It must be nice to put your fingers on a keyboard and make music.
It must be nice to put your fingers on a keyboard and make sounds that are beautiful,
sounds that are musical,
sounds that do not sound like drunken cockroaches reciting limericks,
sounds that do not sound like drunken cockroaches stuttering, Kafka, Kafka, Kafka.
I try to find something lyrical
when I make these hammered sounds with my hands. And I wish this extraordinarily odd activity weren’t off in its own world.
I wish words written and arranged by women were valued as much as words written and arranged by men.
Written words are interesting in that they come from both brains and hands.
They live between two worlds that way; they are tricky.
If you are a writer at a keyboard, you have to be a magician. You have to wave your arms around over your very particular choices.
You have to make sure not to use abracadabra when you mean annihilation.
Or you have to be sure of all annihilation’s meanings, since, according to the dictionary, there are two.
The first one you know already.
The second is from physics, and it is “To convert (a subatomic particle) into radiant energy.”
I like that second definition.
I want some radiant energy, let me tell you.
I want that all the time when I am trying to do things in the material world with my hands,
like write or hollow out a breadfruit tree.
I have never hollowed out a breadfruit tree.
I have no idea how Tin Mweleun, master carver, could hollow out a 14-foot-tall breadfruit tree.
But I can’t imagine how people’s hands do most things.
My hands are like two nibbles of fat, dancing.
The physical world is a constant challenge for them.
I star in my own magician/clown routine every day.
My routine includes spilling stuff all over myself, spraying food out of my mouth, and dropping and breaking things constantly:
it’s just endless accidents followed by endless cleaning up.
It’s like I should just get dressed every day in a roll of paper towels.
I should just get up and make myself a toga out of paper towels.
I should put on my paper-towel toga and walk into a bar.
I should just wear a big white suit like the one David Byrne wore in Stop Making Sense,
except made out of paper towels.
I should just be prepared for spills like that.
Thank God I live in a city where I don’t have to drive.
Thank God I am responsible only for standing more or less calmly on the sidewalk portion of a street corner where there is only a small risk that some driver or bicyclist will jump the curb and take me out.
You can hear the cockroaches singing their gratitude right now.
You can hear them singing praises of my screwing in light bulbs.
I tell my husband all the time that burned-out light bulbs are my bête noire.
We live in an apartment with many light bulbs,
and every time a light bulb goes out it feels like an emergency to me.
It’s like a young, drunk person has passed out in my guest bed.
It makes me very anxious, like I need some white baby bunnies immediately.
And invariably I am home alone with this problem, and the passed-out light bulb is too high for me to reach.
And I have to make some sort of structure out of chairs, which I then have to stand on,
in order to reach the blacked-out bulb, and my chair structures are always unsound.
And I myself am always a baby bunny in these moments, so I can’t climb stacks of chairs very well.
They didn’t teach me about stacking chairs in EMT school.
They didn’t teach me how to climb stacks of chairs like in the Moscow circus.
So there I am, hoping I am not going to break my neck on my poorly made tower of chairs.
And then I finally reach the light bulb and try to unscrew it, and that is always a surgery
I have the wrong instruments for,
like I am trying to hollow out the center of a 14-foot-high breadfruit tree with a melon baller,
and my fingers can never grasp the light bulb securely,
and a couple of times I have done that thing where I try to unscrew the light bulb
and instead I pull out the glass part but leave the threaded metal base still in the socket,
like somehow I separate the glass from the base, the two parts that are supposed to be forever joined.
How I do that, I don’t even know.
It’s like a miracle I don’t want, which is sometimes what my life is.
And then I am standing there with bits of broken glass falling on me like iridescent paper-circle snow,
and I hope I am not going to slip and fall like a ballerina in The Nutcracker,
and there are wires sticking out where I am supposed to put in the new light bulb,
and I can’t touch the wires because I am scared I will electrocute myself,
and I know I have to climb back down the chair-tower carefully,
but for a few seconds I just have to stand there and swear.
I just have to stand there swearing and trying to see the entire situation like the giant Christmas tree in The Nutcracker.
I just have to stand there like my own gigantic-mother slit gong.
And it is going to be dark forever in this corner of the apartment, I think.
And I will always and forever be standing in the dark.
And I am huge and horrible and filled with light.
There is a party around me and a star on my head.
And I don’t care.
I am alive right then in my furious glory.
I am converting subatomic particles into radiant energy.
I am shining.
You can see me for miles.
You can set your course by me.
From Idiophone: An Essay. Used with permission of Coffee House Press. Copyright © 2018 by Amy Fusselman.