I took out my small compact powder out of my jacket pocket. I clipped it open and looked into the little mirror in the lid. My face glowed sickly pale under the fluorescent lights. Winter pale. I clipped the lid down, got up from my chair and stepped into U – Z. As I had expected, there was no one there. Velasquez, Varese and The Venetian School, gigantic volumes, with soft, yellow pages lingered pompously yet with a limp attitude between smaller books, waiting to be released from the boredom of their shelf lives. This is what immortality means, I thought, sitting on a shelf as an afterthought to your own life. Maybe to be lifted down every few years to be perused briefly for some kids’ art assignment. I touched the laminated, slightly deformed backs with my fingers. Books do not endure lamination well, a laminated book resembles a plastic covered sofa. One cannot enjoy it. I apologized to the volumes that were sighing with age and discontent …
I have been working on this novel for a while now. There are passages that I really love, snippets, impressions that convey the atmosphere I want to create. There is also, almost surprisingly, some real plot (unusual for me) and a couple of protagonists I can vividly picture like I can picture friends. The novel could be read as science fiction – or it could be an account of a delusion. I don’t quite know which one it is, but so far it could coherently be read as either and it will depend on the conclusion to point in one direction or the other. Any kind of science fiction could of course be an account of the protagonist’s delusions if one chose to read it like that. This is one reason I chose the genre for this particular coming-of-age story in the first place. Another one is that I have been craving for a playing field for my interest in ephemeral science and have been having a ball researching and reading up on all kinds of science projects with marginal news interest from marine bioluminescence to quantum physics to astronomy.
I stared at the girl. She stared back, then, inexplicably, she smiled regretfully, rose out of her chair and smoothly walked over to the bookshelves, turned the corner and was immediately out of sight. Before I could follow her into art books U – Z and ask her to wait, I heard voices. Two elderly women were approaching us through the middle aisle. One of them held a library catalogue card and they both scanned the shelves. “Agnes, Denes, D, don’t think we will find anything here, Marie. Might just as well look for Leon Levinstein, L. Won’t find anything on him either, I bet. It’s all van Gogh and Monet and Renoir, coffeetable stuff. We will have to go to the New York Public Library for Agnes Denes, I tell you.” Marie grunted. “Now, “ she admonished her friend “we will not know until we look, will we? These libraries sometimes are better than their reputation. Librarians are strange people, and they are in charge. “ The ladies turned corners at “D – H”. Their voices were swallowed by the books. It was too late to try and follow the girl into U – Z.
If I was to choose one drawing that I liked particularly in the flood of drawings of those nights it would have to be this pretty simple one. There were some much more sophisticated pieces, but this one, conceived towards the end of the 12 nights, is playful and relaxed in a way that convinced me that in the end there was a point to my practice. I wish I could hold on to that for a while longer, at least when I am drawing.
And Plinius. The cat. Plinius was on my side. You can’t bend a cat. You can’t make a perfect copy of a cat. In his own way, Plinius was less predictable than the most extravagant human could possibly be. Starting with his smell. Yes, he smelled like cat, but not like any old cat. He smelled specifically like Plinius. I have had plenty of cats all through my grown up life but not one of them has ever smelled anything like him. If it is true that we are normally not very good at remembering smells (and though we have invented devices to record and play back actual sound and images we have never invented any automaton that would – on request – conjure up a specific smell.), but that rule does not include remembering Plinius’ smell. Equal part cat litter, dust, fur and … realness. I don’t even have a comparison, a word for that smell, but I can say “Plinius” and I can actually smell him. He was very present and himself until he just wasn’t anymore, until, one day, without proper good-byes, he disappeared.
End of December I observe a yearly time of night meditation, roughly in sync with some old traditions but not necessarily bound by them. To keep awake 12 nights in a row and in quiet meditation is much easier when the mind is allowed an activity – and drawing is my very personal way of quieting my mind. Night after night I produced two to three drawings, taking a photo at the end of each night, recording the creatures of fancy accumulating … As a side-effect I switched back from painting to drawing to prepare an illustrated history of some sorts that I am starting these days.