August 11, 2019

Possible opening pages from the work-in-progress Amateur Kittens Thinking Solar Energy

Chapter One: The moment I no longer wanted to be famous

If humanity survives, which is unlikely, people will want to know what it was like. This feeling that the end was no longer happening in some distant future but was basically happening now. The conversations quoting scientists who had warned us before it was too late but had not known how to summon enough political will for enough people to act, for a large enough number of people to heed their far too prescient warnings. The conversations in which we tried to reassure each other in the knowledge that despair or hopelessness would solve nothing and were in fact the emotions – understandable as they might be – that were the exact opposite of what was required. They will want to know what it was like, in search for insights as to why we didn’t do more to save them, to save ourselves. We will want to know what it was like.

I am sitting here staring out the window on a calm Monday evening. At the moment it is like nothing. It is like every other unmemorable Monday evening I am able to recall. This week has been unseasonably cool, a relief, a break from the heat of the previous weeks. I am living without internet at home because I am too addicted to the internet and, if I had it, I would be staring at it now, completely mesmerized by the screen, instead of writing these words. I of course wonder if there’s any point in writing these words. Historically, literature was built by writers who each had at least some feeling there was a chance their writing might live on, that someone might continue to read them far into the future. Statistically the odds for this were not good, and therefore literature has also been built, layer by layer, upon misguided fantasies of posterity. But sitting here with no internet, staring mindlessly out the window, it is extremely difficult for me to imagine any distant future in which someone might be reading these words. Yet imagine it I do. Because I’m a writer and therefore can’t help myself. And when I imagine it, I also can’t help but feel their hunger, their longing to know just what it is like – right here, right now – and I search desperately, both within myself and directly out the window at the quiet street in front of me, searching for something to tell them.

If I was online I would see that the glaciers in Iceland are melting and the forests in the Amazon are burning. I already know the glaciers are melting and the forests are burning. I know and everyone I know also knows. Such knowledge requires action but the actions immediately available to us don’t feel especially clear. Those fighting for the continued use of oil and plastic have considerably more power and resources than all of us protesting against them. But, of course, giving up would be equally insane.

Later tonight I have a date. I have not been out on a date in a very long time. I don’t know what compelled me to say yes. Someone, not even a friend, more of an acquaintance, set us up. I don’t actually remember if that’s ever happened in my life before: someone I know suggesting I meet someone I don’t know for a drink. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to play matchmaker. If I imagine people I know, who are single or semi-single or polyamorous, I don’t find myself imaging any of them hooking up with each other, in any of the various combinations, or for that matter getting together with anyone else. I wonder why I don’t imagine such things. For a moment I suspect that maybe there’s something similar in my inability to imagine acquaintances or friends in bed together and my inability to imagine the distant future. Maybe there’s nothing so consequent about this analogy since really all they have in common is a certain lack of imagination on my part. And yet these days the world needs all the imagination it can get.

+ + + +

I don’t know exactly how or why, but when I see her walk in, right away I know several things. I know she is here to meet someone. I know she is here to meet someone for a first date. And I know this first date is with someone she will momentarily be meeting for the first time. (Since you can certainly also be on a first date with someone you’ve previously met but never dated.) Then there is something else I know, though I am considerably less certain, I know that the two of them will be together for a very long time and it will be one of the most significant relationships in both of their lives. I see them spot each other. The one in blue looks a little bit like Petra von Kant from the Fassbinder film of the same name. And the other looks like Veronika Voss from a very different Fassbinder film. So I’ll call them Petra and Veronica. (In reality they probably look very little like Petra von Kant or Veronika Voss but, for the time being, as I watch, that is how I imagine them.) Veronika gives a little wave and a moment later Petra spots her, walks over, they share an awkward first hug. And then I do something I’m not sure I’ve ever done before. I move a few tables closer so I can at least partly eavesdrop. I of course try to do so as inconspicuously as possible, and as I’m doing so I have the strange feeling that I recognize Petra, that I’m trying to recall from where, but a few moments into eavesdropping – and it’s not very good eavesdropping, the bar is too loud, I’m really only catching bits and pieces – I quickly figure it out. It’s not someone I know, not a friend of a friend, but I did read one of her books, a long time ago, I believe it was her first book but I don’t recall much of what it was about or what I thought of it at the time.

