Edward Williams


February 2008


When I came around the corner, there was a huge crowd cheering for me. But it was as if I wasn’t ready for this, I was still so lost in thought. So incredibly, I lowered my head and kept walking. What a person has to do, at any given time, I was thinking, is identify the key problem. Then the scene that represents the problem appears and develops and swiftly, magically, is furnished. That is the rigging, the very setting, and now the circumstances typical of this problem, the story that always accompanies this problem, ah! that is so familiar!–of course, for this is the unsolved problem, the very one that has always dogged me and, really, is consuming me as if were my life. The typification, the nexus, the nettling one and only problem which, really, has already threatened to consume lesser problems, and now actually is right up front. Now, I think, all we have to do is address this issue head on. I am walking down the middle of the street at midnight, coming back from the corner store, with a plastic bag swinging from my hand, in a very tentative snowfall, just a skirmish, a few flakes. I pretty much have it figured out, what the problem is at least, it is right in front of me, laid out like an unfinished card game or something. I am just going to go in the house and get back to work. After all, I think, I have been fairly dedicated, more than most people–but, there now, that is not the direction to take this problem in. For the problem is internal, and the issue is how to express it. How to exactly sound the alarm. Then I can publish it, and advertise it, send out an advance guard, like horn players to announce my arrival in the capital . . .

Subsequently, during all the days and nights and the circumstances that are bound to interrupt one’s sure focus, well, one might lose the thread, and ditch that problem–though it seemed like practically everything. The truth is, I think about alot of things, it is my work, my milieu, you might say, but I never get entirely comfortable because there is always this sense of urgency, that I am not addressing the actual central question. And it might be vital that I do, because for one thing other people might be slaughtered in my neglect. I look around, and some have fallen, some are swept into oblivion it seems. What am I doing! I ask myself, why do I not concentrate on the real central question? Lord! What one always finds is that what they have to do is identify the question, isolate the matter, cordon it off and then stand back and assess the difficulty. My, how fluid is the expression of the abstract difficulty; one can go on and on and barely infer what the thing is! Language is a bounty, a cornucopia, a horn that never fills up, for the impossible to express! Are we not supposed to be finished, but just always to have plenty to say . . . ?

I remember a time when there were crowds cheering, or I was giving lectures in a hushed auditorium, or like I came in the room and it was a surprise party. Or like I came into a restaurant, and everyone at the tables turned around at once and started clapping. What would be best would be if it was a surprise party for someone else–though. There are many who are deserving of accolades beyond measure. Though, I reflect, maybe no one really likes surprise parties. I don’t even know what the occasion is, attached to this, suspiciously vague, set of pseudo-memories. But on the other hand, once these halcyon days have gone by, it would be something to have the record, and remember it. Wouldn’t it? One wouldn’t be so abashed to have that on their personal resume, and one would hope that the celebration reflected the achievement, though really, how could it? I haven’t gotten there yet, I am still bowing my head in thought, coming around the corner, overflowing with these sentiments, just reaching for the door handle to enter the house.


32) Bathos

My closest friends have always protected, that is to say shielded, me from receiving what others, readers far removed from the field of battle, might understandably consider my due portion of worldly recognition. No irrelevant plaudits will they allow–knowing, these close friends, that I would surely collapse under the weight of false, or even sincere, compliments. I have repaid these kind and caring friends by affecting an air of grand nonchalance, almost as if I didn’t notice what they have accomplished on my behalf. And over the years have found this pose, which fawning strangers often see as coldness and unfair reserve, more and more comfortable–seeing in fact that such affectation preserves a childish innocence–and, miraculously, even provides me continued access to original mysteries. Thus I keep drawing from the depths, the black mirrors one might say, of my spiritual self. And of course, since time is a slide rule, and not merely an hourglass, this childhood seems to grow deeper, the farther away it gets–like, another simile: outer space. Luckily–most luckily, indeed–these close, kind, caring, and thoughtful friends, who really spend some of their own valuable time strategizing about my fate, and the question of my fame, at the expense perhaps of their own productivity–luckily, I point out, this circle consists of artists and writers who, while having to protect me, are genuinely striving in their own right. None of them are wheedling, jealous critic types, with that sort of academic mentality that tries to understand what it cannot even begin to do. “Acrobats understand other acrobats,” says the sage Mondrago, best of all my shadow friends who follow me so closely.

