Alert readers have noted that I haven’t written a blog post in some time. Several concerned humans asked me if I’m “all right,” which I took to mean a concern about my health. When you’re 74 and diabetic, you can anticipate a certain fretfulness when you disappear from your own blog for three months.
So the first news is that I’m fine. I’m dealing with the usual depredations of age, but aside from that, everything is hunky dory. Also, I live in the same house married to the same fabulous woman. The children are doing well. So, like, nothing to see here.
But I’m reassessing my relationship with writing. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember; I put out a neighborhood newsletter when I was nine. Because it was easy for me, and because I was callow, I didn’t think about my attitude toward writing, and what it meant to me personally. My callowness continued until about eight weeks ago, which is a long time for callow to survive.
We’d been to Cuba (great time! great place!) and I obviously thought I could get a column out of it. So I wrote one, and it was mostly crap. There were holes in it, and I struggled with filling them, and the deeper I got the more bullshit I produced. I decided to wait a day and come back to it with a new eye or a new brain. That day became a week and then two weeks, and I was beating myself up about not being able to finish and wondering if my diminished skills had to do with aging. Dementia! Alzheimer’s! Brain tumors! All three!
So I decided to take a break. After all, I was not required to write. I had no employer and the blog generated no income. So why not? Of course, I worried about my very kind and generous readership, so then I thought; They’re kind and they’re generous, they’ll understand. And so then I sailed along, doing what I always do except not writing anything, beyond the occasional Twitter post. I got retweets! So that was my validation.
So I began to think: Why do I write? Sure, I get to communicate my political ideas, but anybody can do that. Guys in bars do it all the time. Is it to be amusing? I do enjoy being loved for my writing, because I was convinced that nothing else about me was lovable — or so I thought. Think? Low self-esteem is not susceptible to praise from others. Took me a while to learn that.
And the semi-continuous praise is a decision-clincher. I pick Column A; making money and hearing good things about ME, or anyway about my writing. Seems better than column B, broke and depressed. Better than I thought I’d do.
And I’d like to blame part of my block on Donald J. Fucking Trump. He presents an unpalatable choice for light fiction writers everywhere. If you avoid him, if you try to write about over-priced produce or early-career Lady Gaga or annoying phone scams, you wonder whether you’re part of the problem, providing momentary amusement during the age of rising totalitarianism. Clown shows at the edge of the pit of darkness.
On the other hand, giving in to the temptation to skewer the president (or his cronies) with your terrible swift prose-sword, channeling anger into mockery, well, join the club. Have you seen the New Yorker covers: Trump being thrown out of heaven, Trump turning into a sandwich, Trump gunning down Mexicans. OK, maybe not the last one. The magazine can’t seem to get enough of this stuff, even as its longer pieces add to the general air of gloom. Have you ever read a New Yorker piece on climate change? Did you want to kill yourself right then, or wait until after dinner?
I don’t want to be a traitor to #TheResistance. I want to write penetrating satire, or powerful invective. But (have you noticed?) that field seems to be overcrowded. I’m sure we all want to read big foot pundits’ view of Trump’s transgressions, because — wait, no we don’t. What you can say that has not been said? Besides, in reality, everyone’s waiting for Robert Mueller to take the malefactor on the longest perp walk in history, so we can all spit on him as he walks by. But Trump prose? A chump’s game. On the other hand, non-Trump prose: Diletante! Arriviste! Phony leftist! Understand, all this yelling happens inside my head. It matches in intensity the yelling outside my head. God it’s hard to find a nice quiet place to think.
On the other hand, pure retirement is great. I’ve spent 50 years of my life working against deadline. I didn’t realize how stressful it was. Even now, working without deadlines but still with expectations, didn’t feel that great either. And no, my biggest deadline is trash pick-up and keeping the house stocked with paper products. I read a lot, I watch TV a lot, and I screw around on the Internet a lot. I enjoying traveling. Plus, live music, good meals with friends, big movies in big movie theaters. I don’t have a retired guy hobby, like woodworking or garden design or hanging around the courthouse trolling for interesting trials. I kinda tried to get a project, but I rejected one of them, and one of them rejected me. I didn’t try very hard, because it’s summer and the garden looks amazing.
Photography by Tracy Johnston
Good vibes and useful suggestions by Michelle Mizera