Eavesdropping a first date. Shy glances and awkward pauses, difficult to transcribe. Is this a compelling activity or a boring one? I feel almost certain I’m being discreet, there is no way either of them will notice. Why do I spend so much of my life observing strangers in public places, making up little stories about them, telling these stories to no one. I know Petra is a public figure, but even if I didn’t know this one slim fact I would be listening in just as carefully. In each voice I sense an attraction and in at least one of the voices, but why not both, I sense something I interpret as caution, as not wanting to be hurt. Are these undercurrents actually there or am I only making them up, projecting my own tepid clichés onto the scene. Veronika is talking and Petra is eating it up, like she can’t believe her luck, like happily drowning in a waterfall after a dry spell. Or at least that’s how it seems to me, glancing at them covertly out of the corner of my eye. Pretending to be lost in my own thoughts of which I honestly have close to none.

I am also here to meet someone but I arrived too early for no particular reason. Hence the eavesdropping, killing time, killing time through eavesdropping instead of through reading the book I brought along for that very purpose. It now occurs to me that it would have been easier to eavesdrop if I had done so while pretending to read. Staring at the book while focusing all my mental energy toward the conversation directly beside me. I pull my book from my bag and examine the cover. It is a book I haven’t started yet, getting started is always the most difficult part, and at this moment the cover means absolutely nothing to me, like I’m seeing it for the very first time. I turn it over to examine the back cover and it’s the strangest coincidence. The book has a blurb from Petra on the back cover. She says: “Strange as it might seem, I felt this book was about my life as well. I read it like a secret. And loved it like a secret I now feel compelled to share with the world.” I have always loved coincidences, feel compelled to sense no small quantity of magic within them, and therefore also feel compelled to follow them wherever they lead, if such directions can be effectively intuited, invented or grasped. This particular coincidence has the added benefit of making me feel somewhat less guilty for my moments ago eavesdropping, not that I was feeling all that guilty about it, and yet with a coincidence such as this obviously it was all meant to be.

+ + + +

I’m thinking of not going. I’m considering staying home instead. I am wondering if there will be any way to explain to future generations just exactly what ghosting was. I’m thinking of this person I don’t know yet sitting alone in a bar, waiting, texting me, messaging me, but there is no reply. I never show up and have seemingly disappeared. Thinking about this I begin to cry. I am crying at something that hasn’t happened yet. Something I’m considering which I already know would be wrong. This is not what is usually meant by ghosting. It is not usually something that occurs before a relationship begins. It is usually a way that a relationship ends. Evidence that we are a culture that profoundly does not know how to deal with one another. Or at least many of us don’t. I know myself and therefore know I will not ghost anyone. If I do stay home instead of going, I will responsibly text or message to inform them of the situation. I will invent some excuse, most likely that I’m not feeling well. But the actual reason will be something else, something much more difficult to identify.

Alongside ghosting, it is extremely common for people to make plans and then cancel them, cancel them at the last minute or, in the best-case scenario, somewhat earlier. If I were to cancel, this person I do not know would be disappointed but most likely not surprised. This kind of not being surprised can become devastating in its frequency. This frequency must have something to do with too many options. We all have too many options. Or at least we think we do. It is only future generations who might fully realize just how fleeting and skin deep these options actually were.

I go back and forth thinking I won’t go and then I will, I will and then I won’t. The difficulty of making such a simple decision. Sometimes I tell myself I am a person who finds difficult things easy and easy things difficult. But even that is a way of putting it that makes everything more complex than it actually needs to be. It is not so complex: I am reluctant to go because I am afraid. What am I more afraid of: the date working out or the date not working out? Can I imagine being in a serious relationship again? Can I imagine falling in love, am I even open to it? I know that the only way to live is to believe something unexpected might happen, something positive or negative, of course it matters whether it’s positive or negative, but what is so much more important is that, whatever it might be, it is impossible to predict before it happens.

And then I realize I have been writing about the future as if we were able to predict it, as if it’s an inevitable ecological dystopia that already exists and is already sitting in judgement of our current decisions. Of course that is the most likely outcome but, I tell myself, the unexpected might still occur. It is important to live as if the unexpected might occur and that our positive actions have some impact in bringing it about. Or so I tell myself. And if I’m actually able to believe it then I am also able to believe I will leave my apartment and show up for this date.

