Irreplaceable

by jkatejohnston

8 July 2014

Dear Max,

I have another volcano on my head, as Enzo put it. I’m forty-five, though almost all year I thought I was forty-six. Then it came up in conversation, and I did the math and gained a year of life, a lovely thing. But I have pimples in my wrinkles.

I was thinking about language, I’m afraid. How if I don’t take my notes of Enzo’s sayings right away, I get them wrong, and even one wrong word is terrible. And how volcano on your head is much better than volcano on your face, though less accurate, less specific. And of course it’s an accurate account of what he said—who cares what my head looks like? (I do, I find.) If I’d waited more than a few seconds to write it down, I would have written face, the accurate and expected word. The arc of memory is short, and in bends toward convention.[1] And, as Boswell said, “Nothing but hard science remains the same when put in different words.”

And now I’m going to give myself a prize because I wrote that Boswell quote from memory, then looked it up, and it’s word-perfect. But memory is almost never that good. (See Boswell in Search of a Wife 275 and also my online diary of 20 October 2013, which is the first hit if you google “nothing but hard science remains the same when put in different words Boswell.” Am famous!)

I remember Max Schott (the Max Schott, you, who all this is written to) telling us in class about walking along and seeing a hand-written sign on a gate that said, “Look out for the dog. It bites.” And how much more convincing that was than a store-bought BEWARE OF DOG sign. (This was twenty-five years ago, oh dear.) The personal and particular are better, in writing and life. As Marvin Mudrick said: “private over public…irreplaceable over interchangeable… .” (Nobody Here But Us Chickens, Preface, Ticknor & Fields (1981).)

*

First thing this morning, telling a dream: “There was a beach and a lake and a steep hill. The Scooby Doo gang was there and some of my friends. We uncovered a fisherman’s grave, and it turned out to be a zombie. A chorus of zombies rose out of the sand. There was a zombie lunch lady and a zombie chef on motorcycles, and they chased us. I gave a kick that was three feet high, I mean six. Cuixtli and I ran away, down the hill, toward the lake. I thought, “I am so dumb!” I knew we would be dumped in the lake. And then I woke up.”

[1]Do I really have to cite MLK? “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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