If you watch a cursor blink on a blank white page long enough, something happens.
Maybe, your friends start to look up the addresses and phone numbers of the nearest mental hospitals. Maybe, you throw your computer across the room and pray it will the break—how else could you make that damn thing stop blinking?
Maybe, after your friends have a few loony bins on speed dial and your computer has sustained a few dents, text starts to crawl—craaawl—across the page, pushing the cursor in front of it.
The cursor usually fights back, racing and erasing its way back to the left margin. It moves a lot faster when it’s going backwards.
More dents. Your friends start reaching for their phones.
Maybe, that’s where it ends. Maybe that’s when your computer sustains the dent that destroys its keyboard and its hard drive and the cursor and everything else. Maybe, when you look up from the pieces that once formed the screen that once produced the cursor, a friend of yours is standing at the door with a few men in white, pointing at you.
Or maybe, just when you begin to wonder whether all that already happened and you slept through it, whether you are sitting at a desk in a mental hospital staring at the broken screen of a broken computer, you open your eyes and look up and…
Blink, blink, blink…
Maybe we’re better off just watching it blink. Beneath every period, every emphatic carriage return following every paragraph, there is the seductive whisper of the backspace button: maybe there’s a better way to say that…is that where the comma goes…is that even a sentence…is there any cogency to what I’ve just written?
Yes, there is a better way to say that—there are a thousand better ways to say everything. The piece isn’t nearly as cogent as it was when it was in your head, before you dared to challenge the Almighty blank page and His one and only Son, the blinking cursor.
But the comma is probably in the right place, and even if it’s not nobody’s going to notice or care. And there are probably a subject and a verb in that sentence—yes, sentence—somewhere, but even if there aren’t, you can call it a stylistic choice.
Blink, blink, blink, like a pulse, beating against the unblemished white page, like a head banging against a padded wall, like a shaking pen poised above a pad.
Most of the time, you can’t hear your pulse; you just trust it or forget about it or remember it and pretend it’s not there.
When things fall apart, they wheel you into a room with blank white walls on a bed of blank white sheets, and tape a little red light around your finger.
Then, you can hear it: beep, beep, beep. The silence between the beeps tells you you’re alive. Until you can’t hear it anymore. When the nurse comes in to unplug the machine, there will be no silence left, just a continuous beep.
Perhaps we can learn to appreciate the cursor, then: the way its disappearances promise reappearances, the way its quiet thinness interrupts the blank, white, impenetrable silence of the page, the way its steady fleetingness balances the white page, holding a place for black text.
Which always, sooner or later, leaks out onto the page, our blistering imperfections, searing themselves onto the page.
When you read this, the text will look bold and irrevocable against its white background. But as I wrote it, the cursor glared back at every sentence, threatening destruction. The blank page mocked my hubris from the cracks between words and the abysses between paragraphs.
Those cracks and abysses say everything I’ve ever said or wanted to say far more clearly and eloquently than I ever will.