Return to Me

I keep having this idea that by writing, I’m trying to search for divinity. But of course I can’t do it on my own. The divinity needs to meet me halfway. So I can gain access to that great, arching trove of twinkling prose.

And then I go write a few sentences like the above ones and I realize how ridiculous the whole enterprise is. And how pompous I am to think a divinity, who has never once said a single word to me, would deign to meet me halfway anywhere. And with this poor prose I’m dishing out now, this sacrilege of writing, things cease their twinkling and reflecting. The world becomes flat. Things happen in the world. And there isn’t much more to it than that. And I know I’m alone somewhere on the dull edge of the dull horizon.

I decided last week to quit fooling myself. Writing has served to make me miserable and so I would quit doing it. I saw this as a step forward. Just as I saw leaving behind my desire to please my parents as a step forward. Although it’s hard to please my father these days, since he’s dead. I also saw my leaving behind the American Dream in which I own my own home and retire wealthy to be a step forward. Although some may claim I didn’t so much leave that behind as it left me behind. As a writer, I tried to embrace the idea that this life we’re living, these incredible, spinning, exploding days that have been given us are of great importance. But of even greater importance is the exploration of what has come before us and what will come after.

But life is too strong to be held in check by words. At my most joyful, life has moved directly through my bones like an electrical charge. When I was in high school and my parents took us downtown Boston and we danced down Washington Street at Christmas time along with hundreds of others, all holding hands and singing, “Dance dance wherever you may be,” the cold, narrow streets of that old town, so insular and the bookstores decorated with lights and green boughs, and the hot cider, and the idea that Boston was our city, its Bruins our Bruins, its Celtics our Celtics, its history our history, marked by conflict and corruption as it was. And so be it. The Massacre. The Tea Party. The Revolution. Mayor Curley on his park Bench. Billy Bulger in the House. The Winter Hill gang in Somerville. The Italian Mafia in the North End. The Irish Mafia in Southie. The unimpeachable Cardinal Bernard Law riding herd on us all from on high and all his forsaken little altar boys lighting candles. And the bussing riots. That shot of a black man attacked by a white man wielding an American flag. That and the Black Rose, that dirty Irish tavern I was too young to know was a tourist trap where all the Irish and wishful Irish sang about green alligators and long necked gees and then the genuine Irish tavern, The Plough and Stars on Mass. Ave in Cambridge that was as yet undiscovered by the Harvard crowd. All the framed caricatures on the walls. The Head of the Charles Regatta on that cold, windy day, when we rowed against the great crews of the nation: Harvard, Yale and so on. Our little flame of pride, the University of Lowell. We were crushed like Ivy League pretenders, but we had so much of joy in our bodies, out on that black water. And always the swirling question: who would I fall in love with? Which girl? The misgivings and fear all lending toward that great, unrequited hope of love. Which is the very definition of passion. That pain born of great desire. I counted it as joy. And so, with these things in mind, for me to believe that my relationship with my body is less important than my relationship with my spirit, a thing of wavering certainty at best, seems like a lunatic notion. And maybe the plummeting testosterone levels in my 52-year-old body make it easier for me to seem prudent or even wise, what joy can I have without feeling it in my bones and breathing it in? How will I feel joy now when I have so few desires?

I’ve been listening to the song Return to Me. Recorded by Dean Martin and then, at the turn of the century, by Bob Dylan. Return to me. Return to me. Those soft nights. Those cold, seaweed-strewn winds off the ocean. So far away now. Return to me. Those Lowell nights that smelled like burned out clutches. Those Hampton Beach nights of skeeball and bong hits. Those nights when we never questioned the strong desire that pulled us along through our days and semesters.

But I would be a fool now, at 52, running around Hampton Beach in my cut-off jeans trying to get laid. Playing caps with 16 ounce Haffinreffers and falling down drunk on the boardwalk. Not such a good look. I recall those heroes of my youth who ranted and raged against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas passing out and dying from alcohol poisoning. Those heroes who burned like those fabulous yellow Roman Candles exploding like spiders in the blackness. Jack Kerouac getting punched in the stomach while drunk in a bar and dying from a burst appendix or whatever. These are the ones who were unable to leave behind that overpowering allure of joy in the body.

I know that nothing will return to me. I know I need to learn a new way. The things I have been passionate about in the past, my desire to succeed on some worldly level, to follow whatever path that has been set before me and not just to follow the path but to somehow surmount it, overwhelm it, beat the devil, be madder than a hatter, destroy my enemies, celebrate in every way, be celebrated in some way, these yearnings are only dimly glowing now. I am moving away from the easy targets. The base things that have always spurred me on. Those things that seemed somehow noble in their savagery. They are passing away.

Leaving writing behind has been on my mind for some time. It requires such vanity. And help from the divine besides. Such vanity. Such a chasing after the wind. Can I now be the lowly common one, like Van Morrison sings about, who works and then reads his paper in his easy chair? Waiting for the evening. Waiting for the next morning. And the cup of coffee. And the good feeling of work again? And then evening paper again. This has always been the ghost of contentment that has haunted me for so many restless, passionate, destructive years of my life. Could I not be that quiet man? Head down? Following his habits to the end of his days? Why not me?

And then I had a strange dream this morning. We were in a space ship, me and this other guy. We were both sitting in chairs. The space ship looked just like a regular room from the inside, but I knew we were going somewhere way out there into the galaxy. And the other guy wanted something to read. And I could feel myself waking up now. Rising up and up through those onion layers of consciousness. And God was in the dream then. Having sneaked in at the last. And he handed the other guy a book. And then, almost awake now, he poked me in the chest. And I woke with the word “Write” ringing in my ears.

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