Friday, February 22, 2008

Left Unsaid 1: A train. A book. A walk-away.

This post starts the beginning of a new, "de temps en temps" section on conversations, etc. We'll call it "Left Unsaid." I was once told by a dear professor that, more often than not, we don't say what we mean. He elaborated on how this shapes the way we converse with and relate to each another. It seems that a significant piece of this habitual mode involves leaving things unsaid. While things get left unsaid often, the reasons behind doing so, the possibilities it engages or silences, and the effects it has on relationship x and all of our other ones, range.

With each post in this series, I hope to share look closer-- listen closer, even-- to these moments. The asides in our heads. The grappling with what we said and what we wish we said. The admittance to fascinations, transgressions, transformations. The finally-reached epiphanies. The not-so-epiphanies that help wipe the snow or bird poop off our windshields (or the windshields of others). The thank yous that are too weighty, necessary, or late. Flirtations with a person, place, or idea. The grounding of a conviction with words. This is a humble list that offers some of the countless permutations of this more-than-minute occurrence.

I invite you to send in a "Left Unsaid" moment or two. I do not want to foster negative consequences, though. I am also still hesitant to elicit too much about those whose voices are not conspicuously present on the site. There are wonderful sites for that sort of thing (i.e.,
Overheard in New York). There is much messiness that may come from that kind of display, though. That said, I open up "Left Unsaid" to you. Send in your stories rather than posting them in comments. As always, reply with comments to posts that speak to you. I ask for your patience with both the time and manner in which this section evolves.

The first offering: A train. A book. A walk-away.

The note above reads:

Hi. You are reading one of my favorite-- and one of the most influential books of my life.

Oh, and I'd love to have coffee w/ you, sometime. like in the next five minutes.

-Shahin {phone number omitted from picture.]

Who was this written to, and why?

While on the subway some days back, I noticed a woman reading Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, easily one of the most important finds during my coming-of-age. The note was written as a means to share that fact with the reader, while positing the potential for some back and forth. Not in the proverbial date sense, per se. Moreso, I was awestruck by someone reading a book that has a certain place in my timeline. Since age fourteen (twelve years ago), it has lived on a shelf reserved for the most compelling, timely, and re-read books I own. To boot, it's not one many people casually discuss (like a Gabriel Garcia Marquez epic, or a Johnathan Safron Foer memoir) . If anything, I have this idea that me and many of my friend's parents have kept it in print. Seeing a stranger read it made me curious about her relationship with the book. It also sparked an interest in exchanging our thoughts on stories, personal and published.

On that train ride, I was reading Margaret Atwood's The Circle Game, a taut book of poetry. As you can see, I have something of a much-travelled and re-imaged copy. Midway to my destination, I wrote the note, figuring I should chronicle the moment, if not offer her my humble admission. There I was, a dishevelled book before a bearded fellow. And she, in some professional office uniform, replete with meticulously fallen curls. And that book. Appearances aside, there could have been an evening of astute conversation,if not a little close reading of our favorite books and own own stories. Appearances being as they are, I opted out from sharing the full intent of the blue-inked text.

The actual conversation:

* TL will stand in for the stranger's name (TL= train lady).
On the escalators leaving the station, she was right behind me, so I figured I would tell her ...
CE: That's one of my favorite books.
TL: Oh yeah, I just started it.
CE: It changed... it's probably one of the most influential books I've read.
TL: Well, I just started it. I have a bit to go.
CE: How did you pick it up?
[Now we are midway through leaving the station. Having just ridden the first escalator, we have admission/exit gates to traverse and a longer escalator to climb.]
TL: Well, I read Ann Patchett's book about her friendship [with Grealy].

[I think Ann Patchett, curiously perfect curly hair. By appearances and the look of the banter, I'm not convinced rapport could blossom. I become overtly aware and somewhat uncomfortable by my pedestrian relationship with
The New Yorker culture in which I assume she's immersed. I, a visitor of that milieu, she a denizen.]
CE: Oh, so you know she's passed, then.
[And then it gets awkward. My habit of pushing the story further along than is needed makes this last line drag. Besides, bringing up death in polite conversation, after a Monday's workday, isn't the most graceful thing to do. Then the fates allow us to go about our own business. Which is to say that we approach the admission/exit gates, and I offer a polite closure, as we conveniently skedaddle apart.]
CE: Well, enjoy your night!

There could have been been more back and forth--five seconds or five hours more-- who knows. Either way, we're linked by this web of readership. I wonder if what she gets from the book is anything close to what I did at 14, 17, 23, or even the next time I revisit those pages. I am curious about the impact the book may have on her. In a time of countless memoirs, Autobiography of a Face may come off as another endearing account by a cancer survivor. However, it can poignantly alter the way you to your self and those around you-- even a stranger. Approach it face to face, and you'll see what I mean!

Autobiography of a Face: book cover and my cover. I used to
have the book cover on my wall, circa 1996.

Margaret Atwood's
The Circle Game: front and back.


Alex Kelly said...

I love the idea of this new section. It is inspiring and accessible at the same time. It makes me re-understand various conversations I've had in the last few days, weeks, years, etc. with strangers, re-assessing their various points of poignancy. It also could be the impetus for my new life on a subway, not just a commute, but an opportunity to continue the dialogue that exists in the essay of life. Thanks for this, Shahin. L, Alex

karen! said...

Thanks for visiting my blog (and your comment on my 'Autobiography' post). There really is so much that reading the book elicits in the reader and I actually found it easier not to really go into that on my blog.

a. jane doe said...

Oh, AOAF was such an important book for me. It's been too long since I've read it. I loved Ann Patchett's story of her life with Lucy Grealy, as well - as a person on the inside of addiction and illness, it was powerful for me to read an account from the outside.

Anonymous said...

Well said.