It should be noted, though, that “The Process” is merely a working title.
The words don’t matter sometimes, when you’re two-thirds the way through your drink on your corner stool at whatever bar it is you happen to be in tonight. They could be an overheard snippet floated from across the room, a partial score of a game played in some distant city broadcast on one of the innumerable televisions, or an actual “Hello” from a newcomer near or far – the distance doesn’t really matter. They, for that moment, are your words. Though just a simple vocal manifestation, at that moment they are yours; they matter, and for that instant, perhaps, so do you. You briefly perk, listen for what might be an accompanying phrase, a second occurrence to string together into something more, some form of meaning to which you might attach yourself, an entrée, a way in. That is what you look for, you know, a way in. Every time you come here, wherever it is, you know that is what you are looking for. That literal way in through which you make your way every time before the sun even sets is easy to find; Its that other one that seems to elude you tonight, as on those other nights before.
So you look up again, look up and out around the bar, pressing your eyes the few or the many who are there with you on this particular evening. They may or may not notice it; they may sense the pressure of your gaze, that sad little exertion you effort as though by the force of your will to make more of the accidental co-occupation. They may or they may not, but if they do they make an excellent show of not letting on. It is not that they turn away, avert their eyes just as you do when you encounter the teenage girl asking for spare change on the street corner. No, they simply go about their business of social enjoyment or their own isolation that so closely parallels your own. Once again your eyes have failed at their task, have fallen short of reaching across that space, so you, once more, look back down at that drink you’re two-thirds the way through and wait to begin the cycle anew.
It isn’t very hard to stop coming here; of course – to borrow from some public service announcement or another – you could stop any day, right now, in fact. You could get up right now, walk back out through the entranceway, and go home, but you came here for something, and, anyway, that drink is only two-thirds the way through. So you sit there, feigning indifference, or at least solitude, while every moment that goes by you are keenly aware of your surroundings, of each body in the place, and, most especially, of your own and how you fit – or don’t – within the whole.
That is the problem, after all, your perpetual awareness of the whole. You see it; at times you are pretty sure you understand it; at some point, a while back, you were quite sure you were part of it – of course you still are, but that is an eventuality you would rather not ponder at the moment. But still it sits out there around you at this very moment, in the booths and on the stools, people outwardly and inwardly – whatever that might mean – just like you, but you simply cannot find your way in. In your more nostalgic moments you fancy yourself one of the Pevensies at the tail end of C.S. Lewis’ masterwork. But when you fall along that thought-path you know the night’s search is futile and it is time to pack the expedition up, but it is not yet that time tonight, and that drink still remains only two-thirds the way through.
You have your book – you always have a book – and somehow that is a comfort. You always have something to do, or at least look at, or at the very least appear to look at, and isn’t that, in the end, what matters about your quest, not appear to be looking for anything, least of all a way in. And tonight, as always, as I have already said, you have your book. It is not that you don’t read; these evenings don’t go for nothing. You probably read more than anyone you know – and you travel in a circle of readers. And it isn’t that you just mail it in; you really do read during those times when that book hasn’t been reduced to a prop. You get your fair share of scholarly work done here on your corner stool, but, in the end, you know why that book is there, why you are there – or should I say here – and perhaps tonight’s selection will be just the key you are looking for. Perhaps, but you don’t really expect it. Thus, for the moment, you keep your eyes fixed upon that particular run of words beneath you while, of course, the rest of your body remains closely attuned to the movements of the constellations around you in case your eyes should be needed, once more, to be pressed into action.
At some point, obviously, you drink. The glasses must not remain perpetually two-thirds emptied – that would be a dead give-away. But, it should be know, two-thirds through is the optimal equilibrium for a beverage in this context: more and you ought to be drinking, less and you are obviously nursing, and, as we all know, the guy at the corner of the bar nursing his drink is just pathetic, and that is a label you are not yet willing to accept this early in the course of events. Nonetheless, it is a challenge, one of great intellectual difficulty, to maintain a drink at this optimal level without being too obvious. Certainly you have been known to order a drink, take it with you to the men’s room, tip off a bit into the sink or urinal, and return to your corner stool once again supplied with the ideal cover. But, inevitably, throughout the night, you must drink. Since it has been a while since any significant movement on the behalf of your current companion, you are obliged to partake, and as you fear the label of “nurser” more than just about anything else, you finish one off with a minimum of fuss and set it back down slightly closer to the back edge of the counter top signaling to the expertise of tonight’s bartender that you are ready for another, and along with it another round of consideration as to how to best bring this fresh drink to the golden mean of two-thirds through.
