I began the day standing at a threshold of time—the beginning of something, the end of something. I had a method for standing that was called art, then writing. The way I stood allowed me to see how things could begin and end this way—simultaneously. It was hard to follow these opposing tendencies, especially when you were writing and couldn’t see anyway, see anything other than these words appearing on the laptop screen. You were writing about something you weren’t looking at. There had been a break. I was saying this on paper. I am not ready for school. I was typing this. Almost a summer had elapsed. I was looking at committee meetings ahead of me and Friday Night Lights behind. I was looking at the desires of my students. I was picturing January. I was picturing September 7. Aja seemed to be saying I wasn’t feeding her. I was typing this. It was still summer. In a moment, Angela Rawlings declared her love for Iceland. I could see her threshold between her feet. Rachel Levitsky had a threshold. Martha had just crossed hers. Stacy kept changing her name. We were all trying to end something and were finding something new in the process, though what we found didn’t seem to belong to us exclusively. Aja flew to the East Coast to go swimming, but there was a hurricane. Rather than fly back, she sat solidly in the wind. I didn’t hear from her for hours. I made cups of coffee. The day was tremendous. I wanted to name all the people who had thresholds between their legs and began to compile a list, which quickly became a volume, and was at volume 14 when it overflowed the walls of that writing.
I began the day recalling my bath of the previous night, which was scalding hot as usual and reaching the point where soon I would have to get out or faint as I sweated through another page of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. It was often when I was in the bathtub that my most cogent ideas struck me; yesterday was no different. When I reached the point where to read another sentence would probably have resulted in cardiac arrest, I laid the book down and leaned back—this was the last phase of the nightly bath—and as I was doing this, there came an exciting new thought: if I was no longer going to write, as I had begun to worry that I wouldn’t, then I should at least write about not-writing. And was so struck by the idea that I rose from the tub, dripping, to jot it down, which I was now doing. I was writing down the idea “I no longer wish to write” by writing down that I was writing it down. I wanted a threshold to open that also would be like a question, something that asked me about my living in such a way that I could finally understand it. I couldn’t understand why my days unfolded the way they did and why they took me away from writing. I was writing, “I no longer wish to write” repeatedly, and, in making this gesture, uncovered distant, repeating scribbling from my childhood: “I will not tell a lie,” “I will not leave the top off the peanut butter,” “I will never raise my voice.” Each declaration filling tens of pages, and this was a kind of writing similar to what I believed I’d been doing for some time—a writing so as not to write, so to find the limit (that last line) beyond which the body is free to roam outside once more.
I began the day with the profound realization that “the person in the world” was not a philosophical placeholder, as I had been treating it for the past twenty years, but was actually a student in my class of eleven silent girls. This sudden comprehension shone like a newly engraved plaque in my consciousness, though there remained no trace of how it had gotten here. I was stunned into involuntary meditation. I spent the morning on it. I am teaching “the person in the world,” I weighed from a comfortable sitting position. Why aren’t I flattered? I had to keep verifying: “The person in the world” was a student in my class of eleven girls and was one of the silent ones, which was all of them? Why hadn’t she made herself known, or at least distinguished herself? How did one draw out the person who is the most perplexed of all persons? You couldn’t be direct. You couldn’t just say, Will “the person in the world” please stand up? Or rather, Raise your hand—because you were still talking to that class of eleven shy girls. How did “the person in the world” end up in my class anyway? What was she doing at this institution? I wanted to know what her trajectory looked like. I mean, was she “the person in the world” now, or was she in training, in the way my students were training to be writers or executives of nonprofit organizations? It surprised me that “the person in the world” would be interested in writing. You’d think she’d confine her studies to anthropology or religion. What was she doing in a field that really left a person nowhere to go but further into herself? How would this help her plight as “the person in the world,” who had suffered so much already?
I began the day having to vote yes or no to support the decision that there would be no decision right now but that there might possibly be one in two years’ time, excepting the case that there isn’t. I sat with the voting slip in my hand; we were to come down on either side of the situation, but the situation wasn’t clear: Am I voting to support the failure to make a decision or the decision to have failed? I tried to find where I was: I mean, am I voting to support the committee who reports to have failed to make a decision or voting to support the decision of the committee to have failed? They answered that I was supporting the failure, its failing, and the committee “at large.” It may have been simply that what we needed no longer existed such that we had to stop looking for it, or we had to call it by a different name, or we had to change the posture of our looking, or the very nature of looking had somehow become a problem for our eyes, or we would rather just go on as we were and invite a friend over occasionally. I wanted to begin drinking wine. “It’s now or never,” someone murmured from the screen hanging on the wall. “It’s not now and not never,” someone corrected.
I began the day hearing the voice try to take on layers and speak about poetry and speak about prose and be a loose figure that people wanted to write about but no one wanted to be. The voice had all these responsibilities, but everyone was forgetting about it at the same time. You could write a poem that was the repurposing of another poem—a text that was perhaps found in a catalogue for farming equipment, that you lifted up and placed on a new page with your name on it—you could use tractors to show your thinking and wouldn’t have to say “I” and wouldn’t have to say “please” about anything. You wouldn’t say, Please can I write the story of this light bisecting the room, where a person walks in and stands, not knowing what to do. You’d just say something like, Tractors la la la, thousands of dollars, and write your name. Maybe erase it then rewrite it. Maybe change the typeface of your name. Make the font small. Add shadow to the third and sixth letters. You might write “Mr. So-and-so” instead of your name. But the voice was getting away from us. First it was everything and then it was nothing, though it was the same language we were using. We stopped talking about the poem as though someone were inside it, then we stopped talking about the poem altogether, or at least stopped expecting there to be a body relating to the poem, at risk. It seemed possible to say anything, especially if someone had said it before, and it was these words of that other person that we put in place of our voice. People were doing this then saying the word Internet after and waiting to hear a response. The response came: people had lunch; they found language everywhere. The menu said “Fries,” and this was taken, put on a page next to “Omaha,” punctuated by a date. We wanted to map instead of talk; we wanted to silence something and open something. There was so much detritus building up: it needed to be written; it needed to be used. Someone wanted to laugh at it. If you could find a space to laugh, then that voice inside you—the one that went “Please, can I”—that voice might lean back and read the newspaper. Time would go by, and structures would be laid on your name.