I almost started this never-to-be-sent with “Dear Joe.” It is six thirty, an early start to my day off, as I do have an early doctor’s appointment. (I like to schedule these things first thing in the morning to get them overwith.) The coffee hasn’t yet kicked in. I opened this letter somehow thinking that I was already ending it — or, in the fleeting fantasy that immediately followed the typo, that you were, at long last, writing back. So opens my 2013.
It seems like only yesterday that I was at work looking at the events calendar for January and thinking it was a long way off. Now January is here and the rest of the month no longer looks like the future. I don’t want to sound too cynical, but now that we are outside of the holidays once more, real life has settled in and now January, the first month of a new year, is starting to feel like just another month — except that it is, in fact, a new year. It should be celebrated, an occasion marked, dreams dreamed, goals set. I suppose that we make up occasions like this not only to organize history and illuminate guidance for the uncertain future, but to also give ourselves a reason to go on. There must have been a late generation of our ancestors that began to feel tired of time’s passage being marked by hunting and being hunted, by the migration to a new land when this one grew inhospitable from bad weather or too many predators. They must have settled elsewhere and when they contemplated the vastness of the sunset in the sky, they thought, There must be more. So they must have thought of occasions, celebrations and, eventually, years.
Everyone at work is sick and I have unfortunately caught a little bit of whatever is going around. At one point yesterday my head was spinning. I also felt vaguely menopausal, as one moment it would be stifling hot and the next I would need to put on my jacket, while in moments in between I felt somewhere close to normal. During one of those transitory moments, it seems that I was hovering way too long over a very simple task. The moment had seemed so prolonged that I didn’t realize I had lost myself in it until my coworker materialized beside me and asked what was up.
There must be a word to explain the moment when you emerge from your thoughts and seamlessly reintegrate yourself with the rest of the world. The process is quick, like stepping out after you have pulled aside a heavy drape, or switching from one thought to another, except that what you are really doing when someone pulls you from your thoughts is switching between entire worlds. I don’t know what the word is, or if there even is a word, but it seems to me a momentous occasion taken for granted because it is so fleeting and intangible.
"I was wondering how to fill this space," I told my coworker.
I was pointing to an opening on the lower shelf of a display of Hugo Award winners. Someone was either browsing the book in question or had purchased it; either way, there was a hole in the display and now there were four books instead of three. Just before my coworker had appeared, I was contemplating either finding another Connie Willis (one of my favorite authors) or consulting our handout of every winner since the Hugo Award was founded.
"I’ll show you an old bookseller’s trick," said my coworker.
He reached down for the shelf. He took away the book holder and rearranged the display so that the remaining three books looked as if they had never needed a fourth.
I narrowed my eyes at him, dubious of his simplistic action, and then I was mildly irritated at myself for not having thought of it first. And then I cracked up to such a degree that I snorted, because my sinuses were congested and suddenly my head was spinning again. But I was still greatly amused and I continued laughing even though the world was moving faster than I could keep up with, as usual.