Junk

A regular reader of this column might have formed the opinion that I do not now suffer from any of the torments about which I so regularly write. But that it were so. If I have any authority at all in the area of doubt and self-torture it is from extensive and continued field research. My troubles, however, stem not from writing, but from not-writing, an emptiness I sometimes choose to fill with worrying about writing.

But as Andre Dubus said, we are all better people at our desk—kinder, more compassionate, more patient. This is certainly true of me, which used to be a concern of mine. When I sat down to write a novel for the first time at the age of 21, I actually thought, “I can’t do this. I don’t know what life is all about.” A rare moment of humility for my younger self, but not actually a reason to give up a novel, which I did.

It does not matter what fears we choose to believe while bustling about our day. Fear leaves no mark on us once we cease to believe it. The lines of worry our faces carry are not in fact the tracks of a life’s worth of hardship, but the expression, quite literally, of our current concern for some imagined future.

The gift of this column and of all my work is that I must begin with this question: “What is the very best thing I could share with someone?” It requires me to set aside all the junk I may have cluttered my day with, because no matter how much energy I poured into that junk, it is quite obvious as soon as I take a look at it through the prism of writing that it is nothing worth sharing with anyone else. What is left, once the junk is dropped, is always what I wish I could have said if I hadn’t been so distracted by the junk.

Perhaps I will someday be able to live every moment as I do on the page. I continue to hold out hope that it is possible. In the meantime, my fallen self finds solace in sharing—not so the world might learn what I have seen, but that I might travel to that place where things worth sharing always wait.

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