How To Interpret Nothing

(I’ve been writ­ing this in my head for four years. Four years and sev­en months, to be pre­cise.)

So one last touch and then you’ll go
And we’ll pre­tend that it meant some­thing so much more
But it was vile, and it was cheap
And you are beau­ti­ful but you don’t mean a thing to me

—Death Cab for Cutie, Tiny Vessels

Ghost picture

I got this pic­ture in New Jersey. It’s the most pecu­liar size for a pho­to­graph: 3 7/16 by 4 13/16 inch­es.

For some rea­son, I see it prop­er­ly like this — land­scape ori­en­ta­tion, with the white stripe on the left — when it could just as well be rotat­ed any oth­er way. This is the bias I place on it. The way I view it.

It almost looks like a room with a wall in frame on the left, and the cam­era has metered for a flash off the wall, under­ex­pos­ing the rest of the pic­ture. There are two smears in the black­ness. Maybe an out-of-focus object, maybe a fin­ger­print on the lens.

I did­n’t take the pic­ture. Someone else did, thought it was bad, and was about to throw it out before I asked for it. Someone who took me for grant­ed. Someone who’s world I lived in but for a week, in the midst of the intense sum­mer humid­i­ty and coitus inter­rup­tus.

I’ve kept it in one of my note­books since. The edges have turned yel­low, and the cor­ners blunt from han­dling.

Every time I look at it, I like to think that I see some­thing in that grain and that noise. That some­thing’s there; I just don’t see it because there isn’t enough light to expose it, but it exists nonethe­less. Some pho­to­graph­ic kōan, where I become that which I seek.

But I know there isn’t, the way I know it was noth­ing more than pass­ing moment, a week for­got­ten, a life unchanged.

And I’ve been hap­pi­ly fool­ing myself ever since.


  1. That is one awe­some piece of writ­ing. Hushed and pre­cise, yet earth and soul shat­ter­ing.

    We know this is prob­a­bly just mis­at­tri­bu­tion of emo­tions but where’d we be with­out it? It’s beau­ti­ful.

  2. Thank you very much for the kind words, Nils. Life would be pret­ty bor­ing if we did­n’t enter­tain such thoughts. I did­n’t think any­one would under­stand such a strange habit of mine, but it’s obvi­ous that you do.

  3. My plea­sure. Thank you, for the words as such. And yes, we all have our ways of chan­nel­ing our pas­sions.

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