FUGITIVE PIECES- Anne Michaels. Buy it, borrow it, fall in love with it.
My testimony of Anne Michaels’ proficiency as a poet manifested itself when I realized that I had spent most of my time not tracing each line of text rhythmically before turning the next page, like I usually do, but instead staring into space, my finger poised on the page, forgotten for at least three minutes while I indulged in unsolicited pondering. I am even more convinced of her poetic genius when I consider that I have rarely come away from such trances with any tangible conception or conclusion of what I am struggling to debate with myself. For the first time in my existence I felt like I wasn’t reading a book. I was discovering a Van Gogh for the first time, up close, where you can easily spend too long exploring the curves and tunnels of brush strokes in just one square inch at a time.
In the thick of Jakob’s search for peace, I found myself strangely involved in his plight. Michaels presents countless sermons, questions, anecdotes, that no longer divulged Jakob or Ben; they became solely Michaels’ words, which sat with me, challenged me. Michaels was daring me to discover my own ideology. In a slight way, she was invoking the poet inside of me that I didn’t know existed. While Jakob searched for Bella, while Ben searched for Jakob, I searched for myself.
Amongst the unique brush strokes of her novel, I read: “Nothing is sudden. Not an explosion—planned, timed, wired carefully—not the burst door. Just as the earth invisibly prepares its cataclysms, so history is the gradual instant,” (77). As I considered this, I wondered how accountable I measured myself in the poignant moments of my life. Was there really anything sudden in my life? I knew that I had experienced suddenness; but was this necessarily responsible of me?
I considered the moments that I categorized as unequivocally unprecedented in my life so far: the time when a few misspent seconds cost me my front teeth; the time Steven Petersen planted an unwanted kiss on my lips; the time I opened my mouth to say my lines in a play- but the only thing that came out was, unfortunately, vomit.
It seems to me that the natural man embellishes in excuses: we like to excuse ourselves, and put blame on outside influences that place us at the mercy of the wild, tossed on an ocean of circumstance, free of responsibility. I can see the advantage of this ideology: it seems the only decent thing to attribute public on-stage puking to a freak accident of the universe. But in light of Michaels’ suggestion, that history is the “gradual instant,” I recognize a small opening that permits me to shed the skin of the natural man and instead accept some responsibility: perhaps my indulgement of nerves and the fact that I had not eaten properly that fateful day had something to do with my public humiliation.
I began to think what this meant in terms of my conception of Heavenly Father’s plan. Everything about the passage attested to the nature of God: everything is part of a grand design: everything is a planned and gradual moment. The more I learn about the gospel, the more I can see that God’s intention is for us to continually shed the skin of the natural man and to not only account for our actions, but to prepare for them. There are moments when we have no control over what Michaels names the “earth’s invisible cataclysms,” but what we do have control over is the knowledge that cataclysms happen, and we have control over the way we behave in response to them.