In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • A Note on Process
  • Meghan O’Rourke (bio)


I began by keeping track of my time. It was February and the snow had been falling all morning and all afternoon. I rarely saw any people on the sidewalk outside, though I could detect the traces of their passage, which the fresh snow quickly covered. I was reading a book about a gymnast whose body seemed to contain an important mystery. I read a little and then I watched archival footage on YouTube, so I could see “for myself” what the chapter described. I also searched newspaper archives until I found articles—uploaded scans of yellowed microfiche—describing the events. I surrounded myself with their moment.


Watching the gymnast land a dismount from the uneven bars gave me a gaudy sense of the infinite, as if the routine were a process still occurring over and over and over. Time blurred, so I was an infant, as I had been when she originally “performed,” and I was a girl wanting to be a gymnast, studying her photographs in the small hot gym where I practiced, and I was thirty-seven, with a body that didn’t work. The clip of this routine never lost its patina for me. In it I could see the will competing with itself, submitting to its needs and surpassing them, with reckless confidence. This was a kind of order of infinity, a process I couldn’t imagine not being part of.

Even as I had begun to reconcile myself to imagining exactly that.


After I finished her biography I made a list of what I had “done” all day. This was a failure, as a proper list—a true log—would have taken as much time to write as living the day did. But failing was fine with me. I wanted [End Page 141] to formulate myself around the spaces that kept filling in, not merely to fall asleep on the couch again, to slip under. The air was “blue.” It was hard to do. I went to the kitchen to take a drug the doctors had given me, a little imploring thing.


Maybe I wanted to fail. And maybe it wasn’t fine. I wasn’t sure.

“I shall soon be quite dead in spite of it all.”


The gymnast moved in a way that epitomized the achievement of the will over the body. She was very slim. Her hair was always in pigtails or pony-tails, tied with that thick bright yarn so popular in the 1970s. The gymnast was precise, yet it appeared almost as if she had forgotten her will, as if her body, her flexibility, had become her will rather than being merely an instrument of it.

The goal: to want something so much that the wanting makes your being become that thing.

At practice they told us to stay tight and create a space under your arms and to stick it, keep your legs tight. We were always hollow and tight and light. We were always spotting, choosing a place to look, and looking for it and only it.


What else is like that?


Before getting sick I had been trying to write a novel. In a novel, characters’ intersections create arcs and plots even if nothing much happens to them. Even the simple comings-and-goings establish suspense, moments of grace we witness and are moved by. This man of the Old World once was kind to a young and powerless boy, see; they ate together in the lobby of a grand hotel during the war, while intrigue and espionage took place in its upper rooms. Until August, when Alphonse managed to redeem his tiny corner of self by feeding Mathieu with food that gave him pleasure, not merely sustenance. [End Page 142]

I couldn’t get anything to happen: nothing was happening to me. I was out of story, eventless, unpersoned.


I spent half of most days on the Internet. I had little to do. Facebook, Twitter, the news stories I was following almost obsessively, a video of a stalker cat, foxes bouncing on a trampoline, obscure message boards, music videos...


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pp. 141-155
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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