Don’t Try This At Home

Where I live has a certain bonhomie feel to it. There’s nothing exceptional or explicit or glamorous or trendy, though. It’s a dirt road and some white oaks and pines, silent and stealthy, some forget-me-nots and lupines and rosa rugosa, and a spiritual centre at the end of the road. It’s not like Amsterdam or Venice or Paris or Prague or Big Sur. But I like to think of it as an exotic spot, some literary escape, like the bubble in a spirit level. And in the long shadows and the early morning light, there’s a sense of Dostoyevsky’s “eternal harmony” and the magic of the youngest carbon meeting newborn beryllium.

I think the sight of the sea from my window helps to perpetuate this poetic mood.

Most days I just go about my living, not noticing that much, and then suddenly I happen to look out my window (a bit like Yeats becoming aware of a swan and it gave him such a shock, he wrote a poem about it) and something pierces my self-absorption and I see in a flash the extraordinariness of everything — well, except for conservative non-thinkers. It’s like an inner-city train that has ridden the particular tracks now rattles along the eternal. I get itchy atoms and I feel like a man on a buzzy tree and I’m walking in Henry Miller’s footprints around Paris and Greece, dogging Mervyn Peake on Sark, hopping on DH Lawrence’s back in New Mexico, groveling behind Rilke in Duino Castle, being a scarf tied in Angela Carter’s wild hair.

“It’s the ghosts one misses most.”

It helps my writing, no to mention my spirit, to believe I’m living apart from the maddening crowd in some pastoral glade or idyllic landscape or remote hilltop or seaside hamlet having my very own small literary sprees full of capers and mint and the occasional reddest, stolen, cherries. And I know I have to rub Schopenhauer’s bald spot between his wings of white hair: “Seek out solitude, other people rob us of our identities.”

Yes, it may be fanciful to see my life living and writing by the sea as some romantic ideal, but isn’t the tiniest act of will better than having none at all?

Of course, there’s a downside to pretending you live a life of literary adventure: you never want to leave.

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