An image or a line which is in reality a small rock or a sea-glass—which is not like a small rock to one reader but which is of its own power a smallest-unit of uniqueness—is a real artifact of art. It is a real shard off the meteor, so to speak. This is the good sound below art; this is the thing underneath Something Made Up. This is what I want my art to be. I want my lines and maybe someday even my drawings to be perfectly singular items, machine-heaving with their own uniqueness, sub-atomic. Folk songs get to be like this with almost no effort. Yeats did this over and over again. A thing so absolutely itself that it is almost anonymous. You almost can’t see it because it is so itself, like the Tao or the way it is difficult for some children to think about the sky.
This is the goal. You can only get there with immense labor, though maybe not much work, for a long time. You really have to be at it. But there is another, lesser spot, still good—and that is when a work of art becomes like a small rock: it sticks around amongst your events and in your mind so long that your experiences wear it down and it becomes rather a personal meme. Here are six stories which have become that to me. They have remained in my mind and amongst my thoughts for one reason or another and now they are icons in my head. I don’t like all of them. That’s not the point.
- Gimpel the Fool, Isaac Bashevis Singer. A simple man is taken advantage of by his neighbors. He comes up to the point of revenge. This is a theme which is of great importance to me. I love Saul Bellow’s translation—I like the way Saul Bellow talks. So I have no means of knowing if I like the sound because of Bellow or because of Singer.
- The Shared Patio, Miranda July. The narrator watches her neighbor seizing. She lives with a strange warm barrier between her mind and her experience of other people’s bodies and feelings. I haven’t read this in years but I think about it all the time.
- A Small Good Thing, Raymond Carver. A child is killed suddenly and for no reason. The grieving parents are harassed by a baker from whom they commissioned a cake they have never picked up. I have narrated this story more than once, beat by beat, over coffee. People are always amazed.
- The Second Bakery Attack, Haruki Murakami. A couple robs a McDonald’s. I think about this story literally every week of my life.
- Poe Posthumous, Or the Lighthouse, Joyce Carol Oates. Edgar Allen Poe spends his limbo as a lighthouse keeper. At first he is pumped about it. He looks out at all the horrid underworld sub-life on the beach and thinks “I’m glad I’m not out there”. I wonder if you can guess what happens next! I fear all the time that I am Edgar Allen Poe in this story. Can’t find this one posted online.
- The Red Cocoon, Kobo Abe. The protagonist has no place to go, so with a pinch of imagination and a whole lotta postwar ennui he builds his own home. Can’t find this one online either.