The Writer’s Life

April 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

Lovely evening with friends last night—dinner at La Ripaille, old-style French, delicious, then strolling through the Village observing the bare-legged, teetering wildlife, finally stopping for a drink at the Spanish bar on 10th Street where I ask Deborah if she thinks the bartender is gay (I’ve had a little crush on him for years, though I go in this place so rarely, I only remember this when I see him again). She says she can’t tell but that he reminds her of Charles. I see what she means: the alertness, brightness, the shape of his face. Therefore he must not be gay? Not that it matters…I’m saving sex for my old age, when I’ll purchase a top of the line, customized sexbot, program it to behave like various men from my past, then bite its head off after climaxing.

I guess I should buy more than one.

I woke up with a mild hangover: not especially painful, just a brain full of bilge water and the kind of faintness that I imagine would result from a very tight corset. After feeding myself and the animals, I was lazy all morning, facebooking, newspaper reading, then decided I MUST clean the messy apartment I was too embarrassed to bring my friends to last night.  I began on the dishes, broke a plate and sliced open my thumb. It didn’t seem that bad, so I continued, collecting coffee mugs, cat dishes, etc, from other room. I realized I’d bled all over the floor. I cleaned up the blood, wondering if the traces would be found during some future murder investigation. I felt both guilty for complicating this as-yet-imaginary crime scene and possessive about my space: it’s my party, and I’ll bleed if I want to. Meanwhile Mouchette was crowding me, mewing for attention. I bled on her head. When I tried to wipe her off, she ran away. She or Fitzroy will have a treat  during the next grooming session.

I finally gave up, wrapped my thumb in a huge wad of paper towels and got in bed with my laptop where I’m typing this one-handed.

OK, now what?  It’s a beautiful day; I have plenty of grunt work I don’t want to do; I’m lonely. I miss my house in the country I shared with the green vines, the June bugs, the squirrels and the snakes. I miss my siblings. I miss the safety of having money, what allowed me to manage all my psychological and physical ailments with some skill. We were talking books last night and Poe’s name came up. Dave said Poe had nothing to say—that Edgar Allen didn’t believe art should “say” anything. I replied that that might be what he thought but that his work said the most fundamental thing of all: life is terror.

I suppose it’s a kind of growth to stop thinking of terror as my personal character defect and understand it as one of the two or three most crucial facts of existence—what the rabbit feels, what the baby waking up alone feels, what you will feel now, if you let your mind wander…poverty? Illness? Betrayal? Death? Loneliness? Public speaking? Killer bees? Lots to choose from.

Like many writers, I write to stay sane, to outrun terror. My imagination is a disability I turn into a gift for society, whether society wants it or not. Oh, I wish it did! Oh, Great Society, in tatters as you are, bleeding from the thumbs and gasping in polluted wetlands, suffocated by the lakes of hog manure, the dying children, the forgotten prisoners whose crimes were tiny, the Republicans whose crimes are vast, the cheerful college graduates who can’t write and know no history, the helicopter parents, the men with guns—confer on me the honor of a living wage! For writing exactly what I want to! Let me be a parasite on the world, as writers always have been. It’s our calling, our song.  We do it as best we can. We ask the insects for advice; they know more than you think. We drink and the next day remember something said about a book that we can use in our own work, that unlocks a whole new wing of mysterious rooms…

We write. It’s what keeps the rest of you as minimally sane as you are. Send money.

It Happens Like This

I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory

smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.

It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish

brown here and there. When I started to walk away,

it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered

what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s

a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People

smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,”

I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking

my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,”

one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,”

I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat

stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked

up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew

everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-

man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty

fine goat you got there,” he said, stopping to admire.

“It’s the town’s goat,” I said. “His family goes back

three-hundred years with us,” I said, “from the beginning.”

The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped

and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.

“Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.

“It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,

and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s

called the Prince of Peace,” I said. “God! This town

is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery

and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers

forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,

Officer,” I said. “And we understand why you, more than

anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and

I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning

to wonder where we would spend the night.



—James Tate


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§ One Response to The Writer’s Life

  • Charles says:

    How come hundreds of people comment on your Facebook, but few post here? When I read these entries it reminds me of sloshing around in the cellar of the country house when it flooded and the sump pump broke. Your ideas float around like the old pieces of broken pottery, antique napkins that fell out of the hamper and old torn diary pages. Things that I thought were gone from my life, but all of a sudden spark baroque memories and convoluted emotions.

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