Thursday, October 27, 2011

The history of human sadness

My first home in New York City was a rambling seven-room apartment belonging to two professors who had gone to England on sabbatical. This couple’s home was the dirtiest place I had ever seen. They were historians, and the history of the past thirty years--the meals they had eaten, the wine they had drunk, their troubles and their joys--could be divined in the dust and the crumbs, in the cobwebs that whispered across the ceilings, in the stains on the kitchen tiles. Every wall was lined with books, every corner overflowed with newspapers and magazines.

I am not ashamed to admit that I snooped. I was searching for answers, although I did not know what the questions were. On the highest shelf of the deepest closet in the smallest bedroom, I found a rectangular cardboard box. Inside was a manuscript. There was no name on the title page. An anonymous somebody had spent years laboring over this novel only to have it discarded in a closet, forgotten among raveled sweaters and broken-ribbed umbrellas. I lifted the pages out of the box and began to read.

That night I had a dream. The phone was ringing and ringing. Finally I picked up the receiver and a stranger’s voice said, “I am writing a book on the history of human sadness.” I was so taken with this idea that I, too, began to telephone strangers. When they answered the phone I repeated the words, “I am writing a book on the history of human sadness.” Everyone I called had a story to tell. Their words tumbled out in a torrent. I understood then that once people begin to talk about their sorrows they cannot be stopped.

10 comments:

Heidi said...

Wow. Your dream should be the outline for your next novel.

The Querulous Squirrel said...

Ah You are perfectly describing the work I do as a psychotherapist. Every time a new patient walks in, it's a new phone call. Sheer genius. My life's work is that manuscript, because everything I hear must remain completely confidential.

euthymic said...

Beautiful

CJGallegos said...

OMG, Tai. I've missed your incredible talent, your beauty with words and ideas.

Tai said...

Shucks, Coop. Thank you. Wish you would relaunch your blog. I miss it terribly. I'll just have to read your book instead. (Just ordered the print version!)

Thank you, euthymic!

Squirrel, I'd never thought of psychotherapy that way, but you are right -- in a sense, you are the editor of the book of sorrows.

Heidi, I wish I could start thinking of the next novel. The current novel is still bedeviling me!

Chris said...

What in the world was the novel about that you took down from the shelf? Don't you think it was written by one of the people whose apartment it was? After all, it was they who stashed it up there! Did you ever meet that messy, sad couple??

Tai said...

Chris: I did meet that messy couple and came to know and love them quite well. They were not sad, however; they were very, very happy. That is how I know that neither of them could have written the novel. As for what it was about, that is a question that has no answer.

Chris said...

Oh, I thought that since it was hidden up away in their apt. that it was perhaps written by one of them and by the way you decribed the apt. it didn't sound like it was inhabited by very happy, people. And I suppose you could never ask them who wrote it because then they would know you had snooped around. Who wouldn't though? :)

Anonymous said...

You write beautifully.

Tai said...

Thank you very much, Anon. And thanks for stopping by and visting us!