15 April 2021 (feat. The Blanket poem)

Another night of restlessness.

I wrote a poem while lying in bed. I think it’s too sentimental, and therefore too amateur. Is sentimentality amateur? If so then there’s no hope for me. I am far too sentimental.

Yet I have problems with sentimentality. At least overly sentimental writing.

— (read on after the poem for an unintentional book review) —

The Blanket – 15 April 2021

You are the blanket 
at my feet. 
Deep blue.
And with chewed corners,
my dogs anxious response 
to the days where your absence
keeps me locked inside this apartment
keeps me curled upon my mattress

I bought that blanket,
the largest I’ve ever owned—
I run hot, a human space heater was our joke—
because you were visiting.
It was a visit that lasted several months.
Several months connected
in a world filled 
of detached people.
Masked smiles
Masked frowns
Muffled laughs,
but we were clear... 
I thought I saw us clearly 

After you left, I folded the blanket.
I didn’t need it.
(but I needed it)
Laying alongside me, filling the space—
filling your space—
its weight upon my feet reminds me 
that I knew I couldn’t say goodbye...
At least, not when I was supposed to

I have been slowly making my way through Colin Thubron’s Shadow of the Silk Road for months now. There are sections of it which are absolutely beautiful. I am an underliner and I have had to give it up for this book, because in one instance I would have had to underline an entire eight pages (p. 171-178). Instead, I switched to small page flags.

The problem is that sometimes (often) the pages are steeped in sentimentality. You find yourself wading knee-deep through metaphorical descriptions in every sentence, and it becomes emotionally draining in a way I can’t find intentional. It makes for very slow reading (this, coming from someone who is already a very slow reader).

To be fair—and in an attempt to find intention— the issues, places, people and histories he is passing through are incredibly complex. Perhaps the sentimentality is a reflection of how deeply he was impacted by his experiences. That works most of the time if read passage by passage with plenty of time placed between them. But there is little separation in the book. The chapters are lengthy, and the passages feel cramped.

I could be wrong though. Not about the sentimentality being a reflection of the weight of Mr. Thubron’s experience. I mean, I could be wrong about that, too. What I mean is that I could be wrong about seeing it as sentimentality. Instead, it could simply be that he was trying to fit so much into every sentence that he made them far too dense. After all, he traces one of the major paths of the Silk Road. To edit down and condense all that distance, all that he saw, all the history that was relevant to what he chose to include is no easy task.

There have been volumes of books written about the regions he traveled through, and there will be countless more to come. But three hundred and forty-four pages is too short for me to read through at an enjoyable pace. Were the book longer, even double the length, surely it wouldn’t have taken me months to read it. I would not feel the need to rest after fifteen or thirty minute sessions.

This is all to say nothing of how topical the book has been with regards to the events of the world happening now. Mr. Thubron’s travels, which took place in 2007 and 2008, coincided with the outbreak of SARS (-CoV-1), take him through the autonomous region of Xinjiang in western China where the current Chinese government is conducting an ethnic genocide of the Uyghur population, and through Afghanistan, where his travels are interrupted for a year due to military conflict which is likely to happen again as Afghanistan faces the likelihood of civil war once President Biden removes the remaining US troops (set to be complete by Sep. 11 of this year). With any luck, that will not happen, and I will not still be reading this book come September.

— S. R.

sentiment (n.)

late 14c., sentement, “personal experience, one’s own feeling,” from Old French sentement(12c.), from Medieval Latin sentimentum “feeling, affection, opinion,” from Latin sentire “to feel” (see sense (n.)).

Meaning “what one feels about something” (1630s) and modern spelling seem to be a re-introduction from French (where it was spelled sentiment by 17c.). A vogue word mid-18c. with wide application, commonly “a thought colored by or proceeding from emotion” (1762), especially as expressed in literature or art. The 17c. sense is preserved in phrases such as my sentiments exactly.

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