+ + + +

My friend arrives, it is definitely not a date, and I shove the book back into my bag, as right away he looks around, says he finds it much too loud here and can we try going somewhere else. He has a few things he wants to tell me and would prefer to do so someplace quiet. I realize I haven’t even ordered a drink yet, something in retrospect that seems a bit suspicious, perhaps my eavesdropping wasn’t as inconspicuous as I had hoped, or perhaps that’s only my guilty conscience casting shadows over my thoughts, as we head out into the night and walk side by side in silence, me waiting for him either to suggest a destination or give me at least some hint as to the thoughts he hopes to eventually share. But instead we walk in silence and this makes me worry that something’s wrong. I don’t know him very well. When he wrote to suggest we meet it even took me a brief moment to put the name to a face, to completely remember who he was. I first met him in a café – a strange café I’ll always remember called The Windsor Arms, even though there was absolutely nothing classical or old fashioned about it – so, for now, I’ll call him Windsor. Windsor always had something on the go, a business plan or theory or some angle. He does eventually start talking, and as he does so I remember at least one thing about him, that he really loves to talk. For Windsor everything is connected, or he can find connections between anything and any other thing, or in his way of talking, his way of understanding the world, there is an unflagging and rather specific love of the connections he is always so able to find. I love coincidences and Windsor loves connections, and coincidences are always a kind of connection, so our thinking is never quite as far apart as it might first appear.

Windsor is explaining the reason he wanted to meet me. There is a house and even though, from the outside, from the front, it appears to have only two floors, it actually has three floors, and he’s been going there for about a year to these meetings on the third floor. They meet every Monday night. He says these meetings are mainly an intellectual affair, they talk about ideas, about books, about politics, about what they could practically, effectively do in order to save the world. But mainly about ideas, about how to better understand things. And at one of these meetings, just a few weeks ago, my name came up, and he thought to himself, wait, I actually know her. Most of the people they discussed were figures that none of them knew – authors, politicians, activists, biologists, thinkers, people they had only read or read about – and it was strange to be discussing the various ideas of someone he’d actually met, someone he more or less knew. And after he left the meeting, and in the weeks that followed, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. How different it felt to discuss a complete stranger than it did to discuss someone he’d actually met. He began to feel there was perhaps even something a bit profound about it. In philosophy everyone knows the ideas of Aristotle or Kant, or at least they pretend to, but how differently you might feel about those ideas if you actually knew Aristotle or Kant, if you’d actually spent time with them, as he had at one point with me. These were of course stupid examples, even comical ones, since both Aristotle and Kant were long dead, but he was sure I already understood what he was trying to say, starting to get at. People are not just their ideas or their words, they are so much more than their ideas and words, as he realized when he recalled spending time with me, and when he compared his memories of spending time with me with the way they were discussing my words and ideas on the third floor of what appeared, from the front, from the outside, to be a two story house. Did I understand what he was getting at?

I was about to say that I did, and attempt to make some other rather random and off-the-cuff reflections on the topic, when he stopped cold in his tracks and said: wait a minute, we’re here. He opened the front door of the house with a key and asked me to wait in the front room while he went upstairs to make sure they were ready for me. There was a chair in the front room, also a couch but for some reason I chose the chair, and I sat down and waited. I tried to process everything that had just happened – the eavesdropping of true love in the bar and the conversations about my words and ideas of the third floor of this seemingly two story house – but found I was unable to process any of it. And because I was starting to feel anxious, I reached into my bag and pulled out the book I had not yet begun to read, thinking that perhaps now would be a good time to read the first few paragraphs, and then at least I would have started it, since starting was always the most difficult part. I didn’t take another look at either the front cover or the back cover, and as I began the first page it dawned on me that since the last time I’d looked at the front or back cover I’d already forgotten what the book was ostensibly about, but from the very first page it was clear we were in the world of a travelogue, of the author’s non-fiction account of travels across some far away destination. I couldn’t remember how I had first come across this book, or how I had otherwise acquired it, I had simply pulled it from the middle of a pile in my book-cluttered apartment as I was rushing out the door to be much too early for my appointment at the bar, and now I had to ask myself: why would I even have a book like this? I have no interest in travelogues, and very little interest in non-fiction of any kind really, except of course for theory and reflections on our interconnection with the natural world, when it occurs to me that I might have purchased it years ago because of the blurb on the back cover from Petra. I’m not sure if this is an actual memory or something I’m only making up now, but either way it seems to be the most plausible supposition as to how the book originally came into my hands. I have now opened the book to the first page, but still haven’t begun to read, when Windsor comes back down and says: we just have to wait a few more minutes, they’re just getting things ready.

