October 29, 2011:
It's cold, it's windy, and it's raining. I'm going to spend the whole day reading, catching up on some of the magazines and newspapers sitting in piles waiting for such a day. Do you ever feel that all those words are impossibly demanding, that there's too damned much information out there ever to assimilate any but a small fraction thereof, that modern life is just too complex? Politics, the arts, history, the economic mess the country is in, new scientific discoveries, new books, online magazines, op ed pages, weather reports: why do I feel the need, the itch, to add to it all with this little blog of mine? I don't know. Can't help communicating. I should have stuck to poetry. It takes a long time to write a decent poem and it might consist of a hundred words, or even fewer, and that might have satisfied the itch and at the same time not placed such an additional burden on the world as another book, or ten more magazine pieces, or whatever form the 100,000 words a year I once figured out I wrote on average takes.
This summer, in exactly three months of frantic writing, another book, a memoir: 46,000 words this time. I'm calling it Thoughts of Home, and it should start circulating very soon now, out to publishers, to a few friends, to the appropriate family members. Then somehow, I hope, to the public. In the book I talk a little about when I first realized I wanted to be a writer and how the wish to become one arose seemingly out of nothing. I could not explain it even to myself, much less to those who found it so alarming--i.e., my parents. But there it was, and to label it a wish is wrong; it was a need, what some people describe as a calling. Where do these feelings come from? I was sixteen. You know very little at sixteen. Yet it seems you can be called even so.
But writing a memoir, I have to add, is salutary, a reminder to yourself of how little you still know at seventy +, how complex everything is and how far you are from understanding how the world works. The weather, for example: one of the people in my book is Capt. Brown, the harbormaster at Brant Beach where we had our summer cottage. He lived next door to us and my brother and I worked for him, my brother especially, and one of the things we had to do was go out just before thunderstorms hit and tow in the sailboats from their moorings so the storm wouldn't capsize them, which thunderstorms could sometimes do, even when the sails were down, thanks to the sudden violence of the winds. Because the sky was fully visible, there being no trees on the island, you could see the storms build up over the mainland for hours, all afternoon long, and Capt. Brown would tell us when they would move across the bay toward us and where they would hit. "That'll go out the inlet with the tide," he'd say, or "We'll get hit with that one around five-thirty," and he'd always be right. Years and years of experience had taught him the ways of thunderstorms, how to read clouds, wind patterns, temperatures, all of which he integrated into his predictions. Years and years and years. And that's just thunderstorms. Now put that into the interactions of ecological systems, political systems, religious systems, you name it, and figure out how long it would take to understand them. Then remind yourself that they're all connected to each other, and it just gets too daunting to think about. The world is this huge system in constant change and all we can do is struggle to maintain our balance.
What saves us from collapsing under the strain, I think, is our ability to forget. I came to see that while writing this summer. So much of my life, my past, was lost to memory. I could only write about what I did remember, and that kept the book short. A blessing. The hunger to know, to understand, was there, but I could only feed it scraps. Maybe that's why we invented gods, figures who could understand it all and maybe even exert some control over it--past, future, weather, the vast unimaginable complexity of everything. The endless interactions. I still think the Greek gods were the best of them all, so human, so entertaining. Maybe that's why I wanted to write: to exert some control, to make sense of a few things of my own. It's a plausible guess. Anyway here I am, writing again, and it's time to read now, feed the appetite for news of the world, news of us, past and present, the arts, history, politics, geography, everything. It's still raining, still windy, still cold.