The End of Fledglinghood

As always, the winter had seemed long and strange. The lack of wintery things in Austin––frost on windowpanes, snow-crusted boughs, layers of underwear and overwear, the glitter of melting icicles––was normal and unsurprising to the Fledgling, although still unsettling. The shallow and diffuse grey light of the season, unaffected by the latitude, tumbled to the ground and stuck like monotony, stuck to the monotony of those short dead months in the absence of the renewing soft, tender seas flowing white without motion, injecting life and vibrance into the stark sunlight from below. Without the snow, the winter somehow seemed colder. He had been cold for a long time, but still he listened for the wind.

It had started promisingly enough, as the break between his final two semesters came underway. The rush of finals (which for him was nothing more than an easy written exam and twenty minutes of filling in lettered bubbles with No. 2 pencils) brought in train a long overdue break. It seemed too, as if the landscape might finally change, and with that the leaves might finally rustle again. But she had said no––instead an awkward kiss on the cheek was followed by equally awkward conversations and several days in bed staring up through naked branches at a somber grey sky.

The arrhythmic tapping songs of sentences played only a few nights then, usually before an unappreciative crowd of one, who would listen intently, and, failing to hear what he wanted, quickly forget each phrase in search of something new to behold. Christmas came, and he found himself with several new piles of leaves, one labeled Keats, one labeled Frost, and one labeled Huxley. Unsure of where to start, his timidity prevailed and he ventured upon a Brave New World. Between his worrisome comparisons of the consumerist, escapist dystopia to his dystopia, the Fledgling pondered the value of art, suffering and love, none of which seemed to be faring well in the book or outside of it either. According to Blake, he would learn, all are human creations, and all are irreplaceable parts of life. But, unmotivated, the Fledgling didn’t get much further than the first intuition of that notion. Though he did decide that the Savage was a masochistic fool––one could not expect the world to bend to his will.

As the weeks went by, so did the pages. and the meals, and soon the new semester––the last semester––approached. Like always, his boredom had magnified his anticipation for academia (specifically its distractions), but this time something was more profound, like the wait might be over. With nothing else to do, he watched the minutes make their lazy sojourn:

Minutes last longest
Moments crash down
Seconds simply drip
Days disappear
Weeks evaporate
Months blow away
Years build up
Quietly overhead

But the minutes
Decades of cumulus and nimbus
Rain down without rest
Without respite
Unceasing, uncaring

* * *
Already he had grown impatient. The tedium of homework made it easy to ignore, while the looming rays of dawn began to light the sky from beneath. Still, in the French Romantics he had found a familiar voice: introspective and languid, laced with nature, bordering on melodrama. René’s plight, the search for happiness that always seemed to lie elsewhere, reverberated in his heart along with the consolation, “Une grande âme doit contenir plus de douleur qu’une petite”––a big soul must contain more misery than a small one. Thinking about the years he’d spent searching for contentment, he could at least take solace in just how big his soul felt sometimes, and the fact that having been in no relationships for several years meant that he’d successfully avoided any incestuous ones. [René plot joke]. Still, even if happiness was elsewhere he’d have liked some company before he got there.

Though that awkward night, those awkward conversations and those supine days had transpired two months before, he still occasionally found himself reeling from the perceived loss. He was familiar with the process: he would usually meet a girl, and tentatively, cautiously discover a rapport; they would become friends, and whenever he observed her body language (which he’d always been told was rather important), he couldn’t help but to feel the rush of excitement, a lightning storm of vertigo like the acceleration of the last cars on a rollercoaster before they reach the peak. But usually at this point the cars would simply tumble off the track, though he could never tell why. Still, he hadn’t been killed by the falls yet, and even the slow clink-clank on the way up was worth the risk.

