I’m reading “The Folded Clock” by Heidi Julavits – it took me a little while to get into it, but now I’m gulping it down, always trying to speed through one more of the brief entries before the train reaches my stop. Its subtitle is “A Diary” but it’s (thankfully) not a true diary. It represents a year, though the entries are out of chronological order and each is shined up into a small, gem-like personal essay. Each micro-chapter begins, “Today I…”
Julavits is fantastic at isolating small moments– thoughtful, joyful, maudlin, puzzling. Even a pretty mundane chapter offers up a small piece of poetry. Last night, I thought about how it strains credulity a tiny bit that one person could keep stumbling across so many little moments that are lovely or disturbing or both. There are plenty of entries that are short meditations on moments in marriage, or parenting, or friendships, but there’s a lot that are sparked by slightly surreal encounters or series of events — none of them are completely outrageous or hard to believe but when they’re all lined up and presented together, they kind of make you go: really? All of this?
Not that it matters, of course — it’s her book, and who can resist the impulse to polish one’s anecdotes just a little? Wouldn’t that story be funnier or more poignant if you could tweak just one little detail? All the same, the book– a collection of pretty ordinary moments– had me feeling like my life was a little, well, ordinary. How could all these strange/lovely/bizarre little things really happen to one person?
Julavits is preoccupied with objects: ones we imbue with meaning, ones we treat carelessly, ones we lose and ones that (sometimes mysteriously) find their way back to us. Throughout the book, she’s losing important things– her wallet, her passport–and stumbling across useless things that she can’t bear to throw away. There’s an entry where she riffs on the contents of coat pockets, how like anyone she’s often finding scraps of paper, notes, ticket stubs. At one point, she wears an old coat and discovers her marriage vows in the pocket while she’s sitting on the subway with her husband.
Today I had to take my winter coat back out of the closet. It was 37 goddamn degrees on April 24. Chilled and feeling bitter about the whole day already, I crammed my hands hard into my pockets on the way out of the apartment and immediately felt something bite me. I pulled my hand out of my pocket and discovered it was a little Mexican worry doll, the really tiny kind made out of a twist of paper wound with wire and brightly colored thread. A little bit of the wire had become exposed, sharp enough to snag on the skin of my finger like an errant staple.
I found the worry doll lying on the floor of the lobby one morning on my way out to work. I thought maybe I should leave it there, in case in belonged to a kid who really cared about it and was going to come looking for it. But I thought it was more than likely that it would get vaccummed up before that could happen, so I put in in my pocket, planning to leave it on the covered radiator in the hall where the postal service leaves packages. I forgot, of course, and ended up carrying the worry doll around in my pocket for several days, occasionally remembering it when I put my hand in my pocket — entertaining myself by wondering how it got there, fretting that it meant something to someone and I’d just picked it up and pocketed it. (It’s probably trash, of course. They give dolls like this out like after dinner mints at some Mexican restaurants). At some point, I put the coat in the back of the closet, thinking that I wouldn’t need it again until October, and then I really forgot about the tiny doll.
Anyway, this morning the doll’s arm stabbed me in the finger and I thought: well, that’ll teach you. These things are everywhere if you remember to look.