I hope you will forgive me for writing this, and, perhaps, even sending it off to you. But, frankly, I have reached an age when stray thoughts and life’s loose ends visit far too frequently. Those loose ends have no need of binding, being random entities with beauties and aesthetics all their own. As they come to me and I see them for what they are, however, I feel I must put them in time and place, and express gratitude for their existence in my life.
I often think of you for reasons only now becoming clear to me. These thoughts rest not on memories, for far too few made it through my drunken youth. Not that you weren’t memorable. In fact, you were very much the opposite, and I feel the burden of not knowing much of what emerges from the mists of the past. Rather, these thoughts come out of the influences you had on me at that that time, and the ways you affected the development of the artist, writer, teacher, and craftsperson I have become.
That is why I need to say that I hope the years have treated you well. I have no idea of what you have gone through, where you’ve been, or how the years have shaped and formed the arc of your story. We are strangers that shared a few moments a long time ago. They are maybe even moments that only come to you with the arrival of this note, forgotten because they were forgettable. I hope that whatever comes to your mind while reading this is not painful.
That would be enough to bring this note to an end. But memory constantly remakes the past and leads me to explore it and bring it into a present that is gone as quickly as I perceive it. It’s odd that for all my formal study and interest in human history, I have so little interest in revisiting my own. When my past comes to visit—late at night, writing in a journal, working on a piece of writing—I’m intrigued as a person might be on a visit to the zoo.
What takes this note farther, however, is melancholy—that not-quite-depressive state of introspection during which the prick and pain of the past and present becomes almost an enjoyable, and necessary, indulgence. Usually, I deal with the noise of life second by second, reacting and re-reacting in ways that defy logic in after-the-fact deliberation: simple, cause and effect motions and emotions, with me and my random mind in between. Like a pinball in a pinball machine, and, fortunately, often with the same feeling of whimsy, wonder, and excitement.
In quiet moments, however, my vision turns inward and I begin to understand just how complexly, fascinatingly, and wonderfully, if also painfully and savagely absurd this life really is. (Here, I have to say it is no more absurd than when I realize I’ve fallen into melancholy 400 feet above the ground while screwing nuts on bolts and listening to my brother or sister ironworker complain about the cost of gasoline. At such times, I feel pretty ridiculous, too.)
So, melancholy, Meryl, is that bunch of keys that don’t quite fit comfortably in my pocket, the rock stuck in the tread of my boot, or the fly buzzing up and down on the television screen. Funny, sure; but painful, too. And frequently it is this emotional pinprick that prompts me to consider former relationships, as fleeting or solid as they may have been.
Of course, these kinds inquiry usually don’t make it past the pages of my journal or trickle in any recognizable way into stories, essays, or editorials. As a matter of fact, I have only written this kind of letter…I don’t know, maybe twice, including this one.
Obviously, I was deeply affected by your creativity and quiet, even gentle, approach to things. You showed me a way to escape the ever-shrinking and ever more forcibly ignorant world I was making for myself. When we met I was a hopeful, optimistic kid with far too much pluck and not enough sense to understand I was well on my way to drinking myself to death. As every 19 year old, I knew every damn thing. I was naïve, perhaps stupid, and often, if not completely, insensate to my own emotional, intellectual, and creative needs. This, of course, bred a deep and callous insensitivity to the needs, feelings, and emotions of others. In short, I was a boob.
If in being a boob, I was short, callous, stupid, or hurtful with you—which I’m sure I was—I take responsibility for that.
But more importantly and more pointed to my task, I want to tell you just how grateful I am to you. Our brief time together cracked my stupid shell and allowed me and almost made me see that there was much more in the world than I thought possible. It took a long time and many more failures and self-inflicted injuries, but I became the writer I always wanted to be and never thought I would. This would never have been possible, from my view, had you not shown me a world far broader and more interesting than the tiny, silly, and often reactionary existence I’d made for myself at that time. I’m positive that I would have stayed in that world, at least a little longer, without your influence. After our brief relationship, things became possible that were before out of reach for a working-class kid whose life knew no wonder—such as living and working in another country, long travels through North America, and education, that, until that time, was just a way of taking up time and allowing me to drink; and, of course, the realization that I didn’t have to keep my chin-forward defense of all things that threatened my meager and paltry life.
I would be surprised if my brief presence in your life was anything more than an anomaly. I cannot pretend to be so important, nor do I want to be. But I must tell you as honestly as I can that you made a distinctly positive impression on my life. I can’t begin to express the thanks I have.
So, please take my book, a definite product of all that came before. I don’t give it to show you anything of my accomplishments. I’m beginning to see that accomplishing anything in life is pursuit of the transient and unsatisfying. I just want you to know that its publication was a dream made possible by the tiny beginnings of something you kindled in me.
Thanks, Meryl. I hope that all is well and that this note finds you healthy and happy.