She smiled a lot, and she had an amiable, strained voice that freely offered short rustles of laughter. As was often the case, he got caught mostly off-guard when she talked to him. He was caught especially off-guard when she noted the particularly comical likeness of the name Balzac to a common, but oft-unmentioned body part. After collecting his wits, he made a composed statement relating to the unique plot structure of Sarrasine, which seemed to go over well enough. Their conversation found itself on the topic of experimentation with drugs in nineteenth century literature, but as he was trying to recall who wrote The Hasheesh Eater they came to the end of their path. She stretched her arms above her head, smiled and asked if he was done for the day too. Fighting the stupor he always experienced when a pretty girl smiled at him, he managed a “yes” while he wondered if he’d interpreted it correctly, and fumbled with words in his head. But it was too late––she said she planned to go for a run around the lake, and asked his plans for the day. “Um, get on the bus and go home, I guess,” was all he could get out before the time to split paths arrived.

He sat down on the bus and pondered the exchange. He’d always been hampered by a certain obliviousness in these matters, but already he was certain he missed a signal. They would see each other again, however, the day after the next, so he resolved simply to talk to her again then. Feeling a certain spryness, he opened his backpack and grabbed a book of Galway Kinnell, and skipped through the early pages until he found a suitably short poem for the ride. It sounded like a clink-clank, and a bit of preemptive vertigo set in at the lines:

Hardly touching, I hold
What I can only think of
As some deepest of memories in my arms
Not mine, but as if the life in me
Were slowly remembering what it is.

* * *
Deliberately he tapped the keys and played his song––it had been a while. The audience listened in rapture, astounded at the piece before it. Lacking sleep but unable and unwilling to leave the stage, he continued to play, propped up by the lingering effects of a fair amount of celebratory alcohol, caffeine and cannabis. At the precipice of spring’s weeklong respite from the monotony and effort of classes, he could finally abandon his overwhelming urge to sleep, dissolving his senses and intellect until they were one. It was a welcome change, and he continued to skirl out melodies, born from that nearly divine state of ecstatic delirium, inspiration with the purity and subtlety of midnight snow.

In between revising he read, and in between reading he revised. The poem was nearly finished, and even he thought it was quite good. He was reading Narcissus and Goldmund, a refreshing non-scholastic pursuit he’d intended to undertake for months. Although he could relate with the characters––Goldmund with his wanderlust and search for his calling, and Narcissus with his disconnected, strictly rational style of human interaction––he could not understand Hesse’s concept of the masculine and feminine intellects. Why should only the feminine be associated with tenderness? Why should only the masculine be related to elevated thought? Hesse understood that beauty and inspiration could often come from pain, but he seemed to be ignorant to the delicate touch of abstracted minds––the humanizing effects of solitude for introverted intellects.

In lovely soft flowerbeds, a buoyant warmth like Montag’s
Burning house, a cleansing altar for a weary emigrant,
At last grasping societal dialect by disregard.

A mind finding patrie in itself, preoccupied
By the voyant, sees the voyant elsewhere
And returns to meager spring puddles

The break was progressing peacefully, and slowly. The creaking pace of time was not unwelcome this week, and he used it to reflect alone on the future, the immediate and the distant, the furthest gleams of which would fall on his face in fervors of expression. He thought also about the most recent coaster failure: suddenly the clink-clank had stopped, followed by a barely discernible but wholly disorienting backslide into the station, as if the chain had snapped and the cars had returned, rolling backward embarrassingly. He wasn’t sure why one day she didn’t talk to him anymore, but in the obscure morning rays, it didn’t seem to matter. And of course it didn’t, as thoughts of Goldmund journeyed back, and so came remembrance of the plague he bore witness to, a horrifying tragedy; and so came thoughts of an island a half a world away battered by a conspiracy born of earth and sea. The electronic age desensitizes, but one cannot feel nothing upon seeing the ocean claim entire cities as its own.

Ocean waves of tar
Indifferent as the earth
Stun absolutely

The comedy of
losing one’s house
was not lost
on me
I laughed through my tears
as it crept
with hunched shoulders
a scorned child
led away by the sea
I stopped laughing
I stood stern
like a parent should
watching his child
receive his punishment
but when it was gone
and only water remained
I laughed again
this time at the frailty
of my tears

* * *
It was five-thirty in the morning, and again he was happily skirling away. Eight hours of the night had been squandered on decrypting the confusing, erratically punctuated linguistics review in a cold, coolly lit, minimally decorated IT building. The hours had been wearisome and trying, now he was home and still he had a paper to finish. But this was a new poem––it insisted upon its birth––his first attempt to reassure himself against a new sort of fear.

