Hadda dream that Zadie Smith asked me to babysit two kittens.
She and her husband, an older Jewish man, had somewhere to go. He was involved in classical music of some kind, possibly a conductor or composer; seemed like a nice guy.
One cat was incontinent, one only inconvenient … Zadie and her mensch were neither, just hadda go, quickly, somewhere to be, somewhere important that evening, and they seemed pretty aplomb to leave the kits with me, tho I gathered it wasn’t irrelevant, this thing they were asking me to do.
The whole thing was surely related to having read some of her new Intimations, a collection of short items, interrogatories, in-timey moments — intimations, really — that have flowed from her pen and the pandemic over the last couple months. A piece about peonies [tho not really, but hey, she’s the writer, so if she says they’re peonies], one that opens on Trump telling the truth, several about people she knows from walking distance in her New York neighborhood or working at NYU. Then 26 basically bulleted bits on people clearly closer to her than even one’s masseur.
I didn’t like the first 30 or so pages, except for the first part of the first essay which talks about how writing is control — which I realized I hadn’t considered before but agreed with; twin actions we tend to like in reading essays — but from the second part on, nope nope nope — through about 30 pages of if-true-it-is-truly-horrifying material — people doing absolutely nothing with life, and for lousy reasons, now including the writers.
Got to where I was hating it.
This was weird because I consider myself a fan. Which is also weird because I haven’t read any of her novels and prolly only a half-dozen or so essays. Her Harper’s piece on Get Out, which I didn’t even read until a few years after it and the film, got me finally to watch it.
Things picked up in the 40s — the short slim volume is 102 pages all-in, from the double-quote epigraph [Marcus Aurelius, Grace Paley] to the back-facing page endnote that royalties go to New York City coronavirus relief and the Equal Justice Initiative. Hey, I saw that movie in the theaters.
By then, there’d come a comment [hers] on the difference between what not working for a day meant to her and to the masseur, whom she calls Ben, and a realization [mine] that earlier I saw her to be accepting and agreeing with what she saw whereas now she’d begun simply to render it.
So by the time I was barely half-done I’d decided what I thought about the whole thing — something one might even avoid doing when all-done.
I felt entirely justified in two senses: first and most importantly it was simply right for me to do do this when an essayer has so gravely erred and second, oddly less vitally so given its foundational role for the first point, that my assessment had been accurate.
There’s some that’s OK and a lot that’s wrong with each of those.
OK, yeah, at some point all we have are our perceptions. But that shd be an early point and a whole lotta work to do as/if we continue. And yes, we shd hold views and believe what we believe and be strong and confident in and about them or, among other issues if we don’t, why even bother?
Worse, tho, is that my adjudication doesn’t account for what essays are for — what they are, period.
I’ve lately begun finally to pursue a particular project that by definition and design [there’s naught I can do there] contains essays which will be incomplete. They’ll read from beginning through muddle to end and include all three … as Peter DeVries required of novels … but each one cd be, and perhaps properly shd be much longer — it’s a matter of respect, really — to rightly treat of an instance that I’ll barely be giving an instant at 5,000+ words.
And I cd be as wrong on that as I might be about Smith here, bec as I said, she seemed at first to be too keenly agreeing and accepting instead of rendering.
An essay is an attempt, a try, and Zadie Smith even says straight up, right up front that of the ‘historical, analytical, political … comprehensive’ books that will be written about this year, ‘This is not any of those.’ The book is her try to
‘organize some of the feelings and thoughts that events,
so far, have provoked in my, in those scraps of time the
year itself has allowed.’
The attempts are ‘above all personal … small by definition, short by necessity.’
Add to that my judging violating the thing I was ticked about her doing.
What kind of a lousy reader writer thinker am I, anyway?
Wd I want someone doing that about this?
Well, by that time I was tired enough to try and get some more sleep, which was also an effective, if somewhat sheepish way to get out, to end my embarrassment and more at receiving her work in this way, even after her warning, even after my thoughts, already thunk, about what essays are — and after, decades ago, not just talking about but also teaching them in ways which, as my reaction and later responses to Intimations, were at and for the time OK, but now seem terribly mistaken.
Went. Dreamt. Awoke.
Occurred to me as I sat down to write that Zadie is a form of Sadie. Moment later realized that Sadie! Sadie! is just ‘zackly what a mensch might mutter — rather too loudly — if they were going to be late for their evening out.
I shd mention as well that the kittens were of course quite cute. Mostly they wanted me to play with them — serious bidness with kittens, as we you know — and only sometimes called for attention — not even by miaowing; just by being — and in the end I washed the expressive one in the kitchen sink, which had in the dream one of those little sprayer thingies, and dried it with a soft towel magically provided on the counter for just that purpose.
They were soft and warm and alive, slept a bit and cuddled, and had sharp claws.
By the end of the vision, the mixed-media-memory of reading, writing — marginalia, lots of marginalia — uncertain sleep — bec. I’d napped four hours the day before and was unlikely to be sleeping long or well for the bulk of the evening and what dreams are, anyway, no matter what the inputs … by the end of it, I say [and aren’t dreams delineated, beginning and end, arbitrarily? When we sleep they start. When we awake they end.] Zadie Smith was sitting on a couch I don’t have and I at a desk that didn’t look like mine, wrote.
I stole a glance or two at her — she’s lovely, after all — and she was wearing some kind of head covering … not the red one in the widely used image but something meshy that seemed almost surgical, hospital-issued. Her hair was cropped short too — as for an operation or illness.
Sadie! What’s it all mean?!?
Dreams are weird.