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A Brief Note to You


Rivka Galchen

Rivka Galchen's brilliant first novel, Atmospheric Disturbances has just been published by HarperCollins Canada. Below, in an original piece of fiction penned for, Galchen creates a protagonist with a rather unsettling message for someone.


A Brief Note to You


I would like to come to your attention. In fact, in recent times, it has become the case that it seems to me that nothing is worth saying, that nothing matters, that, well, nothing exists, if I fail to come to your attention. And so, I am, naturally, always wanting to come to your attention, even as I am a small person who likes small things, who likes gentle whirring sounds and sorting silverware and other things that generally don’t garner attention, so I think you can imagine my predicament, as even in my small ways, it seems to be entirely what I am—to want to come to your attention. I’m beginning to think that that may be what it means to be a person. That is, that to be a person seems, to me, to mean being the variety of thing of which it is not senseless to inquire, “Why are you doing that?” You can’t ask this of a pistachio. And for most of my life, I don’t think you could really ask this (sensibly) of me. To be a person, a full person, is, I am learning, to be the variety of thing for which such an inquiry leads to a kind of exercise in justification that isn’t nonsense. What it (might be) to be a person is to stand in a certain sort of relation to other persons. For example, me in relation to you. Relations: I think this is why people explored for decades thin phrases like “Man is a social animal.” And I think this is why proverbial slaves fight proverbial masters and proverbial masters fight proverbial slaves. Because they need to ask one another, “What do you have to say for yourself?” And they don’t want to ask that, and they don’t want to be asked that, but also they do want to ask, and so they are just

Atmospheric Disturbances - by Rivka Galchen

standing there (in relation, you see) and staring each other down and then, after some very long period of time, something shifts—maybe the actual ground—and the feel of everything changes and the world cannot go on as it was before and that is history, these questions finally falling from the places in the air where they were hanging. Anyway, I am that way. Or what I mean to say is, I am only a person in so far as someone is requiring of me that I give an account of myself. Except it’s not that general. I should explain that this is a special case in that the only person to whom I feel required to give an account of myself is you. And you are my master and my slave, though you don’t seem to know it yet, though one day everything will change, though I don’t mean to frighten you by saying that. You are my history. But don’t worry, you can just stand still, like the sun does (or doesn’t, but you understand the sense I mean). You will still be my history, even so. And all this (you see), all this going-on of mine, all this disorganized glinting off of zeitgeist-coloured balloons and hyperactive allergies from the dust on old books with marbled patterns on their false covers and promises of cures and magic and maps of the universe within—all this nonsense, really, let’s be honest—well, this is somehow the symptom of how despondently I want to come to your attention. I could instead wear feathers or yellow pants or learn card tricks or how to make the sounds of 1,000 macaws startled. But something about your sleepy quiet and your braids and your excessive devotion to straws and the way you shake your head so often when you talk, as if to disagree with yourself at all times—well, here I am, silently, trying to come to your attention, in the only way that seems reasonable and dignified and sufficiently quiet. One of the things people used to say about quantum mechanics, or so I’m told, was that the very existence of the physical world depended on its coming to someone’s attention, on someone looking at it or measuring it, and that before then the physical world was not there, not a cat of it or anything else. And if one pointed out, after someone said such a thing, that this seemed like a silly thing to say, even a stupid thing, since people themselves come also from the physical world, so the physical world had to be there in order for there to be the people to look upon that self-same physical world—well, I think what one was supposed to do in reaction to such understandable apostasy was smile and say, “Yes, that’s it exactly,” and then maybe kiss the questioner enigmatically, like Jesus does in the Grand Inquisitor, and, well, I am like the physical world and you are like the only somebody, and this (you see) is how badly I want to be looked at by you. — Rivka Galchen (June 2008)


Rivka Galchen received her MD with a focus in psychiatry from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. She recently completed her master of fine arts at Columbia University, where she was a Robert Bingham Fellow. She has published essays in The Believer and Scientific American, and in 2006 she was awarded a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Atmospheric Disturbances is her first novel. Rivka Galchen was born in Toronto and now lives in New York City.

Check out the New Releases Table at Pages Books & Magaznies to get your copy of Atmospheric Disturbances.

(Photos courtesy of HarperCollins Canada.)