Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Don't worry, it works out in the end

In any field where greatness is possible there is a standard age at which people peak. This is obvious in sports and even varies from sport to sport down to a specific, measurable consistency. For instance a baseball player will peak at 29 or 30, and Olympic sprinter at about 24. Fortunately writing has a much later peak. In writing the peak age is exactly the age I am now. Exactly. I am how old Mark Twain was when he wrote Huck Finn and how old Terry Pratchett was when he started writing the Tiffany Aching books. I am the same age now as Tolstoy was when he wrote Anna Karenina, Richard Brautigan was when he wrote whatever he would have written if he lived, and Ursula K. LeGuin was when she wrote everything she wrote. No one knows how she did that.

It is precisely because I am peaking that something like this sentence, which is tangled, convoluted and awkward, still somehow magically achieves a transcendence. According to my study of this I have about three peak years left, with a second, somewhat lesser peak five years later. So get it now while it's hot.

In popular song the peak is much closer to the peak ages in athletics. There is a peak in the mid twenties (so, think Blonde on Blonde), and then, if you're really brilliant and it all comes together just right, there is a second peak, one that is shorter, but I think is even better, that happens in the artist's mid thirties (so, think Blood on the Tracks). The music world tends to slightly overrate the new and groundbreaking, and so doesn't always recognize that second peak, which is deeper but a bit less exciting, as highly as I think it should.

Elvis Costello fits pretty well exactly into this paradigm. His great second peak album is Spike, done when he was right about 35 years old. This morning I woke up thinking about a splendid and searing line from one of the best songs on the album.

One day you're going to have to face
A deep dark truthful mirror
And it's going to tell you things that I still love
you too much to say

And I started thinking about all of this.

This writing.

Eight hundred posts and never a single one of them venturing out beyond its distant corner of the woods, let alone going viral and infecting the whole forest. Publishers do not beat down my door or know I exist. Blog comments remain rare and are almost never filled with awe, unless I write them myself. A year or so ago I had maybe 35 to 40 occasional to regular readers. With the meticulous nurturing of a year I now have 35 to 40 occasional to regular readers.

It makes it hard not to wonder: Maybe this blog isn't as amazing as I think it is. Maybe people are too kind to tell me so. 

Maybe it is time for me to face that deep dark truthful mirror.

I am fifty. If this is not epic now, at the peak of my powers, perhaps it never will be. Perhaps a reckoning is due.

So with a racing heart, with my blood churning, I take up the deep dark truthful mirror. I look in the face of this writing and dare not to see what I want to see, but rather what is there.

My hands shake. I am shivering.

Would I read this if I were a stranger? Would I assign it merit if I did not write it? Is it actually, at least kind of, great?

Steady on.

I have chills, trembles, feels.

I can't breathe. I have to breathe into a brown paper bag. My stomach hurts.



Unflinching, the answer.

How strange. It talks about itself all the time. It's like a mirror looking into a mirror. But then you step back a little and it's like the facets of diamonds, stars in the sky. Where does the light come from? It has generated light out of darkness just by saying it is so.

It's, it's wonderful. It's just wonderful.

Oh how I love happy endings!


  1. The mobile version of the site doesn't allow, sorry, doesn't pull up the comment box. It is required to go to the Web Version to get this box.
    Keep up the writing, you have three years or so to go. Screw EPIC. Do you enjoy this? If so, keep doing it. I like it; for what that is worth. :o) 1 of 35 or 40.

    1. I did not know that about the mobile version of the site, though I hope you did not feel chided in all my peevishness! After all, I rather think of you as the kindest person on the Internet, always plus one-ing and sharing and commenting and so on.

      I agree with you entirely about enjoyment, though every time I see a mud puddle with greatness in it I find it irresistible to wade in for a ridiculous bit of wrestling. I like to think it makes me strong.

      For the record, I very much like your photographs, all those spare, sky heavy Florida highways and underpasses- they seem like they would be banal, or ugly even, but the more I see them (and I visit periodically), the more the surprising opposite is true. One day I will go plus one everything I can find. I like to make a big splash.

  2. Love your post today and posts on all the other days.

  3. So do I coddle you with my truest affections or rib you for fun? Your writing has always been wonderful. Was it more so in your twenties? I remember those things. I treasure you in continuum.

    1. No, no, you are remembering what a good rock star and soccer player I was in my twenties, not writer, but it's a natural mistake to make.

      Coddle or rib? I think from the last sentence you settled on coddle. Excellent choice!


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