(I'm so paranoid I probably think this blog is about you)
Gertrude Stein; Alice B. Toklas
by Cecil Beaton
bromide print, 1939
— Gertrude Stein, A Geographical History of America or the Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind
'This place we're flying over now isn't in the atlas, is it?' the pilot said, grinning.
'You're darn right it isn't in the atlas!' cried the Head of the Air Force. 'We've flown clear off the last page!'
'I expect that old giant knows where he's going,' the young pilot said…
…’Look for yourself. Here’s the very last map in the whole flaming atlas! We went off that over an hour ago!’ He turned the page. As in all atlases, there were two completely blank pages at the very end…
…The young pilot was still grinning broadly. He said to them, ‘That’s why they always put two blank pages at the back of the atlas. They’re for new countries. You’re meant to fill them in yourself.’ —The BFG, Roald Dahl
When you’re a kid you read wonderful books in the dark of your nightlight, peopling your dreams and wiggling your toes. All life is fantasy life for you: the soft pages of your novels and the holding patterns of your wallpaper and the grainy after-school sunlight fuzzing the air inside your bedroom. Behind you: almost nothing. And everything ahead: blank pages. It will not occur to you (it will not have occurred to you) that filling in the blank spaces doesn’t make you a grown-up. (What is the use of being a young pilot if you’re not going to grow up to be a young pilot?) These blank pages teach us (and maybe they make believe at teaching us) what it means to grow up: we ask answerable questions. It doesn’t make sense to ask “where” one is when maps have ceased to function, when where-ness itself has been blanked out.
When you’re no longer a kid you read wonderful books that try to make up for the fact that big friendly giants never materialized (they will not have materialized) to guide the young pilots in their encounters with blankness (one learns that blankness never existed and that pilots were bad people). It doesn’t make sense to sit down in the office of your former professor with a blush and a lid of repression shut tight over your fantasy life, expecting that she will see what you cannot; that she will speak the as-yet unheard future of a girl reappeared from the past and backpedalling, blindly, in the direction of those blank pages, while stationary objects begin to smudge, a stack of books begins to wobble, and she puts on her glasses—is it possible that you are taller?)
When you’re no longer a kid you read wonderful books in place of the heroes you’ve left behind. You can hear their voices which at one time would have made your heart flutter (blushes easily) in their silent words, their texts (your loves).
Have we grown up, then, once we’ve stopped (we will have stopped) our crying, our trying to protect, to project an image of ourselves onto these our heroes’ blank pages? Have the young pilots flown on, fluttering eyes, “into the sunset?”
When you’re not sure if you’re ever going to grow up you read wonderful books that show you how to live, how you want to live, how you are not living. You dream about this (how you are not living). The how and not the not. Each morning, in the smiling shrug of last night’s dream, you wonder if that fantasy life is all those blank pages are ever going to say.
— Lauren Berlant, “Starved” (in After Sex? on writing since queer theory, 2011)