I could have been
ahead of my time;
I could have been
Nevertheless, I proceed,
hoping to profit
from useless hard-won knowledge,
and brooding about mortality –
about how depressing it is
that nobody knows my name,
and how inconvenient
that one has to die
in order to receive posthumous acclaim.
And worse still, that one
has to have accomplished something.
I must put that on my to-do list.
But what are you going to do
when the life you passively awaited
has slowly passed you by?
You can’t hate something
because you made it unattainable,
and you can’t resent other people
because you let yourself down.
But you can try.
I could have been
Shouldn’t art be the residue of life and not the main thing?
This novel thought struck me while I was brushing my remaining teeth. I held on to it and as soon as I got out of the shower I wrote it down.
Unless writing is the means by which one earns one’s livelihood, isn’t it more important to live? If one enjoys writing, then write, but if one has to bribe oneself to do it, if it isn’t financially rewarding – or rewarding on any level beyond this dubious notion of actualizing oneself – and if nobody is reading it, then why bother? Why sacrifice potentially enriching experience in order to engage in an act that nobody else, oneself included, benefits from? Surely art shouldn’t be prioritized over life? And even if one is compelled to do it professionally or out of some misguided sense of purpose, even then isn’t it more important to experience life than to examine and transcribe it?
Maybe there are a few cases of supremely gifted individuals whose works are sufficiently edifying and entertaining that the prioritization of art over life – or the more exalted status of art as life – is justifiable.
It is doubtful, however, for the vast majority of people that call themselves or think of themselves as artists, that on their deathbeds they will look back and value their creative or professional achievements over love and the living of life.
But perhaps what one values most on one’s deathbed isn’t the most reliable index of worth.
Anyway, I’m not on my deathbed, I’m just sitting at this desk.
Yes, my dear, we have each other:
that’s what worries me.
I wouldn’t focus on your flaws
if you did not call yourself mine;
you are the living embodiment of my failure,
another symptom of my decline.
But, darling, please don’t let our love ever die.
Because if it does, I’ll be shattered
by all the time I’ve wasted
keeping it alive.
Gissing, Orwell, Kafka, Lawrence: What do these distinguished authors have in common? They all produced a lot of great work, certainly, but surely their most important unifying quality is that they were all younger than me when they died. I have now lived longer than a lot of people who achieved a lot more than I am ever going to achieve. Taking into consideration how much time I have already wasted and how much time realistically remains – and how much of that remaining time is likely to be wasted – then that situation is unlikely to change. Even if I devoted every available remaining hour in unswerving devotion to this unrequired and rewardless task, it would still be impossible to ease the margin of defeat and offset the overwhelming backlog of lost time. It is no longer possible to measure my own lack of progress by that of other authors who started ‘late’. I have now surpassed them all. When ‘they’ talk about an author’s career taking off, and their ‘finally’ producing the work for which they are rightly revered, the author is always at least ten years younger than I am at time of said ‘take-off’. There are others who seemed old when I was young, who started to produce work at a sensible age and have continued to produce it; they have been old for a long time, whereas I have been young for a long time, because I haven’t started yet. I have spent twenty-five years preparing to start. And it’s not as if I haven’t spent all this time struggling with literary endeavor; it’s just that I haven’t finished anything. Well, that’s something: a point from which to recede.
As we walked out one night,
my love and I,
I caught a glimpse
of an old bachelor friend
through the window of a restaurant.
He was sitting at the counter,
reading a newspaper over his solitary meal.
He would be going home alone,
getting into bed alone and waking up alone,
rather than returning to a shared bed
with a beautiful woman.
And I felt a sharp pang of envy.
For in his aloneness his life seemed fuller, richer,
and less lonely than mine
in its incomplete state of togetherness.
My love also noticed him and turned to me.
“Isn’t that your friend?” she said,
I seemed to have always been the same age.
Then I looked in the mirror and saw a tired
and devious old man gazing warily back at me.
An old man, alone in a room, masturbating over a memory,
fantasizing about women who have forgotten about me,
and brooding over deliberately missed opportunities.
A shadow of my former shadow
slowly becoming invisible, turning gray.
Unfortunately, nobody noticed
that I never went away.
I recognize the ideal,
of what I’m ideally working towards,
but I’m incapable of realizing it.
So why not satisfy myself
with what I imagine
I’m capable of doing
rather than actually doing it?
That seems like a reasonable solution.
But isn’t that what I’ve been doing all along:
basking instead of striving;
recognizing what I’m capable of
and settling for less?
Which is actually a long process
of resigning oneself to failure:
basking in the glory of potential
and potential glory,
until potential is dead.
Two opportunities to catch the magic in person this week.
Book now to guarantee disappointment
(in fact, both events are free).
Tues April 19th, Stories Bookstore, 1716 Sunset Blvd,
Los Angeles 90026
6.30pm, with Janet Fitch & Andrew John Nicholls
Weds April 2oth, Cafe Mimoda, 5772 Pico Blvd,
Los Angeles 90019
8pm, with guitarist Damjan Rakonjac