Like most other impractical visionaries who subsist on metaphysical poetry and acoustic music, sometimes I feel like I spend my entire existence running away. I say I detest the absolution of responsibility, a culture that refuses to take the blows for its actions, but I do just that. I wonder if I will ever catch up, or if I will continue to make it simple for myself by letting go. However, that is the great lie of “letting go” — it masquerades as the easy thing to do, because all it seems to demand is the relinquishing of one’s hold, but in reality it is the planting of a root of remorse. You create ghosts of the things you wish you had done, the people you have let down. Writers recycle their regret by transforming it into stories, littered with the people they’ve abandoned. It is such a cop-out, but its a way of evading blame while simultaneously creating art. Art is the sum of our mistakes as much as it is a means of expression, for what to people desire to express most commonly other than mistakes, or circumstances that have arisen from them?
“It has always seemed strange to me…the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” – John Steinbeck, Cannery Row
I dislike the idea of neatness when writing. Writing should not be neat, it should not fit so nicely between the invisible lines on a computer. It is messy and aggressive, saturated with emotion. Typing on a computer, back-spacing, deleting– it diminishes all of that. What to do. My integrity is not compromised too much by taking this shortcut. Although, there is something to say for a clear thought-process. All I do is vomit words on a whim. Is there true love without Eros? There. Writing gets the thoughts flowing like this.
Moreover, I am too much of a control freak–concerning what I write, what I say. Everything has to go through some sort of bizarre filter that churns out a comment tailored to whoever I’m speaking to. Saul Bellow was right when he announced that he believed “sincerity impossible,” in an interview. Fundamentally, these carefully curated expressions arise from fear of being prosaic, fear of being boring. When you treasure your intelligence, build your identity around your brain, you’re terrified of losing a reputation. It’s the same with being popular for looks. Everybody maintains their image. Tale as old as time. It’s so frustrating to want to write when you feel like everything has been written. Perhaps that’s why we do it. Tantalized by the possibility of abstract ‘newness,’ the budding author seeks new and exciting pastimes, more and more radical combinations of words, disciplines, sentences, sentence fragments. There’s a lot of horrible stuff in the world. Horrible horrible things. Art redeems, but only up to a point. Art is not the only salvation. Artists always have a keen intuition and sense for the “what ifs” in life; to them everything is a possibility. And this can be damaging because the whatifs are given real credit, they are endowed with credibility, because the artist either cannot or does not wish to differentiate between what is distantly possible and what is immediately and likely so. Therefore, they are easily disappointed, easily led on. The robust realists have no false notions, the whatifs are carefully kept in a cupboard.
When you write, you have to feel very deeply. Your dialogue between your characters must fit within the realm of things you would say yourself, discussions you would have yourself. I am not that clever traditionally but I am very philosophically aware of the world. Maybe Hobbes is right. Maybe it is because I have lived my life by the luxury of leisure; I have had all the time in the world to think of these things, brood upon them. But it still holds that I feel so strongly, ‘love so intensely,’ and I must find an outlet for it.
“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.
For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.
How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.”
The artist, or aspiring artist, scopes out the lonely man by the curve of his limbs and the stoop of his shoulders, the spectacles sliding gradually down a hooked nose turned inward. He spots the secret smile of a beggar child who has just spied a stray kitten from underneath a pile of rubble and newspapers. He is always attuned to the quiet moments of contemplation. He can recall the reddish tinge of passion on flushed cheeks and preserve the memory long enough to recreate it with peach and violet hues.
The artist views his art as a more exalted form of reality. The details do not escape us, rather, the details are what we find most captivating, for it is the details that distinguish one person from another. Taking time to truly observe the form of a man — how he sits, whether his eyes meet yours, whether he clenches his fist or lets his fingers fall — all of this lends insight into who he is. Henry Miller once wrote that “to paint is to love again, live again see again…” The artist and the writer both observe the bald patches on the head of a man on medication for his alcoholism; one traces the smoothness of the exposed cranium, the other wonders how it feels as the hair comes off in his hands – gently? all at once?
Compassion is born from attention to detail.
