Good Lives Are Hard To Come By

I'm currently between books, which means I'm dipping into The Writing Life again, trying to find sustenance for the one activity that may delineate my undefined existence: writer.

It's a prickly little book. It's almost too sanctimonious for my liking. Annie Dillard's smug enjoyment of her compressed life, which often seems spent inside a freezing cabin, or in a stuffy hole in some dingy library, makes me want to flee the act of writing altogether. The book seems to be teetering on the edge of despair, saved only by its belief in its own ascetic philosophy. I'm jealous. I want to be Annie Dillard. It's safer to diminish her powers.

Which is what I mostly do instead of writing. This scares me because Dillard says, "How we spend our days  is, of course, how we spend our lives." Catalogue your own day: what did you do? I rose early, taught an English class, then I went to the pasteleria (oh God, again), I made an Americano, I listened to the BBC while checking my email. Then I chatted online, aimlessly tried to memorize the simple past conjugations of buscar, made guacamole, and watched the latest episode of Castle. It is 3:30 p.m. on a Friday; this day is not bound to get much more productive. Nor is it much different from most other days these past few months give or take a few parties, a few hair-raising episodes.

Can I say I am a writer? Or should I say I'm an odd-jobber, a fiddler, an Internet jockey, a worrier, a person who makes one too many trips to the kitchen? After all, isn't that what I really do?

I came to Mexico to experience life in all its neon hues. But Dillard says, "There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by." 

An appealing schedule is mostly within reach. Yesterday I had a leisurely lunch of Peruvian food with my friend. We scooped succulent bone marrow out of knuckles of tender beef. Then we hopped a train uptown to drink coffee in El Centro in a sunken cafe. I had a perfect frothy cappucino topped with sugared cinnamon; Miguel fed me the cheese from the centre of his pastry. We walked a pedestrian street scattered with orange flowers under a blue November sky. It was a classic good day.

What if it was always like this? I tend to adhere to the philosophy that if you happen on an oasis, you drink. Who knows when the next one will appear? But life is not lived by jumping from oasis to oasis; you mostly just walk through sand. And in that walking, there should be some result. Some tangible contribution to the spirit of life. You write about oases for others. So they can ignore the detestable sand you're rubbing your goddamn face in so that you can feel virtuous. It doesn't make any sense.

My diffuse dreaming needs to become focused. But, I'd rather float in the ether of my own inner narrative. I want to avoid scrutiny. I want to dream my own life without words, without sleep. The patchwork of random activity supports this floating. I am working in a way that allows me to be separate, to not apply the force of my imagination.

I am dreaming of many lives and unwilling to be any of them; I do not want to make the irrevocable choice. Is this as valiant as I try to imagine? Perhaps I merely shying from the laborious act, the coarse sheen of sweat. Better to preserve the infallible guise of dignity resulting from not trying at all.

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