Imagine you are one of the foremost makers of lasagna in the entire world.
You spent an anonymous decade making the same lasagna over and over again, obsessively perfecting your craft. When you make a lasagna, there can be no doubt it is the result of years of passion, perspiration and perseverance. Your lasagna captures, in its meaty deliciousness and cheese-tastic wonder, the very thumbprint of God.
You are as close to a prophet of lasagna as a human being can ever come. You have created a lasagna so perfect, your face and name are synonymous with lasagna. You cannot even make lasagna as fast as the world wants to devour it. There are websites and people who spend a significant portion of their lives dreaming about what your next lasagna will be like.
Stretch your imagination a bit further.
… that one day you make a pretzel.
The urge just came to you while you were making some lasagna noodles. You felt the dough in your hand and dared dream a different dream. Suddenly, there was a pretzel inside of you waiting to be made.
And you make that pretzel.
It seems to spring out of you, from nowhere.
Then, much more quickly than you could have ever made a lasagna, it is done.
The pretzel is there in front of you.
You step back and behold what you have created. The loops and saltiness and crispness and other pretzel attributes are… in a word? Perfect.
But you are the prophet of lasagna.
Lasagna prophets do not make pretzels.
Of course not.
Except this pretzel? THIS pretzel BEGS to be eaten.
This pretzel wantonly cries to be swallowed by the whole world.
This pretzel cannot be denied.
And… perhaps some people who like lasagna might also like pretzels?
You carefully declare that despite your reputation for making lasagna, you have decided to make a pretzel. You insert in the very packaging of this pretzel a specific warning that it is not lasagna. You understand not all people who like lasagna like pretzels. There is no judgement in you against them.
You release this pretzel.
People eat this pretzel.
Some, have read the packaging and understood it is a pretzel and find it delicious. They appreciate its pretzeliness. Others find they do not care for this specific pretzel and that is fine. It would, in fact, be worrisome if everyone loved it for then some of them would have to be pretending and you’d have cause to doubt your craft.
Others, declare this pretzel is the worst lasagna they’ve ever had. Which is true, because pretzels are not lasagna. But also stupid, for the same reason.
“The Slow Regard of Silent Things” by Patrick Rothfuss was written for me.
It’s my favorite story that I’ve read in quite a while and I’ve gone through it three times now. I find I have acquired a love for the word “Incarnadine” and murmur it to myself as a way of relieving stress. I found the story to be perfect from beginning to end.
I’m almost offended by how much perfection I found. It felt like someone had been spying on me in my most private and intimate moments and then put all of it together into a book without my permission. I don’t often read a book and find myself nodding “exactly” as I flip the pages.
“The Slow Regard of Silent Things” is the story of a mentally ill (it’s more complicated than that, but that description will work for now) girl who wants to find a present for her friend before their next meeting. There is no dialogue. There are no other characters, per se. She spends most of the story walking around in the dark anthropomorphizing garbage.
That’s not what it is about, but that’s what happens.
I’m not trying to trick you with that summary. That’s pretty much the story. She makes soap for a significant sum of pages and she has to remove some negative emotion that is living inside of the soap. Another time, she breaks a gear and experiences euphoria to find that breaking it apart has made it perfect. Those are the most classically “exciting” things that happen.
You know those “nonsense” paintings where you look at them and think “I could have done that, what utter bullshit.” Sometimes, a lot more than people admit to, I think it really is utter bullshit. That’s because art is hard and it requires a lot of work and not everyone puts in all that work. So stuff gets passed along that doesn’t really mean anything, but appears to mean something, and then people to get to have lots of existential arguments about what the difference is between meaning something and seeming to mean something.
But sometimes, also more than people admit, that kind of “nonsense” art is not bullshit at all. Sometimes it’s just that perfection looked different than you thought it would. My definition of art is when someone reaches out the with their soul through paint, or words or whatever, and grabs hold of someone else’s soul and says “you’re not alone and the world is full of thoughts you’ve never had before.”
That’s a journey and it takes significant amounts of context.
Before I can appreciate “modern Art” I have to go back and see the artist’s entire journey for context. It’s a lot of work and it takes time and even then it might not be that exciting. But when you see a soul unfolding across canvas or stone or a story, I think that’s as close as you can ever get to knowing for sure that you’re not alone in the universe and that everyone’s mind is as bright and important and powerful as your own. Good art shows you the promise that the whole universe is full of near infinite and unique wonders.
Here’s why I loved “The Slow Regard of Silent Things.”
It’s a story about appreciating journeys and about helping journeys along. It’s also a story about what it’s like to make things and create stories. It’s a story for a certain kind of artist. Not all artists, and not “the best” artists although I’m sure many of the “best” artists will love the story for the same reasons I do. Many of “the best” artists might hate it for valid reasons, but the fact remains that for many artists it’s an exact metaphor for what it’s like to deal with things that aren’t real, but which have or at least seem to have enormous consequences.
Auri, the sole character of the story, arranges garbage down in the dark. She does this because she’s trying to make the world perfect. She does this in the same way that through some impossible power that shouldn’t be real, but is, a writer or a painter or a sculptor can move a bunch of dead matter around in front of you and speak with exactness to a part of you that you were not even previously aware existed. Auri does these bizarre things, like almost drowning to retrieve a broken gear wheel, to follow her moral code and to love the world and to speak with love to the people she cares about. Her insanity, on the inside, is rational and strict and moral. Auri struggles the same way every creator who has ever created struggles with esoteric inconsequential disasters to make something which says only what it is meant to say and nothing else and be, by some invisible standard, “complete.”
Can you taste a poem? You can’t. What would you taste it with? Except you taste a poem every time you read or write or recite one. This story is about choosing the flavors of words, and the characters of colors and the souls of rocks. It’s about what it’s like before you’re done making something, when you have to spend a whole day crying in despair because nothing seems to come out quite right.
I empathize with Auri. I am, by most definitions, a recluse. I go to work. I go to therapy. I come home to an improbable number of cats. That is my life. Seeing another human being on personal terms is a rare and luxurious occurrence. But I also struggle to make things. Not always good things. Not always things people like. Not always even things that I like. But things. I make them as well as I can. I could no more not make something as well as I could than I could walk by a child screaming for help.
One time I organized all of my books by how well I thought their characters would get along. It took me five or six hours. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Just wasn’t able to stop. Things aren’t usually that bad, but they can be. Auri would know what I mean.
“The Slow Regard of Silent Things” was written for me.
I loved it.
Maybe it wasn’t written for you, but if you hate it, I ask only that you hate it for being a poor pretzel and not for being bad lasagna.