“Everyone is a part of a story. What they want is to be part of something worth recording. It’s that fear of mortality, ‘I Was Here and I Mattered’ mind-set.”
-a character in Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea
“And may you be in this house
as the music is in the instrument.”
-Ursula Le Guin, “For The New House”
For the last month I’ve been living with a cat. Almond. He sits in a chair differently than I do, like the cushion’s grass and he’s the kind of dew a late sun leaves. The other night, when I was lying in bed and not yet falling asleep, he came and sat near my feet. For a moment I thought it would be the first time he curled up and slept there. Instead he sat, attentive. If my toes had turned into mice he would’ve been ready.
I’m looking forward to and dreading Winter Break. Today I had my last scheduled classes, and soon my flatmate and Almond will be off to visit family. I’ll be here, these same two rooms. And then Le Guin starts me thinking of the different ways to be in these rooms. My shoes, by the door, are little drunks, scattered and happy to stay sprawled until someone nudges them along. Except when I set them up, toes to the door. Then they’re in the room more like a paddle’s in the raft when you’re setting up at the edge of the river, but haven’t pushed off yet from shore. And I have a basil plant in the window. Its quiet in the sunlight is totally different from Almond’s: it is, in this house, more of a kite lifting then a shadow draping itself across the cushions.
Once I start thinking about it, I see examples in all the people I’ve met. I had a friend who, sitting in a room, drifted along like a branch in a river. I remember my grandpa, a taut, attentive string as the air filled up with opera. A professor who sat in her office like a razor blade, intent on what she was reading, then turning to me to cut through my mumblings toward what I meant. If I’m not careful, it’s easy to think that being the main character is the only way to imagine my story. That being here means I’m the one who was Here and Mattered. But that’s not the only way. It’s not even the one I usually prefer. I could be in this place as a drift of leaves in a creekbed. As light in a prism. As the side character, the one who bakes the pie the heroine eats on her way to the mountain. As the music is in the instrument, the basil in the ground, a cat in a smudge of the sun.