Like the drag of age on the muscles, gravity, the wind, an ever more giant hand in the chest, I notice a diminution of my energies lately. This could be nothing more than a little good natured depression, checking in to keep me honest. It is the other side of creativity, after all, despondence when the creative impulse wanes.
It is possible, when ideas are flowing and possibilities seem endless, to see the world as a kind of infinite feast. During such times you are not troubled by the concurrent reality that this world is a truly infinite feast only for connoisseurs of carrion. Your vultures, rather clever birds, and hyenas, often regarded as cowardly, are the most well-known beneficiaries of this unlimited smorgasbord. Although these intelligent birds and plucky scavenging wild dogs will soon enough go the way of the Dodo Bird.
It becomes an uphill push to sustain enthusiasm for any long-term project in the complete absence of positive feedback. It is like anything difficult– if you have one stout supporter, one person deeply interested in what you are doing– that is often enough to get you through a sluggish period. In the absence of at least one person who truly gets what you are trying to do– the wall you hit periodically will look like the end.
This is just one more reason that most people prefer the rewards of working hard every day at a job that pays them decent money, and hopefully also provides a sense of satisfaction, to the day-dreamy reward of playing a perfect guitar part, or drawing something beautiful — for no pay. “Then ’tis like the breath of an unfee’d lawyer, you gave me nothing for it,” says the Fool to King Lear.
Looking for inspiration, one resorts to superstition. I was born in The Year of the Monkey. I once read a blurb about everyone born on this every twelfth year Monkey year. We are clever, can be very sociable, even charming, we have a million ideas, but we rarely are able to follow through to see any of them to fruition. My father was a Rat. Rats have all kinds of complementary traits to the Monkey, but not framing everything as a war is apparently not one of them. I don’t really remember much else from that paper placemat of the Chinese zodiac I read in the Gran Via on Dyckman Street many years ago. The Gran Via itself, run by Chinese Spanish speakers from Cuba, is long gone.
I had a long email debate with an old friend, a very clever fellow (also a Monkey, it occurs to me now) over the issue of American torture. He argues by habit and he’s very, very good at it. It is sport for him, as well as his vocation. I grew frustrated by his continual deflection of my points about the so-called Enhanced Interrogation program, by his refusal to accept any point I made, instead making endless deft lawyerly pivots. In the end, exhausted by this futile exercise with a devilishly clever Devil’s advocate, I wondered aloud if, in order to clinch his debate victory, he was going to start actually torturing me. “Oh, but I already am!” he wrote back, wry as you please.
I had a long chat with him recently about a matter that has been torturing me for some time. It came at a particularly inopportune time for him, I realized immediately after making it the subject of our dinnertime conversation. I dropped him a line to apologize for belaboring the point at such a bad time for him. He assured me that he was always pleased to be a sounding board and was glad I feel free to continue discussing such things with him. I took the opportunity to send him another copy of a piece I wrote about it, something too private, ironically, to post here.
In the thinly fictionalized story I had set up my dilemma from another angle, having a narrator tell the story from her point of view, dismissing mine while revealing all the pertinent facts in the least malignant light to herself that she could provide. The story is about a ten minute read and I’m unable to tell if it presents a fair sounding story or if the narrator is a hapless puppet with grotesquely visible strings clearly grinding my ax for me.
Everyone I know is somewhat familiar with the outlines of the story and the personalities involved. In seeking a reader who could read the story objectively, someone who didn’t know any of the players or the events, I asked a good friend of a good friend if she’d be willing to have a look. She agreed at once, told me she’d be delighted to read it. I emailed it to her eighteen days ago.
After about ten days, hearing nothing back, I wrote to tell her I wasn’t looking for literary input, just a general impression on two things: is the narrator credible and is she sympathetic? I had an immediate apologetic reply about a particularly hectic week, assuring me that she was looking forward to reading it and that it would be her pleasure to give me her take on those two things.
Since then, and after his assurance that my ruminations on this long standing situation didn’t faze him at all, I sent the piece to my old friend, recounting the story I have told just now about the reader who has been very busy but assured me again she is anxious to read the short piece.
I had his reply immediately:
I would be happy to read it, and offer my feedback!
To which, several days ago, I responded: Hah!
The world is a fucking hoot, to those not too bloody and bruised to wink at its puckishness. A couple of days of ten hours of sleep ought to bring out a bit more of its wicked humor, I would hope. Otherwise, I fear, this recent listless, sore kneed limping I’ve been doing may turn out to be the harbinger of something more ominous.