that I barely saw you. You. When you moved into view my heart stopped. Your soft, pale eyes, your lean manly form, caused my girlish cheeks to blush.
You—the Hero of my book. You moved into view, my love. So, the room, with all its peculiarities, faded from it.
A loud sound came as of a music box, and stopped as suddenly as it had commenced. I nearly started from my skin as it played again, and stopped. You placed an object to your face and spoke to it.
“Nothing. I’ve got nothing. I know it’s a contract, but I don’t have anything worth writing. I’m telling you there’s nothing.”
You laughed and set the object down. A bitter laugh.
I found myself back in my place and time, shredded with disappointment. I grew haunted with you. (No, dear sir, it is not the other way about.)
Each night after that first, I learned to travel to your side. Soon, I learned to take your hands. I learned to call myself to this place, to follow you into all the alien spaces of your abode, where you sip long hours with your steaming cups, before the small machine. Your face bathed in its light, I watched you speak to it, curse it, cajole and plead with it.
I, too, started writing this tale. To you, for you, for us…
I wrote of you in verse, in prose, and in fantasy I took you into my mind and heart with the dancing of my quill. Writing that I was bidden to hide, not knowing that it rode to you.
Perhaps it is not so surprising. I could see nothing but you, think of nothing else, even as I did the work of my hope chest. Hope. I ached as I sewed, pricked my fingers as the tears blurred my work. For, you see, I was promised to another man. We all know this narrative. The fortunes of two families relied upon the match. The resisting maiden…
Before you, I had not imagined any other fate. Until I found you in my dream-life, in my visits, and our hands became as tandem beings.
You, see—finally—on my most recent visitation, I could see that our words were coming at the same time. I’ve learned to guide your fingers as if they were my quills. Your own hands find these words as my heart guides them across the keys.
See how lovely are our stories?
I see the fear in your eyes as you read this; as I bring these words as if from you. Yes, you have me to thank for them. But now I need my payment. A woman of my time has not the quality of life that you have without asking. I would be so fettered, were I to stay in the time to which I was born.
You have been happy with our alliance, have you not? Pray never try to tell me you have not. Who did you think she was, the girl of your book? Think you that she came from nowhere? Think again.
Which of us is Character and which of us the Author?
You would starve without me.
So—I have come. I have slipped across to you, my love. You will never be alone again, nor will I. For better or for worse. We will tell our story as we can only do together; spirits joined across time, across the inscrutable energy of these sweet electric currents.
I am here to stay, my love. Here in your now, forever.
Point, Counter Point
I started writing an allegory:
In my journey I came across Atlas standing bent under the weight of the heavens. He looked tired and miserable.
“Will you relieve me?” he asked.
“Okay,” I said.
I then took a break and went about the business of life.
“There should be child in the story,” my spouse said later.
So I deleted one line from the story and added another one.
“Will you relieve me?” he asked.
“Okay,” I said. My child would help me with my burden if needed.
Time went by.
I deleted the last two sentences of the story and replaced them with one sentence.
“Will you relieve me?” he asked.
“No,” I said, and kicked him in his shins.
More time went by.
“We must have the child back in the story and the child should grow up.”
I went back to the second version of the story and added to it.
“Will you relieve me?” he asked.
“Okay,” I said. My child would help me with my burden.
A few years went by. I was getting tired of the heavens on my shoulders. I looked at my child, now grown up and strong, playing in the sand.
“Help me,” I called to him.
He looked at me once, then turned back and continued playing.
When next I had time, I revised the story and ended up with what turned out to be its longest, almost complete, version.
The story now went like this:
In my journey I came across a huge expanse of desert. In the middle of the desert, Atlas stood bent under the weight of heavens that he carried on his broad shoulders. He looked at the world I carried on my shoulders. It looked small to him.
“Exchange?” he asked.
“Okay,” I said.
So we exchanged our weights and Atlas merrily walked away as I stood alone in the middle of the desert, holding the heavens aloft.
Then I saw Atlas staggering towards me.
“Take back your world,” he panted.
The bearer of heavens was staggering under the weight of my world.
I smiled. We exchanged our burdens and I resumed my journey.
With time I learned.
I looked at the story. It was too long. So I started cutting away anything that sounded even remotely superfluous and ended up with this:
I gave relief to Atlas.
“Why not give it a more general, more universal object?”
I gave relief.
“Make it still more general.”
I looked at my story and realized that even that single mono-alphabetical, monosyllabic word was nothing more nor less than a symbol – a symbol for the eternal, the infinite, indefinable reality.
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