Sunday, January 20, 2013

I Win

A few years back when I left the job I'd held for several years and suddenly found myself with money to live on and the time to do as I pleased, I dove back into writing with the expectation that, finally, in my fortieth year, I would write the book I'd been promising myself most of my life. That first year of well-subsidized unemployment was a monumental failure for a handful of reasons, but mostly because, each time I sat down to write, I somehow expected to catch lightning in a bottle, hit a home run with my first swing of the bat. In the beginning, that tacit notion was simply hubris, but as the months wore on and the bank account dwindled, clinging to the hope that any given day would bring that stroke of unprecedented artistic genius became a matter of necessity: I grew more and more desperate for a win. That is a terrible way to approach anything in your life, but as you sink deeper into the mire you've created, the blob of neediness devours more and more of your perspective, until every single thing before you appears to present only two options: a big win, or an epic defeat. It doesn't take a Vegas bookie to recognize the foreseeable consequences of this scenario.

Today I find myself, for the first time in quite a while, with a few hours on my hands, and when I first flipped open the laptop and peered at the screen, I felt that familiar niggling itch to hit one over the fence. It's an itch that started earlier in the week, when I stumbled upon someone else's blog, one that features some exotic casual cooking and baking (just simple stuff they throw together when they get home from school, like cream-puff swans), as well as photos of an effeminate German fellah and a bulimic-bobblehead female grad student. I poked through their pretty little blog and was immediately reminded of the scene in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou in which Bill Murray demands of a gum-chewing Cate Blanchett, "What do you want?" and she, languidly chomping her gum, replies, "Nothing," to which he responds, "That's so arrogant. That's . . . Screw off."

The impulse to rattle off something quick and pithy was strong, but as it happened I needed to shut it down just then and head to work. The subsequent days were likewise filled up with work, and as is often the case, the short stretch of time created by the immediate need to show up and be responsible offered the possibility to reflect on the nature of my initial reaction. Ostensibly, there's no good reason for me to care in the least about either of these two recreational bloggers. The girl exists as no more than a memory, and the German is, for all practical purposes in my life, a cardboard cutout. So why was my ass so swiftly chapped by this otherwise benign, entirely fatuous entry in the blogosphere?

Admittedly, I didn't spend a lot of time pondering the question: I have two jobs, both of which I enjoy and appreciate, and neither affords me a lot of self-absorption time. But I picked it up as I lay in bed at night ready for sleep. I turned it over, scratched the veneer and found myself scrolling backward, like a reel-to-reel film run in reverse through the projector, the images flickering unnaturally on the screen, a blunt display of regression. It was a history of loss: of things and people and places and, most shamefully, self. After the last frames flashed by and the film flapped on the still-spinning reel, it occurred to me why I found those artful desserts and well-used leftovers, that grinning German and, especially, that too-thin smiling graduate student so utterly offensive. Viewed forward, that imaginary movie is also about redemption and heart and no small measure of integrity. It's about the hard slide to somewhere near the bottom, and the much more arduous scrabble in the other direction. And I say this all the time: I know I'm lucky, and I'd always rather be lucky than good. But I'm also fond of saying luck's for the Irish. So fuck it, I'll say it: I am more good than lucky. I blew myself apart into an unrecognizable mess, and yeah, it took years to scrape together those widely scattered pieces, but I did just that. I had plenty of help along the way, but in the end, as with anything that truly matters, you have to do the heaviest lifting yourself, or it's not worth a damn. So there's that: I earned this place where I now find myself; all she ever did was stick her finger down her throat and make herself pretty. She laid down a bunt single to break up a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning. I reached out and stroked one into the right field corner, busted it out of the box and outran my own shadow around the bases for an in-the-park home run. I'll take a win like that over a bush-league play any day.

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