Four months since I did any work worth the mention. Five days since my beloved dog T__ died, his death too sudden. He lived 13 years, long enough to see his work completed: my first novel, written and rewritten while his snoring bulk warmed my toes, finally finished; my firstborn son, born to the wife he found for me, now just old enough to remember him always.
We go on. But not comfortably.
I am a privileged man. I live well in a rich country, my few problems good ones to have. As a young man I made public light of our universal predicament, joking that I was an ephemeral being floating through life, leaving no vestige of my passing. In middle-age it is truer and less funny. I am the defiant cry of my parents, exiled by wars both hot and cold from the land of their birth. But I fear I am merely the echo that starts some avalanche. I want something more.
I want to write memorably but I don’t know who is looking for that.
Last year my friend A___ sent an excerpt of Rudy Rucker’s autobiography. Rucker in turn cites Camus to explain the depressing experience of writing as well as you can only to have no one notice. It is what I return to as motivation, a reminder that the world is hard to move.
But not impossible. In college I was lucky enough to study twice under the great Richard Brodhead. At the start of the second class I took from him, on 19th Century American Literature, he had us read an execrable chapter of some unknown-to-us novel, about a girl buying fine stationery. Brodhead explained that the novel it came from sold more in its day than any other book we were to read, more than Mark Twain or Henry James or Walt Whitman.
The judgement of ages is slow in coming. It took 400 years for people to see the worth of John Donne, and only because Eliot and Pound found it useful for themselves to teach Donne to us. By that light I will be lucky to be published and read before my future dogs die, before my son and perhaps other children forget what our lives are like now.
I am lost and discouraged. But something awaits me other than aging and death. It is not obvious nor certain. My future is the statue no one else sees in the rough rock.
From Camus, via Rucker: “Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”
There it is. I must be churlishly dissatisfied with all my blessings. I must make new things happen.