Another 20 minute story…
Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day. —Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays (1928)
He knows not to make his ugly confession—he rereads his work over and over. He knows it a complete waste of time, but a deep need for confirmation possesses him. He thinks, “Yes, I’ve written,” and, “yes, what I’ve written is solid and permanent.”
“If I do nothing else,” he thinks, “at least I’ve done this.”
Some people rely on affirmations repeated in each breath, the equivalent of uttering over and over “I believe I can.” He leans on evidence, the solid, accumulated words of a lifetime amassing words. He never knows if they’re good words, or if they’re arranged in any order felicitous to anyone else, but he sees them there. They’re preserved.
When he speaks, sometimes his listeners wear an unmistakable expression that says he’s wrong. Often, he’s sure nothing he says penetrates. He means to reveal his true self, admit every doubt, and request the mercy flawed people deserve. Instead, others hear him as betraying himself, who he is, what his statements really mean.
He tries to believe he imagines their skepticism, but he only escapes judgment on the page. Not seeing listeners, he makes them sympathetic. Comfort comes from faith in an audience leaning forward, tuned to this peculiar syntax, and still. In his imagination, he can keep them there, always attentive, agreeable.
If he could take the miles of marching prose, twist it like a rope, and coil it on the deck of a vessel set loose on the sea, he might be happy. He’d be safe. The thought of even one sailor unsettles him. If anyone can kick the pile into the ocean with all the rest of the earth’s words, someone will.
He sees the whole sinking into deep shadows, unreeling, its meaning lost as easily as if it never existed.
As a boy he could invent and he could believe. He found enough space in his room to pretend and didn’t need to come out. He’s afraid to come out.
A cloud of delusion clings to him. He knows it and wants to protect it. He wants to keep it with him, be alone with it, alone with his work.