Admittedly? It seems a bit early to be writing a retrospective on the year that was, and what lies ahead. Sadly, I’ve always been and remain incapable of suppressing my muse when it calls. Whether said muse is a person, place or thing changes from one moment of inspiration to the next. In this moment? It’s choice D – None of the above. Which is in and of itself a new development for me. There’s really nothing driving me to write and reflect right now save for the need to write and reflect. As for how the result will look when I’m done? Your guess is as good as mine. Let’s find out together, shall we?
I’ve read and enjoyed many poems in my life, yet to this day, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot has been and remains my all time, favorite piece. It’s slightly amusing that it was literally one of the first poems I ever read and wrote about in school–I think I was a freshman at the now defunct Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote, PA–but a good poem… Hell, a good piece of writing sticks with you, regardless of the passage of time. It’s why after innumerable iterations, the first line of my first novel was always “It is difficult to remember a time when my life had meaning.” It is why the LAST line of my third novel (and the third and final book in my ENDWORLD series) has been and remains the same as it was when I first penned it back in 1999 or 2000–I can’t remember the exact year. Literature is timeless. It’s the reason why regardless of my career success or whatnot, I always come back to writing. But I digress. Shit, when do I ever not?
This year has been maddeningly rewarding and challenging. One wouldn’t think that two extremes can co-exist so seamlessly but hey: That’s me. My career has reached a high point. My stability in all facets of my life is better than it has been in years. My children are for the most part happy save for the occasional, pre-teen or teen emo/stubborn moment. I’m reasonably healthy, albeit suffering from a little condition known to most folks as Getting Old. Outside of my need to finish Christmas shopping with only 11 days to go until that jolly old, bearded elf makes his appearance, I’m in a better place than I’ve been in many, many moons.
And yet the year that was was not without its obstacles. I won’t go into the particulars in the interest of anonymity and being respectful to any and all people that might be reading this right now. Fortunately, everyone and everything is reasonably on the mend. Even so, there were times this year that I was more exhausted than I have ever been, and I will not soon forget those moments. As I know some of you potentially reading this will attest to, 2022 was a year that we will remember for a long, LONG time, both for its high points, and its low ones.
Yet as I touched upon in my last post, challenges, while exhausting, can also lead to a degree of enlightenment. No, I am not talking about an eastern, philosophical state of being, but a secular one. They force you to take a look at your life where it is, and they give you the opportunity to foresee your life where you want to it to be. For so long now, I’ve struggled. With life. With love. With the idea of being in a relationship after my marriage went sideways and, TBH (as the kiddos say), pretty much any and every relationship I have ever been in ended poorly. With finances. With the occasional bout of depression, inherent in my bloodline, and spurred on by the sense that nothing will EVER be the way I want it to be. With my health (though not as much as others thank God, or whatever deity or deities you believe in). These struggles? They have been an inherent part of my life for as long as I can remember, and any of you reading this that have been with me on this crazy, 47+ year journey on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence know this, almost as well as I do.
The secular enlightenment I referenced in the previous paragraph comes not from mediation, but introspection, and within the last, few weeks I have come to the conclusion that nothing, no matter how much I want it to be, or how hard I micromanage myself will ever be as perfect as I desire. Scenes like the one I penned, so many years ago before this blog and the one before it, back when we all lived in one, geographic area and no one lived any place else, that found me hosting a BBQ for my friends and family whilst wearing an apron that says “kiss the chef, earn a super-burger” are… brace for it…
Fiction. A story with a happy ending. That thing we writers write to give our readers a warm, and fuzzy feeling on the last page of our narrative. That moment that makes them say, “when is the sequel coming out?” Its Marketing 101 guys and gals. Manipulation. IRL (again, props to the kiddos and their “command” of the English language, sarcasm fully intended) happy endings never happen the way we dream them up in our stories. I herein redirect your attention back to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and how that poem ends.
