It Comes From a Heart that is Breathing

14 February 2014
7:30 am
Edinburgh

T. —

Happy Valentine’s Day. I’d like to re-gift you something I gave you last year, so we can also share it with the people who read along with us here: my analysis and breakdown of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (video is above, email is below).

*

11th February, 2013

Dear T.,
I watched a short movie with Andrew last night, and I would really like you to watch it. Now. Forgive me if you are actually the person who sent it to me, because I can’t for the life of me remember where or how I found it. I had forgotten about it, actually, until I stumbled onto it last night. But take 15 minutes and watch it, because what I have to say next is all about what happens in it, and what it made me realize last night. So I will send this off to you, and start on the next letter, while you watch. Or re-watch, if you’ve seen it already.

To be continued…

Continuing.

Let me unpack the movie first. (which means I am going to spend 15 minutes watching it on mute now.. so we might be watching it together)…

Here is a man who is disengaged, who is working hard (writing, rocking in a chair), who has a great view in front of him, but is getting nowhere. A stack of books. Bollards. Fences and pillars around him. Something is about to happen. We know, because of the impending storm. But when it starts, even the storm cannot move him.

He is not afraid. Does he know, perhaps, that it is sometimes hard to want to live, to want to continue? Would it be easier to be taken, to let go? Something in his body wants to hold on, though, needs to keep hold of the book. Even in chaos he is only running in circles. An infinity of this feeling, which is nothing.

(Andrew takes this moment to note that this is a commentary on Hurricane Katrina, since the beginning is so clearly New Orleans).

He is dropped in a wasteland, where even the words and type have abandoned him, and all he is left is a question right in the middle of where all his work has been. While others all around him are mourning their losses, he makes a pilgrimage on a strewn paper trail and cannot shed a tear.

This. This is my favorite part: the juxtaposition of flight and quicksand, of freedom and the shackles of fear. The black and white vs the technicolor, the transition that we can all recognize as an impending moment of growth, an evolution.

Even before he has set foot in the house, the color is going back into his skin, his cheeks, his eyes can register surprise instead of the blankness of the absence of emotion. He hasn’t even been touched by anything specific yet. He hasn’t fixed the book. He hasn’t met Humpty Dumpty (who is hilarious). He hasn’t danced. He hasn’t done anything. Nothing has changed. Except that now he is in color. Now, he is alive again.

From this point on, I just love the progression of the story. But the part that I am most in love with is this transition: which happens again at the end of Mr. Lessmore’s journey, when he has been lifted off his feet into the air by flying books, when he becomes his book, when the new black-and-white girl shows up at the door and is touched by something that brings her back to life. All of the other parts of this film are details that put the icing on the cake for me. The heart of it is this oscillation between being alive but feeling dead, and the process by which we find what makes us come alive again. Whoever said death is when the body stops breathing is not correct. Death can happen multiple times in one life. Death, I think, is when the soul seizes. Death is when we are no longer being read, when we are not engaging or being engaged with. Death is when our souls are not in flight.

This movie was so beautiful to me last night because it depicts so much of what I have felt. I am alive, I am working, I am writing, but I am not always here. I am not always participating. My heart is not alight, my soul is not flying. But this movie was so amazingly encouraging to me because it showed me the moment of transition: that stories can bring us back to life, that something wonderful can engage us and color us again. And when we are alive, when we are in full color, when we are in flight, our writing is completely different. It can still wonder, it can still worry, it can still question, but it comes from a heart that is breathing. It comes from love instead of fear. And it made me think that no matter how many times we may fear that we have died in our lives, there is still a way out of our black and white existence.

*

So. Please read Mr. Penumbra for me. Pick it up, in whatever form you have it in, because that was one of such books. I fell in love with this book so hard, so truly that it crept up on me. I was melancholy. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to breathe. But I read this book, in bed, at night, piece by piece, and it set me alight again. It’s part of my love for codes, and my love of books, but more than that it’s my love for journeys and meaning and redemption and identity. It speaks to my love for the transition between the old and the new. I once read “The Camel Bookmobile” by Masha Hamilton about a woman who starts a traveling library in the arid bush of Northeastern Kenya. So much of the book is about the tribes’ conflict between the old and the new generations: the ones who need to preserve their history, and the ones who love books and learning and want to leave and learn and explore. And the fact that these categories are not specific to the older or younger generations, but that they are undeniably in conflict. The 24-Hour bookstore speaks to that, but in terms of technology and paper, tradition and efficiency. It’s really beautiful. It’s someone’s amazing manifesto.

And it woke me up.

*

Good morning,
M

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