He immediately spots the book in my hand and asks to see it, as I hand it over he stares at the front cover a moment and says: Helpless Laughter. That’s a really good title. He shows me the cover, as if I hadn’t already seen it, and I think, yes, Helpless Laughter is a really good title. Maybe I purchased the book not because of the blurb from Petra but simply because I liked the title, since I’m often attracted to a book with a good title, and Helpless Laughter seems like exactly the kind of title I most often like. While I’m thinking all this Windsor is causally flipping through the pages, pausing, I suppose, to read the occasional sentence, and he looks up and says: do you mind if I borrow this?

– But I haven’t even started reading it yet?

– That’s even better. I can quickly read it, give it back to you, and then you can start. That way I’m not interrupting anything.

– You are interrupting. You’re interrupting my attempt to start.

– It’s just I feel I need to read this. It’s connected to some things I’ve been thinking about lately.

– You think everything is connected to everything.

– That’s true. I do think that. Don’t you?

– I don’t know. I mean, yes, of course. In some sense. But in a different sense than you mean it. For me it’s primarily about the human mind’s ability to find connections between things. It’s not as much about reality. It’s not about things in reality being so clearly connected to other things in reality. It’s so much more about the ways in which we see them.

– But that’s also exactly how I see it. That’s the same way it is for me.

We were interrupted, prevented from further clarifying our similarities and differences on the matter, by someone from upstairs stepping around the corner and explaining they were ready for us now. As we followed him up the first flight of stairs, Windsor surreptitiously slipped my book into his jacket pocket, in doing so I believe thinking he was being discreet.

+ + + +

I can’t be sure, but I have the feeling, a suspicion, that the woman at the next table is listening. With all the methods currently available for contemporary surveillance, this method, sitting at the next table listening in, seems practically quaint, charmingly old-fashioned. Then I ask myself the obvious question: why is she listening? Is she merely curious? There are so many people and organizations who might be interested in what I have to say at a secret meeting. And from the outside this might well appear to be a secret meeting. (While from the inside I know it is something considerably more private.) I am doing my best not to be distracted. The person in front of me is so much more compelling than whoever might be at the next table. I asked for this, asked to be introduced, and would hate to lose the moment in unnecessary distractions. If this was a secret meeting there might be some danger in being overheard, but since it’s not I suppose we have no secrets, at least not yet.

I asked to be introduced because I read a book. It wasn’t even that I especially loved the book. I don’t know what it was exactly. I thought we should meet. I felt we might be of use to each other. When I asked to be introduced I wasn’t thinking about romance. I was thinking about other things, that I was working on certain projects and it might be of use to have something written about them, along the lines of propaganda but in fact not propaganda, rather literature. But now that we are here in this bar, now that I’ve had at least one drink and am halfway into my second, now I’m thinking of romance. I am thinking of romance and, also, what these early stages of our pre-romance might sound like to the older woman at the next table. We’re talking excitedly but intimately, quietly, so I’m wondering how much she can actually hear. I want to lead the topic of our conversation, lead it toward the bedroom or some similar space, see how this writer sitting across from me reacts.

The listener at the next table takes a paperback out of her bag and begins examining the back cover. I can’t help myself, I try to get a look at the front cover, glimpse what she’s reading but don’t manage it. What I do know is I should not be paying attention to the person beside me, I should be giving my full attention to the person in front of me. Being fully cognizant of all potential dangers in my peripheral vision has been a survival mechanism over the years, one I believe has served me well, since I’ve survived, but perhaps while surviving I’ve missed so many opportunities directly in front of me, and I know I should not miss this one now.

