The good-looking one, the one in need, the one that almost was
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I didn’t feel like writing today, but here I am, lacing up my writing shoes. Here I am, lumbering around the track. That’s all it takes, the coach says. Just keep putting one word in front of the other. It’s not a race, the coach says; no one is keeping time. Of course, we both know that isn’t true. No matter how fast I write, the earth keeps circling the sun. No matter how fast I write, my pen will one day run dry. Forget all that, my coach whispers. Forget the ghost at the finish line, tapping his foot impatiently. Forget your reader in the bleachers, yawning and checking her watch.
Time: what a fickle lover! No sooner do we arrive at a perfect moment than she has to be on her way. With her it’s always something: a new day, a new decade. There’s nothing she can do about it, Time insists as she slips out the door. After all these years, you’d think I’d know what to say: something wise or witty, something to save face. But no, I’m as big a fool as ever, crying like a baby, begging Time to stay.
Norma doesn’t want to make love this morning. The Republicans don’t want to raise taxes on the rich. The bullfrog outside doesn’t want to stop croaking. My petulant inner child doesn’t want to shut up.
Do I really need to be as upbeat as the man who sells vitamins at the health-food store? Why can’t I allow myself this moodiness, this melancholy? Why can’t I accept myself without insisting I lose weight first, cheer up?
How little I understand. Not enough to fill a day.
I stayed in bed an extra hour on this unseasonably cold morning, even though I’d resolved last night to start getting up at five again. If the gods will forgive my transgression, I promise to do better. If they don’t forgive me, I guess the question is: Will I forgive the gods? Just because they’re gods doesn’t mean they deserve to be venerated, not if they act like stern headmasters, strutting around atop Mount Olympus and sticking their noses in everyone’s business. Actually, I’m not sure my gods are even from Mount Olympus, not with those eastern European accents and shtetl manners, not with their undying mantra of gloom and doom. Listen up, gods! How about smiling down on this faithful servant for a change? How about a dollop of compassion in my morning porridge and a comforting hand on my shoulder instead of another whack on the ass?
Write every day, the muse insists. Don’t skip a day no matter how you’re feeling, no matter how many wars your country is fighting, no matter how many tornados are heading your way. Crawl into your storm cellar and pick up a pen. If you can’t think of anything to say, write the word God again and again. If you don’t believe in God, write the word dog. Everyone believes in dogs.
Osama Bin Laden is dead. Do I feel safer today? Not really. Do I feel more patriotic? Well, I’ve never been one to wave the flag — not after 9/11 and not during any of the misguided wars my country has fought and won, or fought and lost. Even with Barack Obama as president, I still feel like an outsider when Independence Day rolls around and the banners are unfurled and the weapons are counted. Still, unlike some of my left-wing friends, I haven’t given up on our president. Is Obama perfect? Of course not. But is he any less skillful at leading the nation than my friends are at governing themselves? Are they smarter than him? Are they more principled? When they make a New Year’s resolution, do they always keep it?
The muse must be sleeping in again. But I know the rules: no complaining, no checking my watch every few minutes as if I had something better to do. Finally she shows up. She says I can sit at her feet if I promise to keep my mouth shut. OK, I agree: no flattery, no love poems, not one word about her flawless skin and nearly perfect breasts. She glares at me: Did you say nearly?
Is putting a plant in a pot and bringing it indoors like placing a man or woman in solitary confinement hundreds of miles from family and friends? No chance to be outside. No sun. No wind. No rain. How many plants are imprisoned right now — yanked from the living earth in which all roots commingle and all dreams begin and end? Free the plants! Free the plants!
It’s hard to believe that during my lifetime nearly one hundred civil wars have been fought around the world — wars in which 25 million people have been killed and millions more displaced. It’s hard to believe I’ve never stopped fighting with myself.
The job they had for me was important, they said, when they tossed me the keys to the limo. My instructions were to pick up the Mysterious One at five every morning — and not a minute later. But how tempting it is on this cold, wet morning to close my eyes and drift back to sleep. So what if I keep Him waiting again? No matter how pissed off He pretends to be, He’s sure to forgive me eventually. Anyway, most of the time all we do is drive around in circles while He tests my patience with one cockamamie idea after another: a plan for peace in the Middle East that the settlers will never accept; a comprehensive but costly program to reduce carbon emissions that the Republicans will never go for. Be practical, I tell Him. He gives me a look. Be on time, He says.
In response to Sy Safransky’s musing in his July 2011 Notebook about whether his friends govern themselves as well as President Obama leads the nation, I ask: Do his friends go to war with their neighbors? Safransky wonders if his friends are smarter than Obama. Well, do they believe that the least of us should be cared for first, or that all of Wall Street’s demands should be met?
So-called liberals should not be afraid to hold Obama responsible for his mediocre leadership skills and sometimes dangerous policies. If my friends were to behave like him, I would hope that I’d be a good enough friend to call them out on it.