Checking into my own blog for the first time in a long while today, I made an alarming discovery: It's been almost a year since my last post, and the content of that particular message may have led anyone reading it to think I have long since lapsed into the enforced silence either of senility or of death. I feel obliged to clarify the record.
You may be cheered (or not) to learn that I am still alive and functional--at least in part. I suppose one who has attained his seventy-fifth year and is afflicted with vertigo, partial blindness in one eye, occasional confusion, and a persistent, unidentifiable pain the the lower right lumbar region can be expected to have lost a step or two. While I can agree with that proposition when applied to anyone else, I find it startling and disquieting to associate it with myself. How can I, whose withered skin contains a soul that seems (to me, at least) to belong to a young, vibrant person with decades of experience and accomplishment still awaiting him, possibly have become an old man whose future is frighteningly limited? It's not that I feel young--in fact, I feel quite the antique--it's that my mind seems to have fooled itself into thinking that I will always be young, at least in spirit. But that's not quite right either. I suppose it's more accurate to say that I'm surprised to find I've attained this age and state of being without having accumulated a corresponding fund of mature understanding.
I used to think growing old made a person wiser. But I'm more clueless now than I was when I was twenty-five. This world makes less sense to me the longer I live. I feel like a neophyte at an age when I thought I would be as sage as Socrates. I wonder if I have lived in vain. Have I learned nothing? Understood nothing? Has it all been for naught? Perhaps it has. When I try to sum up the purpose of my existence, I can name no exalted goal. Last night in a conversation with Ruth I made an attempt to describe the real purpose of my life, I came up with an astoundingly puerile formulation: I just wanted to have fun. Of course the meaning of that statement depends on what is meant by the word fun. I certainly didn't mean I wished to be a lifelong playboy or partygoer or any sort of similarly frivolous, trivial person. I meant that I had always wished to avoid the conventional, ordered, success-oriented life that the typical male American is supposed to seek. I wanted to be a writer, not because I thought such a course would make me rich and famous, because I knew it probably wouldn't. But I seemed to have an innate love of, and aptitude for, storytelling. For me storytelling was, and remains, fun, although the form of storytelling in which I now engage entails the hardest work I've ever done.
I had enjoyed constructing stories, an impulse that was first expressed in the rather crude form of drawing, or more accurately, cartooning, or at least cartooning as expressed in the comic books of that faraway time. I invented a Western character called Buck Duck and drew rudimentary comic books featuring Buck as a sort of Matt Dillon-type lawman. In appearance Buck was more akin to Donald Duck than to Marshal Dillon, with spurs on his webbed feet, a ten-gallon hat on his head and two pistols buckled around him. He was, also, far more homicidal than the Arness character who, be it remembered, killed fairly freely himself. I sometimes sold my fiendish Buck Duck comics to my grade-school chums for a dime apiece. Ruth, I've learned, would like me to think of that childish pursuit as an early expression of an artistic temperament that his since grown to encompass my current career as a novelist and historian, though I hesitate to apply the term art to myself or to my childhood drawings or even my most recent published works. But let the term suffice for now, so long as we can agree that by using it I do not mean to equate myself with the actual Van Goghs and Faulkners of the world.
What is true is that I have perversely insisted, all my life from that early day to this, on giving priority to my desire to write. That insistence has brought its price, and I have willingly, perhaps selfishly and unforgivably, paid that price, even when doing so cost not only myself but dear Ruth also. If, as I paid it, I was continually tormented by a secret guilt for having placed that largely unremunerative goal higher than success, recognition, material gain or any other symbol of American accomplishment, still I was, and remain, proud of myself for having done it. But should I be ashamed instead?
TO BE CONTINED