Lately, I have been involved in my mother's writing, specifically, the purchase of rights to her book published in 1947 called "The Horizontal Man." The mystery won an Edgar as a best first novel and excited attention because it seemed to be set at Smith College -- an institution my mother attended and the place where my father taught. The book was seen as a roman a clef ... fictional characters relating closely to those who actually did exist. The corpse in the book seemed pretty clearly to be my father. But there were plenty of other characters who resembled real-life people.
It was all long ago and far away and yet it is quite flattering to think that something written 50 years ago might still excite some interest. Not long ago, a Smith College student came here to interview me because she was writing a paper on "The Horizontal Man." The paper, which I cannot figure out how to upload, was a pretty well-written depiction of people I once knew or continue to know.
But I knew them in life and so reading a paper about them has a strangely juiceless feel to it, however well-written the paper may be. When flesh and blood is put down on paper, it may be OK as far as it goes, but it never goes far enough. The limitations of words and the hand that writes those words mean that we are getting hints that are bordered ... and no actual-factual human being lives and breathes within borders.
Thinking about all this made me think that if what we know from the page is bordered and limited ... well, what makes me think that because I actually knew or know these people that I actually know the whole story? And yet there is a tendency to think that I do know some true story when I actually knew or know someone and that my knowing is more whole than the descriptions that rise up off the page.
It has a laziness and an arrogance ... I know so-and-so. Do I really? I doubt it. It may be more scary than anyone wants to consider, but the tentative nature of what one person might know about another is really something of a relief and makes life more interesting ... no need to make up stories that simply guess or express bias. It's all tentative. Tomorrow is another story ... or maybe the same story differently written. The story is always changing ... just like the people... even in this moment. No borders necessary.