If I make it past April, I’ll have outlived my father. That does tend to concentrate the mind. As my analyst said the other day, cautiously at first, “You need to make choices.” I knew she was going to say that and said so. She gave an explosive sigh, laughed, and confessed, “That was really hard to say to a puer!” But I was laughing, too.*
I’ve come far enough that some things just don’t matter as much as they used to. Take lifetime accomplishments, for example. When are we ever finished? Some people have children, attain high rank in professional fields, and retire in glory while awaiting physical collapse. Or at least I imagine that’s what they do, having hit none of those marks myself. Is there a point where one just stops, or is that marketing?—you know, skipping down the beach with shiny teeth, enjoying your “golden age.” My 99-year-old grandmother wasn’t much help when she told me years ago, beckoning me close so she could whisper in my ear, “Johnny, it isn’t good to be so old…” But what did she know? All she did was sit in the same chair for 40 years and do crossword puzzles! Granny loved me, though, and for that she always rates a smile.
For most of my life, I’ve been driven by alternating guilt and passion. The one because I needed to be loved and thought I wasn’t, the other because I’m an irrepressible son of God.
I grew up thinking I would be a scientist or fly a plane. (Or maybe someone like Frank Buck or Buddy Holly.) In my academic career, I majored and minored—at various times—in zoology, English, central European history, and Germanic literature. In the adult world, I first got married, taught in a junior college, got divorced, dropped out to be a woods hippie in the Ozarks, worked as a day laborer, had a stint as groundskeeper at the same university where I’d earned my master’s degree, and learned to make welded steel insects. In the 25 years that followed, I was a traveling artist, got married again, tried my hand at cartooning, worked in a library, pursued rock & roll songwriting, became a self-taught sculptor, cast my own small bronzes, learned to paint, and bought a house. I spent years on the water in Maryland poking around in small boats. (This list is anything but complete.) None of that made me a star or quenched the guilt, but I can safely say I tried more things than most.
The last dozen years have been the most intense, insane, exploratory, and destructive, and I would never have gone down this path if I had known how hard it all would be, but here we are in darkest, deep New Mexico. Once again I’ve had more fun and hell than those who say, “I told you so,” yet I’m more focused on the present than I’ve ever been. Writing is my life now, though I hardly know what I’m doing—that’s all right, because no one else does, either—and I’m finally calm enough to do it right. Or may be: during that last (phone) session with my (Jungian) analyst (in Zurich), I was wondering why I hadn’t picked up my guitar in months!
But age is actually helpful now. I’m not afraid of being pinned down quite so much because I’m almost dead. After all, the one thing I never HAVE accomplished is to stick to one thing long enough to see it work. (I don’t mean money, either, but I’ll bet there is some.) Anyway, I’m here, I’m clear, and this will be a trip. Hey, I got up at 4:00 a.m. to write this, didn’t I?
Well then, there you go…
* Puer aeternus (Latin), or eternal boy. See here.