Taking My Time: Randon Billings Noble on The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits

Randon Billings Noble author photo

Randon Billings Noble is an essayist. Her work has appeared in the Modern Love column of The New York Times; Brain, Child; The Georgia Review; Shenandoah; The Rumpus; Brevity; Fourth Genre and elsewhere.  She is a nonfiction editor at r.kv.r.y quarterly, Reviews Editor at PANK, and a reviewer for The A.V. Club.  You can read more of her work at www.randonbillingsnoble.com.


30 April

Today I read to page 32 in The Folded Clock and loved it so much I started writing a letter to a friend – a real letter, not an email or message or text – to tell her about it.  This friend and I used to live in the same city, but now we don’t, so we write letters to each other maybe once a month or so.

I like to write letters. I like addressing the envelope, picking out a stamp that fits the mood of the letter or of the season.  I like the physical act (sometimes inconvenience) of taking it to a mailbox to send it on its way.  I like it when words become an artifact – something with a presence that is held and read and perhaps not too easily discarded.

The Folded Clock is an artifact, a book with an abstract print on its cover that looks like something Vanessa Bell may have painted for the first edition of a Woolf novel.  There is no dust jacket to fuss with or fret over.  It feels good in the hands and to the eye.  It is not easily discarded.

I meant to read only a few pages but I read to page 32.  It was too late at night to start a book but I found myself unable – or unwilling – to stop. The Folded Clock is a diary with each entry beginning with the word “Today.”

Today I wondered What is the worth of a day?

Today, or rather tonight, my husband and I will be watching “The Men Tell All.”

Today I was stung by a wasp.

Today I spun tops with my son.

Today I started reading a book called How to Navigate Today.

The entries are dated but in no particular order.  Each one deepens into a nuanced meditation – an essay, even – on a subject that may only tangentially relate to the opening line.  Thinking about “The Men Tell All” (the penultimate episode of The Bachelorette) turns into a consideration of fiction vs. reality, crushes vs. marriage, how Neanderthals managed to procreate, and why it shouldn’t be surprising that we experience real feelings as a result of fiction.

Each entry makes me think about my own life in similar terms – whatever terms Julavits sets out: writing, watching, stinging, spinning, reading, feeling.

11 May

Today I went to the National Portrait Gallery and thought about the passage of time.  I was looking at an exhibit of the works of Elaine de Kooning and reading the notes on the wall about early work, late work, how the work was influenced by marriage, birth, death … It made me wonder about my own work, my own life.  What will my best work be?  What will be considered a stumble, a mistake?  What will my main influences be, for better or worse?

Much of the above passage I took straight from my diary.

I wonder how much Julavits took straight from her diary and how much she added and how she thinks and feels about her work and life and being in the middle of things.

3 May

Today I ate Thai food with a bunch of poets in Fairfax, Virginia.  I had never been to Fairfax, Virginia but have always loved the name.  It reminds me of Miss Jane Fairfax from an Austen novel, a character I don’t much remember, and never seemed to be clear about even when I did remember.  Was she “good” or “bad” (according the heroine in question)?  You can’t tell from the name (like wicked Wickham or will-less Willoughby) – the X at the end makes her feel somehow suspect.  I could look it up – a Google search is only a few keystrokes away – but, like Julavits, sometimes I prefer wondering to a hard answer.

I like hanging out with poets.  They do a lot of wondering too.

10 May

Today I received an email from the library telling me that The Folded Clock was overdue but I decided not to return it.  I don’t want to rush these readings.  I tend to read them at night when everyone else is asleep and I’m alone and almost giddy at having the quiet and solitude to enjoy a book in a circle of lamplight that feels like a spell protecting my quiet and solitude.  These moments feel illicit (even though they’re not) and I am reminded of Anna Karenina coming home from seeing Vronsky and lying awake in bed, her eyes shining in the dark, thinking only “It’s late, it’s late” with a kind of inarticulate joy.  But I am so happy to be alone with a mind I admire without being interrupted by other minds I admire, especially the two four-year-old minds I live with, that it almost feels like an affair – something valued but kept at the margins, something unknown to the sanctioned people in my life, something they might not fully understand.

17 May

Today I made a list of ways I might start more diary entries with “Today.”  Some of them I have already used, some of them I have not.

Today I stopped watching Sons of Anarchy after a particularly vicious prison rape.

Today I went to “Muffins with Mommy” at the twins’ preschool and had my hands painted green.

Today I watched a series of World War II planes fly over the Potomac.

Today I tried to clean out a closet but didn’t.

There’s something compelling about starting each entry with the same word.  It acts as an organizing principle when diaries – and lives – usually don’t have one.

24 May

Today I finished this piece even though I still haven’t finished The Folded Clock.  I feel a little guilty about this, but the series is called “Writers to Read” not “Writers I’ve Read.”  And I’m still reading – I returned the library’s copy but immediately bought my own.  I didn’t want too long a pause in our conversation, Julavits’s and mine.  I want to keep turning the pages, seeing how our lives and thoughts unfold against each other’s.  I don’t want to hurry this relationship to its inevitable 290-page end.  I want to slow the clock and savor the time.  I want there to be more todays.

7 thoughts on “Taking My Time: Randon Billings Noble on The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits

  1. This is An amazing piece. The word today has a special tone to it, it has a special significance and each and every day should be regarded as today, because each and every day is special in a different from the previous day. Amazing piece, I really like how you kept the article going forward by making a diary entry. 🙂
    Regards, Chaitanya Haram.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “I tend to read them at night when everyone else is asleep and I’m alone and almost giddy at having the quiet and solitude”….yes- this is how I feel at night too- reading/drawing/writing. As if the world being asleep has created an opening

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I suppose there was a point where I lost myself a bit while reading these entries. And it was a pleasant confusion, ethereal and light in its landing. In particular, I’d like to highlight the line that reads: “But I am so happy to be alone with a mind I admire without being interrupted by other minds I admire…” Assay invokes this enduring imagery, the image of a reader falling in love with the mind of another. There’s a moment when two minds connect, even if metaphorically, and there’s a thrill…this recognition that someone else also has that thought running through their head.

    I’d also like to mention that Assay does a superb job of mixing the mundane with the grand. By opening the entries with literal references to the day’s occurrences, she almost fools the reader into thinking the paragraph will read as a list of activities. Then, she diverges and instead moves the reader into this complex land tackling impossible questions. As such, she emulates and (likely accomplishes, though I’ve never read the book) the same effect she admires and touts from “The Folded Clock”.

    Emphatic, pleasurable read that takes you on a slight ride. The ride is soft and comfortable, and we later noticed we’ve moved from one point to another.

    Like

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