There’s no falling back asleep once you’ve wakened from the dream – from “February Seven” by The Avett Brothers
Is it possible a scent can actually hurt? That the right particulate olfactory matter can actually translate through some registering synapse into legitimate pain?
I didn’t go there with any purpose other than to kill time. Get out of the house for a while. Stretch my legs. Live up to some other clichéd phrase about wanderlust or boredom or some such sensation. I certainly, at least on the conscious level, didn’t go there to catch fire or to have life breathed into my stagnant malfunctioning lungs. I hadn’t been there in months, in fact. Used to go every day it seems. Did some of my greatest work there, though greatest is at best a relative term and at worst a complete misnomer. My portfolio, to date, hardly includes anything that merits the creation of a ranking system.
But the smell. It burned like icicles on bare hands. I’ve been to coffee houses many times since, and I drink coffee every day, so it couldn’t possibly have been just the coffee. Instead it must have been some amalgamation of that scent mingled with the aromas of unread novels and newsprint that did the killing; or rather, undid it. I found myself almost unwittingly back in the bookstore which during my fervent writing days I often haunted. Now instead it was I who was the haunted: potent, almost feverish, memories of those days when I felt right with my purpose and place in the universe now plagued me as I wandered from shelf to shelf. I felt like an amnesiac almost; there was a lingering and perfect sense that something significant had happened here, but I couldn’t grasp it, couldn’t lay hands to it and hold it tangibly, lift it to the light and inspect it. Instead I could only walk from floor to floor in the store, wondering, fearing. I was covert, on the sly, sneaking almost, either hiding from something or desperately searching for it. Rows of books that I had never read assailed me like the faces of people I thought I should recognize, yet I was adrift in a crowd of strangers.
I settled on a book, almost at random (although I have my doubts that anything is truly as arbitrary as it may seem) that was a compilation of essays by various successful writers about their motivations for pursuing the craft.
Not one of them said they did it for the money.
I would love to claim that I didn’t know the reason I stopped writing, but that would be a lie. I know exactly why and when it happened. Truthfully, I didn’t actually stop writing altogether, I merely stopped doing it for myself and began doing it for someone else instead. There was an immense and seductive thrill in this: someone actually wanted to give me money in return for borrowing my skills. Isn’t this, after all, what we all dream about? What we all think we need? Finding someone who is willing to pay us for doing what is our passion?
I have awakened from a dream that was not mine, as if while I slept my mind was transported into someone else’s body. In truth, money is a beautiful and alluring mistress, and an absolute, horrid lie. I probably run the risk of alienating my employers by even saying all of this, but nevertheless I felt snapped out of a coma in that store. I have left something essential, fundamental to who I am behind to pursue something that is not only unsatisfying, but ultimately unreal. I haven’t felt so sad and wonderful at the same time in a while. It is the blessed delicious hurt of tonguing a sore tooth or pressing on a knotted muscle. I feel bruised and bloody, like a survivor of a building collapse or a car accident, and I have the same sense of contrite gratitude at still being alive, the same sense of having narrowly escaped a crushing and tragic fate.
Who can say why the Lord gives us what He does? The obvious answer, of course, is that we need whatever He supplies, but sometimes it seems He gives us those things not so that we may be satisfied by them, but so that we may truly know that they do not satisfy. It is hard to say, but it seems this might have been the case for me as far as my recent “jobs” are concerned. I will undoubtedly continue the “professional” gig for a time, at least to fulfill my contract, but I am beginning to be possessed of the notion that said path is not for me. After all, money comes and goes, but the impressions we make upon our brothers may echo many lifetimes into the future. This is what writing should be about. Forgetting that was like forgetting my own name.
And I already hear the clamor: Rich, you have said this before. In fact, I can recall several posts, (this one and that, among others) in which you stated nearly the same thing. What can I say? My heart is fickle, and a liar. No doubt in a few months I will need to learn this lesson again. In the meantime, while this correction is fresh (and since this prose is awful and meandering and utterly indicative of someone who is out of practice), I will stop boring you with all of this and get on with some real writing.
May the results matter not nearly so much as the reason for the act.
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
“But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
Oh, that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
Psalm 81 : 10 – 13, 16b