"Can" B. Worth
Feeding the Birds - Part Four
The Large Inside
“I remember sitting… you couldn’t really sit in there… so sort of leaning… with John Brodhead. We were both summoned for that meeting and that was not a good sign. We’d heard, of course, how hard he was on character; his grad student’s character. That’s what he called it; character, your character. It was understood to be how, as his graduate student, you behaved and how he expected you to behave. So the two of us wedged in there and he sat at that desk. He didn’t have the can out; we’d already been through that. He made no small talk and just looked up at us with a disappointed pout.
“Do either of you ever DO anything?” he says “beside slouch and forget to shave? Is there ever any curiosity? Any sensation of being? Any passing notice of a before you? There is ALL before you yet you slouch within that radiant light.”
We said nothing.
“I do not doubt that you cannot respond. You have nothing to respond with; no TOOLS, no observation. No… not even an inkling of coming here, being here or WHY you’re here. Sidewalk spittle is the SAME… and not even observing that finds you STEPPING IN IT. TOO.”
“You have to build a bridge; your OWN bridges.” He continued. “You have to have something to observe and THEN OBSERVE IT: FIND SOMETHING and BUILD A BRIDGE from it to yourselves. FIND YOU IN THAT. FIND YOU in that NEVER OBSERVED BEFORE. FIND IT first and THEN BUILD A BRIDGE to YOU; your OWN humanity. Then write that down and bring it to me. And THEN we are DONE.” He concluded by placing both hands palms down on the desk top and looking up at us.
Again we said nothing.
After a pause, where he remained with his palms down and his eyes upon us, he said “It is really very simple to do.” He leaned back, pulled open the center desk drawer and from within it retrieved what had to be the most ragged old scraps of old paper ever gathered together to make a booklet . We both could only see that it was a dirty, torn and chewed old booklet. We KNEW that he collected rare books but this was hardly what we had in mind. NOT, as he’d say, that we had ANY mind as to WHAT a rare book was. But for sure this was NOT a rare book.
“He placed that booklet in the center of the desk top facing us and started to talk about its raggedy condition. He started talking and did not stop talking about that ragged booklet for at least forty-five minutes. He never looked at us at all; only at the booklet He opened, closed, turned over or turned the pages of it to make a mind boggling array of observations that gushed from him. These he compounded with connecting points AND more observations ABOUT the current observation he was making. And fast; it was a very rapid but concise factual summary followed by logical deductions and this led to a building of a story that was at first ABOUT the booklet but soon became a story of the GLORY of the booklet derived from this, as he titled it; READ TO DEATH condition. This condition, he suggested at the conclusion, was a fair representation of one’s own journey in life; that we all were read to death in life and that our CONDITION showed bare to all just how interesting our lives were to read. “THAT is what you must find, observe and write down for me. I must be able to READ that in your writing and can only HOPE that it reads like THIS!” he said. “If this pamphlet was in as perfect condition as I find you two to be, I would want nothing to do with it at all. It would tell no story. At all.”
He did let us look at the booklet; touch it. But I remember nothing about what it was. It had an Indian killing a woman. It had coffins of the people the Indians killed. It was filthy, all torn to pieces, missing pages. But he clearly loved it; loved SHOWING it to us. I could never understand the whole thing but I do remember every moment of that meeting. I’d remember the booklet if I saw it again. Do you think you found something like that in there?”