I suspect that all writers are impulsive, and now that I am a writer, I have license to be what I always was: impulsive. It's not that I am not full of shame, because I certainly have regret and sorrow in full repair, but I decided long ago that inspiration was the thing. I would follow it anywhere. To give away my childhood piano, sell most of my guitars, and pack my entire life into a valise and a manila envelope, for a chance at la vie Parisienne; yes, a thousand times yes. I spent years shuttling my fiancée across the Atlantic to L'Opera, to the Christmas markets in Brussels, and Besançon, and Annecy - for what? A simple life in the syrupy hills of the Pacific Northwest, caught between the corridors of an interstate highway and the modest Siskiyou mountains, with brittle art and bad conversation as a prelude to nothing. I should have risked more. Yet, for many, this is heaven. Bah.
I am recently inspired by the writings of Dawn Powell, via my new membership with the New Yorker, which I will probably keep forever. Malcolm Gladwell brought me to you, and you brought me to Peter Schjeldahl, and John Jeremiah Sullivan. Even trade?
For once, as a prosaist, I feel infinitely small. That's new for me; I benefit from a large ego, one that has made sense of chaos and walked the tightrope between selective memory and unrealistic hope. Dreamers win, I say, or at least they die dreaming. And my life is deliciously normal: morning coffee, scant breakfast, the howls of children, surprise kisses. The monotony of daily writing has finally found me sober, and together we keep up appearances, all the while waddling towards greatness in a way that will either be remembered as gritty, or not remembered at all. I can make peace with that.
Because life comes in large doses, and then nothing; and it is our job, as artists, to peer through the muck. To find out: not just why we cry, but to what end is suffering? Do we recoil, or push against the fire? Do we run, laughing, from conflict like Sullivan's glorious King Parker, or do we climb a tree, veiled in darkness, with the vague hope of being forgotten? If justice is blind, then so, too, is beauty, because true beauty is not a vision, but a state - of improvisational recklessness, of tentative caution, of tender caress. We don't see it with our eyes - we yearn, and we find, with tendrils of the soul. Impulsiveness.
For a hundred strikes at the trunk of the tree of life, the integer of success is always misleading: it is said that we learn more from failing, than we do from accomplishment, but I think that still misses the point. Success will teach you something, too - that it is a drug of violent compromise, such that per your minute successes you will be tempted to rearrange the great vistas of your own life in accordance with last-minute detours; the ego, temporarily nourished, pushes aside the intellect with a plan for everything. You will never be so free as you are in the unanticipated rebuke of failure, because from the wake of distress and self-deprecation emerges a peculiar treasure: spiritual nudity. The ability to be nothing. And, to begin from nothing is a gift - because in that moment, anything is possible.
Today was Christmas: the town was quiet, the air was cold. It was not a day for impulsiveness, but rather, a moment of appreciation for the burning of wood in the fireplace, a new recipe for mulled wine, and the stillness of a road with no traffic. One of my enduring lucidities of early adulthood was that time is a mysterious force, like water. It does not see detail, but completeness, and is bound by complexities that the mind cannot fathom. So, we respond with the blunt tool of faith, in the hopes that the light of personality is enough to illumine another footstep. Tomorrow will not remember today, except that we command it to do so. Yet, I have never been one to deify the past: better to forge another blade, aimed at the swollen fruit of circumstance. Every day is an apple.
Read this story on Apple News.