Baudelaire, a Mexican saying, and some other things
[Charles Baudelaire, looking haunted, which he was]
Baudelaire, dead at 46. Ravaged by years of self-abuse. Do you think, if you could raise him from the dead and offer him 20 more years if he never drinks or takes drugs, activities he claimed were essential to the fuel of his writing, he’d go for it?
Balzac died at 50, wrecked by chronic lack of sleep. If you resurrected him and told him “Sleep more, drink less coffee and write less, and you’ll live to 75,” would he do it?
And if they did, would we still know and read them?
George Santayana: “A good way of testing the caliber of a philosophy is to ask what it thinks of death.”
A Mexican saying: “Juntos/Somos como pan y mantequilla, mugre y uña.” We go together like bread and butter, dirt and fingernail.
Anticipation and writing: How wonderful it will be when I have written the book! Yet, when the time comes and the book is written, I feel only melancholy and emptiness. No sense of accomplishment, or that I have risen even slightly in status as a result of what I have done. Only now a dread that I no longer have the comfortable rut of working on something I don’t have to envision from scratch every day. Now I must come up with some new project. And so the old anxiety of not knowing what to do next and the disquieting sense that time is running out.
Moments when I was fully alive:
1) Riding a rented motorbike around the twisting dirt roads of the Greek island of Astypalea in my 20s, at speeds I now would judge inconceivably foolhardy, the Mediterranean’s scent in my nostrils.
[Astypalea, I will see you again before I die, I swear it!]
2) Hunting snakes by the Scioto River with childhood friends and spying the largest water snake I’d ever seen sunning on a rock, without reflection leaping to grab him, falling into the river and being bitten a few times for my trouble, but holding on to bring him with me, and laughing later under the colorful praise of the friends who had watched my insanely heroic deed.
3) Riding my bike to work at a third shift job in a dangerous neighborhood, going as fast as possible down the middle of a normally busy 4 lane street to ensure that local thugs would have to be pro sprinters to have a shot at me and the bike, making it to my shift to have my co-worker, a guy I greatly admired who lived in the neighborhood, tell me he was going to personally kick my ass if I ever thought of doing something this stupid again.
4) Taking my acoustic guitar to Versailles on a Sunday morning after staying up all night, the woman I’d met the night before who told me, to my great anticipation, she’d meet me there having failed to show up, and playing and singing Beatles and King Crimson songs all day while tourists walked by.
The photo of a 5 year old child, smiling, on a GoFundMe page. He is there because he died in an auto accident and his family needs money to bury him. How can it be? How can this beautiful little boy I never knew, right there before my eyes, be no more?
This is actually the case for at least one person in the world: your mother made a song in which she sang how much she loved you, and she died young, and that song is still there for you to hear, and it’s about not only her love for you but her love also for your father, but after her death he married another woman and carried on with his life. I cannot abide this.
Jim Weatherly wrote “Midnight Train to Georgia” originally as “Midnight Plane to Houston” after he called his friend Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man!) and his girlfriend Farrah Fawcett picked up the phone and during the conversation she told him she would soon be taking just such a flight.
A particularly awful way to die I have imagined more than once: run into head-on after dropping your child off at high school by a narcissistic 17 year old who is looking at herself in the rear view mirror instead of at oncoming traffic.
Baudelaire would would have said that quitting his habits would add years to the wrong end of his life.