One night, in December of 1999, as I piloted my little piece-of-crap Mazda pell-mell counterclockwise along the round road which skirts the edge of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks campus, the moon suddenly popped into my field of vision, and it was more stunningly huge than I had ever seen. My jaw dropped, my eyes went round, and I reached to turn down the radio, which had been blaring Kimberly Austin by Porno for Pyros. Often silence, I think, is conducive to the appreciation of beauty. Like how it’s hushed in art galleries. Less distraction, more focus, I guess.
The unbelievably huge moon upstaged all the stars that night. It filled me with awe – the sort of awe I have seen in children’s faces when their minds are completely blown by something new. I have spent significant time with children over the years: teaching at an alternative K-12 school, working at a daycare… and I have always loved watching them at the moment of discovery. That’s what that moon provided for me – a moment of discovery – as I saw something which I had never seen, and it expanded my perception of what was possible. Slowing my car to a crawl to gawk up at the sky, I realized that along with the sense of awe came a sort of melancholy, too, like a cross between feeling wistful and having the blues. I couldn’t put my finger on why. Sometimes beautiful things make me sad.
The next day, pulling my keep-warm doubletime march to an abrupt halt outside the entrance to the building in which my class – Humor in Literature – would shortly begin, to lean on the picnic table by the door and stub out my cig on the tread of one snowboot, I noticed a blank sheet of paper lying there. On a whim, I unsheathed my trusty pen and on it wrote, “This piece of paper is cold to the touch.” I imagined someone reading it and reaching out to feel for themselves.
I went on in to the lecture hall, where I listened to the cool-as-hell professor speak about Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. It is a truly brilliant, hilarious novel. One of the characters in the book makes an Egyptian cotton farmer happy by buying up his entire harvest, then – finding it unexpectedly impossible to resell all the cotton – has it rendered into bite-sized tufts, which are then dipped in chocolate, and which he proceeds to sell to the mess halls of military units as a delicacy. So zany!
Heller had died just the week before, even as I sat writing an essay about his work. When I found out the next day that he had passed while I was writing about him, two things came to mind: the first was that I had slain the great comedic author with my dry, academic prose; the second was that I’d like to go out the same way – having some literature student somewhere studying something I’d written at the very moment I expired.
Many thanks to Sunday’s Whirligig for the twelve words which inspired this non-fiction write:
THIS WEEK’S WORDS come from “Autumn” by T.E. Hulme : touch, cold, night, lean, moon, farmer, speak, round, stars, wistful, children, faces