It was a Tuesday, and the walls of the municipal building looked more like doors than walls. "All the best stories seem to be a delicate blend of careful nostalgia and unrelenting fear," my teacher said, a startlingly earnest look gracing her unwieldy features. I opened my mouth to ask what she meant by that, but I suddenly remembered the three best stories I'd read in the past week and promptly shut it again. The stories that resonated with me were the ones that described seemingly insignificant details with loving precision: the crumbs on the checkered tablecloth, the dull grey of the living room sofa set. You would imagine that these descriptions were written to lend verisimilitude to the scenes being set, the stories being told. But you would, of course, be wrong. Any painstaking rendering of my teacher's too-large, bulbous nose and beady, close-set eyes, or, for example, of my insistence on carrying a zippered pencil case (just like the one I had in grade school) to my adult-ed class would merely serve as reminders that each moment is but one more step toward our eventual, terrifying demises. Descriptions remind us that our time on Earth is ephemeral, and that we must notice everything we can before we die. There is always the unrelenting fear that we will have missed something when death has caught up with us, the idea that there will unexpectedly come a time when our senses will close themselves off to the sublime and leave us only an empty experience of the subterranean. The doors opened a little bit wider, then, coaxing.
With every adjective, the authors of those stories insinuated that they knew we were afraid of dying, and outwardly proclaimed that they would do their best to keep us living in the moment from the first word to the last. That is why we read, after all. Especially if it is a fictional moment of someone else's device, the reader forgets the self and all the ugly trappings thereof. If I were to allow you to read what I scribbled on my sheaf of looseleaf paper, and watch me sigh with pleasure as I zipped my number 2 Dixon Ticonderoga back into its case, you might think, perhaps for a moment, that something great was waiting for me when I strode confidently into the summer night. You might think, perhaps for another moment, that when a gust of wind carried my hasty notes to the farthest reaches of the subway platform, some handsome stranger would be there to help me pick them up again. You might conclude by imagining my mouse-brown hair blowing in cinematic waves behind me, my thin skirt clinging to my legs while the stranger reads my musings on life and writing and learns my soul before he even knows my name. You would be wrong, of course, but the way you would be wrong would be much different than anything you expected, as you would discover when I disabused you of your false assumptions. Then, I could enjoy my two small triumphs: if only for a few moments, you will have forgotten how to fear your insidious fate, and I will have learned how to write.