I think the reason we never worked was because I was so similar to his family. I was just another person who read a great deal, engaging in what he deemed “solitary activities,” reading, drawing, and the like. Poor boy, he just wanted to be loved for who he was, without being bound to some standard. He once said that he was afraid of reading a story of mine because he knew how much his opinion meant, and he “didn’t want that kind of pressure.” I understand. We were happiest when we were in our rawest form, simply enjoying the warmth and tenderness of each other’s bodies. But distance is too great a burden for that kind of love because that kind of love desires and requires proximity. One day I will write a book, and I will turn him into a character, and he will exist within a different dimension, perhaps perpetually eighteen. We grew within our love as well as without it, and it has shaped us like sitting shrinks the spine. We withdrew into ourselves to better understand what it meant to care about somebody so different from ourselves. But “loves asks for some of the future,” as Camus wrote, and love transcendeth not all barriers. I will always miss pressing my face against the warmth of his smooth cheek, and feeling the soft, fragile skin around his eyes and lids. It still surprises me, grieves me even, at times, to think that I will never touch him again.
The hardest thing about first love is the fact that you grow with it. It is like a wooden pole that supports a young plant; as it grows the plant’s leaves curl around it and they exist as one entity. It is like a metal insert placed inside a broken joint; in a few months the cartilage has melded to it and it is indistinguishable from the rest of the limb. What was once important remains eternally important if it changed you irrevocably at a certain point in time. In retrospect, one grows to feel almost as if this first pain of love were as vital as an organ donation.
A vastly imperfect rendition.
“You see, most people have compartments in their minds and in their hearts: there is a compartment for ‘people I love,’ and ‘people I loved,’ for example. Its hard to take you out of the first and put you in the second because it means the drawing of a boundary I don’t know whether I am ready to draw. It just feels so limiting, although it doesn’t have to be. But that is simply what it feels like.”
I have been here about five full days, and I have adjusted well enough. I have learned how to fill my days adequately and reject the distractions of the internet and communication. I don’t even feel terribly close to Greg anymore; the umbilical cord has been weakened as if too little of the essence of life was being shared between entities. I’ve gotten used to his absence in a world so diametrically opposed to the one in which I am accustomed to seeing him; perhaps that is the reason. I don’t feel like doing my SAT work at all either; it seems so dull in comparison to the customary chaos and the drama of life here. Teaching the special-needs children is actually quite arduous; as they so clearly belong to a world separate from the present reality. Its frustrating how difficult it is for me to write lately, words used to come to me so naturally. Perhaps this is God’s punishment to me for my sin; or maybe Greg has simply hijacked my brain by clogging it with memories of him.
We took the metro to the museum, and on the way we met a man who gave us directions. We walked around, looking at landscapes and sculptures. We exited after a little while and visited a food-truck and then lay on the grass. Afterwards we walked to the botanical gardens and I gave him a piece of my orange. On the way, I asked him if we would have cute children. He said yes. I said yes, because his good nose could make up for my bad one. He said we could ask God, but God would probably say that all children are beautiful, so we’d have to convince him of what we really mean. We walked around the botanical gardens and talked politics. We then wandered around, asking policemen how to get to Union Station. At the door, I gave a man five dollars. He told us to have a good day. Greg held my bag. We looked up and down for a place to have tea. Then we both went to the bathroom. While in the bathroom, I mistakenly congratulated a lady on becoming a grandmother. She let me go in front of her in the line. We then went to Au Bon Pain for tea and met this lovely lady who was a cashier. She told us about her odd jobs. She started at 17, she was funny and she told us stories. Greg asked me if I wanted a pastry. I said no. He laughed at her jokes and we talked with her a while before she rang us up. She said, “if my sister who is bipolar, dyslexic, and schizophrenic can take all APs and get A’s and B’s, you can do anything.” When we checked out I said “God bless you.” Greg offered to pay, but I did instead. Then we left to the metro. I slept on Greg on the train. He held me like I were made of eggshells and caressed me the whole way back. His fingers curled into mine. I left makeup on his shirt. “It’s fine,” he said.
I live for days like this.