Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Chapter Fourteen

My initial dealings with Wolfram were uniform in their traumatic effect on me, but even trauma has its limitations. After a number of consultations and revisions, I settled into a funk that continued until I had the unlikeliest of epiphanies in the unlikeliest of places.

Returning from another session with Wolfram to my room at the Taft, I ordered a carafe of coffee from room service. While waiting for it, I set up the Mac on the desk. Either the chair or the floor was uneven, requiring me to use the complementary copy of a magazine, What’s Doing in New Haven, as a leveling agent. The working surface of the desk had scars from cigarette burns and ring-like stains from moody hotel drinking glasses in which the ice had melted like lost hopes. My most immediate view from where I sat was of a large air vent on the other side of which was the window of a room the mirror image of mine.

The room service waiter, a middle-aged man who needed a shave, winced when he walked. He made a waiterly production of pouring coffee and arranging the sugar and creamer, waited for a tip, shook his head when he got it. I wondered how many salesmen had sat at this desk, drinking coffee, looking at this same view while going through their order books, wondering about the new sales quotas they’d been pressured into projecting.

I had the coffee cup to my lips, letting the aroma block out the smells of mildew and dead hopes emanating from every corner of the room.

During the next week I met with Wolfram for at least two hours a day while he went over my revisions, penciled in corrections, struck out entire paragraphs. By Friday I was, discouraged, frustrated, angry. Finally I exploded and threw the manuscript at him. “Even though this book is poorly reasoned,” I said, “it is nevertheless not written very well.”

“You’re missing the entire point,” Wolfram adjudicated.

“And what might the entire point be?”

“This is not an agreeable process for you,” he said, prodding his index finger into my sternum, “because you are taking it so bloody seriously. It is a truth universally recognized that people who take things too seriously are foreclosing on any possibility of risk.”

If I’d had anything else at hand, I’d have thrown it as well. “Words to live by.”

“As a matter of fact,” my faux Australian acquisitions editor said, “they are.”

In time we became close friends, you might go so far as to say conspirators, but at the moment there was an unspeakable chasm yawning between us.


John Eaton said...

"It is a truth universally recognized that people who take things too seriously are foreclosing on any possibility of risk.”

Utile et dulce, Shelly, as always,


Smiler said...

Glad to see you didn't let Blogger's system failure get the better of you.