Edward Williams


January 2009

88) Incommunicado

—–Recently a reporter for a local weekly newspaper set up an interview with me, and then never showed up for it. It was supposed to take place at Aladdins, a vegetarian restaurant on Monroe Avenue, where I waited at a table in the window.  At first I just didn’t order anything; it had occurred to me already, to be sure, that maybe this interview wasn’t going to happen. I just felt I hadn’t established a solid link with the obviously nervous young woman who had called on the phone. I thought, “she doesn’t even know who I am,” even while talking with her. It was so tenuous, she seemed to be asking me if it was alright if she interview me, as if she assumed I had better things to do. Then, inexplicably, I had gotten into a series of defensive arguments, trying to explain who I was to her, as if I had set it up, or called her! By the time I was sitting in Aladdins I was downright hoping it wouldn’t happen. I was doomed,  sick of going over what I might say, to someone who was sent out on an assignment that didn’t interest her, and skeptical about its importance, and whether it could possibly yield a story for her.  I was absolutely certain she would be so unfamiliar with anything I had done, and so full of wrong assumptions, based on what she had been told, or what category she automatically put me in, that all I had done for preparation was come up with fatuous, self-aggrandizing and complicated explanations of myself, and apologies for what would undoubtably appear to her to be my advanced age, since I was probably going to be old enough to be her Uncle. I mean I could hear how young, how sweet and scared she was, in the poor girl’s voice; sometimes the newspaper uses interns even, and one ends up totally coaching them, supplying the story, any old plausible story just to give them a feeling of accomplishment!  But when it appeared that she was seriously late, or, heaven be praised!, not showing up at all, I started growing calmer and calmer, triumphantly calmer, as if I had prevailed in some combat, into which I had been willy-nilly drawn by the exigencies of my growing and inevitable, but still dubious, status in the public eye. Prevailed over what? Well, I don’t know . . .
—–But I was so totally calm by the time I left the vegetarian restaurant, where I had managed to sit without ordering anything, no salad with strips of tofu, no aromatic tea, for an entire hour and a half, I was so light-headed, euphoric, light-footed even, and ready for anything. I was renewed, I still am renewed, refreshed by this experience, this interview that didn’t happen, but that, in not happening afforded me the opportunity to review my situation, talk it over with myself (I can almost see myself waving my arms in the restaurant in conversation with an imaginary person sitting with me–though of course I did no such thing, but sat rigid and incommunicado, probably scaring the waitress with my stoic intensity, or maybe impressing her–ah, the young waitress, so impressionable!–with my obvious fortitude, for clearly I was waiting, not ordering food yet myself but waiting for someone to join me, but who, as the time passed, clearly now was not showing up). But also, clearly, if she was watching me–this other young woman, I was being the gentleman, patiently waiting, able to amuse himself with his own thoughts even as he was being stood up, by God knows who, I was the victor and, at the very least the victim–I mean it was that other person, the newspaper reporter (though of course the waitress knows nothing!), it was her bad fortune, not to get an interview. Boy did she miss out! And at last I think I finally got out of Aladdins, before the waitress began to have darker thoughts about what I was doing there.



