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
If the amount of time I ‘put in’ were commensurate with actual finished product, I would have amassed a substantial body of work by now, several groaning shelves worth, if not of a Jamesian or Dostoevskian amplitude, then at least in the Flaubertian range. Although, admittedly, most of the time that was supposed to be spent immersed in disciplined endeavor has been lost in a haze of abstraction. All these thoughts and memories – all these notes – will perish with me, and maybe that’s for the best. Why save them from inevitable oblivion? If only to bespeak the gulf between what one imagines one is capable of and what one actually is capable of, and the folly of continuing to work on something when one knows in advance that it is a failure. Who am I kidding? The only person I’m kidding is myself. Nobody else is invested enough to be in on the joke.
Instead of doing my own work,
I took a long hard look
at somebody else’s work,
in the hope of being pleasantly relieved
by how bad it was.
But, much as I tried to deny it,
it was undeniably good.
And it pours out of him
like a gusher from a golden fountain
that never stops flowing.
Compared to this strained trickle
from a blocked and rusty faucet.
I take consolation
in how much it has cost me,
as if that might somehow redeem it.
Which, of course, it doesn’t.
But I don’t have much else
to take consolation in.
And so, lost to myself, I find myself again, incapable of losing myself, in a state unfit for discharging what I stubbornly and unconvincingly still cling to the notion of as being my duty, weighed down by the forces that were supposed to raise me, sinking into a lyre-backed chair amid the flickerings and trillings of a hot February morning. Despite the best of intentions, things didn’t go according to plan. A few sentences were squeezed out like the rancid dregs from an almost empty bottle, long past its expiration date. The results, when viewed, will probably strike me as nothing I’d care to share. But at least a few lines emerged.