. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought


The Game

1. The Test

There’s a can of blueberries at the back of the shelf amid dust and flour mites or whatever it is that gets into the rice, like an old writing file where you made a deposit in the darkness of a late style. As though berries too syrupy even for ice cream and the cheesecakes your mother never got to make were just waiting around for you to be found, like that child in the game.

In the game you do this first: close your eyes in front of people. And that isn’t even the test.  You are probably sitting when you take it. But when you close your eyes in front of people they can watch the ambivalent magnet of your face melt away into whatever it is when you’re truly not caring, which is not like not giving a shit, but unfocused. Close your eyes and imagine yourself as a child in a room. At once everyone in the room and the world is alike and different, because if the word child does mean something, to everyone the scene is both singular and general, and the child you imagine is a and that child, you in a space at a time at an age, wearing something, probably, distinguished by details, and if we all drew it we would all also be distracted by how sketchy our skills really are, for even the richest writer just makes stick figures, by which I don’t mean, like Lydia Davis, that I’m bored by other people’s imaginations: other minds are great, the greatest, it’s just that all of the gathering and attending are so imprecise and seat of the pants it’s not clear what close seeing and reading and listening can tell us about any other thing than what it was that hit us while we pretended it was out there all along with its own ontology or history of mattering.  But when you close your eyes it’s not just any child but yourself as a child, which you may have forgotten. Then you imagine the child in the room and you imagine yourself as an adult walking into the room, and the chances are good that the adult walking into the room is not you at this moment either, in the sense that it’s wearing something other than what you’re wearing now and also that its face, in contrast to yours, is focused and determined, maybe on the act of walking into the room, or maybe on the project of not tripping and falling, because the floor on the outside is uneven with the inside floor whose metal strip hasn’t tamed the linoleum’s warping. Or maybe it’s because you’ve never practiced seeing yourself meeting a kid who is also you, who is also wearing something different, probably, than it ever wore but that you saw on another kid once, or in a magazine.

You are walking into a room, let’s face it, more adult than you ever were before, because at this moment what makes you, what distinguishes you more than any other fact about you or all of the work of history is that you are not that kid now. But upright, you’re like an evolutionary ape who’s left the line of apes that keep getting taller before they turn into “man” because it, you, have to walk into the room to see the small being that is both you and yet too not exactly a version of yourself. How’s your hair, anyway? Is it a good hair day? Are you wearing a jacket and boots, or are you unremarkable, a box of tissues? You walk into the room as an adult and see yourself there as a child in the room. “Room” turns out to be as labile as child or a swarm of bees. Your eyes are closed but you can see the room and the door and yourself, and is there any furniture? Are there windows? Or is the light in the room from something overhead? But maybe you’re porting your childhood light, which was ambient: maybe there was no electricity or the adults preferred indirect light, with its silky muted atmosphere.You locate yourself and the child in the room, and what do you do? That is the game. All of the rest of everything I’ve described is the unconscious preparation for the game that is defined by the event of an action, which is you walking into the room as an adult to find the child version of yourself and then watching, in your mind, what you do, which is to say, admitting that your mind is a theatre of fantasy and admitting that the sentence “you imagine” is a big desperate fake, since you’re as surprised by what happens in your head as the next guy, or maybe not surprised, because you’ve decided that adults should not be surprising.

Actually, there’s a little more to it than that, although I’m not sure that there’s more because the game- maker imagined it or because I’ve played it so many times with so many people that it has developed some other limbs autonomously. So when you as the adult, by which I mean anyone, walks into the room and sees themselves as a child, there’s the question of what one does but also, what does the child do, because remember, you’re both alive, and the child was there first, being somewhere and probably not stiff or even playing corpse the way it’s probably universal that any kid does when it is floating in water and has enough abdominal control and confidence to keep floating. Probably the child, however old it is, is in the room and has a history of moving, maybe recently, and maybe the adult discovers that the child is doing something and joins in, or perhaps the adult–but now you’re not imagining you anymore because no one imagines themselves as “the adult”–does something and themselves as a child joins in, or maybe there’s a standoff, like when the hospital worker comes and speaks in an intimate voice that no one’s earned yet, not that anyone can do much more than show up, whatever that means, with their limited repertoire.

(for Lynn Wardley)


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