Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lately Blues

Outside slivers of lightning divide the sky and cool, cool rain tumbles, intermittently, on the sidewalks and stalks of wild grass in our overgrown lawn. Dixie, the Jack Russell terrier whose lineage we’ve begun to suspect, is laying on the spread out comforter, her head propped near the base of the faux arts-and-craft torchiere near my office closet. Archie, the sickly Italian Greyhound who has inexplicably stopped coughing, is sprawled on his back on the sofa in the living room next to my wife, who is watching one or another decorating show.

Now, the rain is nothing more than a few drops of dew on the yew bushes that line the front porch. The neighborhood is as quiet as a daycare at naptime. The murmur of traffic on far off streets drifts along with the whispers of crickets.

Where have I been?

It has been three days since I sat here contemplating the shape of my night, thinking of poetry. Since then, I've struggled through the barrage of acronyms, jargon, split infinitives, dangling participles, and comma splices that is copyediting; I've attended a baseball game where the oldest professional franchise in the country lost to a cellar-dwelling team from Kansas City; and I've almost slammed my head against the wrought-iron patio furniture with enough force to jar myself out of the moss-covered ditches where my novel currently festers—not that I recommend or actually practice anything resembling self-flagellation (other than copyediting).

On the other hand, here is what I have not done lately: I have not managed to write a poem; to clean out the sink or my coffee pot, both of which are becoming threatening enough that I may leave the light on in the kitchen over night; to mow the lawn, which is now sprouting wildflowers, clovers, and toadstools; to do a load of laundry for myself; to venture forth into the wilderness of Cincinnati to see live music at the best festival the city holds each year; to shop with my wife for enough groceries to supplement my all-cereal diet; to shave my head again before 3/4-inch strands revolt against gravity with posture more perfect than most of my body can manage.

More and more, I'm realizing that such sacrifices are simply part of the writing life. There is only so much time in the day, after all, and, like 80% of the world, I enjoy sleeping and watching the World Cup—often simultaneously. Consequently, I make choices, every day, about what I want to accomplish. Often enough, even with those choices, I don't accomplish what I set out to do, and unlike most aspiring writers, I don't, at the moment, need to work 40 hours a week. More, the goals I do set and sometimes reach are—compared to corporate work—minimal. If I write a total of 1,500 words in a single day, including this project, I'm thrilled. I'll stroll around the house as though nothing could ever be wrong (until tomorrow), smiling in what my wife must think resembles a creepy imitation of a beatific smile on the lips of a saint painted by Titian.

Yet, I think, the sacrifices a writer must make run deeper than what I've managed to communicate so far. Often enough, when I think I should be tapping away at my keyboard, furrowing my brow to find the next line break, I'll waste minute after a minute checking a variety of email accounts, hoping for a bit of email that isn't an advertisement for Viagra or a thinly veiled attempt by a Nigerian twenty-something to convince me to buy him a Cadillac. Despite the constant presence of two dogs who are almost as attached to me as they are to sleep and the company of my wife for most of the week, I still find this lifestyle lonely. I still long to be somewhere else—like a cocktail party where the only sound that rises above the chatter of conversation is the clinking of martini glasses.

Yet, if asked to imagine a perfect day, there would be words upon words firing the synapses in my brain, shooting electrical impulses up and down my spine. There would be the constant click of the keypad clattering on in time to the swirling sounds of recorded guitar that fill my office.

I contradict myself, I know. Sometimes, happiness is a contradiction you understand.


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