Friday, March 22, 2013

The Nonwriter

Huge, beautiful expanses of time. Quiet, cold, serene—like clean, untrodden snow on the rolling lawns of a pretty college campus, twinkling in the moonlight. Awesome stretches of time: seven months, two weeks and three days. One year, four months, two weeks and one day. Three months, three weeks and six days. Each period—containing events momentous and minute, from the universal to the personal, calamities, births and deaths, droughts, weddings, military coups and shooting sprees; crossing the seasons; calendar pages flying into blackness—had its own quality, its characteristics. Sweet, peaceful, sad or angry. Some were green. Some were dark purple, or opalescent blue.

These were the periods when he didn’t write.

He was a great nonwriter—maybe the best there ever was. An exquisite craftsman of the empty page, a master story-not-teller. What other people wrote was good or bad, maybe great sometimes. Probably not. But what he didn’t write was transcendent. Others slaved at their screens, sullying the page irretrievably with a single twisted, tortured glyph, then a lonesome, woeful word, and—when they still might cut their losses by shutting their laptops and seeing what’s on TV—deepening their ignominy by following the first word with another and yet another after that, a dreary sentence even, then a hopeless paragraph, a tragic chapter, and ultimately, a lost and irredeemable novel.

While he didn’t write window washers made their glacial progress down the facades of great buildings, reached bottom, and started all over again. Young couples moved into their first apartments, painted the walls in trendy pastels, bickered, and wondered whether they’d made the right decision. Two people were shoved to their deaths on New York City subway tracks. All this time he didn’t write a word.

Some strove to write about some of it, or all of it, even. Nothing they produced could possibly do justice to the beauty, the horror and the chaos. Only one thing could: not writing. And he was not writing powerfully. Poignantly.

Wasn’t most of the world not writing too? Yes—but no. He wrote from time to time. He had to—that was the only way to frame his true work, his anti-performance, his agraphic state of grace.

Thanks to experience and great determination, he found that his periods of writing grew shorter and farther between. Finally, he resolved to create his masterpiece. He would never write another word as long as he lived.

For years he kept at it. Nothing, silence. Nothing but the purest void, the essence of the universe, indescribably beautiful—and duly undescribed. Even as his body began to fail him—aches and debilities, minor at first and then a little worse, like everybody else—his spirit grew stronger, glowing within him like an ember that couldn’t die. He was the elderly master in his glory, like deaf Beethoven, like Picasso holed up in the south of France. Except death wouldn’t interrupt his work. It would prolong it into eternity.

Then one morning something happened. The garbage truck had come and gone. A crust of toast remained on a saucer on the kitchen counter. Everything was still. And he did something he immediately regretted. And he knew he would, but he did it anyway. He hated himself for it. But there was nothing he could do. He began to write.