——Then I stumbled onto the idea that there is no necessity in this whole project. It appears to have started up unsanctioned by anyone, a surprise to even myself, who most of the time–in regards to what he has accomplished–is soon put in the position of a preservationist. Nevertheless I am far from humbled by this fate, but want to embrace it, though it was obviously found, like a note slipped under the door.  Yet I remain fiercely vigilant in regards to the legacy of a lifetime, thinking I can climb over to the other side of it, and view it, like it was earned.  But nothing is finished. Nothing can account for the breadth and scope of  these investigations, their power and ability to cull words out of nowhere, and patch together phrases that conjure up partial, symbolic settings. While the whole library stands in mystery, and makes the mystery crushing.
—–And I have no opposition, and no equal in battle, and no one is specifically waiting to hear about my findings and sift through the results of what is . . . not looked for, and unexpected. It is all after the fact, dug up and dusted off, the fact of life itself  appears as a retrieval! And thus, look smart now reader!, any form of debate with me is impossible. Any argument supposes an opponent,  discussion implies some comprehension, any acolyte student wanting a summary is off on the wrong track, dancing on one foot. Because in talking about it–this manifest oddity–it projects a mere simulation of the work itself, abstracts what cannot be made abstract, but only bent out of shape. I am determined to wrestle free, whenever I feel the grip of your tenuous understanding. Instead, if I want to have a relationship with an uncomprehending public, I must always have a strategy, to inveigle and trap them into an indirect gaze. I must whisper, or take a bullhorn and deafen them all at once;  always I must devise a fiction, an insincere formal manner, contrive a style, in which the strain of original thought is awkwardly tucked, or forcefully embedded. Indolent readers, what do you think you deserve, a cool drink in hand? A cushion for your head?
—–I am the only one studying the . . . theme I am left with. Worrying over the issue, and I keep inventing the opposition and giving them a position. But the terms of the debate collapse like crutches, into the morass of the theme, the issue, the project, the mystery, which has crippled them from the outset. There is no horizon, and no support for the construction of a totality. My favored past of mankind, my lone man walking in the street and coming up with it, the thought of the past like an incandescent bulb, that contains all spinning information–this is not surrounded by a blanket of certainty. For the dead do not wonder anymore, but are gone to another reality. And yet they were the living!  It is a one way street, and facing me in my car, through the windshield, is a building wrapped in yellow paper. What will happen there?
—–Oh, I become soft, and fall for the idea that everything must fit together. Because, of course, it must in any conception. We are incapable of not making sense; people strive to become profoundly absurd, but only become trite and ridiculous. But your work, young man, is chipping away at the base–this is what I told myself. I got my inspiration from a box of white chalky letters that were part of a sign maker’s kit, as I recall; and I feel this memory is right across the room, in an album. I bolster myself with arguments, that history must fit, fit in this suitcase of words.  But I live strictly in reality. You think that is simple?  Does the past have any adherence to the present?  People bristle when I deny it, and proclaim the past must be a different reality. I mean it just is way too ungainly, and contains monsters and monstrous ideas to boot. I like to suggest the impossible, and heads do turn.
—–But, my young acolyte (and this is your only tutorial) do not expect it to be within their power to object to all your sensational claims.  For they, the unfocused, have not bothered with a theory of their own. Nor are they making assumptions! They do not need anything, to move confidently in reality now, for reality does not challenge them essentially to come up with an explanation. Reality washes over them, it is chloroform, it is a new building with new siding that somehow is more recognizable than anything of old. Reality is a synthetic blanket, it is a drug.
—–It isn’t as if people even need to be bolstered up, or that they require an investigation, or that they are holding defensively onto the latest summary of life. It is only that I don’t require this summary. Do you see, do you see it now? It is my problem, being blessed. I am somehow free, from whatever barrier is immediately erected in other people’s minds, or seems to be erected (like the wall of a building) when the suggestion is made to them that the world they live in is a far-fetched mystery! I simply have never and don’t now make the assumption that a similar reality has existed throughout history. Because when I heard of the past, it looks equally untenable, and not the same at all. I assume it was different, and then immediately that it was emblematic and representative of the difference. A lost age. An answer!  And now, I talk through my hat; for that is what a poseur, an autodidact, must do. That is the source of all my inspiration, that I always leap to the realization that reality itself, like a ripped up street, must have changed. Making history quite provisional, with nothing to add, one might comment, that would fit on a winter afternoon, beside the snowbanks in this city.

86) Chronic


——He was gazing into the hallway mirror, and the world reflected there suddenly dropped out of sight. The whole backdrop in the mirror, it slipped from sight. What! He felt like bending into the mirror and gazing down, to see what happened to it. It was like a picture lost its grip, and careened down–and took the wall with it. Leaving nothing whatsoever. He felt like he was standing in outer space. So then, still not panicked though, he mechanically turned himself around, rotated right on his heels, carefully, like he was on a swimming pool diving board.  Like he had to check to see if the world itself was still there. And of course everything was fine, it was an ordinary day, of no special import;  his eyes first fell on his black felt hat, which was sitting on the cane chair, there in the vestibule. For perhaps a very long time, until suddenly interrupted by this unforeseeable event, in the mirror itself, he had been studying his face.
—–But not really studying his face, of course, for what is there to study? He was more like hiding, just being his old chronic self, the thinking self– for standing in the mirror can indeed be a refuge, and one loses the time, if one is alone in the house, and one’s plans are indefinite, and therefore promising. Yes. Laughing to himself, he thought, “there must be something wrong with that mirror.”
—–Well, that is an absurd thing to conclude! And the residue, of what was a kind of unseen and silent explosion in his routine life, an alteration of his very serious attitude towards life, or the series of thoughts he was accustomed to pampering, about life, here–this residue remained. Within seconds, the fact is he became unsure about where he was actually standing, the bottom dropped out of his confidence in the very setting. The treadmill of the moment was stalled, and he had the childish idea that he could go back in time, and like get on the other side of what he just saw. And wait for a reenactment. That is, that it was an option to get back to the moment when what just happened, was just about to happen.  Say it was magic.  And catch it, catch the ceiling that dropped, like a world of falling plaster.
—–Is this the form of doubt, when doubt really hits? Playing around with subjective moods is one thing; having your fundamental reliances taken away, in an inauspicious moment–that is another.
—–“Whoa, boy,” he said to himself, and that didn’t work for anything. It wasn’t even his personality. He shivered, still rocking on his heels there in the hallway, afraid to look to the left, where in the bay windows would show an ancient winter scene, and cautious certainly, though why!, to look back into that old looking glass–and why speak in such a storybook way of the hallway mirror!, where his double self had dwelt so long, through long, interior winters. Was it always winter outside this house, when he came to such an awareness?
—–Then he felt a tap on his shoulder. Practically the grip of a strong hand.
—–“No,” he thought, though meekly, “do not come for me now.”
—–Hey! Not so fast with the melodramatic gesture, actually that was more like the tensing up of a back muscle, which threatened to throw him to the floor. He must be torturing himself with so many questions, he’s forgotten how to stand up, without twisting his body into a pretzel. It is hard getting familiar with these terms of existence, after all. Just a second ago he had hit upon another one of those insights, and then it was like he had to pay for potential understanding, pay for this altogether too dearly.
—– “I would like to extend my apologies to the man behind the curtain,” he muttered. Too much was happening to him, and he had forgotten his plans. What was he planning on? And I don’t mean for skimpy little today, I don’t mean for breakfast, but in general? What was his grander project, that would bring finality–though who would want finality? The whole problem with people was their readiness to spout their own puny ideas. If people would shut up more, and just listen, you wouldn’t have so many chandeliers falling–because, obviously, these scattershot catastrophes are telling us something.
—–He threw off this mood, and walked right over to the streetside window. Somebody had overnight thrown a large computer monitor in the snow bank, it was tipped there with its face to the blank sky. Lord! he thought, if I ever write a novel, this would be a good beginning. It’s like . . . this is always the beginning.


