The Blind Geisha is a novel structured on the concept of synchronicity. Begun last summer, the story awaits an ending. The conception itself leans on the concerto, a common genre of classical musical in which one solo instrument is accompanied by and often contends with an orchestra. The composition is usually in three movements with the cadenza or climax near the end. The cadenza typically contains a virtuoso solo passage.
Most novels, I think, behave in a similar fashion: A protagonist who vies with the other elements of the narrative until a resolution is reached (or not). The Blind Geisha has its three 'movements' with each divided into five parts. I have placed the 'cadenza' at the beginning of The Blind Geisha. My intention is to have parts 1, 6, and 11 serve as short stories, able to stand alone, as well as integral parts of the short novel. What follows is part One of the first section.
THE BLIND GEISHA
I - 1
Learning Stillness In The Falling Snow Of Tiananmen Square
She sat in her rocking chair at the window writing. The woman was visually impaired, legally blind. Macular degeneration was the culprit. Incurable. She was resigned. Through her window she saw a mottled picture of grays and points of black, straight lines, and glare. Turing her head just so brought a good deal more clarity. Typical of the disease. She saw the distant horizon, some vacancy that was ocean. She was 81 years old.
I will finish this project. Grace is a godsend, she thought. And the new laptop. She typed: synchronicity. She had looked it up. Again. In Wikipedia was this:
Synchronicity is a concept, first introduced by analytical psychologist Carl Jung, which holds that events are "meaningful coincidences" if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related.
And the 1934 Websters had, under synchronism and among several definitions, this:
3 art. a A representation in the same picture of two or more events which occurred at different times.
Two or more events which---I'd really prefer 'that', she thought, but nevermind---events which occurred at different times.
"Grace." Her voice, like the rest of her, was now frail and weak. No, no. That's wrong. A tautology. Have always frailed with ... ah me, failed with tautologies. "Grace," she said again.
Grace came quickly, quietly. She was a tall young woman. Chinese. Willowy. "Yes, ma'am."
"Look up 'which' and 'that' for me, would you dear. Check with both Mr Bernstein and Mr Fowler."
"I have the Bernstein here," Grace said. "Shall I read it all, ma'am?"
"No, no. Scan and give the relevant bits."
Reading quickly, Grace stopped and read, quoting:
The preference expressed here for the use of that for the defining clause and which for the nondefining clause does not rest so much on any ground of clarity, however, as on the ground of doing what comes naturally.
"So what do you think? "Two or more events which occurred' or 'two or more events that occurred'?" She looked up expectantly, a bob of nose.
"'That' seems natural. Yes? Both are clear. 'Which' is the more literary. Poor Mr Webster, overcompensating again."
"As men must do, it seems."
A smile from Grace as she pulled Modern English Usage from the reference shelf. "And here you are, Bess. Leave it to Henry," quoting:
What grammarians say should be has perhaps less influence on what shall be than even the more modest of them realize; usage evolves itself little disturbed by their likes and dislikes.
Elizabeth held up her hand. "My sentiments exactly. Give me five."
And Grace gently patted her hand.
Synchronicity had insisted on this book about the dancer Mori. And Michelle's death. And Grace. And the autumn of her years. She had thought to write her memoirs; but she felt such an affinity for that 15th century Japanese woman. So little known about her. Ikkyu's consort. All we know comes from his poems. Woman defined by man. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Lately, the many men, noble and otherwise, and the many women, brilliant or dull or both, who had decorated her life came so easily to mind. She had traveled. She had gone to Greece. She had made her journey to South Africa. Two years ago she had gone to China.
Strangely, she thought, the loss of habitat troubled her. Insularity seemed to lead ineluctably to extinction of species. For all her adult life, she had lived alone.
Her walls were lined with books. Intuitively, she understood the delusion. She rejected convention, yet understood the need to adhere to rules and ritual as foundation. She understood the paradox, intellectualized the concepts. Emotionally, she clung to denotation. She read again certain poems of John Donne. And of Yeats. She read Joyce. And then retreated to the emotional haven of Shakespeare’s comedies. And, of course, the Japanese, Ikkyu and Bashō; and the Chinese, Li Po and Po Chü-I
She had taught English. Beside tautologies, tenses troubled her. The different forms that verbs might take to indicate time were many. The past perfect indicative active---use had plus the past participle---seemed to look down its nose. She would edit. Of late, she had been startled by the frequency of passive voices in her work. Writing had become a burden, it was true; but editing, paring down, discovering the hidden agenda of word and phrase, still pleased her.
My three boxes of foaled springboks, my poet’s phrase, now just so many words on so much paper. She had played the iron flute.
Once she had delighted in words tumbling across a page, and always first wrote in pencil. Metaphors tickled her fancy. Implied comparisons gave density to a word, a phrase. Allusions, as well. Like pictures they became. A name for that device. Not the simile, the inverted order. Misplaced words. Reader lost.
You ramble, jiějie. Older sister they called me. Ni hao? Wo hao. Quite fine, thank you.
Learning stillness in the falling snow of Tiananmen Square.
He had been given orders for China. In high school he had a penchant for languages. French and Spanish and now, it seemed, a smattering of Egyptian. He wrote few letters. One came from California. He had returned from North Africa by ship, by train, by bus, on foot, hitching, to Fort Ord near Monterey. Standing formation in sea fog, he wrote, as numbing as chasing chimera in desert wastes. Be home soon.
Dick Tracy. And me Tess Trueheart. Somewhere in a trunk in the attic his letterman’s sweater. Mothballs.
You ramble, jiějie.
Learning the tears of mountain gong, wispy cloud.
She had studied Chinese; and, since her return, had taken up calligraphy. The ideograms were both expressive and aesthetic. Writ large she could just make them out. The economy of the characters pleased her. Chinese grammar and syntax were a revelation. Simple, yet succinct. A certain elegance to its structure.
