Thursday, May 10, 2012


"I had pushed the sleeve of her shirt up to the shoulder so I could see her vaccination scar. I love this, I said. This pale aureole on her arm. I see the instrument scratch and then punch the serum within her and then release itself, free of her skin, years ago, when she was nine years old, in a school gymnasium."
                                                --Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

I woke up thinking about this quote, this image, one that has stayed with me for over twenty years since I first read The English Patient. I have read it over and over, from a frayed notebook, my book of inspirations, as I plod through life and try to write a bit about it. And it seems to me that everything important about life is in these three sentences: love and imagination.

For me, writing is the crossroads between past and present, between what is real and what my mind can dream up, and the ability to do this, to use my imagination, is one big reason why it’s fulfilling to be human in the first place.

He loves this woman. He loves her now, he loves the thought of her as a girl, he loves transposing her experiences onto his own past to see how snugly they fit. The scar gives her history, and vulnerability, and weight. It’s a small, pinkish thing—childish, perfect, sexual. He knows something about her, everything about her, nothing about her, when he sees it. And it sets them in a time and place, because most people over a certain age have this scar from the smallpox vaccination, right on their shoulder, if you look for it.

A small thing, leading to so much. Past, present, dreams, truth, rushing love. All from a single image, imagined.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka