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Paul Gauguin: Arlésiennes (Mistral) (1888)

"He always was before."

I dreamed I was solving a mystery. Clues appeared before me, and I dutifully tracked them down, slowly building my case. Just when I felt as though I might be getting close to identifying the guilty parties, a thought visited me, an idea that, just for a second, wondered who was writing the story. Was I solving a mystery or staring in a story where I was cast as the detective, not really solving anything but more like serving as an author's character in some work of fiction, my role not real but made up. I considered shifting my focus then from merely acting as a mystery solver to chasing after the deeper mystery to see if I could identify who was this author. I received surprise testimony from a woman who claimed to be the actual author's mother, but even she needed help determining which part of the puzzle was figure and which was serving as ground.

I remember happening upon helpful strangers, of feeling baffled just before, as if by fortunate accident, fresh useful information came into my possession.
A total stranger passed me a candle in a tea room I'd happened into, and a whole new investigative thread opened up before me. Still unclear which was mystery and fiction, I continued engaging, collecting clues, hopeful that I might eventually understand the difference.

Dreams like this visit me sometimes. They might have no meaning whatsoever, or they might and often do carry some long-needed clue capable of blasting something open. I experience exclusively the more pedestrian of mysteries. Mine feature no international spies or smuggling rings like The Hardy Boys routinely encountered, but then I'm not the son of any world-renowned detective, either. I'm just a guy trying to figure out how to live, how to write my stories. I never once aspired to different. I make a defective detective at best, but even the least of us—of which I'm a proud member—still find ourselves cast as unlikely gumshoes chasing down clues. Nothing seems to be as it seems. It's all mystery. The parts we'd swear we somehow managed to figure out are likely plotting to circle around and get us from our blind side. It was never different.

As Dante noted, it's utterly ordinary and to be expected to find oneself lost in the middle of anything. It's almost always as if the story shifted as mine did, from a simple mystery into a much more complicated form. Where one once believed they might find the answer, they come to understand that any explanation, The Answer or any other one, was never really the point of the experience. Plots twist, and I try to make sense of the story unfolding before me. The great Publishing mystery I set myself upon seemed to become a work of fiction by a questionable author; just who that author might prove to be might well remain a lingering mystery, especially if he turns out to be me. He always was before.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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