In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Why do I keep getting up at 5 am to write? Why do I imagine that the way I shape these sentences matters to anyone but me? So what if my writing is published? Hell, I’m the publisher! So what if a handful of people say they like what I write? A handful of people like the worst shows on television, the worst rhyming verse, elevator music, Brussels sprouts. Besides, I’m not doing it for the applause, and I’m not doing it for the money. I could say that, for me, writing is like praying to a God I’m not sure I believe in. Or maybe to a God who’s not sure he believes in me. But that’s ok. I don’t need to have my prayers answered. I just need to kneel here, scribbling away.
I dreamt that I was kidnapped by a gang of South American drug dealers who at least had the decency to get me high during my lengthy captivity. Eventually I talked them into letting me go. Chalk it up to my charming personality. Or maybe it was because they couldn’t stand listening to my broken Spanish. Admittedly, I was never a good foreign-language student. English was hard enough for me. It still is when I’m trying to express something so subtle or luminous or heartbreaking that words fail — my words, anyway — and I end up writing a kind of broken English.
I can tell I’m not going to get even a nibble this morning. I’m just going to sit here, at the end of this long pier, and stare at my stupid reflection in the murky waters. It’s obvious that I brought the wrong rod and the wrong reel; that fishing may be an art or fishing may be a science, but I’m just some schmuck in a yellow slicker who imagined he could feed himself. What a joke.
Advice to writers: Don’t wait for the English language to bat her eyes at you. If she does, don’t wait for her to whisper something sexy in your ear. If she does, don’t expect her to go home with you. If she does, don’t imagine she’s going to spend the night. If she does, don’t ask for her phone number the next morning. If you do ask, and she pretends she hasn’t heard you and slips into her dress and heads for the door, do not, if you ever want to see her again, tell her how used that makes you feel.
What shall I do first today? The busy man I’ve become shows me his list: He has a magazine to put out. He has a book to finish. He has a Notebook page that’s due next week. But that’s not all, he points out. He has letters to answer and phone calls to return and a stack of submissions whose authors are impatient to hear from him. Before I can say anything, he tells me he’s not done. He has friends who’d like to hear from him, too. He has a wife and two daughters and a sister and a stepson and a granddaughter. He has cats to feed. He has plants to water. There’s more, of course, but by this point I’ve stopped listening. I just look at him, struck by how seriously he takes all of this. He plays his part. He knows his lines. He has his list.
I haven't meditated in a while. I haven’t pierced the illusion of separateness in a while. I haven’t dissolved into white light in a while. I haven’t taken a deep breath in a while. I haven’t heard the sound of one hand clapping in a while. I haven’t looked in the mirror and laughed at my disguise in a while.
I don't remember what I dreamt, but I woke up with a sense of accomplishment, as if I’d had a particularly productive night at my dream desk, crossing one item after another off my unrealistically ambitious dream to-do list, meeting deadlines with the practiced air of an experienced editor and publisher who has kept his dream alive for nearly forty years. Of course, it never would have been possible without The Sun’s devoted readers, curled up under the covers in bedrooms across America, content in the knowledge that the latest issue is winding its way toward their dream mailbox. But I digress. I woke up feeling good about myself, a man who’d finally figured out how to keep up with his seemingly endless responsibilities: to stay on task not just during the day but through the night, his briefcase in one hand, a cup of Sleepytime tea in the other, all those hours stretching out before him as if Time itself were now his friend.
How about a new rule? If I don’t have something good to say about myself, I’ll keep my mouth shut. I’ll stop giving airtime to all the demagogues in my psyche who claim to know the real reason I’m not a more fearless spiritual seeker, or a more gifted writer, or a more skillful editor. I put up with nearly as much crap from these loudmouths as Barack Obama does from Fox News. But does the president let it get him down? Does he lie in bed at night and wonder if maybe the Birthers are right? Does he turn to Michelle and ask for reassurance that he’s really not a socialist? Does he worry that he still relies on those damn teleprompters instead of simply opening his heart and letting the words pour out?
Reading Sy Safransky’s April 2013 Notebook page was both a spiritual and an intellectual experience for me. The last paragraph had me tearing up at one moment and laughing out loud the next.
If Safransky ever thinks that his Notebook pages are of small importance compared with the book he’s writing or his personal to-do list, please convey to him that this devoted reader finds his columns deeply moving and inspiring. He is at the top of his game, and I don’t doubt that getting up at 5 AM to write keeps him open to the muse that brings his writing to this level.