One clean line

Russell Wangersky
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

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.)

Got it?

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

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • Herb Morrison
    March 28, 2011 - 19:33

    Maurice, thanks for your intelligent feedback regarding my post. When I speak about ideals, I am referring to the things we imperfect humans think, say or do, which reflect a desire to rise above our baser instincts. In a perfect world inhibited by perfect humans there would be justice, love, and equality for all, to name a few. These things would not be things to strive for, because they already exist. Instead, because perfection is not an achievable goal, the ideals we strive for would be to achieve some semblance of justice, love, and inequality, in a world where humans, including ourselves on occasion act selfishly, with malice, and disregard for principles of equality, in order to make personal gains. Your point regarding viewing natural disasters from a narrow perspective, is well taken. However, I question whether it is reasonable to believe that any benefits gained from natural disasters of any description, is worth the pain and misery that these natural disasters leave in their wake. The people of Japan, and, closer to home, those victimized by hurricane Igor, would likely disagree with your viewpoint

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 27, 2011 - 12:51

    Not sure I see the distinction between 'perfection' and 'ideal', as you describe it, Herb. Also, can it be that what we think are 'imperfections', may only be seen as such, because we see them only from a narrow perspective? 'Imperfections' (such as hurricanes, etc.) also bring moisture, stir up the oceans, and help breath and support new life in the world. So perhaps, seen from a broader perspective, 'imperfections' may not be 'imperfections' at all. They may, in actuality, be evidence of a 'perfect' world.

  • Herb Morrison
    March 26, 2011 - 19:19

    Both the physical world's imperfections as exhibited in natural disasters ( hurricanes, tsunamis etc.), and the imperfections of physical human beings, as exhibited by crimes of violence and exploitation, corruption and violations of trust by those in positions of power in the institutions of both Church and State, highlight the need for healing. The persuit of perfection, in this flawed imperfect world occupied by flawed imperfect mortals, is a futile pursuit. On the other hand, the pursuit of certain ideals, the object of which is to aleviate human misery of any description, suffering, is a more realistic option for we mortals.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 26, 2011 - 15:25

    But then again, isn't the world's 'imperfections', proof of its perfection? Maurice E. Adams, Paradise

  • Herb morrison
    March 26, 2011 - 10:13

    Idealism. Too bad that the pursuit of ideals seems to get lost along the way as we live our dynamic and chaotic existance. As we ponder our own lives and those of other, we need to ask, is this all there is. Then we and only then will we feel motivated, or inspired, if you prefer, to seek out the ideals which are personfied by that one clean line to which you refer. Our fast-moving (Dynamic)existence, where challenges associated with living life as we kmow it, create chaos, doesn't nurture idealism. As we live out our dynamic, chaotic existence and witness others struggling against seemingly insurmountable odds as they attempt to do the same, or as we witness the injustices which are delibrately inflicted on others by persons or groups of persons whose primary concern is personal gain, and who regard the suffering inflicted on others as colateral damage, small wonder that the pursuit of ideal would seem to be a foreign concept at times. If we strive to live our lives in accordance with idealistic principles, promoting ideals such as justice, freedom, and love, in view of some of the events that unfold in the world around us on a daily basis, can we be faulted for feeling out of step with the times in which we live? Thanks for a thought-provoking editorial, Russell.

  • Ursula Dowler
    March 26, 2011 - 09:54

    "What a strange narrowness of mind now is that, to think the things we have not known are better than the things we have known" ~ ~Samuel Johnson~~. It is a flaw in human nature to think that the best has eluded us . You are not alone in your quest ,the history annals are filled with " what ifs "and unfinished symphonies .

  • Chris
    March 26, 2011 - 09:37

    If you are looking for that perfect, clean line, I have some news for you – it doesn’t exist. The perfect note or painting or photograph has yet to be composed, painted or snapped. If any of past masters were alive today, they would not be satisfied with the end product and, if truly great, their work would remain unfinished continuously edited trying in vain for perfection. I’m sure Michelangelo would love to touch up the Sistine Chapel, Shakespeare would likely love to rewrite a sonnet or two or three (specifically sonnets 124, 125 and 126). Yousaf Karsh would likely be unhappy with the lighting or background or subject in any given picture. And I’m sure Rossini would disown the William Tell Overture – either that or reap in the royalties from the Lone Ranger theme song. No, there simply is no perfect line. Or song, picture or note. And what is perfect? Your interpretation would vary greatly from mine. Perfection truly lies in the eye of the beholder and, of course, the guy signing your pay stub. In my mind, the closest to perfection in writing – the cleanest line you speak of – is Shakespeare’s ''Brevity is the soul of wit.'' Amen to that. Clean? Yes. Perfect? Not a chance. Of course, I’m sure Shakespeare, among a multitude of others, would disagree and argue that the line is too short or too long and that it needs work.

  • joetheplumber
    March 26, 2011 - 07:39