Tuesday, August 2, 2016

How Did I Get Here? (book)

Same as it ever was.
The past several years my time on vacation has been somewhat compromised by writing or business related to writing. Last year I was researching the years just after the Great War and writing The Secret Adversary. The year before that I was constructing The Great Globe Itself, and in 2013 spent an inordinate amount of time online promoting Double Heart for the NY Fringe.

Granted, there are fewer places I would rather be writing than sitting on the porch of Barnstable, doing my thinking while peering through the triple birch tree and into the cove beyond. But tethered as I was to my books, notepads and (ugh) the internet, I strained my own credulity in denying or deferring offers to walk in the woods, swim in the sea or take the motor out to trawl for mackerel.

Each of these writing responsibilities were for my job, commissions for the outreach tour, so even as they fed my creative desires they were constrained by deadlines and the need to follow strict parameters. Don’t get me wrong, strict parameters are to me rich compost, but it goes without saying that when I am writing A, I am not writing B, and the opportunities to stretch and explore are hampered.

Not so this summer, having just come off an additional outreach mini-tour -- Twelfth Night (As Told By Malvolio) -- and all the business surrounding the RNC, the plan was to read what I chose to read and to participate in whatever it is anyone else suggested I do. And I have! We have gone on kayak tours, watched fireworks from a lobster boat in the harbor, taken several brief fishing trips, gone on seal spotting expeditions and hiked up the side of a mountain.

And I have been reading How Did I Get Here? (Making Peace With The Road Not Taken) a memoir by novelist Jesse Browner. Inspired by his own feelings of middle-age remorse, the author decided to write this book upon turning the age of fifty in an effort to explain and justify his own feelings of inadequacy.

Put more specifically, as an author in the middle of his life, Browner is filled with deep regret for not being the person he believes he had the potential to be, a feeling which is familiar to untold creative peoples, including this one. The decisions we have made have added up to the people we have become, and if we are not entirely satisfied with who we are we must have made a mistake somewhere, perhaps many mistakes, decisions which, had they gone differently, would have led to our becoming the best of ourselves.

Last Tuesday was my forty-eighth birthday. I have two years to correct every single mistake I have ever made. Just kidding, that is not the point of this book. It is also not merely to come to terms with settling. It also doesn’t simply encourage happiness for its own sake.

Employing a number of examples of brilliant artists who were utterly miserable (most famously writer Franz Kafka and musician Elliott Smith) the author paints a picture of the life as a whole, illustrating not only how genius or talent or work does not necessarily add up to happiness, but that it is the unavoidable fact of not knowing keeps a human from being able to appreciate what is more than what might have been.

When I examine the facts of my own life (I do that a lot, you know) I can become bogged down by missed opportunities, opportunities which were passed upon because I am lazy or fearful or because I thought I was making the right decision but later regretted, decisions made in my own self interest (which are selfish) or in someone else’s interest (which are never duly appreciated) or for one of several other reasons.

I can also become obsessed and resentful for my upbringing, and for never having been adequately instructed or trained, merely told to stop making noise and get on with it, my act of seeking being treated as pestering until I no longer wished to bother anyone for guidance and assistance.

I think we're all bozos on this bus.
Taken together, the most satisfying conclusion I can make is that though I am not as great as I could be, I am most certainly greater than I should be.
“We want what we already have but fail to recognize it as the thing we want.” - Browner, p. 212
The book’s subtitle is a reference to that road not taken from Frost’s poem, a metaphor which he argues is not, as many believe, a paean to regret. If only I had ... whatever.

However, I long ago I realized (decided?) that my life was neatly cleaved between that which occurred prior to March 19, 2001 and everything had has happened after. The death of our first expected child was something happened to me, not an action I chose. However, it was a cause which had a profound effect, a life-altering effect.

The fifteen years since have been an ongoing, chaotic tumble as to what happens next, but there is no question that this road is utterly other than the one I was headed towards, and what I have chosen to do with it has led me to be much more accepting of life in general.

However, prior to that moment I would have said some other point was the dividing line in my life’s history. Marrying my wife, divorcing my ex-wife, starting Guerrilla, leaving L.A., changing my major, taking Accutane, and on and on and on.

This is my beautiful wife.
But it won’t be tomorrow, and it won’t be the day after that. The man says, “You’re fifty-two [or forty-eight] years-old. Do you think anything could help you change at this point?” (p. 164) but that’s not the point of his book. It is rather to see and accept all that is around you as the world that you made, and to continue to choose to make it work in the way that you do.

When I was approaching the age of forty, I had what I thought was my mid-life crisis, which manifest itself somewhat successfully in my solo performance And Then You Die (How I Ran a Marathon in 26.2 Years). However, it is a work I have often thought of coming back to, and with my recent happiness in revisiting I Hate This perhaps I will soon create the time to do so.

The play is only superficially about running, though there is an awful lot of that. It is as Browner states so directly in his book, my piece is also about choosing to "kill off your obsolete, petrified self-image, and fully embrace the happiness that is your due." (p. 260)

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