Friday, July 30, 2010


I've been reading Ben Greenman's short story collection What He's Poised to Do. I've been reading it off and on for the past week, which one can do because it's almost like a series of letters or dispatches, most of which have nothing to do with each other since they are narrated by different people in different eras. But they're all connected by a similar emphasis on the text, and the possibility that a particular mode of communication can speak volumes more than the content.

One character writes a letter in which he describes his current practice of reading and re-reading a series of letters that he had exchanged with his lover:

I realized that I have skipped from the moment when we became lovers to the moment when we stopped sleeping together. Between that is a gap. I will protect this period, not from shame, not from fear, but from love and from a fierce sense of obligation (48).

What he wishes to articulate, of course, is how much there is to be said about the absence of text during a certain period of the relationship--the period when they were neither up nor down. I love that he is protective of the gap, of the absence. But I can't quite determine why he feels a sense of obligation in this regard.

In an earlier letter the same character tells his lover about his mode of communication with his wife:

"Our conversations then were and invidious reminder of how poorly we were addressing our own needs," my wife once said. She leaves me notes in the morning when she leaves, and I put notes on top of her notes when I go to sleep (45).

In this case, the absence of the absence of text signifies the collapse of their communication. There is no gap, textually speaking, and yet emotionally it is all gap.

And in the very first letter of the exchange, dated 1988 from Chicago, the same character says in the first line: I am not writing to you. I am writing to your letter (41).

How much easier it is to respond to a text, a letter, a collection of words penned. How simple and safe to retreat into one's preciseness of language and its faulty rhythms. Once or twice a year I look at what I've written in my journal over the past so many months, and find that it is littered with gaps here and there--sometimes a couple of months at a time--where I did not write anything. The emotional chaos and neurosis gets documented, while the moments--sometimes long stretches--of simply being and being happy go unreported.

And sometimes when I see that I've neglected to document my own narrative for such a span of time, I feel sick to my stomach, as if I've lost a part of my life that I will never get back. I always fight off an urge to go back into my journal and create entries for dates that somehow fell into the gap. And then the greater horror is the realization that I mean to trick myself into forgetting the absence of text and the meaning of the gap.

There are those of us who can mislead even ourselves, with our careful reliance upon the preciseness of language to articulate our experiences. We forget the ellipses, and we forget ourselves.

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