The Most Fragile Of Things

July 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Once again: check this out on my new site:

This day is a day of days in Canada.

July 1st is Canada Day, and it’s ostensibly the birthday of the nation; when a couple of provinces and territories actually became “Canada”. We’re one of the few countries in the world that was created out of a hat. By that, I mean Canada wasn’t entirely a happy union, nor was it a peaceful one, and it wasn’t made in the same way that many European nations were, where language, religion, culture, geography, and politics exerted a sort of gravitational effect to draw in provinces and spit out nations. Instead, it was an an agreement that not everyone wanted and which has only loosely bound us together. John A. MacDonald threw a couple of provinces into his hat, shook it around for a bit, and upended a country on the table. This means we don’t have the strongest bonds of any country, and Canada, despite our convictions otherwise, is not a completely peaceful union and it is certainly fragile.

But, in its own remarkable way, that union has somehow managed to muddle on. I love this country, but I don’t think I’d grant it any better an adverb than “muddle”. Yet somehow we’re still free, still together (yes Newfoundland, you are ours forever), still open, and still wonderful. In what is a weird and yet completely appropriate coincidence, the Pride parade is happening on Canada day.

Canada Day also happening on the same day as the expression of one of the greatest acts of tolerance in the past 200 years? Yeah, I’ll take it.

Week 26: Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman

I’ll preface this by saying that Neil Gaiman is my second-favourite author of all time. The first, obviously, is Papa, but Gaiman is a close second because of, well, everything. I love how he tells stories, stories that are magical and weird, and don’t always make sense but then you realize that they’re not supposed to make sense and suddenly everything fits. I love how he writes. I love how he’s so obviously a dreamer, and I love how some of those dreams are very, very dark. On a more practical note, I want to mimic the breadth of Gaiman’s career, and his style has most definitely influenced mine. That, and I’ve read most of the fiction that Gaiman’s written and enjoyed it immensely.

That said, I’d never picked up Fragile Things before and was leery of doing it. It’s a collection of stories, all of them wonder-filled, but the reading of them is very hard. One reason why I don’t like short story collections is that when I read them, I feel like I’m bungee-jumping in and out of a mountain range. I start to fall into something grand, something amazing…and suddenly it’s over; I turn the page and I’m in another story, flying up and away from what I was getting into. When it comes to stories, I usually like to sink into something so deeply I don’t necessarily come out.

But, then again, sometimes people and stories come like billiard balls and smack us, hard, so hard that a little piece of us chips off and is gone forever, and a little bit of that person is stuck on us no matter how far we roll away. But we’re only hit once. That’s one reason why I love poetry but I read so little of it. I’m excited and nervous that this will be one of the good ones, one of the ones that smacks me around the face so hard my head spins and I see the world from a new place.

As I was reading Fragile Things, I came across stories like that. “A Study In Emerald” should be read by anyone who likes stories, short or not. The whole thing is wonderful, and if you haven’t already solved it, the last paragraph will make your head spin. “Sunbird” is so weird and wonderful it deserves some blank pages before and after so your brain has time to stop and think. “Other People” is so perfectly succinct that it will embitter any novelist, who needs so many pages and who might tell as good a story.

Of course, there are those that don’t smack so much. I won’t bother listing them; the list wouldn’t be the same for you. That’s another thing that’s difficult but wonderful about short stories: despite the fact we’re reading the same thing, we get to experience them just a little differently.

I was thinking on the title, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. It comes from a dream Gaiman had, and the line he remembers:

I think… I would rather recollect a life misspent on fragile things than spent avoiding moral debt

One of life’s most exciting and terrifying experiences is in that moment of contact; with a story, a person, or an experience, and the second after they hit us. In that second, as we’re rolling blindly along the velvet, spinning and wide-eyed and happily, gleefully lost, we’re waiting to shatter, shatter and fall into a million pieces and be gone. It happens at the first kiss; the first time the door is closed and someone asks, “Are you sure you want to do this?”; the first time you stand at the door with your hand on the knob and you don’t know what will happen when you open it. Are we headed for another ball, or are we headed for the pocket? We never know and we’re scared, because half the joy of life is in the contact, and half the pain of life is in the shattering.

It’s a horrible feeling, and I’m fairly certain it’s the only feeling worth having.


“I feel like I live in a world made of cardboard, always taking constant care not to break something, to break someone.”- Superman


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