Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thoughts Approaching a Memory:
David G. Hartwell

In some ways it seemed strange, last night, to grieve for someone whom I knew less than perfectly well, and with whom I had a few differences.

Yet I did feel grief — that upwelling, unstoppable acknowledgement that some piece belonging to the puzzle presented by our own life has vanished with finality — vanished despite its seeming to have fitted into our world-picture with the permanence that great character and distinctive personality seem to possess.

It may be that they only seem to possess this permanence, and that the inevitable vanishing serves to correct our susceptible senses and hungry-to-believe hearts.

The vanishing of what, though? Surely not character and personality. The one for whom I grieved possessed these to such degrees that they must have bled off from his mere physical body constantly, collecting in rooms and hallways, in houses and offices and hotels and restaurants and taverns and any spaces public or private encountered, appearing and fading away like drifting dust motes or chance sunbeams in from a window; bled off to be breathed in like that dust, or sensed like that sunlight; bled off to become, as do dust motes or light beams, part of new blood flowing in other veins.

For we are needy plants spreading our leaves to catch light, our roots to catch settled dust.

Grief must strike when one feels, viscerally, that one is to have no more of that character and personality. Yet strangely it must strike when one feels, too, that this other's character and personality have grown into one's own. The vital moments in a relationship persist, and make those who leave us, physically, remain in us.

I can say with little certainty how long I have known David — which is to say, how long he has been real within my life, rather than just a face and a name, a figure famous in the relatively small science-fiction publishing world. That sense of the real may have come fairly quickly, since besides science fiction we shared being booksellers and poetry-magazine editors. I have small idea what he saw in me; yet since I felt adrift in the field, his consistent friendliness and generous conversations made me feel less estranged from the field that I had chosen and that often seemed intent on choosing anyone but me. That he had a genius for friendship seemed apparent; that he held too many reins at the same time to actually follow that genius, equally.

If I picture him, I recall brows that could furrow with intensity; eyes that gazed directly, whether troubled or pleased; lips that could widen around a smile that was usually genuine but partly an invention that he displayed for photographers; and lips that could pull back, too, around a grimace that reflected his wrestling with ideas and perspectives, which I think always was genuine — because, in picturing him, that grimace comes to my mind almost first. In him the element of the showman came often to the fore: a literate, thoughtful showman, who had a true respect for audience. Did he neglect any inner elements due to his impulse for show? It may be, since I find it hard to imagine anyone being a show-person without some personal cost. Yet in whatever the mood of the moment, I can still see that grimace emerge — that argumentative thoughtfulness, that assertive possession of the materials of his mind. That grimace: the smile from his tenacious power-sense, his knotty heart. His truth. In another mode he would appear with the eyebrows that seemed rising to meet his hairline; and at such moments he would tilt slightly his head and poise with a mouth that seemed too small for the expansive width of smile belonging to other moments, and speak words that would rise from the desk-worn editorial sleeve — in a small voice, almost too well spoken, a bit learned, a bit facetious, a bit fastidious. While I cannot know if I heard him use the phrase, I can hear him all the same — just after dipping down his chin to shoulder-level and upwards, like a tortoise getting a crink out of its neck: "Not to make too fine a distinction. But — " And later his smile would erupt like a voiceless laugh.

I suspect he might have found a calm, lasting happiness had it been his to find sensible order in his surroundings — books, people, food, drink, easy times, complicated times — yet the chaos that afflicts nearly all creative lives must have come as inevitable price, for him, for the sense of order he placed upon his publishing realm — his anthologies, his historical-survey compendia, his reviews-magazine editing, his ceaseless efforts to educate and inform. To some degree I believe he paid the price happily, and went striding along chaos's verge with some good cheer: for he had appetites, including one for engagement with his immediate surroundings; and he had the kind of humor that can, at least at times, save those of us who tempt the dogs of chaos perhaps too much.

We go on, as we must —

And we carry along with us another's now-permanent character and personality — as we must.