"I'd like to ask you a slow question," she says to him, making space for something careful, thoughtful, with a gesture generous and wise. And something about the phrase--a slow question--catches in my mind, slips a switch, crawls around a corner and gets to work. The rest of what happens in that room becomes mere murmur and patter, echoing the rain on the roof, backing up swift pen-scratch. And what I've scratched, because of what I've been listening to, what she and others are still asking about (but what I've started drifting away from), is water. Water because of Monday's writing and the memory of being pushed and held, beaten and cradled by a savage and lovely sea. Water because my world has gone wetly grey in the rain, heavier with more weighty greys than I can remember seeing. He has described dark not as absence but as saturation, and I am finding myself saturated with the gathering darkness of water.
But I'm also saturated with the gathering darkness of absence, absence of energy, of time, of space for stretching and floating to the degree I've now come to expect. I have not had to prioritize around this writing yet, or at least not to prioritize it out of production. But suddenly I am putting up the three images that somehow, though they are neither of water nor about wetness (nor even, for that matter, about slowness or darkness or absence or rain), line up out of Sunday's walks home and request a showing, and I am thinking, I'll fill in the gaps sometime later. But it's midnight. I am saturated with desire, and my desire is for rest. And the bird, over the roof, over the sign: this triptych I can live with. This grouping can slouch out and be slow, demand slowness.
To fantasize water, first dream islands. Conjure backward to empty expanse, saturate with everything. The notes age a day, start becoming artifacts. Woolf comes to the rescue--when does she (wise) not rescue?--with Mrs. Ramsay's solitary musings: "beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by." Woolf herself a fish, not unlike Vardaman's mother: the autobiographical sketch shows it (I do not believe life-writing always to be factual, but I do believe it generally to be true). "The person is evidently immensely complicated," she tells us in A Sketch of the Past, written in 1939-40 under threat of German bombs, and part of the complication she means is temporal, is time itself, is the nature of time that leaves her swaying and slipping and silvery: "I could collect a great many more floating incidents.... I dream; I make up pictures of a summer's afternoon.... I see myself as a fish in a stream; deflected; held in place; but cannot describe the stream." I hang. I can do nothing but hang, thought deflected and held in place. I can describe neither myself as fish nor the stream. The notes desiccate.
Tonight, tossed back:
Thomas Hardy mysteriously copies from Ralph Waldo Emerson--why? from where?--in August 1924: "The foolish man wonders at the unusual, but the wise man at the usual." To love water, to sing praises to water, to immerse, be immersed, sink in to soak up: these are not unusual. I may well have nothing new to say. That has never stopped the word-flow before. But it is possible I'll need to recur to Woolf yet again, this time to A Room of One's Own. (If you knew how I'd spent my day, her ubiquity tonight would not surprise.) Woolf's narrator in that lively treatise about women and fiction, about economics and creativity, is musing at (fictional) Oxbridge. She has named herself "Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael, or...any name you please." She is thinking by a river:
Thought—to call it by a prouder name than it deserved—had let its line down into the stream. It swayed, minute after minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it until—you know the little tug—the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and the careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked; the sort of fish that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth cooking and eating.You know the little tug. Well, I do. This thought of mine is no larger than the biting fish whose sharp-toothed jaw my father gave me when I was small. It is not so big as the monstrosity fish (so beloved) in the tanks at the restaurant where we went some Friday nights, early in Indiana. When I was a baby, my mother couldn't keep me from putting my face under the faucet in the bath. But now, now I am tired again: now I see the waters to write about (a fully dressed woman walked out of the water in my morning class): now I cannot face them: now I must sleep until the conglomeration comes again, this time fattened, to feed.
You should know by now not to come here for answers (not quick ones, anyway) is the answer to the question, whether or not it was slow, whether or not this is slower. Be wise enough to love the spread feathers, the slate shingles, the invitation sans serif. They are the usual. They are the wonder.