The way I remember it, I’ve stopped reading, but I spend an awful lot of time unemotionally looking at my books without really grasping their contents, as if they’ve become hollow things, emptied of their words, simple sheets, papers, pigments, dots, abstract lines in space, and yet that day, fooled by the regular and precarious resurgence of an energy that always wanes just when I most believe in my deliverance, right when I’m convinced I’m out of the woods, safe, saved from the world and myself, fooled by this energy that disappears exactly when I think I’m healed, just then, I decide to brave the winter cold, particularly arduous this year because of the many arctic cold fronts, to go pick up extra books, raring to read essays, studies, and dissertations on mental health that connect questions of, among others, race, sexual diversity, and grief, and more specifically writings on the affective turn particular to queer studies, so that I may think about depression in circumstances of immigration and queerness, with the aim of one day writing a book on my condition. High on this notion of new research, new readings, new epistemologies to explore as if suddenly intrigued by a country that must be visited to learn the language, I brave the polar cold with tenacity and unrivalled ease: I walk twenty minutes through Montreal’s empty streets on my way to the local library, just as empty, and then I notice that I’m trembling, that I no longer feel my feet, that my ears are red and overheating because of the radical temperature shift, that my shoulders won’t quite relax. So I take the time, as I enter the library, to feel my body unscrunch, react to the excessive heating violently cutting through the arctic air, I go quite still to better feel the blood find its way back to my fingers, my feet, my ears, and feel the swift melting of the tiny icicles between my eyelashes, I think feels like I’ve been crying, I think is this how meditating feels?
The way I remember it, this brief meditation gives me a rather serene, floaty air, and I press confidently onward through the library stacks with a sure-footed rhythm, as if in a familiar place, in a school long attended, in my neighbourhood, on my own street, in the long hallway at my best friend’s place—she has me over all the time—and I sway my hips, I’ve got a pop song in my head, and I sway my hips like I’m on a catwalk, I stop right in front of a shelf, I find the book, and I repeat the dance four or five times, in different aisles for different books that I set on a table to the same beat so as to peruse them, the same song in my head handily guiding me, the chair under my thighs, my elbows on the table, the pages between my fingers, my eyes on the beginning of a word, then another, then another, then a diagonal line all the way down to the last word on the page, the next one a bit jittery, I think nothing to worry about, I keep going, and the next one won’t keep still, my hands start shaking, the books give way like the words on the pages, like the letters that calmly jumble together, like the floor that sinks and the stacks that start to spin. The way I remember it, I felt that I was confronting the world via the cold I endure and the books I read, but the world is trickier than that, the world reminds me yet again that the weakness that’s stricken me feeds on these shows of strength that end as suddenly as they begin.
The way I remember it, the rhythm that had energized me abruptly abandons me, yields to a yawning silence, and it’s this abandonment that keeps me there, unmoving, sitting in front of a pile of books transformed into elusive objects emptied of their promise of new knowledge, symbols of my accumulated incapacities that I contemplate, numbly, for long minutes, maybe hours, as I do daily at home in front of my own books, in front of my own library that no longer reminds me of anything, no past readings, no memories, no outings, and this expedition, this getting out of the house, becomes another failure.
The way I remember it, I spend the following hours battling the cold now nestled inside me, drinking tea and coffee by my frosty window, I tell myself all those books left on the library table, I tell myself someday I’ll have to actually write this book of mine, and I keep drinking tea and coffee, patiently staring at the window. The way I remember it, I don’t know if I’m waiting to be healed or fooled again, maybe I’m simply waiting to no longer feel cold.
Born in Chile, Nicholas Dawson is a writer, scholar, and editor. He has written many books, including Animitas, Nous sommes un continent (with Karine Rosso), and Désormais, ma demeure, whose English translation by David Bradford will be published in 2023.
David Bradford is a poet and translator based in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal). He is the author of Dream of No One but Myself and several chapbooks, including Nell Zink is Damn Free and The Plot. His second book, Bottom Rail on Top, is forthcoming in 2023.