Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I have nothing to say, but I'm going to get cracking anyway. I've noticed something about the blank page before me. Sometimes, I just begin to write. I write anything. I keep going until about a half a page is filled and some miracle happens and suddenly I have something to say. The weird thing is that what evolves is often subtle and surprises me.

What the hell? Don't I know everything that's in my head that needs to come out?

Apparently not.

I'm rereading 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' by Muriel Barbery. I wonder, as I hear the musings of her two main characters, if this is what Barbery did, just sat down to write and discovered, as she went along, what it was that she had to say. See, I think her two characters are really incarnations of the same person at different ages, a single introspective and hedonistic person. Each of them spends a good part of their story chatting about art, beauty, philosophy, and social classes. See? One person. And the beauty of it is that Barbery gets to ramble on using the ploy of letting her character ramble on. It's a thing of beauty.

There's another effect for me of coming to the page when I have nothing to say. First, I need to tell you a few things. I come from a long line of talkers.

My grandpa used to take the wrong side of an argument just to see if he could win it and often he did. He would wind around an argument, taking up details and using logic until you'd sacrificed your queen and were left with only a couple of pawns and your king. Much later, I learned that there was a word for this, rhetoric, and that people could get a PhD in it. Really? That's what my grandpa did for fun. Even if you understood your subject, history or engineering, he could eat you alive with your own words. I absolutely loved that about him, mostly because he did the whole thing in such a gentle way. The end of the argument was when he'd stop talking, grin at you, and let you absorb the meaning of the last words you'd uttered. It was brilliant.

My grandma, his wife, used her words to cling like a burr on your sock. You know those people, don't you? I may have had somewhere I wanted to go, like back outside to play with my cousins, but she just kept talking, deeper and deeper into whatever she was thinking. She loved to talk medical, sometimes graphic and difficult medical issues. Did I want to see her scar from her gall bladder surgery? Did she ever tell me about the time she saw her great aunt with such an advanced case of small pox that the flesh on her back just split open? It did no good to tell her I'd heard the story five or six or a dozen times. I might have tried to move away without hurting her feelings, but that only made her dig in deeper. Then, without warning, her eyes would begin to tear up and she'd tell me how much she loved me. There was no getting away quickly when she began to cry.

Well, I have that talk in me too. Sometimes I can see it on someone's face when they are busy and need to move on. I can see it when they just don't give a shit about something that means a great deal to me. And sometimes, people don't care if they're rude and just move on. It's a different world out there. There is no time for stories in a conversation. When I find that person, the one who will hear a story to the end, I realize I'm with an extraordinary person, a person who may have been born into the wrong era. Generally, I try not to get into conversations like either my grandpa or my grandma used to cherish. Have you noticed that about our culture?

I have always wanted to change this characteristic about myself, but found it difficult to stop talking. There's something seriously satisfying in having a good talk with a friend. But, for the most part, people don't have the time. So, people like me, talkers, story-tellers, those who parse a bit of rhetoric in honor of their grandparents, are left, half-way through a story, without a person to finish it with.

I find that, when I come to the page, especially on the days when I think I have nothing to say, it helps. I don't mind as much that the world is too busy for a story today. 

Nope. Nothing to say. Not really. I hope you don't mind. 

Thank you for listening, jb

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