The pain in my midsection felt like a dull routine by the time I came across the Vintage brass Made in India red and white mother of pearl bracelet, a pretty little scallop-edged bangle that caught my eye as I was idly scrolling around on eBay. There was something charismatic about it, winking out from its dark tiny cell of a thumbnail photo. It seemed to appeal to me personally, like a particular kitten or puppy at the pound who makes eye contact. It gave me déjà vu, reminded me of some dim, distant place I couldn’t quite identify.
The architect Louis Kahn once said that even a brick aspires to be a part of something greater than itself, and the idea is a nice one if you appreciate the transcendental power of architecture, how a building can tap into the sublime. And sure, some bricks might have humbler aspirations than others—a grocery store, say, instead of Monticello—while others, still, are perfectly satisfied with their essence, just as some men are obstinately content. But after a century or so of taking a beating, humble or proud, any brick is going to require at least a little attention. No radical metamorphosis, just a tending to what already is, a scrubbing off of the crud that conceals an original integrity.
I first wrote Charlie Engle a letter because I was fascinated by his life. It gave me a sense of vertigo to know that when we’d met, in the hills of Tennessee, he’d had no idea what was about to happen, how everything was going to change. I wondered what incarceration was like for him.