The Book Life

There was another world below – this was the problem.

November 16, 2010
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Upon finishing the first “real” novel I’ve read since the summer, I am delighted.

Here’s why.

“As the ship sliced open the black sea east of Nova Scotia, the horizontal faintly pitched, bow to stern, as if despite its great steel competence the ship were uneasy and could solve the problem of a liquid hill only by cutting through it quickly; as if its stability depended on such a glossing over of flotation’s terrors. There was another world below – this was the problem. Another world below that had volume but no form. By day the sea was blue surface and whitecaps, a realistic navigational challenge, and the problem could be overlooked. By night, though, the mind went forth and dove down through the yielding – the violently lovely – nothingness on which the heavy steel ship traveled, and in every moving well you saw a travesty of grids, you saw how truly and forever lost a man would be six fathoms under. Dry land lacked this z-axis. Dry land was like being awake. Even in chartless desert you could drop to your knees and pound land with your fist and land didn’t give. Of course the ocean, too, had a skin of wakefulness. But every point on this skin was a point where you could sink and by sinking disappear.

I read this page of The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen) on the same day that I read more about water and what it can stand for, while working a paper for one of my classes, a seminar on law and emotion. I’m writing about narrative theory in the law, and the title of the second book was Lying Down Together: Law, Metaphor, and Theology (Milner S. Ball). There, the author takes the following phrase as a metaphor for the law: “The work here is watching water, containing it some.”

That sentence is why I want to be a lawyer. Water being a stand in for the chaos of living. The metaphor offered as an alternative or a supplement to the image of law as a bulwark, protecting us from the anarchic dangers of chaos. It’s one that sticks with me, one that, when I read it (on a couch on the patio of a Starbucks in the sunshine of a seventy-degree November day in Indiana) made my eyes well up in gratitude for finding something true, something to resonate within me. Something to bounce around inside of my emotional being and not hurt, but create joy. A rare occasion, so far this school year.

Coincidence always makes me feel oddly whole. Like while I wasn’t paying attention, or while I was busy citechecking or reading cases or writing a moot court brief (in a phrase: being a 2L), life was off to the side, kindly arranging itself for me into a warm cocoon of welcome for my anticipated return.

Thus welcomed, I become gracious. Filled with gratitude. Often, these past two weeks, the eyes have welled. (Of course, I’ve always been a crier.) At the end of a yoga practice. At a good working Saturday ending before 8 p.m., followed by good food and good friends. At the small joy of lighting candles. At the marvel of life’s tiny coincidences laying themselves out, seemingly all for me.

Finishing a novel is part of the return, and even though I found The Corrections to be desperately sad and at times quite irritating, it’s a relief to find that I can still read a 568 page novel just because I want to, and that I can still be moved to tears by its last pages.

Hello, world.

It’s good to be (mostly) back.