It’s easy to forget what this year was supposed to be about. I don’t even mean all that long ago, before my life caved in and I was left staring at the daily wreckage of my own dreams. I mean after that, but still before now, when I was going to be finishing a book, my fourth novel, in five days.
I last worked on it on 7 February 2011, an overcold day that I spent writing fiction outside of my place of residence for the first time in many years, then talked on the phone to Ariel, then came home and wrote this post and then wound up tabling the project until, apparently, now or even later than now. That was three months ago. The project’s sum total, aside from a pretty thorough and still salvageable outline, stands at 2,433 words. Less than ten pages, generously. The size of a half term paper I used to crank out in a handful of hours before the deadline to convince my professor I was from wherever I was writing about.
I mean, there were other things that happened on the way to today, many of them halfway good. There was that whole job thing that came along just about after, whisking me away from a future in Seattle or Denver or Flagstaff and pulling me in, not unlike a friendly but still somewhat menacing giant anemone, ensconcing me in New Jersey with the promise of a career that was neither writing nor in conflict with my principles and artistic desires. Slowly gnawing on my nutrients while I got numb and placid and malleable and basked in the warmth of something like community before awaking on the rocky shores this May, behind on creativity and with the tidewaters of that community pulling away and out to sea without me. This is water, as good old DFW would say. And you only know it when you’re out of it, for good or for ill.
The Pale King is searingly brilliant, by the way, a 500+-page suicide note that I’m already in love with a fifth of the way through. It’s brilliant like a made-for-TV knife, like a whole novel of nothing but Tim O’Brien water buffalo in unending agonizing parade to their slow demise. It’s improved my quality of life twenty points in two days, single-handedly, if only be reawakening the slumbering knowledge deep within me of the importance of Project X. Its similarities to same are also somewhat troubling, at least in spirit, and it occurs to me that X could be a suicide note if it had to be, probably best reads that way as fiction even if that’s not its purpose in the corporeal world per se.
I draft ten notes a day, mostly addressed to the person I have decided to no longer address, of course, though it’s probably inevitable that she reads this blog (unless she’s really that disconnected, but then again she gets bored very easily and quickly became addicted to things like Facebook and the Internet for their absorbing, time-wasting capabilities, so) and thus even the people I “cut off communication from” (one, to date), are never really out of touch. With me. If. Yeah. I’m going to stop now. And reset.
The point is, simply, that I think a lot about death, in sort of the way normal people (as far as I can tell) think about food. Savoring different textures and anticipating certain flavors. Imagining different layouts and menus. It is not unwelcome, though it is probably less welcome than the average perception of food, it carries some of the same craving without the visceral desire. It is important, sometimes, for me to flag for people that I will not be terribly sad if it happens, even very soon. Which is not to say that I’m willing it and it is important that I not will it for the sake of all you dearly beloved readers and friends who I am truly well aware want the best for me. It is also important that you not respond to the sentence prior to the last one with some snide quirky neo-atheistic response about me not being able to be sad because I’d be dead and the whole point would be to feel nothing. It’s not exactly how it works and even if it were, it would still matter differently. Either you follow or you don’t. The point is, and this is the bottom line, it is no great loss if I go in this condition. There is something to be said for going out on a low note, when one is not missing much.
I bring this up not because I’m on the precipice of something drastic – indeed, I probably spend less time worrying about it than I have in a while – but because I am starting to formulate plans around spending a lot of time on the road this summer. And the road is a dangerous place – far more dangerous than the head of the truly suicidal, let alone something nice and safe like a plane or a ghetto. And in spending a lot of time considering mortality, one can stave it off with the import of writing a note first, then a lengthy note, then perhaps a whole manifesto about life that is long and exhaustive and exhausting and before too long, it’s time for sleep instead of death and the whole discussion can be tabled for another night.
Except here’s the problem: we often never get around to writing that thing, whatever it is, and then we wind up in a three-car chaos outside of Tulsa some night or succumbing to a clot or an aneurysm that no one thought to look for and suddenly the thing that reassured us about staying alive is still left unfinished and makes the whole operation of dying, after all, sad and wasteful. Which is not to turn this into the typical trite “make haste to live” or the deadly “live each day as if it were your last” (not that there is not value to such positions, in part), but rather to observe that those things bear writing when one has the time and, indeed, even the circumspection to perhaps not be all so mopey about the end of living on this planet.
It’s like this: My debate team went to Columbia a week or two ago to renew the old King’s/Queen’s Debate tradition from centuries ago and they hit this case about letting prisoners go if the law they were imprisoned under was repealed. Makes sense, intuitive, fun for discourse, the whole nine. But the team mounted a mighty opp based on the idea that parole boards ought decide when people are ready to reintegrate into society – that blanket amnesty is bad, but the parsing and sorting of parole boards can maximize the chance that those returning to society are healthy and happy and ready to participate. But of course Columbia ultimately won that argument by observing quite simply that this is not our modern standard – parole boards are not invoked at the end of every term in prison, but only periodically and selectively for early release.
Which is to say that a great writing project, a suicide note if you will (regardless of self-infliction, mind), is like a parole board for life. We ought not be let out without taking the time to reflect. Not only does this dovetail quite obviously with my own theological presumptions about a time of review and reflection between worlds (some day that will be set down, but I have confidence enough of you know what I’m talking about that I don’t have to explicate further at risk of this being part of the whole missing piece I’m trying to avoid), but it’s just a good standard. So if you catch yourself feeling okay with death, maybe it’s time to start contributing the last great statement (and yours may not involve words – perhaps you prefer sculpture or interpretive dance) just in case. And if you like life more, well all the more reason to hedge just in case, to indent the sting of potential calamitous tragedy with pre-emptive safekeeping.
And so, with that, it may be time to set a new deadline for good old Project X. Realistically it can’t be before the summer travel, starting to take shape between the 24ths of June and July, but it can be soon enough that each year since I got serious about this aspect of my life again will contribute one book to the stack of those waiting to find traction in the greater mind at large. And writing books for the aspiring author is probably a lot like having children for the aspiring Major League dad. Sooner or later, one of them’s gotta be able to play ball.