The Semi-Permeable Membrane to the World

Pity the poor writer, still in jammies, fourth cup growing cold, reclined on the couch as people head off to honest jobs. (An argument the night before with his teen son, who said Bill Gates’ talent and his having to code in a garage justify the billions the unwashed do not earn.)

A story is coming on, the writer can feel it, like a cold. Symptoms build. But here too is the feeling that the more he understands something is there, the more he is separated from knowing it. Meaning seems like a far shore, and the only thing for it is to swim. First he will have to get through the front door.

But the car might not start; the wind will definitely blow. All things have being and a will to perpetuate it. The River runs because that is what it does. The boulder wants to stay intact, but its self-preservation depends on the kind of stone it is made of.

The writer wonders if he is limestone or granite. Does he have even the will of the rhizome? This time, he may be toast, he thinks, but dimly recalls he thinks that with every story.

Toast suddenly sounds good. It stays oddly hot in the cold kitchen. He is patient, waits, but peanut butter and jelly still melt on it. He wonders if some hidden ingredient–oil, sugar—retains the heat. He checks the label but it is just sandwich bread with integrity. He knocks the lampshade by accident on the way back to the couch, and it shivers for a long minute. Resonance, he thinks.

Yes, there is someone to interview; the interviewee may balk. He is an odd one, filled with heat. The writer should get dressed, make the call, head out. The guy threatened violence once on a radio show. But there has rarely been reason for worry. Even the communists were sweet kids. Maoists, actually. They ate bulgogi tacos and asked if he could teach them land navigation for the apocalypse.

All it would take, all it ever took, was getting through the front door, a semi-permeable membrane between self and the world. For some perverse reason thee membrane seemed to grow more obvious the farther along he got in process. But there were rewards for passing through it: walking in the world, focusing on a distant horizon. Finding you could get along with the people in that place. He pulled himself together and got up. The couch complained.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.