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My first real project was a study of the deathbed gestures
of nine famous failures.
Then I wrote the book on one successful woman and her seven hazy
memories of regret.
Next came a novel about a woman who had certain habits.
She wore nail polish in the winter to keep her nails warm
and hated people who wore it in the summer.
For her there were a whole lot of things that were sacrilege.
No fish in the kitchen, no shoes after noon.
She had taboos up the kazoo.
Then, at some point, I became interested in the passage of time
and stopped work on the novel.
Now all spring the woman with the habits rattles around my head, extant,
worrying a cotton ball, trying to get the last bit of red paint off her left
thumbnail like goddamn Lady Macbeth.
My latest project is to sketch several careful descriptions for the benefit
of the next ancient world: a sort of advice book, so that they will
understand that civilization has phases, even phases about believing
in phases, and ideas about gods, and the anthropomorphizing of animals,
and about how the idea of progress
gets in the way of certain things while making other things possible,
and about how the idea of the fall from grace also allows
a number of transactions but blocks others.
They should know, this time, how to approach the fact that as history
unfolds, some people will describe the world as a struggle between good
and evil and other people will insist on caprice.
This is the sort of advice I'm talking about.
Some indication about the real and unreal continuity of ideas across
history; the real and unreal continuity of the self over time.
How worlds reprise; how my wounded heart came
to revive. Because the next ancient world
is likely to be as curious as the last one was
and while information about the last one seems
to be accruing over time as we gather shards of data out of the alluvial
fields, we also have to admit that the important parts are the parts
that we remember in the lower parts of our bodies,
the way the seat of your pants knows things about the acropolis.
We are forgetting, like dye dissipating in a glass of ocean water,
and that is why I feel it would be a good idea to get down some precise
observations, memories as well as memorials, and not just
to amuse our friends but to capture what it is that I know about
what happened here; since
in the long run,
a few well-placed words go a great deal farther than crop circles
in our factual and fictional quest for direction.
A map is only as good as its key. As is a lock.
So take this in the spirit in which it was written: as a lock of a lover's
hair. As a skeleton key to the heart of the matter.
The ventricles, the chambers, the pulse. A collection of auguries. Grist
for a mill that is yet to be built. Our hard-worn highways will slip
from heavy usefulness into the mythos of the next ancient world.
The signs are all there, bear right, approaching toll, end construction. Right
lane must turn right. Left lane must careen into the distance carrying our
best intentions like mismatched baggage and sounding,
endlessly, its baleful horn,
as the universe expands into the night.