—–I know I look different in different mirrors. Within my house, even, I am confronted with several variant selves; and once outside in the world (so called), I face a highly unstable situation, mirror-wise, which is somewhat dependent perhaps on what actual appearance I left the house with. This so called actual appearance, I will say, is determined by what I view as the most reliable of my mirrors. This is the one luckily placed in the front hall, near the front door, from which I glance to the street, and back to the mirror, establishing . . .  my standing image, firmly engaged and resolved to venture forth. Not without trepidation, mind you, though often with naive expectation.
—–Well, yeah, of course some mirrors are more accurate than others, some are downright the author of distortions, comic or horrific, saddling one with a funny or a sad version of themselves, while some are simply hilariously flattering and can bolster self-confidence–which can’t be a bad thing, right?  While some present the crumbling ghost of a person you barely know. No mirrors can be really faithful, of course, and doubly so for the eyes of one looking at himself.  Reflection, you might say, involves reflection.  Invariably, they are all wondrous approximations, and one should always begin to hum a tune, as the gaze cements the return gaze, and one looks to see . . . how one looks today.
—–It is lucky I appear to be my neutral, presentable best in the downstairs hallway mirror, which is right above the table where I leave my keys, next to the calendar peeling off the wall, near where rests the silent telephone. This is the mirror, power loaded with potential import, the final, judgmental mirror, that I always check out with–I mean check in with, before going out. Though often I don’t get out, so fast, because, more times than not I have to backtrack after looking into this deep, consulting mirror–because the long glance at myself, in fact, often triggers a memory, or an immediate practical consideration, a thought about something I have still to accomplish before I leave.  I flash on something I meant to take with me, and end up going back to my second floor office, to get it–the book or the bill I mean to pay, in which case I am liable to glimpse myself in two other mirrors, just on that route. I am even sometimes caused to reconsider what I am wearing, and I might switch out of the leather vest–I might even reconsider that I am unshaven, or snatch my hat from the rack, and I will tell you the bathroom mirror is a virtual shakedown, if I venture in there. All these other, subluminary mirrors are from my experience way more problematic than the friendly, farewell-giving, or forgiving, front hall mirror–which, in spite of these other, often more threatening, though sometimes unbelievable, because purely flattering, cautionary mirrors, is still the one I am last seen in, by myself, before others see me somewhere in the outside world.
—–Now about that outside world! It is such a confusing battleground out there, difficult to maintain a semblance of one’s true identity! How elaborately we prepare ourselves to be seen by others, who could care less! If you go out there, and watch other people, say, looking at other people, you can see they are for the most part totally dismissive, and in fact hardly look at one another, certainly not directly in the face, or to study their appearance, but move on their own track with their heads down, and lost in their own concerns. Most people it appears have determined what they are going to see, humanity-wise, and don’t take to assessing others for the sport of it. I mean you do see once in a while someone who is extremely self-conscious, and acts like they are on trial, or about to be accosted, but that person is meek and shame-faced, and coincidentally probably out of kilter in appearance. They don’t blend in, either by the mood they project, or the always parallel odd manner of dress they have tragically chosen, or been forced by circumstance to debut for the world. They even walk against the crowd and bump into other, real solid people.  Too many novels are written about these odd ducks, by slick authors who must long to be introverted themselves, or something.
—–But the truth is, if you look normal and presentable, well then other people will leave you alone, not even register you in their scanning. Which is slightly, or heavily ironic, it seems to me, to the degree that you are disguised, abetting the non-exposure of any more dubious self–who should, perhaps, never have left the house.  Ha! I think I am still standing in front of the front hall mirror. Everyone except the misfits ends up inconspicuous. Though of course you do have the famous people, we have that obnoxious subgroup, who for some psychological reason want to be noticed, and are always ready to pose for passersby, and photographers. Regardless of whether they are successful at it, so vicious is the need. There are of course these skaters, these fakers, but we can pretty much say that famous people are kidding themselves, and are not really the people they are famous for being–though that gets elaborate and is not my theme, this time.


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