Yes, constantly I am faced with the fatiguing problem that only the writer understands what his tricks are. These sycophant critics and lovers of literature who make bold to speak about books as if they understood anything about the writer, are . . . what are they exactly? They are loan sharks. A writer cannot afford to listen to them, because what they are after is . . . what are they after? Getting that author to pander to them, and squander his fortune! And write for them! Write books that are policy . . . And the reader (that is you, sucker) is given false recommendations, which are offered only and corruptly as part of a way of advancing that reviewers idea of books, and his attempts to push back those authors whom he, that critic, does not get and cannot get to. Ugh, I lose my vocabulary in this rage. These recommendations of the lover of literature are disingenuous, this whole business is disgusting and the reason at its root is simple. I know what the reason is. I face it constantly, and have to screen it out, in order to work. What is my work? Wouldn’t everyone like to know, up front, as if it were separate from the explicit results. And that is just the very reason why I am the one in charge, and why I am ringed by so many close friends who won’t let me fall victim to this literary culture. Have I lost the thread–I mean the swinging rope? No, it is impossible, I have the rope right here. The reason is that these critics have no understanding that it is language that directs and controls content, and that therefore the writer himself must be a consummate stylist, in order precisely to get into the flow of the language and while in that flow watch out for the content he is really interested in as it swings past. And jump. And in the midst of the harangue, despite the laughter and the howls of appreciation, land in the place where no one is looking.

“Still I don’t think Credence Clearwater Revival ever got their due,” my buddy said, referring to the band who we were listening to, right then over the sound system in Tavern Purple, where the world can’t find me. Who is it, I wonder, we infernally think gives anyone their due? Don’t I constantly hear a kind of empty formula, that due fame is dispensed by an untraceable authority outside all accomplishment measured in any other terms but: shamefaced fame itself. When one is resting on accomplishments, they are licking their wounds. Staring at an empty hourglass. Tracking a distant star. Whereas famous people are at a party somewhere, which may even include the dead. Some of the dead, though, are not invited; these are the immortals whose company I prefer. Lonely for fame? Not on your life! That is what I say. But do I mean it? By any reasonable standard, who would want such a thing? No one, but am I reasonable? (Now I have lost the thread.) Here it is: We are measured according to invisible standards, the huffing and puffing critics are everywhere, they clutch at you and define the culture like it were, what? a culture in a biology lab. I am metaphor-mad alright, and this fate anyone who accomplishes anything knows and therefore they must constantly wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to be engaged in a fight and seek to clutch in a parallel acrobatic act, the bathos of fame. But fame does not secure existence, Mondrago tells me. And, this is what all my vigilant, now legendary friends have protected me from, and why I am free from having to deal with what would only be, if it were to snag me, a life of irony. Plus I would never write anything.


