Renee Gladman

from The Eleven
Calamities

4.

every day of my life i sat in a room and this was akin to writing: I sat and stared and wrote without lifting my hand, without turning my head, and stared into the humming of the room I sometimes called “prose” and sometimes called “San Francisco.” That city was one of the places I’d been and simultaneously was one of the things I did while I was there. I did the place I was in, because the place was entirely itself, so to be there was to do it, and this was not something that happened everywhere you went, and rarely was doing a city the same as doing prose, as was the case here, and even more rare was the memory of that doing becoming the room you were in. I was in the room of San Francisco when it occurred to me to write, and write all my life. The room was separated from the rest of the house by a hallway; there was a hallway and at the end of it a place to go sit and write. I did every kind of walk down this corridor to arrive at the room of writing, and I walked with every kind of feeling, so that it wouldn’t always be the same text I was writing. But sometimes it was the same until later when it wasn’t. The rooms in the house of writing had names like “white room“ and “mud room” and “where we sleep” and “the table.” and these were the stations the hand moved through while the body sat still and never moved, remembering a long-ago city, which both ceased to exist and went on existing in your typing, being dispersed, spread out between words. I wrote in San Francisco then stood up and shut the door. With the door shut, I closed the window, creating an airless space for description. I closed the window and made a spread of the pages of the book I was writing. It was the driest the room had ever been, and this dryness, this airless space without a hint of moisture, changed my thinking about what I was doing. I stopped thinking about typing and poured ink over the surface of these pages then took a small stick and drew circles and wrote my name then let my name dissolve in the ink and wrote my question on top of it. I kept writing and letting the script dissolve—one utterance on top of the last—now writing backward, now making sense only in my mind as I let my hand do whatever it wanted (it wanted to write but no longer in the language to which it was accustomed) and still on that spread of pages where I’d poured ink and drawn circles. From the circles, I drew squares that looked like houses, though none of these houses bore any resemblance to the house I was in or to any other houses that populated that city. This made me want to write a novel, a novel that would tell a story about drawing in San Francisco an architecture that existed somewhere else, beyond the frame, and the novel would be in the midst of unfolding when I’d have to stop writing to draw—but not those houses that I’d been writing about, rather the sentences that conveyed them.