stealing your soul. Are you nervous? You seem nervous, peering
over my shoulder like that. It’s killing you isn’t it, the
curiosity? You don’t really want me to steal your soul—that
has such an ominous ring to it, doesn’t it? It’s so B-grade
horror movie. You can almost hear the creepy organ soundtrack.
Soul-stealing—it sounds yucky. But then again, you wouldn’t
mind seeing—just once, just one quick peek—what I’m fashioning
with it. Just out of curiosity, not that you approve. Stealing
people’s souls. Really. What kind of job is that? But, um,
maybe just a glimpse, because what if, just by chance, by
sheer accident, what if maybe I make better use of it than
you do? What if by some subtle kink of my art I trick you
up in some way you’d never thought possible? What if I make
you pretty? OK, so I can’t steal it, but maybe you’ll let
me borrow it for a minute, just a minute. Can you look, can
you sneak a glimpse just once before it’s done, can you see
what’s there, what’s been made of it? Can you look under the
curtain? Can you listen to the acoustic demo? Can you see
the preliminary sketches? Can you rifle through the pages
of the notebook?
No, no you can’t read my notebook, that’s what I told her.
I was sitting at the far end of the bar, late. Me and a Guinness
and my notebook, scratching away the last minutes of a prodigal
evening. Trying, I suppose, to provide punctuation to a run-on
night. I chose a bar where I was unlikely to know very many
people, and in which I was likely to be overlooked by dint
of my age. I’m the old guy (comparatively), drinking alone
and raving into a little black book.
But you cannot be inconspicuous with a notebook.
are you doing?”
She had sidled up to me without my noticing, and stood at
my shoulder glancing down into the open pages.
beer,” I said.
what are you writing?”
I just shrugged, noncommittally: “Just scribbling.”
you work for a newspaper?”
New York Post?”
I read it?”
because it’s mine and it’s private, and because I don’t know
She persisted, and out of my own curiosity I gave in, reading
her the first line of the entry: “She breathes through her
that supposed to mean?”
I pointed down the bar, where a very pretty young woman sat
alone, staring off into a middle distance, slumped into a
bar-stool-induced arch, breathing through slack, parted lips.
I don’t work for the Post, and, I suppose, my
sentence painted her no pretty picture, so she left me to
my beer and my scribbling and returned to the side of her
drinking buddy—a pretty mouthbreather, it turned out. I must
have looked right past her.
What had she expected, I wonder. Had she thought I was looking
at her? Did she feel me dropping from her eaves? Pillaging
her privacy, translating her offhand remarks and throwaway
poses, and making her material? Was she offended or excited?
It’s not the first time my notebook has inspired such investigation,
or suspicion. And, my friends tell me, they’ve had related
experiences on either side of that equation. An artist I know
has abandoned the pleasure of sketching in public, because
she grew tired of the interruptions of people who wanted to
flip through her work. On the other hand, though, I have a
friend who absolutely hates the roving photographer. It’s
an invasion of privacy, she contends, relating how she once
observed a shutterbug shooting from a highway overpass:
if someone in a passing car was with somebody they shouldn’t
be with? Or doing something they didn’t want people to know
that they’re doing?” she asks, pointing out that those folks
don’t want to turn up on the front page of a newspaper accompanying
a story about construction kickbacks—even as a coincidental
But if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear,
the sanctimonious scoff.
But you do. You do have something hidden. You’ve got something
in a confused little knot down beneath all the artifice you
call your personality. You’ve got something you hope is greatness
or beauty, but fear is just neurosis or infantile preoccupation.
And you want someone to drag it out of you. You want to play
Beatrice to someone’s Dante, Maude Gonne to someone’s Yeats,
Zora to someone’s Joe Millionaire. You want to be discovered
in the coffee shop, elevated above those who misunderstood
you, celebrated for that dark little tangle in your gut that
makes you say such stupid things out loud. You want that weirdness
to crawl up and out to be snared in a portrait or a poem or
a pop song or sitcom with your name on it.
But you also want final edit, and that’s the rub.
Chances are, they’re going to tell you that the tangle is
just a tangle. You’re going to be misinterpreted by onlookers
and passersby and critics. Many of them will not find your
weirdness anything other than weird.
But some of the strange ones scribbling in notebooks alone
at the end of the bar, or in sketchbooks in the park by the
fountain, will find it beautiful.
And all of them will find your most successful attempts to
bury it, to misinterpret it yourself and to jealously hoard
it like a secret or a dusty heirloom, sad.