But here is the strange thing, while I am preoccupied with the listener at the next table, I am also talking. I am talking and this woman, this writer, is hanging on my every word. She is listening to me with an energy that says nothing other than ‘this date is going well,’ that says ‘I have momentarily set aside my usual skepticism and am instead giving you my full attention.’ Which means, if she is giving what I’m saying her full attention, I should definitely be giving what I’m saying just a little bit more attention. I realize I’m telling her a story I haven’t thought about in practically forever. In it I’m a teenager, but then realize that might make her feel old, so I say I must be mistaken, it might have been in my early twenties. And I’m at a party. I’m still a bit of a wallflower at that point so, instead of speaking to anyone, while I’m waiting for either the alcohol or my social skills to kick in, I’ve found a quiet corner that contains only a bookshelf and I’m going through the books almost methodically, opening each one to some random page and reading the first sentence that catches my eye. And that was the first time I ever saw her name. I think it might have been before her first book even came out, it was in some sort of anthology, something like ‘stories by the next generation’ or maybe ‘next generation feminists.’ She tells me the actual title and I try to register it so I can look it up later. She says she hasn’t thought of that book in a long time, but back then it felt so important, like her first real moment of public recognition. I say I also haven’t thought of that book in a long time and we both laugh for no reason. So I opened the anthology to a random page and read the first sentence that caught my eye, and I wrote it down in a very small notebook I used to carry around with me everywhere I went. I still more or less remember that sentence, it was something like: “When we fight for what is right and true and nonetheless fail, our failure takes on a different quality, as if lit up from within, lighting our way toward future battles.”

– I even remember writing that.

– Then I picked the right sentence.

– I would never write something like that now. So pretentious. That striving for the poetic.

– I’ve has more than my fair share of failures in my life. And I’ve always tried to think of them like that. As building a foundation upon which something might someday happen.

– That must be what every writer wants to hear.

– What?

– I don’t know. That the words did more than just pass by.

– They even ‘lit the ways toward future battles.’

– I never quite believe it.

– That’s why I’m here.

– So you’re like a real fan? Right back from the very beginning?

– Afraid not. I think I’ve only read one of your books. I didn’t even read that whole story, just the one sentence before I drifted back to the party.

– Maybe one sentence is enough.

A man walks into the bar. He immediately spots the woman at the table beside us and, instead of coming over, stands near the front for a long moment observing the room, before waving her toward him. She slides her book back into her bag as she gets up. I realize I know him. Or at least I think I know him. At the moment I’m not quite sure from where but it will come to me. I momentarily watch the listener and the man I think I might know standing by the front door as they discuss the situation before agreeing to leave, then I return to my date, now finally giving her my full attention. I ask if she’s working on anything these days. If she’s working on a new book.

– I guess I’m always working on some sort of book.

– Can I ask what it’s about?

– I’m not quite there yet. So many things.

– Is that how it works? It starts unfocused and, as you work, slowly the themes become clearer?

She brushes away the question.

– At the end of the day it will probably be about environmental collapse.

– A topic that never quite works in art.

– Every writer and their mother is writing a novel about environmental collapse. Why should I be any different.

When I hear her say that I feel sad, not about the end of the world or the end of industrial civilization, things I often think about and fight against, but rather about the fact that through all her thick waves of melancholy this particular date might not lead to the bedroom as I had previously hoped.

+ + + +

It was difficult to understand what kind of gathering this was, what kind of gathering I had been brought up into. I couldn’t quite get my mind around it. And when I spoke, when I did my best to answer their many questions, it felt a little like I was eavesdropping on myself. They had been meeting every Monday, but for how many years? They were working toward a plan but with what resources or guile did they hope to eventually implement it? Would it only remain within the realm of these third floor conversations or was there some now or future connection to actual reality? It was difficult to tell. At a later moment I attempted to count everyone in the room. I think I counted about fifteen of us but I might have missed one or two. I won’t be able to tell you about everyone, at least not for the time being, so I’ll try to focus on the few who spoke most. There are always a few who speak most. One who looked a bit like Carl Sagan so I’ll call him Carl. He began by introducing everyone but of course I’m not able to remember anyone’s name after only such brief introductions. Especially when I’m introduced to so many people all at the same time. Carl then did his best to briefly summarize their gatherings. It has something to do with how now wasn’t the time for action, but the time for action would come, and when it did they wanted to be ready, as ready as possible. That is why they met to discuss, to fully understand all our current problems and, even more importantly, become fully cognizant of the most possible and useful solutions, fully digest them, embody them as if they were common knowledge, in a sense, one might say, to make them the common knowledge of the group. He then asked me what I thought the solutions were.

