"Blank pages — shoot-out at the O.K. Corral."
I am reading Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey because I needed a Moby Dick palate cleanser and a collection of late 1990s lectures by a poetess to MFA students is in some ways as far as you can get from a mid-19th C. whaling tale by a New York City civil servant turned deified American man of letters, because of the fantastic title, because that fantastic title uses an Oxford comma, because of the book jacket design, because it lies outside my literary comfort zone, because I can’t stop arguing with her when I’m not listening to her. And because of great lines like the above quoted. Every year I resolve to write more and surf the Internet less (though Ruefle has some compelling arguments for wasting time), every year I write less, every year the blank pages become more intimidating and the words are harder to extract. But don’t despair, I guess. Don’t overthink it. Just draw, and quick.
Today is another dully cold day in this, the longest of winters, the sky another blank page in this, the Russian novel of winters. I rolled out of bed late and have been steadily snacking throughout the afternoon, having foregone my morning run and coffee. But yesterday was glorious, a wisp of spring, the wind nipping but not biting, boys in Wayfarers, girls in short hemlines, a portly middle-aged man riding an ATV and blasting The Rolling Stones (“Sympathy for the Devil”). As part of our monthly volunteering pact, Wil and I spent the morning, of all things, judging Lincoln-Douglass debate at a high school urban debate league. Even though it’s been fourteen years since I left the extracurricular activity which dominated and defined so much of my high school existence, so much of it was so immediately familiar it made my skin crawl. The teenagers dressed up in their parents’ skins, idling over cafeteria tables while waiting for rounds. Speaker points. Hobbes and Locke and justice, that paramount value. The jargon, the inside jokes, the clubbiness, and, of course, the fast-talking. It turns out that flowing is just like riding a bicycle. And there were things I didn’t see but whose memories I unearthed and dusted off after years of neglect, like the posting of break rounds, the Economist clippings filed away in Tupperware containers stacked on a luggage cart, my nemesis and my crushes, all of whom will remain nameless because a quick Google search reveals them to be persons of interest in their respective occupations.
Later that day I killed some time at the Met, where I read Ruefle in the shadow of Rembrandt’s self-portrait (and overheard a daughter tell her worshipful father, much to his horror, “I hate that painting. It’s ugly. He’s ugly.”), let a strange stocky Japanese man with an expensive camera take my photograph against my better judgment, and resumed Ruefle next to a bust of Septimius Severus in the slanting late afternoon light of the Greco-Roman sculpture galleries. I relocated crosstown to have dinner with Tess at Cocina Economica Mexico, which was just okay but certainly ‘economica’. I hadn’t seen Tess since leaving DC but those five years felt inconsequential. She was still the same old Tess, which I mean in the most flattering light possible: optimistic but not unrealistic, funny, matter-of-fact, unafraid to be vulnerable and believe in the goodness of life even after life has shown her its claws.
A few weekends ago I finally watched Unforgiven, described to me by many as the greatest Western on film of all time, and it left me feeling much the same way as I felt after I finally watched The Godfather, a few weekends prior: like I just ate my cinematic vegetables. Good, but not pork-belly-fatly-dissolving-on-my-tongue good. This is probably a blasphemously controversial position, but Unforgiven > The Godfather. I found William Munny’s coming to terms with his character more persuasive than Michael Corleone’s coming to terms with his inheritance, and relished the shootout at the billiards bar more than the shoot-em-up funeral scene.