You’re sitting on the bed, palms pressed against the soft, warm sheets pulled taut by your weight. Your legs dangle over the side facing him, suspended well above the ground. He’s standing, leaning really, against his desk, one arm pressing down on it, the other crossed over his chest as he stares at you.
You’re speaking. You’re explaining your tension, your struggles, your pain, and your dreams to him. They tumble out of your mouth, words flowing after one another like a waterfall, cascading down the side of your bed. He’s picking through them. He’s inspecting each one, sorting them, and storing them. At least, you think he is.
But you see it in his stare, his distant, glassy stare. You see that they are just sounds to him. The fear, the joy, the essence of yourself woven into your words dissipates the second they leave your mouth, and as he scoops them up he does so without comprehension, without understanding.
You pause. He nods. The silence stretches. He has nothing to say. He is thinking, but you know there is no sense in waiting. You wait anyway. Inevitably he breaks the silence, and the platitudes and miscomprehension drip out of him, clattering against the floor with the hollow, metallic clinking of rusty nails. They hurt.
The sky is dark, shrouded in the thick blackness of night. She’s staring up at it as she speaks. Her words are like the pitter-patter of rain striking a window, tarrying for but a moment before they slide down and off into the darkness. Her eyes are rimmed with redness, and the little cracks in her voice are jagged and uneven.
She’s staring up into the sky as she speaks, and the words flowing out of her mouth are obscured by the darkness. She’s staring up into the sky as she speaks, and not at you. And all the little cues - the quavering voice, the moist eyes, the slight trembling – all of them speak of pain, but she won’t look at you. And you can feel it in your eyes. You can feel the distance and the void, the irreconcilability of her world with yours. You can feel what she might be avoiding etching itself in your pupils. You turn to your right, and you see suffering. She looks straight ahead. Her pain will never be yours.
We are all as islands unto one another. Separated by vast stretches of experience, our inner lives are remote and trapped within ourselves. We search unceasingly for intimacy - with our friends, with our lovers, with our parents - with anyone we think might understand us. We are never successful. Despite our best efforts to explain ourselves and understand others, despite how well we sometimes believe we are understood or how well we sometimes believe we understand others, there is never true understanding. Each one of us has a distinct set of experiences, a distinct set of impressions, a distinct set of struggles and pains. We cannot expect ourselves to be able to step outside of those, to be able to fully step into another person’s life as easily as we might step into a pair of shoes. We are confined by what we know and who we are. Even as we empathize with others, we fail to fully understand them.
The goal of the writer or the artist is to break beyond this. The desire to be understood pushes us to understand ourselves and synthesize our experience into a story or a feeling we can share. We struggle to encapsulate our full experience in what we create, and if we share that work we are casting a part of ourselves out into the world to be seen and understood.
Alas, it a doomed enterprise. Even when we write and create, when we pull from ourselves all that we are able, we can never fully bridge the barriers inherent in human individuality. If you consider, for example, the first story, can you fully describe the “hurt”? To each reader it would be felt as a different sensation linked to different memories, and so even amongst fellow readers the experience would not be the same.
The actions of the artist, then, are like hurling a stone into the ocean. The true form of it sinks beneath the waves, lost somewhere on the ocean floor, and in its wake it leaves ripples. This slight disturbance in the water, this slight nudge to the lives and minds of others in the world – this is what the painter, what the composer, what the author creates beyond their work. It is a slight perturbation of the world. It is a distorted piece of the creator pulsing out from their creation, diminishing almost to nothing as it propagates, but it is something nonetheless.
This is what we hold onto when we write, when we paint, when we push our souls into our work and our work into the world. This slight taste of something - this slight sensation of having some dilute, distorted perception of our inner lives exist in others– this is our candle in the night. This is our paltry effort to stave off the darkness of our isolation, and though it is a small comfort, it is a comfort nonetheless.
Written by Shaan N.
April is the cruelest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain.
-T. S. Eliot
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.