I want to write that one single, clear clean note, but I want to write it in words: is that too much to ask for?
Just once. Just to write it once. And rest.
I mean, if it was music you would know instinctively exactly what I’m talking about.
You’d recognize it the moment you heard it; would recognize it the moment it curled threads into your ears. The way it fit and filled and hung there, complete.
You’ve heard it before — some song, some place, one fine thin line that makes you say “and that is exactly, precisely what music is.”
It’s not a word. Words don’t make it work.
I’m talking about a sound, perfect and sustained. Unwavering. You might have to be a professional to actually make that particular sound come from voice or instrument, but any amateur would know it at once. As if the harmonic of it rings in some part of you, so that, just for a moment, you vibrate too, aligned. Receiver, becoming all at once co-operative bell.
But I can’t sing.
Or in art.
Something magic that would find your eyes.
Smoke tearing in the wind. Shredding in the wind. Someone outside, standing in the cold wind on the deck behind the house, the last bit of evening light catching them from behind. And they’re looking north while the wind is ripping east, and the cigarette smoke they exhale is a two-dimensional sheet from here to there.
Like a grey flat pillowcase caught right there in the air
If it was a painting, a painting of just that, you would already know exactly, precisely what I mean. As easily remembered as sound, again, as a tuning fork, rung. (Grade 6 or Grade 8, it’s grey metal in front of you and it’s music class, and you can even see the sound in the vibration of the two separate round forks, see it almost as well as you can hear it. But you remember the sound of it best, like it was right there in the centre of your forehead. Zimmmmmmm.)
The picture, too. Someone caught precisely at that exhaled cigarette-moment, the smoke fixed in place in that way that says it’s exactly what happened, but that it also almost couldn’t be. The light staged and stopped, the way light can never really be stopped.
Caught you, showed you, did it. Found it.
But I can’t paint.
I get words instead. Imperfect ragged cinder blocks that barely fit together — first, there’s the craft of chipping off all the wrong edges. A selection of abject compromises.
I get words, and believe me, it’s like picking up grains of rice with a pair of oven mitts on your hands.
Like rock-climbing in a sumo suit. Like trying to make a recipe from the variety of flavours in something you’ve eaten and loved, but already can barely remember.
It’s always “like” something, and that’s part of the problem.
Because I’m almost certain that the one clean clear note is not a comparative.
Go ahead, make fun.
I don’t care. I’ve got a thick hide. (I don’t, really — snide complaints are like broken glass under my skin, shifting, endlessly sharp. But what I do have is a foolish, almost desperate hope, enough to keep sending out signals into the dark, ignoring the static and the noise as best I can, hoping that something as clean as Morse code will someday come ditting back, something that lets me know that even single solitary signals sometimes find their complementary receivers.)
Because I know what that clean line looks like, without ever really seeing it.
Or at least I know it has a look. A shape. A being.
I wake up sometimes, and know it was right there in front of me while I was sleeping — that it was caught right up there in my head, and that by waking, I’ve lost it again.
Awake, I’ve seen it painfully close, like the way I imagine a police officer can scan a street and have that one wrong thing catch their eye.
Like spies, looking for a tail and catching one off-putting glimpse that tells them they’re right, even if they can’t see exactly what the problem is. At the end of the street, darting out of sight.
And there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to put your finger on it, to know you’re inches away from something important, something important that you can never seem to get any closer to actually reaching.
One clear note.
As smooth as the feel of familiar warm skin, without the need for the crippling “as.”
Like the peak of a love’s smile, left-hand side arcing knowingly upwards, just you and me and 150,000 words of never even needing to be spoken. But a spark shouldn’t need to be started with “like.” It should just flare into what it has always been meant to be.
I’ve been working for a long time.
And sometimes I think, in any other practice, I could have been done and happy a long time ago.
A long, long time ago.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.