With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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I’m here again with nothing to say. I guess the day needs to start this way. No gas for the car, no ticket for the train, and I don’t have George W. Bush to blame. I haven’t written in more than a week. Forgive me, O Muse, for being absent without leave. Maybe it’s the Prozac. Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s because I’m too damn vain. Can’t I put down simple words and send them out the door? Does it matter how they’re dressed? Does it matter if they’re poor?
Of course the door is locked. Of course I need to knock. What did I expect: a uniformed doorman rolling out a red carpet and announcing, “So good to see you this morning, Mr. Safransky”? Did I expect the God of Writing to invite me up to his penthouse suite, sweep all the crap off his desk, and offer me a seat?
I’m sitting in my easy chair, revolving around the sun at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour. There’s nothing I can do about that, no way to slow it down, and no way to change the fact that with each complete orbit, I’m a year older. Still, here in the First World cabin, there’s plenty to eat, plenty to drink, and innumerable drugs, both legal and illegal, to distract me from the nature of the journey.
I have no problem acknowledging that there was an eternity of not-me before I was born. Why is it so hard to imagine an eternity of not-me after I die?
If a word could only be true enough. If a day could only last.
Even on this sunny day, a dark cloud. Even though my wife loves me, and my daughters are healthy, and Barack Obama is president. The Prozac helped; it really did. I was happier, less anxious, more productive. But after a while I missed my old self: his intact libido, his salty tears, even some of his convoluted fears. Now he’s back, and I wonder how far away my Happiness is today. Even on foot, she can cover quite a distance, sauntering down a country road or winking at a driver and hitching a ride. Maybe she asked to be dropped off at the airport, where she cashed in some of her frequent-smiler miles and, at this very moment, is relaxing in first-class, the distance between us growing vaster by the minute, as my Happiness flies away from me, drinking champagne and eating hot nuts.
In the crowded streets of my mind I see plenty of familiar faces, but how busy and preoccupied they seem: all my cherished beliefs and ironclad opinions and stern judgments — solid citizens on their way to work. It’s amazing how much effort goes into being me.
What a couple of lovebirds Norma and I are these days, relishing this season of relative tranquility. At this age we can’t fool ourselves into thinking it will go on forever — the tranquility, that is; the love, I can’t say. At the door to that mystery, stronger men than I sit weeping.
I learn to undress her, but not with my hands, not with my eyes.
In bed this morning, Norma seemed more interested in petting our cat Zooey than in hugging me. So I felt hurt, and resentful, and made a racket in the kitchen when I knew she was meditating upstairs. How little it takes to start a war.
This is the kind of morning I’d divorce myself if I could. But what would I do then? Probably run out and find someone else with the same irritating habits, the same unfathomable anxieties.
She watered the plants. I posted a feeding schedule for the beast in me.
How do I, just another drowning man, remember every moment the nature of the shipwreck? How do I cling to the woman I love without pulling her down? How do I cling to this life I call “mine” without pulling myself down?
Surrender means surrender, not a dress rehearsal for surrender.
Last night I told Norma I didn’t want to make love, then dreamt that I was chasing her all around Paris, unable to keep my hands off her, begging her to come back to our hotel room. She had places to go, she said, things to do. I, too, had places to go, I told her, and all the streets were named Norma, and they all led back to her. Later, I tried to undo the tiny buttons on the stylish new dress she’d bought. Ten buttons. Twenty buttons. Button after button from her neck to her ankles. How many buttons were there? I wondered. She laughed as I undid thirty more.
And there’s still nothing I’d rather do than wrap my arms around her and lose myself inside her: lose the tickets and the passport and my name and date of birth; lose the body I’ve never learned to love; lose the words I love too much.