– Solutions for what?

– You know, to put it in the broadest possible terms, to save the world.

– My thinking tends more along these lines: the world the way it currently is isn’t worth saving. So the first thing we have to do is create something worth saving. Which means everything needs to change.

My statement was followed by an almost ridiculous silence. Ridiculous both in its length and in its curious seriousness, which led me to believe these were not the terms in which they most often discussed such questions. After a while a woman who perhaps looked a little bit like Marie Curie, if I correctly recall what Marie Curie looked like, asked a question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind.

– Are you saying that if we’re unable to create a just world then our eradication via nature is justified?

– There’s no such thing as nature. We’re nature as well. I think what I’m saying is more like a tautology. If we don’t manage to bring things into balance, things will continue to fall more and more out of balance until they eventually collapse. Part of this balance is to make life worth living. Not worth living for a few at the expense of others, but worth living for everyone. So people want it to continue and begin to act accordingly.

– Would you characterize this as your ecological perspective?

At that I began to laugh. I’m not sure exactly why. Something about the tone of her question, about the idea that I had a specifically ‘ecological’ perspective. The people in the room sat quietly watching me laugh. I believe Windsor was the only one smiling, the only one who knew me, but it was difficult to gauge the attitude in the room. I sensed they were used to only discussing with each other, that they weren’t so used to having a stranger join in. I began to think about the method Windsor employed to bring me here. Agreeing to meet at the bar and then the pretext that the bar was too loud so could we go somewhere quieter to talk, of course he must have already been planning to bring me here. It was a Monday night. He had been considering the possibility of bringing me to this gathering for a while. But did the other’s in the room already know of this plan? Or did he spring it on them as some kind of surprise, which might explain why I had to wait downstairs for so long, as they were all up here debating whether or not to let me attend. If all the meetings for many years had consisted only, or mainly, of the core participants then it must have been a fairly significant decision to allow me in, which is perhaps the reason Windsor wouldn’t have told them beforehand, not giving them a longer lead-up to debate the matter and perhaps in the end say no. This was all pure speculation, but I made a mental note to ask Windsor about it later. However, from what I knew about Windsor, from what I remembered of him, it sounded like something he might do. It had Windsor written all over it.

+ + + +

I’m getting dressed to go out. I try a few different outfits, checking each one in the mirror, trying to understand what kind of impression it might make. Many days I work at home, at my desk, and on those days I often don’t put much thought into what I’m wearing. I save my thoughts for what I’m writing. I’m not the kind of writer who expends a great deal of time or energy describing what the characters in my books are wearing. I think of such writers as being almost opposite to me. I believe, in the end, I choose the outfit I do because it suggests not trying too hard. I hate to be seen trying too hard, like in my writing, I want everything to appear effortless. Next question: do I walk, do I bike, or do I take public transport. I must be nervous if I’m considering every detail. But why am I nervous? What is it that makes tonight seem so promising? I am left with the realization that it is only a feeling, a good feeling, a feeling for which there is no good reason.

My acquaintance who set us up didn’t provide much information. Maybe this very lack of information has contributed significantly to my sense of possibility. The less information, the more openness, the more potential. But my acquaintance did tell me she was almost sure we would like each other, almost sure we would click. Now that I consider it further, it almost makes me nervous our matchmaker was so certain. I’m overthinking this, I know I’m overthinking. I promise myself that for the rest of the night I will overthink less. Overthinking is the enemy of openness and without openness there is no love.

