the man on the street corner sings

The table went yesterday. The sofa is going today. The lamps are going Saturday. The house is emptying out.

Four years. We’ve raised Adam here. We’ve grown used to the ocean. We’ve developed a taste for certain restaurants. We’ve got our routines.

I have my novel. Four years of writing it here. I’m wrapping it up – oh fateful words! The manuscript is trailed by miles of sleepless nights, the worry that nobody will read it. I have a picture of myself as a homeless man, shouting my Tourette-driven monologue to nobody at two o’clock in the morning.
And I think of Flaubert. Who else?

Flaubert was a crybaby. Every sentence in Madame Bovary elicited cries and whimpers from the sofa. Every punctuation mark.

We know this because Flaubert was also a graphomaniac. While writing his novel, he wrote letters to his friends and lovers – particularly to his lover Louise Colet – going to great lengths to describe what he was doing.

Most of the letters of writers are about anything but what they are doing. What they are doing is the office work. Even Kafka, whose ideas about writing are summed up by the writing machine in The Penal Colony, wrote much more about the work he did at the Workers Compensation Bureau that he worked in than he wrote about writing, say, The Trial.
Though Flaubert pretended that writing was one long tooth ache, he actually enjoyed himself very much. He set up problems and he figured them out. He played chess against the whole of French literature, and Don Quixote. He daydreamed. He wet dreamed. The cries from the sofa were richly enjoyed. He had to share them.

I understand. To find ever more indirections to the spot marked with an x on your mental map is the most fun. As Adam would say, it’s more fun than anything that’s fun. The problem with my long tooth ache, I realize, looking back over the pages, is that the problems may be bigger than my solutions.

This is only when I am blue. When I think that this will never be read. When I’m out on that street corner at two in the morning going fuck fuck f-f-f-fuck!

Really, they ought to publish some edition of Madame Bovary with those letters. And something about poor Louise Colet, the recipient of most of them, a writer herself who had the misfortune to get her writing advice from a whale. Not that she even wanted it – she wanted a little cuddling, a little sex.

Madame Bovary got that. Flaubert and Louise Colet between them created the parable of modernist  dissatisfaction. And we can’t get away from it and back to the happy times before. Never that bliss again.


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