Thursday, July 1, 2010


I can trace back my interest in the marginal to a lot of sources, not the least of which is my obsession with corners. When I walk or drive past back yards, city plots, parking lots, alleys — my eye’s natively drawn to the right-angle meeting of nothing and nothing, of blown detritus and the tossed-away. I like taking note of what gathers in a corner, not only old leaves or newspapers, but rusty equipment, half-empty industrial barrels, dated machinery, broken things. It’s a separate life there in the corner, or a parallel one, where stuff just goes. Gaston Bachelard writes that “The corner becomes a negation of the Universe,” but it’s always seemed to me as if the corner is the furthest point in the universe of the yard, the factory lot, the parking garage's fourth floor — a far-flung, grimly inevitable place where the Bartleby’s, busted lawnmowers, and paper receipts of the world end up.

Corners are invisible. We see them and we fail to see them. When I was a kid, feeling cranky, put-upon, ignored, or some other melodramatic condition I semi-created, I’d disappear underneath the end table of the L-section sofa in the living room. The sofa was far enough away from the wall that I could wedge myself behind it, drop on all fours, and crawl into the tiny space beneath the end table, where I’d curl up, curse my fate, and promise myself that I’d only speak when spoken to once I dramatically reemerged into the maelstrom of family life. That wouldn’t last, of course, and soon enough my adolescent funk would end and I'd be laughing and right again. But my strategy felt sound: no one could find me because no one sees a corner. It’s transparent. I’m transparent. There and not. You'd have to train yourself to see me, because I’m not talking.

My interest in marginalized people and things — from indie bands, nerds, loners, and local drunks whom I must resist romanticizing, to gloomy service alleys and the backs of buildings — continues naturally from my childhood interest in corners. The fear of a vanishing point in the dark end of the dimly-lit upstairs hallway always gripped me, but so did the commonplace corner of the back yard, where forgotten parchmenty leaves and last years’ missing notebook page broke my stupid heart. I risk sentimentalizing the ordinary here, but that’s a risk that any essayist takes. I like Bachelard’s charge: “But life in corners, and the universe itself withdrawn into a corner with the daydreamer, is a subject about which poets will have more to tell us. They will not hesitate to give this daydream all its reality.”

Bottom photo of a corner via Flickr Creative Commons.

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