When I was twelve, I got to watch my father hit the bottom. He was a smart man from a conservative, upper middle-class mid-western family with a degree from Harvard Divinity, who at 42 found himself broke and having to move into a slum. He had become the thing his own father had long assumed he would be—a failure. And I was there the moment he understood this. It couldn’t have been easy for him, breaking down in front of his twelve year-old son, but the momentum of the realization was too strong for him, and that’s what he did. In a way, I lived my life from that moment forward determined not to be him. Not all of him, just the part of him that went broke and got divorced again and again and wound up living in a slum.
I discovered writing and believed I had found an antidote to what my father’s life became in his forties. And in a way, I had. When I allowed it, I would disappear through the experience of writing. When I allowed it, I forgot about me entirely, becoming an open window, and whatever came through seemed bright and interesting and far more important and useful than anything I had ever suffered or worried about.
Unfortunately, one cannot live not to be something. The harder you try not to be it, the more the thing you are running from fills your days. And so of course, disappearing wasn’t enough. Of course, I must also be a success so I wouldn’t worry about myself. Eventually, instead of disappearing, I tried to grow bigger, grow into a success, and in the process wound up living exactly what I said I mustn’t, though in my own writerly way. And then, like he himself must have learned even that very day, that awful moment you live in fear of comes and then goes and there you are still standing and so what next?
You need only experience the bliss of disappearing once to know that it is the only thing worth seeking, but then you look in the mirror and you forget and seek yourself again through praise or reviews or letters from agents and find nothing worth keeping. Throw it all away and forget what you have seen. The mirror can only reveal what you look like looking at yourself, the very part of you you will forget when you disappear through the open window of you.
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