So you read; you’re good at that; you’ve always been good at that, that and math, but that is a skill that fell away – along with other things – in high school. But, for now, you read. It isn’t just that somehow the words come easily to you, though they do; there is something more to the relationship. You would never be so crass as to suppose literary pretensions, nor do you offer yourself the out of a specific sensitivity; it is just that you read. Always have. You conscientiously deny the stereotype of books as a retreat, or worse an escape, but then here you are tonight, reading once more. It is just what you do, so, as the evening’s bartender returns with your recently refilled glass – the same one reused, you notice – you defer the question of why and read.
Unfortunately, you are not a sipper, never have been, probably never will be. In your more Freudian moments you trace it back to the size of your mother’s breasts, but then you know you are indulging yourself in an unhealthy dose of intellectual irony to make yourself feel better. Occasionally you wonder if sippy-cups had been invented by the time of your toddler-hood, but the Google search just seems silly, especially since you know you only drink to get to that point of being two-thirds through, the sooner the better.
It is probably not a coincidence that that is your favorite place in a book. You often have pretensions of telling people that you have several stacks of novels at home all two-thirds finished, but as you cannot leave a book in that state, and to lie about such a thing seems a sacrilege, you never do. But there is something about two-thirds through that holds your interest at some peculiar peak that you are reluctant to let go. Like the drink that was before you a few minutes ago, that novel hovers on the edge of determination, you full of expectancy, which, also like that now replaced beverage, you inevitably polish it off in a single gulp.
You are in the infancy of your relationship with tonight’s book, which you, in a self-consciously reflective moment, equate to your fresh drink, only to chastise yourself for such a sophomoric parallelism, which, of course, induces a bout of outward discomfort in fear that someone else around the bar may have sensed this figurative transgression. You snap the book shut, perhaps drawing too much attention to yourself in the relative calm of the moment transpiring around you. Thus, to cover up the uncertainty of this moment, you finally lift the drink to your lips and attempt to hide behind the anonymity of a beverage.
You know it doesn’t work; you know that that snap will cost you for the rest of this night, at least until the congregation changes significantly. You know that you have, by means of that unthinking moment, violated a pact you already exist only at the edge of. Behind your glass you fume at yourself for the lack of restraint. Behind your glass you know you have condemned yourself to at least several more hours in your corner before any of the words will make their way over to your well established partition. You look at the drink in your hand and bemoan its status far from two-thirds through, but realizing the time you shall have to put into this night, now, you hold back and return it to its bar coaster cradle barely altered and go back, once more, to the source of your newly re-enforced position. At least, no matter the state of your drink or your night, you read.
For a while, though you can’t exactly remember when, you thought this was something to be sad about, this process you go through – and it is a process. Others, those few who know about it, have tried to convince you it is some form of ritual, but you know better. This process is important, it must be leading somewhere, otherwise why would you be so dedicated to it. You learned some time ago that it is not sad, is not something to be pitied – you hate when they pity you. It is important. It is leading you somewhere important – again those Pevensies come to mind. It is here on your stool at the corner of the bar – whichever one it is – that you will find the way in. You don’t know why you know this to be true, but you just do. At times you think there is something important about the vantage point, other times you are convinced it is simply a matter of your being in this here at this now that will make the difference, but you know that what you are doing, this process, is important. The details don’t matter so much, which here, what when, but you know that at some time that synchronicity of being two-thirds the way through some evening’s novel will come together with a certain drink two-thirds complete to bring this process to fruition. That is why you are here. Each time you remind yourself that it has nothing to do with any individual member of the set at hand – you are not awaiting the right person, whatever that might mean – you are involved in a larger process, one which will lead, once more, to that elusive whole.
You remind yourself that you are not so deluded that you are looking to make yourself whole with this process, not awaiting some deus ex machina. You are well read enough in post-modern literature and theory to know that that is a myth. You certainly could not live with yourself if that was what you were looking for. There is something larger than a twentieth century ego quest going on here; why else would you expend so much effort in pursuit of the drink two-thirds through? You obviously realize that you have a tendency to verge upon the metaphysical, but that is the risk of the process. You are here for something far more concrete, something, carefully, not to be confused with looking for someone else, but you are, in fact, looking for something. Unfortunately, at this precise moment, both the newly started book and the recently poured drink stand in the way of such considerations and demand some form of attention, one way or another, but, as usual, you are confronted by the problem of which way to direct your efforts.
This, as should be obvious, is a continual problem, straddling a fine equilibrium between what you do here and what they, the rest of them, are doing here. If you could simply sit on your corner stool, perched at attention for it to happen, and ignore the basic necessity of the drink, you would. But that, as any field researcher could tell you, would blow your cover. Thus you spend your time divided, precariously attempting to induce that ideal balance of things two-thirds through.
[To be continued…]