I walk at my normal pace through the cool, calm night. If I continue to walk at this pace I wonder if I’ll be early, which means I should walk more slowly. In general, I believe it might be a good idea, in life, for me to walk more slowly, see more things, things I might later decide to write about or might indirectly spark something in my writing. When I think in this way I always have a concurrent thought: I am really too much of a writer for my own good. But then, as I’m thinking this, something catches my eye. Across the street in a shop window. The shop appears to be closed. The lights are on inside but not all of them. There are a few young people – maybe five or six – lit at half angles. So at first I can’t quite tell what they’re doing, when it occurs to me that they might be slow dancing. I know nothing about them and as I stand there for a long moment gazing across the street there are no clear clues. But nonetheless I begin to make up a little story about it in my head, that they are slightly stoned teenagers who decided to have a get together after-hours in one of their parent’s shops. They were watching some old movie online, and in the movie – I imagine it being In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-wai, but it might have been something even older, something in black and white – there was a romantic scene, the onscreen couple slow dancing with heat and intensity, and one of the teenagers dreamily says: that looks so nice, why does no one do that anymore? So they all agree to try, and they had just begun when I spotted them, when their awkward, beautiful dance stopped me in my tracks. I never see anything as a sign, I’m far too secular, but at that moment I can’t help myself: I see it as a sign.

+ + + +

It was almost dawn when I left. I’m not sure I’ve ever talked so much or about so many different topics, in my life. It was rather forced at the beginning but, as we got to know each other, they finally did loosen up. There was alcohol, then there was espresso, and then later in the night there was alcohol again. But not too much. It wasn’t a night for drinking, it was a night for talking. Sitting in this taxi, staring out the window, so exhausted I can barely move, I catch the first glimmers of sunrise at the end of every cross-street, thru every intersection. I talk to so many people each year – workshops, seminars, lectures – but something tells me tonight was different. No one had anything to lose or anything to gain. At least that’s how it seems to me now, in my total and satiated exhaustion. The taxi driver had the radio on and I find myself listening to the song, concentrating on it, perhaps only to stay awake. In the lyrics I hear the word ‘forever,’ something about lasting forever (knowing the way pop music works most likely something about love lasting forever), and it reminds me of places we went in our discussion just a few hours ago. About whether so many of our fantasies about collapse and apocalypse and what it all might eventually be like were only the flipside of equally unrealistic fantasies that humanity might last forever. And I remember, can almost picture myself, saying: nothing lasts forever. Everything changes. Nothing lasts forever. Repeating it as if I were trying to convince myself. Or trying to convince myself as a way of trying to convince all of them. Nothing lasts forever. Why did Windsor bring me there? What made him suspect it might be so productive? But he was only trying to shake things up, like he always does. I don’t remember the last time I felt this tired. I’m getting too old for all night debating clubs.

I lie in bed alone too wired to sleep. The curtains are open, if I closed them the increase in darkness might help me drift off but in the past I’ve often slept better in the light. I start thinking back to an earlier moment in the evening, when I was sitting in the bar waiting for Windsor to arrive, listening in to those two women on their first date. I was so fiercely fascinated by them that only now do I allow myself to fully feel the degree to which, if noticed, my eavesdropping might have been unwelcome. Maybe someday I’ll have the opportunity to apologize. Already that earlier part of the evening seems like a million years ago. So much can happen in a day, though most often it does not. I turn on my phone, which I had forgotten I had turned off for the gathering, and quickly order all of Petra’s books. (I’ll keep calling her Petra for now.) That will be my penance, giving her a few dollars in royalties and catching up with her published output. Now I have something to look forward to. In most of the places I work and live practically no one reads fiction. They seem to prefer other kinds of books.

+ + + +

I’ve already seen photos so I recognize her right away, the moment I walk in. I wish I had the confidence to give a more full-bodied hug to someone I’ve just met, but most often I don’t, so our hug is tentative and awkward. However, it doesn’t matter, already she has me, I don’t know how or why, but she does. Already this is different from any relationship I’ve been in before, where my reticence shone through by prolonging the courtship for as long as possible. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit older now and no longer have as much time to waste. I feel the familiar urge to run but know I won’t. I’m listening to every word she says but the words are barely registering through the intensity of whatever this is I’m feeling. I don’t know her at all, but I know that I want to. I still haven’t taken even the first sip of my drink.

In a single encounter everything in your life can change. Is that even true? Everything is the same as it was before but also everything is different. And then I have a tangential thought – a thought that takes me out of the here and now and back to what I was writing about earlier – that this feeling is also what the entire world needs. For everything to be the same as it was before but also for everything to be different. I wish there was a way.


[Bonus: you can find my possible first attempt at the preface here.]


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