Between now and five billion years from now someone will turn the page with a whisper too quiet for most people on the subway, the train will stop short, the electric will go out and a girl will pretend she’s reading with her eyes closed. Someone will smell a gas leak in their garage, someone will hula hoop, someone will cut the grass and leave the sawed blades in a muck over the living green. Someone will hit an animal with their car, watch a bug splatter on their windshield, bury their aunt, and kiss a geranium with their nose like the eskimos used to when I was seven and believed all that.
Someone will read and The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman and ponder, “what is heaven for me?” What is it that I collect?
I collect quotes that don’t fit between the lines of my purse book, things that alight: night lights, antique lanterns, kittens with eyeballs that glow green after dark, candles with and without smell, burned wicks, sugar specks that glisten even in an orange plastic tupperware tub, one fire place, gold nail polish, a ring from my father, a lost locket. These are the things I count when I wonder “what is the point?” We will all die and yet Kalman wants to own a fancy hat, wants to photograph couches and people in heavy wool coats walking with a slight stammer like those of us born with a stutter.
This book is incredible. I waited patiently for it in the mail. I waited to blog about something that moved me. I waited to once again get in my bed and sit up like Carrie in Sex in the City, (not in my underwear though) and blog about a book that made my hair curl even tighter, messy wisps around the round edge of my forehead.
The Principles of Uncertainty was originally an essay, illustrational journal, chapbook, travel log that Kalman did for the New York Times. Later, Penguin decided to publish it as a book. You can find the original blog here. And yes, I have already ordered And the Pursuit of Happiness.
I feel like if I ever write a book (fingers crossed, toes crossed, eyes crossed) that it will at first be a jumbled mess of my random thoughts. It won’t have any thoughtful illustrations unless you count the doodles of my character’s large noses and stuffy expressions, in the margins. It won’t have funky handwriting – my handwriting is at a second grade level, less space between the letters. And it certainly won’t have glossy art pages like Kalman’s. It will have a bit of my random, a bit of my mess, a bit of my left-overs, and my pass-overs, and my just got over it life moments. I love this book most because of the transitions.
One second we’re bored and blue and the next we are watching old people walk along the sidewalk. I always wonder if old people watch where they step to make sure they are not on the cracks. I wonder if they think about their grandmother’s back even after she’s floated away and they no longer hear her whistling by their bed at night. Both of my grandmothers were small and frail; one looks like an Irish settler and the other a Native American. These are just pictures, with lines marked into their faces, and edges buffered by technology. I will remember Dolly, my dad’s mother, as poetic, as whispery, as a smoker’s cough in a white bed, as a fancy velvet chair that sits at the top of my aunt’s stairwell. I will remember Gladys, as a doll on my shelf, nuzzling my brother, a crochet baby blanket in a drawer waiting for the day I bring something naked and quiet into the world. Sometimes, I think of her counting her salt & pepper collection, moving them together to fit on the shelf.
Who doesn’t love a book without logic, or a story without any real conclusion? This is what it was. This is what it is. This. is. life. here. now. tomorrow. and sometimes it just happens and other times it has a point, or so we tell ourselves when we look at the sky so baked in stars that it’s charred.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I love the narrative surprise of Kalman. I love how she handles a side story in a sentence. ”This is a picture taken by Tolstoy’s wife. About a minute later he ran away. He hated her guts.” It’s like a six word memoir. It makes me want to go through the house and look at all the pictures for everything I was feeling in the minute they were taken. I’m at a wedding. I’m smiling and the sun is setting and the bride is going to be pregnant within a week, announcing it through a facebook message. I will get it four days later through an almost-friend who gossips and raps her nails on the glass table in the outdoor seating area of a bar. You can’t know in that second what’s going to happen. If you step off the street; gum could stick to the bottom of your shoe, a bus could fly by leaving you wet like a cat in the sink, a taxi could honk, you could see someone you know across the way and wave but they miss you and you think that they’re angry, that you offended them last week. So many moments, so many pointless and so many meaningful, and then we die. I think the hope is in the people. It isn’t even the moments, but the people, the one taking the photo, the one wearing the heavy coat, the one walking with the limp or putting on lipstick. There are the points, there are the meanings, the moments, and the signs. When you ask yourself tomorrow why do I keep waking up and drinking this not-good coffee because I’m too poor to shop the Starbucks isle and the good smelling roasted beans, it’s the people that you’ll move through the kitchen for. It’s the shaking of hands with a man at work and the small girl with a headband, reading on the subway, moving her lips cautious as a wing in flutter.
Watch Maira Kalman talk about writing, books, happiness, and where she’s going here: