Living close to the central Brooklyn Public Library has had the curious effect putting me in the middle of ten different books. Okay, I put myself there – I’ve been frantically consuming things and expelling other things, as though to replace something inside me, but what? Boredom? Uncertainty? Some vague unease with being human?
I have also felt impatient and I wonder if it’s the books I’m reading. Is it because I’ve lived A Hundred Years of Solitude in twelve hours that I’m in such a hurry to get on with my life? Maybe the media I inhale so distorts my sense of time that I have trouble readjusting to the world where everything moves at the rate of one second per second. I read a three-hundred-year history of Detroit and come across a line like “immediately workers flooded into the city” and it turns out that “immediately” in the book is eight years. Here I am just trying to get through the day.
One thing I like about working on novels is that I can’t rush it. Putting in an extra hour once I’ve already past my day’s mental limit won’t get me there any sooner, necessarily. Plotlines need to ferment. Characters need to become themselves. The story is finished once I’ve understood enough about certain strokes of life to finish it. Maybe this is a roundabout way of getting to a really simple conclusion, that when you make something it happens in the time that it takes to make it, and when you consume something it happens in a distorted thought-time. Some consider fiction an escape to imagined places and lives, but it (nonfiction, too) is as much an escape of the flow of time itself. And the exaltation of transcending time needs to be tempered with the humility of living in the world, lest we start mistaking our fictions for reality.
Maybe this is the advantage of intimacy with real nature, where the trees don’t flower, shed, and ice over at the turn of a phrase. And it’s not just going to the park or woods but the one-second-per-second nature, which can be found even where there are no trees and where the sky is a plaster ceiling. It’s the nature I see when I turn my head in the street, when I sit in my room with the window open, when I look up from my book. A tea kettle whistles in an apartment downstairs. Daycare kids run around in yellow vests that, being too big for their bodies, billow like golden capes. A kite kites. Two girls following a mother into a house are hugging each other, and they like hugging so much that they hug and walk at the same time through the open door.
And on a Sunday night, at a desk under a lamp in a fourth-floor walkup on Eastern Parkway, a heart beats.