“This is a warning: here comes the morning.”
She had done her part by having a kid. Something anyone could point to as making her accomplished enough– anything on top of that is a victory lap. No one would fault her for keeping things quiet- drinks on the weekends, maybe a date, vacation time over the summer. This is how she eased into her forties, and there was nothing terribly wrong with it- even if her only wish were to politely color within the lines and walk away with a terrifically neat and tidy picture of a live well lived.
First time I had dated someone so incredibly settled– she even had a house to go along with the kid. Only a few years older than me, but it felt like decades. With my baseball cap turned slightly askew, I still think I’m a twenty-five year-old rock star with a full road ahead of me. This is the fantasy you indulge in when you’ve never chosen a path- you pretend that you still have choices, and that you could be smug about those boring types with their suburban homes and vacation clubs.
Only a few years older than me, but I called her my old lady girlfriend– for reasons that are more clear in retrospect. Maybe I needed a feeling of distance from how quiet things were for her- maybe I felt a degree of insecurity about how unsettled my own life was, as if dating her made me confront my own reality; sideways cap and rock star fantasy be damned.
Maybe I felt the need for distance because this wasn’t my life and it never could be- I was just filling in. Her Scott Weiland had checked out years ago- I was only a hired gun, her Jeff Gutt; let’s do an album and a tour, and call it a day. This wasn’t my story- and the space between us made that fact immutable. This wasn’t my story, something one of her friends explained to me on a drunken bar night- as if to skew my expectations- “she cares about you as a person, but you’re not the love of her life.”
This wasn’t my story- and we had no reason to pretend it was. There was a comfort in understanding that it was good enough. It was functional. We got along. We had incredible sex. What else could one hope for in the land of the dead?
I didn’t choose a path, so one was chosen for me- like I let the menu screen run for too long, and the game booted up on its own. Unsettled is my path, and it ran diametrically opposed to hers. We were different people with different lives. She was a good kisser; we spent most of our time in the orbit of her bedroom- after, she would talk about whatever cruise she had planned, and I’d talk about my writing.
She’d tell me that she didn’t understand why I liked writing. She didn’t understand why I bothered or what I was looking to get out of it- why I took it seriously; why I’d be so hard on myself over it, why I never thought it was good enough. I’d talk about the ideas I’d have for pieces- the frustration I felt in my attempts to bring them to the proper terms- and she’d stare blankly and tell me that she didn’t get it, which I suppose was slightly more polite than telling me to shut the fuck up.
She didn’t see the value in any of this because it wasn’t part of her world- a very tangible world of cause and effect. You work for long enough to cash in your tokens for a week in Florida. A localized world where you meet with friends at a pub and order an Uber for the way home. A world where you can rest easy at night knowing that you had a kid, created meaning in what is inherently meaningless, and can enjoy the blank spaces that life will offer.
I don’t sleep well at night, and I haven’t for a long time. I’ll often wake up with feelings of an unidentifiable, shapeless dread- a subtle haunting- which I can’t immediately suss out the origins of, that will cause me to stand in my kitchen for several minutes, long after midnight, composing myself. These feelings were stronger when my life was a disaster- after my engagement and career blew up at the same time, when I had given up on long-term planning, when I had suicide as a potential endgame, where I’d go out with two middle-fingers up to the world that betrayed me. This felt like being on fire, which had since been extinguished, and now the remaining embers caused a dull burn.
Writing is the pursuit of truth- this is what I’ll say when asked why I write. Not all writers are genuinely pursuing truth, but they think they are, and that counts too. One can either pursue family or pursue truth. While it isn’t necessary for those who pursue family to also pursue truth, the option is available- however, for one to eschew family, one must pursue truth. Nothing else matters, and every little bit of consumption distracts from this pursuit.
This is why you spend your time grinding away- this is why productivity is all that matters to you. This is why bouts of creative impotence keep you up at night. This is why you can’t picture yourself settling in to a week aboard a cruise-ship or hidden away in some resort hotel in Mexico- the anxiety of spending time doing anything but turning eternal truth into art, like an intellectual alchemist- Henry fucking Frankenstein, half-mad, looking at your best work and swearing you know what it feels like to be God– nauseates you.
Greatness lies just beyond your reach, but it’s there and you can feel it. Even starting with nothing, you can take what’s needed from your surroundings and make from it something more. On your best days, you might even feel justified in being called clever.
You can make up for mistakes made along the way; time lost; hearts broken. You can stitch things together- make sense of what went wrong- bring meaning to what is inherently meaningless, and condense things to their proper terms- where those around you can look past the mess you’ve made, and only see how you’ve come to frame it- in terms that are brilliant, clever, and meaningful. You create beauty in meeting dead-end girls, and having dead-end sex, in dead-end relationships- this wasn’t time wasted, this was time making art. This is what you tell yourself, in your kitchen, in the middle of the night, as the clock ticks away- and this is the part you leave out when asked why you write.