U is for Unbutton. I have written at length about the unbutton, that which is not a button, but there is so much more to be said, so much more. You would be surprised, I think, had you studied the unbutton to the extent and to the depth I have, just how much can be written on the subject. Stuffed in a drawer somewhere I have a stack of notebooks in which are scribbled page after page of my notes, notes I made diligently during my studies of the unbutton. I am glad I made the notes, for I have a mind like a sieve and have actually forgotten most of what I learned. Unfortunately I have also forgotten the location of the drawer in which the notebooks are stuffed, so I shall have to hunt that down before I can familiarise myself with the material. I say ‘material’ as that is a generic term, because I have never been sure whether to refer to my notes as data or lore or even, in extremis, ravings.

It is also unhelpful that my unbutton studies, and thus my note-taking, took place at a time when I was under the spell, the considerable spell, of the note-taking and hand-writing gourou Jim Pock. In addition to his grand pronouncements upon note-taking and hand-writing, Jim Pock was given to insisting, his countenance growing more florid by the second, upon certain idiosyncratic spellings, of which ‘gourou’, with inserted ‘o’s, was one. Actually, I cannot think of any others. What I do recall, so vividly that my heart almost bursts, is his screeching command – he called it a ukase, as if he were a Tsar – to have no truck with legibility. In his world, legibility was a crime. He never explained why this was so, swatting the queries of his devotees aside like flies. He did not actually refer to his method as ‘speed scribbling’, but that is a pretty good description of what he taught, from his podium, with his gesticulations. What it means is that all those thousands of notebooks I filled while studying the unbutton are unreadable, even if I could find the drawer in which I stuffed them, when I abandoned my unbutton studies, around the time of the Tet Offensive.

Jim Pock himself knew nothing about the unbutton. In fact, every time I let slip my field of studies, he became rattled. Once I was even expelled from the yurt until I promised to refrain from raising the subject. For all his visionary visionariness, Jim Pock was stuck in the mundane world of buttons, solid and comprehensible and utilitarian. He could not, or would not, see that striving, however blindly, towards an apprehension of the unbutton could lead us into realms undreamed of, had we but the courage to sniff out the clues, like hogs in search of truffles.

Looking back, it is all too clear to me that I took a wrong turn at the beginning of the Vietnamese year of the monkey (Tết Mậu Thân). Mentally, at least, I consigned the unbutton to an unscrapheap, and pointed my brain towards less abstruse matters. Only now, over forty years later, has the unbutton come back to haunt me, like the familiar in the story by J Sheridan Le Fanu. Jim Pock would be rolling in his grave, if he had one, but as far as I know he did not die. Rather, he was transfigured, somehow, onto a higher, or lopsided, plane, from where I dare say he still issues ukases on illegibility, and other matters of questionable import, from his ethereal podium, with his phantom gesticulations.

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