For a while there — several weeks or so — I very seriously believed that I was all done; as a writer most immediately, and very nearly corporeally.
It was the first of February, just over seven months since I was told that I had six months left to live — yes, I know, provocative math — and I’d just posted the latest installment in Howard’s Divine Comedy, wherein, via 3rd-person narration, I proposed the possibility, however fantastical and unscientific, that once I completed that 10th Canto and clicked on the big blue Publish button, I will have completed the whole work, the Comedy, yes, but also my life’s work in entirety, and thus, the button pushed and my words transmitted to the interwebs, I would die in peace.
Surprise and alas, here I am, embarrassed in no small measure, even a little disappointed that the ending I’d come up with for this online travelogue charting my journey towards death — a kind of non-violent writer’s suicide that I was rather tickled with, thinking it playful and clever and bittersweet — was, finally, no ending at all.
Nope. I’m still here. These words I’m typing right now are not the product of a literal Ghost Writer, and though I never was a very ambitious person, in pretty much anything I’ve ever done, I’d be lying to you, dear reader, if I said I had zero interest in pulling something like that off, a likely unprecedented feat of posthumous blogging. I mean, come on! That’d be cool, right?!
Anyway, for days on end after posting the 10th Canto, it felt to me that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, left for me to say. The few times I even considered simply opening up my laptop, to see if some idea or another might present itself once face-to-face with a blank page, the laptop was ultimately left untouched.
So, you might ask, what changed, and what, after all, was there left to say?
In short, I’m currently writing under the influence. (No, not like that: Devastatingly, my ALS-ridden body can no longer tolerate any recreational mind-altering ingestibles. I even have ready access, thanks to the mercy of hospice care, to a wide range of otherwise tightly controlled — for good reason, a nationwide addiction and overdose epidemic — opioids, all of which, however, sadistically and unbearably nauseate me. And yet, the simple fact is that what I miss and long for the most is easily: crisp, cold pints of hoppy craft-brewed India Pale Ale from any one of the dozen or so local breweries here in Bellingham.)
No, the influence of which I am under, well, I just read the skimpy, 4-book oeuvre of my favorite author, J.D. Salinger, for the third time in my life, and the roof beam was once again raised high on a kind of mystical-literary temple, inhabited by a voice that I intrinsically understand and, perhaps more accurately, feel; a voice in a temple that I first encountered as a senior in high school, a voice that somehow opened up and revealed to me a pathway to my own voice, a pathway that beckoned me to exercise said voice in the written word. Salinger’s prose — a marvelous, utterly human mix of informal, conversational, sometimes stream-of-consciousness language; weighty and yet often comical subject matter; uncompromising honesty; bleeding heart compassion; a kind of aspirational non-denominational spirituality; all presented with an exquisitely loose narrative structure — inspired and influenced me more than any other writer, and rereading him this past week, especially his more abstract books, Franny and Zooey, and Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters – Seymour: An Introduction*, reminded me that I don’t always have to come up with some hook of an idea, a catchy title, a burning question I’d been wrestling with, a tidy little blog-post composition with an introduction, exposition, and conclusion.
(*The reference to Seymour: An Introduction, specifically, begs some parenthetical elaboration, for of all of Salinger’s work it is the most abstract, quite nearly, for me, opaque; entirely devoid of plot, a long, rambling ejaculation of monkey mind that — if it wasn’t in his voice, wielding his professorial lexicon of references, if it didn’t include his sensitivity and sense of humor — would be eminently skippable, so much so that, I confess, I never actually finished it the first time, barely made it through — though remained mostly puzzled — the second time, and yet the third time and its proverbial charm seemed to be uniquely suited to reading it and finally fully appreciating it in the seventh month after a six-month pronouncement of my life expectancy. This time, I experienced numerous moments throughout Seymour where I’d reach the end of one of its epic run-on sentences, rather like the sentence that precedes this one here, and I found myself setting the book down and looking about the room to reorient and recall where, exactly, I was, what time of day it might be, what the weather was up to, who else was in the house with me, etc. And it occurs to me just now, as I write this, that — as I’m quickly approaching my death, with no way of fully knowing whether or not there is an afterlife — there’s a certain serendipitous, even subversive, comfort in reading, at this time under these circumstances, this unhurried, meandering Introduction.)
Bottom Line: I’m a dying writer, and if all I do from here on out is simply write whatever the hell I want, when I want and am able … well … that’s all I’m gonna damn well do. I’m not kidding. I really mean it.