|I loved you once, what seems like many years ago, although it was really not so long ago at all. Long ago, and not so long ago, I was nineteen and I loved you. I believed I did -- I believed it with as much heart as I dared muster in those days when I was innocent and cautious -- and so, despite all the hurt and anger that followed, it is still true that when I was nineteen, I loved you.|
We have no relation now, not even the most distant and impersonal of ties. And I know that although I think of you with bitterness and a touch of residual anger (or is it wonderment?), this is also my fault. That I bear at least some responsibility for this first, but not last, shattering of my heart.
Does it matter now? Can I ever tell you this?
For some reason I am thinking of you, and of the silence between us like a sea. I am thinking of how strange it is that I may never hear your voice again, and also of how strange it is that I both want to and can't bear to.
I am thinking of all the things I wish I could ask you, and all the things I wish I could tell you. I wish I could put my voice and my words into the mouth of the nineteen-year-old girl I was -- that you could walk with her in the packed snow and salty wet outside Commons, on Wall Street past the dark spires and towers of the Law School, toward the warm lights on York -- that you could walk at her side and she could ask you all that I cannot. Is there someone you love? Is there someone you wish to love? What can I say to him now, with a true and whole heart, unafraid of hurt, as if you and he had not both, at one time or another, broken it? What can I say now that I could never say to you then?
|As you know, the question we writers
are asked most often, the favourite question, is; why do you write?
I write because I have an innate need to write! I write because
I can't do normal work like other people. I write because
I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am
angry at all of you, angry at everyone. I write because I love
sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can only partake
in real life by changing it. I write because I want others, all
of us, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and
continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey. I write because I love
the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in
literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything
else. I write because it is a habit, a passion. I write because
I am afraid of being forgotten. I write because I like the glory
and interest that writing brings. I write to be alone. Perhaps
I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry
at all of you, so very, very angry at everyone. I write because
I like to be read. I write because once I have begun a novel, an
essay, a page, I want to finish it. I write because everyone expects
me to write. I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality
of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf. I write
because it is exciting to turn all of life's beauties and
riches into words. I write not to tell a story, but to compose
a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that
there is a place I must go but -- just as in a dream -- I
can't quite get there. I write because I have never managed
to be happy. I write to be happy.|
"My Father's Suitcase"
The Nobel Lecture, 2006
|"It is not that speech of yesterday," he continued, "which moves you. That is but the pretext, Amelia, or I have loved you and watched you for fifteen years in vain. Have I not learned in that time to read all your feelings, and look into your thoughts? I know what your heart is capable of: it can cling faithfully to a recollection, and cherish a fancy; but it can't feel such an attachment as mine deserves to mate with, and such as I would have won from a woman more generous than you. No, you are not worthy of the love which I have devoted to you. I knew all along that the prize I had set my life on was not worth the winning; that I was a fool, with fond fancies, too, bartering away my all of truth and ardour against your little feeble remnant of love. I will bargain no more: I withdraw. I find no fault with you. You are very good-natured, and have done your best; but you couldn't -- you couldn't reach up to the height of the attachment which I bore you, and which a loftier soul than yours might have been proud to share. Good-bye, Amelia! I have watched your struggle. Let it end. We are both weary of it."|
William Makepeace Thackeray
|The saying goes like this: Crossing a river, feeling for the stones under one's feet. Or perhaps it goes like this: Crossing the river by the feel of stones.|
Or maybe it is like this: The only way to cross a river is by the feel of stones underfoot. The only way to cross is by feeling for guiding stones. It is by feeling for riverbed stones that one crosses the river.
A long time ago I read in class that Ezra Pound, knowing not a single word of Chinese, picked up a volume of Tang Dynasty poetry and fell in love with the written forms of the words, so much so that he somehow translated those poems into English, feeling out the meanings of the words in their shapes and their outlines -- blindly translating the physical to the ethereal, and then back again. I remember walking home to my dorm room after that class, half-smirking at such folly: How could he suss out the meanings of those words without a lifetime of Saturdays spent deciphering and deconstructing them, radical by radical, box by box, stroke by stroke by brush-pen and pencil? How could he make those poems real in strings of letters, pockmarked with alien commas and dashes, running horizontally across white-paper pages? How could a blind person guide the blinder?
Now I know that it is possible. I knew it back then, when in the warm, polished-oak confines of my old dorm room I opened my black-jacketed compendium of Pound and was crushed by the exile's letter to his old, lost friend -- the words flowing horizontally across the page, every dash and dot a pause for breath, an eye averted to hide the beginnings of tears. I know it now, even though -- or because -- I still see through a glass, very dimly: There are words I want to say to you alone, and although I do not yet have their translations I already know their shapes, their contours, their every form. You see, it goes like this: For a long time now I have felt for those words in the dark of river water, and though there were many days and nights I thought I would never understand them, now I know that they really do lie -- slippery but steadfast -- underwater, underfoot on the way to the river's other side. I know now that I can tell you what they mean. I will, soon.
|On a recent afternoon I sat outside on the shaded terrace of the Berkeley Art Museum with my friend, modmate, and sometime adviser in things spiritual, romantic, and professional -- a very tough combination, especially with me, but he pulls it off so well -- and heard him ask me to make a mutual promise: that for the next year we would write for fifteen minutes per day, at least six days out of every week. I twirled my empty Diet Coke can around on the small chrome table; I contemplated the small blister on my toe, inflicted over the course of a day in the Hotel Durant by an ever-so-slightly too-small left pump. I squinted into the gauzy afternoon light and promised him I would.|
Like many of the promises I have made in my young life, and like the other promises I have recently made but cannot (bring myself to) write down here, I know this one will be hard to keep. It is easier and easier for me these days to remember the toll exacted on the spirit by writing, the simultaneous push-pull of exhaustion and redemption that comes with the craft; it is tempting to let this promise slide into the category of things I should have done, things I ought to have accomplished, vows I made with all good intentions and broke slowly, through guilt-ridden, well-meaning neglect. With every evening spent walking through my new neighborhood on the daily trudge home, weighed down by light wool and pinstriped linen, a million regrets and unspoken words and unwritten things percolating in my mind, it becomes seemingly easier to leave the memory of my twenty-year-old self -- the heartbroken girl, the student, the writer -- forever behind.
"There are so many things I could write about," I said to my friend. I shifted in my seat. I twirled my left pump, with its shiny round toe, on my aching foot. I did not tell him about all the things in my too-young life, from twenty to twenty-three, from last fall to this, that still roil and hurt, and want to take wounded flight in words. I did not say that it is now, in the extravagantly sunny afternoons of a Bay Area autumn, that I feel my vision the most obscured, and the glass at its darkest.
I did not tell him about all the other promises I am trying to keep.
"One year," he said, and extended his hand.