..First Glyph

February 22
11:30 p.m.

Stepping off a pesero earlier I felt a thickness in my throat. The pesero doors folded open. I stepped onto the curbstone. I commenced my hike down Insurgentes Sur. There near towered the old Hotel Mexico. There beyond, this VIP's restaurant and this anticipated cup of coffee. A thickness in my throat--it thickened. A sweat across my brow--my chilled nerves. I had just come to a realization. I had just come to realize that these scribblings are the first draft of my second novel. I was impaled by this. I had to swallow. I had to mop my brow.

I can no longer pretend that this is not so. As long as I could pretend that this was not so I could go about scribbling these entries as if they did not really matter, trippingly, as if they held no weight, as if they were just flotsam, word pictures, spontaneous, without consequence. Now, I feel the heft of each and every syllable. Each either a step nearer, or a step further from my ideal. Each either a flapping flag of victory, or a cuffing blow of defeat. The innocence of these scribblings has passed. Suddenly, I seek the mystery of the greats as much for these words you now read as for the novel awaiting me unfinished.

And the nerves? The sweating? The thickened throat? These come in the face of the mystery. For a new facet has been added to its lure, a new urgency. In seeking the mystery for the sake of something unfinished and waiting and faraway I was protected. There was a detachment in the search; an objectivity; a separation between theory and fact. I would uncover the secret. I would apprehend the enigma. I would then apply its lessons to some other work, to some waiting thing elsewhere. Now, however, the detachment, the separation, the objectivity--that buffer--is lost. The mystery becomes the point of the scribblings now, not the mere subject of their abstract contemplation. The fact and the theory are joined. And I have to accept suddenly that if I do not unriddle the mystery, that if I do not understand it here and describe it and even demonstrate it here in these very words, then I fail. It is no longer academic--something to apply in another work. It is real and immediate-- something to be achieved here. It is the point of these words, in fact, of my sitting here in this restaurant bent over these sheets of looseleaf. If I do not achieve it, here, in these very scribblings, then I fail.

Maybe this will bring me closer to the mystery. Maybe this will make its discovery, its apprehension more possible. For I am addressing the mystery directly now instead of indirectly. I am looking at the mystery face to face now, not through a screen. I can no longer hide from the mystery. I can no longer toy with its hugeness, with its greatness, with its unexplained brilliance. I have to stare now into the sun. I have to stare into the sun and say to the sun that I will master the sun. And I am forced to accept now that I may fail, that I will probably fail. For who can command this mystery? And who am I to attempt it? After all, we're talking about Renoir and Rousseau and Shostakovich. And what I am saying is that this work, these very words on this very page seek to achieve their equivalence. I seek in these scribblings to wield their magic, to endure as they have endured. Hubris!

And why? Suddenly I ask myself this. Why take up this gauntlet? Why wrestle with this enigma? I could make a better living scribbling other things. There are no doubt plenty of newspaper writers and advertising writers and television writers who make a fine livelihood and feel quite gratified scribbling other things. You never see them arranging it so that they are certain to fail. A value question, I suppose. To me the only things with value are those things that last. And I do not mean just art. My day- to-day life revolves around such things. Ideas, spirituality, self-application, experience, mind. I've always distrusted things that can be removed. Removable things have always seemed to me unreliable in their transience, inconstant in their temporality. Things that persist, however--with these things I feel confident. And so these I give priority. I happily sacrifice money and possessions for the sake of art and mind. I happily forgo comfort and pleasure for the sake of experience and idea. I willingly, even if painfully, sacrifice company and diversion for the sake of spirituality and self-application. And it is not even sacrifice, really. It is just a clinging to what is valuable. Take my rich neighbor. Stand him next to me. Burn everything that both of us own. When the flames die and the smoke clears he has lost all. I have lost nothing. This, my litmus test. Can it be destroyed? If yes, dismiss it. If no, embrace it. Naturally, I live this way. It was not taught. Early I saw the real sacrifices, those sacrifices the world demands. I saw that in order to enjoy money and possessions and ease and comfort and pleasure and company I would have to sacrifice the meaningful. As soon as I understood this, as soon as I saw this equation clearly, I realized I could not submit to it. My preoccupation with finding the mystery is sourced right there, I think. I cannot put the work of my life, all of my effort and soul into something that I know will soon perish; into something, consequently, I see as valueless. My work, too, becomes valueless then, my soul. I can only--I am only capable, really--of moving my effort and my will toward something that seeks permanence. Whether it achieves permanence or not is ultimately beside the point, I guess. It's what I aim at, what I seek that's the point, I guess. And I seek that with value. I seek that which will last. I seek that which cannot die. I seek that which cannot be burned away. I seek the eternal. These are the only things I am capable of working toward. That is why, I guess, I'm setting myself up for failure; why I'm forcing myself to tangle with this mystery, to pursue this quixotic fight. For to fail at such an effort is immensely satisfying for me. To triumph at anything less, empty.

So I should not be nervous, I guess. I guess if I view it in these terms I cannot fail. Those nerves I felt stepping off of the pesero earlier were instinct, I guess. They were just my first instinctive reaction to a realignment of my perspective. In these words I seek the mystery. In these words I seek to demonstrate the mystery. An impossible thing! Hubris! But whether I achieve it or not I cannot fail. It is the quest that matters. It is the higher aim that gives the work its value. It is the movement toward and the seeking that really counts. It is not the arrival and the seizing that really counts.

I have signaled for a refill of my coffee.

With satisfaction and resolve I will drink it.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers