Writer in Residence


By Geoffrey Morrison

Outside my window are two strands of spidersilk, about five inches apart, both slanting downwards from left to right at a sharp angle. They move semi-independently in the slight morning breeze, almost like the two guiding strings of an expensive kite – the kind that flips, does tricks, and makes a hard, mechanical fluttering sound when it turns – but so far they have not snapped. I do not know where they start or where they end. I see only the inch or so of each strand that the sunlight catches. When they move, this bright inch also moves, up or down as the case may be, and I see the strand at a different place than I did before.

I am cluing in to something. Now that I have watched the strands for long enough, I can see a little of the areas that are not lit up by the sun at any given moment. The departing brightness leaves behind a fine grey afterimage, an afterimage that is nevertheless real. It stands out, just, against the dark green backdrop of the big dry fir tree across the alley. I am cluing in to something else. If I move – if, say, I get up from my chair – I can make the light move, too. But somehow I feel I must not abuse this privilege – that this is not my role.

Sometimes the strands stretch so far in the breeze, which must now be rising a little, that from where I am sitting I cannot see them at all for seconds at a time. This is a moment of suspense. But so far both strands have always returned to view again before long.

When I first saw the strands – when I first noticed them and wondered if there might be something here to write about – they were relatively still, and so an image came to mind: I thought the strands looked like two hairline cracks in a window. But not my window – I could tell it was not my window, that the fine cracks were in front of my window and not of it. Which meant, if we were to follow this image to its logical conclusion, that there was a window in front of my window. If not mine, whose? Through my window I may look at the world. Was this window in front of my window therefore the means by which the world might look at me? I doubt it. I am not very important or very interesting to look at. The pleasure I get from looking out my window at the world – the mountains in a film of haze, the broadleaf trees in the brightest green they will wear all year, the towers in the hilly woods that from this distance could almost be enchantresses’ bastions, alien mastabas, and not the plastic grafts of useless luxury they are – could hardly be reciprocated by all this world looking in at me. Perhaps, then, the second window is the sole, on-again-off-again visible superimposition of an invisible secret second room, second building, second me – like when you look through your Viewmaster as a kid with eyes that aren’t focused properly, and the scene has a spectral double hovering in front of it. But the second window is broken. What changes might I notice if, in a moment of intense concentration (or the opposite?) I caught a glimpse of the second me? Where would the second me be fractured? Or is it I who am the broken one?

I try to take a picture of the spidersilk on my phone, but I can’t. It is just a picture of my window and the tree across the alley and the world beyond. This pleases me somehow. The strands are outside of picture-world. If you want to see them, you will have to take my word for it.

A photograph, taken out a window, of a bright May morning in Vancouver. Most of the frame is taken up by a large fir tree in front of the building across the alley.

The author tries but fails to take a photograph of that which he describes

Hours later, I come back to the window. The angle of the light has shifted such that I cannot see the strands at all. They could still be there, trembling just in front of my face. Or they could have snapped and fallen to the earth. Like God’s fishing line. Or the hair of the rebel angels.

Hours later still, I am walking in the street. It is mid-afternoon and the sun is bright on the ragged snowpatches of the mountaintops. I see two famous peaks, now erroneously referred to by a triumphalist British imperial name but properly called Ch'ich'iyúy Elxwíkn', “the Twin Sisters,” in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh snichim. When I am standing at the correct angle, or when something up there is positioned in the right way, I see a little flash of silver in between the two peaks. I have never seen this before. It is the colour of the spidersilk I saw this morning.

I think everything I am telling you today has something to do with writing, just like everything else I have been telling you. I think I want to say that, when I write, it is a mistake to say I am making something from nothing. Because there is no “nothing.” Everything is something, and once we see that something once, we will see it again everywhere – not all at once, but here and there, when the light catches it, if we are patient and know what is our role and do not try to cheat by taking pictures.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Geoffrey D. Morrison is the author of the poetry chapbook Blood-Brain Barrier (Frog Hollow Press, 2019) and co-author, with Matthew Tomkinson, of the experimental short fiction collection Archaic Torso of Gumby (Gordon Hill Press, 2020). He was a finalist in both the poetry and fiction categories of the 2020 Malahat Review Open Season Awards and a nominee for the 2020 Journey Prize. He lives on unceded Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh territory (Vancouver). Falling Hour is his first novel.