..First Glyph

February 19
3:45 p.m.

The girl from England made me lonely. Not for a relationship, really, or even sex--just for company. She was with a guy from England. They joined me at my round table in El Andador. El Andador is a small restaurant situated at the hub of an artisans market on Balderas. El Andador was bustling. No other tables stood available. I dined alone. I didn't even get the girl from England's name. I'm lonely now for company.

The girl from England had a quiet disposition and a careful smile, and, most prominently, a diligent way of listening. Mexico City was her first stop on a trip around the world. Throughout our conversation--one which swung from theirs exclusively to my inclusion--I heard mentioned Australia, China, and Hong Kong. The girl from England will be in Mexico as long as I--some eight weeks. Then she continues on. Suddenly my "ambitious" journey through Mexico seems to me rather short-winded.

The best part of our conversation was the wordplay between the two Britons. A kind of dry banter, it was. A dry banter, I'm afraid, I cannot reproduce. Mixed among that banter though were the perennial quizzings of origins and destinations. And then--the writer subject. I answered their queries in a cursory manner. "Points of setting," I told them I was after. I hoped to leave it there. But the girl from England was too intelligent, too curious to leave it there. She pressed me.

"Setting is not really that important to me," I explained. And I intentionally kept this superficial. I left out Montaigne and Gluck and Renoir. "But if the setting is not real, if it is not convincing, then none of the rest works. Like, I might mention the fact a sheet of clear plastic covers this peach table cloth. That is a detail that helps sell our little parley here, right? It brings it to life. I've seen everything I've written about. I can see it all in my head. But it's the little details like that that I cannot fake, the little random things, the randomness. These are what make a setting real, I think, what give it life."

The girl from England raised her eyebrows through her diligent listening. She tilted her head a little in her diligent listening. She understood. Of course, I omitted the essential part: How this examination, this noting of detail is only the most superficial aspect of my quest: How what I seek goes much deeper than that.

The guy from England said with a hint of mistrust then, "I suppose you get a contract before you write such a book. An advance and such."

"No," I replied plainly. "I want to write it the way I want it. Then I will try to sell it."

The guy from England seemed to like me less for that answer. The girl from England seemed to like me more.

Flesh and soul. Which is more important? Soul cannot survive in the world without flesh. Flesh decays in the world without soul. They depend on one another. But I could never call flesh primary. I could never call soul secondary. Soul comes first, I believe. Flesh is then put upon it.

Setting and plot I see as the flesh of a work, the exterior, the outermost layer of a work. Setting and plot, therefore, overlay the soul of a work, hide it. But paradoxically--just as flesh does in life--setting and plot also express the soul of a work. The soul is invisible, incorporeal, indefinable. Without some material through which to be expressed it exists beyond our grasp. Setting and plot are the materials through which the soul of a work is expressed, just as the flesh of a man is the material through which his soul is expressed.

So, eagerly, the soul of the novel is sensed and sought and wrestled with by me and then defined and elaborated. This is how I work. Then arduously comes the long struggle of enfleshing that soul, of finding its setting and plot. I seek its natural plot. I seek its true setting. Truth and naturalness. The setting has to be true. The plot has to be natural. Otherwise the flesh of the work interferes with its soul, becomes an obstacle to its expression. I seek instead to make the setting and plot a vehicle of the soul's expression.

I could never say this in quite these terms to two strangers leaning over a peach tablecloth covered with a sheet of clear plastic. But this is what I meant when I said the setting is not that important to me. I am preoccupied with the soul, the theme, the meaning of the work. If I could fully express this soul without its flesh, I would. But I am so devoted to that soul that I will go to great lengths to see that the flesh does not obstruct its expression.

That's why I'm here. That day working in my Winnebago, reading my unfinished novel, I saw that something was lacking. This is part of what I saw, I think--that the soul of my work is hidden, unclear, obfuscated. I've come to correct this. I've come to make the setting of my unfinished novel more true. Such clarity of a work's soul, such immediacy, I think, has to be part of the mystery.

In England in summer, my British lunchmates said, the sun rises around 4 a.m. and sets after 10 p.m. In winter though, they said, they suffer much shorter days. You wake to near darkness. You dress and go out into near darkness. And by the time you leave your workplace for home again, again near darkness has fallen. This is why the girl from England was traveling in February, she said. This must be why I'm encountering so many Europeans, I guess. I will avoid northern Europe in winter, I guess.

It's too late for me to drink coffee, almost 5 p.m. I'm sitting at the counter in that Sanborns née Denny's again. It was a good day. I didn't know where I was going. I got there anyway. When this happens I always feel resourceful, stalwart. I think I'll stop drinking coffee and return to my quarters and scribble something down about it. And that girl from England made me lonely. I feel a Don Quixote scene coming on. Too bad the guy from England was with her. They were no couple--just friends--I could tell. But he's got two weeks left here and I've just six days. Pointless to pursue her. Too awkward. And I just want to talk. I'll to my chamber now, I guess, as Falstaff might say. I had actually just opened Henry IV, Part 1 when they approached my table. Too bad they did not see. Maybe we could have talked literature. I would not have been very articulate, I'm afraid. I'ven't much practice communicating with people lately. And these entries do not exactly exercise erudition. The girl from England requested ground pepper from the waiter. She sprinkled it then sparingly over her salad.

Everything since the word "Falstaff" I've added here in my hotel room. I've noticed Shakespeare never uses the verb "to go." Maybe someday I'll harass Deborah with an adoption of this manner of speech. "I'll to the grocery, honey." Or, "Let's to the beach!" Or, to Latinize that Elizabethan locution: "Let's to the beach, no?" Sounds like smart science fiction.

I here pronounce my confidence restored. I found the freight station of the national rail yards today. I found it after several fruitless and restarted and nervous sallies. An anfractuous trip, it was, by metro and bus into unknown urban climes. Fearful and jubilant, I felt, by turns. "Ferr-carriles," at last said the sign above the installation, the "o" having fallen off. The warehouses I described then, the loading and unloading bays. And then back to El Andador, I wended, for a menu of the day. And then to Sanborns for that coffee. I am refreshed. The work feels real to me again.

I did not survive two full nights of Al otro lado del sol. Nice rape scene in the second episode! And the bad guy is too bad for my taste; the whole of it too false, too melodramatic, stagy, contrived. I'll try maybe fifteen minutes per night. That should keep me up on the tediously heavy-footed plot.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers