It’s a little past nine on a Tuesday morning. It’s raining here: a cool, light mist. I’m sitting outside, beneath a small overhang, at the little cafe a block from my apartment building with a cup of coffee and the computer I’m writing this on. Across the street a freight train just rolled by; behind it the trees are beginning to show their autumn colors.
For the first time in two years I feel a sense of quietude inside. Some long-absent peace is returning. It’s such a strange feeling I almost don’t recognize it, or know what to do with it.
But I do, of course, know what to do with it.
When I came here six years ago, after the divorce, I stopped moving somewhere inside. I was stunned to inaction. I felt the world had an obligation to right itself, and I waited passively for it to do so. I cherished my wounds like jewels.
But I think I have finally exhausted myself. Being that man gets you nothing. It makes life needlessly difficult for yourself, your family, and the people who love you. It drives people away. It calcifies you; it turns you into living bone.
And so I’ve been doing a lot of re-evaluation. I start with only two givens: I’m a father, and I’m a writer. My daughter is eleven, in a new and challenging school, and some of the issues attendant to those facts are already making themselves felt. Cliques she feels left out of, insecurities stemming from being challenged academically for the first time in her life, social awkwardness both generalized and specific. She needs her father to be entirely engaged.
With writing, I’m examining my own uneasy relationship with genre fiction. What it is that I love so much about it, and why it is that, when I want a visceral reading experience — when I want to be hit in the heart — I almost never turn to it. The fiction that moves me and stays with me is almost never genre fiction. I’m examining, too, my deep and abiding love for personal essays (what is now being called, with the dreadful, pallid literalness that can only have come from an MFA program, “creative nonfiction”); they’ve given me some of my most rewarding experiences as a reader, and I find the writing of them to be easy and cathartic. So the question of what kind of writer I am yet to be is very much in play.
Beyond that, and the small handful of people who are dear to me, nothing is a given anymore. It’s a liberating feeling, and one so easy to arrive at, after all this time, that I am more than a little dismayed. You just take everything you have, put it in a boat, and push it away from shore. Then you walk away.
The coffee is still hot. The rain is soft and cool and beautiful. The day is open.