While the old concerns about romance still arose with tidal regularity, suddenly he had grown afraid of writing. His entire academic career had been easy, sometimes laughably easy, mostly because his grades were primarily based on papers, and he had never been adverse to writing them. Often he enjoyed it, the crush of procrastination, occasionally reading works for the first time while in the process of writing analytical essays about them, but now it had become difficult…so taxing. His instinct was to wait, and it seemed sound. “Personal events will become interesting again. Hair will become interesting. Pain will become interesting. Buds that open out of season will become interesting.” Perhaps obscure literary analysis would become interesting again.

And in a way it did. But this was too much. William Blake would be his death. If Urizen created the physical in error, if all creation is error, how can one overcome it? The concept was too much, and the mythology was just more on top of it. The Eternals, the Immortals, Urizen, Orc, Los, the Eternal Prophet, the primeval Priest, Enitharmon, Thiriel, Utha, Grodna, Fuzon––how could one keep track of it when the point is to dissolve the senses to comprehend it? But in his attempts he found Blake’s intentions: one is not supposed to study the work and argue a thesis, thereby measuring, quantifying and limiting in the same erroneous way Blake warns against; he is supposed to internalize it, and contemplate it, and struggle with it, and then he is to recreate it, perform a détournement and escape his own senses by using his imagination to extend them.

In those unbearable times
When the voice is not there
All one can do is wait.
And read.
And try to think.
He should go out
Talk to people.
Get sleep when he can
And don’t skimp on it
But avoid it when it’s a bad idea:
It’s a bad idea.
Don’t get wracked down with that stuff
It’s just words. Papers, stories, poems
Won’t write themselves,
Especially not when you’re unconscious.
Sometimes alertness comes from exhaustion
The primal desire for safety and sleep.
It’s a funny world when you’re scared of paper
Isn’t it?
When a question or a due date might as well
Be a circling pack of wolves?
So stay awake
Don’t shrink from words
Or exhaustion
Or wolves
We think best on the edge of breaking down
Find a divinity there between
Studied urgency and delirious resignation:
The ferocity of Conscience
Indignation, Passion, Poetry.
Those are my snarling wolves––
A howling pack of words.
There is no more time to wait:
The voice calls out like these dogs,
Like pre-dawn sirens, like birds awake at the first
Shades of red
Like intimate, saintly footsteps
In those most bearable times.

* * *
The night had gone, the morning had fully risen, and the spring had changed the landscape. An ocean of unshifting green rolled out from his window, and the sagging trees still reached up against their weight to the grey sky, the hazy blanket that would soon dissolve entirely and leave unmolested, hopeful blue sheets dotted with gloomy grammarians in golden gowns. This was the first time spring had ever seemed so vibrant to him, when life had ever been so apparent. Now for nearly a day straight he had been plucking away in his office/kitchen/spa/gym/bedroom at two of his last three academic obligations.

The first examined the impression of existing in L’Étranger and Huis Clos––is life absurd? Is there no point? How can we even be sure we exist?––a heady topic for someone with only one day left of school. After grappling with the topic, he found he did not particularly care. Meursault’s realization was that the privilege of living was itself reason to live; this made sense to the Fledgling, who had learned over the previous months to enjoy what he could, and to be happy when possible. Huis Clos suggests that one cannot know his own identity until after his death, that his life is nothing more than the sum of his actions. Likewise, the Fledgling had come to feel that there wasn’t much point in living if he didn’t try to do it honorably.

The second would be a condensed account of his final semester, with a necessarily poetic slant. He collected his thoughts and put them into writing, gathered his experiences and tried to make sense of them. He realized that he had discovered the source of his writing troubles: the type of writing itself. No longer was he interested in treating words like math problems, no longer was it enough to write a proof of literary geometry. He had learned all he could from using his words to describe the ideas of others. Amongst the boundless white soft seas of the word processor he heard the wind, thought of no misery in the rustle, and realized he had rediscovered his mind of winter in the midst of spring.


About andrewwhiting

A sentimental and sarcastic poet, lover of language, traveling and nature (not a fan of the Oxford comma).
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