Accidental Lacunae (a cloud essay)

Tolstoy — People need pain and illnesses; our sufferings help us understand our blessings.

The chief concern is of wont. If you don’t know what you want you will dither.  And when you wallow you waste time and your life. So much of my, perhaps your, early life is all but a faltering stumble. Until sometime in you thirties you come to realize that what you’re doing is living your life. Simple as that.

I don’t know if I’m depressed; in mourning; anxious or rather in the throes of my perennial crazy blue period – after school and before I realize it has ended. A star in the night sky long ago gone surd. I murmur a lot of fiats.

Let it be. I haven’t been able to write much. My seventy-seven year-old mother died of lung cancer early this year and it left my elderly father enfeebled. I am numb.

The only part of my opus I can conjure is an opening line.

Imagine I’m you.

Just read an astonishingly good short story by Alice Munroe, “Accident;” I comprehend now what every literary aficionado seems to have known years before me: This is amazingly good writer.  Such depth, and technical bravado.

Imagine I’m you.

Reading Munroe this morning I came across a technique I had first noticed in a colleague’s fiction: Movement of story or plot without expressly saying so, as if the lives of characters move along without readers knowing – a silence. I heard it when my fellow Ph.D. student Joanne L. read one of her Sri Lanka stories at a university conference. Action continued while the narrator gave us detail. So one section or paragraph begins in one place – then a pause for greater detail as on offshoot of present concerns – and another following section or paragraph begins in another.

In the “Accident,” a hospital cafeteria is mentioned in a short paragraph. Then, the following paragraph begins: You have to eat, a wife says to her husband; the remainder of the paragraph details how the wife speaks Finnish, but that the husband only reluctantly, given their respective backgrounds. It’s a pause in the plot to provide details on the characters’ lives.

They picked up ham and cheese sandwiches and coffee, begins the subsequent paragraph. From the former mention of the cafeteria and the suggestion of eating, readers don’t follow this action, but are taken away for the paused details.

I remember being struck by this and sending Joanne a note asking her about it. She avoided the question and never answered me. Writers rarely share their devices. Man behind the curtain and all that. Then reading Munroe this morning – there it was. 

Oh there it is I said to myself sitting outside smoking a torpedo and sipping Italian roast coffee. There you are Joanne; hiding in rather plain sight. Where else would you find writers?

I guess this is grief. Not an inability to swallow, as C.S. Lewis famously remarked, but a hidden malaise, an inability to choose a direction and forcefully proceed. It’s an inability of imagination. It’s the pause of detail in fiction, but instead of it being bookmarked with decision and a new destination, there is but this –

But I’m not entirely sure where I left off.

This is the accidental pause. It’s so unfortunate I – we – are so ill equipped, so unprepared to comprehend and deal with it.

A little hard to swallow.

Imagine I’m you. You want to live. You don’t know how.

You don’t know A from B, don’t know how to get across this great expanse, this yawning lacunae.

The writer is in mourning. And blessings begin with a b.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Why ask?