“Till human voices wake us, and we drown.” Happy? Far from it. Given the lead up to that sentence you would think that the picture Eliot is painting is the ideal lead into a happy ending. But no. In the end, Eliot and we reading it awake from the dream to the really, really REAL world and realize that our existence is not a BBQ at the end of time, with all our friends and family around us, reminiscing about where we have been and how we got to where we are. It’s not a “fade to black” moment because the story… Life continues. Even given a moment of serendipity, when “human voices wake us,” we don’t know what is going to happen next. Despite my reliance on destiny in the past–to meet and spend the rest of my life with my ideal partner, to write the next great American novel and get on Oprah’s now defunct book list–I have come to realize that destiny simply does not exist. Where we go, who we meet and what we become? It’s on us, and not written in the last pages of a book, penned by God or whatever deity or deities you believe in. Our last line is not “the end,” at least not yet. It is “to be continued” until the moment when we at last shrug off our respective mortal coils. Even then, is the end REALLY the end? Or is there more? That’s a topic for you, your belief system and your respective deity or deities to discuss. But for me?
Despite my well-documented status as a recovering Roman Catholic for many, many years here is the thing: Of COURSE there is more. The end is only “the end” until the first line of the sequel. And what I think of as Heaven (or Hell; need to give the devil his due, LOL (thanks again kids)) is just that. As for what form it takes? I haven’t the slightest inkling. I have my idealized version of what I want Heaven to look like (let’s not even talk about Hell; I like many former English majors read Dante in college), and spoiler alert: It is very similar to the scene, pictured in the aforementioned BBQ at the end of time, but neither I, nor anyone else that I know of, currently existing on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence can speak to its form or its existence. You either believe in it or you do not. A non-believer might tell you that Heaven is nothing more than a psychological manifestation of hope, set against the backdrop of the inevitable pain of life. Similarly, they might say that Hell is little more than a manifestation of our fear of the unknown. I’m not the best source for a psychological interpretation of the afterlife, given I got a D in the only Psych course I ever took in school. I’m not discounting or belittling that belief. Quite the contrary. I respect it. But hey: It’s not me. And I won the Ted Barnett Religion Award at my Eighth-Grade graduation from the now defunct Immaculate Conception BVM in Jenkintown, PA so whereas I may not be qualified to speak about psychological matters, I could and may still one day write a thesis on Jesus Christ as a tragic hero or a pathetic literary figure if we approach the Bible not as THE truth, but a version thereof. A story. One with elements of truth but not 100% autobiographical.
Am I digressing again? Shit, I don’t think I am. Because this all plays back into the idea of destiny which… Like Heaven, is little more than manifestation of a person’s insecurity about the future, and the path before them. It’s quite simple to say my life went sideways because it wasn’t my destiny. I’ve personally done it more times than I can count. But the follow-up on that is now, I’m expecting that at some point, I will realize my destiny and live… Wait for it… Happily ever after. And when I don’t? When the final line of the book of my life bears a resemblance to the final line of “Prufrock?” I will shuffle off this mortal coil, not at a well-deserved peace, but wondering why? Why didn’t I meet my ideal partner? Why didn’t I write the next, great American novel? Why weren’t ENDWORLD, CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD and/or HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD prominently displayed on Oprah’s Book List? As an avid reader I’ve got to tell you: I will not read the sequel to that story. Regret is a shitty plot point, no sarcasm intended whatsoever.
I’ve heard people say that life is pain. To them let me say that life is not pain. But pain is a part of life, as is birth, death, joy et al.. What separates IRL from Fiction is the preponderance of all of the above IRL, whereas in Fiction, you can pick and choose. Do you want to write a love story? An adventure tale? A dystopic vision of the future? Or maybe choice D – All of the Above? As many of you know, I opted for D in both the case of The ENDWORLD Series, and my Psych class at the never-defunct Penn State University in Abington and State College, PA. I opted for the latter because I made a choice to skip my lectures and tool around with my friends in what we endearingly referred to as “The Clubroom” and later, with my new and old friends on “The Porch.” I was not destined to get a D in that class. I made a choice. Which in a relatively long and roundabout way brings me back to where I started this post, many, MANY paragraphs before this one. On the year that was, and what lies ahead.
