Absent-minded? Something Only a Writer Can Understand

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

Who else among you leaves scraps of thought for your future self to ponder? 

I came back from a trip to Death Valley a few weeks ago and it made me nostalgic to look through a box of keepsakes from other trips: photographs of friends we made while housesitting for a greyhound rescue in Dublin, journals of my journeys to Newfoundland and letters from a friend in San Francisco.

And I came across a wedding reception RSVP from 2004 that I hadn’t expected to see. I attended the wedding and had evidently marked “vegetarian” as my meal option (because I remember eating there), but this card was blank. And then I turned it over and recognized my handwriting, drawn out with a “Pilot Precise” pen, which used to be my favorite writing tool.

This is something only a fellow writer can understand. The back of the card had been filled with small, frenzied print, jotted at odd angles and filling every white space, as if, during the wedding, my mind caught fire and I had only this small space to free my tortured thoughts.

What does it mean?

I no longer know, but my younger self fascinates me, always.

This is exactly what my younger self wrote (whatever the original purpose):

“I can write whatever I like, because this is America and you will proudly refuse to read it, if I’m lucky. it’ll be inflammatory and, therefore, will be judged openly w/o ever having been read.

He understood intrinsically, if — only in a rudimentary way, that written language was simply a complex use of signs, far separate but complimentary to spoken language. To his credit, however, he was somehow aware also that spoken language was inherently metaphorical, simplifying experiences for mental digestion, and should not be accepted as accurate interpre interpretation of what can be experienced. By his — estimation, the purest and most important experiences could not be discussed verbally, but only alluded to metaphorically. And sometimes, the metaphor must approach the experience paradoxically, to push the mind away from habitual acceptance of erroneous beliefs.

Lover: Miss Lonelyhearts, spiritual in the garden (after the fur store)

A fountain of erudition flows close to me

A dozen tigers pace in circles you cannot see

The mountains are moving closer than they appear to be

And the clouds have turned to stone so they can trample me”

Must have been some wedding ceremony!

I’ve looked up this poem in Miss Lonelyhearts, and I haven’t found it yet. I don’t know whether I invented it, but certainly I would not have memorized it, recited it during the wedding, or taken a copy of the book with me on this trip.

So it must have been me? I rarely write poetry and always hate the result when I do.

Once the card was filled, I obviously put it in my pocket and it made the journey from Willard, Ohio, to Taylorsville, North Carolina, and into the box where I kept travel mementos. Only to be found, indecipherable to my older self, ten years, eleven months and ten days later.

I turn 41 this summer, and I have scraps of paper from all sorts of ceremonies throughout my life, all the way back to my teenage years, on which I have recorded random thoughts, character expressions and snapshots of dialogue. I don’t know what any of it means, intrinsically, except that I was born to write.

No one is born to be read, however, so I’m still working on that part!

This is America, after all…


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