Where am I now? That Seventies question feels strange to me in this brave new world of post-1984. How important it all seemed a decade ago to be able to tell one another where we were, or where we were coming from, as we called it back then. Now the question has a darkness to it, like a built-in parody of something we used to think so important. Who now has the least bit of confidence that one can be the least bit defined or circumscribed? (And I render this observation without a trace of cynicism, if it should be suspected.)
Still, I’ll have a shot at it….In time travel, I’m living in my forty-fourth year—a crisis year, my intuitions tell me, and have told me for a long time. In wisdom I am somewhere in my awful (or awesome) eighties; in my ignorance I am still a terrible two. In another territory (place instead of time), I live in rural West Virginia, yet am a man of cosmopolitan tastes equal to any phony New Yorker. In still another territory, the mind, I have never been more cunning in my life, and now that my cunningness has realized itself, never more innocent either. The more I know clearly, clearly the less I know, and I rapidly approach the day I’ll know enough to know nothing: I am both exhilarated and frightened to death of that day.
As I establish more self-center, everything in me and about me polarizes. My so-admired strength makes me begin to feel somewhat ludicrous about my glaring weaknesses. (They always glare at me, especially when I’m in the process of trying to hide them from others.) Yet I suspect more strongly all the time that my weaknesses (I mean my real weaknesses, not the ones I wittingly share with others) are the best part of me.
Paradoxes everywhere. Where I am now, I perhaps run the risk of oversimplifying everything into a paradox. I am never so happy as when I’m having a good cry, and the deeper it goes, the more profound my happiness. (Similarly, I’m never so sad as when I’m having a good laugh.) As my sex drive diminishes, I seem to have more and more sex appeal. My worry wrinkles make me handsome, and, at this rate, I should be one day the proud possessor of a quite good-looking corpse.
My pride breaks open into humility daily. The devil is quick to congratulate me on any fine performance, any compassionate act, any sparkling thought. (“Nice boy, Jim. Good boy. Fine boy. Aren’t you thoughtful of others, now. Aren’t you a clever one, too. Haven’t you worked hard to get where you are now….”) The old guy gives me almost no room to enjoy myself; yet we have become oddly comfortable friends to each other, nonetheless. I guess I don’t take his nagging, or his praise, quite so seriously as I once did. We are more playful, though I worry sometimes that he might have a nasty streak that I underrate significantly. Still, the more room I give him to trick me, or nag me, or stroke my vanity, the less he seems to need to persist in it. He comes in, does his job, I thank him kindly, and he retires into a back room to wait until he feels needed again. He knows it won’t be long. In fact, he just this moment whispered in my ear what a fine analogy I was compiling here. (What a liar!) I laughed and gave him the high five, and now he’s gone again, looking for some more resistance, I presume. (I don’t think he’s my devil all to myself, although at times I have entertained the notion of a guardian dark angel, too.)