The “Flitcraft Parable” is in Chapter 7 of The Maltese Falcon, titled “G in the Air” with unsettling personal aptness. In condensed form:
Flitcraft lived a comfortable life of routine. Married with two kids, financially secure, without secrets or unruly inner demons. One day he disappeared, without warning, without trace, like a fist when you open your hand. His wife hired a private detective to find him, and find him he did. Confronted in the detective’s hotel room, Flitcraft had no feeling of guilt, as he felt his disappearance was utterly reasonable. His only bother was knowing that he couldn’t make that reasonableness clear to the detective, so he tried to explain.
Walking to lunch on the day he disappeared, a giant construction beam accidentally fell right beside him. He was uninjured, but after he recovered from the initial shock, he knew that the falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally not the clean, orderly, sane, responsible affair he’d been living. Good citizenship, stable family, fortunate business – none of these things changed the fact that people lived only while while blind chance spared them.
He left that day with only the clothes on his back. After a couple of years of wandering, he settled in another suburb not far from the one he had left. He married another woman who didn’t look much like his first wife, but they were more alike than they were different. He wasn’t sorry for what he’d done, it seemed reasonable enough to him. He wasn’t even aware that he’d settled back into the same groove that he had left. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.
Since my last post, I left the dessicated shell of my marriage, leaving the house and most of my possessions, reassembling my life without the structure and goals that had been the foundation of my adult life. Among the many material things I left behind, I regretted nothing except that I did not bring the book that had been my reference for the Gatsby project. I had pored over each page of that book, carefully underlining the one phrase or sentence that would form the kernel of each post in the project, which was just under halfway done. I asked for the book’s return, to no avail. I thought I couldn’t start again without that exact book; but the edition was not a common one, and even if I could get it, of course it wouldn’t have my underlined markings, the toil of years.
For a long while I was furious that I could not get my book back, and that no one seemed to care how much it mattered to me. I stopped writing, because the Gatsby project had become my favorite warmup to writing, and my reliable fallback when words would not flow on other efforts. I was blocked – emotionally, creatively, spiritually blocked.
Finally I picked up another edition. Although I knew the pages wouldn’t match, that the project wouldn’t be the seamless tapestry I’d once imagined, I was ready to embrace the wisdom that you can start any new path you want, so long as you don’t require that it proceed on a straight line from the one you’ve been on. New edition in hand, I loaded the Gatsby project from the first page, freshly underlining the sentences I’d already posted about, expecting to run into the page that didn’t match. It didn’t come in the first chapter, or the second … or any that I’d done. I reached the final page of the project to date, and each sentence that I had selected in the old book landed neatly on the same page of the new book.
He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.
I’m ready to write again.