The night I flew to Canada from England, in April 1980, there was a fierce storm over New York State. The plane I was in – it was upholstered in tan vinyl and it was very tired - bucked and twisted and moaned (I’ve never experienced anything like it since), and yet I wasn’t scared. I don’t remember anyway being frightened. A new life awaited me, I was excited and curious and preoccupied with that unwritten future, and to be honest the idea that that new life could be wrenched away and I might die horribly, plunging through grey cumulus, never occurred to me. It would have seemed ridiculous. I was 16 and mostly fearless.
These days I somehow will myself to be brave, or at least braver than is my inclination. And to some extent this strategy works.
And yet not completely. Another flight like that one over the low, thick-skinned Adirondacks would terrify me. I am much freer than I was, and I am also much less free.
I worry about different things, I guess that’s what it is. I overthink, when I used to be impetuous. I waste time agonizing over the time that I waste every day, if that makes any sense. I am a dog chasing its tail. I am completely different from the boy who arrived in Mississauga in the early hours of April 29, 36 years ago, and yet I am still him through and through. He is the pearl in this old oyster.
We all do it, I think - we all ponder these things. Where we came from and what’s changed, what’s still changing. The loss of innocence. What chance there is of grand adventure in our remaining time. At least I hope we do. I don’t want to be exceptional in this. This idle musing is surely the reason single-malt whisky was invented.
I sat at the office tonight, sort of working, and listening on the side to some old Husker Du. Too Far Down, actually, which is surely the most beautiful 4.38 of musical miserablism I know of (here's a fan's video for it that I quite like). I was moved (for the umpteenth time) and I was distracted, and I was transported far beyond the day-to-day, into this introspective space.
I was thinking, as I looked around me at the new arrangement of the tables and chairs, about the things that give me great pleasure, both simple and complicated, and those that give me pain too.
There is the memory of seeing my sister dead on the floor of her apartment. My last novel was on the coffee table beside her. A bookmark was inserted about a third of the way through. It is fucking awful and stupid of me to think this, but I wish I was a better writer so that she might have stuck around a little longer to finish it.
On the other hand, there is the birth of my son high up in a Toronto hospital, snow sifting slowly down to the street outside. A nurse pumped a few breaths into his phlegmy lungs to get them going and it was like I was witnessing the ignition of a whole universe.
There is a Don Coles poem (our greatest poet) in which the narrator is in a car and happens to glance down and see the passenger’s beautiful legs. This shouldn’t be my favourite poem – it is slight, really, and not his best, and it diminishes the woman involved - and yet it is also true and it is telling, and in its acute observances it somehow amplifies my own life when I read very slowly its few sentences now and again.
There are David Bowie songs that stop me in my tracks, even after a thousand listens. And paragraphs, whole pages from Martin Amis, and paintings by Lucian Freud and countless others both just down the road and around the world. There are myriad ways in which the world delights me – my daughter mocking my gestures, and imitating me perfectly - just as there are a million others in which it makes me despair.
Picking up a bent paper clip from the carpet can seem for an instant to solve every problem, to purify the world. Dropping one where I can’t quite reach it, it can seem momentarily as if the planet has wobbled off its axis (well not quite that, but hey, I'm dramatizing).
The light and the laughter win out, easily, they always will, that’s the sentiment at the root of everything here. Mixed together they are a beautiful voice suddenly in my ear as my kid slaloms down a white ski slope beneath a nearly warm sun. But it’s complicated.