First there was this thing, this experience, that I felt myself having at last. I had felt the experience coming on for some time, without knowing quite what it was about to be, what it might resemble, or when exactly it might arrive. Perhaps I had read about it once, glimpsed a description of it catching a character, a familiar protagonist, a stand-in, in its sure, capable hands. There was the possibility that it might miss me entirely as I loped along the wrong side of the alley, ordered the wrong label of scotch from the wrong west-end saloon. A possibility that I might lift my eyes just in time to watch it happen to my neighbor instead and, all too late, jump to my feet to exclaim, "Hey, that's my horse! Well, maybe not my horse exactly, but absolutely its blood relation!" To which the experience would reply, tenderly and oh so Jamesian, "Not this time, not you. Maybe next year, to the soul you will have become if only you had learned to abandon the regret of your current, expiring ghost ..."
Then I was sure that it had happened, not merely to a surrogate, but to me personally, that I had not only jumped into its hands but entered it in total, inhabiting its limits with the whole of my being. The unanswerable question of it flogged me with the rapture of body and soul. I called myself into existence by my proper name, and watched my former life flow past in parallel streams, burbling and breaking up into little tearful books. I demanded unambiguous signs of my entry into the actual world. And this all happened in the middle of time, while I or some other writer was fast asleep, dreaming up masterpieces that were bound to be forgotten. While I was too busy becoming the character who would have become me in an ideal life, friends carried on in my absence. I felt the need to track the movements of my friends, to check in periodically and make sure no one had died or disappeared. Usually they could all be accounted for, milling about in packs around the pool table, as an unidentified narrator slipped through their midst like a generous thief, strewing stolen, anonymous pears left and right.
In the slow crush of time, characters aged, my friends grew older, and the unthinkable happened to people. I did not, however, in the moment in which I was destined to live, understand any of this. I had been impressed by the nature of fate and outcome in E.M. Forster novels -- how, in the absence of divine intervention, the hand of fate was given over to mortals who schemed compulsively, recklessly, and blindly to bring about often unfortunate results, perhaps even a tragedy. There were ambitious do-gooders whose ambitions caused more harm than good, prejudiced Victorians who lashed out politely and brutally at the weak, colonial subjects who pleased their masters by losing out again and again. The characters lived; they brought life down upon themselves; they wrestled with causality and causality won. Is that why I'm always confusing causality with casualty?
A friend from school once observed that fiction students as a group seemed bigger and physically stronger than their poet counterparts. How much would this statement suggest a three-ring bout in the writers' circle, with scrappy but effete sonneteers grappling at the well-muscled backs of market scriveners? What kind of over-dense poetic whimsy could tickle the plodding narrative to unclog its drain to the real story? This story was so real it was almost untellable; one would have had to be already dead, installed in some paradise or afterlife, in order to understand it completely. The neutron star of its as yet undiscovered language weighed the earth down in orbit, while sending out regular pulsations of superhot, ecstatic light which caused even fatalists to see. And yet the parameters of the story demanded the most outrageous courage of those who would experience it: biblionauts who would sail paper spaceships deep into the fiery outskirts of existence and return, defenseless, with a strange, material testimony. Was this, after all, the true knowledge and danger that awaited our fumbling lives?
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