This year, I have spent a lot of time thinking. Not necessarily writing but pondering what to write. I finished draft one of HEAVEN over a year ago, and I haven’t touched it in months. What am I waiting for? I’ve started a handful of other stories and musings but stopped a few pages in. Why? HEAVEN is a great story. Maybe the best of the ENDWORLD books. And some of the other stories and blog entries I’ve started but never finished? Similarly good, and yet there always, ALWAYS comes a point, any time I am writing something where I stop. I’ve come to conclude that the problem is not around me, but within me. A simple fact about me that you may or may not know.
I hate endings. I always have. Stories end. Movies end. Jobs end. Relationships end. And eventually? Life ends, hopefully many, MANY years after it started. But endings are an inevitable part of everything on this or any side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. I’ve always had issues accepting them. I grasp as firmly as I can to that last, wispy tether of what was when in fact I should simply let go of it. It’s a biproduct of my aversion to change, likely traceable all the way back to that day I found out that my mother and father were getting a divorce. I was nine or 10 (I can’t remember which; only that I was close to Cara’s age when we told her and Natalie that we were divorcing). The years that followed? A blur of counselor visits, being bullied and wanting to be with whatever parent I and my little sister were not with at any given time. Pain. A part of my life, but not the thing that defined it. Because with that pain came hope. Joy. And after a while? Love.
This cycle has repeated itself countless times throughout my life, most recently post-2018. These are epochs. But the one thing that has remained consistent throughout is my aversion to change and my hatred of endings, even ones that I initiated. I have spent so many of these epochs as a prisoner to memory. A past ideal that I strove for but blindly failed to find. Because in my mind, I was destined for something more. Yet in hindsight and as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago? Destiny is an excuse. A crutch that I have leaned on for decades and subsequently, one that I can no longer rely on if I desire to move forward into whatever version of me exists in what lies ahead. The time has come to state in writing and follow through on a fact which has been hiding in my subconscious (some might say in plain sight) for ages before it finally, in this year that was became blatantly obvious to me.
The story… The cycle is mine to end. For I am the writer. I am not acting out a page of pre-written dialogue, nor am I a pawn to an abstract concept and excuse to take the sting out of making a poor decision or being the unwilling recipient of the consequences of a decision (how poor it was being relative to the person or persons who made it). The strength to “force the moment to its crisis” has always been within me and me alone. El Autoro. Lunatic Lover. Madchronicler. Yet I have let it continue in fear of letting go of those things that made me… Me.
I will so do no longer. I, like Prufrock, am not Prince Hamlet. I am no tragic hero, nor am I a pathetic literary figure. I, like Prufrock, “Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, Politic, cautious and meticulous; Full of high sentence but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous–Almost, at times, the Fool.” I am also the keeper of my own story and the master of my own outcome. And for the moment? That outcome is for the first time, maybe ever one that is not governed by the pain of my past, nor by my desire to be more than what I am at this juncture: A fellow shithead, living amongst you, my oft times casual readers, on one side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. I have my work, both the job I get paid for and the one I only get paid for occasionally. I have my Minions. I have my friends and my family. And most importantly? I have hope. Hope that I can write this next chapter of the story of my life in a way that gets me close to that heavenly BBQ at the end of time that I envisioned once upon another epoch. Close to joy. And maybe, just maybe one day? Close again to love.
If you’ve managed to make it this far? Congratulations. This may be the most vulnerable I have ever been on this blog. Thank you for following along and as I stated at the beginning of this piece, learning the outcome, with me… Together. There may be one or two of you (you know who you are) who mistook my musings on life, death, Heaven, Hell and whatnot as some sort of cry for help. I assure you: This was not that. Merry Merry, Happy Happy and all that. I am good. Content. And working on happy. I’ll feel better when I hit “checkout” on the two or three, odd shopping carts I have waiting for me, online with the last of my Christmas shopping in them. But for now? My pillow calls.
Dream well friends, family and oft times casual readers. And when you wake up tomorrow morning? Take a step toward your future, even if it’s only into the kitchen to make a strong, cup of coffee. Do not do it because your destiny awaits. Make the choice, and embrace the possibility, inherent in the road ahead. Let pain become hope, joy and love. The BBQ at the end of time awaits.
Winky emoticon. Smiley face.