……..No matter where he went, a disturbance erupted in the field around him. All he had to do was plant himself somewhere and stay still, in that one place, and that place would turn out to be the center of a growing confusion. It would turn out to be the very place where an event was scheduled to be held, and he would see that event forming around him, and at first just casually wonder what was going on; not getting it, until someone would come up to him and lean over and say, “excuse me, sir, but you could you let us have this chair?” This he had always noticed, that he had a knack for locating himself in the nexus of a future event; that things were always bound to swirl around him, even though he was always irrelevant to the events themselves. So that this knack of his was just an obscurity, and it would sound crazy, even pretentious, if he told of it to anyone. For a while though, he had been largely retired from the world, not even this invisible talent could he claim, and he had virtually forgotten about those days when he toyed with the idea that he was an invisible center and magnet. In fact it was only a memory, this former obscure glory of his, a memory of a thing no one else had even shared. For incredibly, he never mentioned it–the one long running narrative thread of his life! Ah, he was a most unknown man. But there were others, many others like him, in the street, in public places. He was one of the ones who had been using the Rundel Library as his main hangout, or call it a refuge or a retreat, and one day it started happening again; the old magnetism. The first episode was actually a small fire erupting in a wastebasket, and the Library had to be closed. Certainly it was far fetched to believe that had anything to do with him; but the thing was, his life had these patterns, and they weren’t explainable. Things happen around him, and when they start, they become more frequent; it was like a symptom, become an illness. When he came back to the Library the next day it was with secret trepidation, on the lookout, as if he were really the cause of the previous days commotion. And maybe someone even suspected it. He choose a very remote place to hang out for his usual three hours, up on the fourth floor near some historical exhibits. This time it started with a child playing near the glass cases, and this time developed into a full blown emergency situation, in which he actually at one point was holding the elevator doors open. A security guard gave him a suspicious look. The next day when he tried to locate on the main floor it turned out it was the site of an book club event, he was camped out right where the chair lady of the group was to roost, and so it went, everyday he was in the center of something, and one day a women wearing a plastic Libary Staff card on a chain around her neck endeavored to talk to him. She acted like she was trying to help him, but do they help patrons who are just quietly reading a magazine? Or sitting at one of the computers? Why come up to him out of the blue and say, “may I help you?” He felt like saying, “yes.” Yes, you can help me; find me a life. From then on he knew he was being watched, and his facility for ending up in a place where some commotion occurred within the hour, or settling in a place that unknown to him was already chosen for a meeting of some club, did not abate. He just could not manage to fade into the setting. Once again, he had become a magnet, for the second time now in his life. Or was it the third? As a child, probably, it was like this, only then it was probably real power. Come again? As a child, the other children would have believed in this power of his, and followed him. He was a leader, then. Often, old as he was now, he felt he had never grown up at all. And now, in the same pattern that had dogged him his whole life, but this time for good, they were going to take the setting away from him. One day they asked him to not keep coming to the Rundel Library. Could they do that? They did that with their eyes, and their looks, and finally one of the security guards actually said it to him. “Sir, you probably ought not to keep coming around here.” So, he had finally become conspicuous, identified as a loafer, a homeless man (though he wasn’t, he had an apartment, he could show it to them). Pitifully, he asked, “am I a disturbance?” He wanted at least to be told that, that he was a disturbance, even if no one could explain it to him, or help him cure himself of this inevitable tendency, this now proven fact of his being . . . a disturbance to others. It occurred to him he would like to have a job, and work right here, at the Library. Yes! He would do anything; he would just become one of the people who have these low-level jobs, rolling those carts of books around, sitting at the various lookout positions, at the metal desks. He could even answer questions. He used to be an educated man. If he worked at the Library, wouldn’t that solve it? But he was too old for that, and poorly dressed, half the time unshaven, like a bum. They could not possibly fit him in anywhere, at the Rundel Library, and he took the hint–which was more than a hint. Now, he sits all afternoon in the Food Court at Midtown Plaza–which, this whole little-used Plaza that used to be the crown jewel of downtown Rochester, is scheduled to be torn down, actually torn down next July. There he sits, at one of the glass tables with wire chairs, with the smattering of other fellows of his kind, like at the end of the story. That is the narrative I come up with every time I see one of these nondescript guys, downtown; until I look more closely, and see they are leering at me.

30) Roses

“Well obviously if your entire concern is for saving things in life, items of thought or description that seem to be otherwise perishing, and that is the propelling force behind your constantly writing up these valuable paragraphs–then your entire opus must fall under a similar mandate; or your whole existence is twice a tragedy.”

“Yes,” I had to agree, “a double tragedy, or an utter farce; for I saved in my expressions a world, and then the larger world, the uncaring and ignorant world, didn’t save what I had saved and expressed–of the world. Even if only an aspect of the world, I put my  life into saving it.’

“However, if your work finally is saved, then it will be a consummate miracle! All the original items will be, as it were twice saved. The first time, when you wrote them, and the second time, when . . . readers make them historical, or whatever has to happen formally to make sure they are actually and finally saved. Whew, that’s a hard second part of the equation, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and also, to make a caveat, this does not address the fact that inevitably what I saved was changed, even partially created, in the act of saving it. Not just because it was put into words; but in fact it had it’s first material existence in words, perhaps–if my language is true its literal poetic aim. No, it doesn’t address that, but I obviously understood that from the beginning. In fact, I was thrilled by it. In fact it was the fragile nature of the things I was saving that informed me, often surreptitiously, that they could be lost–utterly, unless action was taken. Perhaps I use the word surreptitiously in the opposite sense you might expect. But still, my writing is done in the spirit of saving things, saving reality!, that must always be kept in mind, that it was never just clay, and I was not just some egomaniac artist wanting to make anything at all, I was not just constructing castles in the air–no, I mean yes, it was fragile and real, it was like . . . flower petals.”

“Though neither, as you said, was it material to be treated as if it were a preservation project, like flowers under glass. It was neither of those operations you performed in your writing, Theopilus,” said my kind visitor, addressing me by one of my old pseudonyms.

“Yeah, well maybe all I have done is gather everything together in one place, described the world from one point of view, and put it in a series of uniform volumes, or one file on a computer–so the whole shebang can be totally done away with, erased in one shot,” I said.  And for some reason, I vividly recalled that square glass jar of crushed flower petals, in the library on the baby grand piano, in the country house we lived in, a lifetime ago in Vermont.  They were roses.

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