Or bu hao, not fine.
The Chinese did not travel well. The English sounded like gibberish. Somehow appropriate.
He had driven 729 miles to give her his grandmother’s wedding ring, a simple band of gold. He had come to her parent’s door, the same yellow house he remembered, the house on 33rd Court, the cul de sac. Her mother wished him to stay. He had come so far. So good to see him again after so long a time. Her father said, feed him and send him on his way.
He would call, he promised. Soon. He would. Had he told her? Had he? Going to China. Sometime soon. He’d write, he would.
Chimera. Life’s vagaries. Stevens’ line: Death is the mother of beauty. Typically male and melodramatic.
The phrase always seemed Freudian to me. The father off pumping gas—pumping Ethyl, too, that old joke—and the son usurps. Uslurps. My colleague, the too clever poet. Office down the hall, our cubbyholes. Barely room to blink. We always aspired to a window. Handsome man. His collection of Japanese erotic art. 18th century watercolors by an artist named Mitsunobu. Mr. Knobby. A mnemonic device and the odd name came to mind as easily as regret. The Jack Daniels and Coke from paper cups. Bach fugues. Should have perhaps. Messy. Complicated.
Simplicity engenders elegance.
My retort to Wally S. An insurance salesman. Oh my.
Her novel went slowly. Mori's sad chronicle. Fragments were adding up, she noted. She counted forty or so with the tale barely begun. And vague allusions as well. One has lived with these words for so long, taught their meaning, emphasized their significance that to deny them for their faint echo seems a bit too perverse. My admiration always found the writers who challenged their readers. My pedantic advise to eschew audience: the writer herself is all the audience one needs. My bits of pedagogy.
She dozed sitting in her rocker with her lap and legs covered by the old wool blanket she had purchased in Knossos for $2.00. Athens had been a disappointment. The Occident. Linear. Against the Oriental gyre. Nine headed dragons oh so much more intriguing than that one eyed fellow. That oaf.
She awoke. Sunlight through the shrubbery. The yellow legal pad and her No. 2 pencil had slipped to the floor. She retrieved them. She reread her lines.
Bits indeed, she thought.
Fragments. Fragments to shore up against the ruins. Was that Eliot’s line? I always thought him overrated. Difficult to have much faith in bankers. Pound’s the fellow. Ironic name. Does the argument divide at the diaphanous veil separating order and chaos? Or is it personal? Such disparate characters. And Dylan’s curious line: Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower.
As a device, fragments slip uneasily onto the side of the angels. Run-ons, however, are devilish. Runaways more like. Eluding intelligibility. Molly Bloom notwithstanding. That telling line of Joyce’s during a conversation about Finnegan’s Wake, quoted in a letter, Joyce saying, ask me now, in a week I won’t remember.
But even Joyce could not hold the center. Wittgenstein’s odd notion: The world we see is the words we use. How remarkable when one considers the world we see. How elusory both world and words can be.
He did not go to China. Dick Tracy. My soldier boy who fought in the deserts of Egypt then home and drowned in the bay on some sailing lark, fallen over the side, washed up on the rocks of Alcatraz.
Perhaps a metaphor to ferret out of that. Or not.
Out that night with the man I could not live without whose name I no longer remember, drinking, girding my loins to bare them, tonight the night and up the back stairs of the men’s dormitory, Reed College, or perhaps a window or whatever and talking, the neat formulas across the page, the numbers, talking and drinking, a mathematician when all I wanted was to be done with syntax and to be wholly kissed and then waking at some dog’s crowing dressed and rumpled and sick.
He would not wake, or feigned sleep.
Life is a sloppy business.
The appeal of Chinese letters. The comfort of beauty.
The difference between literature and science is control. Perhaps the pretense of control. No matter. I am an old woman and quite skeptical of this business of cognition. The distinction between letters and numbers holds. Whether 2 + 2 = 4 or Mr. Hawking’s clumsy yet formidable business that proved the existence of the residual radiation of black holes, the numbers afford a modicum of control.
Words offer no such comfort.
Professor Emeritus of Humanities.
“You’ll have to change my title,” I had said. “I’m not man enough for the job.”
Remembering that Latin entry Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakespeare, the smell of eucalyptus that pervaded the campus of Leland Stanford Junior University, the pale spring light, my sharp protest, “Had he no mother?”
In reply, fragrant smoke curling from the pipe’s bowl matching the soft intonation and precise articulation, Professor Sherwood’s particular phrase, “Ah, well then, connotate, my dear, connotate. Consider.”
Not man enough.
And friend Charlie had replied, “You will more than make up for any gender deficiency with merit.”
A substantive makes us look for the reality that corresponds to it. Or its antithesis. If not a dog, then a cat. The reality sends us in search of explication, analogy.
I had lost the ring.
Some prosaic metaphor that thin band of gold given to me by my soldier boy oh so long ago, his grandmother’s wedding ring now lost in the mysteries of dormitory plumbing, the stained white porcelain bowl, not precious as some pictured urn, but common, not mystery filled as some baptismal fount, but dull, like my mathematician, dull and grimy, seeing a soiled collar and oily hair, the soap filmed faucets, the eternal drip of the spout, the dreaded vacant eye of the drain, her vision blurring with sudden tears, folding over cross arms, clutching herself, seeing then the eyes of unborn children, her throat filling, the wrench of her stomach
(I‘ll leave the period off what difference to a duck and cover I will I can I must I’ve paid my dues damn it my pound of that word again oh damn them damn it all I have damn damn all these words to hell with these fractious damn syntax damn life is but a metaphor damn death I think I am no period no parenthesis I am a gesture of my brain no better than an eyelid’s flutter I am