Maybe I’d be better off pushing the pins into my skin than the calendar
Do you find yourself nodding in agreement when you hear one of those quotes that suggests that it’s pointless to wallow in regret for things long done, or to quake in terror over things that might yet come? We’ve known this for a long time: you can go back to an august gray fellow like Euripedes for, “Waste not fresh tears over old griefs,” and skip generations ahead to song lyrics from a Smashing Pumpkins song, “Today is the greatest/Day I’ve ever known/Can’t live for tomorrow/Tomorrow’s much too long…” for a flavor of both. (Though being a literary panderer, I salute Emily Dickinson’s, “Forever is composed of nows.”)
After you finish your agreeable nodding at these sage words, do you find yourself perhaps thirty minutes hence wringing your hands over some crumb of an atrocity you committed twenty years ago, or perhaps needful of seven crisp martinis because you’re sure that your main client is about to dump you, though the only signs of that are ones you’ve painted in your fervid imagination?
I’ve yet to establish that healthful corrective to the habit—and indeed, these errant turns of mind are habit—of mental tremors and quakes over things murkily back in the mirror and things phantasmally flung ahead at mirrors unseen. That came to mind late last week because I finished the final sentence of a novel I’ve been working on (and tediously, off) for several years. Instead of sounding Whitman’s barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world, I quickly went about worrying how the editing is going to go, how this book might not be as good as a novel I wrote longer years back, how my writing still isn’t what I want it to be.
The Tyranny of the “Not Now”
Reflecting on the preposterousness of not being happy that I’d finished the damn thing in the first place, I hunted around for something I’d written when I was 30. I couldn’t find the exact text, but the upshot of it was that I declared that if I didn’t write a novel by 35, I would kill myself. My master-of-the-universe mind contended at age 17 that a novel completed would be the indissoluble means of establishing my existence. Heady stuff, but at 17, those kind of lofty declarations are what your head is filled with. Then, I had the excuse that my brain was still so much wax. Well, at 45 I was still every letter shy of beginning that novel’s first sentence. (Ringing vows, sweaty declarations and gnashing of mental teeth are all much easier than writing, of course.)
Here I have no better wisdom to impart about living in the forever of the now—so many wise guys and gals have expressed it with more flint than me. But for the rest of the weekend, I’m just going to dig that I finished this novel. Let’s all worry about labors past and labors to come after Labor Day.