Long Way From, Long Time Since features letters written from writers, to writers, living or dead. Send us your queries and inquiries, your best wishes and arguments, and help us explore correspondence as a creative form. For letter submission guidelines, visit cutbankonline.org/submit/web. To submit to our print edition, please see cutbankonline.org/submit/print or email email@example.com.
Dear Mister William Gaddis,
Several days ago I went to the Art Institute of Chicago, and I stood in the semi-darkness of the Magritte exhibit for the second time in a week. I held onto my tiny notepad with my left hand. My pen was clipped to a page, poised to write down any thought that came to me while looking at Magritte’s work. Somewhere around the third turn of the exhibit, before Magritte’s Parisian years, a security guard snapped at me, “No sketching.” I didn’t quite understand if I heard him right, why would he care if I sketched. “What?” I asked. He stood under one of the very few lights in the exhibit, and the spotlight made the black hair on his head more brittle, made his mustache look as if he had daggers hanging above his lip. He said again, “There’s no sketching of the paintings.” “I’m not sketching,” I said quietly, scrunching my eyebrows to express confusion. “You’re not allowed to sketch the paintings.” Although he repeated himself, I simply walked away without repeating myself. What did it matter if on this little pad I sketched the painting near the guard, the image of Magritte’s wife tearing through a bird with her teeth, blood dripping onto us, the voyeur? How would that be a danger to the work, to Magritte’s exhibit? Each piece was googleable. Every painting was some piece of merchandise in the gift store. What would I expose to the world, if I, with this pen and lined paper, recreated what I saw? Would I be the extreme detriment if I stood in front of the lions of the Art Institute, and sold my sketches for a dollar to those walking by, those going up the steps to see the real deal. Since I was not going to be visiting any sand over summer, I eschewed any book that might remotely be considered a beach read. Which, if I’m being honest, left only your book, The Recognitions. As I weight lifted your book throughout summer, reading only fifty pages a week, a curious thing happened, our anti-hero, Wyatt, became a permanent fixture in my mind. Wyatt, who turned to forgery, arguably because his own work wasn’t available to the public for sale. When Rectall Brown, the real con man, arrived, and gave Wyatt an out from the job he loathed, gave him the opportunity to be an artist whose paintings sold--an artist with a catch--Wyatt snatched up the opportunity. But the act of copying the masters came, I believed, with the consequence of creating a replica of a life that wasn’t his own. A replica–I presumed–that would be his great demise. You see, Mister William Gaddis, the security guard had seen through me, knew I was no different than Wyatt. In my own quiet way, I became a forger. For the past year and a half, I worked on a project, although entirely my own writing, that was a forgery of a dream that was not my own. I was falling into the trap, whether I admitted it or not, of Rectall Brown’s statement, “That’s what anybody wants … Everyone to stand up and cheer.” And here was what stopped me cold, Wyatt, in his attempt to cast aside Rectall Brown’s offer, argued, “Every work of art is a work of perfect necessity … Damn it, when you paint you don’t just paint, you don’t just put lines down where you want to, you have to know, you have to know that every line you put down couldn’t go any other place, couldn’t be any different.” I once prescribed to that idea of “perfect necessity.” Had my progression been that of the aspiring creator, to pragmatic forger, to nothing? If I turned off the writer, turned off that part of my brain, that part of my emotions, would everything be better? On paper, I had all the trappings for leading a normal, healthy, productive and happy life. And yet, I felt distant from these words: normal, healthy, productive, happy. Was it the writer who kicked at these words, and then ran away from these words? The next day I returned to the exhibit, to that spot just before the Parisian years, to look for the guard, hoping he would be there to tell me no sketching. I could stand under his light and say, I won’t be sketching. But the guard with the dagger mustache was not there. I turned the corner and viewed “The Double Secret”: an exploration on the visible self versus the unconscious self. I knew then, I suppose I knew before then, though the writer survived, my two selves would continue to wage war over the replica and the original. After leaving Magritte’s work, I drove to my parent’s home. My mom provided my niece and I each a frame to paint. For several hours, I retraced and recolored. As my niece went on to other drawings, other games, other fictional realities, I stayed with my frame. The neighborhood kids gathered around to watch me, their push pops melting on my clothes. I sat there, on the driveway, the roof of the garage shading me from the afternoon sun, summing my inner-Wyatt, making sure every line I put down couldn’t go any other place, couldn’t be any different. Reading your novel is like my life as an artist: a long, slow crawl. But your novel reminds me that I'm there, close to the ground, moving. Even if my progress is some funky design from an arts and crafts project, even if I’m just writing about a book I’m reading, a book I might not even like. I’m here. Telling a story.
Your reader of about 457 pages,
Brenden Wysocki lives in Chicago, IL.