This is apparently a fallow time where the lack writing and the insomnia are conspiring to make me feel very guilty indeed. I’m not creating; I am merely taking up space.
In the past, when I couldn’t sleep, I wrote. It wasn’t necessarily timeless prose, but it was worth keeping in a folder labeled Of Little Interest But… for possible future use. Every six or so month, I’d winnow the stuff down and find a phrase or two with some semblance of style. Once in a great while, there would be something really good. Now, for the very first time in my life, I’m throwing my writing away. I’m not naming it or pushing the Save key. I’m printing it, then shredding it, or balling it up and using it wipe up spills though it’s not very absorbent. I stack pages in the yellow recycling bin and hide them beneath yesterday’s magazines. I’m embarrassed by what I’m writing. It’s sort of emotional porn and not good at all.
The last piece I’ve written is the beginning of a maybe book tentatively titled The House on Belmont Road. It’s about a long ago marriage and a house that saw its dissolution, and it seems to be a story in too much of a hurry to be told. At a recent writer’s group meeting, one of the readers told me bluntly, “I just don’t like this at all. I don’t like the main character, or what you’re telling us, or where this is going. There’s not a single person here I find agreeable. I wouldn’t finish this book.” I managed a weak response, saying I’d done my job; at least the characters were interesting enough to be disliked.
I reread some fourteen pages of the manuscript. The story is largely autobiographical because I am at the time of my life when I’m going to write about my life, but there’s a problem. The grouchy reader was right; as written, I’m not a good character. I’ve fictionalized myself in other works, but in this instance, what I am trying to describe may be too close to home. I can’t seem to write with any degree of accuracy, never mind objectivity.
One of the problems is that who I was in my late twenties has little bearing with who I am now. I had married a woman a decade older than me and with a daughter; I was in search of an instant family. We were ill-matched. I liked singers and she sang. She liked Europeans and I was one. There wasn’t much past that.
I can look back at decisions made then, at the foolishness of certain ambitions and certainties, and be amazed at the conviction I had that, yes, of course, it would all work out. And if it didn’t there would be time to correct mistakes, change course or, at worse, move on. That sense of positive inevitability has changed.
In the end, I gave up the house. I was desperate to leave a marriage that was both poisoned and poisonous. I left with my guitars, my clothes, a motorcycle that worked only sporadically, and $257.63 in my checking account; I remember the exact figure. I have never regretted this until very recently, when I came to terms with the fact that my haste back then has led indirectly to an unspectacular and not particularly pleasant now. This is difficult to write about. There may have been a failure of common sense in buying the house, but wasn’t it an even bigger failure to give it up without a fight?
True, there have been accomplishments that, had I stayed, would not have occurred. I’ve written untold thousands of words, some of which have been read by others. I’ve gotten to travel, meet some astounding people and frequent less stellar ones. All told, it’s been an interesting life.
Writing often allows the writer to reshape his or her personal history. I could do this with this new project, but I don’t want to. If indeed The House on Belmont Road becomes more than a handful of pages, I’d like it to be as truthful and authentic as I can make it. I suspect this is what’s stopping me from writing. I may not be quite ready for that level of soul-searching, honesty, and unpleasant discoveries.