I woke up late. I suppose I needed the extra sleep, but it’s a bad way to start the day, like waking to the news that your country has done something wrong again (cut taxes for the rich; started another war), and it’s not exactly your fault — after all, you were sleeping — but it makes you ashamed nonetheless.
Eating too much? Check. Not exercising enough? Check. Forgetting to meditate? Check. Exceeding the quota for complaining by someone whose ancestors had it much worse, as their ghosts won’t let him forget? Check.
My dreams have been more intense than usual: barbed wire, billowing smoke, Nazi concentration camps. At God’s morning press conference, I’d like to be the first to raise my hand, but will I be brave enough to ask a really tough question? Look, it’s not that I don’t give credit where credit is due: a lovely blue-green planet; more stars in the heavens than I can count; great art and great sex and more than a few great Italian restaurants. Furthermore, I’m aware that most people are tired of hearing about the vicious slaughter of six million of my tribe. But has the King of Kings ever offered an explanation that makes the least bit of sense? Has He ever extended an apology?
I searched high and low. I looked for God in the eyes of strangers. I traveled from city to city and always asked for a room with a view.
“Horses and poets should be fed, never overfed,” observed a sixteenth-century French monarch. I don’t know much about horses, but it’s good advice for a writer like me, who too easily forgets the virtues of being a little hungry, a little empty. Better a clear mind than a full belly; better a wild and unsatisfied longing that nothing in this world can satisfy.
When the Muse calls the roll each morning, there’s only one right answer: Here. She doesn’t care if I stayed up late working on the magazine or helping old ladies cross the crowded boulevard of dreams. She doesn’t care if I write ten words or ten thousand words or no words at all — as long as I’m on my porch with a pen in my hand. Here, not under the covers with my wife, Norma. Here, not at the Sun office. Here, not doing battle with the alien expeditionary force approaching our planet, humanity imperiled, climate change the least of our worries. The Muse doesn’t care if the sky is falling, or the oceans are rising, or my heart is aching in a way no words can express. Really? the Muse wants to know. The English language isn’t nuanced enough to express the depth and breadth of Sy Safransky’s complicated feelings, his upset tummy, his existential angst?
Clearly the Muse and I still have some issues to work out. She needs to remember that I’m a fallible human being. I need to keep in mind that having Zeus for a father can make anyone a little cuckoo. Perhaps someday our expectations of one another will be more realistic — or as realistic as they’re ever going to get between a man who’s been writing all his life but still isn’t convinced he’s a real writer and an invisible, demonstrably fickle goddess who is here one minute and gone the next.
The dream detective flashes his badge. He wants to know what I dreamt last night. Did I have any adventures, he slyly asks, or was I just making sure all my dream-insurance policies were up to date in case I found myself trapped in the wrong century or falling from a high ledge? Surely, I say, he doesn’t have the right to ask me that. Aren’t there safeguards against the authorities prying into my dreams? A dreamer’s bill of rights? The dream detective scoffs. The dream detective reminds me we live in a more dangerous world today and can’t expect to enjoy the same freedoms we once did, back when the American Dream reigned supreme and the nightmare of our long decline was not yet upon us.
My cats, Franny and Zooey, are sitting still, listening to the rain. When was the last time I sat still, just listening to the world around me? Not writing. Not reading. Not taking America apart and trying to put it back together, or turning on the computer and getting tangled in the worldwide web like a dolphin in a fishing net. Instead of getting up to see if that’s Norma’s car coming down the road, I can just sit here and listen to the sound of tires on gravel; to water dripping from the drain spout; to my own steady breathing. If I listen closely, really closely, who knows what I’ll hear? Maybe the spinning of the Earth or the music of the spheres or the echo of the Big Bang. Maybe God.