I spend all this time these days having a head full of words, going over what I’m going to write when I get to my keyboard, and literally ten seconds later, when I arrive at the keyboard, my mind goes blank, as though the computer is actually interrupting my thoughts rather than facilitating them.
Perhaps I need a typewriter.
For so very long—decades, in fact—my ideal life, or at least my ideal “snapshot” of life, has been woven implicitly into my every thought patterns, imprinted unassumingly on my soul.
It looks something like this:
I have a small, comfortable, historic home somewhere in very center of a dense, frenetic international city (for the last decade, the image has been of the upper-west side of Manhattan).
I have a timeshare or a weekend home somewhere on a nearby cost, within driving distance, where there are beaches and little bars and restaurants.
I have two kids, maybe a boy and a girl, and we spend days taking mass transit to gaze at museum exhibits and to explore the little wonders of metropolitan society—ethnic neighborhoods, eclectica in parks and nook-cranny monuments, tourist attractions and forgotten bookshops.
I am a professor at a local urban university, steeped in conference and classroom culture, socializing with my students in liminal spaces in a way that is only possible in urban space, where you can meet for hours without ever having “met” at any place in particular, so that there’s nothing unprofessional or too intimate about it, yet conversations can be stimulating and engaging.
I have continued to write professionally, only more successfully, drawing inspiration from the metropolitan milieux around me.
I have a happy wife, maybe also a professional, maybe not, who knows the city at least as well as I do and with whom I talk shop (hers and mine) often.
Life is fast, noisy, and sophisticated, like a cross between traffic and a poetry slam, most weekdays. On weekends, it dissolves into a set of fleeting impressions, of seagulls and waves, of large windows and deep sofas and classic novels and relaxation before we emerge back into the metafactory of urban life once again to start the week.
It goes on like this until we are retired and eccentric and give up our downtown home for something in the suburbs, but not too far away so that we can still go to the opera, to the universities, to the museums, and so that the meat of the global intellectual scene is never far away.
It is a life of committed, energetic centrality rather than of passive periphery.
It is clear that this picture, increasingly faded, is giving way and must give way to something else. Life is a thing of reimagining; you can’t cling to your foundations like a tenuous structure in a hurricane and expect to survive intact, much less with joy.
The old ideal life is just not on the cards these days.
But I am unsure of how to replace it, or of what to replace it with, so accustomed am I to the direction that it imparts—a direction that for decades now has driven me into ever larger cities and ever more urban contexts, into more and more eccentric and intellectual university settings, and ultimately, to where I am today.
What do I want now? What should I want now?
I don’t have any perspective just at the moment, and I can’t seem to get it. There appears to be no vantage point from which to get a clear or even a transient account or observation of myself or my life; I am too in the thick of what is happening to know what is happening, too “in the moment” to take account of the moment—a state of affairs that I used to ruthlessly make fun of in others.
It’s not that I’m unsure about how to proceed; I already know the direction in which things are pointing. But I’ve no idea how to go about going in that direction, in what way I should do what I do, toward what ultimate, abstract end other than the end in-itself.
If I’m not who I have been, who should I be?
Who do I want to be?
What will make us happy, and how can it be achieved?
More to the point, what do you do when you don’t have answers to these questions, and there appears to be no obvious way to get them?
One thing that I have realized after some reflection: “normal” is not me. I cannot be, nor have I ever been, happy or even merely satisfied with what other people want. I am not like other people.
I will likely never be like other people, curse it or no (and I have, through the years, done more than my fair share of both).